I never really considered the depth of great alternative music in the Nineties. It really was a great decade, and arguably the last decade, for a vast collection of great artists making fantastic music. I cannot wait to evaluate all of the music in the Nineties one day, just to gain an even greater appreciation for the decade.
The alternative music of the Nineties was the conclusion to the vision started by those garage bands in the Sixties banging out the proto-punk music that I covered a couple of weeks ago. You can just envision those teenagers setting up their equipment in their parents’ garage, and amateurishly banging away until a flash hits them causing them to create a hit song, as depicted in the great Nineties film That Thing You Do! That film showed the lifespan of one of those Sixties garage bands. And, although the movie was set in the Sixties, the band’s big hit song, “That Thing You Do”, displayed the timeless of the songs from that era.
Now that we are finishing this countdown, I need to give my buddy “Bondo” a shout out. After I published my first blog in this series, he called me to discuss my list. Then, “Bondo” predicted that two songs would definitely be in or near the top spot. Well, “Bondo”, you were right. One of those songs you mentioned is #1, just as you predicted, though my voice probably gave it away.
With that said, on with the countdown! Here’s my Top 10. Let the arguments begin!
1. R.E.M. – “Losing My Religion” (1991). Was there ever any doubt? This is THE quintessential R.E.M. song. Everything that made R.E.M. the voice of the Eighties is wrapped up into one neat song, from the obtuse lyrics to the arpeggiated mandolin (as opposed to the usual guitar) to the impassioned, yet slightly mumbled vocals to the rock solid rhythm foundation. R.E.M. finally made their signature song.
2. Pearl Jam – “Black” (1991). Let’s just state a simple fact right now. Pearl Jam’s first album, Ten, plays just like a greatest hits package. And, this song is the emotional center around which the rest of the album is build. “Black” is the sound of the band peeling back their emotions to the most basic level, where everything that makes up their being as a collective is found. Now, 26 years on, I am so glad the band never released this as a single nor as a video. The song continues to fascinate music lovers.
3. Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991). This was the grunge shot heard around the world. When compared to the other bands from Seattle, Nirvana was the pop band. That explains Nirvana’s ascent in the pantheon of rock. They were a fresh and authentic voice supported by powerful instrumentation that allowed for the cathartic release from the pain of the lyrics. Sorry Kurt. Your pain spoke volumes about our pain. You were the only person who could articulate it into such beautiful music. I wish you could have grown into the role of being the voice of a generation.
4. Smashing Pumpkins – “1979” (1995). Wanna know what the Cars may have sounded like if they had been a Nineties band? Billy Corgan showed us with his band’s smash hit song called “1979”. Whenever I hear the song, my first inclination is to be transported back to the late-Seventies. When I realize the song was popular during my first year in teaching, I then change course in my stream of conscience to that time as an adult.
5. New Radicals – “You Get What You Give” (1998). I was so close to making this song my #1. When I first heard it in the late-Fall of 1998, I thought it was a new Todd Rundgren song. Instead, I soon discovered that this was the product of a power pop genius and his band. And the band just wanted to be a one-hit wonder. This is power pop perfection and stands right alongside all of the greatest Power Pop songs of all-time.
6. U2 – “One” (1991). This U2 ballad is now the namesake of Bono’s vision to save third countries from poverty and all that is linked to that status. Yet, the song is a relationship ode in a spiritual sense. This is the band’s lyrical masterpiece.
7. Temple of the Dog – “Hunger Strike” (1991). Here’s the second song from the Pearl Jam family. Temple of the Dog was formed as a one-off project between Soundgarden’s late singer Chris Cornell and some members of Pearl Jam to celebrate the life of Cornell’s late-roommate and Mother Love Bone Singer Andrew Wood. MLB was the band that became Pearl Jam upon the overdose death of Wood. And, this song is the emotional good-bye to the guys’ friend.
8. Pearl Jam – “Yellow Ledbetter” (1991). This song was only included on cassette versions of Ten. But the fans loved the song so much that it now stands as another classic from that time period. It might just be the band’s signature song in concert.
9. Mother Love Bone – “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns” (1992). Here is the fourth song from the Pearl Jam family. Mother Love Bone was the name of the band when Andrew Wood was the lead singer. This song is the one MLB song that anticipates the sound of Pearl Jam, the configuration that conquered the world.
10. Pulp – “Common People” (1995). Wait a second! What’s a Britpop song doing in the Top 10? Well, when the brilliant, nearly power pop music is coupled with great lyrics about the economic divide that keeps people separated in society. It also deals with how the rich use the middle class and poor as their playthings. Plus, the song has a good beat, and it’s easy to dance to.
Thanks for reading this series! I truly appreciate all of your support in my endeavor. Have a great weekend! See you Monday with another blog from the demented mind of Keller. Peace!