"Fire Woman" - The Cult
from the album Sonic Temple (1989)
Billboard Hot 100 peak: #46
This week's "robbed hit" comes from the British rock band the Cult, who came together in the early 80's in Yorkshire, the northeastern section of England far removed from the rock centers of London and Manchester. Lead singer Ian Astbury whittled the name down from his original band Southern Death Cult to just the Cult by the time of their first album in 1984, and formed the core of the group with guitarist Billy Duffy. That first set, Dreamtime, was a loud, post-punk affair, and while single "Spiritwalker" nicked the British chart at #77, it was the album that sold well, landing them in the top-40 in the UK on their first try. They toured opening for Scottish rockers Big Country, and by the time of their next album, Love, had temporarily stolen their drummer, Mark Brzezicki. The sophomore effort showed more influence from new wave and psychedelic rock, and became hugely successful when track "She Sells Sanctuary" became their first top-40 hit in their homeland in 1985 (it also slipped on to the American dance chart at #36). Of course, Ian's eerie resemblance and vocal howlings akin to the late Jim Morrison didn't hurt.
In 1987, the band released Electric, which provided their first big American exposure, with the danceable rock song "Love Removal Machine" climbing to #15 on the Mainstream Rock radio chart in Billboard. Produced by Rick Rubin, who gave the band the "big sound" they needed to make it in the States, the album made the top-40 and sold over a million copies in the U.S. The song also did well in England (#24) and Canada (#36), and with two more songs from Electric reaching the rock chart in the U.S., their fanbase had increased bit by bit, so by the time of their fourth album, Sonic Temple, they were A-listed on rock stations (even though mainstream pop radio didn't know what to do with them).
Released in 1989 and produced by Canadian Bob Rock (who would go on to produce Motley Crue's Dr. Feelgood later that year, as well as Metallica's "black album" that went on to sell over 16 million copies), Sonic Temple showed their evolution from alternative punkers to a straight on semi-metal outfit, though with Astbury's bluesy and hearty intonation grounding it more traditionally. The first single from the set, "Fire Woman" (written by Astbury and Duffy), seems like if Morrison had lived on and used Motley Crue as a backing band...
While "Fire Woman" spend a week at #2 on Billboard's Modern Rock chart, and #4 on their Mainstream Rock radio list, the song stopped short of the pop top 40 in July of 1989. Internationally, the single went to #1 for one week in New Zealand, and top-40 in Australia (#24), Canada (#22), and their native Britain (#15). The Sonic Temple album proceeded to reach #10 on the American sales chart and shift over a million copies.
The follow-up single, "Edie (Ciao Baby)", landed them band another minor pop hit at #93 (so far their last). It also reached the top-20 on the mainstream rock chart, as did other Sonic Temple track "Sun King" (#18) and "Sweet Soul Sister" (#14). However, besides Astbury and Duffy, the remainder of the band was a constant shuffle (at one point, future Guns N Roses drummer Matt Sorum was a member), and the founding pair were at such odds with each other that their next album, Ceremony, found them recording separately, with producer Richie Zito (Eddie Money's guy, to give perspective). While the album did slip into the top eighth of the chart (#25) in 1991, it sold considerably less than Sonic Temple, and they barely scraped the top-40 in the UK with lead single "Wild Hearted Son" (it did go to #4 on the American Modern Rock tally). Three years later, the more emotionally intense self-titled album drew less, with "Coming Down (Drug Tongue)" hitting #13 on the mainstream rock list as their harder guitar edge was a bit too much for some jangle-pop-oriented modern rock outlets in 1994. After touring behind the album, they broke up, with Astbury releasing little-noticed albums as the Holy Barbarians as well as solo. But by the end of the decade, Ian and Billy reunited for a lucrative tour (isn't that always the way) in 1999, which paved the way for a full-scale comeback a year later. The resulting album, Beyond Good and Evil, spawned the rock radio hit "Rise", which spent six weeks at #3 on the Mainstream Rock chart in Billboard. Astbury also shorn his trademark long hair, but again, sales didn't satisfy the effort, and again he dissolved the Cult, and for a while, toured with members of the Doors. But after a short spell, yet another "reunion tour" happened, followed by another indie-promoted album Born Into This, and landed a moderate rock hit with "Dirty Little Rockstar" (#38, so far their most recent radio hit in 2007). They've released a couple more albums since, with one (Choice Of Weapon) even peaking in the top-40 on the albums chart in the U.S.. And it's come full circle, as Guns N' Roses, who opened for the Cult right as they were breaking in the States, are now having the Cult open for them on their own reunion tour this year.
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Here's the band performing at the MTV Video awards in 1989...
...and on tour in 1991...