In September 1991 Guns n Roses released their double-double album set “Use Your Illusion”. A week later Nirvana released Nevermind. As GnR peaked and fell into a squabbling decline, by January 1992 Cobain and co topped the US charts and in March had a second hit single with “Come As You Are”.
Suddenly, guitar playing bands that had previously enjoyed over a hundred hit singles on the UK charts since 1986 – Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Kiss, Europe, Van Halen et al – vanished seemingly overnight, their more recent releases appearing less exciting against Nirvana’s rage and cheerleader-filled videos, and their grungy compatriots.
I was feeling a little out of it. Grunge didn’t massively interest me, and it killed off swathes of bands I did like. There was Kyuss, Soul Asylum, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains, but for the first time in a while my thoughts turned away from music…
There was however one exception.
In May 1992 the video for The Black Crowes song “Remedy” played on the Chart Show. This was the lead single from their second album, grandly titled “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion”. The debut had sold a million copies and reached #4 on the Billboard charts. The Black Crowes won best new band in the Rolling Stone readers and critics polls, despite being fired from a ZZ Top support slot in March 1991 after lead singer Chris Robinson made some sarcastic remarks onstage about commercialism. Miller Beer sponsored the tour, and had taken offence.
For the second album the band hired Burning Tree guitarist Marc Ford who brought a country twang to proceedings and this key hire saw the band transformed akin to when The Stones replaced Brian Jones with Mick Taylor. I was transfixed. The song was amazing. Authentic. Chalk and cheese compared to the hair metal crowd. The video was a live performance and they had a couple of soulful backing singers who looked the business. Having non-white people featuring in a rock video also stood out. Outrageous! But those features alone were not what transfixed me.
What really caught my attention was that the band were wearing flared trousers.
And not Abba-esque rotten bell-bottoms that flare out from the knee in some God-awful attempt at presenting the wearer in the least flattering light (with the possible exception of their rolling around drunk in their own vomit outside a small town nightclub at midnight). These flares had style. They’d been designed that way. The band looked cool as heck. Chris Robinson was prancing around bare footed, like a rock ‘n’ roll Zola Budd. His brother Rich was wearing what looked suspiciously like a velvet jacket stolen from Jason King.
I know that wearing flares doesn’t seem an especially controversial move nowadays, but if that was your first thought, I need to tell you about growing up in Britain in the eighties. Flares were out. And I mean out out. Pretty much since punk happened in fact. In ’82 TV show The Young Ones featured a character called Neil The Hippy. He was that most unacceptable of things, a vegetarian. And he wore flared trousers, and took a lot of stick for it. As did anyone who turned up at my school wearing flared trousers. I lasted perhaps two terms before I wised up and implored my mother to “take in” the flared trousers they had unfathomably bought – in what seemed a calculated attempt to provoke trouble for me – and transform them into into a drainpipe cut.* In fact, the only people who still persisted with flared trousers were game show hosts, Northern comedians and Marty Caine. Rockers wore skin tight leather trousers. Whether they had the figure for them or not. Or spandex. But flares?
Yet, a mere Ten Years Later, here was a band wilfully flaunting this accepted wisdom. The only other place you might see thus phenomenon was the “baggy scene” – an early nineties musical movement defined by the cut of trouser of the protagonists. But they looked scruffy, like they’d given up. The Black Crowes were actually making a statement. Look At Us! Of course, looking back I hadn’t seen photos of The Rolling Stones at this stage of my sheltered life, with my parents having singularly failed to fill their bookshelves with Gerard Mankowitz and David Bailey photos of sixties pop stars, preferring instead a more wholesome and education-focused library. I didn’t know this referenced a retro look, I just knew that they looked cool.
Sometimes that’s all it takes. A different look. An authentic sound….Flared cords and the truth.
The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion went to #1 in the US Billboard charts.
* The stigma remained, however. I had Dared to Wear Flares. The day I wore the drainpipes I was sarcastically dubbed “The New-Look Cool Kid”.
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