Rag Doll
Recording Artist: Aerosmith
Writers: Steven Tyler
Joe Perry
Jim Vallance
Holly Knight
Date Written: March-April 1987 / Vancouver Canada

Permanent Vacation (Geffen, 1987)
Big Ones (Geffen, 1994)
A Little South Of Sanity (Geffen, 1998)
Young Lust (Geffen, 2001)
O, Yeah! Ultimate Aerosmith Hits (Columbia, 2002)
Aerosmith Classics - The Universal Masters (Universal, 2002)
Gold: Aerosmith (January 11, 2005)
Devil's Got A New Disguise (Columbia/Sony, 2006)
20th Century Masters - The Millenium Collection (November 6, 2007)
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith / video game (June 2008, Activision)
Tough Love - Best of the Ballads (Geffen, May 24, 2011)
The Essential Aerosmith (September 2, 2011)


#11 - The Record (Canada) / October 10, 1988 (15 weeks on the chart)
#12 - Billboard Album Rock Tracks Chart / 1987 (18 weeks on the chart)
#13 - Italian Chart
#17 - Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart / August 20, 1988 (17 weeks on the chart)
#19 - Netherlands Top 40 Chart / 1989
#42 - UK Top 40 / April 90
#73 - Australian Chart

Steven Tyler: vocal
Joe Perry: rhythm guitar, slide guitar
Brad Whitford: rhythm guitar
Tom Hamilton: bass
Joey Kramer: drums

Jim Vallance: organ, drum programming
Bruce Fairbairn: trumpet
Henry Christian: trumpet
Tom Keenlyside: tenor sax
Ian Putz: baritone sax
Bob Rogers: trombone
Produced by Bruce Fairbairn. Recorded by Mike Fraser and Bob Rock, April-May 1987, at Little Mountain Sound Studios (Vancouver). Mixed by Mike Fraser.
Cover Versions: Also recorded by Ted Nugent, Joe Louis Walker
Above: two different versions of sheet music for "Rag Doll" (click to enlarge)
The inimitable John Kalodner
"Rag Doll" was the third single from Aerosmith's "Permanent Vacation" album.  It was released in the U.SA.. in May 1988, entering the Billboard chart on June 4 and peaking two months later at #17.

John Kalodner (A&R Geffen Records): In March 1987 Steven and Joe moved to Vancouver and started to work with Jim Vallance. From then through June they came up with most of the tracks: Magic Touch, Simoriah, and Hangman Jury. They also had one called Rag Time. I heard the track for the first time and said "This is killer. But what the f--k is Rag Time?"

Steven Tyler: I said "Y'know, Rag Time ... rags, like my scarves." But Kalodner says, "No one will understand this".

John Kalodner: Steven gave me some bullshit about New Orleans, the old traditions, the roots of rock 'n roll. I said to him "Kids won't give a f--k about Rag Time". So I called Holly Knight, who'd written for Pat Benatar and Heart.

Steven Tyler: He got Holly Knight to come up and we brain-stormed for three days in Vancouver. Nothing. Finally we're going through it again and Holly reads my lyrics ... "I'm rippin' up a rag doll, like throwin' away an old toy" ... and she says "Hey! Call it Rag Doll". Along with that, and changing a few other words, I gave her credit on the song.

Tim Collins (Aerosmith's manager): This was a big deal. John brought in Holly Knight, who changed one word and got a piece of the song. Later, when it was a big hit record, Tyler was enraged. He'd yell at me, "Who's to say that it wouldn't have been huge if it was 'Rag Time'?".

(The above quotes are from the book "Walk This Way - The Autobiography of Aerosmith" by Stephen Davis).
March 1987 ... Steven and I were at the picnic table in my back yard, working on lyrics, when two "Brownies" knocked on the front door. My wife sent them around back so we could buy some cookies. They were too young to be Aerosmith fans and they had no clue their customer was Steven Tyler!
Jim Vallance: I have a real fondness for "Rag Doll".  It's the first song I wrote with Steven and Joe on the first day we met (March 25, 1987).

I'd known Aerosmith's producer Bruce Fairbairn since 1973. We played together in two Vancouver-based bands, Sunshyne and Prism. I was the drummer. Bruce played trumpet.

Geffen A&R man John Kalodner hired Bruce to produce Aerosmith, and Bruce asked me if I'd be interested in writing with Steven and Joe.

I have to admit I hesitated.  I'd heard about the drugs, the alcohol, the cancelled shows. But Bruce told me not to worry ... the band had a new label (Geffen), a new manager (Tim Collins) and a new lease on life (thanks to the Betty Ford Clinic).  They'd been "clean and sober" for nearly six months and they were grateful to have another shot at success.  Plus, they'd made a pact amongst themselves: the first guy to fall off the wagon was out of the band -- no questions asked, no second chance! 

