40. Paul Westerberg– “Eventually”
Released: April 30, 1996
After The Replacements ended in 1991, it didn’t take Paul Westerberg long to begin his solo career– putting two singles on the “Singles” soundtrack– “Waiting For Somebody” and “Dyslexic Heart”. In 1993 he released his first official solo album, “14 Songs”, which would have made this list, but I forgot. It took a full three years later (possibly leading to the name of the album) for his second solo album to come out– “Eventually”. Like “14 Songs” before it, “Eventually” was better on the slow stuff than on the rockers… Westerberg had been quoted as saying he was basically “done with the punk stuff, I said all I had to say”– and he also knew that he was older now, and that there is a fine line between the screaming, ranting voice of youth and the obnoxious groaning of a stodgy old man. The Replacements place in Rock ‘n Roll history is forever etched. Westerberg is now making his way down that path as a solo artist– “Love Untold” being his best solo song. “Good Day” is a tribute to former ‘Mat Bob Stinson who passed away from a heroin overdose.
Key songs: Love Untold, Mommadaddydid, These Are The Days, Once Around The Weekend, Good Day, Time Flies Tomorrow
40. Soul Asylum– “Candy From A Stranger”
Released: May 12, 1998
The 8th studio album from the Mpls rockers– panned by many hard-core fans, it sold far less than their previous two and ultimately would get them dropped from Columbia Records. The band had turned in a record called “Creatures of Habit” that Columbia rejected (goodbye Black Star)…. another producer was hired and Candy was released with much of the same material re-done. It’s always seemed odd to me how none of the really great alternative bands from the early 90’s really lasted. Pirner said, “It’s sort of sad to say, but you could see the whole grunge-rock-band thing getting totally over-saturated and people were looking for something new.” Music and how people were buying it were definitely changing by 1998, but I don’t care what anyone says– “Candy” was a great album. “Close” will always sound like an autobiographical eulogy to me, but that’s wrong because Soul Asylum did prove it– over and over and over.
Key songs: Close, See You Later, No Time For Waiting, Blood Into Wine, New York Blackout, Cradle Chain
39. Social Distortion– “Social Distortion”
Released: March 27, 1990
It was bound to happen– I forgot this one… it should probably be up around 85 or so. Oh well. The third album from Social D, the punk rock band from Fullerton, CA that started making music together in 1978. This third album had Social D implementing more to their music than just flat out punk– and they charted two singles for the first time in their careers– Story of My Life and Ball and Chain. They would release three more albums (with a 4th expected in 2010), but never again reach the heights of this one– which reached #128 on the Billboard album charts and received 4.5 out of 5 stars from AllMusic. Logan’s band does a bitchen cover of “Ball and Chain”.
Key songs: Story of My Life, Ball and Chain, Ring of Fire, So Far Away, Let It Be Me
38. Smashing Pumpkins– “Siamese Dream”
Released: July 27, 1993
There was definitely something weird about this album when it came out in 1993– it just sounded a bit different from all of it’s alt/rock contemporaries. Billy Corgan went out of his way to veer away from the “punk rock” base of most alternative bands and instead went with a goth/metal/arena rock style that gave them a sound all their own. Corgan said that in the wake of Nirvana’s landmark 1991 album “Nevermind” “We felt a great pressure that if we didn’t come up with a record that was huge, we were done. It was that simple in our minds. We felt like our lives depended on it.” So huge they did. Siamese Dream sold over 4 million copies– but the band never got a foothold in the “alt” community and many others in the music community took pot-shots at the Pumpkins (jealousy? animosity?)– Corgan admits to being an easy person to dislike. Participants in the indie scene had derided the band as careerists since their early days. Pavement’s 1994 song “Range Life” refers to the band with the lines “I don’t understand what they mean/And I could really give a fuck”, which have been widely interpreted as an insult (although Stephen Malkmus has stated “I never dissed their music. I just dissed their status.”). Former Husker Du frontman Bob Mould called them “the grunge Monkees”, and fellow Chicago musician/producer Steve Albini wrote a scathing letter in response to an article praising the band. He countered that the Pumpkins were no more alternative than REO Speedwagon and said they were created “by, of and for the mainstream” and “stylistically appropriate for the current college party scene, but ultimately insignificant.” Whatever dude– I was 28 and I dug it.
