Standing In The Sun With A Popscicle

by Bill

The 1990’s were certainly more simple musically than the 1980’s (at least my tastes were)– I liked Modern rock or Alternative rock or whatever you want to call it.  The 1980’s were insane comparing from where the decade started to where it ended.  What were the best albums of the 1980’s? Talk about to each his own– Thriller, Purple Rain, Born In The USA, Scarecrow, Appetite For Desctruction, The Joshua Tree, and take your pick from Madonna and you’re at seven albums right there.  I’d throw in both Tim and Let It Be from the Replacements and Hang Time from Soul Asylum.  Hard Promises from TP would be in there too.  It’s a tough decade to rank because I went from being 14 to 24, when you’re still figuring out what you like and what you don’t like.  My 1980’s self wouldn’t have had any Jimmy Buffett, my now self would have all 8 of his 1980’s albums in the top 60 or so.  I’ll try to give you a quick top 10 (or so) from each year (in no order of ranking, plus the Buffett album from that year):

1980: Back in Black (ACDC), The River (Bruce Springsteen), Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did (John Mellencamp), The Kings Are Here (The Kings), London Calling (The Clash), Dirty Mind (Prince), Zenyetta Mondatta (The Police) Crimes of Passion (Pat Benatar), New Clear Days (The Vapors), Panorama (The Cars),  Argybargy (Squeeze), Glass Houses (Billy Joel), Hi-Infidelity (REO Speedwagon)

1981: Hard Promises (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), Escape (Journey), Tattoo You (The Rolling Stones), Ghost In The Machine (The Police), Beauty & The Beat (The Go Go’s), Private Eyes (Hall & Oates), Tonight I’m Yours (Rod Stewart), Freeze Frame (J. Geils Band), Business As Usual (Men at Work) Working Class Dog (Rick Springfield), Coconut Telegraph (Jimmy Buffett)

1982: American Fool (John Mellencamp), Long After Dark (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), 1999 (Prince), Thriller (Michael Jackson), Imperial Bedroom (Elvis Costello), Vacation (The Go Go’s), Rio (Duran Duran), Convertable Music (Josie Cotton), H2O (Hall & Oates), What Time Is It? (The Time), Eye of The Tiger (Survivor), Built For Speed (The Stray Cats) Somewhere Over China (Jimmy Buffett)

1983:  Synchronicity (The Police), Murmer (REM), War (U2), She’s So Unusual (Cyndi Lauper), The Distance (Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band), An Innocent Man (Billy Joel), Rebel Yell (Billy Idol), Colour By Numbers (Culture Club), Uh-Huh (John Mellencamp), Cuts Like A Knife (Bryan Adams) Madonna (Madonna), Lawyers In Love (Jackson Browne),  One Particular Harbor (Jimmy Buffett)

1984: Let It Be (The Replacements), Purple Rain (Prince & The Revolution), Born In The USA (Bruce Springsteen), Like A Virgin (Madonna), 1984 (Van Halen), All Over The Place (The Bangles), General Public (All The Rage), Talk Show (The Go Go’s), Reckless (Bryan Adams), The Unforgettable Fire (U2), Private Dancer (Tina Turner), Zen Arcade (Husker Du), Reckoning (REM), Ice Cream Castles (The Time) Riddles In The Sand (Jimmy Buffett)

1985: Tim (The Replacements), Scarecrow (John Mellencamp), Southern Accents (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), No Jacket Required (Phil Collins), Whitney Houston (Whitney Houston), Heart (Heart), Play Deep (The Outfield), Around The World In A Day (Prince), New Day Rising (Husker Du), Brothers In Arms (Dire Straits), Fables Of The Reconstruction (REM), Last Mango In Paris (Jimmy Buffett)

1986:  Slippery When Wet (Bon Jovi), So (Peter Gabriel), Graceland (Paul Simon), Life’s Rich Pageant (REM), 5150 (Van Halen), True Blue (Madonna), Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams (BoDeans), The Bridge (Billy Joel), Different Light (The Bangles), Licensed To Ill (The Beastie Boys), Crowded House (Crowded House), Back In The High Life (Steve Winwood), Look What The Cat Dragged In (Poisen), I Can’t Hold Back (Eddie Money), The Way It Is (Bruce Hornsby & The Range) Floridays (Jimmy Buffett)

1987:  Appetite For Destruction (Guns ‘N Roses), Hysteria (Def Leppard), The Joshua Tree (U2), Sign “O” The Times (Prince), Pleased To Meet Me (The Replacements), Faith (George Michael), Bad (Michael Jackson), Tunnel Of Love (Bruce Springsteen), The Lonesome Jubilee (John Mellencamp), Bad Animals (Heart), Document (REM), Outside Looking In (BoDeans), Heaven On Earth (Belinda Carlisle)

1988:  Hang Time (Soul Asylum), Green (REM), Surfer Rosa (The Pixies), Lies (Guns ‘N Roses), Nothing To Lose (Eddie Money), Daydream Nation (Sonic Youth), If I Should Fall From Grace With God (The Pogues), New Jersey (Bon Jovi), Never Die Young (James Taylor), Everything (The Bangles), Fisherman’s Blues (The Waterboys), Look Sharp! (Roxette), If My Ancesters Could See Me Now (Ivan Neville), Open Up and Say… Ahh (Poisen), Hot Water (Jimmy Buffett)

1989: Don’t Tell A Soul (The Replacements), Dr. Feelgood (Motley Cru), The Raw and The Cooked (Fine Young Cannibals), Doolittle (The Pixies), Full Moon Fever (Tom Petty), Like A Prayer (Madonna), The End of the Innocence (Don Henly), Pump (Aerosmith), Runaway Horses (Belinda Carlisle), Journeyman (Eric Clapton) Steel Wheels (The Rolling Stones), Garth Brooks (Garth Brooks),  Home (BoDeans), Off To See The Lizard (Jimmy Buffett)

Oddest thing I found looking up those albums? The Rolling Stones released 29 studio albums and thus far there have been 30 compilation albums released.

