April 8 – The Offspring Came Out To Play

Rolling Stone called 1994 “alternative rock’s greatest year”, something that’s open to debate. But there is no question grunge and neo-punk was on top that year and on this day The Offspring came out to play with their third full album, Smash, which went on to be exactly that. Coincidental timing meant the CD hit shelves on the same day the world found out that Kurt Cobain was dead and as Gen X mourned they might have found the heirs apparent to Nirvana in SoCal skate-punkers The Offspring.

By this time they’d been kicking around the clubs of the L.A. area for a decade and eight years had passed since they put out their first indie single, “I’ll Be Waiting” (and if you have an original of that gathering dust you could expect it to sell for around $125). Smash was the second release on the small Epitath Records label – fitting since singer Dexter Holland and guitarist “Noodles” decided they wanted to form a band after seeing another Epitath act, Social Distortion. This must have taken Epitath by as much surprise as anybody – the label founded in 1980 hadn’t had a record sell more than 100 000 copies before! On the strength of singles “Come Out and Play” (a #1 alternative chart hit and a platinum single in Australia) and the Nirvana-esque “Self Esteem”  (a #4 hit on Billboard‘s alternative chart and a #1 hit in Sweden) it went on to sell well past 10 million copies, including enough in the U.S. to make it 6X platinum and the biggest-selling “indie” record ever.

The album hit the top 5 in North America despite middling reviews. Entertainment Weekly graded it B-, lauding “Come Out and Play” , “whose novelty hook (“You gotta keep ’em separated”) will pogo into your brain and stay there” but finding the rest of it “Gen X anxiety…music for young men with long hair and muscular torsos.” Rolling Stone similarly graded it 3-stars, suggesting “music is secondary to bringing the noise” as saying they “at times come off as rote.” Allmusic was a bit kinder, giving it 4.5-stars, complimenting “Come out and Play” for how it “stopped and started just like Nirvana, only without the Seattle trio’s recklessness.” Though they disputed whether or not The Offspring were really “punk” and noted “nothing on the album matches the incessant catchiness ” of the two singles, it was still ” a solid record filled with enough heavy riffs to keep most teenagers happy.”

Fans obviously disagreed with Rolling Stone;  not only did it set North American records for indie record sales, the band went on to sign with Columbia Records after this one and have decent, platinum-selling success four years later with Ixnay on the Hombre, which  sold in the area of four million and gave them a #1 hit in the UK with “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”. Their hometown L.A.’s alternative super-station KROQ rank them as the eighth top artist to come along since 1980.  They have displayed longevity that not all their contemporaries did; they still and put out a new album, their first in nine years, in 2021.They have a tour of the U.S. slated for late this summer after finishing off an 18-city tour of Canada last year. If it’s another nine years between albums for them, they probably won’t get bored. Guitarist/singer Dexter Holland earned a PhD in biology in the band’s downtime and guitarist “Noodles” is said to be a fan of classical music and wine!


January 19 – A Warehouse Of ’90s Sounds Arrived Three Years Early

The shape and sound of much of the ’90s was made on this day in 1987, although few knew it then! Husker Du released their great, powerful yet tuneful Warehouse:Songs and Stories double album.

The Warner record was the last for the Minnesota trio that influenced a whole range of musicians, most notably Nirvana who all echoed the sentiments of Krist Novoselic who said “Nirvana was nothing new, Husker Du did it before us.” Dave Grohl was also a noted fan and has appeared several times with Husker’s singer/guitarist Bob Mould since. Not only did Husker Du break the ground for what would become “grunge”, they also were highly influential among underground rock bands of the ’80s by being the first American “punk” act to sign with a major label (Warner Bros. in 1986) and put out records that sounded much the same as their indie work had. This showed the likes of R.E.M., Sonic Youth and later Nirvana that getting backing of a big label wasn’t necessarily “selling out.” As for Warehouse, it was a bit of a departure for the trio, but not a drastic one. The band had made a name for themselves with short, powerhouse rockers dished up grittily, such as “Makes No Sense At All”, which had been a hit on British indie charts two years earlier. On Warehouse , years of maturing and a bigger budget helped make the sound a bit more palatable without compromising their energy or anger. Unlike their previous five records, this one they wrote and rehearsed in an old Twin Cities warehouse (hence the title) rather than on stage and they took full advantage of a decent studio to overdub some guitars and a keyboard bit here and there. The songs though were pure-Husker Du, and if anything more angry than ever, owing to a personality clash between Mould and drummer Grant Hart (according to many a couple who were splitting up romantically during the recording) who also wrote some of their tracks including the second single off it, “She’s A Woman.

Spin gave it 7 out of 10 and Rolling Stone considered the record a “viable candidate for album of the year”  but the public weren’t as enthusiastic. Although it hit #31 in New Zealand and squeaked into the Canadian album charts, it missed in Britain (where they’d had good success before) and more importantly, in the U.S. despite the catchy single “Could You Be The One?” getting decent play on MTV. Allmusic later graded it a full 5-stars and perceived what made it special: though it had fuller production… to their credit, they never sound like they are selling out” and Bob Mould “nearly arrives at power pop” with his songs, something that “pointed the way to the kind of ‘alternative’ rock that dominated the mainstream in the early-’90s.” Or to paraphrase, being an innovator pays off in respect, but not dollars!

November 22 – Third Album Was Vital To Keeping Pearl Jam Moving Along

By this time in 1994, Kurt Cobain was dead and the public’s love of all things grunge was beginning to fade. Nirvana was done, but their co-flag bearers of the mantel, Pearl Jam were still going strong, as shown by their third album, Vitalogy. It came out this day 28 years ago. Whether by design or coincidence, they seemed to take note of the shift of tastes and delivered an album mixing more direct rock, a few more acoustic tunes and a bit of experimentalism in place of more Seattle-trademark grunge. Their fans seemingly approved!

The band had taken most of the preceding year to put Vitalogy together, recording in various studios in their hometown as well as Atlanta and New Orleans, amidst touring. They did retain their producer Brendan O’Brien who’d worked on their previous album, Vs, and who was always willing to change up a band’s sound a little. A change that might have been in part from the band itself being in transition. Guitarist Mike McCready had to time out to go to rehab during the sessions to curb his booze and cocaine addictions, and drummer Dave Abbruzzese quit towards the end of the recordings, being replaced by Jack Irons. Stone Gossard, another guitarist, was having troubles dealing with the band’s frontman Eddie Vedder, whom he found to be getting more and more dictatorial. O’Brien reflects that “Vitalogy was a little strained. I’m being polite – there was some imploding going on.” Thankfully Irons fit in well and seemed to be able to get the band back on track to finish off what has been described as both their most remarkable and most challenging record.

The resultant 14 songs were more varied and in places – “Bugs”, “Hey Foxymophandlemama That’s Me” – and in places hard rocking and dour. Nonetheless, it won good reviews and contained two of their more enduring tunes, “Spin the Black Circle” and “Better Man.

At the time, Rolling Stone and Q both gave it 4-stars, and Entertainment Weekly a “B+”. The concensus was that it was well-made and adventurous, but a bit of a grind to listen to in its entirety. Rolling Stone called it “a wildly uneven and difficult record, sometimes maddening, sometimes ridiculous, often powerful.” The New York Times liked its diversity and their “sounding more spontaneous than before”, but also found it “unrelentingly glum.” EW suggested “it’s always been easier to admire Pearl Jam in theory than in practice” and while this effort was “humorless”, they could be great “when they latch onto a no-frills, traditional melody as in the flailing ‘Corduroy’ and the ragged folk-rocker ‘Better Man.’”

Later reviews were largely similar; allmusic giving it 4.5-stars for instance, which was better than Vs but not as good as Ten. They do consider that “it stands as Pearl Jam’s most original and uncompromising album.”

Their fans largely agreed. Although it came out initially only on vinyl LP ( an odd and daring more at the time when most big labels had entirely stopped producing vinyl records), but when it came out on CD (and cassette) two weeks later, it sold 877 000 copies in its first week in the U.S. alone. That was the second-best first week since Soundscan began at the start of the decade, behind only… their Vs.