Key songs: Today, Disarm, Cherub Rock, Mayonaise, Rocket, Soma
37. The Jayhawks– “Hollywood Town Hall”
The album that put alt/country or country rock into the national spotlight in the time of grunge. The album seemed daring at the time, simply because it was a sound that nobody else was putting out at the time (at least nationally… in Minnesota this only ranks as the 3rd or 4th best “alt/country” record ever). The critics took notice and Hollywood Town Hall received rave reviews across the board. 4.5 out 5 from AllMusic, 4 out of 5 from Rolling Stone and a solid “A” from Entertainment Weekly. The album cover was about as “Minnesota” as it could get, 4 guys sitting on a couch in winter coats on the side of a road in front of a small, all white church, with what looks like a late Feb, early March snow cover all around them. Top to bottom, it’s probably the best Jayhawks album ever (though a good argument can be made for 2003’s “Rainy Day Music”– but this album really has no duds on it at all– 10 great songs.
Key songs: Waiting For the Sun, Crowded In The Wings, Clouds, Settled Down Like Rain, Sister Cry, Two Angels, Take Me With You (When You Go), Martin’s Song
36. Counting Crows– “This Desert Life”
Released: November 1, 1999
Counting Crows list their musical influences as the following: Van Morrison, REM, Mike + the Mechanics, Nirvana, Bob Dylan and The Band. Yup, Mike + the Mechanics. I mean, “In The Living Years” was a good tune and all, but, um…. what are you talking about? Maybe it’s an inside joke. Anyway, Counting Crows third album found them going back to “August” territory rather than “Recovering the Satellites” experimentation. The album received 4 out of 5 stars from AllMusic and 3 out of 5 from Rolling Stone– but if you like the Counting Crows, it was better than that. The album sold over a million copies and hit #8 on the Billboard album charts– powered by the success of the single, “Hanginaround”, which peaked at # 5 on the Billboard Adult chart. Though a pretty solid album top to bottom, “This Desert Life” is ranked this high because of the 7:46 piano rock ballad, “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”– a song Adam Duritz wrote in honor of actress Monica Potter, whom he’d never met. I don’t know if he’s ever met her since, but for a fat, ugly guy Duritz sure has pulled a lot of hot women. He once answered the question, “what question are you most tired of getting?”, Duritz replied, “how’d that fat fuck get that hot of a girl”. Though they’ve had much bigger hits, “Potter” just barely charted at #40 on the adult top 40 for a week– it’s arguably Duritz best song.
Key songs: Hanginaround, Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby, All My Friends, Amy Hit the Atmosphere, Colorblind
35. Garth Brooks– “No Fences”
Released: August 27, 1990
This album was hard for me to embrace when it came out, as I was still in hardcore, “I HATE country music!” mode. Brooks was a game-changer though and he updated the “country” sound and really changed the genre forever. It’s funny because if you go back and listen to this record now, it comparatively sounds like Conway Twitty compared to some of the “country” music out there today. This second album released from Brooks spent 23 weeks at #1 on the Country charts and peaked at #3 on the pop album chart– it ended up selling over 17 million copies in the US alone. The album contained what has always been Garth’s signature song, “Friends In Low Places”– which became the crossover– as a sing-a-long song in not just country bars, but just about any bar where people weren’t dancing to Euro-tecno music. The album contained 5 #1 country hits and Brooks’ enthusiastic live shows helped propel him to one of the most successful careers in music history. Brooks crossed over so well because he took on a genre that needed a shot in the arm and he brought all of his musical influences to it: Springsteen, Billy Joel, James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg. Brooks began wearing the wireless headset at his concerts– and they became parties unlike anyone had ever thrown in country music before. The album receive the very rare 5 out of 5 from both AllMusic and ArtistDirect and an A from Entertainment Weekly.
