The album marks a turning point in the band's career. It is their first to employ professional songwriters, instead of featuring material solely composed by members of the band. This came at the suggestion of executive John Kalodner. He also pushed the band to work with producer Bruce Fairbairn, who remained with them for another two albums. It was also the first Aerosmith album to be promoted by heavy music video airplay on MTV. Though Done with Mirrors was intended to mark Aerosmith's comeback, Permanent Vacation is often considered their true comeback, as it was the band's first truly popular album since their reunion. "Rag Doll", "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)", and "Angel" became major hits (all three charted in the Top 20) and helped Permanent Vacation become the band's greatest success in a decade.
The album features a cover of "I'm Down", a piano-driven Beatles song that appeared as a B-side to their single "Help!" in 1965. This was Aerosmith's second commercially released Beatles cover, after "Come Together".
Permanent Vacation has sold over five million copies in the U.S.
In the UK, it was the first Aerosmith album to attain both Silver (60,000 units sold) and Gold (100,000 units sold) certification by the British Phonographic Industry, achieving these in July 1989 and March 1990 respectively.