Archive for category Modern Rock

“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.

“Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak (1991)

Chris Isaak was born in Stockton CA and came up through the San Francisco music scene. His songs were embraced by modern rock fans, though they often contained easy-listening and rock’n'roll leanings. Early guitar-driven hits included “You Owe Me Some Kind of Love” “Blue Hotel” and “Heart Full of Soul”. In 1989, Isaak released Heart Shaped World with the lead single “Wicked Game“. The song was a minor hit.

In 1990, David Lynch used an instrumental version of the song in his film Wild at Heart. The song’s distinctive guitar riff (played by James Calvin Wilsey) was a key element of it’s inclusion in Lynch’s twisted fantasy. This renewed interest in the song, and thanks to DJs who pushed the record, Isaak suddenly found renewed life on the charts. The song went into the top 10 before peaking at number 6 in early 1991. The song’s music video was directed by Herb Ritts, often called one of the sexiest of all time. In addition to Wilsey’s guitar, the song showcases Isaak’s strong crooning voice. The song was used in numerous places in popular culture, from movies to soap operas.

Isaak continues to record and scored several hits after “Wicked Games”, such as “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing”. He has also appeared in movies and television (That Thing You Do! and Friends, among others). From 2001-2004 Showtime ran a show about a fictionalized sitcom version of Isaak’s life, The Chris Isaak Show.

“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

“More” by The Sisters of Mercy (1990)

The Sisters of Mercy are a gothic rock band from England who released three studio albums between 1985 and 1990 to moderate success. Since 1992, they have been at odds with their record company and have not released new material, though they continue to tour frequently. The group is led by singer-songwriter Andrew Eldritch and Doktor Avalanche on drums (Dokto Avalance is the name for a series of drum machines). The group is known for dark and moody songs that sometimes crossover onto the more mainstream Modern Rock and Dance charts.

The group’s early work was less commercial, with songs like “Black Planet” and “First and Last and Always”. The group’s second album contained the UK and Dance hits “This Corrosion”, “Dominion” and “Lucretia My Reflection”. The group’s 1990 album Vision Thing contained a number of popular songs such as “Doctor Jeep” and “When You Don’t See Me” and the group’s sound was slightly more “metal” sounding.

The group biggest hit was “More” from Vision Thing. The song was number one on the Modern Rock charts for five weeks, and clocked in at over eight minutes on the album. The song was cowritten and produced by Jim Steinman, an accomplished songwriter who previously worked with The Sisters on “This Corrosion” and also with Meat Loaf, Barry Manilow, and others. The song featured female backing vocals, which were unusual for the group.

The Sisters of Mercy’s last single “Temple of Love” was for their 1992 greatest hits album.

“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.”

“Lies” by Thompson Twins (1982)

The Thompson Twins were a U.K. synthpop trio who scored a number of hits during the mid-1980s. They were lead by Tom Bailey (keyboards/vocals/songwriting), Alannah Currie (percussion) and Joe Leeway (percussion). Bailey and Currie later became a couple.

An early incarnation of the band featured seven members, but the trio decided to continue without the others. The band’s first substantial hit was “In the Name of Love”, which was a number one dance hit in early 1982. Their follow-up single “Lies” brought them even more exposure, also hitting number one on the dance charts but more importantly breaking the top 30. The song featured Currie on background vocals and placed emphasis on analog percussion elements mixed with eastern-influened keyboard riffs. The song was a big hit on modern rock radio.

The group’s next album would be their commercial peak. Into the Gap was issued in 1984 and was a slow-building but ultimately platinum selling album. “Hold Me Now” featured Leeway on background vocals and was a slow-tempo ballad that was popular with young music fans. The song hit the top 5 in both the U.K. and America, followed by other big hits “Doctor Doctor”, “You Take Me Up” and “The Gap”. In 1985, the group scored two other top 10 singles with “Lay Your Hands on Me” and “King for a Day”. Several minor hits, including the theme song for the movie Nothing in Common, followed over the next several years.

By the end of the decade Leeway had left the group and the group was focusing producing other artists and raising a family. The group’s last song came from 1992 on the Cool World soundtrack. Bailey and Currie formed another band, Babble, in the mid-1990s.

“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.

