25 Years Ago: Lenny Kravitz Combines Classic Rock and Soul on ‘Mama Said’
On April 2, 1991, a charismatic multi-instrumentalist and singer named Lenny Kravitz took significant strides towards becoming a household name with the release of his sophomore album, Mama Said. Thanks to Kravitz, the future of music's past had never looked so bright.
With his 1989 debut, Let Love Rule (a striking blend of classic rock, soul, funk and psychedelia), Kravitz had already established both his retro-rock obsessions and credentials with discerning fans of all those genres. Then, with Mama Said, he honed these influences to an even sharper focus and made it fit for mass consumption by the mainstream music-buying public at large.
Not that this meant predictability. Rather, Lenny's new material covered a lot of ground, from the folk-to-hard rock build of "Fields of Joy," to the technology-accented church hymns of "Stand by My Woman," to the unapologetic Jimi Hendrix worship of "Stop Draggin' Around" to the stylish orchestrated Philly soul of "It Ain't Over 'Til it's Over."
And, despite their sometimes forced eclecticism, most all of these songs were careful to prioritize infectious hooks as they walked a fine line between grit and polish. The album only lost steam over the album's second half which, like many in the CD era, simply ran too long with 14 songs.
But all that was gravy, because Mama Said's true catalyst was already in the bag, way back in the track listing's second slot, in the shape of groovy first single "Always on the Run," which saw Guns N' Roses star Slash roped in to provide a searing solo for their co-write.
Mama Said built upon the commercial potential Kravitz displayed on Let Love Rule. "Always on the Run" reached Billboard's Alternative and Mainstream Rock charts, and "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100. The success of the singles pushed the album towards double-platinum status.
Looking back, it seems like Kravitz was almost working a timeline, precisely 20 years before its time, with Let Love Rule harking back to 1969, while Mama Said reined reality in for the more practical 1971. Any way one wishes to look at it, though, the plan sure worked, and Lenny would soon be enjoying an even bigger smash with his third LP, Are You Gonna Go My Way, in 1993.
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