Key songs: Friends In Low Places, Unanswered Prayers, The Thunder Rolls, Two of a Kind, Workin on a Full House, New Way To Fly, Mr. Blue
34. Matchbox Twenty– “Yourself or Someone Like You”
Released: October 1, 1996
Never loved by critics or the music hipsters, but always adored by the masses, the Orlando fouresome arrived on the scene in the winter of 1996 with a roar, the album would eventually sell over 12 million copies in the US alone. The first single, “Long Day” got immediate radio play, but didn’t move too far up the charts– an oddly enough, the most popular song off the album, “3am” never charted with Billboard, as there was a stupid rule back then (since changed) that would only rank songs that had officially been released as singles, and “3am” never was. I’m not really sure why the music hipsters instantly hated Rob Thomas– he wrote great lyrics and had a phenomenal pop sensibility.
She’s got a little bit of something, God it’s better than nothing
And in her color portrait world she believes that she’s got it all
She swears the moon don’t hang quite as high as it used to
And she only sleeps when it’s raining
And she screams and her voice is straining
I remember one of my brothers calling me soon after “Real World” had hit the radio and all he said was, ” “I get this funky high from a yellow sun…. I wish the real world would just stop hassling me” is just pure genius”. Hit after hit after hit and Rob Thomas is nearing the pantheon of great song makers of the last 25 years. One of my sisters once remarked, “Does Rob Thomas ever make a bad song?” Pretty much “no” is the answer– critics be damned. Two of the songs I still go back and listen to off of this album were never even radio hits, “Kody” and “Hang”– and that’s saying something, because just about every song on this album was a radio hit.
Key songs: Real World, Long Day, 3am, Push, Back To Good, Damn, Kody, Hang
33. Foo Fighters– “The Colour and The Shape”
Released: May 20, 1997
So what to do when you’re in one of the seminal bands of all-time and your lead singer blows his brains out? You either mope about the rest of your days with a creepy beard and a weird name or you say, “yay, I don’t have to be just the drummer anymore!” and you rock out. Dave Grohl formed the Foo Fighters just a year after Cobain’s death, and although not blessed with the greatest voice in the world, he’s always made up for it by putting every goddamned ounce of effort he has into every song. Actually, Grohl had always written songs while in Nirvana and he and the other surviving member, Krist Novoselic had a couple of talks about continuing to play together, but ultimately decided against it– saying it would have been easy for them to do, but just too weird for everyone else. “I didn’t need to be under that much of a microscope” Grohl said. Grohl mulled over an offer from Tom Petty to become the drummer for the Heartbreakers, but turned it down to begin his own band. The Foo’s released their first effort on July 4, 1995 and it hit right away, led by the singles: “This Is A Call”, “I’ll Stick Around” and “Big Me”– the last of which proved once and for all that Grohl wasn’t going to follow in Nirvana’s footsteps. The first album was a solid effort and proved Grohl’s second act wouldn’t be a fluke– but with “The Colour and the Shape” he blew the doors off and got his rock on. During the course of the making of the album, Grohl divorced his photographer wife and you can certainly hear the anguish of a failed relationship in many of the songs– and the first single, “Monkey Wrench” takes on the break up head on. The back-to-back-to back smack of the album’s first three singles can go head to head with just about any other 90’s albums. With over 2 million sold, it remains the best selling Foo Fighters album– and “My Hero” has lived two lives– a hit when it was released, it got new life after 9/11 when Grohl played an acoustic version on The Late Show– the song honors every-day heros as Grohl says he never had any music or sports heros growing up.
