Hey, remember the 90s? Professional rock critic Danny R. Phillips and I do, here is what we thought were the top 5 records from that particular decade.
Danny R. Phillips list:
My life of late is nothing short of a train wreck. Professionally, my career is taking off while my private life, as a stare down a divorce, has as much future as a flaming bag of dogshit on a grumpy old man’s front porch. When Vocals on Top offered me the opportunity to look to my past as opposed to my bleak emotional future with a “Top Five Records of the 1990’s” opinion piece, I was more than happy to oblige. I relish the chance to look backward instead of the uncertainty that lies ahead.
Compiling this list was more difficult than I anticipated, but I have given it my best shot. After putting together the five, I will undoubtedly want to change it the moment I hit send. My choices stand in no order of importance except for the #1 slot.
In Utero – Nirvana: the last studio album in the all too short career, Nirvana laid out their masterpiece with In Utero. Packed with powerful tunes like “Very Ape,” “Scentless Apprentice,” “Milk It” and my personal favorite “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” the record is the sound of Kurt Cobain exercising his demons and saying goodbye. Having producer Steve Albini (Big Black/Shellac/Rapeman) onboard was a stroke of genius as the sound that Albini (raw, live and aggressive) gave In Utero is the way, I believe, Nirvana truly needed to sound on record. For an added bonus, pick up Albini Record Store Day 2014 total remix of the album. You will not be disappointed.
Last Splash – The Breeders: It may be blasphemy to the alt-rock Gods but I’ll say it here: I’ve always liked Kim Deal’s other band, The Breeders, more than The Pixies. Last Splash, the follow-up to the superb Pod, is alternative rock at its finest. Alongside twin sister Kelley, bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim MacPherson, Deal was free to explore herself as a songwriter and frontwoman and the results pay off by the truckload. “Saints,” “Do You Love Me Know?” “I Just Wanna Get Along” and “Invisible Man” have kept Last Splash in steady rotation with me since I first bought it after seeing them at Lollapalooza 1994.
Pinkerton – Weezer: Pinkerton, taking its name from the opera “Madame Butterfly,” is considered by many to be one of emo’s first and greatest albums. Much maligned upon its release (mostly because it was more daring musically and did not sell like the band’s debut) and hated even by the man that created it, Rivers Cuomo. Since its release, it has guided and shaped sad people everywhere. The Deluxe Edition only adds to the album’s greatness with “Getting Up and Leaving,” “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly” and “I Just Threw Out The Love of My Dreams” among many others.
The Bends- Radiohead: This inclusion will surprise many that know me, given my very public dislike of Radiohead. The Bends, the follow up to the band’s debut Pablo Honey, is the gigantic exception to the rule. The Bends is a triumph of alt-rock bombast and the record that heralded Jonny Greenwood as a legitimate guitar hero. Filled with songs like “High and Dry,” “Just,” “My Iron Lung,” the title track and the fantastic “Fake Plastic Trees,” The Bends stands as a benchmark for guitar rock in the 90’s and perhaps ever.
Copper Blue- Sugar: When Bob Mould left Husker Du, he said he was tired of Du’s sound as it was “claustrophobia with guitars.” With his next band, Sugar, he created what could be the last great Husker Du record in Copper Blue. Packed with wave of fuzz and distorted guitars blasting at 11, coupled with Mould’s heartfelt lyrics (the Du Modus Operandi) in “The Act We Act,” “Hoover Dam,” “Helpless,” “The Slim” and the breakup song, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind,” Copper Blue is Mould at the top of his game, both as a lyricist and guitarist.
Honorable Mentions (ones that just barely missed the top 5): My Bloody Valentine Loveless, The Lemonheads It’s a Shame about Ray, Bad Religion Stranger than Fiction,Foo Fighters Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream, Oasis What’s the Story? (Morning Glory), Soul Asylum Grave Dancers Union, For Squirrels Example, Guided by Voices Alien Lanes, Archers of Loaf Icky Mettle.
Most Underrated: Superdrag Regrettably Yours. Key tracks: “Whitey’s Theme,” “Phaser,” “Destination Ursa Major.” This album is power pop perfection, wrapped in 13 songs. The hit single “Sucked Out” is possibly the worst song on the record.
