TUFF GNARL Staffers Pick: The Top 10 Best Albums of the ’90s
For almost all of us, the 1990s was a beloved era comprised of equal parts awkwardness, conceit, hope, dejection, love, anger, fear and exuberance, and being as our staff at TUFF GNARL consists exclusively of impassioned melomaniacs who truly began to develop the musical tastes we’d carry into adulthood during this tumultuous last decade of the 20th century, it seemed only fitting that our first collective “Best Of…” list consist of our favorite records during that brilliantly varied, exciting and unsure era. After all, we are the last generation whose adolescence would eschew permanent online documentation. We lacked the convenience of instantly available media and our music collections reflected that, consisting of records, tapes and CDs we made a constant effort to attain, broadening our aural worldview through countless walks and bike rides along busy streets to the nearby record store (and, if they didn’t have what we were looking for, to the one or two indie record stores we begged for rides to) before our folks reluctantly forked over the keys to their almost certainly soon-to-be dented vehicles.
Now, 5,190 days since we woke up in a new century, much has changed. In the years that have passed, our musical preferences have evolved, however the ‘90s nonetheless left an everlasting impression on our audio palates.
For that we are grateful, and this is our best attempt at doing that decade some justice.
Listed below are the top ten picks, in discriminating order, of the best albums of the ‘90s from all eight current members of TUFF GNARL. Please use the COMMENTS section below the article to let us know what you think.
If you asked me to put this list together a week from now, half of these selections would probably be different; there is just way too much to choose from and far too many albums of merit to permanently narrow things down with any true assuredness. That being said, my criteria was simple enough: every album on this list must have aged well, been influential and – so I didn’t fly off the handle in adding extraneous shit just to pad my projected musical predilections – I must have actually owned it at some point. Sounds easy enough, right? It was anything but, I assure you.
1. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998)
I’d be lying to you if I said that I’d even heard of this album or the band that produced it when it initially came out. Truth be told, the first time I gave it a listen roughly seven or eight years ago, I hated this record. Much like the critics who’d first reviewed it, I based my opinion on my kneejerk reaction, rejecting what I considered to be nonsensical lyrics overlaying a purposefully under-produced (read: lo-fi) acoustic guitar-driven indie rock project. But like countless others, I was drawn into the perspective-altering whirlpool that is In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, an album so monumental, moving and difficult that its creative dynamo, Jeff Mangum, subsequently hung his artistic hat up afterwards, J.D. Salinger-style, and hasn’t made a record since. This album is the musical equivalent of lightning in a bottle, combining the Lynchian imagery of conjoined twins, time-bending love letters to Anne Frank and oddly affecting references to jism. Sound crazy? It is, but it’s also unforgettably beautiful, poignant and inimitable.
2. R.E.M. – Automatic For the People (1992)
Often forgotten among their edgier contemporaries, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry delivered an absolutely timeless masterpiece that is just as listenable today as it was the Monday it was released. Opening with “Drive,” a frustratingly catchy nod to David Essex’s “Rock On,” and moving through an inordinate (even for them) number of ballads on the way to the touching closer, “Find the River,” Automatic for the People is the definition of a perfect record, and though it’s mostly remembered for songs like “Everybody Hurts” and “Man on the Moon,” every track is gorgeous.
3. Fugazi – Repeater (1990)
Had Ian MacKaye chosen to get a day job and rest on his already lofty punk rock laurels, he still would have gone down in history as one of the most strong-minded and influential figures of the seminal ‘80s hardcore movement, however after a brief interlude that saw him collaborate with Ministry’s Alain Jourgensen (see: Pailhead), he delivered unto the masses – with compatriots Guy Picciotto, Joe Lally and Brendan Canty – one of the most transformative and influential bands in history. The ‘90s were Fugazi’s decade, and I was torn between many justifiable choices, however Repeater is, like every other album on this list, an undeniably flawless offering.
