The unsolved mystery of Triple R and Hole’s Celebrity Skin

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The unsolved mystery of Triple R and Hole’s Celebrity Skin

Hole's Celebrity Skin
words by tyler jenke

Have you ever found yourself ruminating on a mystery for years on end, knowing deep down inside that the answer really doesn’t matter? That’s exactly why I’ve thought about Triple R and Hole’s Celebrity Skin almost daily for close to four years now.

If you’re an industry insider or a dedicated lover of Aussie music, there’s a good chance you may have looked at the ARIA Report before. Since January 1990, it’s been a weekly subscription-based report issued by ARIA that collects all the important info you need to know – from chart placements, new releases, accreditations, and for the longest time, radio airplay additions.

Until its 553rd edition in October of 2000, the ARIA Report was a printed document released each week, with digital versions following from that point on. It still arrives every week to this day, though if you’re a casual music fan, it likely won’t be something you ever really come across. For others, it’s a treasure trove of information and can often be a great trip down memory lane.

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That is until you come across a mystery that perplexes you deeply. This is where the ARIA Report #410 from January 11, 1998 comes into the mix. If you were to flick over to the FM Radio Airplay Additions section, point your peepers towards stations in Victoria, and look at Triple R’s section, there between Regurgitator’s Black Bugs and The Porkers Chemical Imbalance, you’ll find Hole’s Celebrity Skin.

A throwback to the alternative rock explosion whose shockwaves were still felt well into the late ‘90s, it only makes sense that such a song would make it onto the station’s playlist, right? Well, it would if not for the fact that for all intents and purposes, the song didn’t exist by that point.

See, Celebrity Skin was officially released on August 31, 1998 – just nine days before the album of the same name was released on September 8th, and only six days after the track was officially issued to radio. Their first new album since 1994’s iconic Live Through This and their first new music since 1996’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman, anticipation for Hole’s new gear was high. 

Hole were so protective of their new material that when New York’s WXRK radio station played a leaked version of the song in late July, they were hit by a cease-and-desist order. Triple R wasn’t flirting with the same musical legalities in January of that year, otherwise, we would have certainly heard about it.

Now, the recording sessions for Hole’s Celebrity Skin album took place between April 1997 and February 1998, so logically, this would have to mean that Triple R simply added a live version of the song to their rotation, right? Maybe one was recorded during a recent trip down under for the band while they were wrapping up the recording?

Not quite. For one thing, Hole hadn’t played any live shows since an appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards in September 1995, with their debut Aussie tour having taken place for the Big Day Out earlier that year. They wouldn’t return to Australia again until January of 1999, with that year’s Big Day Out being their final visit to our shores.  

The biggest strike against this theory of it being a live version, however, is that Hole’s first live appearance since 1995 wasn’t until September 10, 1998, when they debuted Celebrity Skin for the MTV Video Music Awards – two days after the album was released.

So if it wasn’t a leaked version that was played, if it wasn’t a live recording, then how did the song find itself listed on the playlist?

Well, we should point out here that most likely, the song was never actually played on Triple R during this time. The most likely explanation is that the song was simply submitted to ARIA by someone at Triple R as being part of their playlist, but then it never actually aired.

For a song such as Celebrity Skin, which was Hole’s big comeback single, the chances are good that someone at Triple R submitted their list of airplay additions to ARIA, anticipating that the track would be added to the playlist by the time the report was issued.

However, there again is a sticking point, because by January of 1998, there was very little to suggest the title of the single. A March news article by NME reporting on the completion of the album’s recording notes that at the time, the band were choosing between three titles for the record, including Life Despite God, Reasons To Be Beautiful, and Celebrity Skin, which was mentioned as being one of the record’s tracks. 

While this was the first time the song of the same name had been mentioned, the album’s title had surfaced a couple of times. In 1997, an article from EW noted that Celebrity Skin was the working title for the record, which followed on from a seemingly-off-handed quip from Courtney Love to Jools Holland in 1995 that the record would be called such because she had “touched a lot of it”.

So, with this information on hand, what are we left with? We know that the song wasn’t simply played early or else Triple R would’ve been hit with a cease-and-desist; we know that no live versions of the song were played since the song hadn’t been performed yet; and we know that the song hadn’t even been officially announced by this point. Furthermore, given the physical nature of the dated ARIA Report, we know this wasn’t some sort of transposition error or something that was simply dated wrong.

Logically, the next step here would be to reach out to folks at either Triple R or ARIA themselves to find out what the case may be. Unfortunately, those who I’ve spoken to at both organisations over the years were unable to provide any clues as to what the case may have been that resulted in this song being added to the ARIA Report.

After years of searching for an answer to this (let’s face it, ultimately inconsequential) mystery it appears that the most likely scenario is one that simply boils down to both human error and keen anticipation.

With years spent waiting for a follow-up to Hole’s Live Through This, anyone in the music industry at the time would have been eager to ensure that the record’s first single landed on their playlist. With rumours circulating in regards to its eventual release date, those in the know would have likely taken note of any information relating to the album and put it aside for when an official announcement was made.

In the case of Triple R and the ARIA Report, whoever had been tasked with submitting the station’s playlist additions likely included a rumoured or upcoming release by mistake, thus kicking off a small mystery that we’re still talking about 26 years later.

Now, if only we could convince Courtney Love to get Hole back together, we might be able to forget about this whole thing… maybe.

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