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Remembering September 11: The Music

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This week, remembrances and tributes have posted en masse regarding what happened 10 years ago today. It was the single biggest tragedy in United States history, as a terrorist attack claimed several thousand lives. New York City, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania were all the center of attention on that day as the center of one of the worst man-made disasters in history.

Much has been written about that day in the past week, and with good reason. However, an overlooked aspect is the music that came out that day. September 11, 2001 was, after all, a Tuesday – the day new music is released here in the United States. Several of the albums released that day have had an unsung cultural impact, or have been a terrifying omen of what was to happen that day. Eschewing the usual news format, we now take a look back at some (but not nearly all) of the more significant releases that day, starting with one that may have cemented a legend…

Jay-Z – The Blueprint

At the time, Jay-Z was one of hip-hop’s most hated artists and had nearly hit bottom. Nas, Prodigy from Mobb Deep, and Jadakiss had all taken shots at Jay-Z. The former two were openly feuding with Jay at the time as well. To compound matters, Jay was also awaiting trials for gun possession and assault. Because of the uncertainty of how much time Jay had left as a free man, The Blueprint was reportedly recorded in two weeks, with most of the lyrics being written in two days.

History shows to most now that The Blueprint was the light that shone through Jay’s darkest hour. The album, with production from Kanye West, is arguably the biggest seller released on September 11, 2001; the record moved 426,000 copies that week despite the tragedies and earned Jay his fourth consecutive Billboard #1. Critics lauded the album as well, as it received perfect scores from both XXL and The Source magazines. Pitchfork has also later placed the album at #5 on its list of Top 200 Albums of the 2000s.

The Blueprint has since been recognized not as the record that made Jay-Z a star, but arguably placed him in the pantheon of rap’s greatest. And the true irony is that the album was actually released a week early to combat the efforts of bootleggers and file-sharers.

Motorhead – Another Perfect Day

To be honest, this could be constituted as cheating a bit. Another Perfect Day was originally released on June 4, 1983. However, a remastered version hit the shelves on September 11, 2001. Chalk that one up to bad timing.

In the history of Motorhead, however, this was a significant record. Guitarist Brian Robertson had just joined on – and after recording was complete, he and Phil Taylor left to form another band, Operator. Motorhead survived with an all-new lineup consisting of Lemmy, Phil Campbell, Würzel, and Pete Gill. The band largely ignored this album, especially in a live setting; it would be 2004 before any of the songs were played at Motorhead shows.

On a side note, the band Sepultura took their name, which is Portuguese for “grave,” from track three of this album, “Dancing On Your Grave.” Again, a case of lousy timing.

Dream Theater – Live Scenes From New York

When it comes to bad timing, the gang in Dream Theater were victims of that as well.

Live Scenes From New York was what the title suggested – a live reading of the preceding Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory. The concept album, released two years prior, was received by the band’s fans well enough to warrant the band releasing a live performance of the album recorded at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City.

The album’s content had no trouble at all. The original cover, however?

The design was actually a play on the cover of Images And Words, the band’s breakthrough release which featured a heart on fire. The heart, however, was replaced with the “big apple.” And with the Twin Towers in the backdrop, also aflame? Yeah. Woops.

As could be expected, Dream Theater and Elektra Records pulled the record quick, fast, in a hurry and replaced it with a modified cover:

Much more suited to the sensitivity of the tragedy that had happened, the album carried on to be a hit with the die-hard fans of Dream Theater.

Mariah Carey – Glitter

When Mariah Carey debuted in 1990, she was hailed as the new voice of soul. In 2011, Carey is seen as one of the leading ladies of pop/R&B. In 2001, she’d hit her nadir. Hard.

Glitter isn’t remembered nearly as much as the meltdown that surrounded it. Two months prior, she made a surprise appearance on MTV’s TRL show in a condition that left many wondering what was wrong with her. After a set of erratic website messages, Carey was hospitalized in the throes of a “physical and emotional breakdown.” After her release from care, Carey disappeared for a while.

This left both Virgin Records and 20th Century Fox (who was distributing the film of the same name) in a panic with no way to promote this thing. The project was delayed from its original release date of August 21 to September 11, 2001. The album became Carey’s lowest seller – so much so that her five-record, $100 million deal with Virgin Records was voided by the label.

Four years later, Carey blamed the date and the media for the record’s failure. “I released it on September 11, 2001,” Carey told Swiss newspaper Sonntags Zeitung. “The talk shows needed something to distract from 9/11. I became a punching bag. I was so successful that they tore me down because my album was at number 2 instead of number 1. The media was laughing at me and attacked me. Glitter was ahead of its time. Today it’s ‘in’ to make 80’s music.”

Slayer – God Hates Us All

The album title and release date alone tells a story that doesn’t get any more ominous or foreboding.

However, there’s certainly more. Guitarist Kerry King wrote most of the lyrics for the album. The departure was deliberate; King and the rest of the band veered away from their pet topics such as serial killers and ventured into more “realistic” territory. The subjects of the album centered around murder, revenge, self-control…and religion. Song titles included “God Send Death”, “Cast Down”, and “Payback”.

Ironically enough, the album was recalled because it, too, had a controversial cover. Completely ignoring the title and content, the record was recalled and re-released with a different cover. (The original can be found, for those so inclined.) In fact, the cover – along with audio issues – was one of the reasons the record was delayed from its original release date in July of that year to September 11, 2001.

And because there’s not enough irony in this tale, Slayer received their first Grammy Award nomination for the song “Disciple” – the track that has the album’s title screamed as a refrain by lead singer Tom Araya.

They Might Be Giants – Mink Car

The eighth studio album from They Might Be Giants went largely unnoticed at the time, although it ran the gamut of the musical spectrum. Power-pop, dance songs, ballads…Mint Car had it all. The album was celebrated with a midnight release party at Tower Records in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. Merely nine hours later, the unthinkable came to pass.

Though unremarkable at the time, a covers version of that record has recently been released and can be purchased here. Mustin (The OneUps Band; Mustin Productions) and Blue (Hello, The Future!) teamed together to seek out several artists to put together a cover version of the entire album. Their reasoning – as well as where the proceeds are going for the record, are in the project’s press release:

To mark the ten-year anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, and to raise money to support and train New York’s essential emergency personnel, we are going to release a full cover of the Mink Car album.

All proceeds from Mink Car Cover will go to the FDNY Foundation, the official not-for-profit foundation of the Fire Department of New York, established to provide resources for the professional development, education, and training of members of the FDNY.

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About Michael Melchor