The rock field was shifting but Vitalogy got to find a sweet spot that earned lots of love and airplay on both the Alternative rock and Mainstream rock channels for much on 1995. “Spin the Black Circle”, released in some markets as an old-fashioned single, got to #18 at home (their highest-charting single to that point) , while being a #2 hit in New Zealand and top 10 in Britain. It also won them their first Grammy, for Best Hard Rock Performance. “Not For You” also got good radio play and hit the New Zealand top 10, but the biggie was Eddie Vedder’s slow-building ode to battered wives, “Better Man” ( a song he said was written for his stepdad, “that bastard who married my mama”) . It spent eight weeks on top of rock charts and as high as #13 in total radio airplay, and be a top 10 single in Canada.

The album rose to #2 in Canada, #4 in the UK but #1 in many other countries including their own U.S., plus Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. At 5X platinum in both the States and Canada, it actually sold a little less than the two preceding records of theirs but was still high among the best-sellers of the mid-’90s in the field of rock.

Pearl Jam are still going strong, and recently showcased in a best-selling book, Long Road: Pearl Jam and the Soundtrack Of a Generation, by Steven Hyden, who looks at how “their legacy and longevity have transended generations.”

August 5 – Rusty OK With Hit Being A ‘Fluke’

Beginner’s luck? Perhaps, but Rusty don’t seem to mind. And perhaps they’re raising a glass today, looking back to this day in 1995 when they seemed poised to be the Next Big Thing. The Canadian band hit Billboard with their debut single, “Wake Me”… but it would turn out to be their only international hurrah. And a bit of a subdued one at that – “Wake Me” would peak at just #26 on the Alternative Rock charts in the States, and they’d never be heard of again Stateside. At home they did a wee bit better.

Rusty was a band The Record described as “’60s psych-pop meshed with vintage punk, with a hip hop-funk & roll sound seasoned with ’90s grunge.” Whew. Got all that? Basically they were a straight ahead rock band that fell somewhere between the growing California surf punk (Green Day, Offspring) and well-settled grunge (Nirvana, Soundgarden) sounds of the decade. Like slightly more successful contemporaries Sloan, they’d formed in Nova Scotia in the late-’80s, at the time being known as One Tree Fall, then moved to Toronto. Their they added in Scott McCullough, from the Doughboys, and changed their name. They recorded “Wake Me” as an indie single, it got some attention locally and got them signed to a small imprint of BMG in Canada and a short-lived punk branch of Atlantic Records in the U.S. They quickly recorded their first album, Fluke, which whether a “fluke” or not, was a minor hit in Canada. Oddly, “Wake Me” wasn’t a biggie off it domestically; “Groovy Dead” did a bit better in the Great White North and the first single off their next album, “Empty Cell”, better yet, hitting the national top 30 and being a major hit on the Much Music video station back when it still ran music. The song “Punk” from the debut even got some Big Screen treatment, being used in the David Spade/Chris Farley movie Black Sheep. But their career never really took off.

Rusty called it a day by 2000, for a simple reason – they weren’t making any money doing it anymore. McCullough said recently “we all got along pretty well…we always remained friends.” So, eventually they got a hankering to reunite, playing a reunion show at the NXNE Festival in 2011, then crowd-sourcing to raise funds to record a new album, in 2018. Singer Ken McNeill has an answer for that too : “my kids started to get older, and just through some conversations I realized they didn’t know I was (once) in a band.” He adds “we’re not gonna play full-time, but we kinda consider anything people offer us.” Is he upset they never made it really big? Hardly. “I always think ‘how lucky are we?’ We decide to play and go to Toronto and tons of people come out…we’re not the Rolling Stones, but we’re very lucky.” And we’re lucky there are so many acts like Rusty who never became household names but enjoyed their moment in the sun and added to the musical tapestry of a decade.

June 7 – STP Made Critics Red In The Face. Or Maybe ‘Purple’

It was a good day for sneering critics in 1994…but so too was it a good day for southern California’s Stone Temple Pilots, who put out their second album, often referred to as Purple, that day. And boy how many in the music media loved to hate them!