4. Pearl Jam – Vitalogy (1994)
Maligned by some of their peers and all of their critics for riding the wave created by the impact of Nirvana’s Nevermind (and unjustly grouped among the throng of imitators that amassed in their wake), Eddie Vedder and co. opted to sidestep every commercial obligation possible with their follow-up album, Vs., and by the time Vitalogy came out a year later, all fad-driven fervor had retargeted itself. Vitalogy is a rebirth of sorts, a means through which this band, borne of happenstance and tragedy, could continue with a just purpose.
5. Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
More than two decades later, I can still pop this album in and feel like an absolute badass for as long as I listen to it (personal note: I am not a badass). Phil, Dimebag (still, at this point, credited as “Diamond”), Vinnie and Rex may not have been fully conscious of their future influence, but the fun they were having and the unparalleled brutal brilliance they created still stands unrivaled since. What wound up happening within their ranks in the years to follow was tragic, made all the more so by the fact that they were easily among the greatest heavy acts in history. This was them at their peak.
6. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)
The mark of a great time-specific album is its ability to immediately transport you, mentally and emotionally, back to the time when it was most important to you. In that respect, there is no better album in existence than The Downward Spiral.
7. Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (1994)
When making this list, I was torn between this album and Jets to Brazil’s Orange Rhyming Dictionary (1998). What inevitably became the deciding factor was the fact that I’d had 24 Hour Revenge Therapy stuck in my car’s CD player for more than a year and a half and I still choose to listen to it over what was on the radio more often than not. I’m a sucker for lovelorn asides, and there still is no one better at writing them alive today than Blake Scharzenbach when he’s at the top of his game.
8. Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990)
I was in fifth grade when I first heard Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren and DJ Yella’s game-changing debut, N.W.A.’s Straight Out of Compton, and, like most impressionable kids looking for something dangerous and edgy to get into to prove I was grown up, it was a revelation. We can sit here all day and argue about who actually created gangsta rap, but there’s no doubt as to who broke it through into the mainstream. Similarly, there was no doubt as to who the driving force was behind N.W.A.’s creative process. When Cube left over money issues a year later (ain’t that always the case?), N.W.A. released the ho-hum 100 Miles and Runnin’, while Cube dropped this brilliant piece of hip-hip history.
9. Fiona Apple – When the Pawn… (1999)
I remember being in the den watching TV, channel surfing, and I stopping on MTV. The video for “Paper Bag” was playing, and I was immediately entranced by the music, the lyrics, the video itself (it’d be years later before I discovered that Paul Thomas Anderson – Apple’s then-beau – had directed it) and, more than anything else, Apple herself. I loved her jazzy delivery, the way her voice sultrily flitted just over the melody and how, despite the inherent poeticism of her lyrics, she didn’t skirt around her subject matter.
When the Pawn… (whose full title no longer holds the Guinness World Record for longest ever) was the next album I went out and bought, and I still listen to it often.
10. Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts (1998)
Perhaps even more relevant today than it was when it came out, this record was a brutal kick in the eardrums that perfectly blended post-hardcore and punk elements with synth and audio sampling to create, from beginning to end, arguably the finest Scandinavian punk export ever (sorry, Millencolin).
All of the albums below made me who I am. As a child of the ‘90s I owe my very essence to all of these records. If I bunker up for the nuclear apocalypse you better believe these CDs would be next to jugs of booze, cigarettes, Twinkies and water. Yes, I said CDs. You got a problem with that?
1. Beck – Odelay (1996)
Beck’s Odelay is one of the only albums that never gets old. It’s decades ahead of its time. We can thank the Dust Brothers for that. Odelay is the ‘90s equivalent to the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, with the distinct difference that it was an automatic commercial success, selling over 2 million copies.
2. Ramones – Adios Amigos (1995)
The Ramones’ Adios Amigos is a bittersweet album. It’s the band’s last LP and, quite frankly, one of their best. To this day, I hold the Dee Dee Ramone-penned “Born to Die in Berlin” as one of the best songs ever written. I remember having this record on loop for weeks in 2001 when Joey Ramone died.
3. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
Nirvana’s Nevermind changed EVERYTHING. Nirvana successfully broke 12-plus years of punk, post-punk and hardcore history into the mainstream. We can thank Sonic Youth for getting them on Geffen Records and Butch Vig for engineering this flawless record, but Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl’s timing and artistic vision created one of the most memorable rock albums since the Beatles’ Revolver. And yes, I can go the rest of my life without hearing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” again and I’d be perfectly okay with that.
4. Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (1991)
As much as I love Nirvana, Mudhoney has really always been my jam. Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge Is easily Mudhoney’s greatest album.
5. Pixies – Trompe le Monde (1991)
The Pixies are one of the greatest bands of all time. Trompe le Monde was, unfortunately, the last record the band released before breaking up in 1993. The Pixies exited with now-classics “Alec Eiffel,” “U-Mass” and “Letter to Memphis.” Kim Deal’s vocal abilities are sadly missed throughout the record, which was my introduction to the band and my best friend in some of the toughest times in my life.
6. The Dwarves – Are Young and Good Looking (1997)
In many ways The Dwarves’ Are Young and Good Looking is the quintessential punk album of the ‘90s. It’s a bit of a resurrection for The Dwarves and an audiophiles wet dream. The record is crisp, to the point and, bursting with energy at the seams. Long live the Dwarves! Hail Satan!
7. Weezer – Weezer / Blue Album (1994)
I must say that, although for some awkward reason EVERYONE today hails Pinkerton as a musical gem, Weezer’s debut is by far more memorable, powerful and fun. I dare anyone to deny singing along to “Buddy Holly” or “Surf Wax America!” I double dare ya!
8. The Queers- Don’t Back Down (1996)
Oh, the Queers’ Don’t Back Down… The band’s most successful and accessible release is the pinnacle of ‘90s pop punk. The genius of Joe King’s songwriting ability shines on this record more than any other. This album solidified my love for pop punk. Xoxo forever.
9. Tom Petty – Wildflowers (1994)
This album is perfection from start to finish. If you don’t like this album you can go fuck yourself. ‘Nuff said.
10. Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters (1995)
Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that Dave Grohl decided to continue playing music after Nirvana. Of all the albums on my list this one sounds the most dated. I firmly believe that the Foo Fighters’ debut helped ease a lost generation after Kurt Cobain’s death. It showed that no matter the loss, there can always be a better tomorrow. R’amen.
The ‘90s were to me, as a recent transplant from Latin America, nothing more than the feverish dream of a fucked and tweaked cross between Pier Paolo Pasolini and Lucio Fulci all night shebang-a-bang. I’m talking Z Cavaricci’s, metal-tipped zapatos de charol and some loud ass button-downs… Maybe it was the reactionary within me, I don’t know, now I’m too old to tell, but something just didn’t seem right. Something’s always been askew about the ‘90s in my opinion; maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right. But I know this much: it was an okay decade I’m not fully sure will be represented completely within these auspices, but who the fuck am I to judge? Troll for free within the comments below. Huzzah!
1. GZA – Liquid Swords (1995)
While the obvious choice would the Clan’s 36 Chambers here, it is The Genius’ second solo album that solidifies the extent of their influence on hip-hop and popular culture at large. He even manages to elevate the largely forgettable Shogun Assassin into the pantheons of respected samurai films with some choice sampling.
2. Pixies – Bossanova (1990)
This might not be their best album and certainly not the only one released in the ‘90s, but it was the first Pixies album that I owned and “Is She Weird” continues to be a favorite track, though I do willingly admit that I was a bit disappointed with the overall lack of Tropicalia and Bossa sounds.
3. Air – Moon Safari (1998)
Air can go a little either way, though even at their worst they still manage a listenable album. This is not a perfect album in any way, shape or form, but it was on the strength of this album that I would eventually buy their Virgin Suicides score on wax and disc before watching the film.
4. Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted (1992)
It’s been 22 years since this lo-fi gem came out and at least 15 since the band parted ways, but of all the influential albums that shaped the alternative sounds of the ‘90s, this is certainly in the top of that list. Still fresh after all those years too, in case you want to revisit it.