Looking at that list, I’m tempted to say that the 80’s had far better albums than the 90’s.  But I sure as hell go back to the albums from the 90’s a lot more to listen to.

Back to the 90’s:

9.  Buffalo Tom– “Big Red Letter Day”

Released: November 11, 1993

The Boston alt\rock trio hit their stride with their 4th album, “Big Red Letter Day”, arguably the most underrated album of the decade.  The band’s previous album, “Let Me Come Over” from 1992, was good, but not great– but showed flashes of the brilliance that would follow with the songs– “Taillights Fade”, “Larry” and “Velvet Roof”. “Big Red Letter Day” was introduced to the world in a Nike ad– one of the first ads that was basically just a music video– ads that are run-of-the-mill now– but I remember thinking how cool I thought this Nike ad was that used “Sodajerk” as it’s music. “Big Red Letter Day” doesn’t have a bad song on it– 11 straight good songs– 41 and a half straight minutes of great music.  The album received 4.5 out of 5 stars from AllMusic and garnered the band a peak at national success– like a lot of 90’s bands, the success was fleeting, they made more great music, but never reached the heights they probably deserved.  Time will look kindly on this fantastic album.

Key songs: Sodajerk, I’m Allowed, Tree House, Would Not Be Denied, Torch Singer, Late At Night, Anything That Way

8.  U2– “Achtung Baby”

Released: November 19, 1991

It’s really getting hard to rank them at this point– all the albums left have at least six great songs on them– a lot of the rankings at this point are basically just how much fun I had during the album or listening to the album or what might have been going on in my life at the time the album was out.  It was heresy at the time, but right away I said I liked Achtung Baby better than The Joshua Tree.  “Whose Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” and “One” were immediately two of my favorite U2 songs of all-time. Achtung Baby began U2’s 90’s re-invention from a politically charged, earnest band to a more lighthearted and self-depricating band.  “Mysterious Ways” kicked things off as the first single (“The Fly” was actually first, but didn’t catch on) and as a critic wrote: features a danceable beat, funky guitar hook, and conga-laden percussion, as well as mystical lyrics about romance and women.  Achtung Baby received rave reviews across the board, getting the ultra-rare 5 out of 5 stars from AllMusic, 4.5 out of 5 from Rolling Stone and an A from Entertainment Weekly.  It has sold over 18 million copies world-wide and cemented U2’s status as one of the biggest bands in the world.

Key songs: Even Better Than The Real Thing, Mysterious Ways, Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?, One, Until The End Of The World, The Fly, So Cruel, Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World

7.  R.E.M.– “Automatic For The People”

Released: October 5, 1992

“Alternative” music hit hard around 1990– “grunge” coming out of Seattle was nothing more than throwing flannel on and adding a guitar lick or two to the “alternative” sounds that were already out there.  REM had certainly been one of the pioneers of “alternative” or “college” rock– since their debut album in 1983.  After 1991’s “Out of Time” sold 12 million copies, expectations were through the roof for the Athens band’s next album.  REM had intended for “Automatic” to be a return to their harder rock roots, but ended up making an album that was even further from “rock” as “Out of Time” was. Peter Buck has said that “Automatic” came from the themes of “the sense of loss and mourning inspired by turning thirty”.  Many critics, as well as Peter Buck and Mike Mills, consider “Automatic” to be REM’s best album (I obviously agree).  REM again chose not to tour after the album’s release (they didn’t tour after “Out of Time” either)– the no tourning and Michael Stipe’s appearance sparked rumors that the lead singer was dying– rumors that were all untrue.  “Automatic” ended up selling 10 million copies, and along with “Out of Time” (12 million) are the band’s two best selling albums.  “Automatic” received 5 out of 5 stars from both AllMusic and Rolling Stone (and just about everyone else) and an A from Entertainment Weekly– making it perhaps the best reviewed album of the 1990’s.  Reviewer Paul Evans wrote, “despite it’s difficult concerns, most of  Automatic is musically irresistable”…. and Ann Powers of The New York Times wrote:  “Even in the midst of such disenchantment, R.E.M. can’t resist its own talent for creating beautiful and moving sounds. Stipe, Buck, Mills and Berry can still conjure melodies that fall like summer sunlight. And Stipe still possesses a gorgeous voice that cannot shake its own gift for meaning.”  Time Magazine’s Guy Garcia wrote,  “that a so-called alternative band can keep its edge after conquering the musical mainstream” and that it “manages to dodge predictability without ever sounding aimless or unfocussed”.  It’s odd that an REM album with only 3 “rockers” on it (Ignoreland, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight and Man on the Moon) would be their best– but REM proved without a doubt that they could throw ballads up against anyone and “Automatic For The People” cemented their status as one of the best bands in the world.

Key songs: Drive, Try Not To Breathe, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight, Everybody Hurts, Sweetness Follows, Ignoreland, Man On The Moon, Nightswimming, Find The River

6.  Third Eye Blind– “Third Eye Blind”

Released: April 8, 1997

In April of 1996 Third Eye Blind frontman Stephen Jenkins challenged Epic Records executive Don Massey in a meeting to let the band open a huge San Francisco gig.  Hype had been surrounding the local band for over a year, so Massey took Jenkins up on his challenge and let Third Eye Blind open for Oasis at the San Francisco Auditorium.  The band was called on for an encore– which is completely unheard of– an opening act getting screamed back  for more.  More and more hype insued and 3EB ending up signing with Elektra Records after an LA showcase where the band wowed everyone again.  “Third Eye Blind”, their first album blew out of the gates on the strength of lead single “Semi-Charmed Life”, which roared to #1 on the Modern Rock chart and stayed there for eight weeks. Though the album only peaked at #25 on the Billboard charts, it stayed in the Billboard top 200 for a monster 104 weeks (which only happens when great single after great single after great single is released). The album ended up selling over 6 million copies and was the band’s biggest seller.  Numbers aside, this album is ranked so high because it was so damn fun to listen to– from the goofy, electro charged “Semi-Charmed Life” (those little red panties they pass the test) to the desperate howling of “Graduate” to the pleading “Jumper” and the crescendo buildups of “Losing A Whole Year”, “How’s It Going To Be” and “Motorcycle Drive By” to the singalong anthem “God of Wine”.  We were on to the later years of our “going out” careers, but Third Eye Blind made it fun again.