It came about two years after their debut, which had sold well but earned scathing reviews. Some merely hated the grungey sound to begin with, but many thought they were deliberate rip-offs of Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. For Purple, they decided to answer back the critics…a little. They expanded their sound a bit and incorporated more elements drawn from the Blues or pop than before. As bassist (and perhaps main songwriter) Robert DeLeo said then, “how could you not be personally offended or hurt by someone dissing what’s so personal to you?” They did keep one thing in common with the first record, bringing back producer Brendan O’Brien who always seemed to be able to inject a little lightness and “pop” into the darkest of sounds.

Robert and brother Dean DeLeo (the guitarist) began working on the ten brand new songs late in ’93, sometimes with singer Scott Weiland’s input. Two songs were done earlier; “Big Empty” was a song they did early in ’93 on their MTV Unplugged show and just revamped for use in The Crow soundtrack; “Lounge Fly” had been recorded in summer ’93 during a stop at Prince’s Minnesota Paisley Park studio.

The album contained some of the decade’s more memorable Alt Rock tunes, including “Big Empty,” “Vasoline” and especially “Interstate Love Song”, a song which at worst stood toe-to-toe with the best of Nirvana’s output in creating a memorable, catchy radio-friendly riff. So much so in fact that it spent 15 weeks at #1 on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock chart, an all-time record then, outdoing “Start Me Up” by a band many had heard of called the Rolling Stones which had been the previous record-holder in that department for over a decade!

Fans loved it, even if they were a tad confused over what to call it. The cover, with the fat baby riding a flying dragon, only had their band name on it and the LP and cassettes simply said “Stone Temple Pilots” on the spine. However, in front of the dragon there was a Chinese character which apparently was “purple”, and with many of the LPS being pressed on purple vinyl, it generally came to be referred to as that. Call it “Stone Temple Pilots “ or call it “Purple,” you could call it hard to find at record stores that June. It debuted at #1 on the American charts, selling past a quarter million copies in the first week. It would be their only #1 in the U.S., and also topped Aussie charts, while reaching #2 in Canada and #10 in the UK, not a bad mark for a country which didn’t embrace the loud depression-and-flannel sound like North America did. It’s currently 6X platinum at home, their most lofty sales total to date.

So, critics probably said “yes! This is a West Coast album we can get behind! These guys are better than we thought.” Right? Well, no. Critics still seemed determined to pan them and call them cheap imitations, even if they couldn’t agree on whether they were imitating Pearl Jam or Led Zeppelin. Entertainment Weekly graded it “B-” , grudgingly admitting “they pull off these copycat melodies with supreme skill,” but saying it might as well be an “alt rock tribute album”, comparing “Unglued” to Soundgarden, “Interstate Love Song” to a “more polite version” of Pearl Jam’s “Daughter” (it takes some sort of special ear to hear that comparison, we think), and “Silvergun Superman” to “REM if they still made arena-ready albums.” Grumpy Robert Christgau at the Village Voice merely gave it a “bomb” symbol as a grade while Rolling Stone were mixed, giving it 3-stars. They declared that Weiland did indeed sound like Eddie Vedder but “probably because both vocalists lift from the same ’70s rock groups” and at least noticing there was “nothing grungey at all about Stone Temple Pilot’s palatable suburban riffs.” Time though seems to have been a friend to Purple. Quite a few retroactive reviews consider it one of the genre’s better efforts; allmusic for example rate it 4-stars. They figured it to be a “quantum leap over their debut, showcasing a band hitting its stride,” describing the music as “heavily melodic and slightly psychedelic” and summing it up by noting “mainstream hard rock didn’t get any better “than “Interestate Love Song” or “Big Empty” in the ’90s.

Stone Temple Pilots would continue to diversify their sound, and annoy critics, with their follow-up, Tiny Music.

March 1 – Germans Saw Grunge’s Last Hurrah

The funny thing about history is that more often than not, you don’t know when you see it being made. Such was in all probability the case for several thousand people in Germany on this night in 1994, crowded into an old abandoned airport building in Munich. They figured they were just at another rock show, but history shows it would turn out to be the final performance ever by Nirvana.

