How about an ode to my CD collection? I spent a lot of nights in the 90’s (like almost every Friday and Saturday) listening to tunes pre-bar, at the bar and post-bar. I bought way, way, way too many cds– but our apartment on Calhoun had such a perfect place to line them all up right against the wall, 4 steps from the stereo and 7 steps from the booze. Good times.
It’s always a precarious pursuit to rank anything artistic– one person thinks “Friday Night Lights” is the best show on television and another thinks it’s “Lost”. (The first person is right). When it comes to music there is a small fringe who take it all way too seriously and there are those who don’t know the difference between Creed and Creedence Clearwater Revival. And it really doesn’t matter one way or another. When The Who played the Super Bowl this January I had one of my brothers call me and say that they were “the third best band ever”. (If you don’t know who the first two are, just stop reading because this won’t interest you a lick.) I did a spit take and then we argued about how far down “The Who” would be on my list. And it was fun– music is fun to argue about. It’s fun for a million different reasons– and for me it was the most fun in the 1990’s during the pre-bar hours, where your friends would come over and have a few beers before heading off into the night.
I recently read where Tiger Woods was being scolded by counselors for going to “party” at a concert by his favorite band, Nickelback, while his wife and children were in Sweden. Now there are several different things that are just wrong in that sentence, first and foremost a “counselor” (who, I assume, is in some sort of authoratative position in the re-hab of Tiger’s life), saying that Tiger was going to “party”?!?!?!? Who says that?!?!? I had a fat, funny, dirtbally freind in high school who once asked me passing in the halls at school, “Are you going to party at the Cars concert tonight?” He had a shit-eating grin on his face and was using the word “party” ironically– and this was 1982!
Of course I’m kidding, the most egregious thing in that sentence is that Tiger’s favorite band is Nickelback. I guess that goes a little way in explaining his horrible taste in concubines.
Full disclosure: I kind of like Nickelback. Sure, I hate all their songs by the 200th time I’ve heard them on the radio (except, “Photograph”– love that tune!), but I actually like almost all of their songs, at least for a little while. And you have to swear to never tell anyone I said that and we are never to speak of it again.
So anyway, screw it… if Tiger Woods can go “party at Nickelback”, we are all free to talk about what we like and don’t like without shame.
And by the way, I answered that dude in the hallway by grinning back and saying, “I’m totally going to Shake It Up!” (It’s a Cars tune for you non-Cars fan nerds reading this).
Anyway, here’s one person’s list of the top albums of the 90’s– feel free to agree, disagree, rant and rave or add your own thoughts– but just remember, for those about to rock– I salute you.
(And Ten Years After was an awesome band– check out 1971’s “I’d Love To Change The World”– but I learned that post-bar, not pre-bar)
Released: March 28, 1991
This album was like an official goodbye to the wuss-pop of the 80’s. After the success of 1988’s “Look Sharp” (led by single, “Listen to Your Heart”) and the smash single “It Must Have Been Love” (two weeks at number one on the Billboard charts) from the “Pretty Woman” soundtrack—Roxette released “Joyride” in March of 1991. It has sold over 11 million copies world-wide, but was the last big success for the band (4 cds since) and the single “Fading Like A Flower” was their last top 40 hit.
Key songs: Joyride, Fading Like A Flower (Roxette’s last top 10 hit), The Big L, Church of Your Heart, Perfect Day
129. Ben Folds Five—“Whatever and Ever Amen”
Released: March 18, 1997
The album that introduced Ben Folds, out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina to the world. A singer/piano player, the name of the first incarnation of the band was confusing as the group was actually just a trio—Folds and two studio musicians. “Brick” took the radio by storm in the spring of 1997—and although it never charted in the US, five songs off the album hit the top 100 in England. Folds described this band as “punk rock for sissies”—it was definitely out of place, it sounded different to anything else at the time. The words were funny, intelligent and often profane. “Brick” is the story of Folds’ high school girlfriend getting an abortion. The mainstream success of the song put off his cult following, who claimed he had sold out, and strayed from the “rockin’ piano guy”. Folds has said the song gave him the confidence that he could make it as a musician—and that it couldn’t possibly be more authentic. He’s gone on to much better albums and songs in the past decade, but it was still a very good debut.
Key songs: Brick, Songs For the Dumped, Kate, Battle of Who Could Care Less
128. Big Head Todd and The Monsters– “Sister Sweetly”
Released: February 23, 1993
Denver band that gained a cult following for their energetic live shows in the early 90’s. Hit it big on the national scene after the release of “Sister Sweetly”, but really never again reached those heights on any of their following albums. It seemed like they played every outdoor show in the Twin Cities for a 3 year stretch. Album hit platinum about a year after it’s release, though it never cracked Billboard’s top 100 list.
Key songs: Bittersweet, Sister Sweetly, Broken Hearted Savior, Circle
Released: January 25, 1993
Tonya Donelly (formerly of Throwing Muses and The Breeders), formed this band in 1991 and after a 1992 EP, released their first and most (only) successful album in early 1993. Powered by #1 Alternative hit “Feed the Tree”, “Star” was nominated for three Grammys and “Feed the Tree” spent most of 1993 on MTV’s “Buzz Bin” playlist. Feed the Tree also made every compilation cassette tape I made that summer and was a staple in Champps alley.