Key songs: Losing A Whole Year, Narcolepsy, Semi-Charmed Life, Jumper, Graduate, How’s It Going To Be, Thanks A Lot, Motorcyle Drive By, God of Wine

5.  Gin Blossoms– “New Miserable Experiece”

Released: August 4, 1992

August of 1992– kind of when it all started to happen. “It’s All Happening. It’s Happening.”  The Tempe, Arizona band’s first album stumbled out of the gates with poor sales and luke-warm reviews.  Then a song called,  “Hey Jealousy” hit the radio about a year after the album’s release and everything changed.  “Hey Jealousy” became a pre-bar, during bar and post-bar staple and anthem for the time.  Everyone bought the album and everyone realized it was the rarest of rares: there wasn’t a bad song on the record.  The Gin Blossoms took their name from an old photo of WC Fields, that was titled “WC Fields with gin blossoms”– the drinkers eyes and cheeks, filled with colors that shouldn’t be there. After becoming wildly popular in the Tempe bars, the Gin Blossoms signed a major label deal and immediately learned what that entails– people telling you how to do something differently from what you’ve been doing, even though what you’d been doing had been making everyone at the bar pretty damn happy and satisfied. Thus the name of their first album– “New Miserable Experience”.  Founding member, lead guitarist and songwriter Doug Hopkins drank heavily and became the most disallusioned of the group and fought constantly with the label. Seeing no alternative, the group replaced Hopkins as lead guitarist.  The huge success of the album, lead by Hopkins penned singles “Hey Jealousy” and “Found Out About You”, were tempered by Hopkins dismissal and then suicide on December 4, 1993.  It’s probably no surprise that the Gin Blossoms never again struck such a chord with their music.  “Hey Jealousy” was a rip-roaring single about begging your way back to an old flame– “Lost Horizons” a poetic take on yearning for a relationship and life itself, to feel new again, “29” a pleading take on wanting to grow up, but not having the slightest idea of how to (Generation X in a nutshell). “New Miserable Experience” hit the stereo at 3015 E. Calhoun Parkway and really never left. It’s still one of my go-to listens.

Key songs: Lost Horizons, Hey Jealousy, Mrs. Rita, Until I Fall Away, Cajun Song, Hands Are Tied, Found Out About You, Allison Road, 29, Pieces of the Night, Cheatin’

4.  Johnny Clueless– “Kissed In Kansas”

Released: 1994

Well, what can I say…. If I made this list ranked on how much fun I had listening to an album (both the cd and live) it might be at #1.  Overrated? Probably.  They never did match the urgency of this original album again– a lot of good songs on the later albums, but nothing quite as much fun as the stuff on this one.  There were Minnesota music fans from this era who would choose Tim Mahoney or GB Leighton over Clueless, and I never got that.  This album was far better than anything those two ever did.  (I guess anyone who hung out at Champps in Minnetonka would disagree and anyone who went to St. Cloud St. would agree).  All I know is I wore this sucker out.  I heard many different times from friends and relatives from way out of state who’d play this album and get this repsonse: “who is this? this is awesome!”  The album had enough local success to give the band the tiniest taste of fame: a Billboard magazine article, a gig on the “Jenny Jones Show”, and an opening slot on a Cheap Trick tour… like a million bands before them, they teetered on the brink of success, but never broke through. When it was all said and done, the band sold around 30,000 cd’s– far more than 98 percent of bands ever will, but not what the hope was after this fantastic debut.  A LazyEye article once said: Since Johnny Clueless formed in 1992 as a beer-drinking, good-time party band at St. Cloud State, they’ve seen their dreams become more and more lofty. “When we started out,” Brown said, “all we wanted was to be able to play at the bar we hung out at.”  That first bar was The Red Carpet in St. Cloud. And then The Cabooze in Minneapolis. They might have topped out with a gig at Cedar Fest in the summer of 1997.  The first time I ever saw them play was at Melvin’s in Spicer on a summer night in 1994.  A rocking cover of the Scooby Doo theme song got me to whip a 20 bill on stage.  Music Fest the next summer back at Melvin’s was one of my favorite live shows I’ve ever seen and an over-served me chatted Steve Brown up at the bar for an hour after their gig.  What Jim Walsh wrote about the Gear Daddies is true for most Minnesotans from the early 90’s– but for a small few of us, it was even more true for Johnny Clueless.  A little perspective here: there have been 720 non-pitchers who have played in a major league baseball game and never got a hit– with the most hitless at-bats belonging to Larry Littleton, who played for the Cleveland Indians in 1981 and was hitless in 27 plate appearances.  But here’s the deal for all 720 of those guys: in their home towns, growing up, in t-ball, little league and in high school– everyone who saw them play thought they were the best baseball player they had ever seen. Johnny Clueless had a helluva run.

Key songs: Think You’d Agree, Girl, Callous Man, The Biggest Bed, #5 Wheel, Million Years, Grandma’s For The Weekend, Do It Over Here, An Hour Away