5. The Queers – Love Songs for the Retarded (1993)
The Queers have been around for what, 35 years? Not unlike every Ramones-influenced act out there, their music tends to sound the same from release to release, but when this album dropped in ’93, pop punk was fun and tongue-in-cheek, not prepackaged at the mall. Great band name, awesome, albeit insensitive album title, but you know what? Fuck it.
6. Morbid Angel – Blessed Are the Sick (1991)
This album encompasses everything I enjoy about ‘90s metal. Morbid Angel’s from Tampa, the cover is a Jean Delville painting, it is a slow chugger with chunky rhythm and righteous riffage and it also manages to be completely imbued by classical music.
7. Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill (1991)
The commercial success of this album ensured that many of my gringo friends would be approaching me with Mexican/Chicano slang which was funny to me in the early ‘90s when I first moved to South Florida because I simply couldn’t believe how quickly Spanish speakers become “Mexican” to the pale faces.
8. A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders (1993)
All five albums of Tribe’s entire recorded catalog were released in the ‘90s. All merit their inclusion in this list or any that portends to define the best of the best. Midnight Marauders is only getting singled out here for being the middle child of this excellent group’s arsenal. Tribe’s flawless. Period.
9. Belle & Sebastian – The Boy with the Arab Strap (1998)
I don’t usually associate humor and fun with these Scots, but this album, while not really being a humorous journey, certainly is a fun album to enjoy whilst imagining oneself erected by such a contraption.
10. Elvis Costello & the Attractions – All This Useless Beauty (1996)
Costello’s final album with the Attractions was a swell one that maybe flew under the radar at the time. Certainly, this is one I appreciate more now than I would’ve back then. Back then I only cared about “Alison” and My Aim is True. I guess we grow up eventually.
Most kids were (are) embarrassed by the music their parents played. I wasn’t, at least until I got to middle school. I grew up in a house where my father played Steely Dan and my mother played The Moody Blues. The first CD I bought with my own money in the fifth grade was Eric Clapton: Unplugged and it’s still one of my favorites. I didn’t have older siblings to tell me what was cool so I went with what I thought was cool: loud guitars. I got my first guitar at nine and I loved it. I wasn’t self-conscious back then and having long hair, a guitar, and wearing Yaga necklaces was cool to me. Cut to middle school where there were older kids. I wasn’t very cool. These kids were listening to bands I’d never heard of like Nine Inch Nails (I could only imagine the look on my Mom’s face), Soundgarden and Bone Thugs N’ Harmony. What?? Sadly, I put away my guitar (I wouldn’t really pick it back up again until college) and tried my best to like what was popular. There were very few albums from the ‘90s I actually liked in the ‘90s. Most of this list is done in pure retrospect, knowing what I know now. At the time, I liked Nevermind but I liked Aerosmith more. Cut to the year 2005 when I was playing guitar every day. Oddly, the songs I enjoyed playing the most weren’t Clapton tunes: they were Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Wilco songs. I spent most of my twenties listening to things I’d only heard in the ‘90s. As an adult, I could say: “Wow, Smells Like Teen Spirit was reaching me in ways I didn’t even realize.” I wish I could say that the first time I heard Nirvana I felt it change my life. I didn’t feel the change, but it happened. This is a list of albums that affected me in similar ways.
1. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
This was the album that dealt the self-indulgent, overly engineered rock of the ‘80s a killing blow. Hard rock and metal sounds blended with punk influences to create the album that less is so much more. What more can you say about an album that literally defined a generation?
2. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication (1999)
This album marked the triumphant return of John Frusciante to the group and this was RHCP at their absolute peak. Blood Sugar Sex Magik is a close second to this album, which highlights the band at their most polished and mature.
