Retrospective

CELEBRATE THE 19TH ANNIVERSARY OF LIVING COLOUR’S STAIN WITH 3 ALTERNATE GUITAR SOLOS

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Living Colour - Stain

This past Friday marked the 19th anniversary of the release of Stain — Living Colour’s 3rd album and last before hanging up their cleats for the better part of a decade — so the band’s been tweeting some audio and videos odds and ends pertaining to songs on that album. Stain might be my favorite LC album of all (so hard to choose!), so when the band posted Soundcloud links to three Stain tracks promising “alternate” versions of guitar solos I got all excited and listened right away.

Then I got really, really confused, and jumped straight down a rabbit-hole of all things Stain.

Let’s listen to the three songs with alternate solos, “Leave It Alone,” “Ignorance is Bliss,” and “Bi”:

“Leave It Alone” (solo at 2:36):

“Ignorance is Bliss” (solo at 2:28):

“Bi” (solo at 1:40):

“Alternate” versions? Zuh? These are the versions I’ve had all along ever since I bought the record — I can hum along with every note! Just to be sure I wasn’t going crazy, I whipped out my original Stain CD… yup, same solos. What the fuck is going on? Was someone at the LC compound caught snoozing while they uploaded original versions to Soundcloud?

Next, I signed into Spotify where, thankfully, LC’s entire discography is posted. I fast-forwarded to the guitar solos in each of the above three songs and… what the hell are these wonky solos? Does Spotify have the alternate versions?? Or do I have some kind of rare import version with the alternates? Open liner notes… nope… everything looks like it was made in the good ol’ U.S. of A… what the fuck is going on?

Half an hour of Internet research later (no thanks to Google which is surprisingly mum on the matter) I found something Living Colour posted on their Facebook page last year, around the 18th anniversary of Stain, and then re-posted this past Friday explaining what’s behind the different versions of the solos:

STAIN: the story behind the alternate solos by [producer] Ron St. Germain: I remember talking to [A&R guy] Michael Caplan about how to accomplish that! Only 25,000 copies got pressed of the 3 songs with the ‘2 different solos’ on them and NOTHING was mentioned in the press about that. The reaction took quite a while to surface (and many have NEVER heard the various versions to this day), but the effect was EXACTLY as planned… another piece of musical HISTORY for us, Gents!

To think all this time I’ve had a rare collector’s version of Stain and I didn’t even know it, and furthermore that the alternate solos are the only versions I know, that I’ve come to accept as normal; the actual, final, mass-distributed solos that most people know just sound weird and foreign to me. Having met Ron St. Germain and having had the privilege of spending a good bit of time with him in a recording studio, I can say that it’s just his style to pull off something like this, inserting little audio easter eggs into an album and keeping silent about it. The best part is that there’s no way to know if you’ve got one of the 25,000 “alternate” versions just be looking at the package — you’ve got to listen to find out. Genius.

While we’re on the topic of Stain, let’s look at a few other related items of interest the band posted this weekend. First, check out this written-in-1993 press release from Epic Records trumping the album’s pending release. Label PR copy is always hilarious, but this one is worthwhile for the band members’ own descriptions of the writing and recording process (esp. “Nothingness”… groovy!):

“Never Satisfied” “This was the first song that was brought in to the rehearsals in Long Island City, and the first song we finished.” [William Calhoun] “This is very linear. We’re following each other in unison and didn’t change much from the original, ah, genes and chromosomes of the song as it was presented by Vernon.” [Doug Wimbish]

“Go Away” “The guy in the song has done what he can for the world. He feels so small compared to the problems, and he’s inundated with all this information from TV. It deals with that part of your brain that becomes negative, that becomes overwhelmed by war, starvation, displacement of entire populations. You get tired of it!” [Corey Glover] “This is the song that really made us into the band we are now, when we started to create songstogether. Will was sick one day, and Corey was sitting on the drums with me and Vernon. Corey’s got one beat, he can play it slow or fast!” [DW] “I love playing this kind of stuff. I feel like I’m on a plane ride or on skis, just jetting by…It’s like a James Bond mission!” [WC]