Key songs: Feed the Tree, Gepetto, Someone to Die For, Slow Dog
126. Sugar Ray—“14:59”
Released: January 12, 1999
After the summer of 1997’s massive hit, “Fly”—critics jumped all over Sugar Ray as a certain one-hit wonder—for one, “Fly” was really the only good song on their first effort and for two, Mark McGrath just seemed too smart (USC graduate), and too good looking to be a legit musician. “14:59” was named as such as an answer to these critics—but nobody is really sure if they were saying, “yeah, we know, we get it, our 15 minutes is about up” or if they were saying “hey, we’re not going anywhere, there is still time on the clock for us.” The latter seemed to be the case as “14:59” which went triple platinum and had two top five singles: “Every Morning” and “Someday”. The group would release two more albums in the next decade to medium success before folding up shop as McGrath became the host of “Extra” for 4 years. Sugar Ray returned to release a pretty decent album in 2009, even though it was scathed by critics. McGrath is set to return to TV as the host of “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” in the fall of 2010.
Key songs: Every Morning, Someday, Falls Apart, Live and Direct
125. Duran Duran– “Duran Duran (The Wedding Album)”
Released: February 23, 1993
Well look who’s back from the dead. One of the first bands who shot to super-stardom because of MTV, Duran Duran had shot through the 80’s as superstars, but their time had come and gone. Their last radio hit had been “Nortorious” in 1986. Pretty boy pop was dead and buried. The band hadn’t broken up, but were thinking of moving on, while still putting songs together. Then by accident, “Ordinary World” was leaked to radio stations and it hit like wildfire. (Maybe not as hard as “Hungry Like the Wolf”, but for a band that had been sent to the 80’s graveyard, it was a spectacular success). Listener demand forced that radio stations get the song into heavy rotation a month before the band had even planned on releasing it. Critics, radio stations and even the band themselves were stunned at it’s huge success. And then they followed it up. The second single, written by new guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, “Come Undone”, a seductive come on of a song also lit up the radio, rising to #7 on the Billboard charts. Though the album wouldn’t reach the ridiculous heights of their 80’s success (Rio was on the Billboard album charts for two and half years), the return to mainstream success was a second act rarely seen in the music world.
Key songs: Ordinary World, Come Undone, Femme Fatal, Too Much Information
124. Fastball– “All The Pain Money Can Buy”
Released: March 10, 1998
Album sold over a million copies in just six months and stayed on Billboard’s top 200 album list for over a year. The Austin, Texas rockers had gained a huge local following in the music-savvy city and hit the big time with this record. “The Way” was number one on Billboard’s Alternative charts for seven weeks and reached number 4 on Billboard’s top 40 chart. The song was written after the lead singer had read about an elderly couple that was supposed to go to a large family reunion and hadn’t showed up– the band supposed that the couple had just hit the road and began reminiscing about all their times together.
Key songs: The Way, Fire Escape, Out of My Head
123. Everclear—“Sparkle and Fade”
Released: May 23, 1995
Second album released and first major label release from the Portland, Oregon band—it started slowly with it’s first single, “Heroin Girl” getting a limited run on MTV. The band hit it big in the summer with the release of the second single, “Santa Monica” which got huge radio and MTV play—and boosted the album to a million copies sold—still only the 3rd biggest seller for the band. It makes this list on the strength of the third single and best song the group ever had, “Heartspark Dollarsign” which was also a huge favorite at Champps.
Key songs: Heroin Girl, Santa Monica, Heartspark Dollarsign, You Make Me Feel Like a Whore
122. Toad The Wet Sprocket—“Dulcinea”
Released: May 24, 1994
Dulcinea reached platinum (a million sold) status a year after it’s release on the strength of two songs that reached the top 40 on the Alternative chart: “Fall Down” and “Something’s Always Wrong”—but it makes this list for two other songs that I always loved: “Fly From Heaven” and one of my favorites from the 1990’s, “Crowing”. None of the songs off Dulcinea had as much success as their 1991 singles “Walk On The Ocean” or “All I Want”, but neither of those songs were as good as “Fly From Heaven” or “Crowing” either.
Key songs: Fly From Heaven, Crowing, Fall Down, Something’s Always Wrong
121. R.E.M.— “New Adventures In Hi-Fi”
Released: September 9, 1996
The last studio album released with founding member Bill Berry, “New Adventures In Hi-Fi” sold 5 million copies (far less than the previous 4 REM albums. This was REM’s 10th studio album and the first since they had re-signed with Warner Bros. for a then-record 80 million dollars. Though the album was a bit of a departure for the band, it received critical raves, including the very rare 4.5 out of 5 stars from Rolling Stone. We saw the group play live at Midway Stadium in support of the record and they rocked it.
Key songs: E-Bow the Letter, Bittersweet Me, Leave, Be Mine, Electrolite
120. Melissa Ethridge– “Yes I Am”
Released: September 21, 1993
Yes you are what? Melissa came out publicly in January of ’93 and has since been a staunch activist for gay rights. Ethridge famously had a baby with her partner and David Crosby’s sperm. Her partner (that she had two children with) later decided that she wasn’t actually a lesbian and they separated. “Come To My Window” is the best song Melissa has ever done and it won a Grammy for “Best Female Vocal”.