3. Metallica – Metallica (1991)
Am I a sellout for choosing an album in which Metallica chose to sell out? I don’t think so, because this was prior to haircuts and an orchestral duet (sellouts!). Metallica shortened their tracks by about 37 minutes each and took speed metal to a new level, making it more easily digestible and creating a new crop of metal fans with this gem. This album served as the gateway drug to classics like Ride the Lightening for a lot of kids, myself included.
4. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against the Machine (1992)
Rap-metal? Fuck you. Hold on…OK, I see what you did there. Rage did something here that many a band has unsuccessfully tried to imitate: they made us bang our heads while using them.
5. Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die (1994)
The first of two distinctly different hip-hop albums on this list, Ready to Die focused less on funky beats and catchy hooks and showed us just how well a brilliant lyricist can carry an album. To this day, no one (except maybe Eminem) comes close.
6. Tom Petty – Wildflowers (1994)
This album was special for two reasons: it’s a damn good album and it showed us that Tom Petty could remain relevant while everyone else was fuzzing things up and tuning their guitars down a half step.
7. Wilco – Being There (1996)
This massive album showed just how versatile Wilco is as a group. Vacillating between alt-country and alt-rock, this became the new Americana, seizing its moment in time in a way no one has quite been able to imitate without coming off as too twangy or too grungy.
8. Alice in Chains – Dirt (1992)
A darker take on grunge, AiC’s Jerry Cantrell is at his best as his guitar (Iommi’s influence clear) drives what could have been just another Seattle band away from the pack. Layne Staley is at his best here as a songwriter as well.
9. The Fugees – The Score (1996)
This album is so insanely wacky that it works from start to finish. Combining Wyclef’s unique Afro-Caribbean style with the Brooklyn-born Pras and the technical wonder that is pre-psychopath Lauryn Hill, The Score is magic. This remains the most unique hip-hop album of all time and no one, not even The Fugees, could duplicate it.
10. Sublime – Sublime (1996)
This album gets passed over because people are sick of hearing “What I Got” and “Santeria.” There is a reason those songs are so insanely overplayed. Produced just prior to Brad Nowell’s death, this album was the culmination of a perennial garage band that just happened to be immensely talented. Nowell, an incredible vocalist, was underrated as a guitar player, Eric Wilson lays down a rock-steady bass, and Bud Gaugh is one of the hardest striking drummers you will ever hear. The band excised all the bizarre interludes and skits from 40 oz. and Robbin’ the Hood and, under the production of The Butthole Surfers’ Paul Leary, laid down an exceptionally great album.
I went with the criteria that these are the 10 I could come up with that I played the most, that had the most influence on me, and that I still enjoy when I feel like taking a trip back in time. Many of these were my gateway bands. One band would lead to another that I hadn’t heard of. I played the shit out whatever I found until I burned myself out and hunted for new things that I could absorb as fervently. These are responsible for my musical evolution, my social growth and ability to make friends. As you can tell from the list, I didn’t begin to explore many other genres from Rock until the turn of the millennium. The only bands on the list I haven’t seen live are Guns N’ Roses and Pearl Jam.
1. Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion II (1991)
Although it didn’t have “November Rain,” for some reason I enjoyed this album more. I think I still have the tape and jewel case in a box somewhere along with Appetite for Destruction. The angsty preteen in me still wants Axl to get his shit to together and make a decent GNR Record with Slash. Alas, I think those days have long since passed.
2. Alice in Chains – Unplugged (1996)
Right along the same time that the above circumstances occurred, I began to explore grunge and alt-rock. I was enamored with Layne Staley’s tortured sounding vocals. Coincidentally, this was the first CD I recall my dad purchasing after buying a CD player. My dad was all about cassette tapes until around 1996.
3. Sublime – 40oz. to Freedom (1992)
Needless to say, I partied with this album in the background more than any other album from the decade, perhaps, with the exception of Vegas by The Crystal Method. From the moment my hippy friend Kurt introduced me to Sublime, I have been a big fan.
