Cult of Personality (song)

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"Cult of Personality"
Living Colour Cult of Personality.jpg
Single by Living Colour
from the album Vivid
ReleasedJuly 14, 1988
Producer(s)Ed Stasium
Living Colour singles chronology
"Middle Man"
"Cult of Personality"
"Glamour Boys"
Professional ratings
Review scores

"Cult of Personality" is a song by American rock band Living Colour, featured as the opening track and second single from their debut studio album Vivid (1988). The song was released on July 14, 1988, and reached No. 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and No. 9 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart. It won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance at the 32nd Annual Grammy Awards. Its music video won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Group Video and MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist.

The band's guitarist and founder, Vernon Reid, described the song as very special for the band not just for its commercial success but because it was essentially written in just one rehearsal session. The riff was stumbled upon while practicing something else and by the end of the session they had written what was to become their best known song. The title comes from a psychological phenomenon called cult of personality, and the lyrics contain many political references.

The song was ranked No. 69 on VH1's 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs.[3] The solo was ranked No. 87 in Guitar World's "100 Greatest Guitar Solos" list.[7] It was selected for inclusion in the musical reference book, 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: And 10,001 You Must Download.

Background and composition[edit]

The title comes from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 anti-Stalin report, "On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences". During rehearsals at the band's loft in Brooklyn in 1987, lead singer Corey Glover was humming some notes. Guitarist Vernon Reid opened his small notebook of quotes and phrases for lyrical inspiration, and turned to a page where he had scribbled, "Look in my eyes, what do you see? The cult of personality."[8]

In 2018, Reid said, "The whole idea was to move past the duality of: That's a good person and that's a bad person. What do the good and the bad have in common? Is there something that unites Gandhi and Mussolini? Why are they who they are? And part of it is charisma."[8] In 2016, he also said, "'Cult of Personality' was about celebrity, but on a political level. It asked what made us follow these individuals who were larger than life yet still human beings. Aside from their social importance, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King both looked like matinee idols. That was a strong part of why their messages connected. Even now it’s why Barack Obama has that certain something."[9]

The signature riff was improvised at the same rehearsal. Reid said, "That cool riff had a Zeppelin-ish vibe, but also a Mahavishnu Orchestra thing going on. It was based on a series of notes that Corey had sung – my attempt to repeat that [on guitar]. I already had the lyrics, but with the music in place it very quickly took on a life of its own."[9]

Political figures referenced[edit]

"Cult of Personality" prominently includes several audio samples of speeches from 20th-century political leaders.

The song begins with an edited quote from the beginning of "Message to the Grass Roots", a speech by Malcolm X: "... And during the few moments that we have left, ... We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand."[10]

During a rest in the music at 4:35, John F. Kennedy's inaugural address is heard ("Ask not what your country can do for you ...").

The song ends with Franklin D. Roosevelt saying "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself", from his first inaugural address.

The lyrics mention Kennedy, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, and Mahatma Gandhi. According to Vernon Reid, Adolf Hitler was originally also in the lyrics but was pulled due to fear that referring to him would be misconstrued and too controversial.[9]

Track listings[edit]


Release history[edit]

Region Date Format(s) Label(s) Ref.
United States July 14, 1988
  • 7-inch vinyl
  • cassette
Epic [citation needed]
United Kingdom May 1, 1989
  • 7-inch vinyl
  • 12-inch vinyl

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Terich, Jeff; Blyweiss, Adam (October 3, 2012). "10 Essential Alternative Metal Singles". Treblezine. Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  2. ^ Grierson, Tim. "Top 10 Essential Alt-Metal Songs". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Stosuy, Brandon (January 5, 2009). "VH1's 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs". Stereogum. Retrieved October 15, 2019.
  4. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Super Hits - Living Colour | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved July 2, 2021.
  5. ^ Sendra, Tim. "Rockin' 80's [Sony] - Various Artists | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved April 22, 2021.
  6. ^ Riemann, Hannsjörg (29 December 1988). "Review: Living Colour — "Cult of Personality" (Epic)". Bravo (in German). No. 1. Munich: Heinrich Bauer Zeitschriften Verlag KG. p. 55. Retrieved 23 November 2022.
  7. ^ Cross, Dan (May 24, 2019). "These Are Fifteen of the Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time". LiveAbout. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Siegel, Alan (May 3, 2018). ""Cult" Classic: How Living Colour made one of the most prescient albums of the 20th century, and conquered rock 'n' roll in the process". The Ringer. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Ling, Dave (October 9, 2016). "The Story Behind Living Colour's Cult Of Personality". Louder. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  10. ^ Malcolm X: "Message to the Grass Roots"
  11. ^ Cult of Personality (US & Canadian 7-inch single vinyl disc). Living Colour. Epic Records. 1988. 34-68611.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  12. ^ Cult of Personality (US cassette single sleeve). Living Colour. Epic Records. 1989. 34T68611.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  13. ^ Cult of Personality (UK 7-inch single sleeve). Living Colour. Epic Records. 1989. LCL 5.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  14. ^ Cult of Personality (UK CD single liner notes). Living Colour. Epic Records. 1988. CDLCL 3, 653021 2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  15. ^ Cult of Personality (UK CD single liner notes). Living Colour. Epic Records. 1989. CDLCL 5, 654895 2.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  16. ^ Cult of Personality (European 7-inch single sleeve). Living Colour. Epic Records. 1988. EPC 653021 7.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  17. ^ Cult of Personality (Australian 7-inch single vinyl disc). Living Colour. Epic Records. 1988. 653021 0.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  18. ^ "Chartifacts > Week Ending: 19 May 1991 (from The ARIA Report Issue No. 69)". ARIA. Retrieved August 24, 2016 – via Imgur.
  19. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 6348." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  20. ^ "Living Colour – Cult of Personality". Top 40 Singles.
  21. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  22. ^ "Living Colour Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  23. ^ "Living Colour Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard.
  24. ^ "Cash Box Top 100 Singles: May 13, 1989". Cash Box. Retrieved February 5, 2021.
  25. ^ "Living Colour Chart History (Rock Digital Song Sales)". Billboard. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  26. ^ "End of Year Charts 1989". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  27. ^ "New Singles". Music Week. April 29, 1989. p. 43.
  28. ^ Lee, Joseph (July 25, 2020). "Living Colour Marks Nine-Year Anniversary of CM Punk Using Their Song". 411 Mania. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
  29. ^ "Cult of Personality - CM Punk's first ever UFC walkout was something special". UFC on BT Sport. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  30. ^ Collins, Joseph (August 20, 2021). "AEW Rampage live results: The First Dance". Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  31. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (23 November 2004). "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - Original Game Soundtrack". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 5 December 2015.

External links[edit]