These past two weeks have been a wild journey through the Nineties. There are songs on this list that I had not heard in decades. I spend some much time listening to music from the Seventies and Eighties, that my listening tastes have diverted me away from the Nineties. Ironically, I have been listening to more music from the Twenty-First Century than the Nineties. So, I definitely will be listening to more music from the Nineties, and not just Pearl Jam, Green Day and Teenage Fanclub. Looks like I will be digging out my Nineties CDs. Nope, I need to re-evaluate my Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails collection.
Most of the Nineties music I listened to was influenced by the first group of students that I taught. Through those kids, who are now in their mid-thirties (CRAAAAAZZZZZZYYYY!) I remember giving them assignments or doing lab work with MTV playing, and the kids becoming excited when they saw the latest videos by Pantera or The Offspring, which made me realize that the youth of America’s taste in music was still evolving. Their enthusiasm for “1979” or “When I Come Around” helped my discernment in the music of their generation.
Enough of this tomfoolery! Let’s get back to the countdown.
11. Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun” (1994). Yesterday, I stated that critics were calling Jane’s Addiction “the Led Zeppelin of Alternative Music”. They got that one wrong because the Led Zeppelin of Alternative Music was Soundgarden, the first Seattle band signed to a major label. From the late Chris Cornell’s banshee wail to Kim Thayil’s tasteful solos, Soundgarden updated the basic Zeppelin blues rewrites for the Prozac generation. And, this slice of psychedelia showed the world the Zep- like diversity in the band’s approach.
12. Pearl Jam – “Jeremy” (1991). When Pearl Jam burst on the scene in the aftermath of the Nirvana-induced grunge explosion, they did so with a clear statement of purpose. Where Nirvana was steeped in the punk esthetic, Pearl Jam’s sound was based in rock of ’70s stalwarts such as The Who. They aimed, and thus succeeded, at being as transcendent as their heroes. Still, they maintained their grunge credentials by turning away from the mass adulation bestowed upon them with the song. By the way, the video for this song is a stone-cold classic. Then, after this, they stopped making videos and accepted their role as one of the greatest bands in the history of rock music.
13. The Cure – “Friday I’m in Love” (1992). A new decade rolls in, and Cure leader Robert Smith shows a sliver of optimism. The misunderstood Eighties’ Prince of Gloom, caught his audience off guard when he delivered this power pop masterpiece.
14. New Order – “Regret” (1993). Upon the demise of Joy Division, New Order evolved into the alternative dancefloor outlaws. Although New Order created a rich catalog of updated disco tunes during the Eighties, the band outdid themselves in the new decade with this transcendent song that is equal parts dance classic and alternative rock hit.
15. Sinéad O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U” (1990). O’Connor had released a great album in 1987, but nothing prepared us for the total artistic transformation she took on the album from which this version of a then-obscure Prince song. O’Connor took this song originally recorded by Prince protege The Family, stripped the song of all the pretentious Prince production and coupled the song with a video that was essentially a close-up of her face displaying all of the emotion she felt during the song. With a single tear streaming down her cheek, O’Connor became an international pop sensation from which she ultimately turn her back on.
16. R.E.M. – “Nightswimming” (1992). Easily the most beautifully reminiscent song in the R.E.M. arsenal. For a band that refused to be sentimental, they sure tapped into the emotion perfectly.
17. Weezer – “Buddy Holly” (1994). Weezer has always been considered ground zero for the emo explosion of the new century. Personally, I never understood this whole emo category. But, I do know Power Pop, and this song IS Power Pop. “Buddy Holly” is simply a classic song.
18. Beastie Boys – “Sabotage” (1994). Everybody’s favorite white rappers in the Eighties, started digging around record stores around New York City for inspiration, rediscovered the instruments from their punk band days and created a new alternative rap language that is still reverberating to this very day. In “Sabotage”, the trio took a Ted Nugent sample and refurbished it into a Gen X classic. Plus, the video is nothing but a stone cold post-modern classic.
19. Sugar – “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” (1992). So, in the Eighties, Bob Mould lead the band Husker Du into pop punk gods wielding buzzsaw guitars and playing faster than any band ever played before. Then, he broke the band up, releasing a late-Eighties acoustic-based classic alternative album before starting a new punk pop band that made the world safe for similar artists like Green Day and blink-182 in the future. With this song, you can hear a classic power pop song played faster and harder than any band had since his own Husker Du. Now, we have had been exposed to hundreds of lesser bands trying to catch up to Mould’s Sugar.
20. Rage Against the Machine – “Killing in the Name” (1991). Political bands have been around since MC5 in the late-Sixties. But none transcended the rock world like Rage Against the Machine. Their lyrical integrity was impeccable, yet critics called them hypocrites for being signed to a major label. I call that subversive. Today, the band’s reputation as a voice against the status quo influenced pop fans in the U.K. to purchase copies of this song instead of the latest X-Factor winner’s song to become the song of the Christmas season in 2009. Rage Against the Machine was America’s Sex Pistols and The Clash all rolled into one band. Plus, they had one of the true guitar heroes of the Nineties in Tom Morello.
With that, 290 songs down and, finally, there is ten songs to go. That means we will wrap this thing up tomorrow. Have a great Thursday, and I’ll be back tomorrow for the conclusion of this countdown. Have a fantastic day!