4. The Cure – Wish (1992)
I didn’t explore this band in order of their albums. My first album was Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Then Wild Mood Swings, which I almost settled on. But of all the albums by The Cure, Wish is the most personal and still the most enjoyable, with the exception of “Friday I’m in Love,” my least favorite song of theirs ever, period. The rest of the record is splendid, bittersweet musical poetry.
5. Pearl Jam – Vs. (1993)
I was sick to death of “Jeremy,” five minutes after it came out. I was a bitchy twelve year-old. What did I know? I knew that MTV played it 400 times a day. So when Vs. came out and received much less airplay, I grew to enjoy it far more than the first album. Perhaps I just stopped watching MTV once I got into high school.
6. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
I have very fond memories of working with my dad in his woodshop listening to the Chili Peppers, talking about music. This was the first of the catalog at the time that I learned to enjoy on my own, that I liked each song, that I knew all the words. It’s still a go-to album of mine today.
7. Korn – Korn (1994)
Korn was the first band that I would consider hard rock or metal – whatever you may want to call it – that I actually enjoyed. More accurately, I didn’t only enjoy it, I was in musical love. It was so totally different from anything I’d heard. Prior to this, I shied away from the screaming/growling kind of singing; for me, no Korn = no metal. I wouldn’t have found Pantera, Sepultura, Killswitch Engage or anything like them. It led me to righteous metal.
8. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)
There’s not much to say. This was the first CD I actually managed to nickel from constant use. This record still sounds fresh, as if it could have been released this year. It’s a timeless classic full of raw, intense angst; perfect for a teenage boy.
9. The Crystal Method – Vegas (1997)
It was everywhere – at every party, in all my friends’ cars. I think the reason I liked it so much was that, much like my introduction to the other entries on the list, The Crystal Method was making music that was unlike anything else in the genre. It wasn’t house, it wasn’t breaks, it was simply an elegantly-made electronic concept album, and it introduced me to a better kind of techno.
10. KMFDM – Symbols (1997)
This was the first Industrial album that totally blew my socks off. I enjoyed Nihil as well, but this was synth heaven to my ears. On a personal note, I got to see them perform right after this record came out at what is now Revolution in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and was able to get autographs.
This era was my absolute favorite, not only because I grew up in its amazing waters but because it was a huge breakthrough for female artists. They not only owned their sexuality but rejected what traditional gender roles meant while deconstructing the ideas behind femininity. So this list is more of a how-to for all the girls in their early 20s in the 2010s. Here are my top ten absolute favorite albums by women who I just adored in the ‘90s.
1. Concrete Blonde – Bloodletting (1990)
The lyrics alone on this record have been with me forever now. A day doesn’t pass without me listening to this record. It fueled my strength to move to NYC ten years ago and still remains one of my all-time favorites.
2. Tori Amos – Boys for Pele (1995)
This is the album that I have listened to the most in my entire life. This was Tori at her best. Every girl should own this record. It is the Sylvia Plath Bell Jar moment. A total must-have!
3. Hole – Live Through This (1994)
No real words can express the full capability of how this record is to be received. It resonates a dark and twisted landscape into the psyche of our “bad girl” persona. Believe me you all have that girl living inside you.
4. Cat Power – Moon Pix (1998)
This is a real “getting to know the real you” record. It sheds some much-needed clarity on who you are as you relate to humanity.
5. Bjork – Post (1995)
This is the most interesting female record I have ever listened too. Her perspective on love in this record alone made me up the game on how I felt about it.
6. Garbage – Garbage (1995)
Pour on the black eyeliner and the misery, girls. Although there is a huge difference between real misery and chic misery, this was definitely chic. It doesn’t hurt when your drummer produced for Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, either.
7. PJ Harvey – Dry (1992)
Dry is an exercise in rough femininity – raw, hard, edgy and invigorating.
8. Fiona Apple – When the Pawn… (1999)
When the guy dumps you and you are completely engulfed in a quiet madness that fuels a vengeance so cold and calculating, listen to this record.
9. Mazzy Star – Among My Swan (1996)
The make out record: for when you find that great guy and all you want to do is hold hands and feed him grapes.
