05 August 2011

Happy Birthday, Baby! These Albums Turn 20 This Year

It was 20 years ago this year that these seminal albums were released. Please feel free to add any important albums in your life that were released in 1991 that I've overlooked.

U2 - Achtung Baby

"The sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree" was how Bono first described the album. U2 found their sense of irony, (and discovered techno, loops, and hip hop), and in doing so released a record that many critics still place in the top 10 albums of all time. Recorded mostly in East Berlin at Hansa Studios (a former SS ballroom) during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, the band nearly dissolved while trying to reinvent themselves. Only after the song "One" emerged did the finally come together musically.
I was picking my friend Aaron up from the airport, and was hungover from the night before and running late. Aaron had been waiting for the better part of an hour when we (I can't recall which friend I had with me- Kas? Chris?) showed up. Aaron, (the biggest U2 fan of all of my friends- your welcome, Aaron) was understandably pissed off as he climbed into the back seat. I told him to shut up and listen, and popped the cassette single of The Fly into the tape deck. We drove off into the night as Aaron sat gobsmacked at the sound that came from the speakers.

Nirvana- Nevermind

When Nevermind was released by Geffen Records in 1991, they originally released about 46,000 copies in the US, hoping that, with luck, the album would be gold after a year. Instead, by early 1992, Nirvana had knocked Michael Jackson's Dangerous off the top of the Billboard charts, an apt metaphor for what they did to most of the sound of the 80's.
Like many defining moments in your life, I didn't realize this one until it had passed. Nirvana was just one more great band I was listening to in the early 90's. It didn't occur to me that they had exposed many of the Hair Bands of the 80's for the poseurs that they were- I was just enjoying the music coming out of the radio, and being 21. Just like the music scene of the time, life was just going to get better and better, right? Being naïve gives you such energy...

Pearl Jam - Ten

How many rock singers still try and sound like Eddie Vedder to this day? Even more than Nirvana at the time, Pearl Jam's sound is what the media dubbed "grunge". Though the sound was slightly more produced than Nirvana, I listened to this album more in the beginning than Nevermind. Twenty years later, this is still a very solid band, with many, many great albums under their belt. They have proven to their critics that they are much bigger than the sound they helped to originate.

REM - Out of Time

"That's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight, losing my religion." Michael Stipe appropriately sang on REM's first album to reach number one in America. This album was in the middle of the trio of records including Green and Automatic for the People that would mark the creative and popular high point for the band. REM were suddenly selling out stadiums, which was incredible to those of us who first saw them in high school auditoriums.
They had always been one of my favorite bands, and this became one more album of my soundtrack in college that was constantly playing. Strangely, more than other bands of the era, REM is now one I probably listen to the least. Not sure why that is- they just don't appear on my playlists anymore. I listened to this one again while writing this, however, and distance has made my heart grow fonder. It's such a strong album. I know that they've released many great records since, but, what was the last REM album that you purchased?

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik

I don't think I went to a party in 1992 where this album wasn't playing at some point. This was the album that exploded RHCPs into the mainstream, and had housewives and moms singing along to a tune about shooting heroin under a bridge in downtown LA. Guided by the amazing hip-hop producer Rick Rubin, the album has sold over 13 million copies. All of the success and fame nearly destroyed the band, as members sank into depression and addiction, with guitarist John Frusciante leaving the band mid-tour. But for a brief, amazing time in 1991, you could, depending on which show you caught, see Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or the Smashing Pumpkins open for the Chili Peppers.

Primal Scream - Screamadelica

"We wanna get loaded, and we wanna have a good time. And that's what we're gonna do."
Go to your iTunes or YouTube right now, put on 'Loaded' or 'Movin' On Up', and try not to smile and shake your ass a little. Though they're a Scottish band, Primal Scream tapped into the other sound of the early 90's that was all to brief in the US, Madchester, which also included the Charlatans UK, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, James, and New Order. Primal Scream was probably the best received of the lot, with their sound being described by one critic as "of its time and timeless." I'm listening to all of these as I write this, and I will be happier all day as a result.

Massive Attack - Blue Lines

This album has been called "trip hop before we knew we were listening to trip hop." I admittedly didn't get into them until a few years later, but I did get into all the other groups that they had influenced or morphed into, especially Portishead. This is also one of the best albums to have in your mix when driving long distances.

Prince - Diamonds and Pearls

I include this because I consider it the last great Price album, and one of the last to release great singles- 'Get Off', 'Cream,' 'Money Don't Matter 2 Night.' I just saw his show in LA recently, and amazingly, he's better in his 50's than he was in his 20's. As with REM, (who recorded part of 'Out of Time' at Prince's Paisley Park Studios), I didn't really buy any Prince albums after this one, especially after he went off the rails a bit and started writing 'Slave' on his cheek.

A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory

"You on point, Phife?" "All the time, Tip."
The soothing sounds of Q-Tip. Also a standard at parties for the following year, and in my CD collection. Thanks to my friend Scott Dacko for introducing me to them as well as De La Soul.

Pixies - Trompe le Monde

This is not my favorite album by the band, but it would not seem right to have their last album not make the list, and it was certainly one of the best records in a really great year for music. (And especially the autumn- sophomore year in college was an embarrassment of riches musically!) Despite my opinion, the record was called "one of the best albums that you may very well ever hear." Like Nirvana, I didn't appreciate what we had till it was gone. Unlike Nirvana, the Pixies went on to tour again. Ah, what could have been...

Also released in 1991-

Smashing Pumpkins- Gish-28.May.1991
Metallica- Metallica (The Black Album)-12.Aug.1991
N.W.A- Niggaz4Life- 28.May.1991
Guns N' Roses- Use Your Illusion I&II -17.Sep.1991
Crowded House - Woodface - 2.Jul.1991
Sting - The Soul Cages -22.Jan.1991
Michael Jackson - Dangerous - 26.Nov.1991
Big Audio Dynamite II - The Globe - 16.Jun.1991
De La Soul - De La Soul is Dead - 13.May.1991
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Into the Great Wide Open - 02.Jul.1991
Jesus Jones- Doubt - 29.Jan.1991
Garth Brooks - Ropin' the Wind - 10.Sep.1991
Elvis Costello - Mighty Like a Rose - 14.May.1991

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