Hot on the outrageous success of Nevermind, the trio had released In Utero in September, 1993 to a confused fan base but largely good reviews and had spent the subsequent months promoting the hell out of it. Although two decades on, the album may not sound that out-of-place when compared to its predecessor, it seemed at the time that no matter what Nirvana did, it wasn’t going to satisfy its new, huge fan base. Returning to their punk roots was going to alienate the newbies who heard them played next to U2 and The Cure on radio; too radio-friendly a sound was sure to annoy the hardcore fans and earn them the title “sell-outs.” The pressure on Kurt Cobain was intense. As the NME noted in its review, In Utero was a “profoundly confused record” that veered between punk and pop, “like a great band staggering around looking for a direction.” They considered Cobain to be “scared of the contentment he’s slipped into.” Nevertheless, the British publication graded the album an 8 out of 10; Rolling Stone was even more enthusiastic, rating it a 4-and-a-half out of 5 stars. The album entered the U.S. charts at #1 and was at #3 in Canada within days and earned platinum status in both countries by the end of September.

While popular in Europe, they didn’t have quite the same level of super-stardom, which no doubt was something Geffen Records wanted to fix. So after wrapping up an initial American tour for the album on Jan. 8 in Seattle, the band departed for a lengthy and grueling tour of Europe, with shows almost every night in February in Germany, Spain, France and even Slovenia. To fill out their sound, they brought along a couple of female cellists and guitarist Pat Smear (who would later join Dave Grohl in the Foo Fighters).

The demands of the tour, and of stardom in general, wore on Cobain. He was suffering from stomach problems that had plagued him for much of his life, and while apparently happy with his new wife Courtney Love, he presumably was stressed out by being apart from her so much of the time. All of that didn’t help him with his drug issues. Dave Grohl told Rolling Stone in 2013 that In Utero could be seen either as a “remarkable achievement (but) you can also remember it as a really f**-up time.” He recalled his time together with Kurt recording the album and touring for it thusly: “Living with Kurt was funny. He isolated himself in a lot of ways, emotionally. But he had a genuine sweet nature.” The isolation and physical strain was noticeable during the tour. Fan site livenirvana.com considered their Valentine’s Day concert in Paris the best of the whole tour but by Feb.22, in Italy it remarked that “Cobain is conspicuous by his near total silence between songs.”

The original international airport in Munich had been replaced by a new one in 1992, and eventually was redeveloped as a convention and shopping center, but in the years between, the Flughafen-Munchen Riem had been used for rock concerts and raves. Nirvana had been booked in for the first two nights of March.

The band took the stage and surprised the crowd by opening with a grungy but decent cover of the Cars song, “My Best Friend’s Girl,” a rather reasonable tip of the hat given that the Cars themselves had originally been considered “punk” but were picked up on by the mainstream audiences when Cobain was a kid. (At another show on the tour, they’d opened with a cover of the Knack’s “My Sharona”.) The fans ate it up but the night seemed ill-fated. The power went out briefly a few songs in, causing them to have to stop and then kick back into “Come As You Are” when the power came back. Ironically, Krist Novoselic joked at that point “Grunge is dead. Nirvana’s over.” And while they did traditional songs from their setlist such as “Dumb”, “In Bloom” and “Pennyroyal Tea”, they somehow didn’t perform “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, their signature tune. They’d been performing the song right after “Come As You Are” on the tour, so whether they just forgot it or made a conscious decision to cut it that night is open for debate. Either way, Cobain’s voice was struggling. Even a healthy man would get worn out from screaming his way through nightly sets of their music He was suffering from bronchitis and his voice was fading through the concert. Laryngitis was setting in.

About 70 minutes after they kicked off with the Cars’ song, they set into “Heart-shaped Box”, the album’s biggest hit and the song they closed all the In Utero concerts with. It was the shortest concert of the tour. As they left the stage, they likely still expected to be on the same stage doing the same material the following night, but Kurt’s laryngitis soon put the kibosh on that. A number of March concerts were canceled, and Cobain headed to Rome to meet up with Courtney and enjoy a bit of R&R – rest and relaxation rather than rock’n’roll. On March 4, she found Kurt unconscious on their hotel floor in Rome, in a coma induced by an overdose of Rohypnol (a prescription insomnia drug) and champagne. Whether it was an accident or a suicide attempt, we’ll never know. We do know it caused the band to cancel 25 or so remaining European concerts scheduled for the spring.