10. Lil’ Kim – Hardcore (1996)
Nothing like hanging with your girls and talking about how you don’t want dick tonight but he could eat that pussy right instead. Nothing made me feel like a bad bitch like Kim did.
Music was the main focus of my life for many years, both listening to it and playing it. This is a small compilation of albums that marked my own personal growth as a musician and music lover. I played lots of songs from these albums. I struggled trying to learn some of them. Others, I just enjoyed in many different settings. By the way, it was very hard to keep this under 10. I left many albums out that were also very important for me.
1. Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
What can I say about this Record? It’s the beginning of an era; so many bands have been influenced by what these guys put together on this record! Dimebag’s playing was so unique that it makes it very difficult or possibly impossible to have a Pantera reunion without him.
2. Blind Guardian – Imaginations from the Other Side (1995)
I got this record from my band’s guitar player. Back then, they were writing music in a very similar style, so it was his way of introducing me to a style I still knew very little of. I went fucking nuts over this record! I still find the whole LOTR influence I little cheesy, but the power of the music is undeniable.
3. Dream Theater – Images and Words (1992)
My personal introduction to progressive metal. I have to admit that I was into this record so much that I learned every single song on drums down to a tee.
4. The Tea Party – Edges of Twilight (1995)
The Tea Party was one of my early influences when I still played guitar. Jeff Martin’s guitar playing style and awesome custom tunings made their sound eclectic with bluesy, Middle Eastern touches.
5. Two Ton Shoe – Figures (1998)
Another underground band from the Boston scene, and surprisingly very famous in Japan (go Figure! no pun intended). Funky as hell and full of very interesting harmony, TTS is most definitely one of my favorite bands ever. I also had the opportunity to see them live in Boston, and one aspect I’ll never forget is Dave Dicenso’s drumming. Look him up!
6. Faith no More – King for a Day (1995)
Utter rage and geniality. A very unique and original style. I still listen to this record on a regular basis.
7. Screaming Headless Torsos – 1995 (1995)
Bands like SHT almost don’t exist anymore. A blend of jazz/funk/fusion/punk makes for a very intellectual but “dance your ass off” kind of listening experience. I had the privilege of watching then live a couple of times in Boston and they were amazing! They were so out there that, out of everyone who attended their show, only a couple dozen stayed until the end.
8. Jamiroquai – Traveling Without Moving (1996)
On this record, Jamiroquai plays a blend of many of my very favorite styles of music. From funky disco tracks like “Cosmic Girl” to reggae-centric tracks like “Drifting Along,” there’s absolutely no waste on this record.
9. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – Live Art (1996)
This album was my first exposure to Bela Fleck and Victor Wooten’s playing. After seeing them live many times over the years, I keep getting surprised by their sheer virtuosity. Interesting note: I first saw them live in Venezuela where they played a very cool improvisation with Ensamble Gurrufio’s cuatro player… mind blown!
10. Bad Religion – Stranger than Fiction (1994)
Growing up listening to classic rock, I had very little exposure to punk rock. Even though they had been playing for much longer, Stranger than Fiction was the first Bad Religion record I bought, and what caught my attention was their vocal harmonies. I also remember the first track I heard from this record was “21st Century Digital Boy,” and I heard it on MTV2 back when it only played videos.
I was in the sixth Grade in 1992. That April, sometime mid-month, I had to stay home from school with a 103 degree fever. I remember my Cuban grandmother placing her hands on my head and praying over me as I was trying to watch the The Price is Right. I decided to hijack the spare bedroom for the day in order to escape the exorcism of my fever with cable TV. Being an avid watcher of Star Trek: The Next Generation definitely made me a nerd, so one would correctly assume I was into comic books (mind you, this was way before comics became chic), so when I saw MTV VJ Duff (nee Karen Duffy, pre-Blank Check) was spending the day at Marvel Comics Headquarters in New York, I stayed tuned. As I waited for a Stan Lee cameo or a peek at the next X-Men Cover, music videos happened. I don’t think I ever saw a follow-up segment at Marvel Comics HQ that day, but I realized rock and roll was important to me and I needed to be a part of that world. As I grew up, learned fun facts, and watched more music videos, these became the albums that I grew to love from the 1990s.
