Living Colour woke us all up in a pretty big way when their debut, Vivid, dropped in 1988, the band combining hard rock with funk and soul and a socially conscious lyrical approach atypical for the party-hard era at hand. Add in some truly off-the-charts playing skills, a guitarist who played way off the beaten path, and some of the more impassioned vocal performances of the day, and you’ve got a winner, which Vivid most certainly was, which is why we inducted it into our Hall of Fame in our March 2015 issue. Today we take a look at the album in detail, ranking the songs from worst to best. It’s an interesting one: there are some legendary tunes here, but there’s a few clunkers as well. Don’t worry, though: the good songs are so astonishingly good they make up for any shortcomings this classic album has.
11. Funny Vibe
Just can’t do it. Joke funk song? Even if there’s some greater meaning to it all, that shit’s like fingers on a chalkboard to me. But let’s try to get some positive out of it, and that’s actually pretty easy, even if I dislike the end result: the individual playing is, as it is throughout all of Vivid, a thing of wonder, with drummer Will Calhoun holding down a perfect groove, guitarist Vernon Reid wailing away like there’s no tomorrow, and bassist Muzz Skillings poppin’ those strings with dexterity. As players, they were so on fire in 1988 it’s almost hard to believe. Still, I never want to hear “Funny Vibe” again.
10. Glamour Boys
Speaking of songs I never want to hear again, this incredible album, oddly, has two of them, and here’s the second. I’ve disliked this song since 1988, and those feelings never once gave up. Although maybe it’s some kind of joke I don’t get, which is entirely possible; I think it might be about glam bands, which makes it pretty amusing. Either way, it’s still annoying to listen to, although, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say this: when I saw them play it live a few years ago, it was almost charming.
9. What’s Your Favorite Color? (Theme Song)
Uh, listen, this album gets good, really freaking good, so bear with us here. Now, if you like funk, this song totally kills it; hard to get past the fact that this is their “theme song” (also, hard to get past the spelling inconsistencies of the word “color” in this song and the band name), but the chorus (which is, seemingly, most of the song) definitely worms its way into everyone’s head.
8. Memories Can’t Wait
Maybe Vivid’s biggest problem was the fact that the first half was filled with mainly way-above-average songs, making side two a bit difficult. Talking Heads cover “Memories Can’t Wait” was in the unenviable position of track 7 of 11 here, and the band makes the questionable move to slow it down to a moody mid-tempo funkster with a dissonant pre-chorus vocal melody, while the structure of the song is full of surprises that tend to kill the momentum. Having said all that, Living Colour somehow manage to make all that work.
7. Broken Hearts
By this point in Vivid, metalheads were pretty livid: a slow-burning ballad? Sure, side two of this album doesn’t exactly reach “Cult of Personality” levels of heaviness, but this is a totally classy song, and a good breather three-quarters of the way through Vivid. C’mon, you must like a nice, quiet song once in a while, right? Hello?
6. I Want to Know
One of the great things about Living Colour is they just didn’t care about the listener. Which is actually awesome, and it shows up big time in the funky, ’80s-sounding “I Want to Know.” It’s a wonderfully crafted song, with smooth rhythm-section work and an always-on vocal performance from Corey Glover. On another website it would rank way higher on their list, but this is Decibel and we do love it loud, so it’s holding court here in the middle.
5. Which Way to America?
We’ll admit it: the second half of this album is a bit of a tough slog, even though the first half is monumental. But it’s all worth it when you go to the end, with this rager awaiting. The awesomely titled “Which Way to America?” lays down bizarre funk, crazed near-thrash, and a scathing lyrical attack: “Where is my picket fence? My long, tall glass of lemonade? Where is my VCR, my stereo, my TV show?… I want to know how to get to your America.” Living Colour, we love you.
4. Middle Man
“Middle Man” holds up the all-important “track three, side one” spot well with a heavier mid-paced rocker with an arresting vocal performance (seriously: the vocals on this album are good) and a subdued and restrained show from the rest of the players, who are aware that the listener is still recovering from the album’s opening track (more on that soon). “Middle Man” also has an absolutely killer build-up near the end, where you can hear the band holding back the urge to just explode, and, man, it created a great tension then, creates a good tension now. Another victory on an album full of them.
3. Desperate People
Ah, yes: that groove. That riff. Just tons of shit deserving of italics here, the slap bass doing its thing while the rest of the band just locks in hard and Glover croons out one of the best choruses the album has to offer. Never forget how well Living Colour did the mid-tempo groove; there’s power in simplicity sometimes, and these guys know it. One of those songs that you maybe don’t listen to for years but then see those words together somewhere one day and the chorus immediately pops in your head; it’s that good. And, see? Italics all over the place here.
2. Open Letter (to a Landlord)
This song is incredible on two levels: musically and lyrically. Lyrically, I had no idea what the hell Glover was talking about in 1988 (I was 12, mind you), but I found it fascinating and it totally tore apart my idea of “home,” which was middle-class, small town Canadiana. Of course, once I finally realized what this song was about I was beyond impressed that the band managed to sing about these issues in a track released as a single in 1988. Musically, it sticks out on the album as being a relatively simple and melodic cut that alternates between big rock and near-ballad, but both way smarter than the prevailing bands of the time. “You’ve got a right to fight for your neighbourhood” is a lesson I’m glad Living Colour taught us all (and we kinda paid attention, although we were also fighting for our right to party at the time, so we had a lot to deal with).
1. Cult of Personality
The amazing thing about this song is… well, there are lots of amazing things about this song. The huge, heavy groove laid down by Calhoun; the hard-hitting lyrics that Glover managed to slip into a single; the unhinged guitar solo from Reid. Plus, it’s a songwriting victory, a song that is equal parts catchy and moving; this is what radio music sounds like in a world far better than ours. This song made metalheads love Living Colour, and even though much of the rest of the album might confound longhairs after they got through this killer opening track, it was worth it to have “Cult of Personality” in the collection, because this is Living Colour at their best (although the title track for follow-up album Time’s Up tries pretty hard to win that title). A phenomenal song, worth buying the album for, and worth having along with you in life as a go-to song good for pretty much any situation.