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Monday, February 28, 2011

Essential albums of the 1990s

A few weeks ago, Rolling Stone released the top 10 albums of the 1990s picked by their readers, which got me to thinking, what were the essential albums of the 1990s?

I have well over 600 CDs with probably half of them falling in the 90s decade.

Now, I was only four-years-old when the clock struck midnight into 1990 but I had two older sisters and parents that listened to music non-stop. I was pretty much the only kid I knew at 6 or 7-years-old listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Guns N’ Roses, etc.

The first two CDs my mom ever bought me were in 1991: Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion II (nice parenting) and Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory, which was the soundtrack to Young Guns II (nice parenting). I remember when CDs came in huge rectangular boxes. Actually, I remember when CDs came in square CD cases and not across some internet wires. I had some cassette tapes too, the essentials, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten. I'd like to meet the person who didn't. (Does anyone remember when they actually sold physical tape and CD singles with B-sides on them? I’m only 25, but I’m dating myself, I guess.)

So, I composed a list of what I think are the essential albums of the 1990s. I didn’t rank them, because that always causes trouble. So I’ll put it in alphabetical order, because as Dexter Morgan says while making his grocery list, “How else would you do it?”

Some rules and regulations here: Multiple bands and artists released several great albums in the 1990s but I’m only letting an artist appear once on the list. And before anyone says, “Where is Radiohead on this list?” The simple answer is, I never really got into Radiohead, but I respect them as a band and musicians and what they’ve done for music. So if you feel it necessary, plug them in in the R section. Also, you'll see on that Rolling Stone Reader's List that two Smashing Pumpkins' albums are included. I have both of those albums, but never really was a big fan of either one. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness could have been a great album had it been condensed down to one disc but it suffers from what most other two-disc albums suffer from, which is, a lot of filler. 

With that said, we'll lead this list off with...a two-disc album. Go figure.

2Pac - All Eyez on Me (1996)
    *The last album the rapper ever released before his untimely death at just 25-years-old. In my opinion, this was his best offering. Best Track: “Ambitionz az a Ridah.”

Alice in Chains - Unplugged (1996)
    * They released three studio albums and a handful of EPs in the 1990s in addition to this unplugged CD, which ranks probably in the top 15 albums I have ever owned. Lead singer Layne Staley died in 2002. Best Track: “Brother.”

Blind Melon - Self-titled (1992)
    * To this day, I don’t get when music critics rip on Blind Melon. They only released two albums and I find both of them to be great. I understand people classifying them as a one-hit wonder as they had one of the biggest hits of the past 20 years including a stupid video featuring a bee girl (“No Rain”) so of course that is going to be hard to top. Their debut record front to back is a great psychedelic, blues, folk rock, album. Lead singer, Shannon Hoon died in 1995. Best Track: “Time.”

Blink-182 - Enema of the State (1999)
    * A very successful pop-punk album that came out in the height of the popularity of boy bands and Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Top 40 labeled this the No. 1 pop-punk album of all-time. Best Track: “Anthem.”

Bone Thugs N’ Harmony - E. 1999 Eternal (1995)
    * Cleveland’s own Bone had one of the most successful rap singles of all-time with this album in “The Crossroads.” Little known fact, that successful single was actually the second version. The first version, in my opinion, was much darker and much better and was sold with the original E. 1999 Eternal release. The album was then re-released with the newer Crossroads. Best Track: “Mo Murda.”

CAKE - Fashion Nugget (1996)
    * The second, but breakthrough, record from this off-kiltered Sacramento band that uses a variety of styles, genres and instruments. Best track: “Frank Sinatra.”

DMX - It’s Dark and Hell is Hot (1998)
    * This may actually be my favorite hip-hop album of all-time even though I can’t stand DMX anymore, but his debut record is nearly flawless. I never really enjoyed much of his material after this. Best Track: “The Convo.”

Dr. Dre - 2001 (1999)
    * I realize 1991s The Chronic is a classic hip-hop album, but in the early 1990s, Dr. Dre was already a star from his days in N.W.A. however for years before the release of 2001, he had almost completely fallen off the face of the earth until signing Eminem in 1998 which brought him back into the limelight before releasing this huge comeback album. Oh, and by the way, we’re still waiting for the follow-up...12 years later. Best Track: “Forgot About Dre”

Eminem - The Slim Shady LP (1999)
    *I’ll never forget the first time I saw the video for “My Name Is,” I thought it was a joke. I didn’t know whether or not to take it seriously and Eminem went from being a guilty pleasure in early 1999 to eventually a hip-hop icon and one of the best rap artists of all-time. This album started it all. Best Track: “Rock Bottom.”

Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape (1997)
    * By far the best album the Foo Fighters have released in their 17-year career with one of the most powerful songs of the 1990s, “Everlong.” Best track: “Everlong.” *Sidenote, if you’ve never seen the Foo live, it’s worth the price of admission just to hear Dave Grohl do a haunting solo-electric version of “Everlong.”

The Fugees - The Score (1996)
    * The second, final and only album anyone has ever heard of from The Fugees, they were adored by critics before having a falling-out and all going their separate ways with Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill having very successful solo careers. Best Track: “Ready or Not.”

Green Day - Dookie (1994)
    *Although their third album, it was their major breakthrough album and was one of the first successful mainstream albums from a punk-alternative band (although, I don't consider this too pop-punk). Best Track: “When I Come Around.”

