Ten For Tuesday: 1991 September 13, 2011Posted by Matt in top ten.
Tags: 1991, A Tribe Called Quest, Garth Brooks, metallica, My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, top 10, U2
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It’s been a while since we’ve climbed into the top ten time machine, but with the 20th anniversary of so many great albums being celebrated at this time, it only seems appropriate that we set the dial for 1991, fire up the flux capacitator and take a trip back to that time of flannel and youthful apathy, to the Gulf War, Part 1 and Rodney King, to Super Nintendo and Bill Clinton and the end of the Cold War, and to perhaps the greatest year for music in my generation.
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
The Red Hot Chili Peppers had already gained some renown by this point from their album Mother’s Milk and their crazy cool cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” but Blood Sugar Sex Magik marked their launch into the superstar stratosphere. Funky and fun, the Peppers blew the roof off the place with Flea’s bass guitar heroics on danceable songs like “Give it Away” and “Suck My Kiss.” The album’s centerpiece, though, and one of the greatest songs of the era, was an ode to their city, “Under the Bridge,” with Anthony Kiedis’s famous opening line, “Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a partner.” It’s the best album of RHCP’s long and lauded career.
9. A Tribe Called Quest – The Low Theory
The beauty of rap and hip-hop lies in an artist’s ability to take a piece of familiar music and then twist it into something wholly different and wonderful. This is sometimes done through sampling another song verbatim, then mixing it up and adding to it as seen fit, and at times it is done by borrowing riffs from different genres and building around them. I have long been a fan of the sub-genre of jazz-based hip-hop. From De La Soul in the late 80’s to the newly released album from rap collective Shabazz Palaces, it has continued to intrigue me in its inherent jam-based style. A Tribe Called Quest are the masters of this chapter in the history of hip-hop and this is their best work. With songs like “We Got the Jazz” and “Scenario,” the seminal work of Q-Tip’s group continues to astound today.
8. Garth Brooks – Ropin’ the Wind
In 1991, there was nobody more popular in the music industry than country-crossover sensation Garth Brooks and this album continued to carry the crowd-attracting torch lit the previous year with the huge bestselling album No Fences. In 1991, everyone loved country music and Garth was the reason why. While Ropin’ the Wind didn’t have an era-defining song like “Friends in Low Places,” or “The Dance,” it was still quite good and certainly deserved its massive popularity. If songs like “Rodeo” or Billy Joel cover “Shameless” don’t take you back, you aren’t human.
7. Smashing Pumpkins – Gish
While the debut of Billy Corgan’s band may not have garnered the huge attention of their later works, Gish served up a sonic blast of energy unheard of at that time on the radio. Combining layers of loud guitars, feedback noise, and Corgan’s androgynous vocals, the Pumpkins blew out speakers across the country as they took their first steps in the direction of stardom. In reality, it is every bit as good as their other work, only rawer and hungrier, without the trappings of rock star life. Corgan’s words in songs like “Siva” (Way down deep within my heart / Lies a soul that’s torn apart) were almost providential to his generation and the song “Rhinocerous” with its repeated chorus incantations of “She knows,” bore its way into the listener’s soul.
6. Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
By 1991, Soundgarden had been toiling away in obscurity for years in the cloud shrouded city of Seattle, churning out Sabbath-like riffs under Chris Cornell’s amazingly versatile vocals while gathering little attention. In 1991, though, the attitude of the country itself began to change. War and Recession were changing an entire generation, from the manufactured happiness of the 1980’s to something darker and more realistic in the 1990’s, and the sound of bands like Soundgarden filled that underlying need. Songs like “Rusty Cage,” “Outshined,” and “Jesus Christ Pose,” rocked loud and hard like those great bands of the early 70’s and, in so doing, the band rightfully became part of Seattle’s own holy trinity.