Key songs: Come To My Window, I’m The Only One, All American Girl, If I Wanted To
119. Del Amitri– “Change Everything”
Released: June 9, 1992
Glasgow band that formed in 1980– this was their 4th album and by far their biggest seller– propelled by the top 40 hit, “Always the Last To Know”. They played at Mill City music festival that summer and did a fine job. Nice to see a band that had been at it for so long finally have some success.
Key songs: Always the Last To Know, Be My Downfall Tonight, When You Were Young, Just Like A Man
118. Beck– “Odelay”
Released: June 18, 1996
I know I’m supposed to like Beck a lot more than I do, but I can’t trick my ears into admitting that. Beck was fighting the one-hit wonder label on this album, trying to back up the sensation that was “Loser” in 1994. He succeeded. This album sold over 2 million copies, won two Grammys and was ranked #19 on Pitchfork’s “best album of the 90’s” and 305 on Rolling Stone’s list of the top 500 albums of all-time. Overrated, although I did find myself mumbling “two turn-tables and a microphone” a lot that summer.
Key songs: Devil’s Haircut, Where It’s At, The New Pollution, Jack-Ass
117. Spin Doctors– “Pocket Full of Kryptonite”
Released: May 20, 1991
Correct, I just ranked the Spin Doctors ahead of Beck– oh the horror! These guys got the Hootie and The Blowfish treatment about as fast as any band ever. They went from “sweet” to “they’re kinda lame aren’t they?” to “OMG, they’re the worst band ever!” all in a span of about 2 months. I still remember Robert DeNiro giving him the man-hug at the end of SNL in October of 1992, when they were still cool and DeNiro slapping his back and grinning and giving him the “you guys are cool, welcome to the hipster club” look. Yeah, didn’t last. This was a great album and sold over 10 million copies world-wide.
Key songs: Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong, Two Princes, How Could You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me?), Jimmy Olsen’s Blues
116. Soul Asylum– “And The Horse They Rode In On”
Released: September 4, 1990
The last one before fame and fortune. Though decidedly a step back from 1988’s “Hang Time” Dave and the boys still made a solid album. It’s funny to think that poor sales and Dave’s burgeoning hearing problem had the band thinking of calling it a day in 1991. The band had continued to refine itself from the punk/speed rock that was “Loud Fast Rules”. Bigger and better days were just around the corner.
Key songs: Spinnin’, Brand New Shine, Easy Street, Grounded, We 3
115. The La’s– “The La’s”
Oh the strange and twisted world of Lee Mavers. The band formed in 1983 and broke up in 1992 after releasing just this lone album– an album Mavers was unhappy with and never wanted released at all. The band spent several years trying to make the perfect sound for the ultra-perfectionist Mavers who ended up just never being satisfied. One instance has Mavers rejecting a vintage mixing desk, claiming it didn’t have the right sound because, “it didn’t have original sixties dust on it”. Tortured genius/insane person? Certainly one of the very best pop songs ever recorded.
Key songs: There She Goes, Son of a Gun, Timeless Melody, Feeling
114. Stone Temple Pilots– “Core”
Released: September 29, 1992
The New York Times review pretty much summed up what everyone was saying: “This San Diego band has jumped on the Seattle grunge bandwagon.” Imitators, imitators, imitators. Whatever, Plush rocked it hard. Just a cool song, I don’t care if they were copying someone. The public didn’t seem to care what the critics thought– hey, it was a pretty damn good imitation and the record sold over 8 million copies and they won a Grammy and an American Music Award for the album. It gave Scott Weiland a lot more money to buy drugs.
Key songs: Plush, Creep, Sex Type Thing, Wicked Garden
113. Old 97’s– “Fight Songs”
Released: April 27, 1999
The 4th album from Alt/Country, Austin, Texas heroes, the Old 97’s. Vaunted as a huge up-and-coming band in the 90’s the group never caught on nationally like most in the know thought they would. Their biggest claim to fame is probably that they were playing the show in Chicago where Vince Vaughn stood up Jennifer Anisten in “The Break Up”. Lead singer Rhett Miller has also received critical acclaim for his solo work, especially 2004’s “Instigator”. The band’s catalogue has been used extensively in television and movies.
Key songs: Murder (Or a Heart Attack), Jagged, Lonely Holiday, Valentine
112. Toby Keith– “Toby Keith”
Released: April 20, 1993
Kind of a cliche not-so-rags to riches story. Keith graduated from high school in 1979 and immediately went to work in the booming oil fields in Oklahoma– becoming a project manager by the time he was 20. A guitar player since age 9, Keith also formed a band with a bunch of buddies, called “Easy Money” and they played the local country bars in Oklahoma. In 1982 the oil fields hit a stunning rapid decline and one day Keith found himself just another out of work dude in a band. He languished playing semi-pro football in Oklahoma and continuing to get gigs with his band. His friends and family were worried he was just wasting his time, but then Easy Money cut a single that starting getting some local radio play. Keith moved to Nashville in early 1993 and began busking and putting a demo tape in anybody’s hands that he could. No interest. Depressed and ready to pack it in, as he promised himself he’d have a recording contract by age 30 and that age had come and gone– fate stepped in. A flight attendant he knew and who liked his stuff gave a tape to a record exec on a flight and the guy liked what he heard, checked out Keith playing live and signed him. The record was fast-tracked and out in April. The first single, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” became a number one hit and the most played country song of the 90’s. The album had two other songs make it to #2 and one to #5 on the country charts.
