September 11, 2001, was a Tuesday. I was personally alive that day, but being exactly one month into my third year on earth, I have no memories of the events that took place. Perhaps because of that, the obsession I have relating to that day has nothing to do with planes or jet fuel or Middle Eastern oil money or national tragedy or easily debunked conspiracy theories. The obsession I have relates around one question: who releases new music on a Tuesday?
There actually is a concrete answer. Before 2015, each country had their own varying days of the week on which new music would be released, as dictated by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represented the music industry on a global level. Eventually, the IFPI would institute Global Release Day as Friday, but prior to that, each country would release music on a different day. The United Kingdom released new music on a Monday, Australia released new music on a Friday, and it was customary to release new music in the United States on a Tuesday.
The somewhat arbitrary nature of a Tuesday release date meant that number of artists had scheduled their album releases for September 11 in 2001. As the terrorist attacks engulfed the nation and captivated the world in the early hours of the workday, there were musicians and artists who were preparing for album release parties. For those select few, when asked ‘Where were you on 9/11?’, the answer very well could have been a Virgin music store or even, god forbid, a Tower Records.
Perhaps the most hotly anticipated album set for release that day was New York City’s own Jay-Z. No rapper was bigger than Jay-Z in 2001, both in terms of popularity and notoriety. He was a constant target for diss tracks, and internet bootleggers were so prominent that he decided to move the album’s release up by a week, unwittingly coinciding with the tragic events that took place. Featuring collaborations with Eminem, Timbaland, and Michael Jackson, plus a prominent spot by a young upstart producer by the name of Kanye West, The Blueprint wound up selling nearly half a million copies in its first week. The nation was mourning, but it found a way to rally around one of its native sons.
While a new NYC legend was being born, an old NYC legend was making a comeback. Bob Dylan’s renaissance was kickstarted by 1997’s Time Out of Mind, but Dylan solidified his return to form on Love and Theft. Retaining his roots in folk while also signalling his later dalliances with jazz, Love and Theft also represented the first brush with another factor that would surround his future work: allegations of plagiarism. Even if they’re true, at worst it represents one more bizarre thread in the fascinating tapestry that is Bob Dylan’s career.
While Dylan was ascending, Mariah Carey was about to falter. Riding high as the definitive diva of the ’90s, Carey had a plan for complete world domination: a starring role in a new film, complete with a blockbuster accompanying soundtrack, that would solidify her as the biggest entertainer in the world. The result was Glitter, one of the most notorious bombs in history. The film and album did so poorly that Carey, one of the highest-selling artists of all time, was dropped from her $100 million record deal. Carey would enter a personal and artistic fallow period that lasted until 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi, and today there’s a small but loyal contingent of fans who defend the Glitter soundtrack as a hidden gem.
Tuesday wasn’t just the standard release day in America, as our friends up north in Canada also traditionally released their new music on the second day of the workweek. One of Canada’s most infamous, and most popular, bands would release their breakthrough LP on that fateful Tuesday morning. Nickelback’s Silver Side Up propelled the post-grunge group to the status of a multiplatinum stadium rock juggernaut, largely thanks to the unstoppable success of ‘How You Remind Me’. The album exposed the rest of the world to the (let’s call it “familiar”) stomp of the four-piece and the (let’s call it “highly identifiable”) croon of frontman Chad Kroeger.
The scene of post-grunge and nu-metal were potent in 2001, but the lyrical content from these bands often revolved around personal demons and expressing anger. In the aftermath of such a horrific event, Americans were desperate to connect with something more affirming. That’s how P.O.D. scored an unlikely smash with ‘Alive’ and its parent album Satellite. Nu metal wouldn’t survive for long, largely wiped out by the hip New York indie underground, but P.O.D. managed to stake one final victory for the frequently maligned genre.
The popularity of nu-metal meant that a number of traditional metal bands felt a need to adapt to modern times in order to stay relevant. Unfortunately, one of those bands was legendary thrash metal pioneers Slayer. God Hates Us All is most assuredly not the album title you want to be associated with on 9/11, but that was just part of the Slayer experience (at least it was better than their original choice, Soundtrack to the Apocalypse). One of the fastest and heaviest bands on Earth weren’t going to all of a sudden be calm and compassionate, but the album itself falters in trying to adapt to a then-modern, now outdated, production style.
Unfortunate coincidences would abound in the wake of the terrorist attacks. One of the most notable came from Boston prog giants Dream Theater, who were releasing their live album Live Scenes from New York. For the album cover, the band adapted some of their previous art of a burning heart and superimposed some iconic NYC images within the flames, including an apple, The Statue of Liberty… and the Twin Towers. What was originally meant as a tribute was hastily recalled and removed, representing one of the strangest instances of fortuity in music.
This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Albums from The Moldy Peaches, They Might Be Giants, Boz Scaggs, Babyface, Damien Marley, Ben Folds, Soil, and Long Beach Dub All Stars all saw releases on September 11, and all were forced to largely sit on their work in respect to a mourning nation. Nobody’s career was ended by releasing an album on 9/11, but the coincidences and unfortunate timing was widespread enough that it looks like a bizarre wasteland twenty years later.
Everywhere you look, there are happenstances that are bound to look tasteless in the wake of a national tragedy. Take, for instance, the two number one songs battling it out for chart supremacy in America at the time: Jennifer Lopez’s ‘I’m Real’, but especially the ‘Murder Remix’ featuring Ja Rule, and Alicia Keys’ ‘Fallin’. Two titles with unfortunate connotations when paired with the events of the day.
Music isn’t an exact science, and sometimes the best way to analyse the past is to look at the culture. If nothing else, it can provide a distraction for some of the more emotional and scarring memories that many still vividly feel two decades later.