23 Years Ago: Stone Temple Pilots Release Their Divisive Debut ‘Core’
Core is a pivotal album in the history of alternative music. Arriving September 29, 1992, Stone Temple Pilots' debut serves as the demarcation between grunge and post-grunge.
That hardly seems fair for a bunch of Southern California transplants more interested in bringing back '70s hard rock than flying the flannel, but Scott Weiland's vocal similarities to Eddie Vedder led both journalists and cool kids to label STP as alternative poseurs.
Regarding the similarities, Weiland told Rolling Stone in February '94: "This blows me away. I don't think there's any similarities in our bands at all," said Weiland. "Not discounting Pearl Jam, but to me they're a modern-day Buffalo Springfield or something, a classic-rock band. I don't mean that in a derogatory sense. We're on a totally different trip... It's funny, when we were recording the record, I was listening to a lot of Doors and I was worried about the fact that people would say I was trying to sound like Jim Morrison. I never thought there was going to be this Pearl Jam thing. I never thought it would blow up the way it has."
The Weiland/Vedder (and STP/Alice In Chains) comparisons weren't the only factor driving the "wannabe" label. In the wake of Nirvana's and Pearl Jam's breakthrough success the prior year, college radio was retooling itself as "alternative radio," and MTV shifted gears, too. The channel threw Core's lead single, "Sex Type Thing," into heavy rotation alongside the slew of Seattle bands that they featured daily.
"Sex Type Thing" owed a heavy debt to the riff in Led Zeppelin's "In the Light," according to songwriter Dean DeLeo, providing more evidence that the band was more interested in '70s arena rock than grunge-era sociopolitical advocacy. But that previous era of rock stars (including Zeppelin) were known for their mad tales of sexual debauchery. STP found themselves in a unique situation with "Sex Type Thing," a song that they claimed was an anti-date rape story told from the assailant's point of view: How does one primp and posture like a golden god yet deliver a pro-feminist message?
Protesters asserted that the song wasn't feminist at all, but rather pro-date rape. The band were forced to go on the defensive, which in turn led them (and Weiland in particular) to become rather vocal feminist spokespersons, as was reported in a 1993 Rolling Stone article:
"It was, 'Alright, the [Body Count song] 'Cop Killer' controversy's dead, let's try to find something else,' " says Weiland, who has been outspoken in the press about women's rights and contends that he wrote the song in the mind-set of what he has called "the typical American macho jerk" because he didn't want to sound preachy. "I never thought that people would ever seriously think that I was an advocate of date rape."
In the same article, guitarist Dean DeLeo said that "These songs came from things that each of us were going though at the time, which was really not a happy time. It's very trying to stay alive and get on with it on a day-to-day basis."
That may be true of the bulk of the album, but the songs "Piece of Pie," "Crackerman" and "Where the River Goes" all predate the actual STP lineup. Weiland, bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz were playing together, but the elder DeLeo didn't come on board until the group came to Los Angeles to record some demos. The foursome sounded so good together they made it official, taking the name Mighty Joe Young. After debuting at the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood in August 1990, they moved down to San Diego. This is where they honed their sound and, thanks to a conflict with blues guitarist Joseph "Mighty Joe" Young changed their name to Stone Temple Pilots.
On April Fools Day 1992, the band signed with Atlantic Records. Production on Core started shortly thereafter, starting with the eccentric "Wet My Bed." That track is an interesting oddball that hinted at the more avant-garde territory the band would cover on '96's Tiny Music, but the bulk of Core is dedicated to weighty topics like the aforementioned sexual impropriety and religion. In June '93, Weiland told Dutch magazine Aardschok: "'Naked Sunday' is about organized religion. About people who tell others what to do and what to believe. They switch off people's minds and control the masses. It gives me a feeling of isolation, when I think about it. Organized religion does not view everyone as equals."
The undeniable centerpiece of the album remains the majestic "Plush," which reaches the heights of '70s arena grandeur to which the band aspired. It's one of those gigantic songs that remains intimate, as the classic acoustic version that Weiland and Dean Deleo performed on MTV's Headbanger's Ball demonstrates.
Core was huge -- peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and eventually selling 8 million copies in the U.S. alone -- all while being slammed by critics and fellow musicians. Village Voice critic Robert Christgau gave the album a B-, tossing in a dismissive, "Once you learn to tell them from the Stoned Tempo Pirates, the Stolen Pesto Pinenuts, the Gray-Templed Prelates, Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam and Wishbone Ash, you may decide they're a halfway decent hard rock act." On the other end of the spectrum, "Plush" picked up a Grammy and the band took home a Best New Artist trophy at the 1993 MTV Music Awards.
So Stone Temple Pilots were a little too late for grunge and a bit too early for the post-grunge wave of Silverchair, Bush, Creed, et. al. Core sits right on the line separating the two -- the right album at the right time, ushering in the next wave of '90s alternative music.