Hello, and welcome to the first installment of an ongoing series I’m calling “My Boss Is Making Me Write This” where I write about the obscure and weird blog ideas that pop into his head. He loves the fact that our generation gap causes us to see things differently. I fall under the younger Millennial umbrella, which means I remember very little of what life was like pre-9/11. Meanwhile, he remembers what it was like when The Cold War ended. He remembers when Princess Diana died. He grew up thinking that dressing like Kriss Kross made you cool (you can see how that held up).
So given that there’s over a decade between us, there’s weird stuff from the 80s and 90s he wants to get my take on.
Today, we will compare the two songs...
“Right Now” by Van Halen and “Right Here Right Now” by Jesus Jones
These two songs came out in the same year with very similar titles and subject matter, yet no one really compares them. Why is that? And looking at these songs now, how do they hold up? Let’s dive in.
Van Halen performing | Image source: Guitar World
For starters, here are the two songs for those unfamiliar:
1. “Right Now” By Van Halen
2. “Right Here Right Now” by Jesus Jones
My Initial Thoughts
To make this interesting, it was essential that I knew little to nothing about these songs. I only recognized Van Halen’s by the chorus when asked if I knew the songs. So here are some of my unfiltered thoughts about each music video that I watched.
“Right Now” by Van Halen
Wow, some of these “right now” statements hit a little too close to home.
This is so thought-provoking. So much is still true and relevant
From seeing the words “Right now, the oil companies and old men are in control”- Wait, a minute, what year did this come out?
So much comes at you in four minutes. There’s so much to think about, and you leave it feeling uplifted
What were they wanting people to get out of this?
“Right Here Right Now”
Oh, I have definitely heard this song before.
“Watching the world wake up from history” is a really striking line
The idea of being in the moment is very evident here. What was going on at the time for him to write this?
Generally, what I wondered, especially after listening to “Right Here Right Now” was what was going on at the time to make them so optimistic. Why were both artists so focused on the present? When I discovered it was released in 1991, it all started to click.
Jesse Jones band | Image source: Paradise Artists
“Right Now” by Van Halen was released in 1991 off their album, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Sammy Hagar, singer of Van Halen at the time, was so fed up with the censorship going on in the music industry that he wanted to originally call the album, “F*ck Censorship.” When multiple people suggested against it, he came up with a workaround. The current title is an acronym to put across how he was really feeling about the industry in a sneakier fashion. Prior to this album, many of their songs were about sex and love but not going beyond surface-level lyricism. So, coming out with “Right Now” was very different for them, and to have lyrics so introspective was new ground they hadn’t much traversed. The song was about living in the moment and taking back your life “right now.” It was a very positive song that many found inspirational.
“Right Now” was actually written before “Jump” which came out in 1984 but given the direction the band was going at the time, no one was interested in the track until years later. Eddie Van Halen wrote the music for "Right Now" during the David Lee Roth era, but Roth had no interest in it. It wasn’t until Hagar showed interest in it and had lyrics that fit with it perfectly, did it finally see the light. While in the studio recording For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, Eddie Van Halen was playing around on the piano, and upon hearing the tune Van Halen had begun to play, Sammy Hager was like, “That’s it!” Thus, “Right Now” was recorded.
The song was released with a music video that consisted of various examples of things happening in the world “right now” accompanied by clips of everyday people and things. Some examples included, “Right now, your parents miss you” and “Right now, opportunity is passing you by.” The video also displayed socially conscious messages about safe sex and other hot-topic issues of the time. Sammy Hagar didn’t like the idea of putting these messages in the video because he felt that people wouldn’t pay attention to the lyrics. But despite his concerns, the song became so big thanks to the music video.
Van Halen won three MTV Video Music Awards for the music video, including Best Video in 1992. Since its release, the song has been used in commercials, movies, and political campaigns. The song is most notably remembered for its use in the 1993 commercials for Crystal Pepsi, a clear cola. The commercials were good, but the product was a huge flop as people decided they didn’t want to see through their soda, I suppose.
While the band has had arguably bigger songs over the years, the buzz they got from this song thanks to the iconic music video has become a part of their legacy.
“Right Here Right Now” was written by Mike Edwards, singer of the British alternative dance band, Jesus Jones in 1991. The song was released as the second single for their second studio album, Doubt. Mike Edwards had a spark of inspiration to write the song while he was listening to the Simple Minds' version of "Sign O' The Times." While listening to the music, Edwards watched the Berlin Wall coming down on television. "I never thought that I'd see such a thing in my lifetime," he told The Guardian in 2018, "and I wanted to write a sort of updated but positive 'Sign O' The Times' to reflect what was happening." The song's original title was going to be "Nelson, the name derived from Prince’s full name which was Prince Rogers Nelson.
The official video for the song shows the band performing on stage mixed with various images from contemporary political events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, brief snippets of news footage of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and speeches by American and Soviet leaders
Despite spending only nine nonconsecutive weeks on the UK Singles Chart and peaking at number 31, it became a top-10 hit in the United States; it topped the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1991. Over the years since its release, the song has been used in commercials, TV shows, and political campaigns, most notably Bill Clinton’s 1992 run. “Right Here Right Now” was their biggest hit to date.
What Was Going On?
It’s from looking at the comments from the Jesus Jones song that it all connected for me why my boss would want to compare these two songs beyond having similar song titles. It’s also impossible to do research on “Right Here Right Now” without learning about the political meaning behind it.