I agreed to give it a try.
Aerosmith producer
Bruce Fairbairn
Bruce brought Steven and Joe to my studio, along with their bodyguard, Bob Dowd, a six-foot-six former cop whose primary function was to ensure that no drugs came within a Minnesota mile of the recently re-habbed Aero-guys. Bob was a formidable presence but a lovely fellow.

Bruce stayed just long enough to introduce me to Steven and Joe.  He said he hoped we'd have a new song to play for him at the end of the day, and with a wink and a smile he walked out the door!

So there I was, alone with Steven and Joe.  Aerosmith!  I was too choked to be nervous, and too nervous to choke.  We got right down to business. 

Joe plugged in his guitar and showed me a riff he'd been working on, in the key of B. It was a good riff.  In fact it was very good ... but it was static, there was no chord movement, just the same one-bar phrase repeated over and over. Joe knew it needed to go somewhere and he asked me if I had any ideas.
above: click to view
lyric manuscript
I plugged in my Fender electric bass.  Joe continued playing the riff while I introduced some movement underneath:  two bars of B, two bars of D, two bars of A, and back to B again. It seemed to work. Steven started singing a melody that mirrored Joe's riff, and it quickly became apparent we had the beginnings of a song.

I dialled up a funky half-time drum feel on my Emulator keyboard, borrowing the fat snare-drum sound I'd used on the Glass Tiger single, "Someday".

Meanwhile, in search of a verse, Joe took the chord progression up a 4th (to E), adding a Chuck Berry guitar stride. We ended the verse by building on an F# for four bars before returning to the chorus again. Simple and solid.

By the time Bruce Fairbairn returned, just before dinner, we'd completed the song's basic structure including the temporary title "Rag Time", inspired by the track's New Orleans feel. That title stuck for a few more weeks, but it would prove to be problematic.

The next day, March 26 (Steven Tyler's 39th birthday) we recorded a basic track in my home studio -- guitar, bass and drums -- then Steven and I got started on the lyrics.

It was a warm, sunny day, and we took our note pads out to the picnic table in my back yard.  We spent most of the afternoon there, building a lyric around the "Rag Time" theme.

When the lyric was finished, we added Steven's vocal to our demo and FedEx'd a cassette tape to Los Angeles for John Kalodner's comments (email was rudimentary and MP3's hadn't been invented yet!).
Holly Knight >
"I don't like the title", Kalodner droned over the phone.  "Come up with something better!".

So it was back to the picnic table.

I wish I'd kept a copy of our list, because Steven and I came up with 30 or 40 alternate titles ... and I'm certain one of them was "Rag Doll". We faxed the list to Kalodner but he still didn't see anything he liked.

Steven and I had exhausted ourselves searching for titles.  We had nothing more to offer. Kalodner suggested we seek outside help.  He put songwriter Holly Knight on a flight to Vancouver.

Holly met with Steven at his hotel. I don't know what additional ideas they came up with, but in the end everyone agreed that "Rag Doll" was the best possible title.
The first time I saw Aerosmith perform was at a small club in Vancouver (I think it was called "Club Soda"). It was during the "Permanent Vacation" sessions. The band needed a break. Playing for an audience seemed like a good way to let off a little steam.

The show was unannounced ... they borrowed the house-band's gear. There were only 50 people in the club and everyone's jaw dropped when Aerosmith suddenly appeared.  

The small stage was just one step higher than the dance floor, so the band were literally in your face!

I'd just spent a month writing and recording with Aerosmith but I'd never seen them play "live". They were amazing! Looking back, that performance remains one of my most unforgettable rock-n-roll experiences.
Lyrics: Rag Doll, livin' in a movie
Hot tramp, daddy's little cutie
So fine, they'll never see ya leavin' by the back door, man

Hot time, get it while it's easy
Don't mind, come on up and see me
Rag Doll, baby won't you do me
Like you done before

I'm feelin' like a bad boy
Mmm, just like a bad boy
I'm rippin' up a Rag Doll
Like throwing away an old toy

Some babe's talkin' real loud
Talkin' all about the new crowd
Try and sell me on an old dream
A new version of the old scene

Speak easy on the grape vine
Keep shufflin' in the shoe shine
Old tin lizzy, do it till you're dizzy
Give it all ya got until you're put out of your misery


Yes, I'm movin', Yes I'm movin'
Get ready for the big time
Tap dancing on a land mine

Yes I'm movin', Yes I'm movin'
Old tin lizzy, do it till you're dizzy
Give it all ya got until you're put out of your misery


Baby won't you do me, baby won't you do me....
Like you done before (huh huh)

Yes, I'm movin', Yes I'm movin'
Get ready for the big time
Get crazy on the moonshine

Yes, I'm movin', I'm really movin'
Slow gin fizzy
Do it till you're dizzy
Give it all you got until you're put out of your misery

(Repeat Chorus)