“What Could Have Been Love” is the kind of wounded power ballad that dominated Aerosmith’s run of hits in the Nineties, much to the irritation of some longtime fans of the band’s early, hardest-rocking work. But that side of the group has been part of their repertoire all the way back to the Seventies, at least since “You See Me Crying” on 1975’s Toys in the Attic.
The new song, another collaboration with frequent co-writer Marti Frederiksen, opens with a shimmering guitar melody and Steven Tyler singing, “I wake up and wonder/ how everything went wrong/ Am I the one to blame?” It’s accompanied by the second video released from Music From Another Dimension!, which shows Tyler in a bar wailing miserably about a failed relationship while the rest of the band happily shoots pool, as the song builds to a teary crescendo.
“Marti and I had both been through divorce: Do you ever have feelings about that? Do you ever think about that?” says Tyler. “It started from there: ‘What could have been love, it should have been the only thing that was ever meant to be, couldn’t see what was right in front of me.’ So many people are getting divorced now. When you’ve got kids, you still love the mother a little bit. Anyone worth their soul will admit it.”
Also getting a co-writing credit on the song is the band’s keyboard player, Russ Irwin, who had a Top 40 hit as a solo artist in 1991 with the whispery romantic ballad “My Heart Belongs to You.” Both Irwin and Frederiksen sing backup vocals on “What Could Have Been Love.”
“It just reared its beautiful little head a couple of years ago,” Tyler says of the composition. “It’s a magical tune.”
Album producer Jack Douglas gets a co-producer credit, but the song falls squarely in the soaring pop comfort zone of Frederickson, who produced the track with Tyler. “Jack is the overlord,” says bassist Tom Hamilton of the album sessions. “He really brought this thing into the home port. But Marti had a big influence, just setting a good example creatively.”