Even today, 25 years after this video debuted, you know exactly what song you are listening to when Vernon Reid chokes out that guttural guitar riff after Malcom X talks of speaking in a language that “everybody here can easily understand.”
Look at that guitar — the neon green, the neon pink, the neon blue, the neon purple, and the white. Look at Vernon Reid’s jacket — white with more bright colors accented by the neon pink BMX pants he’s wearing. Look at Corey Glover’s bodysuit (not too close though) — it’s bright and attention-grabbing. Look at Corey Glover’s hair – shaved on the sides, long and braided on top, accented with beads well before the Williams sisters made it popular. Look at the video — clips from famous moments in history spliced throughout the driving chords and outstanding singing.
Look at these things as one or on their own, one thing is for certain — Living Colour rocked this suburban boy’s world in the late ’80s. I can remember the first time I saw this video on MTV, I sat there and stared like the little girl in the video — mouth agape. Living Colour presented a major shift in my heavy metal paradigm. I was perfectly happy with my own little sphere of heavy metal, I saw no need to branch out — but this single video did that. Once I saw this video, I had to have the cassette (and boy, did I play the hell out of it).
This band, born from CBGB (the music club, that some may recognize from a line of clothing), introduced me to a world I had heard of, but didn’t know could rock. Living Colour seamlessly blended funk (find “Elvis is Dead”), hip-hop (check out “Funny Vibe” – a groundbreaking video in its own right), hard rock (listen to “Open Letter To A Landlord), and heavy metal (as you will hear in this video and in the song “Middle Man”). Thing is, while combining all of these musical influences, Living Colour was presenting an adept social commentary surpassed by few others.
Enough about me and my absolute love of this band — let’s get to the best part of the video for “Cult of Personality.” Let’s go back to that guitar riff (0:10-0:12) — you know it’s Living Colour, but this guitar riff would ring hollow if it weren’t for the rest of Vernon Reid’s work in this masterpiece. Skip ahead to the three-minute mark. This is where Reid screeches into 53 seconds of the best guitar solo you may ever hear. Reid stumbles around the stage in a way that decries how adeptly he is playing that guitar, all the while Glover jumps around in the background with his hair flailing. Once Glover breaks in at 3:54, you don’t even realize that Reid has taken you on a guitar odyssey that you need to listen to 1,000 more times.
Yes, look close at this video, because you are seeing a one-of-a-kind band — not just because of the color of their skin — but because of the way they rock.