1991…Gangsta rap was in full flow, stadium bands were dying out, grunge hit the main stage and death metal found a new lease on life.
35. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2:Secret Of The Ooze Soundtrack
Much like the movie, this sequel’s soundtrack is more aimed at kids than the original but it’s still fun and has some classic jams on there. Some familiar faces from the first ost make their return and there’s the famous ninja rap.
Highlights-“Ninja Rap”by Vanilla Ice “Awesome (You Are My Hero)” by Ya Kid K
34.Nice And Smooth-Ain’t A Damn Thing Changed
If ever an act was perfectly named it was Nice And Smooth with their laid back and silky vocal delivery and smart use of samples. It’s very easy listening and lyrically the duo are incredibly proficient with very catchy songs and excellent flow.
Highlights-“Sometimes I Rhyme Slow” ” Harmonize!
33. Mr Big-Lean Into It
When To Be With You came out many wrote off Mr Big as just a fluffy pop band and while they’re not entirely wrong behind that four chord pleasantness lies some of the best musicians on the planet. Bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Paul Gilbert are two of the most ridiculously talented people in music. Although Mr Big are a pop rock act there are still signs of that talent in there and even if there wasn’t who cares? A good song is a good song no matter how simple.
Highlights “To Be With You” “Green Tinted Sixties Mind”
Manchester electro/techno group 808 State went for more hip hop style beats than their earlier efforts here and it paid off with a trippy, relaxing album. With guest vocals from Bernard Sumner and Bjork it features a more accomplished sound and tighter feel than their other work. Thoroughly enjoyable stuff.
Highlights-“In Yer Face” “Spanish Heart”
31. Cannibal Corpse-Butchered At Birth
Originally banned for it’s cover (can’t imagine why) the hilariously over the top Cannibal Corpse cemented their growling death metal sound with this album which was pretty influential in the genre. I’m no expert on death metal but I liked my fair share of it in my youth and this was always one I enjoyed.
Highlights-“Gutted” “Covered With Sores”
30.Ice T-O.G Original Gangster
There’s always been something inherently likeable about Ice T despite his posturing and obviously exaggerated character. Always confrontational and aggressive but with a wink to the camera and a dry sense of humour. Never the most talented rapper nor the most inventive lyricist he still nonetheless managed to connect with the public in a way that others didn’t.
Highlights-“New Jack Hustler” “Fried Chicken”
29. Deacon Blue-Fellow Hoodlums
Local boy done good Ricky Ross and his band Deacon Blue have always been an enjoyable pop band with the odd hit here and there but in terms of albums I’d have to say this is up there with their best. From Scots folk songs to REM influenced ditties the dual vocals of Ross and Lorraine McIntosh compliment each other perfectly for a wonderfully pleasant experience.
Highlights-“Twist And Shout” “Your Swaying Arms”
Somewhat an end of an era for the band as it was the last album produced by Bad Religion’s Brett Gurewitz, the last album with guitarist Steve Kidwiller before classically trained El Hefe replaced him and the last LP before drummer Eric Snadin got clean from his heroin addiction. It’s far from their greatest work but it shows the snot nosed signs that would see them become one of the most important punk bands of the 90s.
Highlights-“The Moron Brothers” “Showerdays”
27. Primus-Sailing The Seas Of Cheese
The second year in a row Primus makes it onto the list but with a less impactful album than their debut. That said it’s still a strong entry but they certainly upped the weirdness and avant-garde stuff in lieu of more focused tunes. It’s another strong showcase for Les Claypool’s inventive bass playing and one of the tightest rhythm sections in rock.
Highlights-“Jerry Was A Racecar Driver” “Sgt Baker”
26. Cher-Love Hurts
What? Wanna fight about it? You bet your arse Cher is on the list! Her power ballad era was awesome and most of her songs were better than the likes of Winger who specialised in power ballads. Produced by longtime Metallica collaborator Bob Rock the songs had a big stadium feel that fir Cher’s impressive booming voice and vocal range perfectly and Richie Sambora’s guitars lay the perfect backing. Just a fantastic pop record.
Highlights-“Save Up All Your Tears” “Fires Of Eden”
25.P.M Dawn-Of The Heart, Of The Soul And Of The Cross:The Utopian Experience
A breath of fresh air in the increasingly violent and out of control rap industry as P.M Dawn brought a relaxed, ethereal and spiritual vibe to the genre. Call it hippy hop or whatever but their relaxing beats and soft vocal delivery is unique and showed a different side to the rap game.
