Cult of Personality (song)

"Cult of Personality" is a song by rock band Living Colour. It is the second single on their debut album, Vivid, released on July 14, 1988. "Cult of Personality" reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 9 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart. It won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1990. Its music video earned the MTV Video Music Award for Best Group Video and MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist.

"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
"Cult of Personality"
"Middle Man"

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 Living Colour's 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.[4] The solo was ranked No. 87 in Guitar World's "100 Greatest Guitar Solos" list.[5] It was selected for inclusion in the musical reference book, 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: And 10,001 You Must Download. The song was used as the entrance music by former WWE wrestler CM Punk.

Background and compositionEdit

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."

In 2019, Reid explained the song's background:

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. ... "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.[6]

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."[7]

Political figures namedEdit

"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."[8]

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.[7]



  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. ^ "VH1's 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs". Stereogum. Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  4. ^ " music". Archived from the original on February 12, 2009. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
  5. ^ Cross, Dan (May 24, 2019). "These Are Fifteen of the Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time". LiveAbout. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  6. ^ ""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.
  7. ^ a b "The Story Behind Living Colour's Cult Of Personality". Louder. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
  8. ^ Malcolm X: "Message to the Grass Roots"
  9. ^ "Chartifacts > Week Ending: 19 May 1991 (from The ARIA Report Issue No. 69)". ARIA. Retrieved August 24, 2016 – via Imgur.
  10. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 6348." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  11. ^ " – Living Colour – Cult of Personality". Top 40 Singles.
  12. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  13. ^ "Living Colour Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  14. ^ "Living Colour Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard.
  15. ^ "Living Colour – Chart history | Billboard".
  16. ^ "End of Year Charts 1989". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved September 24, 2020.

External linksEdit

Cult of Personality official video on YouTube