Key songs: Should’ve Been a Cowboy, A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action, Wish I Didn’t Know Now, He Ain’t Worth Missing
111. Dr. Dre– “The Chronic”
Released: December 15, 1992
The album that brought rap to the mainstream. And it was hard-core gangsta rap. While N.W.A. was the beginning of the “West Coast” side of the great rap wars– with “Straight Out of Compton”– Dre had since began fueding with Ice Cube and primarily Eazy-E and the controversy surrounding “Fuck the Police” was probably too much for any group to withstand. All three would go on to become huge successes after N.W.A. broke up. Dre called out Eazy-E on many of the tracks on The Chronic, ratcheting up the level of chest-puffing and name calling that would define the gangsta-rap wars. Though Dre was a talented artist, nobody would ever contend that the success of “The Chronic” wasn’t because of his introduction to the world of the new voice of hip hop, Snoop Doggy Dogg. From the moment Snoop first opened his mouth on the record it was obvious a new star had been born. Snoop joining in to “Fuck Wit Dre Day” at the 1:30 mark, with “bow wow wow, yippy yo, yippy yay, doggy dog’s in the mother fucking house” is arguably the most famous line in the history of rap music.
Key songs: Nothin But a “G Thang”, Fuck Wit Dre Day, Let Me Ride
110. Liz Phair– “whitechocolatespaceegg”
Released: August 11, 1998
Poor Liz Phair has been beat up by critics ever since her landmark, “Exile in Guyville” in 1993. Undeservedly so. Unfairly positioned as some sort of female music savior after that record, Phair had been disappointed by lackluster sales of both “Exile” and the follow-up, “Whip-Smart”. This album would do no better commercially, but would take Phair’s themes away from sex and relationships and turn towards marriage and motherhood. As far as under-appreciated albums from the 90’s go– this one is right up there. Again, lackluster sales would force Phair to change things up totally for her next album– when the divorce between Liz and the music-hipsters would become final.
Key songs: Perfect World, Polyester Bride, What Makes You Happy, Shitloads of Money
109. Collective Soul– “Collective Soul”
Released: March 14, 1995
My two favorite songs from this jam-band rock outfit from Georgia oddly aren’t from this 1995 album: “Shine” from 1993 and “Run” from 1999. Off the number-one hit success of “Shine”, big things were expected from the group for their follow-up effort and they certainly came through. Rolling Stone gave a positive three star review and referred to lead singer Ed Rowland’s “flair for McCartneyesque melodic detail. The album sold over 3 million copies and remained on Billboard’s hot 200 list for a year and a half.
Key songs: The World I Know, Gel, December, Where The River Flows, Smashing Young Man
108. The Billy’s– “Roses and Flowers and Plants”
Alt/Country band from the Twin Cities that turned out three great albums in the 90’s. The obvious comparison is the Gear Daddies– a bit of a twang to the sound, but just good, solid rock n’ roll. Saw them play at the Cabooze many times and they always put on a great show with some great cover songs thrown in for fun. Radio: “Suns up, got my windows down… Blue Oyster Cult says they’re burning for me… I stop at my favorite SA, cola for me, for my car… gasoline… she’s over there blah blah blah, I’m checking out her Nirvana tee… whistling “Teen Spirit” real loud so she’ll hear… looking at her now….she’s looking at me”– awesomely fantastic lyrics. Best band name ever.
Key songs: Sometime, Radio, Another Winner, Phone to Anywhere, Last of Me
107. Green Day– “Nimrod”
Released: October 14, 1997
The Bay-Area punkers 5th album of the 90’s was arguably their weakest, but it could be expected from a band that had gone a million miles an hour for a decade. Nimrod certainly was a change of pace from the ultra-fast, in-your face sound of all their earlier work, though it did have it’s share of “punk” songs. Common theory is that the song was Green Day saying goodbye to their fanbase that only wanted the hard-core punk style– and that isn’t the case at all– the song was actually written in 1994, just after Dookie came out and they released another whole album before putting Time of Your Life on a record. Billy Joe Armstrong wrote it about a girl he had just broken up with as she was moving to Ecuador.. “the song was kind of a bon voyage to her… I tried to make it not so bitter, but I think it’s pretty bitter anyway”– bitter or not, it’s one of the top 20 songs of the decade.