5. U2 – Achtung Baby
Achtung Baby marked a major milestone and turning point for Bono’s band as they began to embrace styles from alternative rock to electronic dance in their continuing evolution as one of the biggest bands in the world. This album, along with its subsequent world tour, may be rightly seen as the band taking the next step to superstardom. Songs like “Mysterious Ways,” “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” and the amazing “One” (One love / One blood / One life / You got to do what you should) make this perhaps the last truly great album from Dublin’s favorite sons.
4. Metallica – The Black Album
In the 1980’s, when hard rock was becoming something of a joke under the banner of lightweight hair bands, Metallica charged ahead with their brand of aggressive thrash metal, releasing albums that epitomize the term classic, but in 1991, following on years of epic albums, the band decided to take a new and different turn. Eschewing their past sound, with its loud and long songs of darkness and destruction of Biblical proportions, the band turned to something different, compacting their tunes into bite-sized, radio-friendly chunks, and, for better or worse, transforming the metal scene for years to come. Today, twenty years after its release, songs like “Enter Sandman,” and “Sad But True,: and “Wherever I May Roam,” are among the best crowd rousers
3. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
One of the most celebrated albums of the decade, this brainchild of the elusive genius, and father of the shoegazing movement, Kevin Shields is certainly worth the effusive praise. My Bloody Valentine piles layer upon layer of guitars in a veritable symphony of noise, topping it with ethereal and obscured vocals like some strange and dark dessert. This album is a masterpiece, without a doubt, and perhaps the only disappointing thing about it is that it is the last full length work to come from the band. This is the type of work meant to be listened to from beginning to end, as an entire body of work, but there are some songs that stand out, namely, “Only Shallow,” and “I Only Said,” but I would still urge everyone to listen to it from beginning to end, preferably at a high volume.
2. Pearl Jam – Ten
Despite its unrepeated plethora of hit songs, when looking back at Ten after listening to all of Pearl Jam’s catalog, it actually comes across as one of the weaker links in the canon. When it comes to cultural importance, though, nothing else in Eddie Vedder’s huge collection of recordings matches this one. The songs “Alive,” “Evenflow,” and “Jeremy” are doubtless the first ones thought of when one considers this debut from our generation’s greatest band, but one’s attention should also be turned to live staples like the rocking “Porch” and the cigarette lighter-waving “Black.” We sing of the “pictures have all been washed in black,” and it reaches down deep into a primal place, welling up with innocence lost and unrest, “I take a walk outside / I’m surrounded by some kids at play / I can feel their laughter, so why do I sear?” But, perhaps one of the most notable songs associated with this debut album is not actually contained on it. “Yellow Ledbetter,” an almost incomprehensible, yet emotionally moving tune that is found on the B-side of the “Jeremy” single, far outdoes the headlining song on its single disc. I love Pearl Jam, and have now for 20 years, so the nostalgia found within these songs is as great as any for me personally.
1. Nirvana – Nevermind
By all accounts, Kurt Cobain never meant to start a revolution. He had no desire to lead a radical new movement, to have millions of people follow his each and every move. But, regardless of his intimations, the new generation was here and looking for something to grasp hold of in their despair, their coming to grips with the human condition. Nirvana, with their mix of nihilism and feedback-laden guitar fit the bill perfectly for that time and quickly Nevermind became a veritable Bible for millions of young people looking for escape from the doldrums of everyday life and meaning in their life to come, as adults. The lyrics where oftentimes nonsensical (“a mullato / an albino / a mosquito / my libido), but the rage behind them became the true catalyst for its popularity. It was the inescapable “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come as You Are,” and “Lithium” that lead the youthful charge into the decade, but it was the slower, more introspective tunes like “Something in the Way” that truly captured that sense of hopelessness, of powerlessness, when Cobain sang of his time as a homeless vagabond, saying, “Underneath the bridge / My tarp has sprung a leak / And the animals I’ve trapped / All become my friends.” It is perhaps most poignant that an album so full of anger and rage should end on such a note (not counting the hidden song, “Endless, Nameless”, but I digress).