Highlights-“Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” “In The Presence Of Mirrors”
24. Throwing Muses-The Real Ramona
Throwing Muses ranged from shoegaze alt rock to poppy jingle guitar tunes and are quite difficult to pin down what they are going for at times but The Real Ramona was a focused effort that delivered. Kristen Hersh and Tanya Donelly’s dual vocals and guitar have that fuzzy, familiar indie sound that became incredibly popular in the 90s. Their vocals are entrancing and that’s what helps them stand out more than others.
Highlights-“Not Too Soon” “Hook In Her Head”
23. R.E.M-Out Of Time
Man Losing My Religion was everywhere when I was a kid and although it was admittedly a well put together song but overexposure made me sick of it. That said Out Of Time was the album that sent R.E.M into worldwide superstars and had guest spots from KRS One and B-52s Kate Pierson that helped it become an essential for the college rock fans.
Highlights-“Half A World Away” “Shiny Happy People”
22.Guns N’ Roses-Use Your Illusions 1&2
One of the most overrated bands in history….ahem now that’s out in the ether I’ll talk positively.I’ve always dug Slash, I think he seems like a really cool guy but I’ve never ever understood the jizz fest over Axl Rose….he’s just awful. Anyway respect where it’s due, Use Your Illusion 1 and 2 contained plenty good rock songs to keep them on top of the world until they imploded a couple of years later. There’s definitely plenty of filler on the albums but for the time it was one of the biggest events in music for a long time. The hype surround these releases was insane and the albums were well received. It even made it’s way into the excellent Terminator 2:Judgement Day
Highlights-“You Could Be Mine” “Don’t Cry”
21.The Pixies-Trompe Le Monde
After the lukewarm reception of their previous album, the band abandoned the surf pop sound and went back to being a loud and in your face post punk band. This is when The Pixies are at their best and it shows in this record which would end up being the last full album before their breakup and it’d be well over a decade until we got another one. Not a bad little parting gift.
Highlights-“Head On” “Letter To Memphis”
20.A Tribe Called Quest-The Low End Theory
Second year in a row for the tribe and this album is probably their signature one as it solidified their sound with intelligent lyrics, jazz and funk samples and incredibly unique flow from Q-Tip.Guest vocals from the likes of Brand Nubian and Busta Rhymes help flesh out what would be one of the most influential hip hop records of the decade.
Highlights-“Buggin’ Out” “Scenario”
19.Billy Bragg-Don’t Try This At Home
Folk singer and socialist campaigner Billy Bragg is a bit of a legend within the hard left political thinkers and it’s hard to seperate the two jobs he has as they are pretty much linked. Bragg sings about gay rights, women’s rights, workers rights and basically everything you’d expect a socialist MP to sing about. Within his politically charge punk rock folk songs there’s a lot of memorable and tuneful crackers that certainly resonate with me as I’m politically in tune with Bragg. With contributions from Michael Stipe, Johnny Marr and Kirsty MacColl, Don’t Try This At Home was probably Bragg’s most commercial album.
18.Black Sheep-A Wolf In Sheep’s’ Clothing
Some of the best beats on any hip hop record ever combined with funny, inventive and fast rhyming help make this album an absolute must for fans of the genre. Some of the most playfully enjoyable rap I’ve ever heard and it’s nice to see a hip hop group not taking themselves so seriously at a time when everyone was either a gangsta or an activist….Black Sheep were just having fun.
Highlights-“Strobelight Honey” “The Choice Is Yours”
An absolute monster of my youth……and he did a pretty good album too hahahahahaha ……no? oh well. Being 7 when this came out and it was my first real exposure to the hype surrounding Jacko, his complexion had completed it’s transition from black to white and it was just before the sexual abuse claims so all I knew was this odd looking man with amazing dance moves and cool songs. This album was everywhere, it was HUGE . It spawned nine hit singles for the love of Jeebus! Plenty of filler on there but it’s a little pocket of time where Jacko went from RnB star to fully fledged rock star before the career started going haywire. Guitar licks provided by Slash help the rock sound and you’ll be hard pressed to forget this album cover if you’re around my age.
Highlights-“Black Or White” “Give In To Me”
16. Mr Bungle-Mr Bungle
If you ever read Dan Sweetman’s awesome comic book Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children then you will recognise that haunting artwork. It’s clear that singer Mike Patton is a David Lynch fan because the album plays out like a confusing, mind altering drug fueled nightmare with bizarre arrangements that sip from genre to genre, tempo to tempo mid song. Beautifully unique and original in a way that only they could pull off. Embarrassing copycats like Big Dumb ace tried and fled miserably to do the same thing. There’s only one Mr Bungle
Highlights-“Quote Unquote” “My Ass Is On Fire”
15.Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers-Into The Great Wide Open
Master of the simple, singalong folk/pop song Tom Petty does it again with an album full of catchy as hell tunes with storytelling lyrics. You always feel like you’ve been on a journey with Petty when you listen to one of his albums. His often awkward vocal delivery, trying to squeeze every word into each bar just adds to the charm and makes you listen more intently. Coming off his previous album which produced monster hits like Free Fallin’ Petty went with producer Jeff Lynne of ELO and it pays off nicely. Time for another collaboration methinks, been far too long.
