30 Years of Music: 1990

Like many years that begin a decade, 1990 straddles what we typically associate with ’80s and ’90s music. We’ve still got big hair and basic performance videos, but there are hints at what is to come. Put on your black turtleneck, fluff that hair, and let’s get to it.

30 Years of Music: 1990 (image created by Selena The Great)

Here’s Where the Story Ends – The Sundays

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic isn’t my favorite Sundays album, but 1997 is going to be a full year for me, so I don’t think I’ll be getting to Static and Silence‘s “Summertime.” Click through and take a listen now. Still, I like The Sundays a whole lot. Singer Harriet Wheeler looks and sounds like an imaginary character on My So-Called Life, cast as the normal, quiet girl who surprises everyone by being able to sing. That seems like a ’90s teen show thing, doesn’t it?

This video looks like it could have come from The Smiths, and the music is a bit like their breezier cousin. There’s a lot of melancholy in The Sundays’ music, and I enjoy it when I’m in the right mood. I don’t think this band received as much attention in the US as they did in the UK, which is too bad.

Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinéad O’Connor

I’m going to let an excerpt from Steve Almond’s Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life do the talkin’ for this one:

Depression Songs don’t make people depressed. They articulate a preexisting depression and, when they’re really cooking, they ennoble that depression. They offer tremendous relief to those of us otherwise prone to wallowing. Nearly all the songs I return to, the ones that have come to represent entire eras of my life, are Depression Songs. Everybody has his or her own set list, because the main ingredient in the construction of a Depression Song is you, the depressed listener.

If you play the song “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor, for instance, my wife is instantly transported back to 1990, managing the cosmetics section at CVS, a shy fifteen-year-old mooning over one in a series of mulleted cads to whom she had pledged undying love. It’s all there: the knot in her throat, the bands of blue eyeshadow, the mocking promises on the glass bottles of nail polish it was her job to shelve.

I highly recommend that book, by the way.

Joey – Concrete Blonde

Johnette Napolitano has one of the best singing voices. I used to confuse Concrete Blonde with 4 Non Blondes because my dad had albums from both, but Concrete Blonde are better. I don’t have a lot to say about this song except to say that it’s great.

Candy – Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson

I’m going to have this song stuck in my head for a few days now. It happens every time I listen to it, especially Kate Pierson’s part. This song falls under the “nostalgic look at a past relationship” writing sub-genre, and it’s far, far, far-times-infinity better than that awful Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock number, “Picture.”

More Than Words – Extreme

Let’s hold hands at the roller rink during couples’ skate, guys.

Also, everyone’s favorite forgotten boy band BBMak (okay, my favorite forgotten boy band because I’m one of maybe ten people who remember them) do a surprisingly decent cover of this.

By My Side – INXS

I know, this is basically Michael Hutchence saying, “I am so very famous, but what I really want, more than anything, is to drunk dial you right now.” But damn if he isn’t pretty and the music majestic with those curls and piano and strings and that suit.

I kid because I love. This song almost made it into Alphabet Soup: The Letter B.

There She Goes – The La’s

Unless you’re of a particular British rock bent, I’m guessing that you’re more familiar with Sixpence None The Richer performing this song (a cover that remains rather faithful to the original). I didn’t know it was by The La’s until… I don’t know, an embarrassingly late date. Some time in the mid-2000s, I figured it out. The La’s only ever released one album, but they influenced a whole string of bands that came into being during the ’90s.

Because this is a Sara-written music column, I am compelled to relay the following information: Oasis’ last drummer (out of four), and the current drummer for Beady Eye (which is, membership-wise, Oasis-minus-Noel), is Chris Sharrock, who drummed for The La’s. He’s aces.

Groove is in the Heart – Deee-Lite

This song and video are deeelitefully bonkers. Also, Bootsy Collins.

One of the best live gigs I’ve ever been to – Pash and Anna Blow, in 2003 – ended with them playing an equally fun and strange slideshow – with actual slides projected onto a collapsible screen – and blasting Deee-Lite, and we all had a dance party. Fantastic.

I’m Your Baby Tonight – Whitney Houston

Speaking of dance parties and outstanding voices, I can remember summer nights blasting this on the boom box and dancing in the driveway with my friends. We would try to sing along, but the massive scale and the fast lyrics made our attempts probably hilarious to witness.

I like the Supremes and Audrey Hepburn dancing in this video, and you’ll definitely be seeing Whitney again in this column.

Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) – C+C Music Factory

Because it just wouldn’t be a 1990 dance party without this song. A few of my friends and I were absolutely smitten with it – we made up choreography and everything.

Before I lose you completely to your own dance party, I should point out that this song is one of the main reasons why all performing artists must be given credit in an album’s liner notes and in the video. Martha Wash, of “It’s Raining Men” glory, sings the lady-part here, but because her weight was not considered “marketable,” her image was replaced by a model. She sued, and with Milli Vanilli still fresh on everyone’s minds, she won.

Bust an extra special move for Martha Wash, y’all.

When you’re done, take a peek at this handy roundup of 1990’s music, and tell me your favorites.

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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