The year 2020 marks the 30th Anniversary of the release of the Living Colour album Time's Up. During this time of quarantine I've had time to go through my music collection and once I realized the significance of this year for one of my favorite albums of all time I knew I had to share both my thoughts and experiences with this masterpiece.
release date was on August 28, 1990 with the album peaking at number 13
on the Billboard 200. It would go on to achieve gold status in terms of
sales and won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. These public
achievements would certainly deem this album a success but its meaning
for me goes far beyond a chart topping multi-platinum selling release.
album had a huge impact on me both as a musician as well as a music fan
because it not only changed my musical life at a very important time in
my journey but continues to inspire me to this day with its socially
conscious lyrics to the personal stories that are told both in the
lyrics as well as in the musical expressions from each member.
so many other music fans I certainly have my favorite albums and when I
take the time to break down such favorites with other music fans I tend
to categorize them by genre. There are always favorite songs of mine in
terms of the fan in me that just loves to listen to his favorite
tracks. Then there are songs that inspire the drummer or the songwriter
in me. But it is rare to be able to say that every single song on an
album had a deep impact on me both as a fan and as a musician. To me I
would compare it to finding the one. The attraction you feel to
that person, flaws and all, and how for some reason you can't stop
thinking about this person because they truly grabbed you...and you know
that no other person in all of human history could ever have such an
impact on you.
That is what the Living Colour album Time's Up did to me.
When I started college I was a clueless 18 year old that decided to study music at El Camino Community College
in Torrance, CA because musical ambition was all I had at that point. I
really didn't know who I was as well as my place in this world so I
preferred to get lost in any good music I could find. A lot of times it
would be nothing more than knowing the popular songs that were on the
rotation cycle at MTV and that included several selections from the band
Living Colour. I remember being very impressed with what I had heard
but it had never dawned on me to go out and buy their albums. Then one
day I was talking music with a friend of mine named Holly Owens, who was
also the daughter of my Jazz Theory professor. When the topic of rock
music came up Living Colour was one of the bands that we discussed and
before I knew it she had strongly suggested that I buy the two albums
that they had out at the time because to paraphrase her words: The singles are good but there are so many other great songs that you need to hear.
Soon after that conversation I was at one of my then favorite music stores, The Tape & Record Room
in Long Beach, CA. This is the place I would go to for import and
bootleg albums but I was also aware of the fact that they also sold used
albums. Being the poor college kid that was almost out of money after
adding to my illegal collection I had just enough cash in my pocket to buy two $3.00 used cassette versions of the band's first album Vivid as well as Time's Up.
To this day these two purchases that I made at that time (in case you
are wondering I have since purchased multiple CD copies of both of these
albums) are some of the greatest musical investments I have ever made
in my life.
Vivid was an amazing album. To hear
rock songs that had both a pop edge along with elements of funk blew my
mind. Vocalist Corey Glover had a power and emotion that I had never
heard in anyone before and he really knew how to get into character when
he sang the story line of each song. Guitarist Vernon Reid had a great
presence, wrote some amazing riffs and was downright scary when it came
to both his rhythm playing as well as his soloing ability. Bassist Muzz
Skillings was both solid as a rock, smooth as silk and had this amazing
way of moving around the fret board. On top of that, his slap bass in
the grooves was so refreshing since it was not something one would hear
in rock songs at that time period. Finally, drummer Will Calhoun
definitely had my attention as he had some serious power in his playing
yet I could also hear his familiarity with many of the other musical
styles that I too had grown up. I was a big fan of the feel in his
groove, his beautiful two handed ride patterns as well as well as his
melodic fills. Yes, Living Colour is a rock band but it would not
be incorrect to identify them as a fusion band as they knew how to
blend so many elements from so many other styles of music to create
their own sound.
Once I got through Vivid I
couldn't wait to hear it's follow up. To say that my jaw hit the floor
was an understatement. In my mind, it is not only the band's best album
but I would go as far as saying that it is as good if not better than
any of the greatest rock albums of all time. The diversity of the songs
alone are what make it a musical masterpiece but I have always been
amazed at the flow of the songs because they take the listener on an
emotional journey. The musicianship is second to none and while we all
have our preferred tastes there is no rock band in my mind that
collectively have better musicians than the four members of Living Colour.
