The Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics (Vol. II), 1982-2000
Set in chronological order vis-à-vis release date, each entry contains a brief artist history, where the album fits in their history, an analysis of the material, and in most cases, quotes from either the artist or someone associated with the recording, and/or a renowned admirer (as well as chart placements and certifications, where applicable).
And below is the entry for Blind Melon‘s self-titled debut, included in Vol. II, an album that not only gave us the MTV hit “No Rain,” but also such additional alt-rock classics as “Tones of Home” and “Change,” among others.
Blind Melon (Blind Melon, 1992)
It seemed like for a spell during the early-mid ’90s, an album that is now considered a “rock classic” was unveiled almost every month. Some were expected…some were not. Blind Melon’s self-titled debut certainly gets my vote for the latter category. While best known for its hippie-ish hit, “No Rain,” there was oh-so-much-more to this album (and band) – and I will now take the opportunity to state my case.
To back up a bit, the members of Blind Melon hailed from everywhere but the city they would eventually first cross paths in – Los Angeles. Case in point, singer Shannon Hoon was from Lafayette, Indiana; guitarist Christopher Thorn from Dover, Pennsylvania; while guitarist Rogers Stevens, bassist Brad Smith, and drummer Glen Graham all traveled from West Point, Mississippi. But by 1991, the band had signed to Capitol Records (thanks in part to Hoon’s association with fellow Lafayette native Axl Rose, and singing on the G N’ R hit “Don’t Cry”) – and offered up a unique sound that while often classified as “alt-rock,” was more like a cross between Jane’s Addiction and the Allman Brothers.
Sessions for what would become their debut album took place between February through June 1992 at London Bridge Studio in Seattle, with Rick Parashar and the band producing (the studio and Parashar were selected due to classic recordings by Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains being created/produced there). “London Bridge at the time owned a house about a mile away that they lived in,” remembered the album’s assistant engineer, Jon Plum, in the book An Angel on One Shoulder and a Devil on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon. “They spent a lot of time decorating and making it their home. I remember they decorated the studio – they put up tapestries and had candles. Shannon would drip wax everywhere. We’d have all these music stands, and he’d sit and make little wax art projects.”
“That was really fun – definitely one of the high points of our band life,” added Stevens in the same book. “None of the bad stuff had really happened and it was a very optimistic time. Working with Rick Parashar – him and his brother, Raj, were so connected. This whole really fun nightlife scene. So we experienced a fun, decadent time. Rick had a really good rapport with the band, he was able to coax the record along to get where it was, without getting too heavy-handed about it. Because I can only imagine what it must have been like for him – it was obvious that there were a lot of things we were pretty naïve about. And it was also obvious that there was a lot of volatility amongst the people in the group. But we got it done. It sounded like the way we wanted it to be. I remember at the time Brad being really unhappy with it. But looking back on it, I’m sure he’d feel otherwise.”
“The general rule for me was ‘stay as far away as possible from Shannon when he was recording’,” says Graham about the singer. “We recorded and then he came in afterwards. Basically, for both the albums, when he came in to do his vocals, he was coming off of a six-week to two-month full-on, throw down party. And having all of a sudden to calm down. Which is difficult to do, after you’ve been smoking, drinking, and doing whatever else you’re doing all day and all night for a long time. I avoided him. [Laughs] He could be very volatile. He wasn’t a self-conscious person in general, but he was very self-conscious about doing his vocals. And I’m very direct. The less said the better. It was more blatant on the second record – he was covering up a lot of it on the first record.”
Opening the album would be the rootsy rocker “Soak the Sin,” which Smith remembered the lyrical inspiration as being “About tripping in the desert. The whole band went out to the desert, and we saw Liquid Jesus play – it was out near Joshua Tree. I think it was some kind of homegrown festival. It was maybe 3-500 people out there. I was driving back out into the desert after coming to Los Angeles. So the song was a little about just driving in the desert and realizing how far you’ve come in your musical journey. And how good it feels to go back home and get re-grounded.”
Up next was one of the album’s top tunes, “Tones of Home,” which it turns out Stevens had a hand in writing. “[‘Tones of Home’] was written right as we met [Shannon]. I remember that Brad wrote the first verse, I wrote the second verse – the lyrics – and Shannon finished it off. But it was really about how we got out there and we were completely disillusioned – that LA wasn’t what we thought it was.” Another standout was located after, the Zeppelin-ish “I Wonder,” which Stevens recalls, “I had the main riff to. I brought that riff in, and we built the song off that. It’s one of those escape-ism type vibes to me, that Shannon wrote the words about. But I remember that riff, because I had that opening big rock riff for a while. Before the band was even formed, I was playing it in my bedroom in Los Angeles.”
The next tune, “Paper Scratcher,” was about an intriguing gentleman that caught Hoon’s attention, according to Stevens. “It was about this guy that we used to see all the time – he was a homeless guy, that was right around where Shannon and I lived. He would have these magazines or catalogs – ripping pages out of – scratching stuff off of, like the private parts of the people. Really odd. He was obviously mentally ill. So that song is about that guy. We would give him money all the time and talk to him – some days he would be totally sane, and other days, he’d be just gone.”
