Rolling Stone published an online slideshow of their picks for the 100 Best Albums of the 1990s. That’s a giant undertaking to go through the sheer volume of music from that decade, and then to qualify them into a list. Kudos to them for trying that, but then again they are a multi-million dollar corporation with a ton of staff. Maybe it’s not so hard when you have so many people helping.
I read through their list and agree with most of the albums they included. I disagree entirely with the order and the rankings. It seems to me that the reviewer(s) were basing their judgements entirely on the hit singles contained in those albums and not on the albums as a whole. That contradicts the principle of rating the album, in my opinion. If it’s about the hit songs, make this list about the hit songs. Don’t call it “Album” if you’re not going to take the whole of the music project into account.
Case and point is the inclusion of Soundgarden’s Super Unknown release from 1994. I like Soundgarden. Fell On Black Days and The Day I Tried To Live are two of my favorite tracks from that decade. However, of the 15 songs on the album, there are only 4 or 5 (if you include Spoonman) that are worth listening to. Those of course are the hit songs that mainstream radio spun. The rest are not good. I’ve given that album several attempts at growing on me. It didn’t work. So why then, should the album have been ranked in the Top 40 of the list when so many other more complete albums were ranked above them?
That’s one example. I’m not going to get too much into their listing because another side of this coin is the subjective element of rankings in general. I listen to a LOT of different types of music now. I didn’t in my adolescence. The 90s for me were a period of tons of punk rock, alternative, and a little metal. I was trying to do things that were rebellious and that was the main theme of those genres. So for me, my list includes mostly these 3 types of music. I wasn’t exposed to the albums of 2Pac or Jay-Z until my twenties. I did hear their big hits but it wasn’t really my bag at the time. I’m ranking these 25 albums based on my experience with them when they came out. I’m curious what your Top 10 or 20 or 25 albums of the 90s are. Let me know by commenting below. Coming up on our next radio program, I’ll dive into some of these albums and present music that wasn’t on anyone’s radar when the albums came out. More on that later this week.
1. Pearl Jam / Yield /1998
Again this is subjective but this was the best album these guys made in the 90s. I realize some other die-hard fans will say Vs was the best or maybe Ten. I like No Code second best. Yield was the perfect combination of their progressive rock with an infusion of acoustic driven singer-songwriter material and some of Eddie Vedder’s best story-telling. While you don’t necessarily get as much of Mike McCready’s incredible guitar prowess, the best experience of that on disc are their concert releases from 2003-2008. Beginning to end this album is amazing. Some of my favorite tracks include Low Light, Given To Fly, Brain Of J and In Hiding.
2. Nirvana / In Utero / 1993
That’s right, it’s not Nevermind. There are some great tracks on Nevermind that almost steal the show and none of them are the one song that every non-Nirvana fan recognizes (I’m not even going to say the name of the song, you know it just thinking of the album with the naked baby in the water). In Utero was the final full-length album Cobain and Co. put out before his death. It’s the last homage. That by itself makes it strangely special. For me there are some key tracks that really connected with me as a kid looking for some kind of understanding of the world and even my own self. Serve The Servants, Dumb, and Pennyroyal Tea were great for that. And there’s also the anger element, which most teenage boys have a lot of and using music as an avenue for processing that is what set this one apart for me.
3. Green Day / Dookie /1992
This was the first album I experienced from these guys and it stands still as their finest work. It’s so strange for me to talk with people that say they LOVE Green Day but are not familiar with this album at all, not even the hit songs like When I Come Around or She. It’s so weird because this album put them on the map. Kerplunk! before that had a little commercial radio success. From here they released a series of great albums that kept building commercial success (Insomniac, Nimrod,Warning, etc) but it all started with this one. They also helped inadvertently create Pop-Punk, where bands like Blink 182 and New Found Glory would emerge and find success in. Dookie is more than their hits, though I still love those songs despite having heard them a billion times. My favorite song of all-time from Green Day is Sassafras Roots. That bass line and the whole subject of wasting time together is such a cool thing.
4. Face To Face / Face To Face / 1996
These guys were the other big punk band I really got into in the 90s. Their songs were fairly straight forward but dealt with a lot of social issues as well as holding people accountable for the honest reasons of their actions. Songs like Walk The Walk illustrate that, as well as Handout and Complicated. If you’ve never heard of them, this self-titled release is an excellent starting place.
5. Counting Crows / August And Everything After / 1993
Another album that put musicians on a prominent national stage was this one in ’93. Mr. Jones and Round Here are the songs most attributed to it. But once you got home and put the album on your stereo, those tracks were forgotten. What I replayed over and over again were songs like Time and Time Again, Perfect Blue Buildings, and A Murder Of One.
6. Weezer/ Weezer/ 1994
This was actually the first cd I owned. I played it so much that I had to replace it. In terms of instrumentation there wasn’t much science to their recipes. A lot of driving guitar and bass with some catchy melodies. Buddy Holly was a cool song. So was Undone (The Sweater Song). My favorites were The World Has Turned And Left Me Here, Holiday, and My Name Is Jonas. It was just easy to rock out to every song on this album, which is how it made this spot on the list.
7. MxPx / Life In General / 1996
I’d never know where Bremerton, Washington was if not for this punk trio. Honestly what got me listening to this band first was a kid in youth group in middle school. I don’t remember his name but it was taboo to listen to punk rock at home. Since these guys were “Christian” (at least in their classification at the record store) it was easier to obtain. I shouldn’t put Christian in quotes, but they struggled for a time to classify themselves that way. Most of their music after their second album had little to do with faith stuff. It had more to do with trying to figure out life, attraction to girls and rejection from them, and so forth. Though their later albums like Slowly Going The Way Of The Buffalo and The Ever Passing Moment illustrated more maturity in their songwriting, this one was pretty upbeat and kept me in a more positive mood. Favorite tracks include Sometimes You Have To Ask Yourself, Andrea, and Today Is In My Way.
8. Third Eye Blind / Third Eye Blind / 1997
This album got me through at least one very difficult relationship ending, as well as serve as a soundtrack to most of the later part of high school. It stuck around for so long probably because there were so many songs released as hits that the radio stations had an unending amount of material to use. Suffice to say the only song on this album I’m not gaga over is London. Burning Man, God Of Wine, and Motorcycle Drive By are easily my favorites.
9.No Motiv / And The Sadness Prevails / 1999
I first saw these guys ironically at an MxPx show. They were the opening act. I’d never heard of them before. When we got into the venue they’d already started the show. They had presence, a killer sound, and excellent songs. Between myself and the dude I rode with we had $10 on us. We went half-sies to pick this album up. I’ll never forget that they were the opening act and they blew the headliners off the stage. Yeah, that’s right MxPx couldn’t hold a candle to them that night. Favorite tracks include Stay, The Waiting Hurt, and Empty.
10. Dave Matthews Band/ Crash/ 1996
As a drummer it was Carter Beauford who made me fans of these guys. I didn’t really care much for the overall sound, at least not at first. Dave’s voice grew on me over time and that brought me around. But with tracks like #41 and Say Goodbye I was hooked. Carter’s style adds something to the music that transcends just style. It’s a flavor and depth that is really what has made DMB such an outstanding group over the past few decades.
Other favorite albums of the 1990s in no particular order
Alanis Morissette< /strong> /Jagged Little Pill/ 1995
Smashing Pumpkins / Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness/ 1995
Bad Religion / All Ages / 1995
Rage Against The Machine / Rage Against The Machine / 1992
Live / Throwing Copper/ 1994
Bush / Sixteen Stone / 1993
Metallica / Metallica / 1991