They returned to Seattle. Grohl recalls the last time he saw Cobain, at their accountant’s office. “He smiled and said ‘hey, what’s up?’ and I said ‘I’ll give you a call’ and he said ‘Okay.’ Remarkably, Grohl doesn’t mention the final German show at all in his recent memoir and pays surprisingly little attention to the Nirvana era in general. 

Days later, Cobain was dead from a gunshot legally ascribed as a suicide but right up there with Sasquatch and Area 51 when it comes to conspiracy theories.

History is funny. Presumably Novoselic had no idea on March 1 that Nirvana was over, yet his joke hit the nail eerily on the head.

In Utero went on to sell about 15 million copies worldwide; Grohl went on to long-lasting success fronting the Foo Fighters and posthumous live releases kept Nirvana fans somewhat satisfied through the ’90s, but after this night, no one would ever see Kurt Cobain yelling out anthems for a generation again.

The Cars song as well as “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” and “Drain You” from the March1 concert were released as part of their Live and Loud DVD (most of which was recorded at a Seattle concert from the same tour.) And should you have been in attendance in Munich that night, know that not only did you witness a piece of music history but that you might be in possession of some valuable keepsakes. In recent years, tickets from the concert were fetching  upwards of $2500 on e-bay.

January 23 – Odd Little Studio Led To Odd, But Huge, Band

The future of popular music changed jarringly this day in 1988 in a nondescript little triangular building on Leary Way in Seattle. The wood-paneled former Triangle Foods store had since 1984 been a music studio known as Reciprocal Recording and in it on this day, Nirvana were recording for the first time. About six hours and $152 later, their first demo tape was ready.

In retrospect this seems like a big deal, but at the time it was nothing much. The Seattle scene was bubbling under, but the band with Kurt Cobain drew scant attention, although they had been playing shows in the Puget Sound area for a year or more, under a variety of names including Throat Oyster, windowpane and Skid Row (before Sebastian Bach’s band of that name from the east coast became well-known). It had been a unit since Cobain ran into Krist Novoselic, or “Chris” as he spelled his name at that point, at a Melvins show. Curiously, the two went to school together at Aberdeen High School a couple of hours outside of Seattle, but didn’t know each other then. Once they hooked up, and added a drummer – they ran through them in a Spinal Tap-like procession in the early years- and played loud, hard music. They were influenced by acts such as Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith that Cobain’s father had introduced him to, local bands like The Melvins, punk acts like the Sex Pistols and Husker Du and in Novoselic’s case, the Smithereens who he listened to repeatedly while going to and from shows.

They opted for the name Nirvana because as loud and brash as they were, Cobain didn’t want a “typical angry or stupid-sounding name for a punk band.” They went into the studio, that day manned by sound engineer Jack Endino, with Dale Crover, the drummer from The Melvins (a band whose name comes up time and time again in stories about the early grunge and ’80s American punk scenes) . The band had temporarily lost track of their “official” drummer, Aaron Burckhard when Kurt and Krist had moved from Aberdeen closer to the metro area. How do you think that guy feels now about not answering his phone or taking a busride into the big city? Continue reading “January 23 – Odd Little Studio Led To Odd, But Huge, Band”

January 11 – Alternative Was The ‘Alternative’ No Longer

Was it the day alternative rock became “regular” rock? Nirvana took over the #1 spot on the Billboard album chart this day in 1992, knocking Michael Jackson off the top. Fittingly they also ended up on national TV that night too, with a performance on Saturday Night Live

It clearly showed the public was ready for something new and edgy. While the previous year, R.E.M. and U2, as well as hard-rockers Metallica, did have #1 records in the U.S., the charts – and radio – were dominated by the likes of Whitney Houston, Paula Abdul, Gloria Estefan and Roxette. Nirvana showed that the grunge movement was hardly a minor trend – and no one was more surprised than their label. The president of Geffen Records said “we didn’t do anything- it was just one of those ‘get out of the way and duck’ records.” Insiders say Geffen expected Nevermind to sell, optimistically, 250 000 copies. By this time it had already surpassed a million. It would go on to spend a second week on top before being displaced by Garth Brooks, and over 10 million copies in the U.S. alone. Rolling Stone was equally surprised. Though they had given it a 4-star rating (appreciating the ‘dynamic mix of sizzling power chords, manic energy and sonic restraint”) they noted that “postpunk stars from Husker Du to Soundgarden have joined the corporate world without debasing their music” which leads to “depths of commercial failure….Nirvana is the latest underground bonus baby to test the mainstream tolerance.”