Key songs: Monkey Wrench, Everlong, My Hero, Up In Arms, See You, February Stars
32. Weezer– “Weezer”
Released: May 10, 1994
Weezer’s first ever band practice was held on February 14, 1992– and shortly thereafter the band got a big break: they were asked to open up a club gig for Keanu Reeves’ band, Dogstar. Ha. Just over a year later, the band went to Electric Lady studios in NYC where “Weezer” was produced by Cars frontman Ric Ocasek. The record label didn’t want to release a single as they wanted to see how much hype they could get for the band by word of mouth from their spectacular live shows. It didn’t take long for a radio station to pick up on them though and a Seattle station began playing, “Undone– The Sweater Song”, which was soon released and became a hit. Spike Jonze jumped in on the hot act and directed the video to the song, which became an MTV classic, with it’s unbroken take from a sound stage that included much bizarre behavior, including a pack of dogs swarming the stage. The second video, “Buddy Holly”, which re-created Arnold’s Diner from “Happy Days” also became a huge hit and the Weezer ship had officially set sail. While those were the two huge hits and along with “Say It Ain’t So” made the album so popular– for me the song that always just jumped out of the speakers at you was the opening track, “My Name Is Jonas”– you couldn’t hear that song and not think Weezer rocked. The album went on to sell over 5 million copies in the US and received 5 out 5 stars from AllMusic. It also gained Weezer a fanatical fan base– those who loved them, LOVED them and probably saved them from ruin after the strange second release: “Pinkerton” which, many swore by and many others thought was awful. Rivers Cuomo, who was raised in an ashram in NYC and graduated from both the Berklee college of music and with honors from Harvard– has long been one of the more interesting figures in music– and it’s been his “smarts” (knowing how to adapt and change with the times) that has helped Weezer stay relevant for 16 years when many of their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside. “Weezer (The Blue Album)” was named the 297th best album of all time on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest albums ever.
Key songs: My Name Is Jonas, Undone- The Sweater Song, Buddy Holly, Say It Ain’t So, Surf Wax America, No One Else
31. Live– “Throwing Copper”
Released: April 26, 1994
“Throwing Copper”, the second album from Live is in rarified air as only the 3rd album of all time to finally hit #1 on the Billboard album chart a full year after it hit the chart– joining Fleetwood Mac’s first release, “Fleetwood Mac” and Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” as the only albums to pull that trick. In Throwing Copper’s case it was a matter of releasing single after single after single after single that kept it’s slow burn and slow rise up the charts going– the album eventually sold over 8 million copies in the US and 20 million world wide– one of the biggest alternative albums ever. “Lightning Crashes” spent an unheard of 3 straight months as the #1 song on the Mainstream Rock Singles chart. Five singles from “Throwing Copper” ended up charting– the lowest of which got to #15. The band would never again hit the tremendous heights of “Throwing Copper” and in late 2009, the band would break up for good due to monetary disputes– most notably lead singer Ed Kowalczyk’s demand for a $100,000 “lead singer” bonus at a music festival that summer.
Key songs: The Dam At Otter Creek, Selling the Drama, Lightning Crashes, I Alone, All Over You, White, Discussion
30. The Scott Laurent Band– “Caposville”
Released: March 1, 1996
For most of the early and mid-90’s the Twin Cities music scene had it’s share of “middle of the road” pop bands that would take turns playing The Cabooze, The Fine Line, 400 Bar and Bunkers– most notably Tim Mahoney, G.B. Leighton, Johnny Clueless, The Billy’s and The Delilah’s. In 1996, Bloomington Kennedy graduate Scott Laurent hit the scene, another out of the local “Oar Fin” records stable and Laurent hit it out of the park with his first effort, “Caposville”. Some review blurbs: “Laurent writes passionate, image conjuring, Midwest-style rock songs and he sings the hell out of them” “Laurent has created a distinct sound that can be melancholy and nostalgic one minute yet uplifting and vibrant the next. Real songs for real people played with skill, conviction, heart and soul.” “Laurent mixes a bit of the singer-songwriter with a sophisticated pop sound that is nearly on par with the best of Michael Penn, Semisonic and the fine recent material of the Jayhawks, Should really be a Triple-A radio staple.” Well, a radio staple he never became, but he made 4 of the better Twin Cities albums of the time– Caposville being the best of the bunch. From the opening snarl of “Madison” about a Billy and a Sarah, who “prays at night to God up above, for those who’ve been wronged by love”— to the meloncholy awesomeness of, “It Always Happened In The Fall”– a song that could only be written by a Midwesterner– the hallway neighbor of an old friend of mine– Caposville is singer/songwriter stuff done as well as it gets.
