25 Years Ago: Stone Temple Pilots Battle Copy-Cat Claims on ‘Core’
The backlash began immediately. After Stone Temple Pilots released their debut album, Core, on Sept. 29, 1992, the California rockers became equally embraced by some rock fan and reviled by others.
Beginning with the lead single “Sex Type Thing,” radio loved STP. Critics largely despised the band, perceiving them as grunge poseurs, a group desperately attempting to mimic the Seattle sound. Listeners couldn’t read or hear about Stone Temple Pilots without obligatory comparisons to Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam.
Although annoyed by copy-cat notions, the Pilots handled the situation well in the press, pointing out that “Plush” had been written back in 1989 (two years before Pearl Jam had released anything). Meanwhile, they complimented the bands from the Pacific Northwest while suggesting that any musical similarities likely stemmed from shared influences. Just like Nirvana and their ilk, the guys in STP liked a mix of ’70s hard rock and ’80s post-punk.
As a young fan, frontman Scott Weiland became part of Los Angeles’s hardcore scene. The story goes that a teenage Weiland met bass player Robert DeLeo at a mid-’80s Black Flag show in Long Beach and the two became fast friends, soon forming Mighty Joe Young with drummer Eric Kretz and Robert’s older brother Dean DeLeo on guitar.
The band began to write songs, with Weiland penning the majority of lyrics and the DeLeo brothers handling most of the music. They drew from musicians they had loved for a long time, with Robert crediting Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” for inspiring the quieter, acoustic-based “Creep” and Dean drawing from Led Zeppelin on “Sex Type Thing.”
“This song reminds me of ‘In The Light’ by Zeppelin,” Dean told Spin in 1993. “I was in my driveway and heard that riff, so I went inside and came up with this, all the time totally prompted by ‘In The Light.’ ... Except because the music was inside and I was outside, it sounded different. You know how you can hear music sometimes in a different way? I heard it ‘buh-neh-buh-neh-buh-neh,’ which is like the riff idea to ‘Sex Type Thing,’ and ran in and hit it out on the classical guitar.”
When Dean brought it to Weiland, he thought it sounded like Sonic Youth, and wrote lines that sought to send up domineering, macho attitudes. As a lyricist, Weiland was influenced by some of the darker elements that he perceived in the world, from organized religion (“Naked Sunday”) to everyday loss of love and life (“Plush”). The singer explained the track’s tragic inspiration years later.
“This is another one of those songs that Robert and I just came up with, before we actually had a record deal, when we were working across the street from one another,” Weiland said on VH1 Storytellers in 2000. “And the lyrics to this song were actually inspired by a true story. A girl, whose name I won’t mention, was kidnapped and then later found tragically murdered back in the early part of the ’90s. It sorta gave me fuel to write the words to the song. However, the song is not about that really, it is sort of a metaphor for a lost obsessive relationship.”
Because of a 1990 demo tape and a steadily building reputation for hard-edged, but melodic, concerts in Southern California, Mighty Joe Young signed to Atlantic Records in 1992. They quickly entered Rumbo Recorders in the San Fernando Valley, working with producer Brendan O’Brien, fresh off his work with the Black Crowes and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The match appeared to be perfect.
“It was awesome working with him,” Weiland said after the album came out. “The way things are now, it looks like he’ll be producing all of our future records. He’s not the kind of producer who wants to tell an artist what to do and pushes his own sound.”
While O’Brien would remain a fixture for the band’s recordings – producing their first five albums – one element of the group was about to change. Just before finalizing the music and artwork for the big debut, Mighty Joe Young found out that a bluesman had already laid claim to that name. A new moniker, Stone Temple Pilots, was chosen by the quartet, due to Weiland’s memory of the STP motor oil logo.
The newly named Stone Temple Pilots released Core – supposedly named for the infamous apple in the Garden of Eden – in the fall of 1992, courting instant controversy, not just with a grungy sound and Weiland’s Eddie Vedder-esque vocals, but also because of the lyrics to “Sex-Type Thing.” Certain critics and listeners took Weiland’s adopted aggro persona at face value, assuming the single wasn’t belittling rape culture, but celebrating it with words such as, “I am a man, a man / I’ll give ya something that ya won’t forget / I said you shouldn’t have worn that dress.”
“‘Sex Type Thing’ is pretty much a song about rape and sexual persecution of women in our macho, male-dominated society and the attitudes towards women, sexually, as objects and not as equal human beings,” Weiland said. “I’m putting myself in the mind of the typical American jerk with a totally unoriginal attitude about women.”
Despite the negative press (and maybe even aided a little by it), Stone Temple Pilots quickly became a big-name band, initially touring with Megadeth and Rage Against the Machine before graduating to a headlining tour in 1993, when Core went platinum in the U.S. The album stayed on the Billboard chart for more than two years, peaking at No. 3, while MTV put STP videos into heavy rotation and “Plush,” “Creep” and “Sex Type Thing” became (and remain) rock radio staples. Grammys and Video Music Awards followed.
Although the band would go on to have continued success through the ’90s (and shed their bad reputation as grunge pretenders), STP’s debut is still their best-selling album, at least in the States, where it stands as eight-timed platinum. For Core’s 25th anniversary in 2017, the album was re-released in a deluxe edition that included the band’s original Mighty Joe Young demos, as well as b-sides and live material.
Stone Temple Pilots Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness