Greetings, my dear readers. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably wondering why the format is different this week. Well, it’s because you’re in for a treat. This week, I’ll be starting a countdown series. The first countdown will be my Top 50 Favorite Albums of the ‘90s. Notice that I said “favorite” rather than “best.” These are my personal choices, so I don’t want to hear any cries of, “But why is this album higher than this album?” or, “Where’s this album by my favorite band?” If you don’t see your favorite album on my list, you can always suggest that I listen to it (if I haven’t already).
This list will be updated every other week because I’d like to do some regular entries in between. So next week, you will see another artist spotlight. The week after next, you’ll see the next part of the list, and so on. So sit back and enjoy my fangirlery!
50. Grace by Jeff Buckley (1994)
I need to get something off my chest, guys. Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah” is the best version of the song. Period. If you don’t agree, you’re wrong. Sorry, not sorry. That will be my only objective statement on this list, I promise. But I just have strong feelings about that song. The rest of the album is just as gorgeous. Jeff can croon like an angel. His voice just tugs at my heartstrings. I’m not sure if that’s because he was genuinely talented, or if it’s just the mystical feeling of listening to a musician who died too young. I’ve heard the argument that most Jeff Buckley fans tend to glorify his music because of his early death (much like Nirvana fans tend to hold Kurt Cobain up as a “grunge messiah”). But I think Grace holds up as a solid, moving album. With songs like “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” and of course “Hallelujah,” Jeff knows how to reduce even the most stoic listener to tears.
49. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) by Wu-Tang Clan (1993)
I wasn’t really a huge fan of rap until I got to college and started listening to some old school ‘90s rap. A lot of my friends were really into Wu-Tang Clan, so I had to see what the big deal was. Enter the Wu-Tang is probably the rawest rap record I’ve ever heard. There’s no flashy production here—it’s all visceral. I know I’m just a middle class white girl, and I won’t pretend that I can relate to any of the songs on this album. But I can definitely appreciate the beats and the delivery. Enter the Wu-Tang takes no prisoners. The first track, “Bring Da Ruckus,” is basically a call to arms. These guys don’t fuck around and neither does this album.
48. Bridges to Babylon by The Rolling Stones (1997)
I grew up in a Rolling Stones household. My dad is the biggest Stones geek on the planet, so naturally, I’m familiar with the majority of the band’s extensive catalog. While I do appreciate classic Stones, my favorite album is (not surprisingly) their ‘90s release, Bridges to Babylon. These guys kind of took an awkward turn in the ‘80s (accentuated by the Mick Jagger/David Bowie phenomenon that is “Dancing inthe Street”), but by the time the ‘90s rolled around, the Stones got their groove back. This album is exactly like classic Stones, but it’s got enough of the old sound to complement the new sound. “Flip the Switch” and “Gunface” have some great guitar work from the great Keith Richards, and even the slower tunes (especially “Saint of Me”) have a quiet power. There are probably some Rolling Stones purists out there who like to ignore the band’s later work, but Bridges to Babylon can definitely stand up with the greatest Stones albums.
47. Red Medicine by Fugazi (1995)
As if this list wasn’t already all over the place genre-wise, here’s a post-hardcore album to throw into the mix. Punk rock took many forms in the ‘90s: grunge, pop-punk, emo and post-hardcore. Post-hardcore was a little harder for people to swallow, but it’s honestly the most interesting mutation. While I’m sure a lot of Fugazi fans wouldn’t choose this album as their favorite, it was my introduction to the band. I heard “Do You Like Me?” and I was hooked. Those messy, raunchy riffs at the beginning of that track definitely rubbed me the right way. A lot of the other tracks are a bit more experimental, and I think that turns off some of the pop-punk kids, for example. These aren’t three-chord races to the finish line—these songs are meticulous and aggressive.