3.  Pearl Jam– “Ten”

Released: August 27, 1991

Yes, “Ten” was released a month before “Nevermind”– for some reason a lot of the compare/contrasters always liked to play the “Pearl Jam just copied Nirvana” card.  Both bands were based in Seattle and immersed in the same music scene and both jumped on the “grunge” sound that took over the world in 1992.  What a lot of us know, however, is that the Seattle “grunge” scene was just a continuation of the “Minneapolis Rock” scene that had started in the mid-80’s with The Replacements and Husker Du. Anyhow, I’ll never know why people had to take sides in the Nirvana/Pearl Jam debate– but I was on the Pearl Jam side of the fence from the get go. Why? Because I liked all of their songs better. As the years pass many music hipsters will take the stance of, “it’s not even a debate– it’s Nirvana”– Will Leitch just wrote in his latest book, “I think by now even Eddie Vedder would take Nirvana in that old debate”…. nope. Time doesn’t change how the music sounds to me– I’ll still take Pearl Jam any day of the week.  I like Nirvana too, but Ten just did more for me than Nevermind.  I still remember the first time I ever heard “Ten” — it’s the fall of 1992– I was at an apartment party in Uptown– it was one of those parties where I didn’t know many people there– just a couple of buddies that I went with and a couple of the girls who lived there that we had just met out on the town a few weeks earlier.  So without a ton of people to talk to, I couldn’t  stop straining my ears to listen to the music.  The guy seemed to be screaming at me, which I’d heard a million times before– but what was different was: I liked the sound of this guy screaming at me. I LOVED IT.  I bought the cd the next week and put it into heavy rotation right away.  I won’t bore you (too late?) with the Pearl Jam story– we’ve all heard it a million times by now (but did you know “Ten” was named for Mookie Blaylock’s uniform number– Mookie Blaylock being the original name of the band).  It’s not really up for debate: Pearl Jam was the most popular American Rock Band of the 1990’s.  “Ten” sold over 15 million copies (after taking almost a year to sell any at all) and the band has sold over 60 million records to date. They’re Hall of Famers and continue to have huge success two decades in.  I remember an interview I read with Trent Reznor back in the whole early 90’s “compare everyone to Nirvana” era– the writer mentioned to Reznor all the similarities between he and Kurt Cobain and his answer was a very good one and it would have fit for Eddie V too– Reznor said of their same age and sound and lyrical type: “yeah, but he’s addicted to heroin and I’m not”.  5 out of 5 from AllMusic and Rolling Stone… a B- from EW (wtf? nice try EW!)

Key songs: Once, Evenflow, Why Go, Black, Jeremy, Oceans, Release

2.  The Refreshments– “Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy”

Released: February 27, 1996

If I’d done this list on January 1, 2000 this album probably would have been around 10th or so on this list– a decade of perspective moves it way up.  Again, fun being the single biggest factor that separates this album– the amount of fun I’ve had listening to it both on stereo and live.  In early 1995, a buddy of mine who was from Arizona gave me a cd called “Wheelie” because he knew I loved music and figured I’d love this band– he told me they were the hottest thing going down in Tempe.  I gave it a few spins and I liked it a lot– it didn’t leap out at me, but I liked it a lot. It was about a year later that most of the same songs, polished up, came out as “Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy”-which I snapped up right away and instantly fell in love with. I didn’t get to see them live until the summer of 1997 at Ceder Fest and they absolutely KILLED.  I was completely sold and have now seen the Freshies/Peacemakers probably 40 or so times (living in Scottsdale for almost 3 years certainly helped crank up that total) with the highlights being 4 times down in Mexico when they put on 3.5 hour shows outside, right next to the beach on the Sea of Cortez. Even more than their Tempe brethren, the Gin Blossoms, the Refreshments embodied the “Southwest Sound”– lyrics straight from the desert and tales from the dusty border towns and Mexico. I’ve never heard a band that sounded more like the place they were from– you can almost hear a rattlesnake hissing and plenty of tequila being swallowed during their songs. It’s the true mark of a great album when your favorite song from an album has changed 6 or 7 different times. There is truly not a bad song on the album and listening to it just puts you in a good mood and makes you want to throw a party. Big time success has seemed to elude Roger Clyne and company, which is ridiculous and all the proof you need to show you how screwed up the music industry is.  “Banditos” got the band their only song on national radio, and doing the theme song for “King of the Hill” put some well deserved dollars in their pockets. AllMusic gave this album 4 out of 5 stars– a star short. Here’s to life!

Key songs: Blue Collar Suicide, European Swallow, Down Together, Mekong, Girly, Banditos, Mexico, Interstate, Suckerpunch, Nada

1.  Soul Asylum– “Grave Dancer’s Union”

Released: October 6, 1992

No, this was not a fair fight. I spent three years going to grade school with Dave Pirner and playing football and floor hockey and playground hoops etc with him.  Their breakthrough to the big time was ridiculously fun to watch, hard-earned and entirely deserved. When they were at the top of their game, there wasn’t a better live band on the planet. Dave never talked a lot, but he knew how to dominate a stage. DOMINATE. He had being a rock star down. He’d strut to the mic with a rock n’ roll swagger and take one last puff on his cig, before theatrically ditching it and then wailing into his guitar. And I was sold every time he did it.  The Wedenesday night before Thanksgiving shows were must see’s for years and I was thrilled, jazzed, wowwed every single time.  One of the most memorable first songs I’ve ever seen was from one of those shows, me and my group were playing the “what will they play first?” game and of course Dave was one giant step ahead of us and he came out and raised his arms far above his head, all 80’s glam rock style and the place shook as the keyboard broke into the first notes of “Jump” by Van Halen– the band played a verse and a chorus and then Dave grinned into the mic and said, “ok, just kidding”.  Full disclosure: the first incarnation of the band, “Loud Fast Rules” played at a dance my senior year and I thought they were horrible.  It was hard core punk music and I was used to listening to Tom Petty and Bruce– I didn’t know what to make of them.  Six albums in and the Mpls boys (while already having made a couple of fantastic albums) hit it huge with GDU. “Runaway Train” hit the radio and MTV and won a Grammy and the band played at Clinton’s inaugeration and Dave was dating a movie star. Pirner received raves from all in the know for his lyrics and although he certainly wasn’t a classic “good singer” there was something just perfect about his voice anyway. The album spent 76 weeks on the Billboard album charts and sold over 3 million copies and pretty much set up the boys for life. They made all of us from the St. Thomas Apostle playground proud– and although anyone who loves music would completely shout me down for this (and this is coming from a monsterous Replacements fan)– I’d take Soul Asylum in a song for song showdown, and live it was simply no contest (which of course is silly, let’s just leave it at– they’re both all-time great bands). I don’t know that an album and it’s success will ever make me happier than this one. “Standing in the sun with a popscicle, everything is possible, with a lot of luck and a pretty face and some time to waste” might have been my favorite line of the 90’s– when are your possibilities more endless than with a popscicle in the sun???? And with luck and a pretty face… well, you’ve got it all. Album of the decade.