Highlights-“The Dark Of The Sun” “Learning To Fly”
14. The Smashing Pumpkins-Gish
The kings of alt rock make their debut with Gish (not as many debuts this year) and it was quite a low key affair. It would be until another year or two that the band became the multi millions selling band that they became but that says nothing of how good Gish is. It’s a more straightforward rock album than the albums that follow it without the pretentiousness that came with a lot of the band’s work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the pumpkins but are we really going to sit here and say Corgan isn’t one of the most pretentious men to ever exist?……yea I thought not. A very solid start for one of the 90s biggest bands.
Highlights-“I Am One” “Snail”
13.Gang Starr-Step In The Arena
A lot of influential hip hop albums came out in 1991 and there aren’t many more influential groups than DJ Premier and Guru, also known as Gang Starr. Relaxed, talkative flow and smooth jazzy samples with soft beats makes Step In The Arena a blissful experience to listen to. Excellent production from the pair behind the scenes as well as the skills to perform up front too helped Gang Starr become on of hip hop’s most beloved duos.
Highlights-“Check The Technique” “Take A Rest”
12.Yuzo Koshiro-Streets Of Rage/Bare Knuckle Soiundtrack
No it’s not a joke, the soundtrack to to a 16-bit megadrive game made the list at a higher level than some highly respected rock and rap albums. Yuzo Koshiro changed the game in 1991 by taking the bleeps and bloops of a chipboard and turning them into commercial sounding music. Not to say there wasn’t great music on games before this, Mario is legendary for it but this felt edgy and real. It felt like this could be released in the charts, dance music was big and it borrowed heavily from the likes of Technotronic and Enigma (a little too much sometimes) to create a dual experience of gaming and jamming out at the same time. Koshiro would go on to play the soundtrack during his dj sets at the request of fans.
Highlights-“Fighting In The Streets” “Attack Of The Barbarian”
Soundgarden were a band that passed me by as a kid. Black Hole Sun was huge after it came out in 1994 but I just didn’t get it so never looked further into them. As I got older and started to dig the song that I had previously neglected I decided to check out their other stuff at the behest of friends and the constant praise of critics. Whilst they are in no way my favourite band I certainly missed out on some cracking stuff and I don’t know if it got any better than this album. Strong stuff that saw the band start to find an audience with the MTV crowd. Chris Cornell’s excellent voice helped them stand out from other grunge/metal bands of the time.
Highlights-“Outshined” “Face Pollution”
Brazilian metal gods Sepultura burst into the 90s with what is largely considered by many to be their best album. Still essentially rattling out the same death metal tunes they had previously the were starting to add more grove and hardcore punk tempos into their sound which helped diversify their music. The band would go on to experiment more and more as time went on with varying results but Arise stands as the Cavallera bros’ (and the rest of the band) most lauded work.
Highlights-“Dead Embryonic Cells” “Meaningless Movements”
9.Red Hot Chilli Peppers-Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Negativity out the way….I think Anthony Keidid is just terrible. Ok now onto what is musically an excellent album mixing funk, jazz, rock, blues and all sorts to create another of the most popular rock bands of the 90s. Flea is the star of the show here and always has been. His stage presence and superb bass playing has always been what I tune in for. This was them at their peak in terms of music and energy with song subjects rangins from drug abuse to gender and racial equality. Producer Rick Rubin was in his pomp here and everything he touched seemed to turn into gold.
Highlights-“The Power Of Equality” “Suck My Kiss”
8. De La Soul-De La Soul Is Dead
Desperate to lift the hippy label that had attached itself to them after their debut album, De La Soul returned with an album to clear up any confusion, hence the symbolic cover. Prince Paul’s production skills once again helped create one of the best hip hop albums of all time and the talent of the group themselves shines on this album just as it did on their debut. Let’s just say there was no “difficult second album” syndrome for De La Soul.
