Archive for category Influencer

“Even Flow” by Pearl Jam (1991)

Pearl Jam are kind of the grunge equivalent of The Rolling Stones – not quite as popular as their peer superstar group (Nirvana/Beatles) that was more popular but who’s career ended early. Indeed Pearl Jam was among the most popular groups to break out of the Seattle scene but are still recording and remain very popular. Initially tapped as riding the grunge trend with a slightly more mainstream rock sound, the group has live a sort of neo-hippy ethic that remains anything but mainstream. The group consists of Eddie Vedder (lead vocals, guitar), Jeff Ament (bass guitar), Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar), and Mike McCready (lead guitar), and a series of drummers – most notably ex-Soundgarden Matt Cameron.

The group was formed from the ashes of Mother Love Bone, when lead singer Andrew Wood died of an overdose. Gossard and Ament (who were in the seminal grunge group Green River) looked to form a new group and soon started practicing with McCready. Vedder was discovered thanks to a tip from former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons (Irons would join Pearl Jam in 1994).

The group’s debut album Ten was released in the summer of 1991, becoming one of the most mainstream early “alternative” albums. Though many songs had a mainstream rock sound, many of the songs dealt with dark subjects such as suicide, loneliness, and murder. The album built slowly, and broke through in the spring of 1992 with the release of the video for “Even Flow” – showcasing the group’s electric live show and very much set in the “plaid” wearing Seattle scene. The album has since sold more than 13 million copies.

Even Flow” started with a massive guitar riff and included lyrics by Vedder about a homeless man. The man in the song is mentally ill/insane. The song was the group’s breakthrough single, hitting #3 on the mainstream rock charts.

“Enter Sandman” by Metallica (1991)

Metallica‘s popularity grew during the 1980s and seemed poised for mainstream success approaching the release of their fifth album, the eponymous Metallica (often referenced as “The Black Album”, an homage to This is Spinal Tap). The band used producer Bob Rock, who helped the band craft a more streamlined sound for the album’s songs. Rather than epic length songs with changing tempos, the songs were shorter and straightforward. Yet, the band’s dark subject matter and heavy sound remained.

The lead single was “Enter Sandman“, which dealt with childhood fears – including a nursery rhyme during the bridge. The sound of the song used a “wall of guitars” and Kirk Hammett delivered one of his best solos. Singer James Hetfield’s “booming” voice was featured in a memorable scene from the music video and sounds menacing throughout. The single was even a Top 20 hit.

The Black Album was a huge hit for Metallica, hitting number one across the globe and selling over 15 million copies just in the U.S. (the best-selling album since the date it was released). After the success of “Enter Sandman” the album drew another five singles, “Don’t Tread on Me”, the mid-tempo “The Unforgiven”, the ballad “Nothing Else Matters”, “Wherever I May Roam”, and “Sad But True”.

“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers (1991)

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have built an enduring legacy of songs and maintained a high degree of popularity throughout four separate decades. The band has mixed funk along with hard rock riffs and have appealed to several generations of modern rock and alternative music fans. They are led by bassist Flea and singer Anthony Kiedis. Former members include Jack Irons (drums, later of Pearl Jam) and Hillel Slovak (guitars, now deceased). Each album from the group between 1989-2006 went Platinum or higher, despite years between recordings – often due to Kiedis’ drug use. The band changed lineups early, and nearly split when Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988. In their early period, the group was best known for appearing on stage wearing only socks covering their genitals.

The band’s breakthrough album was 1989′s Mother’s Milk, featuring a frantic cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and the anti drug song “Knock Me Down”.  The group now included drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante.  This led to 1991′s Blood Sugar Sex Magic which made the group superstars. Produced by Rick Rubin, the group’s mix of funk and rock elements sounded ever more contemporary, as hip-hop was influencing rock and visa versa. Though the Chili Peppers sound had not changed much they sounded fresh to maintstream audiences.

The lead single from Blood Sugar Sex Magic was the high energy “Give It Away”, which went to number one on the Modern Rock charts. The reflective second single about Los Angeles was “Under the Bridge“. The poignant lyrics about isolation were set to a mellow groove and an uplifting ending. The song was a monster hit, peaking at #2 on the Hot 100 and becoming a worldwide hit. Other hits from the album included “Suck My Kiss” and “Breaking the Girl”. The album has since sold more then seven million copies.

“Vogue” by Madonna (1990)

One of the biggest hits from Madonna‘s stellar career was nearly issued as an obscure B-side. But when the singer took the song to the record company they understood they had a potentially massive hit so they kept the song as the lead single for the upcoming album related to the Dick Tracy movie that Madonna starring in. Some lyrics were changed for family-friendly audiences, and the song’s spoken word section paying homage to famous actresses of the past fit with the period theme of the film.