Key songs: Nice Guys Finish Last, Hitchin’ A Ride, The Grinch, Redundant, Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
106. Garbage– “Garbage”
Released: August 15, 1995
Three wanna-be rockers from Madison, Wisconsin held auditions to find a lead singer and in 1994 gave the job to Scotland born Shirley Manson. Nobody could have predicted the off-the-charts success the band would get with it’s first album following that auspicious start. Rolling Stone gave it 4 out of 5 stars and All Music gave it 5 out of 5. The album would go multi-platinum and the band would be up for the “Best New Artist” Grammy. “Stupid Girl” would get nominated for two Grammys. The band would release two more decent albums in the 90’s before hitting another home run with 2005’s “Bleed Like Me”. Rumors have them currently working on another album.
Key songs: Vow, Stupid Girl, Only Happy When It Rains, Supervixen, Queer, Milk
105. Crash Test Dummies– “God Shuffled His Feet”
Released: October 26, 1993
If nothing else, you have to admit they had a unique, interesting sound. Lead singer Brad Roberts sounds as if he’d been living in a cave for 200 years. “Alternative” radio gave the Dummies their place to be heard and the first single, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” got immediately put into heavy rotation upon it’s release. Oddly in the band’s home country of Canada (where they were cult faves) the song only got as high as #14 on the charts, while it reached #4 in the US, #2 in England and #1 in Australia. The album ended up selling 5.5 million copies and was nominated for 3 Grammys.
Key songs: Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, God Shuffled His Feet, Afternoons & Coffee Spoons, Swimming In Your Ocean
104. Rage Against The Machine– “The Battle of Los Angeles”
Released: October 19, 1999
The alt/punk/hip-hop/metal band from Los Angeles released their third album in 1999 to rave reviews: 4 stars from Rolling Stone and Allmusic and 9 out of 10 from Spin and both Rolling Stone and Time Magazine voted it the number one album of 1999. It’s debut at number one on the Billboard charts came as a huge shock as Mariah Carey’s “Rainbows” was released on the same day. Rock beat wuss. I didn’t think RATM could release a tougher song than 1997’s “Bulls on Parade”, but I think they did with “Guerilla Radio”. Both Guerilla Radio and Testify are featured in the game “Rock Band”.
Key songs: Guerilla Radio, Calm Like a Bomb, Sleep Now In the Fire, Testify
103. Soul Coughing– “Irresistable Bliss”
Released: July 9, 1996
Described by a critic as “one of the most unique cult bands of the 90’s, driven by Mike Doughty’s stream-of-consciousness poetry”. Doughty had attended Eugene Lang College with Ani DiFranco and out of college considered himself a “slam poet” and sometime musician. Yawn. Soul Coughing never reached a wide audience and was left for music hipsters to call their own. Since their breakup in 2000, Doughty has gone on to far more success as a solo artist.
Key songs: Super Bon Bon, Soundtrack to Mary, White Girl, Soft Serve
102. No Doubt– “Tragic Kingdom”
Released: October 10, 1995
The world had been waiting for next superstar rock chick– Liz Phair seemed poised, but got caught up in the music hipster/real world trap. Then “Just a Girl” hit the radio and MTV and we had our star. No Doubt was nominated for two Grammys for their first album and by the end of the next year half of the songs off of “Tragic Kingdom” had been released as singles and it had sold over 9 million copies– a world wide total that would reach over 19 million sold. The world was Gwen’s for the taking… and she took it.
Key songs: Just a Girl, Spiderwebs, Don’t Speak, Excuse Me Mr, Sunday Morning
101. The Replacements– “All Shook Down”
Released: September 21, 1990
No way in hell I was putting a Mats album outside the top 100. (whoops, I just did after an edit) After a decade where the Minneapolis anti-heroes had 5 albums in the top 75, this was the last gasp from the legendary band. Originally scheduled to be lead singer Paul Westerberg’s first solo album, the record is definitely a different vibe than all previous Mats recordings. Tommy Stinson appears on most of the songs, but Chris Mars and Slim Dunlap are only on a couple of songs each. Mars officially left the band just a month after the release of the album. While “Merry Go Round” reached number one on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart, the album was probably best defined by “Someone Take The Wheel”. It’s a fitting end to a band that never really found out how high they could go– because they truly didn’t care.
Key songs: Merry Go Round, Nobody, Sadly Beautiful, Someone Take The Wheel, All Shook Down
100. Tina and The B-Sides– “Young Americans”
One reviewer wrote, “A white soul singer from a Minneapolis suburb? Don’t Laugh.” Another wrote, “If Melissa Ethridge and Mick Jagger had a baby, it would have been Tina Schlieske.” The Apple Valley High School grad took the Twin Cities music scene by storm in the early 90’s with an awesome live show that was reviewed as “an explosive mix of rock and booze that comes to a crescendo during “Politics Polka”. What started out as a niche band for artists and lesbians quickly spread to anybody who liked great rock ‘n roll. Huge things were expected of the band after this phenomenal debut record, but alas, like thousands of bands before them, the B-Sides never could find a foothold in the great big world. You’ve seen some of the staggering sales numbers for the records on this list– Young Americans sold just over 20,000 copies.
