Giving Cults A Good Name
Welcome to Forgotten Videos, "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!!" edition, showcasing past GRAMMY winners and nominees. For some, these videos are forgotten, for others just filed away, and for others still, a totally brand-new discovery. Whichever category you fall into, each week until the nominations special on Dec. 1 we'll feature a video from a GRAMMY-winning or –nominated artist that's possibly been collecting dust when what it really deserves is a fresh look. Or, just for old times' sake. We just want to take you on a little trip down memory lane. Yep, you'll remember when hair was really that big, when drums were that up front in the mix, when video was young(er) and so were you.
"Cult Of Personality"
In 1988 Living Colour, an African-American hard rock outfit, broke all the unspoken rules of the genre, namely that it was for white, middle-class, disaffected youth only. While the '60s gave rise to iconic rockers of color (Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone), by the late-'80s (with the exception of Prince, who could go funk, jam band, quiet storm, and rock at his whim) rock was almost exclusively the province of head-banging, spandex-clad blonds. Enter Living Colour (drummer Will Calhoun, vocalist Corey Glover, guitarist Vernon Reid, and bassist Muzz Skillings), a band that, like the spirit inherent in the un-American spelling of its name, refused to be hemmed in by the preconceived notions of a stereotypical rock band.
The band won an early fan in Mick Jagger, who as much as any rocker understood the African-American roots from which rock sprang. The Rolling Stones frontman produced a demo and helped get the band signed to Epic Records. After a slow start, the band's debut album, Vivid, and the track "Cult Of Personality" became huge hits. Not only did "Cult..." climb to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, it made it to No. 9 on the Mainstream Rock chart. The song also earned a Best Hard Rock Performance GRAMMY in 1989. (Living Colour would win the same award a year later for the title track to their sophomore album, "Time's Up.")
Befitting of their name, the band drew upon a diverse palette of talent. A graduate of Boston's Berklee College of Music, Calhoun and his driving grooves were complemented by Skillings' complex bass lines to form a high-energy, adventurous rhythm section. Reid's inventive rock- and funk-laced rhythmic work, combined with his unpredictable and improvisatory soloing, landed him on the cover of respectable music publications such as Guitar Player. Rounding out the unique blend was Glover, whose vocals drew from elements of rock, rap, soul, and blues.
To seal their role as revolutionaries, Living Colour didn't shy away from social messages in their music. "Cult Of Personality" takes aim at world leaders' ability to win power and allegiance by creating unblemished public images for very blemished people. Name-dropping Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin, as well as John F. Kennedy and Mahatma Gandhi, the song cautions us to beware of ceding power to any one individual. (The song's intro also includes an edited quote from a Malcolm X speech, and the closing features the memorable quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.")
Okay, so maybe some of the song's impact is overshadowed by Glover's tight yellow-spandex bike shorts. But, it was the '80s after all.
Who's today's cult of personality? Got a Forgotten Video recommendation? Leave us a comment. And don't forget to tune into "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night" on Dec. 1 from 10–11 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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