Since Stevens is doing such a great job giving us the meanings behind the songs thus far, let’s keep a good thing going! Concerning “Dear Ol’ Dad,” he recalls that it was “Written about [Shannon’s] girlfriend. We had that piece of music – it was built around Brad’s bass, and then we put the chorus in. It was written about…he had a girlfriend that was living out there at the time – a bit of a wildcard. There was some stuff that she revealed to him about her father, and he wrote the song about it.”
And also another album standout, the acoustic gem “Change” – which Hoon played for his soon-to-be-bandmates upon their first meeting in 1990. “[‘Change’] blew us away right off the bat. It has those bigger than life lyrics. Part of it was almost like a Hallmark card. Just the lyric, ‘Life is hard, you have to change,’ I mean seriously, you could see that on a Hallmark card! In a way, kind of corny, but in a way, profound. He had that ability to say really simple things, that everybody could relate to, and that was one of those songs. It was just instantly perfect.”
And then…the aforementioned tune that would serve as the album’s breakthrough hit, “No Rain.” And the song’s composer, Smith, described its meaning as the following: “At the time, I thought I was writing it about my ex-girlfriend, and the truth was, I was writing it about myself. You get so overwhelmed by Los Angeles or any big city when you come from someplace like West Point, Mississippi. The song is about depression, and finding excuses not to be happy, or finding excuses to be a loner, because it feels good to be unhappy.”
Smith also recalls the lyrical inspiration behind the album’s next tune. “[‘Deserted’] is about coming back from the desert. We were tripping on acid, and I was still tripping when I got home the next morning, at 10:00. The song is like, ‘Man, I’ve got to get sober – I’m tired of tripping my balls off. I’m completely exhausted, dehydrated, hungry. I just wanted to be in my bed and ‘unstoned.’ I walked in the door, grabbed my guitar, and wrote that first verse – just done.”
“Sleepyhouse” would be about a house the band rented in Durham, North Carolina to pen material for their debut, while “Holy Man” was written about some of Stevens’ childhood experiences. “Seed to a Tree” remains a bit of a mystery lyrically [Stevens: “To me, that song is open for interpretation, I think it has to do with his relationship to his father”], while Thorn once explained the story behind “Drive.”
“I worked with this guy named Willie [at a second-hand clothing store called ‘Jet Rag’], and he started to experiment with heroin, unfortunately. I was telling Shannon the story – Shannon was friends with William as well. One day, Shannon came down to visit me at work, and Willie hadn’t had drugs, so he was detoxing – going through withdrawals. The song ‘Mother’ came on from John Lennon, and he started crying – it was this really heavy moment. So Shannon wrote the lyrics about that – and the lyrics are about some other stuff that I wouldn’t want to talk about, about some other experiences Shannon and I had.”
And the final song, “Time,” would soon turn out to be a concert highlight – due to it becoming a jam favorite. Stevens: “The lyrics are about being in Columbus [and] West Point. And then we just filled in as a band. I really liked that song because it had so much energy – it was fun to play live. [The ending] was one of those things – it was so open. It was just a little simple two-chord thing, and we could move around with it. Some audiences you would lose with it – sometimes it would be good. As we went along with it, we started settling into it and doing that on some other songs. Sometimes it was out of boredom and sometimes it was out of inspiration. It was hit or miss.”
Released on September 22, 1992, it would take almost a full year before Blind Melon broke through – thanks to the incredibly popular video for “No Rain.” Directed by Samuel Bayer (best known at the time for directing Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” clip), the video took the album cover and brought it to life. The only problem is that the cover was a photo from back in the ’70s of Graham’s sister, Georgia, who was now obviously considerably older. After a search for a youngster who resembled the “bee girl,” an actress by the name of Heather DeLoach was cast.
“I remember the costume was too short for my torso,” DeLoach recalled in the book Shannon. “I naturally didn’t have that slouch that you see in the video – it was because I didn’t want my little girl parts to come out. [Laughs] And I remember by the time I did the VMA’s [which aired live on September 2, 1993], the girl stitched a new costume for me that was a lot bigger. And I remember being in the studio and them saying, ‘You’re going to tap’ – and I had no clue how to tap. I even think on one of the shots, it’s not even my feet – I think it’s somebody else’s feet, because I thought, ‘I didn’t do that move’!”
“The video with the bee girl is something that is completely unforgettable,” former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield explained in a Songfacts interview, entitled Matt Pinfield on 10 of the Greatest Alt-Rock Videos of the ’90s. “It’s fun, it shows the band incredibly in a cool, bright light. And the song is so infectious.” As a result, Blind Melon’s debut would peak at #3 on the Billboard 200, and possess impressive staying power (coming in at #45 and #81 on Billboard’s Year-End Album Chart for 1993 and 1994, respectively), and at last count, was certified quadruple platinum in the US and in Canada.
Greg Prato is a longtime AllMusic contributor and author of several books, including A+ Albums: The Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics (Vol. II), 1982-2000.