Vogue” was a massive hit upon release, cementing the “house” sound common in dance clubs. The spoken word section was hip-hop-esque and the dance moves in the song’s music video (directed by David Fincher) made the song trendy as well. The song quickly went to number one for several weeks, and was ultimately the number one single of 1990 in the United States. The album I’m Breathless has since gone double platinum.

Vogue music video

“Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode (1990)

Depeche Mode followed the success of Music for the Masses with an even bigger album, Violator. The lead single was “Personal Jesus“, a unique mix of drum beats with a bluesy guitar riff – the first prominent use of guitar in Depeche Mode’s history. The song also continued Martin Gore’s lyrics related to religion and other dark topics. The song was a top 30 pop song and top 5 modern rock chart hit.

Violator would become the group’s biggest seller, topping three million copies sold in the U.S. and also becoming the group’s first top 10 album. “Enjoy the Silence” became the group’s second top 10 hit and propelled the group to further stardom. Other singles included “The Policy of Truth” and “World in Your Eyes” which also were met with success.

The group’s 1993 follow-up Songs of Faith and Devotion continued the trend toward organic instruments and was also a big hit. However, lead singer Dave Gahan’s heroin use increased during the tour, leading some to ponder whether Depeche Mode would ever make music again.

Personal Jesus music video

“Walk this Way” by Run-DMC (1986)

Run-DMC were rap pioneers and were among the first truly mainstream acts within the genre. Founded by Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, the group was augmented by Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizzell. The group came from Queens New York and quickly became rising stars within the hip-hop circle. The group was one of the first acts to leave behind the early funk/disco elements and embrace harder beats and rock riffs as part of their sound.

The group’s third album Raising Hell was released in 1986, and produced by Rick Rubin. The group’s previous albums had charted in the top 60, and they scored several R&B chart hits. But the group became superstars thanks to the slick production from Rubin and some key tracks including the lead single, “Walk this Way“. The song was a cover of the 1975 Aerosmith classic, and featured samples from the song and guest performances from Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. The song was a top 10 hit for Aerosmith and was top 5 for Run-DMC. The popular music video featured both band’s prominently.

The success of “Walk This Way” paved the way for addition singles including “My Adidas”, “It’s Tricky” and “You Be Illin”, ultimately pushing Raising Hell to triple platinum status. Run-DMC scored another platinum album and a gold one, before slowing down from recording in 1994. Musical differences between Simmons and McDaniels created delays in further production, and a 2001 ‘reunion’ album only featured McDaniels on three tracks. In 2002, Mizzell was shot and killed outside a recording studio in Queens. The group broke up shortly thereafter.

“Walk This Way” also served as a relaunch of Aerosmith’s then-floundering career as well. The band got sober (or, at least a lot more close to sober) and issued a series of popular albums and singles in the mid-1980s to late 1990s.

“Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen (1984)

Van Halen was one of the most influential hard rock / heavy metal groups to emerge in the late 1970s, and were fairly unique in that they were American not British. They were led by guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen and his drummer brother Alex Van Halen. The group was completed by Michael Anthony on bass and by flamboyant lead singer David Lee Roth. The group’s mix of hard rock, party themes, and reverence for standards made them one of the most popular groups during the early 1980s. During this time, they headlined the US Festival.

Van Halen as a group were known for several innovations. Eddie Van Halen’s ‘tapping’ guitar solo technique was widely copied by others, where both hands play on the guitar neck. In addition, Van Halen was one of the first groups to put unusual items in their contract riders, such as providing M&Ms with the brown ones removed. This was done to assure that the contract was read and implemented properly; if the band saw brown M&Ms they would turn around and refuse to perform.

After five previous albums that all went multi-platinum, Van Halen returned in 1984 with their album 1984. The group became known to a new set of fans thanks to Eddie Van Halen’s solo in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and from 1984′s lead single, “Jump”, that featured a pronounced keyboard riff. “Jump” went to number one and helped make 1984 one of the biggest albums of the year (it has since sold over 10 million copies in the U.S.). Further hits included the top 15 hits “I’ll Wait” and “Panama”.

The last single from 1984 was “Hot for Teacher“, which featured a humorous music video that is a time-capsule of Van Halen at it’s peak. The song features some energetic drumming and a big guitar riff, along with lots of screaming and hooting from Roth. The band’s party image is in full effect.

David Lee Roth had a solo e.p. in 1985 and departed from Van Halen shortly thereafter. The group recruited Sammy Hagar as a replacement singer, but that is a different story for another day.