Key songs: Somebody to Shove, Black Gold, Runaway Train, Keep It Up, Homesick, Get On Out, April Fool, Without A Trace, Growing Into You, The Sun Maid

Published in: on June 24, 2010 at 5:26 pm  Comments (2)  

Nevermind and Everything After (23-10)

by Bill

Continuing on with the absurd task of ranking the best albums of the 1990’s.  I’ve found that at a certain point it’s kind of hard to say one is better than another– you just sort of weigh how much you liked them then, how much fun you had listening to them then and try to mix it together with how well they hold up now.  I’ve tried to completely let go of how the world at large looks at them– because music really is one of those art forms that means something different to everyone.  There is no score, you can’t say one album is better than another one and have that be the right answer. If you like the Beastie Boys better than Pearl Jam, than nothing I say to you is going to change your mind and it shouldn’t.  However it hits your ears is what matters.  Whatever puts the biggest smile on your face or makes you remember the most or makes you want to shake your hips or makes you want to stay up another hour and have two more beers listening.

23.  Bush– “Sixteen Stone”

Released: December 6, 1994

Few bands on this entire list have disappeared as far as Bush has, so it’s easy to forget how hard this album rocked in the spring and summer of 1995. Gavin Rossdale has simply become the slick-backed haired, husband to Gwen Stefani and he seems fine with that, and that’s ok.  I went out a time or two in the 90’s and I can tell you that for me and my friends, no single song of that decade kick-started a night out any better than “Machinehead”.  That first guitar lick was all you needed to here and the night was underway.  One liter of beer at Champps became a second liter before the next song could start.  Bush formed in London in 1992 and took it’s name because they lived in the Shepard’s Bush neighborhood. Rossdale met guitarist Nigel Pulsford and the two bonded over a love of the American alternative group The Pixies. After being signed and recording “Sixteen Stone”– the record label switched hands and the new label didn’t think the album was worthy of release.  Again, Los Angeles radio station KROQ came to a band’s rescue as the station got a hold of and started playing the song, “Everything Zen”.  Critics were harsh of the album’s release, taking the easy way out and just saying that they were another Nirvana/Pearl Jam rip-off.  And some people say the world has had enough of silly love songs, right? AllMusic was smart enough to ignore the others and gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  The world disagreed with the critics, as “Sixteen Stone” sold over 12 million copies world-wide and 5 singles off the album cracked Billboard’s top 10 on the alternative charts.  Bush’s follow up album was a miss compared to “Sixteen Stone” although it had two pretty good songs in “Swallowed” and “Cold Contagious”.

Key songs: Machinehead, Comedown, Everything Zen, Glycerine, Little Things, Swim

22.  Red Hot Chili Peppers– “Californication”

Released: June 8, 1999

The L.A. band had hit astonishing heights after 1991’s “Blood Sugar Sex Magic” and the sudden fame and fortune completely freaked out their lead guitarist, John Frusciante, who quit the band in the middle of the 1992 tour and delved back into his drug addiction.  The band hired Dave Navarro away from Jane’s Addiction for their next album, 1995’s “One Hot Minute”.  The album was decent, with the songs “Aeroplane” and “My Friends”– but Navarro definitely brought a darker sound and the band seemed like a more morbid group than they ever had been before.  (It probably didn’t help that singer Anthony Kiedes had also delved back into his drug habit.)  By 1998 Frusciante had been through re-hab and Flea had visited him and invited him to re-join the band.  An elated Frusciante did and the ensuing album was the Chili Peppers most commercial and successful yet, “Californication”.  Kiedes said of the return of Frusciante: “For me, that was the defining moment of what would be the next 6 years of our lives together.  That was when I knew this was the real deal, that the magic was about to happen again.  Suddenly we could all hear, we could all listen, and instead of being caught up in our finite little balls of bullshit, we could all become players in that great universal orchestra again.”  The return of lead guitarist Frusciante moved that band away from their half-rap, half-rock style and turned it into a more guitar based rock band.  The results were phenomenal and “Californication” sold over 15 million copies.  The album received 4 out of 5 stars from both AllMusic and Rolling Stone and set the stage for the Chili Peppers to reach their greatest mass appeal in the coming decade.

Key songs: Californication, Scar Tissue, Otherside, Get On Top, Around The World, Parallel Universe, Road Trippin’

21.  Blink 182– “Enema of the State”

Released: June 1, 1999

The pop-punk threesome out of San Diego formed in 1992, but didn’t hit the big time until their 1999 release, “Enema of the State”.  One reviewer said of the album, “it’s marked by a radio friendly sheen, but it still maintains much of the speed and attitude of classic punk rock.”  “Enema” went on to sell over 15 million copies, absolutely unheard of numbers from a punk band (Green Day aside).  What seperated Blink from the other skate-punk bands of the era, is that Blink had a phenomenal pop sensibility (and a great sense of humor) to go along with their “punk”.  Plus having two guys who could sing (Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus) and whose voices went together so well made Blink 182 a perfect match for radio and MTV play.  The album received rave reviews across the board and got 4 out of 5 stars from both AllMusic and Rolling Stone. Top40 Magazine ranked “Enema of the State” the #1 pop-punk album of all time.  After five years apart, the band announced at the 2009 Grammys that they were re-uniting and hoped to have an album out in 2010.

