Friday Fun: My Top Ten 90s Songs, #5

#5: "Lightning Crashes" by Live (off of Throwing Copper (1994))

I get why you don't like Live.  Believe me, I do.  You think they are pretentious.  You think they try way, way to hard to be "spiritual," in the most cliched manner imaginable ("hey, I just found this Sansrkit word 'Samadhi'--let's put in in the title of own of our albums!")  Their videos were often painfully earnest and high-concept, such as the video for "Lakini's Juice" off of Secret Samadhi  I discussed in some depth a few years ago.  Their formula was basically copied by Creed in the late 90s, making them indirectly responsible for the reign of Scott Stapp (I will say that Creed never bothered me particularly, but I understand that this is a minority position).  I hear you.

The thing is, I recognize and accept all of that, and I like their music anyway.  Live is sort of like, to use a baseball analogy, the pure home run hitter that hits forty home runs a year and strikes out 150 times.  Sure, the strike outs are painful to watch/listen to--this is a band that was willing to publish a song and put out an album that had a song with the lyric "with Live it is Game Seven every single night" in an apparently unironic manner (if you are curious, the song is "Transmit Your Love" off of the basically awful V album from 2001).  But, to paraphrase Teri Hatcher in Seinfeld, the home runs are real, and they are spectacular.

Throwing Copper is the album that made Live famous, and is probably their best album (except maybe for Live's last album with lead singer Ed Kowalchuk, 2006's Songs from Black Mountain, which apparently only I bought and liked).  It sold 8 million copies and was number 1 on the Billboard charts in the U.S. for a week in May of 1995.  "Lightning Crashes" was also the #1 song in the U.S., for two full months from February to April 1995.  That is amazing if you think about it, because the song is not particularly accessible.  It's very slow and meditative in the beginning, it almost certainly is the only Billboard #1 song to feature the word "placenta" in the second line of the song, and the theme of the song is the cycle of birth and death.  Not exactly Disney Channel hit machine material.

The thing about "Lightning Crashes" is that I think there is a large segment of people who react positively to the song  without actually thinking too much about the meaning of the lyrics.  I mean, I remember very clearly this song being played at prom as a slow dance number, which is, on the scale of inappropriateness, perhaps up there with requesting "Every Breath You Take" by the Police as a wedding song.  What is going on, I think, is that "Lightning Crashes" just sounds the way a rock ballad should sound, and people are reacting to that.  It starts off slow and ends up in a high-energy guitars and screaming, the way a rock ballad should.  The people who played "Lightning Crashes" at my junior prom were basically treating the song as if it were in a foreign language--the words don't matter, but the sound is pretty cool.

So, I think one can appreciate Live even if you think their song writing is inane.  But, for me, I don't think the song writing is inane.  Again, there are certainly some notable misses, but what Live is trying to talk about is usually pretty interesting.  Most rock bands would not try to write a song about the cycle of birth and death, but Live did and basically pulled it off.  I admire the audacity of the song writing, which really results in some pretty cool and unique songs.

So, Live works because you can ignore the lyrics and just jam out to their unique sound, and on top of that you can appreciate a band writing interesting songs on interesting topics.  Focus on the hits and ignore the misses, and you will enjoy the experience of listening to Live.

Bonus Content

I did not realize that "I'll Stand By You" dates to the 90s; I had it in my head that it was earlier than that.  But, I was wrong--it is off The Pretenders 1994 album Last of the Independents.  If I had known that, I surely would have included it in the list, because it is one of my favorite songs of all time.  Rather than reworking my list, I'll leave it here for your consideration.


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