Aerosmith slow things down with some bittersweet emotion on “Tell Me,” which begins with an acoustic guitar and the heartbroken voice of Steven Tyler lamenting a lost love: “I guess I have to accept it / I was never the one . . . Why was it there for me / but not for you?”
There is a bit of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” in those opening chords, which give way to a soaring, wistful chorus. “Tell Me” was written by bassist Tom Hamilton, who has contributed the occasional song starting with the swaggering “Uncle Salty,” off 1975’s Toys in the Attic. This one, though, was the first to include his own lyrics. He was inspired by an online course in lyric writing from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Aerosmith’s Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford both studied.
“I had these chord changes, and I thought maybe I could try writing lyrics,” says Hamilton. “It was a whole new experience for me. The song is about lost love, but I’ve been married since I was 25 years old. My wife goes, ‘What the hell do you know about that?’ I was just evoking a feeling I had when I was a kid listening to the Beatles and the Stones – I always loved their lonely sounding songs.”
Tyler heard “Tell Me” after basic tracks were done by the band, and was intrigued by Hamilton’s words. “I don’t know how you can put being not in love in such eloquent terms – we can argue about that later,” Tyler says, turning to Hamilton. “It’s just genius.”
The singer notes that Hamilton’s crucial bass lines have been the spark behind decades of hits, from 1975’s “Sweet Emotion” to 1989’s “Janie’s Got a Gun.” “He may be a bass player but his melodic sensibility on a 12-string and the things he picks are just brilliant,” says Tyler, who also played mandolin on “Tell Me.” “He’s got a great ear. He hasn’t strutted that for a while because we just haven’t got around to it. We did this time and I was blown off my fuckin’ perch.”