Key songs: Young Americans, Blue Sky, Satisfy, Shine Your Light, Politics Polka
99. Radiohead– “OK Computer”
Released: June 16, 1997
Any music hipster would scoff at ranking this “landmark album of the 90’s” so low on any sort of compilation list. Every music critic in the world has it ranked in at least the top 10 of the decade. It’s just a little weird for me. I liked “Creep” a lot from 1992, but once the band went all “experimental” they lost me a little bit (I fully understand why all that “experimentation” is why critics all have them in the top 10 bands of all-time at this point, it’s just not my cup of tea). Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of their songs a lot (as compared to say My Bloody Valentine, who’s album from 1991 is also on everyone’s ten best of the 1990’s– hate, hate, hate it). I like the Radiohead songs I like, but all the other ones just sort of sound like a spaceship taking off or landing to me. Weirdo music for aliens (which makes sense because so much of their music is about alienation).
Key songs: Paranoid Android, Exit Music, Karma Police, No Surprises
98. Sheryl Crow– “Tuesday Night Music Club”
Released: August 3, 1993
Ahh, the summer of 1993. Sheryl Crow toured as a backup singer with Michael Jackson for his “Bad” tour from 1987-89, and often took the female lead in “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”. After several stops and starts as a solo performer, Crow exploded onto the music scene like few female artists ever had after the release of “Tuesday Night Music Club”. The album sold over 7 million copies and won Crow 3 Grammys: Album of the Year, Best New Artist and Best Female Vocal Performance. Crow is most famous for wearing a Southwest Hockey Letter Jacket in a huge photo in the LA Times.
Key songs: All I Wanna Do, Leaving Las Vegas, Run Baby Run, Strong Enough, Can’t Cry Anymore
97. Red Hot Chili Peppers– “Blood Sugar Sex Magic”
Released: September 24, 1991
RHCP’s fifth studio album was the first produced by Rick Rubin (all their subsequent albums have been as well) and it’s sort of a line in the sand for Peppers fans. The hard-core freaky music fans point to this as when the band “sold out”– the rest of the world points to this as when the band got good (or even listenable). The album took an underground weirdo band and exploded them on to the world stage. It sold over 13 million copies and the first single, “Give It Away” won a Grammy for best hard rock perfomence and the second single, “Under The Bridge” rose all the way up to #2 on the Billboard charts, still the highest a Chili Peppers song has ever got. A Grammy and a a top 10 hit? The hardcore fans were abashed, as was lead guitarist John Frusciante who left the band mid-tour in 1992 and spiraled into heroin addiction. Frusciante would re-join and quit the band again several times. The Chili Peppers are on odd bunch, but to their credit they took fame and fortune in stride and never really changed who they were. They aged, obviously, but that crazy, “who gives a fuck” attitude had never really left the band.
Key songs: Give It Away, Under The Bridge, Suck My Kiss, Breaking the Girl, If You Have to Ask
96. Martin Zellar & The Hardways– “Martin Zellar & The Hardways”
Released: August, 1996
After releasing a strictly solo album in 1995, Zellar came back in 1996 with the backing group The Hardways. From one of the pioneering bands of alt/country that teetered on breakthrough success (The Letterman Show), the Gear Daddies front man seemed to settle in as a medium level singer/songwriter. From Austin, MN to Mpls, to Austin, TX, back to MN and now to Mexico, Zellar’s rock n’ roll growl and intelligent/whimsical take on the world around him have kept him a relevant, likable artist. My favorite song of this album is “We Were Young”, which Zellar calls his “fall asleep song”, saying “you remember in high school when you’d rush home and throw the headphones on and listen to some album you loved and there was always that song that you’d fall asleep to? I want to have a song like that.” “We were young the sky was grey, I remember you that way… I remember you that way.” It’s one of his best songs.
Key songs: Haunt My Dreams, Ten Year Coin, I Can’t Believe, Hammer’s Gonna Fall, George and Tammy, We Were Young
95. Nirvana– “In Utero”
Released: September 13, 1993
Yeah, number 94, wow, right? Kurt Cobain tried to write an album that people would hate. The monster success of “Nevermind” freaked out, confused, tortured (pick your verb) Cobain and would ultimately lead to his suicide. He hated being successful, popular, rich. In his eyes success was everything he railed against in his songs. As Chuck Klosterman brilliantly writes in “Eating The Dinosaur”: “In Utero was the first album actively promoted as a product I needed to buy because I wasn’t going to like it. The wanting and the hating were somehow related.” And that was “In Utero” in two sentences. Klosterman continues to write: “Nirvana (or at least Cobain, and possibly bassist Krist Novoselic) could not reconcile the dissonance between mass success and artistic merit; interestingly, they assumed combining mass success with dissonance was the only way to salvage any merit at all. Well, “In Utero” was huge, so in a way Cobain had massively failed. No wonder he killed himself.
Key songs: Heart Shaped Box, Rape Me, Dumb, Pennyroyal Tea, All Apologies
94. Tim Mahoney– “Mr. Fancy”
Yes, I’m being ironical placing Mahoney one spot higher than a Nirvana album. Maybe the ghost of Cobain will come to fight me, or at least smash a guitar over my head. I don’t know Mr. Mahoney personally and I always liked his music (obviously with this ranking), but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a local act who looked like they wanted fame and fortune more than he did. He almost begged you to like him– and almost everybody did, but he just lacked a certain something needed for massive success. A friend once said of him, “yeah, I like him, he’s great…. kind of like a girlier version of Pat Benatar”. Kudos to Mahoney for making a living doing what he loves to do– and this was a fantastic album.