From chops to deep grooves, amazing dynamics to beautiful musical
expressions...this album still has so much to offer both to any musician
looking for something fresh to inspire them to the music fan hungry for
a unique sound.
Being a music student at the time
meant that I was learning so much from music theory to different musical
genres. It was always good to listen to any kind of music that featured
many of the things that we were learning in class as it definitely
brought all of those lessons to life. Aside from that, this album also
gave me a lot to learn in terms of drumming as I not only listened to
Calhoun's performances with a curious ear but also transcribed the drum
parts to the songs Time's Up, Elvis is Dead, Type and Information Overload in order to get a deeper understanding of his playing.
of my college studies I was performing in clubs with an original
progressive rock band that featured school mates of mine that proudly
wrote music based on a lot of what we were learning in our music
classes. Many people complimented our sound as they compared us to other
great bands such as Iron Maiden and Queensryche. I was
proudly playing all of what I thought were interesting part on my then
11-piece drum set and thought that I was on the right track. However,
the album also showed me something that I really needed to hear at that
time: the groove! Suddenly I realized that it was no longer just about
how clever one could be with their fills or their tricky time signatures
even though Living Colour mastered such concepts. It was about being
one entity, one driving machine filled with energy and power and I just
couldn't get enough of it. It was like nothing I had ever heard before.
Everything from the old school funk, to the current R & B, to my
parents' Latin albums to the driving rock songs of my teen
years...nothing sounded like the groove of Living Colour.
this portion of my blog I am going to list each song along with a link
while also sharing a bit of either what I observed in the song and/or
what I learned from the song.
1) Time's Up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YAA7nivQng
Anyone who was a fan of the album Vivid knew that Living Colour could bring the energy. Songs like Cult of Personality, Desperate People, Funny Vibe, and Which Way to America
really got us moving. But I had no idea what was waiting for me when I
heard the title track, which was also the opening track of the album. It
hit me in the face like an opponent in a classic Mike Tyson fight as
the opening groove rivaled the speed and energy of bands like Anthrax,
who were musical peers of the band . Then they kick into a solid
mid-tempo groove for the verses before taking us back into opening
section again after Calhoun takes us back with a fill that sounds almost
like someone is stumbling back into a raging river. The guitar solo
section begins over an intense syncopated groove before going into a max
for speed section where Skillings plays off of Reid's guitar solo while
Calhoun pounds the opening groove with even more intensity. Then back
to the verse section before they go into one last guitar solo before
ending the song with a strong finish. Amazing!
2) History Lesson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbPUQMez-UQ
band certainly has progressive elements to their music but one thing
that they are really good for was giving their audience something to
think about, especially when it came to culture and/or racial injustice.
This musical selection allowed us to have a greater insight to the
musical approach of their ancestors and it led perfectly into the next
3) Pride: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFTCa0fx7OA
thing about this band is that they are proud of their heritage. They
also have no problem looking anyone in the eye and telling you exactly
what they think or feel. As a drummer I have to admit that I had a
special sense of pride in this song because of the fact that it was
written by Calhoun who we already know started to have a huge impact on
me first as a drummer. The song features nice riffs that feature some
tricky rhythmic parts that was very refreshing for that time period. The
songs also featured some honest lyrics that were delivered with that
now signature personal performance that I had grown accustomed to
hearing from Glover.
4) Love Rears its Ugly Head: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQcPB1WkISI
you're a guy this song already resonates with you on so many levels.
Musically it's brilliant as you can see a combination of the band's R
& B and rock roots joined together in a beautiful way. As always the
band is going to add some tricky elements to their songs but it is
never done in a way to upset their beautiful flow. Lyrically the song is
filled with lots of honest humor and can only cause the listener to
walk away with a smile on their face.
