Archive for category Innovator

“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

“Heartbreaker (at the End of Lonely Street)” by Dread Zeppelin (1990)

Ask any true music fan what the best album of 1990 was and Dread Zeppelin‘s seminal debut Un-Led-Ed will surely make the list. Unfortunately, the world is not run by true music fans but casual music fans, which probably explains why you’ve never heard of Dread Zeppelin.

The band started as a joke – Led Zeppelin songs played in a reggae style. With the addition of charismatic frontman Tortelvis (an Elvis impersonator), you suddenly had three separate and distinct musical touchstones to mine. And Dread Zeppelin combined those elements to aplomb. The group didn’t just play Zep songs with a rasta beat, they combined elements from several songs to create a interesting and unique blend of pop culture references.

Un-Led-Ed mostly pulled material from the first two Led Zeppelin albums, along with the Led Zeppelin 4 track “Blackdog” (including references to “Hound Dog”). The key track from the album was “Heartbreaker (at the End of Lonely Street)” that combined Zeppelin’s second album hit with Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel”. The song showcased Dread Zeppelin’s musical chops, as the layered instruments combined for a full sound with wild solos and satisfying percussion.

The cover of Un-Led-Ed had to be changed due to request from the Elvis Presley estate. But Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant was a vocal advocate of the group, often seen wearing Dread Zeppelin tshirts. Later, INXS sought out Dread Zeppelin as the opening act for their tour.

Despite the power and urgency of Dread Zeppelin’s masterpiece recording of Un-Led-Ed, the group was seen as a novelty act. On their third album Tortelvis left the group and they went into a disco direction, to the ire of many fans. Since then, with Tortelvis back in the fold, the group has carved out an identity as a touring band with the occasional album release.

“Once in a Lifetime” by The Talking Heads (1984)

The Talking Heads were pioneers in new wave music, and later developed into a band that introduced new instrumentation and sounds into popular music. The group was led by frontman David Bryne, along with Jerry Harrison (guitars), Chris Franz (drums), and Tina Weymouth (bass). Franz and Weymouth were married, and later formed the successful side-project The Tom Tom Club. The Talking Heads combined elements of punk, new wave, and synth music – along with a flair for visual style that was featured in the group’s videos and in film.

After a series of acclaimed albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Heads broke through into the pop top 10 with “Burning Down the House.” This propelled the group to greater acclaim and recognition of their earlier work, including “Psycho Killer”, “Life During Wartime”, and “Take Me to the River”.

In 1984, the group’s concert film Stop Making Sense was directed by Jonathan Demme. The movie was the first made using digital audio techniques and featured an unique ongoing building of a set during the concert. Footage of the audience was scarce but the sound quality and the energy of the performance was legendary. The film is noted for Byrne’s “big suit” during “Girlfriend is Better”, an often parodied visual.

One key track from the film was a 1982 single for the band, “Once in a Lifetime“. The song had not charted but was popular among modern rock fans. The lyrics are said to be about midlife crisis and the sacrifice of youthful dreams. In the film, the song is presented in a single take with no edits.

The Stop Making Sense soundtrack went double platinum, as did the Heads’ follow-up album Little Creatures in 1985. The sound for this album was much more commercial, thought he band did retreat back into art-rock territory for their next two albums, one of which served as as the basis for the songs in in the film True Stories (directed by Bryne). After 1988′s African-influenced Naked, the Talking Heads broke up. Bryne had a solo career, including an Oscar for film scoring.  Harrison, Weymouth and Franz reunited in 1996 under the moniker “The Heads.”

“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