“Fire Woman” by The Cult (1989)

The Cult blended post-punk goth sounds with blue-based hard rock to become one of the few bands popular with both modern rock and heavy metal audiences. The band was led by singer Ian Astbury, guitarist Billy Duffy, and bassist Jamie Stewart. The band emerged from a previous band, The Southern Death Cult, in England in 1984.

The band released Love in 1985, featuring guitar and keyboards with songs like “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Rain”. The band during this period was associated with goth acts such as The Sisters of Mercy. In 1987, Rick Rubin produced their album, Electric. Some songs were much more obviously influenced by hard rock/heavy metal, including a riff-for-riff rip off of AC/DC with the song “Wild Flower”. But the album was Platinum seller.

Sonic Temple followed in 1989, produced by Bob Rock. This was the band’s commercial apex, featuring popular singles such as “Sun King”, “Sweet Soul Sister” and “Edie (Ciao Baby)”. The album’s lead single “Fire Woman” featured mystical sounds that fascinated singer Astbury (who would later front a Doors reunion group). The song charted in the top 50 on the pop charts, and the group was an arena-selling live act as well (featuring future Guns n’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum). The Cult continued to remain popular with modern rock fans, while also being associated with the pop metal scene. Singer Astbury’s wild stage antics and soaring voice were a trademark for the band as well.

The band continued sans-Stewart in 1991 with a less successful album, Ceremony. This had the popular single “Wild Hearted Son” but started the band’s commercial decline. Infighting between Duffy and Astbury also reduced the band’s effectiveness. The group has reconvened over the years to mild commercial success.

“Lovesong” by The Cure (1989)

The Cure are led by Robert Smith, the group’s singer/songwriter, guitarist, and sole constant member. The group is known for a mix of gloomy (“Goth”) sounds and topics, along with other songs that have pop sensibilities. The group’s first album was released in 1979 and during the 1980s increased their popularity bit by bit. During the mid-1980s albums such as Head on the Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me featured popular single such as “In Between Days”, “Close to Me”, “Why Can’t I Be You” and “Just Like Heaven”.

In 1989, the group’s Disintegration album was a return of sorts to darker sounds from the early 1980s, though there were several commercial singles on the album as well. This proved to be the group’s most popular album, eventually selling over two million copies in the U.S.  The lead single “Fascination Street” almost charted in the top 40, while the follow-up single “Lullaby” was also popular on modern rock stations.

The third single “Lovesong” was a number two pop hit, the highest charting Cure single to date. The video for the song demonstrates Smith’s public persona and image, featuring wild hair and lipstick. “Lovesong” was covered by 311 for the 50 First Dates soundtrack, and their version went to number one on the modern rock charts. Adele also covered the song on her popular 21 album.

The Cure continued to have success throughout the 1990s, though their albums since have been less popular. The band’s music has changed over time and therefore many music fans can find something to like.

“Lovesong” Music Video

“Orange Crush” by REM (1988)

One of the most popular bands to emerge from the early 1980′s, REM came out of Athens, GA and worked their way up from college music fans to alternative favorites to finally an arena-selling band. The group’s singer, Michael Stipe, was infamous for singing lyrics that most people could not understand, but the band’s guitar-driven sound was increasingly popular as the New Wave keyboard sounds subsided from popular music.

REM’s breakthrough was in 1987 album, Document, and the top 20 single “The One I Love” (a song that was anything but a love song). Up to this time REM had been on the independent I.R.S. record label but after their success they signed a major label deal with Warners. This set up the band for a huge commercial breakthrough in 1988.

Orange Crush” was the first radio single from Green, and told the story about a football hero having to go to Vietnam (where the chemical Agent Orange was used). The song was typical of the band’s liberal stance during the otherwise conservative 1980s. The song while not officially released as a single, nonetheless charted on Rock Radio charts and pushed the album into the top 20 and ultimately to double platinum status.

Green featured other popular songs, including “Pop Song ’89″ and the top 10 hit “Stand”. The band’s 1991 follow-up, Out of Time, contained the top 5 single “Losing My Religion” (which also won Video of the Year from MTV), along with “Shiny Happy People” with Kate Pierson from the B-52′s (also hailing from Athens). The band’s 1994 album Monster was harder edged, in tune with Grunge, including the pop hit “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”.

The band still performs, though further albums have gradually been less commercially successful. REM’s guitar driven sound and college music marketing was a major factor in the emergence and popularity of “alternative” music in the 1990s.