5) New Jack Theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BxMcAPc7S0
song where you can hear the band's diverse musical influences. The
verses feel like a Soka groove on steroids, which causes a dramatic feel
since this song is about an arrogant character. Calhoun adds some nice
trigger placements throughout the verses while Glover again plays the
character well. Then we get to the guitar solo section where there are
several electronic sounds that were common in up tempo dance music at
that time. Add some electronic percussive overdubs and the groove only
intensifies. The outro pushes even harder before hitting a wall at the
end of the song that leaves the listener on the edge of a cliff. Why was
this important? Because the album was about to change moods with the
next song needing us to really stop and listen.
6) Someone Like You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5tGZFon4kQ
straight ahead song written by Skillings that is driven by a simple but
catchy riff with some serious emotion as it may be the most personal
song on the album. One can listen to this song and respond with either
anger or tears as it tells various stories of the experience of inner
city life. For those who do not know, Glover is not only a great singer
but also a highly experienced actor and this song really shows that
because of the various personas he plays including a narrator who is
speaking to someone that may not care about the struggles faced by
people living in these conditions. The choruses are short but the riff
that unfolds under the vocals shows a sense of resolution as the
character seems to be coming out of his struggle before stating openly
that they know how to address these various struggles. It is a simple
but brilliant song.
7) Elvis is Dead: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nvpRkn_R5g
happens when a young drummer with a massive drum set hears a song like
this? You want to rediscover your kick and snare and lay down some
serious pocket. In other words, this song took me back to those moments
when I first discovered the groove but came from a different perspective
of both power and precision. It's so hard to put into words how it made
be feel but I do know that it literally changed my life as a drummer.
The band drives right through each verse before hitting the choruses,
which are filled with some cool syncopated licks. Reid's amazing rhythm
playing along with Skillings' amazing bass work have to be recognized
along with Calhoun's performance because they help propel the groove.
Lyrically, the song took some heat from Elvis Presley fans even though
it was addressing many of the supposed Elvis sightings that were common
at that time. Even though it was done with some humor Little Richard's
guest performance reminded us that we should just appreciate all that
Presley did for us while letting the man rest in peace. It s not only a
fun song but a great piece of music.
8) Type: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HbF3EAt3ck
was another song that showed me what it meant to lay down a strong
groove. For this to come right after the last song took me to groove
heaven. The main riff was catchy as it really stuck in your head. The
breakdown section after the second chorus was a nice little statement
riff that also told a bit of a story before kicking into a final verse
that had even more energy than the previous verses. Ironically, the
sound of the song was joyful for me even though the lyrics kind of
stopped you in your tracks and really made you think about the world
around you. How much of it is real?
9) Information Overload: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoZlttsXcn0
is probably my favorite song on the album as it was the song that I
studied the most during my college music studies. Calhoun's drumming
style and performance gave me so much to take in and I spent hours
listening to it before I decided to transcribe it. During that time
there were moments when I was simply trying to figure out what Calhoun
was playing and then there were moments when I tried to understand his
approach. There were certainly elements to his playing that influenced
what I did but I also wanted to see how a different approach would
inspire me to find my own voice as a drummer. The power of the first
half of the song always kicked me in the gut and yet I still had a ways
to go on this musical journey. Enter the guitar solo section, which for
me always felt like I was getting on a roller coaster. The musical
performances are top notched but the energy the band produces is flat
our scary because this section is not just about Reid's amazing solo but
also the tight groove between Skillings and Calhoun that starts at the
bottom and then rises until it seems to explode at the end of the
section with the three of them playing the same hits in unison. Then it
goes back into the last verse and chorus that help finish this story of
great concern with a message that is arguably prophetic considering a
lot of what is going on in the world today.
10) Under Cover of Darkness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoZlttsXcn0
is one of the most thought provocative songs I have ever heard as it
addressed a subject that needed to be talked about during a time when
AIDS became a big issue. Once Reid delivered his opening arpeggio we
could hear that this song was going to be not only intense but very
personal. The honesty in Glover's message and performance are stellar
and the groove that the rest of the band lays down under his story of
both desire and discipline shows the complexity that we feel as people
when it comes to our sexuality. In other words, we know what we are
feeling and in most cases that seems to overshadow the thoughts to come
to mind when it comes to reminding ourselves of what we should be doing.
Thankfully, at least in the song; there is Queen Latifah acting as the
voice or reason even though for most of us that is not always the case.