Key songs: Madison, Paul’s Song, Caposville, It Always Happened In The Fall, Afraid Of The Ground, You Know Me Well
29. Hootie and the Blowfish– “Cracked Rear View”
Released: July 5, 1994
Fifteen years later and there are those who would have you believe Hootie and the Blowfish were a joke, a musical anomaly, a band that rode a goofy name and pop jingles to a ridiculous amount of unfounded fame and fortune. Those people are wrong. In 1986 in the dorm shower at the University of South Carolina, freshman Mark Bryan heard fellow-frosh Darius Rucker singing in the shower and was impressed. Four years after graduation the boys released “Cracked Rear View” and it sold over 19 million copies in the US– making it the 15th best selling album of all-time in the United States. It received 4.5 out of 5 from AllMusic and 3.5 out of 5 from Rolling Stone. This album hit and it hit hard. It didn’t take long for music hipsters to make fun of the band and the name of the band– you go from zero to 100 in a couple of months and a huge portion of the world is going to hate you for it. You couldn’t go anywhere that played music in late ’94 and through 1995 and not hear a Hootie and the Blowfish song. And I liked them all. After a few more albums that wouldn’t come near the success of “Cracked Rear View”– Rucker turned out a very good country album in 2008 (even won best newcomer at the CMA’s)– but he always says “Let Her Cry” was his first country song. Whatever you want to call it, it was good, and Hootie and the Blowfish’s place in the music pantheon is secure.
Key songs: Hannah Jane, Let Her Cry, Hold My Hand, Only Wanna Be With You, Time, Not Even The Trees
28. Alanis Morissette– “Jagged Little Pill”
Released: June 13, 1995
Alanis Morissette had just turned 21 years old when she released her third album (but major label debut) in the summer of 1995– she was just old enough to have been hurt by love and she was PISSED OFF! “Jagged Little Pill” hit like a pack of firecrackers and it just exploded everywhere– at 30 million records sold, it’s the best debut album ever recorded by a woman. The album was a sensation on many different levels– basically the diary of a 20 year old girl– and a 20 year old girl that couldn’t sing particularly well either. But Alanis struck a chord– as one critic wrote, “the lyrics are unvarnished and Morissette unflinchingly explores emotions so common, most people would be ashamed to articulate them– an utterly fascinating exploration of a young woman’s psyche.” Alanis and her label had hoped that “Pill” would make enough money to do a second album– but quickly after it’s release, the heavily influential L.A. radio station KROQ put “You Oughta Know” into heavy rotation– it was picked up quickly by MTV and the rest is history. The album stayed in the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 albums chart for over a year and had an incredible 6 singles hit the top 15 of one Billboard chart or another. Rolling Stone ranked it #327 on their 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Key songs: You Oughta Know, Ironic, Hands Over Feet, All I Really Want, Hand In My Pocket, You Learn
27. Pearl Jam– “Vitalogy” and “Yield”
Released: December 6, 1994 and February 3, 1998
Pretty much the band of the decade when your 3rd and 4th best albums make the top 30. “Vitalogy” was made in the middle of super-duper-duper stardom for the band and in the midst of their epic battles with everyone from their record label to their war with Ticketmaster. After the massive success of the videos for “Jeremy” and “Alive”, Pearl Jam decided not to make videos at a time when they were the single biggest sales boost for any album or song. Eddie Vedder hated the idea of listeners being told what to envision in their heads while they listened to a song– he liked the idea of listeners making up their own videos in their heads. Even while giving their label and MTV and many other advertising strategies the finger, “Vitalogy” became the 2nd fastest selling album ever, selling almost a million copies in it’s first week. Producer Brendan O’Brien took a song that had been held off of their second album, “Vs” for being “too accessible” according to the band and insisted that they put it on “Vitalogy” as he called it a “blatantly great pop song”– the song was “Better Man” and it was on anyone with ears top 10 songs of the decade. The band continued to wage war with TicketMaster and was surprised as virtually no other bands took up the fight with them– a fight that would basically keep the band from touring in the Unites States for almost four years and a fight that they would eventually lose. Eddie Vedder says of “Yield”– “what was rage in the past has now become relfection”… Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly stated that the band has “turned in an intermittently affecting album that veers between fiery garage rock and rootsy, acoustic-based ruminations. Perhaps mindful of their position as the last alt-rock ambassadors with any degree of clout, they’ve come up with their most cohesive album since their 1991 debut, Ten.” While the album inbetween these two, “No Code” veered a little to far off the “Ten” path for some, “Yield” brought almost everybody back. Rolling Stone staff writer Al Weisel gave Vitalogy four out of five stars, describing the album as “a wildly uneven and difficult record, sometimes maddening, sometimes ridiculous, often powerful.” Rolling Stone staff writer Rob Sheffield gave Yield four out of five stars, saying that “before, the band’s best songs were the change-of-pace ballads…Yield marks the first time Pearl Jam have managed to sustain that mood for a whole album.” He added that “Vedder is singing more frankly than ever about his life as an adult,” and that the album “shows that Pearl Jam have made the most out of growing up in public.