“Post Man” “This one’s really dark. It’s basically about these disgruntled employees like postmen who walk into their workplace and start shooting. I was thinking about that guy who shot up the diner in Texas, and the guy on the college campus in Canada who murdered those women.” [Vernon Reid] “My voice is like the man responding to himself, the ego and the superego speaking to one another. It’s his own private cheering section, cheering him on to some terrible act of violence. For my second vocal I sat in the studio with the lights out, just tripping on myself. A very eerie feeling…” [CG]

“Bi” “It’s not judgmental and it doesn’t preach safe sex. It’s really more about the actual state of being. Will wrote the music and I wrote the words, because I was involved with a bisexual woman and we had some really…interesting situations that came up.” [VR] “The first song Vernon and I wrote for this album. I had the music, he had the lyrics, but I couldn’t quite finish it. I said, lemme see your lyric book–he’d been talking about the subject for a while–and it just happened. In five minutes we finished the song, when I’d had the music for six months and no idea what kind of story would go with it…”Andre Betts, who’s worked with Madonna, he came in and hooked up that hip-hop drum sample. That’s an old-school B-boy beat–I’ve been hearing that since about 1978, up here in the Bronx.” [WC]

“Auslander” “I was in Germany doing a drum clinic tour on my own, and I kept hearing this word auslander. Well, it means foreigner,’ and it refers to immigrants who’ve come to Germany from Turkey and Greece and other countries. Even before the outbreak of violence this year, the reaction of many Germans was like, `Why should these families be allowed to come in here and get jobs, buy homes in certain sections,’ etc. So I went out and did my own little interviews–with Germans, with Turks, with other auslanders–and came up with these lyrics in the hotel one night. Everything that I want/Isn’t everything that you’ve got–meaning I don’t want your job or your house, I want my own job, my own house, and the opportunity to work to earn those things. In the recording, we tried to get some industrial, almost military vibes–that kind of abrasiveness–and it came out great.” [WC]

“Leave It Alone” “I was on an airplane to London last spring and I was hearing this progression, these basic guitar chords. I brought it back, and Corey dug it–he wrote all the lyrics except the hook and the bridge. Vernon did that other riff, and that saved the song as far as I was concerned!” [DW]

“This Little Pig” “It’s not about the police at all. People who say that are thinking of the Cypress Hill song! There’s a whole variety of characters being described here, one of whom may be a cop. It’s like looking out the window and ascribing a whole life to a person from seeing him or her working down the street.” [CG] “This was a song created on the spot at rehearsal. It started with me and Corey jammin’ around–I was playin’ crazy Yusef Lateef-type Chinese twelve-tone scale stuff! But we all got our little licks in there.” [DW]

“Nothingness” “I wrote this from a personal experience of a family member’s troubles, when he really got down to nothing. Vernon relates to it more as a love song, the end of a relationship, but it really was a family relationship that almost did end. The orchestral sounds are Vernon playing guitar synthesizer, and he sets the emotional tone: big and empty.

“Corey sang into this satellite dish outside the studio [Long View Farm]–it was bent over instead of facing the sky. He said, `I wanna sing this outside’–it was 4 a.m.! Ron Saint Germain and I were walking past this dish and heard this crazy echo. So there’s no vocal overdub on that song, it’s one song with different microphones on a continuous vocal performance. An unbelievable experience, with Doug right under there makin’ it swing.” [WC]

Here’s “Ignorance is Bliss” live on Letterman in ’93:

“Go Away” from the Paris live DVD released in 2007:

Posted by another LC fan, a cover of Prince’s “17 Days” that appeared as a B-side on the “Leave It Alone” single:

And finally, for no reason other than no discussion of Stain would be complete without it, here’s the stunning album closer “Wall,” loaded with more of Saint’s studio magic:

Happy 19th anniversary of Stain, everyone.

-VN

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