"Violet" is a song by American alternative rock band Hole, written by vocalist and guitarist Courtney Love and guitarist Eric Erlandson. The song was written in mid-1991, and was performed live between 1991 and 1992 during Hole's earlier tours, eventually appearing as the opening track on the band's second studio album Live Through This (1994). The song was released as the group's seventh single and the third from that album in January 1995 after Kristen Pfaff's death in June 1994.
Courtney Love has stated several times that the song was written about her relationship with Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan in 1990, and the lyrics speak from the point of view of an angry narrator who has abandoned a romance. The song also explores themes of sexual exploitation and self-abasement.
"Violet" peaked at number 29 on the Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks after the album's release in 1994, and is arguably one of Hole's most well-known and critically recognized songs. It charted at number 116 on The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born list by Blender magazine in 2005. The cover artwork for the single features a Victorian mourning portrait of a deceased young girl which was taken from the historical archives of Stanley B. Burns.
Origin and recording history
Erlandson and Love are known to have written "Violet" as early as October 1991 as the song was premiered live in Toronto, Canada on November 1, 1991 during the band's tour to promote their first album, Pretty on the Inside. Early versions of the song were played several times between 1991 and 1992 at other live performances.
The first known studio version of "Violet" was recorded on November 19, 1991 at Maida Vale Studios as part of Hole's first radio session with BBC DJ John Peel. In October 1993, the band recorded the album version of the song as part of the Live Through This sessions at Triclops Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. The recording from the 1991 Peel session was included on the band's 1995 EP Ask For It, along with "Doll Parts", which was recorded during the same studio visit.
On both Live Through This and the individual single, the songwriting is credited collectively to Hole, however according to BMI's website, "Violet" was written only by Eric Erlandson and Courtney Love.
The song is composed of a series of 3-note power chords and barre chords, and features sliding techniques. The verses of the song feature a singular chord progression composed of the power chords (E5-C5-G5). The choruses of the song feature a three-chord progression (E minor-F5-G5), as well as a chord progression similar to that of the chorus (E5-C5-D5-A5). There are two guitars featured in the song, with Love playing clean rhythm guitar and Erlandson playing lead guitar with heavy distortion.
"Violet" was reputedly written about The Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, with whom Love had had a relationship with prior to her relationship with Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. On May 5, 1995, Love introduced the song on Later... with Jools Holland as "a song about a jerk, I hexed him and now he's losing his hair", which is seen as a reference to Corgan's hair loss. As a result of the reports that the song was written about Corgan, it was featured at No. 9 on The Daily Beast's "14 Fiercest Breakup Songs" list in 2010.
Variations of lyrics that would end up in the song, most distinctly lines like: "The sky turned violet / I want it again / And violent more violent", are featured in a poem titled "Above The Boy" that Love had written earlier in 1991.
"Violet" was the band's third most popular single from Live Through This, behind "Doll Parts" and "Miss World", charting at number 29 in the Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks in April 1995, and went on to become one of the band's signature songs.
The song was well-reviewed by critics. "Live Through This is barely seconds old before Courtney takes 'Violet' by the horns and bellows, 'Go, take everything! Take everything, I dare you to!' in a manner guaranteed to have anyone who has ever given her so much as a surly glance watching their backs," noted Clark Collis in Select. Rolling Stone said of it: "With its daydream whispers and startling gunshot-guitar chorus, "Violet" shakes, rattles and roars like a godless marriage of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way."" The song was placed in a 2010 NME article titled Hole's 10 Finest Moments, where it was referred to as "the quintessential Hole track" and a "titanic temper tantrum and exhilarating rush of inconsolable rage at full vent... âGo on, take everything, take everything I want you toâ, she bellows, turning powerlessness into power over riffs that swing from sweet and melancholy to boiling and volcanic on a dime."
The song has been featured in several films, and in 2005 ranked at number 116 on The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born list by Blender magazine.
The promotional music video for "Violet" was filmed in late 1994 and was directed by Mark Seliger and Fred Woodward. The video is filmed largely in sepia tones and features a 1920s-era strip club with burlesque dancers, juxtaposed with footage of several young ballerinas and young girls dancing on a theatre stage. Courtney Love pole dances in the music video in the period fashion, and is also featured in a tutu on the ballet stage with the girls. These scenes are integrated with footage of the band performing the song. The juxtaposition of the young ballerinas onstage illustrates the dynamic between dancing as an art form and dancing for the sake of others' visual and sexual gratification. The ballerinas featured in the video are also possibly referential to Love herself, who took ballet classes for a great portion of her childhood, and later ended up working as a stripper in her teenage and early adult years.
The video follows themes discussed in the song, particularly sexual exploitation of women. According to Love, the content of the video was inspired by "acid flashbacks" and "old film stock". "I love old pornography," Love said, "But I wanted to at the same time, you know... all of the [music] videos for years that have put stripping or half-naked women on a pedestal, I wanted to sort of show the degrading experience that it is."
Many of the scenes in the video aesthetically mimic early-20th century silent films and talkies, with faux-aged cinematography and lapses in audio and visual synchronization. A child seen in the video is also an analogy to the single's cover artwork which features an anonymous memorial photograph, most likely either a daguerreotype, or a tintype post-mortem photograph of a deceased girl in a coffin with her doll.
The music video was the first video to feature newly recruited bassist Melissa Auf der Maur after the death of Kristen Pfaff in June 1994. In a 1995 interview during the KROQ Weenie Roast, Auf der Maur commented on the music video's themes, citing "pornography versus ballet, strippers, and beautiful out-of-synch artwork". According to drummer Patty Schemel, the dancers featured in the music video were actual strippers handpicked by Courtney Love from Jumbo's Clown Room, a Los Angeles dance bar where Love had worked in the 1980s.
Appearances in popular media
This song is used as background music in the part of Mark Appleyard's film in the skateboarding video Really Sorry produced by Flip Skateboards. It was also used for the Tank Girl movie trailer and is featured in the end credits of the 2009 horror-comedy film Jennifer's Body, an eponym of another Hole song. Most recently, the song was featured on the soundtrack for the film Bridesmaids (2011) and Detention (2011).
All songs written by Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson, unless where noted.
- US 7" single
- European CD single
- German 12" and UK CD single
- Australian CD single
- "He Hit Me", "Whose Porno You Burn" and "Credit in the Straight World" were recorded live at MTV Unplugged in New York on February 14, 1995, Tempodrom in Berlin on April 22, 1995 and Hollywood Palladium on November 9, 1994, respectively.
Musicians and personnel
- Courtney Love â" vocals, guitar, composition, writing
- Eric Erlandson â" guitar, composition
- Kristen Pfaff â" bass, piano, backing vocals
- Patty Schemel â" drums, percussion
- Guest musician
- Dana Kletter â" additional vocals
- Technical personnel
- Paul Q. Kolderie â" producer, engineer
- Sean Slade â" producer, engineer
- Hal Willner â" producer (on "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)")
- Levi Tecofski â" engineering (on "Whose Porno You Burn (Black)")
- Scott Litt â" mixing
- Pat McCarthy â" mixing (on "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)")