Key songs: What’s My Age Again?, All The Small Things, Adam’s Song, Alien’s Exist, Don’t Leave Me, Anthem

20.  Nirvana– “Nevermind”

Released: September 24, 1991

I don’t know, maybe my life’s just never been bad enough to truly appreciate all the angst and rage of Nirvana.  They deserve their history, they were certainly game changers.  In a music world that had been handed over to the “Jump Around” and Garth Brooks’s of the world, Nirvana helped resurrect rock n’ roll.  There are those that think about such things way too much that say that the grunge scene in Seattle was simply an off-shoot of the “Minneapolis” music scene of the mid-80’s that spawned The Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum (I always found it sort of funny that when “Runaway Train” hit, a lot of music hipsters cried that Dave Pirner was just trying to be Kurt Cobain– Pirner had been wearing the dreds for 4 years before anyone had ever heard of Nirvana).  I’ve always thought Kurt Cobain got way too much credit for being a “genius”– to me he actually always seemed kind of stupid. He hit on a great sound, no doubt, but his attitude, his lyrics (and obviously his herion addiction) were never very impressive to me.  I get it, you want to be cool way more than you want to be successful, but once you even address that, you just aren’t as cool anymore. Kurt could have been both– he was just too dumb to know that.  Anyhow, “Nevermind” and Kurt Cobain became “the voice of generation X”– although really they didn’t, it was just a media construct.  I’m on the side of those who just thought Pearl Jam was a better band from the get go– heresy to music nerds.  I liked Nirvana– it was different and it gave 9/10 of the world the finger– which is what the best rock ‘n roll has always done.  The attitude/sound and image of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” gave the music world a huge kick in the ass at a time it desperately needed it. By January of 1992, “Nevermind” had replaced Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” as #1 on the Billboard album chart.  It ended up selling over 26 million copies worldwide. I’ll always agree with those that contend that Cobain’s death has put a historical shine on Nirvana– Rolling Stone has “Nevermind” as #17 on the list of 500 greatest albums of all time.

Key songs: Smells Like Teen Spirit, Come As You Are, Lithium, Polly, Drain You, On A Plain, Something In The Way

19.  Barenaked Ladies– “Rock Spectacle”

Released: November 19, 1996

The only live album on this list– and I’ve included it because it was the introduction of the Barenaked Ladies to the world for most of us. I’d heard of them, but really didn’t know any of their stuff until this album came out.  And good god, was it ever a good time.  The headliners for Basilica 2010 on Saturday night started just outside Toronto in 1988 with original members Ed Robertson and Steven Page. (Page left the band last year). The band recorded two live performances on their tour in early 1996– and released “Rock Spectacle” that year– it spawned two radio hits (the band’s first in the United States)– “Brian Wilson” and “The Old Apartment”.  In 2008 Paul McCartney was asked who on the current music scene he admired and he answered with The Barenaked Ladies: “Their harmonies are right on. They could outsing us any day of the week. I don’t think John and myself ever had the sort of range they do.”  Well that’s about as high of praise as you can get, no? The album received 4 out of 5 stars from AllMusic and 5 out of 5 from Sputnikmusic and led to BNL finally becoming a huge act in the States (they had been huge in Canada after all three of their first releases).  CBC Radio (in Canada) lists “If I Had $1000000” as #2 on it’s list of “50 Most Essential Canadien Singles” (other songs of interest on CBC’s list: #3- Heart of Gold, Neil Young #5- American Woman, The Guess Who #7- Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell #17 Summer of ’69, Bryan Adams #28- You Oughta Know, Alanis Morissette… #1 is Four Strong Winds by Ian and Sylvia)   It was fun music to drink to in the spring and summer of 1997– and Brian Wilson and The Old Apartment were played as much pre-bar at 3015 E Calhoun Pkwy as any other songs that year.

Key songs: Brian Wilson, The Old Apartment, Jane, Hello City, What A Good Boy, Life In A Nutshell, If I Had $1000000

18. Green Day– “Dookie”

February 1, 1994

If you would have told Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool in 1990 that they would release an album in 1994 that would sell over 15 million records they would have told you that you were as high as they were.  How do 3 skate/punks from the underground music scene in the Bay Area become gillion sellers and have an over two decade career with a Broadway show interpreting their albums? Be fantastic is how– be fantastic. And Green Day was– and “Dookie” was the album that brought them over to the otherside.  Melodic rage, sing-along choruses, driving guitars and a lead who could scream and still sound good.  MTV grabbed ahold of this album and put three songs into heavy rotation: “Longview”, “Basket Case”, and “When I Come Around”.  The group went from playing dive bars in Oakland to headlining national festivals in a matter of months.  The album has sold over 15 million copies and was ranked #193 on Rolling Stone’s list of the top 500 albums of all-time and Spin called it the 44th best album of the last 25 years.

Key songs: Burnout, Welcome To Paradise (re-recorded), Longview, Basket Case, When I Come Around, She, Having A Blast

17.  Semisonic– “Great Divide”

Released: April 9, 1996

Dan Wilson’s second rock band hit the Minneapolis scene in the midst of Martin Zellar, Clueless, Billy’s, GB Leighton, Tim Mahoney– and it just sounded a little bit different than all of those– a little more big-time, a little more polished.  Semisonic had signed on with Elektra records, but in the middle of the recording Elektra’s president quit and the label dropped the band.  They were quickly scooped up by MCA Records.  It’s one of the great mysteries of the music world how an album as great as this one can’t hit it big. Dubbed a “one-hit wonder” band by the world after “Closing Time”– really? Because this first album had at least 7 great songs. But, I suppose none of them were “hits”.  It has always bothered me that radio station like Cities97 can ignore sensational albums like this, by a band in their backyard, while they play Eric Clapton’s “Change The World” and Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” all summer long, 10 times a day.  Fuck radio.  Saw Semisonic play live 6 or 7 times in this period and they blew it out every time.  They could go loud, they could go soft– they always through a great party.