While Nirvana itself would prove short-lived (obviously owing to the early death of main man Kurt Cobain less than two years later), the popularity of drummer Dave Grohl’s later band, the Foo Fighters, and of bands like Pearl Jam, Puddle of Mudd and Limp Bizkit showed that the trend of loud rock being mainstream was not such a flash in the pan.

December 8 – Creed ‘Weathered’ The Barbs

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times 20 years ago. For Creed that is. They hit #1 on the U.S. album charts this day in 2001 with Weathered, their third album, knocking Garth Brooks out of the way in doing so. That part was good, but the internal affairs of the Florida neo-grunge, pseudo-Christian rock band were not.

For one thing, bassist Brian Marshall was out of the band, after threatening guitarist Mark Tremonti (who took on the role as bassist as well as guitarist in the studio when they became a trio) and making unpopular statements about how his band was better than Pearl Jam. Marshall was suffering from alcohol and drug problems, and the band wanted him to go to rehab, which he didn’t, but he did leave Creed. Meanwhile, singer/lyricist Scott Stapp was dealing with his own drinking and drug problems (and had gotten into a bar fight around the time of the making of this record, when a customer asserted Pearl Jam was better than them… the band did not like Pearl Jam, nor the many suggestions that they merely ripped off that Seattle band’s sound.)

The criticisms were perhaps taken to heart by Stapp. He insisted neither he nor Tremonti listen to anyone else’s music between the release of 1999’s Human Clay and the making of this one, so as to be sure not to sub-consciously steal anyone’s sound. The pair wrote the 11 songs at Stapp’s home and on his boat quickly in fall of ’01; the Sep. 11 attacks took place during the time they were recording which their producer said resulted in “the mood quickly chang(ing) and intensified.” Song titles like “Who’s Got My Back?”, “My Sacrifice” and “Bullets” would suggest that, although apparently they were already written and mainly done before Sep. 11. “Bullets” in fact compares the insults hurled at their band to “bullets” being shot at the singer. The title track, according to Stapp “absolutely relate to” the pressures he felt being a celebrity. “That was me sharing my heart and soul.” Perhaps the most interesting of the songs was also the longest they ever did, “Who’s Got My Back?”, an eight-and-a-half minute tune opened with an authentic Cherokee prayer chanted by a Cherokee fan. The song loosely looks at the plight of the American Indian, with lines like “without what was sacred to us” and lamenting “the covenant has been broken.” Stapp said it was personal to him because he does have some Cherokee in his own family tree.

The band promoted Weathered heavily just prior to its release, with things like a Saturday Night Live appearance and a halftime show at a Dallas Cowboys football game. And doing interviews, like one where Stapp compared his band to Led Zeppelin. All of which helped sales but not the critical appraisal. Entertainment Weekly rated it “C-”, while Rolling Stone gave it 3.5-stars and Britain’s The Guardian, 3-stars. That paper thought it was “worth listening to” but their “lack of levity takes it toll” (something allmusic would later agree with in their 2-star rating, noting “even R.E.M. and U2 lightened up occasionally”) . Rolling Stone, surprisingly perhaps called it a “lucid powerhouse of a third album… rock of unusual force and arrest.” Allmusic would reference that Led Zep comparison and note “Zeppelin changed on each one of those first four albums, where Creed has stayed the same.”

Fans however, loved them for all their predictability. “My Sacrifice” hit #4 at home, their third top 10 hit, and was a #1 hit on rock radio charts. “One Last Breath” and “Bullets” followed it up high on the mainstream rock charts. The album sold an impressive 887 000 copies its first week on the shelves, and spent eight-straight weeks at #1, the longest run of consecutive weeks on top for any album since the Titanic soundtrack in 1998. It sold 6X platinum, a smash, although barely half the number the previous album, Human Clay, had sold. Elsewhere, it hit #3 in Canada and Australia, #4 in New Zealand, but only #44 in the grunge-weary UK.

