Cult of Personality (song)

Last updated
"Cult of Personality"
Living Colour Cult of Personality.jpg
Single by Living Colour
from the album Vivid
ReleasedJuly 14, 1988
Format
Recorded1987-1988
Genre Alternative metal [1] [2]
Length4:54
Label
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s) Ed Stasium
Living Colour singles chronology
"Cult of Personality"
(1988)
"Middle Man"
(1988)

"Cult of Personality" is a song by rock band Living Colour. It was their second single off their debut album, Vivid , released on July 14, 1988. "Cult of Personality" reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 9 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart. It also won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1990. Its music video earned the MTV Video Music Award for Best Group Video and MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist. The song was ranked No. 69 on VH1's 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs. [3] The solo was ranked No. 87 in Guitar World's "100 Greatest Guitar Solos" list. [4] It was also selected for inclusion in the musical reference book, 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: And 10,001 You Must Download. The band's guitarist and founder, Vernon Reid, described the song as very special for the band not just for its commercial success but because it was essentially written in just one rehearsal session. The riff was stumbled upon while practicing something else and by the end of the session they had written what was to become Living Colour's best known song. The song contains many political references, and shares its name with a phenomenon involving psychology and politics.

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily from the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly from a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

Living Colour band

Living Colour is an American rock band from New York City, formed in 1984. Stylistically, the band's music is a creative fusion influenced by heavy metal, funk, jazz, hip hop, punk, and alternative rock. Their lyrics range from the personal to the political, in some of the latter cases attacking Eurocentrism and racism in America.

Single (music) Type of music release usually containing one or two tracks

In the music industry, a single is a type of release, typically a song recording of fewer tracks than an LP record or an album. This can be released for sale to the public in a variety of different formats. In most cases, a single is a song that is released separately from an album, although it usually also appears on an album. Typically, these are the songs from albums that are released separately for promotional uses such as digital download or commercial radio airplay and are expected to be the most popular. In other cases a recording released as a single may not appear on an album.

Contents

Background and composition

The title comes from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 anti-Stalin report, "On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences". During rehearsals at the band's loft in Brooklyn in 1987, lead singer Corey Glover was humming some notes. Guitarist Vernon Reid opened his small notebook of quotes and phrases for lyrical inspiration, and turned to a page where he had scribbled, "Look in my eyes, what do you see? The cult of personality."

Nikita Khrushchev First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev was a Soviet statesman who led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964, and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier, from 1958 to 1964. Khrushchev was responsible for the de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union, for backing the progress of the early Soviet space program, and for several relatively liberal reforms in areas of domestic policy. Khrushchev's party colleagues removed him from power in 1964, replacing him with Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary and Alexei Kosygin as Premier.

On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences report by Nikita Khrushchev on 25 Feb. 1956, sharply critical of Stalin, charging him with a cult of personality

"On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences", also popularly known as the "Secret Speech", was a report by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, made to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 25 February 1956. Khrushchev's speech was sharply critical of the reign of the deceased General Secretary and Premier Joseph Stalin, particularly with respect to the purges which had especially marked the last years of the 1930s. Khrushchev charged Stalin with having fostered a leadership cult of personality despite ostensibly maintaining support for the ideals of communism.

Brooklyn Borough in New York City and county in New York state, United States

Brooklyn is a borough of New York City coterminous with Kings County, the most populous county in the U.S. state of New York and the second-most densely populated county in the United States. It is New York City's most populous borough, with an estimated 2,504,700 residents in 2010. Named after the Dutch village of Breukelen, it borders the borough of Queens at the western end of Long Island. Brooklyn has several bridge and tunnel connections to the borough of Manhattan across the East River, and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge connects it with Staten Island.

In 2019, Reid explained the song's background:

"The whole idea was to move past the duality of: That's a good person and that's a bad person. What do the good and the bad have in common? Is there something that unites Gandhi and Mussolini? Why are they who they are? And part of it is charisma." [5]

Mahatma Gandhi Pre-eminent leader of Indian nationalism during British-ruled India

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was an Indian lawyer, anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist, who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India's independence from British Rule, and in turn inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. The honorific Mahātmā, first applied to him in 1914 in South Africa, is now used throughout the world.