Key songs: F.N.T., Down In Flames, Temptation, If I Run, Delicious, Across The Great Divide, The Prize, No One Else

16.  Oasis– “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?”

Released: October 2, 1995

Oasis was knee-deep in it’s ballyhooed rivalry with fellow British rockers Blur upon the release of Oasis’ second release– “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?”– on August 14, 1995 Blur and Oasis released singles on the same day: Blur’s “Country House” outsold Oasis’ “Roll With It” 270,000 to 216,000 in the first week– igniting a rivalry that would never end.  Noel Gallagher’s comment to “The Observer” in September was both immature and VERY Rock ‘n Roll– he said that he hoped both Damon Albarn and Alex James of Blur would “catch AIDS and die”.  Gallagher later apoligized profusely for his comment, but the war for Britpop was on.  The Gallagher brothers became staples in the UK tabloids for their in-fighting and wild lifestyles.  As the rival albums began to play out, it was clear that at least for the time, Oasis would be the commercial winner– “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?” became the 3rd biggest selling album of all-time in the UK– selling over 4 million copies there and approximately 20 million world-wide. (The two biggest selling albums in UK history are Queen’s “Greatest Hits” and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper”.)   In 2010 the album was named the best British album of the last 30 years at the Brit Awards.  The album received 5 out of 5 stars from AllMusic, 5 out of 5 from Rolling Stone and an A from Entertainment Weekly.  In August of 2006, Oasis played back-to-back shows at an outdoor festival in England and both shows sold out in a matter of minutes– 375 thousand tickets sold for the two shows– an astonishing number, but the festival had actually received 2.5 million applications for tickets– meaning the band could have sold out a massive festival for approximately 53 straight nights.  Co-producer Owen Morris said on the completion of the album: “this album will wipe the field with any competition… it’s astonishing… it’s the bollocks for this decade.”

Key songs: Some Might Say, Roll With It, Wonderwall, Don’t Look Back In Anger, Morning Glory, Champagne Supernova, Cast No Shadow

15.  Goo Goo Dolls– “Dizzy Up The Girl”

Released: September 22, 1998

The sixth album from the Buffalo trio came on the heels of their biggest career success– the single “Iris” from the “City of Angels” soundtrack– at 18 weeks it is the longest running number one song in Billboard history– and it was a no-brainer for the GGD to include it on the Dizzy album.  Not one of my favorite Goo Goo Dolls songs (at all)– but it brought huge, huge success to a band that had ground away and deserved all the success that would come their way.  Dizzy received 4 out of 5 stars from AllMusic and 5 out of 5 from Sputnikmusic.  The Goo’s hooky guitars and Johnny Rzeznik’s cool, gravely voice for years had churned out great songs– another band that could play fast, up-tempo rock classics and also kill you with their ballads. “Dizzy Up The Girl” was chock full of both and “Slide” was in the top 20 songs of the 90’s.

Key songs: Dizzy, Slide, Broadway, Black Balloon, Iris, All Eyes On Me, Acoustic #3, Hate This Place

14.  Roger Clyne and The Peacemakers– “Honky Tonk Union”

Released: October 19, 1999

After The Refreshments closed up shop after two albums, Roger Clyne and drummer PH Naffah caught their breath and began gigging again and soon formed a new band, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.  This initial offering from the Peacemakers had a slightly different feel than the two Refreshments albums– a little more of a country feel and not quite the guitar snarl of the Refreshments albums.  What the album kept from the Refreshments was the Southwestern flair with songs filled with Tequila, Mexico and sun-burned characters.  The Peacemakers first song, “Beautiful Disaster” evoked classic Springsteen, Petty and Mellencamp– a song that should be cranked on an open road in the summertime. AllMusic gave it 4 out of 5 stars and said of the Peacemakers sound:  “it should be played at earsplitting volume in pool halls, bowling alleys, backyard bashes and on college radio stations. It should blare from the CD players of fast cars roaring down empty highways under the stars and just before dawn. Indeed it should be savored and celebrated by those swaggering street denizens known as the rock and roll faithful as proof that the good stuff never disappears.”  The Peacemakers quickly picked up on gaining the cult independant status that the Refreshments had begun building and their live shows built them a large following of hard-core fans.  Of the live shows, the Arizona Republic wrote:  “A show by Tempe-based Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers is always a party. Hometown boy Clyne is a terrific showman, blessed with a charisma that few are born with. Add to that his sharp songwriting skills and a crack band…and you’re guaranteed to have a good time.” The Peacemakers never did gain a radio hit (although their library has at least 25 songs that could have been radio staples)– they’ve had a great run and continue to thrive.

Key songs: Beautiful Disaster, City Girls, Easy, Honky Tonk Union, Jack vs Jose, Tell Yer Momma, Green & Dumb

13.  Pearl Jam– “Vs”

Released: October 19, 1993

The band formerly known as “Mookie Blaylock” was called by AllMusic– “the most popular American rock ‘n roll band of the 90’s”. (Band trivia– when Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament appeared in Cameron Crowe’s, “Singles” as the band, “Citizen Dick”– they were still called “Mookie Blaylock”.)  The slow burn of success of Pearl Jam’s first album had made them monsterously big as they headed into the studio to work on their follow up– “Vs”.  The making of Vs found the band in an odd state– from “the other grunge band from Seattle” to world-beaters in a year’s time.  Guitarist Mike McCready said, “the band was blown up pretty big and everything was pretty crazy”.  Well the album got made and there was no “slow burn” the second time around– Vs sold almost a million copies it’s first week out, debuting at #1 and outselling all other 9 albums in the top 10 of the charts combined.  Vs set a record for most records sold in a first week of release and held the record for 5 years, until it was broken by Garth Brooks’ double live album in 1998.  Vs held the “rock” record until (and everyone in America can hang their head in shame at the following) it was broken by Limp Biskit’s 2000 release.  The reviews for Vs were much better than those for Limp Bizkit:  Paul Evans of Rolling Stone said, “Few American bands have arrived more clearly talented than this one did with Ten; and Vs. tops even that debut.” He added, “Like Jim Morrison and Pete Townsend, Vedder makes a forte of his psychological-mythic explorations… As guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready paint dense and slashing backdrops, he invites us into a drama of experiment and strife.”  Vs stayed atop the Billboard album chart for 5 weeks and sold over 7 million copies in the US.

