In college, I gave my best shot at growing dread locks, but only lasted two weeks without washing my hair until my roommates threatened to kick me out. I was guilty of wearing men’s Levi’s from the used jean shop on campus (approximately two sizes too large), flannel shirts, and Doc Martens, pretty much daily. Point being, the 90s were not a proud moment for me, fashionably speaking.
However, we did have good music.
I interned at the local alternative rock radio station and was exposed to many new genres and artists. I prided myself in having an eclectic taste in music and the 90s were an ideal time for me to spread my wings. A decade that spewed a rebirth in popularity of music festivals like Lollapalooza and Lillith Fair, the 90s opened up many diverse kinds of music from grunge, gangsta rap, alternative, and teen pop.
We all know which albums were critically acclaimed. I could easily list all things U2, Radiohead, Nirvana, Beck and Smashing Pumpkins, like every other list does, but how fun is that? This is a list of albums that I own and so should you. They are great from beginning to end, a gauge of any great album, and when they’re over I find myself mourning The Larry Sander’s Show and the Clinton Administration.
Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morisette: With emotional lyrics full of angst and rage, if you suffered through a bitter relationship in the late 90s, chances are good that you sang some of these songs into your hairbrush in front of the mirror.
Ten, Pearl Jam: A less abrasive introduction to grunge and alternative rock than, say, Nirvana, Pearl Jam’s Ten tackled weighty topics and set the lyrics to a more universally classic rock sound that had a mainstream appeal.
Blind Melon, Blind Melon: The popular track, No Rain (and, equally, infamous video with the girl in a bumblebee costume) is just a small taste of what Blind Melon offered in this self- titled album. Rooted in a classic southern rock, Blind Melon’s sound is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and Lynard Skynard, without being blatant. Song to not be missed: Change.
Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik, Red Hot Chili Peppers: With numerous chart topping hits, this would be the album that would outrage die hard Red Hot Chili Pepper fans everywhere that the band had “sold out” because now they would now have to share them, but it’s just that good. Luckily, for many mainstream radio listeners, they could finally discover the funky grooves that RHCP have to offer. Anthony Kiedes dug deeper, lyrically and emotionally, in this album and it paid off.
August and Everything After, Counting Crows: A debut album that would impress with a nice mix of easy and cool. A way with catchy hooks, like Mr. Jones, Counting Crows proved they know how to make hits, but still stay hip.
The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, Black Crowes: Their second album further perfects their style of classic blues/ rock. Each and every song on this album is heartfelt and gives the feeling of sitting in on a jam session with the band (and quite possibly a cloud of smoke lingering above.)
CrazySexyCool, TLC: In this second offering from TLC, they moved away from the hip hop/rap of their debut album and found their strength in R&B with soulful, smooth vocals and timely lyrics.
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Sarah McLaughlin: Groundbreaking album that helped pave the way for a decade’s worth of successful female songwriters. McLaughlin’s haunting vocals fit the raw emotion behind the lyrics and the tracks flow together seamlessly and leave you wanting more.
3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life of, Arrested Development: Politically conscious and thought provoking lyrics are set to a fusion of rap, soul, blues, hip hop, and funk. Innovative and interesting in both its sound and messages.
Metallica (The Black Album), Metallica: In this album, Metallica made a wise decision to streamline their sound. The heavy handed guitar riffs that once kept them securely in the metal and thrash genre, were simplified towards a more stripped down, melodic and commercially, radio friendly direction.
Mama Said, Lenny Kravitz: As an avid Lenny fan, I had to do a coin toss between this and Are You Gonna Go My Way. Both are equally representative of his musical influences like Lennon, Prince and Hendrix and unapologetically retro. Each track on both albums are flawless and layered and effortlessly display his talent. That being said, I believe Mama Said is more authentically Lenny and less produced and polished than the follow up.
Tuesday Night Music Club, Sheryl Crow: Her debut album, less pop than intended by her record company, on a second attempt was grown out of a collaborative effort of jam sessions, beer drinking and writing songs with fellow musicians, aptly titled, Tuesday Night Music Club. The rough around the edges, homemade and acoustic feel of this album is consistent and enjoyable.
Under The Table and Dreaming, Dave Matthews Band: Known for their eclectic blend of talents and styles, Dave Matthews Band got the formula right in this album. Their signature folk/rock, jazz, African beats combined with solid songwriting are still alive and well, but they were able to reign in their tendancy to linger and draw out some of their instrumentals and keep the listener’s attention with intriguing melodies and the band’s true musicianship.
What album epitomizes the 90s for you?