10. “Cult of Personality,” Living Colour

Why weren’t these guys massive? That’s the first thing I think about when I hear this song – any Living Colour song, really. The second thing is springtime. But let’s start from the top.

Honestly, these guys had the versatility, the anger, the joy, the pure skill, the likeability, the songwriting and the combination of influences to be for the end of the ‘80s into the ‘90s, something like what Led Zeppelin was for the end of the ‘60s through the ‘70s. I believe that. Where Zeppelin fused the psychedelic and folk sounds of the time with the blues, Living Colour fused hip hop and funk with hard rock – before Rage Against the Machine, and, arguably, more accessibly than them.

This is the song that broke them out and set the tone. And it is absolutely ferocious. But at the same time, it has that fun, sing-songy chorus. And then you get right back to the ferocity again with that first Vernon Reid guitar solo. That solo is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting to listen to. I can’t imagine how it must be to play it.

They were so versatile, too. Corey Glover’s voice was so accessible, yet so passionate. So aggressive, yet so accurate. The drums were so heavy and funky. So was the guitar. So was the bass.

They had their time, for sure. There were some hits off this album and the next. In terms of mass popularity, I think their third album put up a bit of a roadblock. It was harder, louder, edgier, angrier. It was called Stain and there was an image of a black woman with her head in a torture device on the cover. Not exactly the cover of Born in the U.S.A. Nothing about it screamed, “Make us massive rock stars!” Which may well have been exactly the point, from the band’s perspective. Clearly, there was a statement they wanted to make. And they were definitely always a band that seemed true to themselves, a band with a political side.

Which leads me to the elephant in the room. Race. The reason they didn’t become the Zeppelin of their time is complicated — and maybe not even realistic. I think part of it is that I suspect they didn’t really want it. Turns out Vernon Reid was a jazz man at heart, anyway. But I think it would be ignorant to suggest race wasn’t a factor in some way. At the time, there were people that had a hard time accepting “black people playing rock and roll.” Even though, you know, there’s that whole thing of black people inventing it and all. And that Jimi Hendrix guy.

But I digress. This song, this album, reminds me of the spring. I bought the cassette in the spring of ’88, and ever since then it’s just been evocative of spring. For many years, I’d go back to this album every spring and listen to it over and over again, and just feel all those warm and fuzzy “new-beginning” vibes.

Even more specifically, it takes me back to that March Break. I remember the weather being just right. And I remember some good family friends staying with is. They had a boy a few years younger than me. He was just getting into hard rock and we bonded a bit over this song.

Man, we loved that riff. Just blasting out of nowhere. I love how it opens with the Malcolm X quote, then the riff explodes at you, and then there’s that pause, as if to say, “Yeah, you heard that right.”

Anyway, spring. People always talk about summer songs, but nobody really talks about music for other seasons. This album (Vivid), their second album (Time’s Up) and Soundgarden’s Superunknown are the most vivid spring albums for me. Pearl Jam’s Vs. is all about autumn. I’d love to hear if anyone else has non-summer season music. Let me know below!

 

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