“I don’t think Van Halen would put that on the B-side of their worst record”: Desmond Child on his initial reaction to Aerosmith's Dude (Looks Like A Lady), and how he helped turn it from a dud into a huge hit

Aerosmith in 1986
(Image credit: Ross Marino/Getty Images)

US producer and songwriter Desmond Child is a hitmaker extraordinaire, responsible for more megahits than you could fit into the back of an imaginary lorry that’s been specially built to carry loads of megahits. That’s how many megahits. Songs such as Bon Jovi’s You Give Love A Bad Name and Livin’ On A Prayer, Alice Cooper’s Poison, Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca and Aerosmith’s Crazy have all been blessed with the Florida native’s Midas touch. Child’s songwriting skillset is so masterful that he can even turn songs he thinks are rubbish into massive hits too.

Appearing on celebrated drummer Kenny Aronoff’s podcast recently, Child recounted the moment Aerosmith played him an early version of the song that would become their 1987 smash Dude (Looks Like A Lady). He was not impressed. “They were working on the side of the stage with the sound man and Joe had been taping this backward guitar that was going ‘da-da-da’ and then Steven started singing, “cruising for the ladies, da-da-da, da-da-da, cruising for the ladies.”

The band stopped playing, Child recalls, turning to him and saying, ‘What do you think about that?’. “I took a shot,” remembers Child, who had only just met Steven Tyler & co.. “I said, ‘I think that's really bad.’ And then I threw in just to see if I get a rise or a laugh out of them, ‘I don't think Van Halen would put that on the B-side of their worst record.’ I mean, what is that? Top-down cruising for the ladies?”

It was at this point that Tyler explained the song had a previous hook that they’d swapped out for fear of it being offensive. “Steven said, ‘Well, originally I was singing, “Dude looks like a lady’, and I said, ‘Dude looks like a lady? That's a hit title.’ Joe [Perry] said, ‘Well, we don't want to offend the gay community.’ And I said, ‘I'm gay, taking no offense here.’”

Child says that he was completely sold on the idea when they explained to him where the phrase had originated from, muttered by Tyler as he and his bandmates enjoyed a night on the tiles in a local bar. “At the end of the bar was this vision of loveliness, this platinum mullet with black nails and porcelain skin and curvy figure and they were all drawing straws, ‘who is going to go up and say hello?’” Child recounts. “She turns, and it's Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe. And then Steven said, ‘Ooh, that dude looks like a lady.’”

Child’s powers of persuasion did their magic and the reworked (and reinstated) Dude (Looks Like A Lady) became one of Aerosmith's biggest hits, saved from the ignominy of sounding like a song that wouldn’t even make a Van Halen B-side.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.