Most Overrated: Radiohead OK Computer, Beck Mellow Gold, Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (three way tie)
-Danny R. Phillips
Clint Wiederholt’s list:
Top 5? What a shame, this list could easily be 50 albums long but for readability sake here we go with 5. The top 5 records of the 90s doesn’t mean the BEST 5 records of the 90s to me, Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind and Tom Petty’s Wildflowers are amazing records that would be in my BEST list but those records don’t FEEL like 90s albums to me. Where those records belong is a subject for another article, for now here is my list of 5 albums that epitimize the 90s for me. Here is my list in alphabetical order because ranking them would be pointless.
Green Day – Dookie: Green Day has become sort of a joke over time and I’m not sure why. Their merit as a punk/not a punk band is meaningless and hearing idiots debate it is tiring. Billie Joe Armstrong knows how to write a killer hook and Dookie is where he finally put everything together. From the power pow of “Welcome To Paradise” to the guitars churning on “Longview” this record is nearly flawless. “When I Come Around” could make a strong case for “song of the 90s” as well. Once again with the killer hook and chorus, the song is instantly likable. It doesn’t matter how the band’s music has held up, there are few records that represent the 90s as well as Dookie.
Nirvana – In Utero: This one is a gimme. It is no coincidence that Mr. Phillips and I both picked it (it is the only one we both picked.) In Utero came from a dark place from the biggest band in the world. The expectations were through the roof for the official follow up to the giant Nevermind and the results exceeded expectations still. “Heart Shaped Box” is gut churning with its darkness and “Rape Me” is just as tormented. “Dumb” and “All Apologies” would become softer classics for the band as well. The album has it all, it is a stone cold classic.
Oasis – Definitely Maybe: Oasis is another band people poke fun at. Yeah, they were trying WAY too hard to be the Beatles in the 90s and they didn’t hide it, they didn’t try to. The bottom line is nobody has really come as close as them though. They wrote great songs, some were poppy and they could rock out too. Their debut album stands as one of the best debut records of all time and with songs like “Supersonic” and “Live Forever” how could it not be? To see the strength of the band give a listen to “Cigarettes and Alcohol” and “Rock and Roll Star,” the results are undeniable.
The Presidents of the United States of America – The Presidents of the United States of America: Nirvana really made this happen. Everyone was so damn tired of depressing music by the time 1995 rolled around that something fun was bound to capture the hearts of the nation. For the most part it was The Presidents of the Untied States of America’s debut, self-titled album. Everyone knows “Peaches” and most people know “Lump” as well and possibly even “Dune Buggy.” They are all pure pop fun. Other songs like “Kitty” “Back Porch” and “Kick Out The Jams” are just as fun and just as good.
Toadies – Rubberneck: This record is beloved by a wide range of music fans. Metal heads rocked out to it in the 90s and so did the pop kids. On the strength of “Possum Kingdom” and “Away” it found its way into fans hands everywhere then “Tyler” became everyones favorite song. Other album tracks like “Quitter” “I Come From The Water” and “I Burn” will convince you that The Toadies could do no wrong at this point.
Honorable Mentions: Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine, Radiohead – The Bends, Beck – Odelay, Everclear – Sparkle & Fade, Collective Soul – Collective Soul, Bush – Sixteen Stone, Cracker – Kerosene Hat, Local H – As Good As Dead, Rancid – …And Out Come The Wolves.
Most Underrated: R.E.M. Monster. Key tracks: “Crush with Eyeliner” “Bang and Blame” “King of Comedy” This record is hammered by critics and it is really great. The guitar tone of this record makes it like no other R.E.M. album and the songs are great. If you are curious about it, it’s in every used CD bin in the entire world.
Most Overrated: Beck – Mellow Gold (Beck is AMAZING but this record is far too overrated) My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (I don’t know what to say, layers of distortion and people call this sloppy crap genius, they must see something I don’t)
Clint Wiederholt writes nearly every word here at Vocals On Top and also writes a weighty amount of content for the print publication Tuning Fork Magazine. Click like Vocals On Top on facebook on the right side of this page. Also check out his internet show The Clamcast at www.theclamcast.com just don’t call it a podcast. #DontCallItAPodcast
If this was fun for you check out Critic Vs. Critic #1 here where Danny and I debate the top 5 underrated Nirvana songs. Also look for hopefully many more of these to come.