Key songs: Mr. Fancy, Talk to Me, Lay Down Low, Been Here Before, Particular Place, Come On Home, One Down
93. Counting Crows– “Recovering The Satellites”
Released: October 14, 1996
The hardest thing to do in music is follow up an A+ debut. Going from nobodies to as-big-as-it-gets can take it’s toll, especially on somebody as insecure as Adam Duritz, who reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown in the year after they hit it big. Many of the songs on their second album took this quandry on straight away: “These days I feel like I’m fading away/like when I hear myself on the radio” from “Have You Seen Me Lately?”… The band struggled, like all bands do, to follow up such a massively successful debut. Second albums that follow monster hits are almost always pounced on by critics, but not so here– Rolling Stone gave it 4 out of 5 stars and it sold over 2 million copies.
Key songs: Angel of the Silences, Daylight Fading, Have You Seen Me Lately?, A Long December
92. The Cranberries– “Everyone Else is Doing It, Why Can’t We?”
Released: March 1, 1993
The foursome from Ballynanty, Limerick, Ireland didn’t exactly come roaring on to the scene– as the album didn’t really take off until the year after it’s release. Both “Dreams” and “Linger” were released as singles in 1993 and neither one did very well– until MTV started putting the video for “Dreams” into heavy rotation. Then, boom, over 5 million copies sold in the US. The band would go on to chart 8 top 20 singles on the Modern Rock Billboard charts in the decade, the best of which was “Ode To My Family”, the first single off their second album, “No Need to Argue”.
Key songs: Dreams, Linger, I Still Do, How
91. Johnny Clueless– “Too Late, Too Loud”
The penultimate album from the Twin Cities group that had a pretty massive run in the mid-90’s for a local band. The group always struggled to match the care-free, pop style of their debut and their attempts at more serious songs never matched their first album. Like a zillion bands before them, the initial blast of rocking shows and a great first album would fade. The addition of Scott Miller on guitar after the first album took the band in a “let’s make it big” mode, rather than the chaotic fun of the first album. Nobody would have ever guessed in 1996 that of the bands successfully working the Twin Cities circuit: Clueless, Tim Mahoney, Tina, GB Leighton, The Billys, The Honeydogs, Scott Laurent Band…. that the one to break through to stardom would be Lifter Puller.
Key songs: Laughing and Crying, Everything, The Crawl, All She Ever Wanted, Falling Uphill
90. The Juliana Hatfield Three– “Become What You Are”
Released: August 3, 1993
The former lead singer of the Boston band, The Blake Babies, went out on her own in the early 90’s and hit huge success with this second album as The Juliana Hatfield Three. “My Sister” became the biggest hit of Hatfield’s career, reaching #1 on the Modern Rock charts. “Spin the Bottle” was used on the soundtrack to the alt/slacker movie of the era, “Reality Bites”. Though she’d never again reach the heights of this album, Hatfield was invited on the first ever “Lileth Fair” tour in 1997 where women with hairy armpits would drink boxes of wine and talk about sports.
Key songs: My Sister, Spin the Bottle, Super Model, Addicted
89. The Dixie Chicks– “Wide Open Spaces”
Released: January 27, 1998
The country/bluegrass band was languishing as just a semi-popular local act in Texas and Nashville until a session player, steel guitarist Lloyd Maines gave the group an audition tape of his daughter singing– a demo tape that had landed her a music scholarship to the Berklee College of Music. Vocalist and stand up bass player Laura Lynch was eventually replaced by Maines. The Erwin sisters claim that Lynch was getting ready to leave the band anyway to be more of a stay-at-home mom– Lynch counters that it wasn’t a resignation at all and that she cried every day for 6 months after her dismissal. Bottom line: she wasn’t good enough and the new girl was. Within the next year, Sony reps came to Austin to see the re-formed group and signed them immediately. Was the new group a success? In 1998, “Wide Open Spaces” sold more copies (over 12 million) than all other country acts combined.
Key songs: Wide Open Spaces, There’s Your Trouble, I Can Love You Better, You Were Mine
88. 10,000 Maniacs– “Our Time In Eden”
Released: September 29, 1992
The band was formed in 1981 in Jamestown, NY– the four piece band invited a 17-year old Natalie Merchant on to do some vocals. The band had two hugely popular albums in the late 80’s (In My Tribe and Blind Man’s Zoo) and then really hit the big time with their first 90’s release, “Our Time In Eden”. The album would receive the rare 4 out of 5 stars from Rolling Stone and 4.5 stars out of 5 from AllMusic. On August 5, 1993 Merchant announced on MTV that she would be leaving the band to pursue a solo career and later that month the band performed on MTV’s “Unplugged” which would also be a hugely popular album– led by the group’s cover of “Because The Night”. Once Merchant left the band they, or she, would ever reach such popularity again.
