The Midday Meal

A repository for the various things i consume in the course of daily existence

Friday, September 24, 2004

Song 6 Living Colour - Elvis is Dead

Zilla's prescience aside, the reason that Living Colour have not appeared earlier in the list (which is in a number of ways developing semi chronologically) is simply because I can't pick a song. Now that he's raised them I couldn't put off making a decision any longer, because this is around the time the boys should be getting a mention, but which song? As probably their biggest hit, Love Rears it Ugly Head was a chance for a guernsey but everyone knows that one, similarly Cult of Personality was their first single, and as much a statement of intent as anything else they did. I've settled on Elvis is Dead, because it demonstrates a number of the reasons I liked Living Colour.

Living Colour were a black rock band… it’s a rare thing when you think about it. After Hendrix there were a number of great black artists, but none of them rocked, Hendrix's influence was felt more by white musicians than black ones, who preferred to follow the lead of James Brown (see Parliament, Grand Master Flash, Public Enemy). Through the 70s black music was the funk, which grew into rap and hip hop in the eighties and nineties. Although they didn't distance themselves from those musical styles (Public Enemy featured on their first album) they incorporated rock into the mix along with the other stuff.

The other feature of Living Colour, particularly their first two albums, was their awareness. They had something to say, it wasn't that different to what Public Enemy had to say, and probably not far removed from the daily reality of an intelligent black person who grew up in the states in the 60's and 70's and wanted a better life, but it an awareness that was so alien to a white Australian teenager growing up in the suburban wonderland of Canberra.

I had a number of friends who were quite interested around the time (and the few years previous) in the growing rap genre, particularly acts like NWA and Public Enemy. Although, I think that had more to do with the anti authority appeal of listening to music with the word motherfucker sprinkled through the lyrics than any burgeoning political awareness. LIving Colour's lyrics weren't spectacular very often, indeed listening to them now

I'd like to claim it was the intelligence behind Living Colour that attracted me to the band, but it was the wild noises that Vernon Reid could coax from his guitar that first peaked my interest. What kept me interested was how different Living Colour was to most of the rest of the music that was around at the time, and it made me realise that music could (at times) try to aim towards affecting something bigger than the kids in the mosh pit, while still keeping them happy.

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