Key songs: Go, Animal, Daughter, Glorified G, Dissident, Rearviewmirror, Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town

12.  Soul Asylum– “Let Your Dim Light Shine”

Released: June 6, 1995

The seventh album from the Minneapolis rockers would be their last big seller– moving just over a million copies.  After the monster success of the previous album, “Dim Light” was seen as a minor dissappointment, but I have no idea why.  The biggest mistake was probably releasing “Misery” as the first single.  It was now the mid-90’s and grunge was over and Kurt Cobain was dead– nobody wanted to hear about people being miserable anymore.  It’s a decent song, but not a lead single that’s going to propel an album to huge sales.  I remember reading an article at the time where Jayhawks lead singer (and close friend of Soul Asylum’s) Gary Louris was quoted as saying, “it’s was an odd choice for a first single… I don’t get it… it was probably a dumb choice”.  For years after that quote, Soul Asylum would always mix in “Silly Love Songs” in the middle of playing “Misery” live– Dave’s tip of the cap to Paul McCartney for writing “Silly Love Songs” as a response to John Lennon, who had been dismissive of Paul’s post-Beatles work, saying “all he writes are silly love songs”.  It’s been written that “Dim Light” is the band’s least favorite album– but that’s only the case because they hated making it– for the first time in their careers they were constantly interfered with by Columbia Records while working.  Record companies sign bands because they like the way they sound and then when they get them signed, they try to tell them how to sound.  Smart, right?  Reviews were all over the map for “Dim Light”– AllMusic gave it only 2 out of 5 stars, but Rolling Stone gave it 4 out of 5.  Nobody knows what to expect after a band has a massive album, so nobody really knew what to think of this one.  I knew from the first time I heard it– it’s fantastic.

Key songs: Misery, Hopes Up, Promises Broken, Bittersweetheart, String of Pearls, Caged Rat, Eyes of a Child, Just Like Anyone, I Did My Best

11.  Gear Daddies– “Billy’s Live Bait”

Released: 1991

The second release from the beloved Austin, MN band picked up where the first album left off.  Something about the Gear Daddies just struck a chord with all those who heard it– and they had arguably the most influential sound of any Midwest band of the late 80’s, early 90’s.  Mpls music guru Jim Walsh wrote in the liner notes to “Can’t Have Nothing Nice”: “In their seven years together, Gear Daddies made a lot of music and a lot of friends. They came from Austin, MN, and won the rest of us over with their appreciation of life as something both magical and meloncholy. Already the memories are starting to blur into longing: Martin crooning passionately, possessedly into the mic; Nick’s baseball cap bobbing to the beat; Billy trying to drum and keep his glasses on at the same time; Randy scanning the crowd with that indestructible grin.  They had it all: soul, innocence, humor, spirit, and that intoxicating intangible called friendship.  Other music has meant more to me on headier levels; other bands have defined me more.  But for as long as I live I will never, ever love a band the way I loved the Gear Daddies.”  Two albums feels like we got cheated (although Zellar’s solo stuff picked up where the Gear Daddies left off)– they carried themselves like just another working class bar band, you almost got the sense that they didn’t realize just how good they were– Zellar would sing with his eyes shut to a packed house and open them up at the end of a song and always seemed genuinely surprised that there was a roaring crowd in front of him.  To think that songs like 2-18 and Dream Vacation almost never made it onto anything the public could listen to is proof that this band had no idea how good it was.  AllMusic gave “Billy’s Live Bait” 4.5 out of 5 stars. Marty’s lyrics written sometime in 1990 are almost spooky at how they could have been written two weeks ago:

This used to be my town
Now I feel I’m losing ground
They used to know my name
At least I had a taste of local fame

Hey, don’t forget me
Please don’t forget me when I’m gone

Now the crowds are growing thin
Man, you should have seen them way back when
Now I’m just another guy
They used to whisper when I walked by

Hey, don’t forget me
Please don’t forget me when I’m gone

I guess I knew it would end
That don’t make it any easier

Now the crowds are growing thin
Man, you should have seen them way back when

Hey, don’t forget me
Please don’t forget me when I’m gone

‘Cause on certain nights when the crowd’s just right
The magic can return
I took so much for granted then, I took so much for granted
I wish that I could take back all these years

Hey, don’t forget me
Please, don’t forget me when I’m gone

Yes Marty, you once did have a taste of local fame…. and nobody will forget you.

Key songs: Stupid Boy, Sonic Boom, Wear Your Crown, Don’t Look At Me, Time Heals, Color of Her Eyes, Gonna Change, Goodbye Marie, Zamboni

10.  Counting Crows– “August and Everything After”

Released: September 14, 1993

Formed as an acoustic duo in San Francisco in 1991, by the time the Counting Crows released their first album, they had grown to five members– the band caught a break when in early ’93 Van Morrison pulled out of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies and the band filled in and did an excellent version of Van’s “Caravan”.  The band had passed around a demo tape that caught a lot of ears and eventually signed with Geffen Records.  (“Einstien on the Beach” was on the demo and didn’t make it on to “August”– how does stuff like that happen????) Adam Duritz wrote “Mr. Jones” for fun, as a bit of a lark–  the character in the song is based on Duritz childhood friend and a member of his former band, The Himalayans, Marty Jones.  Duritz is describing the desire of working musicians to make it big and the fantasies they entertain about what that might bring. Talk about life imitating art– in December of 1993 MTV picked up “Mr. Jones” and put it into WAY heavy rotation.  Working musicians then made it big and lived all the fantasies they ever desired.  Spurred by a song about “wouldn’t it be great if we were famous?” “August and Everything After” became the fastest selling album since “Nevermind”– got the band gigs on Letterman and Saturday Night Live and a spot opening on tour for the Rolling Stones.  Be careful what you wish for? It was during this whirlwind that Duritz reportedly suffered his second nervous breakdown.  The album received 4 out of 5 stars from both AllMusic and Rolling Stone and has sold over 7 million copies.

Key songs: Round Here, Omaha, Mr. Jones, Anna Begins, Rain King, Sullivan Street, Raining In Baltimore, A Murder of One

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 9:53 pm  Comments (3)