Highlights-“A Rollerskating Jam Name Saturdays” “Let Let Me In”
7.Screeching Weasel-My Brain Hurts
Along with The Queers, Screeching Weasel brought back the stripped down melodic Ramones sound to the punk scene. Some would say ripped off but I’m a fan of the genre so I’ll give them more credit than that, Ramone-core as it became known has spawned some excellent band and although it is limited and very samey, when it works there’s just nothing as good as that sound of a rapid drum beat, crunching guitars and a nice 50s/60s style harmony. It’s a beautiful thing and it marked a major change in styles for the band as before this record they were a hardcore band. ….and not a very good one. They made the right choice to go with their heart and not the trend.
Highlights-” What We Hate” “The Science Of Myth”
Bafflingly jumped on when it got big in 1992 for jumping on the Nevermind bandwagon despite sounding nothing like Nirvana and being recorded before Nevermind, Ten is a defining 90s album. Classified as a grunge band mainly for their look and somewhat sombre sound, Pearl Jam always had more of a jam band (no pun intended) vibe with funky, groove laden riffs and terrific solos from guitarist Mike McCready. Ten produced the monster hit “Jeremy” about a boy who shot up his school class and if that wasn’t a sign of horrific things to come then I don’t know what is. Such an impressive debut.
5.Naughty By Nature-Naughty By Nature
Their second album came with the monster hit O.P.P (you down wit O.P.P btw?) but you’d be way off if you thought they were a pop act. Yes they had catchy hooks and melodic samples but they were exemplary hip hop story tellers and the stories they tell are often grim as was common for the genre at the time. That was before story telling was pushed to the side in favour of talking about jewlerry…..ugh.
Highlights-“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” “O.P.P”
4.Geto Boys-We Can’t Be Stopped
One of the most infamous album covers ever, taken when diminutive rapper Bushwick Bill was shot in the eye during a tussle over a gun as he was asking his girlfriend to kill him. This kind of cover let’s you know that the album isn’t for the faint of heart. Geto Boys flit between horror core rap, talking about slasher movies and their characters to real life struggles with depression and life in the rough areas that they grew up in. There’s always been something very real about the group in a seas of gangsta wannabes and made up characters Geto Boys always had this edge to them that you knew it was for real.
Highlights-“Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me” “F*#k A War”
Ahh the “sell out” album as it was called by idiots at the time and young idiots now who weren’t around when it came out. Producer Bob Rock still takes the heat for Metallica changing from thrash metal to more considered and slowed down music to add a bit of variety to the catalogue despite Metallica writing the songs……ok then. The black album as it’s known to people now is absolutely full of absolute bangers and although it’s easy to mock the band due to drummer Lars Ulrich being an absolute tool there is just no way to see past anthemic classics like Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters. It’s just a great album that brought metal to the masses…..I understand the frustrations of people who wanted to keep the band their cool little secret but they wanted to expand and that’s exactly what they did.
Highlights-“Sad But True” “Wherever I May Roam”
2. Nirvana Nevermind
Ooft, what needs to be said about Nevermind that hasn’t been said a million times? Well, not much so let me just talk personally rather than facts. I first heard Nirvana when they played on the awful “yoof” tv show The Word. Soon after my buddy who was a couple of years older gave me a cassette tape of the album Bleach and told me to check it out as I’d love it. I was very young at the time and as the hype of the band grew and grew to ridiculous levels I was sure this band was going to change my life. That didn’t happen but that’s testament to the feverish buzz around the band even in a wee town in Scotland. Bleach was good but when I got round to hearing Nevermind that was the one that connected with hit after hit of nihilistic, fuzzy guitar driven melancholy and angst. It connected with the youth in such an emotional way and although I was at an age where it was just good music to me but there is no question that they tapped into teens and young adults of the nihilist 90s. This was the album that sent them into the stratosphere and also ironically the one that would send Kurt Cobain spiraling to his untimely death as he couldn’t handle the success Nevermind brought them. An album that perfectly captured the youth of it’s time…..a rare achievement.
Highlights-“Breed” “On A Plain”
Well, it should come as no surprise that the band I have a tattoo of has hit the number one spot. It wouldn’t be the case every time they released an album but Somery is a compilation of all their best songs up until that point. The rare thing is it actually does what it says on the tin and delivers pretty much every great song from previous releases and my oh my have they released some of the best punk rock songs ever written. From their early snot nosed hardcore attempts to their more comfortable melodic punk rock classic, Somery has it all (little pun for descendents fans) and is pretty much fantastic from beginning to end with silly songs like I Like Food to thrash metal parody in Hurtin Crue. An absolutely perfect album from my favourite band ever.
Highlights-“Clean Sheets” “Get The Time”
1991 comes to a close and for a year that MTV called weak at the time, this list certainly proves tht there was plenty to be happy about. Stay tuned for 1992 and thanks for looking in folks. Love ye!