Both songs came in 1991, the year that USSR was falling apart. The Cold War officially came to an end at the end of this year, but signs of its crumbling were evident throughout that entire year. While “Right Now” was written with positive thinking, it never officially comes out with any political leanings. “Right Here Right Now” was a lot more forthright about their meaning. The song was said by the band themselves to be written about the fall of the Iron Curtain. The song was taken up as an anthem by bomber pilots during the first Gulf War. While one was more forthcoming than the other, both songs reflected the optimism felt around the free world as nations came together. There was this optimism felt around the world at the time, but especially in the United States.
This optimism that the US had “won” created this infectious positive energy. It was an overwhelming sense of “We’ve got this” felt throughout the country. In their minds at the time, they’d ended the Cold War, they’d “solved” racism in the US, and there was nowhere to go but up. Things were going great. There was this sort of trickle-down positivity going on where if the leaders are feeling positive, then so do the citizens, and they pass that positivity to their kids. Until reality sets in.
My Post Thoughts
Looking at the songs with the context behind them, honestly made me kind of sad. These people really thought “nowhere to go but up.” Both songs are basically saying, “how great it is to be living right now.” They really thought things were going to be better from then on. And maybe it was. For a couple of months, at least. The Los Angeles Riots happened just one year later. And if you cut to the end of the decade and you have The Columbine shooting then 9/11, followed by the Iraq war, and so on, and so forth leading to the tragic events the world is currently going through. It’s just sad to think about these people so convinced going forward would be a better world, not knowing that things were just going to continue to go downhill. By the time I was old enough to understand beyond my barbie dolls, our country would have been fighting a war on terror most of my life. That the threat of nuclear annihilation may not have been as close but by 2013 our relations with Russia would be the lowest since The Cold War. That the issues between countries were never squashed, and more like put on pause.
Knowing all this just makes me sad about the positive thinking in 1991. I’m also sad because I have never felt that hopeful about our country. I’ve never had a “We’ve got this” sort of thinking. The closest I came to it was the day gay marriage was legalized in 2015. But here we are in 2022, and people are trying to unravel that. Can nothing gold stay?
When discussing these songs and the time period with my boss, it’s interesting that, when he looks back at the overwhelming “We’ve got this” energy that was infectious in the early 90s, he sees it now as an egotistic way of thinking.
I can definitely see where he’s coming from, and when you look at even what was still happening in the early 90s, it’s shocking that people were so positive despite very much still not being taken care of, especially within the US. Yes, The Cold War had come to an end, but the fear of nuclear annihilation didn’t go away. The Doomsday Clock, which is run by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to indicate how close the world may be to destruction at any given time was still running. While it may have gone up to 17 minutes, the highest it ever reached, looking at it from an outside point of view, objectively 17 minutes still isn’t that long. That fear didn’t fully dissipate. It just became something that had an easier time falling into the background. There was also still a major crime epidemic and ever-growing drug violence happening in 1991. AIDS was still a present issue that was only just starting to give people proper treatment. So sure, if you put on blinders, everything was great in 1991.
But to me, this egotism he brought up wasn’t surprising to me in the least because as I said just before, even today, we have people still walking around with blinders on. They think because someone they support is in office that must mean everything done by the president is for the sake of the country with no personal agenda. And that things are going well because their party is in charge, refusing to see the entire country on fire right in front of them. The idea of having “solved” a major problem is still a very relevant issue today. There are still people today who refuse to listen to the people of color in the country who are telling them about their mistreatment because racism was “solved” already decades ago. There are people who can’t understand why the LGBTQ community is still fighting for rights because “it’s so easy to come out these days.” To some, COVID-19 was “beat” when vaccines rolled out while others refused to acknowledge it ever existed, all while people are still getting sick and dying from it.
All this is to say that things haven’t changed. And the fact that so many of the title cards in Van Halen’s “Right Now” are still relevant today goes to show despite how far we have come, we’re still in so many ways regressing. The “Right now, the oil companies and old men are in control” title card from the video is still very relevant like many other moments. And while I think both hold some sense of misguided positivity, I think of the two, “Right Now” by Van Halen still holds up in a lot of ways. Because while it was a song very much about living in the moment and being happy with the state of the “right now”, the song was truly elevated by the music video. Without the music video, it might have been thrown aside as misguided, something that didn’t age well. But given the subject matters the music video calls out, I think Van Halen was showing the irony of optimism (even though I’m sure they didn’t intend for this to happen).
When you look up their reasoning for writing the song, my takeaway from the music video is likely untrue. They truly just wanted something positive, to remind people not to waste their lives away, and to change their lives right now. But viewing it from a modern perspective, it seems to me like a callout to that blind positivity. It comes off as almost ironic. The song itself is so positive while the music video reminds you of some of the evils still present in society in the “now” of 1991. The fact that many of those statements are still relevant in 2022 is what makes it hold up pretty well in my eyes. I’m not saying there’s nothing to be positive about in this world. There’s always something out there to remind you that life is beautiful. But to think that all problems are solved is definitely an irresponsible way of thinking. Both songs are great ways to find optimism in the present, even if it’s just to get yourself out of bed in the morning.
Thanks so much for reading this peculiar subject matter that my boss made me write. I hope you learned something from it and maybe it causes you to go back to those songs and look at them differently. Given how much my boss loves to hear the sound of his voice, I’m sure this won’t be the last topic he instructs me to write about. Keep your eyes peeled for more in this series as I try to keep my own eyes open doing all this historical research that he’s asking of me. Until next time!
Written by Kristen Petronio
Special thanks to the following sources that helped me write this post.