Guns N’ Roses - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
    * I thought this was a better effort than the first Use Your Illusion released months prior to it and it’s not any secret, the band really fell apart following this release. Best Track: “Civil War.”

Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt (1996)
    * Jay-Z’s first album and the second most critically acclaimed one he’s released. But clearly, this album allowed him to make a name for himself. Best Track: “Dead Presidents II.”

Jimmy Eat World - Clarity (1999)
    * Considered a classic in the “emo” genre, Clarity was a flawless soft alternative rock album which inspired some of my favorite bands today Taking Back Sunday and Brand New and brought Jimmy Eat World into the limelight. Best Track: “Goodbye Sky Harbor.”

Juvenile - 400 Degreez (1998)
    *Would you believe Juvenile was my third favorite rapper when I was in 9th grade? Cash Money Records piggybacked on the success of No Limit Records, as the second most successful southern hip-hop record label at the time. Obviously, Cash Money was the overall winner as Lil’ Wayne is the face of it today and one of the most popular rappers alive. 400 Degreez featured Lil Wayne on many of the songs, although at the time, he was only 15-years-old. Best Track: “Gone Ride With Me.”

Master P - Da Last Don (1998)
    * As a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with Master P and everyone on his No Limit Records label. To this day, I probably have at least 50 CDs from that record label, all released between 1996 and 2000. P had several huge albums in the 90s but I went with Da Last Don here, as it was supposed to be his final, retirement album. However, he never fully retired, but when it came out, it was a big deal. Best Track: “Eternity.”

Mos Def - Black on Both Sides (1999)
    * The debut solo album from rapper/actor Mos Def and it remains his best. A very underground, political hip-hop record with a mixture of various genres included. Best Track: “Speed Law.”

Oasis - What’s the Story Morning Glory (1995)
    * Easily Oasis’ biggest and best album as, in my opinion, the group never really had any decent material following this (However, I very much enjoyed their debut as well, Definitely Maybe released in 1994). “Wonderwall” was simply one of the biggest hits, if not the biggest, in the 1990s. Best Track: “Don’t Look Back in Anger.”

Outkast - Aquemini (1998)
    * I wrestled between either this album or 1996s ATLiens but 1998 is when the duo blew up in the mainstream. Best Track: “Aquemini.”

Puff Daddy & The Family - No Way Out (1997)
    *Released just a few short months following the death of his best friend, Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy (no, I will not call him Diddy, or P. Diddy) released the only album he ever should have released (although I do believe his second album, Forever, released in 1999 was underrated). The whole disc is pretty much a tribute to Biggie and Puff Daddy became a certified star following the release. Not many hip-hop albums are as dark as this. Best Track: “I Love You Baby”

Nas - Illmatic (1994)
    *Although considered one of the greatest rap albums of all-time, it ranks pretty low on my personal list of Nas albums. That said, this was a pivotal release as it inspired the likes of Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z and a whole new generation of rappers not to mention, was the first of a dozen Nas' releases. Best Track: “Represent.”

Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
    * I personally prefer Nirvana’s Unplugged album but can’t deny the importance of this record, which sold more than 26 million copies and was one of the main reasons people say the word “grunge.” Twenty years later, still trying to figure out whether that's a good or a bad thing. Best Track: “Come As You Are.”

Notorious B.I.G - Ready To Die (1994)
    * It was one of the first mainstream hip-hop albums to come out on the East Coast and gave Puff Daddy a name as a manager/producer and was the first of only two albums released by Biggie before his death in 1997. Best Track: “Juicy.”

The Offspring - Smash (1994)
    *The Offspring had a plethora of big albums in the 90s including Americana, Ixnay on the Hombre and Ignition but like Green Day, Smash was their major breakthrough album with songs that still dominate radio stations today. “Bad Habit.”

Pearl Jam - Ten (1991)
    * This album was actually released about a month before Nevermind, and I prefer Ten more as this remains Pearl Jam's best release. Best Track: “Black.”

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication (1999)
    * Many would argue that 1991s Blood Sugar Sex Magic was a better album but I wouldn’t. To this day, Californication remains my favorite RHCP record as it showed the band growing into a new, more calm, mature style of music. Great, great album. It actually sold way more records than Blood Sugar Sex Magic as well. Best Track: “Road Trippin.”

Scarface - The Diary (1994)
    *One of the few albums to ever get a perfect score in both The Source and XXL magazines and is one of the first successful southern hip-hop albums. Best Track: “I Seen A Man A Die.”

Stone Temple Pilots - Purple (1994)
    * My personal favorite Stone Temple Pilots album despite Core, released in 1992, being their most popular. Purple was a much more darker, more experimental album than the straight up hard-rock Core album. Best Track: “Lounge Fly.”

Sublime - Self-titled (1996)
    * The band’s third and final album before lead singer Bradley Nowell died (the band didn’t blow up until after his death). Best Track: “Santeria.”

Weezer - Blue Album (1994)
    *Although 1996s Pinkerton album is my favorite Weezer record, the Blue Album remains a classic and if it weren’t for the Blue Album, there never would have been a Pinkerton. The band’s best days are far behind them. Best Track: “In the Garage.”

In case you were wondering, I wrote this blog in 2009 regarding my favorite albums of the 2000s.

By Nick Carrabine


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