“I Ran” by A Flock of Seagulls (1982)

A Flock of Seagulls hailed from Liverpool and were lead by brothers Mike Score (keyboards, vocals) and Ali Score (drums), along with Frank Maudsley (bass) and Paul Reynolds (guitar). The group’s mix of keyboards and guitars, along with Mike Score’s distinctive haircut, epitomized the early 1980s New Wave sound (though, if you wanted to be technical, the group was most closely associated with the New Romantic sound). The group’s most popular and effective songs were produced with a layered instrumentation with a rich mix. “D.N.A.” from the group’s first album won the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

The group is best known for their breakthough hit “I Ran (So Far Away)“. The song was the lead single from their self-titled debut album and was one of the biggest hits of it’s era. The song was a top 10 hit on the pop, rock, and dance charts, and charted well in other countries (though it did poorly in the U.K.). The album was also a top 10 hit and eventually was certified Gold in the U.S.

Flock of Seagulls had a few other hits, including “Wishing (I Had a Photograph of You)”, “Space Age Love Song”, and “The More You Live, the More You Love”. But squabbles among the group caused the original members to disband by 1986. Thereafter Mike Score would lead a revolving door of hired hands to perform “I Ran” and other songs on the revival circuit.

“About a Girl” by Nirvana (1989)

Nirvana was formed by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Kurt Cobain and bassist Chris Novoselic (later changed to Krist Novoselic) in 1988. The two young men had known each other in high school and were part of the music scene in Aberdeen, WA. Both were fans of the proto-grunge group The Melvins and soon formed a band together. A series of drummers came in and out of the group before settling on Chad Channing.

The group’s first album Bleach was recorded by Jack Endino for about $600 and later issued on the fledgling Sub-Pop label. The album sold about 40,000 copies which made it a good but not fabulous release for Sub-Pop. The album was marketed to college kids and the group toured for the album. Most of the songs were played with a fast, aggressive style that combined heavy riffs with a punk sensibility and pace (this, my friends, you might call Grunge).  The songs were often related to adolescent topics (“Paper Cuts”, “School”, “Swap Meet”).

The standout radio track from Bleach was the Beatles-influenced “About a Girl“, a song Cobain wrote his then-girlfriend. The song combined Cobain’s pop sensibilities along with some harder guitar riffs midway through the song. If there was a single song on the album that might indicate the band had a future, this song was it. In 1994, an MTV Unplugged version of the song became a top hit.

At the end of the decade hardly anyone knew who Nirvana was, or could possibly guess what they could be. Their inclusion on this countdown for the year 1989 is not for what they did but what they would become.

“One” by Metallica (1989)

Metallica was formed in Los Angeles by Danish drummer Lars Ulrich and guitarist/vocalist James Hetfield in 1981. Guitarist Dave Mustaine was soon added on lead guitar and Cliff Burton on bass. The band was inspired by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal groups, as well as some arena rock acts from the 1970s. They soon became leaders of the so-called Speed Metal scene and were building buzz. Shortly after being signed to a record label, the band ousted Mustaine due to substance abuse (Mustaine later founded Megadeth). He was replaced by Kirk Hammett.

Metallica’s first album Kill ‘Em All debuted in 1983, followed the year after by the more ambitious Ride the Lightning. During this period the groups songs tended to be long, with many changes in tempo. The topics of the songs mirrored the music being played – you wouldn’t be singing about flowers and trees with speed metal riffs in the background. Popular tracks during this era included “Seek and Destroy”, “Whiplash”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Fade to Black”.

Master of Puppets was the band’s commercial breakthrough, charting in the top 30 and eventually being their first Gold selling record. Key tracks included the title track and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”. However, while touring with Ozzy Osbourne, the band’s tour bus was involved in an accident on an icy road. Cliff Burton was the sole person killed in the accident.  The band contemplated breaking up but in the end decided to soldier on with Jason Newsted as the replacement bassist.

Metallica’s next studio album was another step forward for the band. And Justice for All… charted in the top 10 and featured several popular tracks including “Harvester of Sorrow” and “Blackened”. To this point, Metallica had eschewed music videos but decided to create one for their next single, “One“. The song was based on the novel Johnny Got His Gun, about a soldier who loses his limbs, as well as his slight, eyes, nose, and mouth in a wartime injury. But the soldier’s mind was still active – but trapped inside a useless body. This was grim stuff, but Metallica did not shy away, even including footage from the movie based on the novel. Amazingly, the song was a hit (an edited version of the song made the Top 40), cementing Metallica as an arena-selling metal band.

Metallica certainly became popular during the era of “hair metal” but nobody mistook this music for Poison or Bon Jovi. This was serious METAL for METAL fans. The group’s “street cred” has been tested many times over the years, but in 1989 Metallica was still pure.

“One” Music Video