Key songs: Spin the Black Circle, Not For You, Better Man, Corduroy, Nothingman, Given To Fly, Wishlist, Faithful, MFC, Do The Evolution, Lowlight, All Those Yesterdays
26. Martin Zellar– “Born Under”
The much anticipated debut of Marty Zellar’s post Gear Daddies career pretty much picked up where the Gear Daddies left off– heartland angst embedded in great writing about horrible relationships, yearning for something more and wondering what might have been. One reviewer wrote: “Yeah, the album cover looks like it was lifted from a J Crew catalogue, but don’t be fooled: Zellar is heir to a long and distinguished tradition of gritty, world-weary song-writing and there’s nothing faked or pretentious in his song-writing or delivery.” Zellar has a knack for capturing we humans at our worst but he still sides with us and hopes in the end we can just “be happy”. “See you runnin’ for the bus/you’re six months pregnant, your clothes too tight/and I think my heart is gonna bust”. Those who were crushed by the end of the Gear Daddies were saved by “Born Under”.
Key songs: Lie To Me, Problem Solved, Let Go, Something’s Gotta Happen, East Side Boys, Falling Sky, Summer Kind of Sad
25. The BoDeans– “Black and White”
Released: April 26, 1991
In January of 1987 Rolling Stone named Waukesha, WI band The BoDeans the “best new American band” after their stellar debut, “Love and Hope and Sex and Dreams”. Two more albums were released to critical acclaim in the 80’s, “Outside Looking In” and “Home”. Though critically acclaimed (even an article in TIME magazine)– moderate sales on the first three albums had the BoDeans looking for bigger pastures with “Black and White”. Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas became far more ambitious as songwriters, tackling bigger issues than good times in bars. The BoDeans took on race, sex and trying to get the girl in stories that took one man’s troubles and made them analogous to bigger issues. Though a fantastic album, it sadly didn’t sell a whole lot more than their previous work. The BoDeans will always be in the pantheon of “how the hell did they not make it bigger?”
Key songs: Good Things, Paradise, Any Given Day, Naked, Forever On My Mind, Do I Do, Black, White and Blood Red
24. The Refreshments– “The Bottle and Fresh Horses”
Released: September 16, 1997
The second album from the cult-favorites from Tempe, Arizona had a little bit less of a smirk on it’s face than their debut, but continued in the same vein of alt/country rock with a huge dose of Southwestern snarl. Maybe no band going put together sound and location as well as these guys, from rattlesnake guitars to tequila tasting vocals– one reviewer claims this album as such: “consider this record one of the strongest forgotten gems of it’s time.” Thankfully, to all of us fans, the songs of the Freshies would live on with the Peacemakers. Cedarfest show on August 17, 1997 where I fist heard a lot of the songs that would come out on this album a month later.
Key songs: Tributary Otis, Preacher’s Daughter, Wanted, Dolly, Fonder and Blonder, Broken Record, Una Soda, Sin Nombre