11) Ology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RunHx-LTgo
is a musical giant and to hear all of the amazing sounds that came out
of his bass to write this song was one of the most refreshing pieces of
music on the album. He didn't just groove and then lay down another bass
line over that groove, which we have seen in the past with bands that
feature two bass players. He used his instrument to layer this song with
various melodies and almost percussive like figures. In other words, he
orchestrated a song with one instrument and showed how the bass can be
used in ways other than just an instrument of support.
12) Fight the Fight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRWbdaImslk
is a very powerful song. The opening groove is light and kind of moves
around in a lot of places before it kicks into a strong groove that has
that signature Living Colour soul. The thing I like about this
arrangement is that it really seems to express all of Glover's feelings
who in a lot of ways is speaking for the rest of us. We share our
thoughts and feelings before going deeper as we now share our deepest
concerns. At this point many of us are now speaking with great intensity
as the dialogue has now become more personal. On a musical level I love
how the music starts lightly and then becomes more intense as it too is
also sharing that same experience that Glover is singing about.
13) Tag Team Partners: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3DlvVupc_U
is a bit of fun that is had by Glover and guest performer Doug E.
Fresh. The mouth percussion bit was real popular back then and like with
the song Ology we see how this can be used in a refreshing way. You know, why not?
14) Solace of You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIUke0CCvDs
song has always fascinated me because it has that pleasant Calypso feel
yet features lyrics about pain and struggle. Still, it goes to show
that when we endure such hardships that we have to identify how we feel
and then find a solution to our struggle. The chorus of voices that
gather behind Glover are like a rising of the people who are aware of
what they need to do to free themselves from the shackles that others
have put on us. It is a beautiful song of hope. Meanwhile, the music
driving the song is absolutely beautiful. Reid's guitar playing shines
like the sunshine while Skillings offers that smooth signature bass line
of his over Calhoun's beautiful brush playing.
15) This is the Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6okNaPSRdlI
are days when this song really hits home for me. It's usually when I am
filled with disappointment while still searching for answers. The riff
and the groove are light and reminds me of those days when I stood on
the roof of my house and just thought about the world around me.
Lyrically, it seems to address every thought that comes to mind during
those what if moments. In most cases we think of the negative and
try to identify the things that need to change. By the time we get to
the guitar solo section there is a groove that has an almost offsetting
feel, which seems to represent that feeling of discomfort. The last
verse and chorus is the message of hope and encouragement that we need
to hear as it reminds us what we have to do while also reminding us how
we need to see ourselves. The end of the song is always sad for me
because I enjoy the comfort that it gives me while also realizing that
this masterpiece of an album has now come to an end.
how does one truly summarize 30 years of gratitude for a musical
masterpiece that still moves me to this day? Most of the time I'll
revisit the album while I am alone and just immerse myself in the music.
I rarely share it while I am in the company of others because if I see
them get kind of ho hum about it I take it personally because of
the way the album has impacted my life. That is not fair to others as I
have to respect the things that move them so again, that is why I prefer
to listen to the album alone.
I didn't get to see the band on that particular tour but to see them
perform several songs from this album on the following tour was still a
pretty amazing experience. What made that moment even better was to be
at that show with two of my closest friends who were also musicians that
were really into the music of the band.
On a very
personal note the greatest moment I had regarding this album was when I
met drummer Will Calhoun at NAMM 2016 in Anaheim, CA. I actually got to
shake his hand, tell him how much the band meant to me while sharing how
his drumming changed my life. The look of gratitude on his face took me
back to the excitement of my teen years as it gave me a moment with one
of my drumming heroes that I will never forget.
this blog took me back to so many emotions that I felt when I first
heard this album and it still amazes me that 30 years later I can still
listen to the same collection of songs and feel such a level of
excitement. Again, one can never underestimate the timelessness and
impact of great music. To me this album was a such a gift as it not only
helped shape my musical journey but also challenged my thinking in so
many ways. There is so much more that I wish I could say but I can't put
into words many of the feelings that this album stirs within me. Again,
it's like encountering the one.
So with that, I say thank you to the amazing Living Colour:
Thank you for this gift that you gave to me as well as the rest of the world