Although sales were solid, things kept going downhill for Creed. Later in ’01, Stapp was completely out of it on a mix of booze and prescription pills, for a Chicago concert. They managed to do three songs before he passed out; he attempted to return and finish the show but couldn’t remember lyrics or pick up on what the others were playing; there was a class action lawsuit against them demanding refunds and retribution, but it was thrown out of court eventually. The band itself broke up in 2004 though, and received little notice when they briefly reunited in 2009.

November 25 – Grunge…And Staley’s…Last Stand?

Grunge is usually considered the defining “sound” of the 1990s, and in some ways it was. It certainly changed the sound of mainstream hit radio for instance, when songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” were getting played. But in other ways, it really wasn’t. For one thing, it really was only exceptionally popular in North America. And for another, it really only lasted the first half of the decade, arguably before morphing into something lighter and more pop-flavored (ala the likes of Collective Soul and Goo Goo Dolls). However, grunge had one of its last hurrahs on this day in 1995. That was when Alice In Chains debuted at #1 on Billboard.

The self-titled album, sometimes nicknamed “Tripod” (for the picture of the three-legged dog on the cover) was third full-length album for the Seattle purveyors of gloomy, grimy music. Some would consider it their fourth, since the previous year they’d put out a 7-song “EP”, Jar of Flies, which had also topped the album chart at home. Either way, the album was much anticipated by rock fans and one of only a handful of albums to that point to actually enter the chart at #1.

They’d had a fair bit of time to get it done, but that “gift” was also their curse. Singer Layne Staley was heavily addicted to heroin, causing them to cancel a ’94 tour while sending him off to rehab. Which was only partly-successful. While Layne seemed a bit more coherent than before (he said of the making of this record “I will cherish it forever, because this one I can remember doing”) , he was still struggling and their manager Susan Silver called his condition, and habit of falling asleep suddenly was “gut-wrenching.” And not conducive to good band relations; guitarist Jerry Cantrell was already working on a solo record at the time and even began writing some lyrics to go with his compositions. Lyrics were more typically Staley’s territory. On this album, Cantrell was the chief composer of 11 out of 12 songs, and did the lyrics to three. Perhaps not surprisingly, those were three out of the four hits on the album : “Grind”, “Over Now” and “Heaven Beside You.” Of the songs which got airplay or sold as singles, only “Again” was a Staley product.

They recorded the record at Bad Animals studio in their hometown. At the time, Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson owned the place. Their routine for the nine “Staley” songs was to record music then give the instrumental to Layne to fill in lyrics. “I just wrote down whatever was on my mind, so a lot of the lyrics are pretty loose,” he explained. Cantrell’s were perhaps a bit more focused. “Heaven Beside You” was for a girlfriend he was splitting up with, “a way to express things I could never express.” And “Over Now” sounded suspiciously like a goodbye note from the band…which it more or less was. “There’s a lot of sadness to that record,” Cantrell says. “It’s the sound of a band falling apart.”

Fans didn’t ate it up…but not quite as eagerly as the they had previously. Although getting to #1 for a week, and #5 in both Canada and Australia, Alice In Chains sold less than the previous EP and album by them had. That said, it was still double-platinum in the U.S., which is not too shabby. But both the movement, and the band, were winding down. AIC would never record any substantial new material with Staley; they tried to keep fans by releasing a string of live albums, best ofs, compilations of b-sides, even a box set, but they’d not do a real new album until 2009, seven years after Staley died of an overdose.

As for grunge, some might argue this was its last real stand. In 1996 Pearl Jam and Nirvana both had #1 albums, but Nirvana’s was a live record released posthumously (relative to Kurt Cobain’s life and death) and Pearl Jam by then had grown their sound so much as to not much resemble the muddy, loud, gloomy sound that so typified the Pacific northwest of five years earlier. After that, grunge was pretty much back in the shadows or consigned to the nostalgia files.

Wishing all of you a great day and my American readers a very happy Thanksgiving!