Benito Mussolini Fascist leader of Italy

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy from the fascists' takeover of state power in 1922 until 1943, and Duce from 1919 to his execution in 1945 during the Italian civil war. As dictator of Italy and founder of fascism, Mussolini inspired several totalitarian rulers such as Adolf Hitler.

He also said:

"Cult of Personality was about celebrity, but on a political level. It asked what made us follow these individuals who were larger than life yet still human beings. Aside from their social importance, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King both looked like matinee idols. That was a strong part of why their messages connected. Even now it’s why Barack Obama has that certain something."

Malcolm X Muslim minister and human rights activist from the United States

Malcolm X was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular figure during the civil rights movement. He is best known for his controversial advocacy for the rights of blacks; some consider him a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans, while others accused him of preaching racism and violence.

Martin Luther King Jr. U.S. civil rights movement leader

Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. Born in Atlanta, King is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience, tactics his Christian beliefs and the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi helped inspire.

Barack Obama 44th president of the United States

Barack Hussein Obama II is an American attorney and politician who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, he was the first African American to be elected to the presidency. He previously served as a U.S. senator from Illinois from 2005 to 2008 and an Illinois state senator from 1997 to 2004.

The signature riff was improvised at the same rehearsal. Reid said:

"That cool riff had a Zeppelin-ish vibe, but also a Mahavishnu Orchestra thing going on. It was based on a series of notes that Corey had sung – my attempt to repeat that [on guitar]. I already had the lyrics, but with the music in place it very quickly took on a life of its own." [6]

Led Zeppelin English rock band

Led Zeppelin were an English rock band formed in London in 1968. The group consisted of vocalist Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham. Along with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, the band's heavy, guitar-driven sound has led them to be cited as one of the originators of heavy metal. Their style drew from a wide variety of influences, including blues, psychedelia and folk music.

Mahavishnu Orchestra American jazz fusion band

Mahavishnu Orchestra were a jazz fusion band formed in New York City in 1971 by English guitarist John McLaughlin. The band underwent several line-up changes throughout its history across two stints from 1971 to 1976 and 1984 to 1987. With its first line-up consisting of musicians Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman and Rick Laird, the band received its initial acclaims for its complex, intense music consisting of a blend of Indian classical music, jazz and psychedelic rock, and their dynamic live performances between 1971 and 1973.

Political figures referenced

"Cult of Personality" prominently includes several audio samples of speeches from 20th-century political leaders.

Public speaking process and act of speaking or giving a lecture to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain a listening audience

Public speaking is the process or act of performing a speech to a live audience. Public speaking is commonly understood as formal, face-to-face speaking of a single person to a group of listeners. Traditionally, public speaking was considered to be a part of the art of persuasion. The act can accomplish particular purposes including to inform, to persuade, and to entertain. Additionally, differing methods, structures, and rules can be utilized according to the speaking situation.

The song begins with an edited quote from the beginning of "Message to the Grass Roots", a speech by Malcolm X. As it appears in the song, the quote is:

"... And during the few moments that we have left, ... We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand."

The unabridged beginning of the speech is:

"... And during the few moments that we have left, we want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me—us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand." [7]

During a rest in the music at 4:35, John F. Kennedy's inaugural address is heard ("Ask not what your country can do for you ..."). The song ends with Franklin D. Roosevelt saying "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself", from his first inaugural address. The lyrics also mention Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, and Mahatma Gandhi. According to Vernon Reid, Adolf Hitler was originally also in the lyrics but was pulled due to fear that referencing him would be misconstrued and too controversial. [8]

Charts

Chart (1989)Peak
position
Australia (ARIA Chart) [9] 54
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ) [10] 3
UK Singles (Official Charts Company) [11] 67
US Billboard Hot 100 [12] 13
US Mainstream Rock ( Billboard ) [13] 9
US Rock Digital Songs ( Billboard ) [14] 21

In other media

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Cult of Personality official video on YouTube