1. Rancid – …and Out Come the Wolves (1995)
This is the first CD that I bought with my own money. I had seen the video for “Time Bomb” and heard “Ruby Soho” on the radio and I thought “Hey, I like this band. They’re a bit more extreme in dress than Green Day, and I like the whole ska-ish thing they do on that ‘Time Bomb’ song.” I’ve worn that CD out and replaced it a couple of times, and I instinctively know all the words to every song when it’s playing.
2. Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape (1997)
Like many of us, I was a big fan of Nirvana, but when i first heard the Foo Fighters I thought that Dave Grohl was doing something refreshingly different; it was melodic and catchy, but still heavy. This album knocked me on my ass – in particular, the track “February Stars.” This song made me want to play melodic punk rock, and I have.
3. Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Seriously, in 1992, who could escape “November Rain” and that video? Watching Guns play the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness made me want to become Slash when I grew up. That, and Izzy Stradlin’s “Dust and Bones” makes this record for me.
4. Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992)
Being an adolescent in the ’90s, this album was – and, for the most part, still is – a house party staple.
5. Green Day – 39/Smooth (1990)
I bought this album on cassette (as part of the Lookout! Collection, 1039/Smoothed out Slappy Hours) and, as I listened to it through my Walkman, I could hear that Mike Dirnt’s voice wasn’t singing the same melody as Billie Joe Armstrong’s. It was the damndest thing. I had discovered…harmony. I’ve been a junkie for good backup vocals ever since.
6. The Marvelous 3 – Hey! Album (1998)
I had recently purchased this CD when, as a high school senior, I drove up to Orlando from Miami to audition for UCF music school. I blew it. As my mom drove home, I had the song “Write it on Your Hand” to make it all better. Later on in life, “Vampires in Love” summed up the courtship of my now-fiancée and I.
7. Alkaline Trio – Goddamnit! (1999)
I totally missed the boat on this one, but once I caught up to this record in 2004, it was just what I needed at the time – songs about getting drunk and hating your ex. “Cop” got me through a DUI conviction in 2009, and “Cringe” still helps me get up for work in the morning.
8. Oasis – Be Here Now (1997)
This is probably Oasis’ most drawn out, over produced disc, but I effing love it! Fun fact: listen for Johnny Depp playing slide guitar on “Fade In/Out.”
9. Blur – Parklife (1994)
It was a pop record that made fun of pop records. To this day, I still dance to “Boys and Girls” in a club/party-type setting with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek.
10. Bad Religion – Stranger Than Fiction (1994)
I always loved the song “Infected” when it came on the radio, something so catchy and a bit haunting about that “you and me-ee” part in the chorus. To my delight, the rest of this record holds up as well. I still hold my own songwriting up to that album. For years now, I’ve been trying to write just one more song that could fit on that record.
Surprisingly, no album or band was chosen more than twice.
The albums upon which two of our staffers agreed are:
Nirvana – Nevermind
Tom Petty – Wildflower
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
Bad Religion – Stranger Than Fiction
Pantera – Vulgar Display of Power
Fiona Apple – When the Pawn…
Though our staffers failed to agree on which of their albums was better, all of these bands were also featured twice:
The Queers – Don’t Back Down and Love Songs for the Retarded
Pixies – Trompe le Monde and Bossanova
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication
Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters and The Colour and the Shape
Pearl Jam – Vs. and Vitalogy
Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II
Sublime – 40oz. To Freedom and Sublime
Alice in Chains – Dirt and Unplugged
Out of all our picks, only Bad Religion – Stranger Than Fiction was placed in the same slot – the 10th – by both of the staffers (Daniel Naumko and Richard Buznego) who chose it.
The most popular year among our staffers was 1994, with 13 entries from that year alone.
Conversely, 1993 was the least popular; only three picks came from that year.
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