Whatever else Cracker plays at the bands Thursday night show in Raleigh, heres at least one lead-pipe cinch: Low will be in the set list somewhere. A Cracker show without Low would be like James Taylor skipping Fire and Rain, or the Rolling Stones overlooking Satisfaction.
The leadoff track to 1993s Kerosene Hat album, Low isnt the only hit Cracker ever had. But its definitely the longest-lasting, to the point that you still hear frontman David Lowerys existential stoner yelp and Johnny Hickmans jangling guitar riff in the air with some regularity.
Perhaps fittingly, given the subject matter, Low came into being amid a total lack of expectations. It began as little more than a guitar riff that Hickman started messing around with at a pre-show soundcheck. His bandmates thought enough of it to start playing along, and a song was born.
Yeah, that one came while they were fixing the speakers at a club in Portland, Ore., and it was just a jam that me, Johnny and Davy (Faragher, Crackers then-bassist) made up, says Lowery. A lot of times, the songs that end up as hits, you make up pretty fast. That one did come quick. But I still never imagined it as a single.
Indeed, Lowery says that there were other songs the band spent a lot more time working on during the Kerosene Hat sessions (and Hickman concurs that nobody was thinking of it as The One . But the label thought enough of Low to make it the albums first single, and it immediately took off.
One thing working in the tracks favor was its now-iconic video featuring Lowery getting a serious beat-down in a boxing ring. That came about after video director Carlos Grasso discussed the song with Lowery and decided it was about a war between the singers own masculine and feminine halves. To represent Lowerys femininity, they chose actress Sandra Bernhard who was a great sport about donning boxing gear and climbing into a ring set up in a Los Angeles River culvert.
According to Grasso, however, the video still wasnt nearly as outlandish as what he envisioned.
The band trusted my aesthetic judgment pretty well and they were happy to do whatever, he says. You know, Im gonna bury you halfway in the ground fine. But we couldnt get away with everything. Theres a version with a nude model, which never came out. Just some indulgence I decided we had to do: You know what, there should be a nude girl in this. It was really terrific, but nobody wanted to touch it. The label told us, Beautiful as it is as a sort of bookend, we, uh, dont know what to do with this.
But that was all forgotten as time went by and Low kept getting airplay. It never climbed all that high on the pop singles chart, peaking at only No. 64 on Billboards Hot 100. But it was all over MTV (which actually played music videos back then) as well as the burgeoning commercial-alternative radio format that sprang up in the Seattle grunge band Nirvanas wake.
Two decades on, Low looms large enough to qualify as a signifier of its era theres just something about it that says early first-term Clinton Administration. Last year, director Stephen Chbosky included it in the soundtrack to his film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, alongside vintage alterna-oldies from the Smiths, Sonic Youth and XTC.
Its still regularly played on the radio to this day, even after 20 years, Lowery says. It was kind of a hit on alternative radio, then it was a hit on rock radio, a little bit on pop radio and now its this Classic Gold recurrent. Between all the different formats, its probably played about as much now as when it was new.
Now thats a hit.
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