Key songs: These Are Days, Noah’s Dove, Stockton Gala Days, Candy Everybody Wants, Few and Far Between, I’m Not The Man
87. Shania Twain– “Come On Over”
Released: November 4, 1997
The biggest selling album of all-time for a female artist and the biggest selling country album of all-time– the 8th biggest selling album of all-time in the United States. And here’s a weird fact: it never hit number one on the album charts. But it stayed and stayed and stayed on the charts for over 2 years and eventually sold over 34 million copies. 4 Grammys and one of the biggest country singles ever recorded, “You’re Still the One”. The album had 12, yup twelve!, singles released.
Key songs: You’re Still The One, Come On Over, Man! I Feel Like a Woman, Don’t Be Stupid, From This Moment On, That Don’t Impress Me Much
86. Live– “Secret Samadhi”
Released: February 18, 1997
Because of the massive success of it’s predecessor, the album debuted at number one on the album chart and ended up selling over 2 million copies, but didn’t come near the success of their first album. Having said that, it ultimately became one of the more underrated albums of the decade– as the tepid reviews were certainly a backlash to first album’s success. This album rocks.
Key songs: Lakini’s Juice, Century, Rattlesnake, Turn My Head, Graze, Freaks
85. Liz Phair– “Whip-Smart”
Released: September 20, 1994
How does one follow one of the most beloved female albums ever recorded??? Wearing the mantle of “coolest chick in rock” proved to be an unfair and unsustainable position– although being the coolest in anything for any amount of time is far more than 99.999999 will ever achieve. This album rode the wave of that lofty status and the first single “Supernova” hit the top 10 on the alternative chart. Rolling Stone put her on the cover and tagged it, “A Rock Star Is Born”. Ultimately she didn’t become the Bob Dylan of female rockers and a lot of her early hard-core fans screamed “sell out” by the mid-90’s. Ultimately she’s put together an interesting career with a ton of great songs.
Key songs: Supernova, Whip-Smart, May Queen, Jealousy
84. Nirvana– “Unplugged In New York”
Released: November 1, 1994
MTV did a lot of “Unplugged” shows in the 90’s, but this was by far the most popular one. Nirvana did the show on November 18, 1993 and only performed two of their hits, “Come As You Are” and “All Apologies”. Dave Grohl said later about the show, “we knew we weren’t going to do Teen Spirit, that would have been horrendously stupid”. The high point of the show (or at least the biggest hit), was covering David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World”. The last song they did was Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”– after which the show’s producer tried to get them to do an encore, but Cobain said, “no, there’s no way I can top that”. It was just over 5 months later that Cobain was found dead, on April 8, 1994 by an electrician installing surveillance cameras at his home. Medical examiners said Cobain died of a gunshot wound the the head on April 5. High amounts of heroin and valium were found in his system.
Key songs: The Man Who Sold The World, About A Girl, Come As You Are, Lake of Fire, All Apologies, Where Did You Sleep Last Night
83. Johnny Clueless– “Secrets of the Universe”
The second effort from the St. Cloud State band, an EP that was the first release with new guitarist Scott Miller. The band was selling out it’s usual haunts in the Twin Cities and in St. Cloud, most notably at the Cabooze and at The Red Carpet. “Back Where You Belong” ended up getting a lot of radio play in the Twin Cities in the summer of 1995, but unfortunately would be the last song of theirs heard much on the radio. There’s a thousand reasons this band should have made it bigger and a thousand reasons why they didn’t. Their live shows were always a good time though.
Key songs: A Thousand Wishes, Back Where You Belong, Leave at Three, Typical Talk
82. Barenaked Ladies– “Stunt”
Released: July 7, 1998
Barenaked Ladies had become cult faves and stars in their native Canada when they first made their big imprint on US pop culture: playing the Peach Pit on the April 2, 1997 episode of “90210”. The band played, “The Old Apartment”, “Life in a Nutshell”, and “Brian Wilson” and the appearance helped the band pick up steam– leading to the huge success of their live album, “Rock Spectacle” in the summer of 1997. “Stunt” was by far the largest selling album of BNL’s career, selling over 4 million copies and charting a number one single, “One Week”. The band would never again hit those heights, releasing a couple of mildly successful albums in the 2000’s. In 2009, founding member Steven Page (the fat one with the glasses), announced he was leaving the band.
Key songs: One Week, It’s All Been Done, Call and Answer, I’ll Be That Girl, Alcohol
81. Radiohead– “The Bends”
Released: March 13, 1995
Following the delayed success of “Pablo Honey” and the single, “Creep” (neither of which hit at first– critics all dismissed Radiohead as a “grunge-lite” band– oddly enough it was when “Creep” became a club hit in Israel that set things in motion for it and the album to take hold elsewhere– with the delayed reaction to the album, the band found itself touring in support of an album that was over two years old– it was no wonder it sounded like a whole different band by the time “The Bends” came out in 1995. Dense riffs and “ethereal atmospheres” populated the new Radiohead sound and it was met with rave reviews from critics. The album didn’t sell as well as Pablo Honey had (after the delayed success), but at the end of the year “The Bends” was on everyone’s “best of” lists for albums– from there the band has never looked back.
Key songs: Fake Plastic Trees, High and Dry, Just, Street Spirit (Fade Out)
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