46. Dear You by Jawbreaker (1995)
Speaking of punk rock subgenres, let’s talk about Jawbreaker and emo movement of the early ‘90s. When I say “emo,” the first band that probably comes to mind is My Chemical Romance. Am I right? Yeah, I thought so. Believe it or not, MCR didn’t start the emo movement. It started back in the mid-‘80s and it had nothing to do with eyeliner or vampires or bad haircuts. Though bands like Rites of Spring and Embrace actually pioneered emo (or “emotional hardcore”), Jawbreaker and another band called Sunny Day Real Estate (who also makes an appearance on this list) reinvented it. Jawbreaker was a bit closer to the original emocore sound than Sunny Day Real Estate, though. Dear You is the band’s most polished-sounding album, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of it. My personal favorite track is “Chemistry,” which has this perfect mix of aggressive guitar riffs and a nice, melodic chorus with clever lyrics.
45. Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt (1995)
If you read my entry on No Doubt, you’ll recall that I’m in love with Gwen Stefani. Tragic Kingdom-era Gwen is the best Gwen because she was just so spunky. And yes, I do realize there are other people in the band, so let’s just talk about Tragic Kingdom in a musical sense. Again, looking back to my No Doubt entry, it’s pretty obvious that I love this album. It’s one of the most inventive albums from the third wave ska movement because it incorporates more than just swing-style beats and a trumpet/trombone chorus. “Don’t Speak,” for example, is a gorgeous ballad that you wouldn’t normally hear on a ska album. There’s even a Spanish-style guitar solo. Beat that, Reel Big Fish.
44. Hello Nasty by Beastie Boys (1998)
I know most people would choose Ill Communication over Hello Nasty, but I’m not most people. This is my favorite Beastie Boys album because it features some of the best Beastie Boys songs. “Intergalactic,” “Electrify,” “Super Disco Breakin’”—these are fantastic tunes. When I was younger, I would attempt to dance to “Body Movin’” and my parents would laugh at me, but dammit, I loved that shit. If you get me drunk enough, I will dance to every single song, and I will do those horribly embarrassing moves that I probably shouldn’t do in public. The Beasties bring out the best in me, you know? And God rest MCA’s soul. That man helped create some awesome music and I still upset when I realize he’s gone. But we still have albums like Hello Nasty to remind us that the spirit of the Beastie Boys will never die.
43. Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate (1994)
Oh hey, remember when I said you’d be seeing Sunny Day Real Estate on this list? Didn’t think you’d see them so soon, huh? Like Jawbreaker, these guys reinvented emo in the early ‘90s. Diary was the band’s first (and probably most successful) album. There’s something urgent in its tone and the sound helps bridge the gap between post-hardcore and the later forms of emo. It’s powerful (even if you can’t understand most of Jeremy Enigk’s lyrics). Some personal highlights include “The Blankets Were the Stairs,” “In Circles” and “Pheurton Skeurto.”
42. Purple by Stone Temple Pilots (1994)
This band gets a lot of shit, but they made some damn good music back in the day. I’ll admit that STP’s first album, 1992’s Core, was kind of a grunge rip-off, but Purple, the second album, was so much better. The band incorporated some psychedelic rock influences and Scott Weiland’s lyrics and vocal delivery vastly improved. Purple also had three perfect singles: “Vasoline,” “Interstate Love Song” and “Big Empty.” I still believe “Interstate Love Song” is one of the best songs of the ‘90s because of its simplicity. It has a Southern rock feel to it, but there’s a pop undertone there that makes it so much more accessible. STP wasn’t a grunge band by any means and I think most people would agree with me. Scott Weiland and company were vastly more creative than their contemporaries. It’s a shame that Scott and the rest of the band went their separate ways (but I can always hope for a reunion).
41. Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins (1993)
This album was tough to place on the list because on one hand, it’s technically perfect. On the other hand, there is one SmashingPumpkins album that I love way more than this one. But let’s concentrate on this one. Siamese Dream is the definition of a flawless album. I seriously struggle to find anything wrong with it (though I do know too many people who hate “Today,” but whatever—I like it). Billy Corgan was obsessed with making this a great album, so much so that he often overdubbed James Iha and D’arcy Wretzky’s guitar and bass parts with his own playing. But the result was a record that felt so incredibly massive, yet so controlled. “Geek U.S.A.,” along with being my second favorite Smashing Pumpkins song ever, is the perfect example of this sentiment. It condenses a three-part epic into five glorious minutes. And that’s what Siamese Dream is—a glorious epic.