Vernon Reid's Cult of Personality and Zappa's Valley Girl
What is VIVID?
It's groundbreaking, in-your-face metal with a funk backbeat by the group Living Colour. The big hit from this album, of course, is the song Cult of Personality, but other great songs fleshed out the group's influences; metal, rock, punk, funk.
This was Vernon Reid's vision come to fruition. Reid was born in England of Caribbean immigrant parents. They eventually moved to New York City where he finished growing up. What struck me when I met him was his talent, his quiet sincerity and his centeredness.
Reid became a master at electric guitar, borrowing from many influences and honing his own style. When he saw that African-Americans that loved rock were struggling in isolated pockets, he strove to make a change. There was a prejudice built in the system; not just from a white audience's expectations of what a hard rock band looked like, but also a rejection from the black community as well.
Reid needed a group that could support black rock musicians - so he developed The Black Rock Coalition. Eventually Reid with others created the band Living Colour and got noticed by the industry and rock heavyweights like Mick Jagger.
This album not only broke the glass ceiling for African-American hard rockers, it kicked it to shreds. The music is alive, it gives a voice to musicians that had to fight to be taken seriously.
Sparkling and slamming in its delivery, VIVID is Living Colour's stellar first album.
Some Song Details
You can view the original video for Cult of Personality below. This band has a wide range of subject matter in their songs. Some of my favorites in the album VIVID are:
- Open Letter (to a Landlord)- With a sweeping wash of guitar and a political message. Many landlords in slum areas don't care how many people are forced out on the street. The song discusses how some slumlords may resort to torching their buildings to get insurance money and indanger the lives of people living there.
- Should I Stay or Should I Go - Great cover of this song by the Clash
- Glamour Boys - This is their tip of the hat to industry ska/pop. The lyrics are about the fakeness of the music, art and fashion industry.
- Middleman -Great, grinding hard rock that screams against mediocrity.
Article in the paper Downtown 1988
Kicking - Inspiring
Also be sure to read about Vernon Reid's vision that started with the Black Rock Coalition.
My Personal Story with Living Colour
Okay now, here is where fate brings you to greatness and then your band has an off night and you are left with a wonderfully exciting but self-inflicted cruel memory in which you and your bandmates didn't rise to the occasion. I can laugh about it now, sort of.
Hilly Crystal, owner of CBGB's, really liked our band called The Antoinettes. In 1988, before Living Colour went on its official tour, they played some shows in NYC. Hilly got us a prize gig opening for Living Colour. Not just any show, a two-set showcase to show off the new Epic Record group to the entire Industry. A total coming out party for Living Colour.
Murphy's Law: whatever can go wrong does go wrong. First set, our guitarist's amp blew out in the second song, no spare and Vernon's setup was understandably off limits. Our lead singer had such a bad case of laryngitis that she could barely sing. The rest of us soldiered on but the groove never came back. While Living Colour played their stellar first set, we couldn't relax and watch it because we were backstage calling every musician and store in town to try to get a replacement amp. We sweated out that hour and then our guitarist went by taxi to pick up a spare for the second set.
I tell you I don't remember a thing after that, I must have repressed it. I don't even remember the name of the club, I don't even want to think about who was there in the audience. We didn't even get pictures with the band. Total suck-fest.
Whew, now I feel better. Writing this was actually very cathartic. The lesson is that good music heals all wounds. I still love listening to this fantastic band.
Now YOU listen to the song on video and get ready to have your mind blown.
The Official Video - Cult of Personality
SHE'S A VALLEY GIRL
She's a Valley Girl
Moon Unit Zappa (her real name), daughter of musician Frank Zappa, recorded the vocals for Valley Girl. Moon came up with most of the lyrics while she was imitating rich girls from the San Fernando Valley in California. Funny, this song was originally intended to be lampoon or parody that made fun of the speaking style. It ended up making valley speak more popular then ever.
Ironically, this song in 1982 became Frank Zappa’s only top 40 hit in the United States.
My introduction to Zappa was his 1974 hit Don’t Eat Yellow Snow. His zany delivery and obvious sense of eccentric humor was a real attention grabber and I bought his album Cosmik Debris. I wonder now what my mother thought about the sounds she heard coming from this record through my bedroom door?
In 1982, as a college student from Pennsylvania, I enjoyed Moon’s rendition of the valley girl. I listened to this song and imitated it over and over. I think I even started using the term “Gag me with a spoon.”
About Frank Zappa (1940-1993)
Zappa was a musician’s musician, a driving force who specialized in avant-garde music, but was proficient in all types of popular music like rock and jazz. He was a monolithic presence in rock history; not just because of his musical talent, but because he never stopped exposing the hypocrisy and heavy commercialism of American life. Utilizing his talent as a composer and performer, he recorded about 60 albums over the course of his career.
In 2008, Frank Zappa was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I can’t think of a more worthy musician to be given a place in our cultural memory.
Music is always a commentary on society. You can't always write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say, so sometimes you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whip cream.- Frank Zappa
How did this song come about? Frank Zappa and his daughter Moon Unit came up with a funny, tongue-in-cheek parody of what it means to be a Valley Girl.