30 Years of Music: 1991

We’re less dance party and more on the loud guitars this week, friends. 1991 had its fair share of widely considered “important” albums, but I’ve managed a few quieter gems as well. Let’s get to it.

30 Years of Music: 1991

Radio Song – REM

This might be one of my favorite album openers of any artist, and it’s one of my favorite REM songs. Sure, “Losing My Religion” is a classic and “Shiny Happy People” is the one that everyone knows, but I felt like picking a lesser known single from Out of Time. (And for funsies, I’ve embedded the MTV Unplugged version because I miss that show sometimes.) It reminds me of drawing or making some other project with my friends in the kitchen, since I’d usually put on a CD of my dad’s that was upstairs, and at the time, REM was one of the few I wanted to play. I know that all the cool indie kids want to love on the ’80s REM albums, but let’s not forget that the ’90s were also very kind to them.

To Be With You – Mr. Big

Oh man, I don’t care what anyone says, I love this song. If I had a lighter handy, I’d wave it. Like I said about Extreme’s “More Than Words” last week, let’s hold hands during couples skate, guys.

Side note: Are there roller rinks out there that don’t smell of sweat and cheap cleaning products, despite appearing as though they’ve never been cleaned? Because I can’t say I’ve visited any that didn’t all have the exact same smell.

Enter Sandman – Metallica

Okay, the guys of Mr. Big may have had some metal hair, but let us now listen to some actual metal. I do like some Metallica here and there. I find Lars Ulrich to be a bit of a jerk, but James Hetfield seems all right. I love the big crunchy guitar in “Enter Sandman,” and I love that James Hetfield actually sings and it’s not just screaming for the sake of screaming. They’re considered one of the greats for a reason – excellent musicianship – and if I had to cull my song list of the past 30 years down to just 100 songs, “Enter Sandman” would certainly still remain.

November Rain – Guns ‘n Roses

Axl Rose may be a difficult human, but Guns ‘n Roses were great. “November Rain” is one of the first videos I can remember seeing that seemed to be like a short film rather than mimed performance only. They made a big point of creating an epic display of strings, despair, and costumed scenery, stretching the whole of “November Rain” to over nine minutes in length. Slash’s hair is always its own character, and you’re damn right he can still smoke a cigarette in a windstorm.

Come As You Are – Nirvana

Another Unplugged video because Nirvana’s session is one of my favorites. Nevermind is definitely one of the most important rock albums of all time, but I just couldn’t do “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for this particular list because I think the other songs need the love. There’s nothing wrong with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” of course, but I’m partial to “Come As You Are.” That bassline is transcendent.

Suck My Kiss – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Speaking of excellent basslines – G’wan Flea, you badass. “Suck My Kiss” sort of sounds like a precursor to Rage Against the Machine, the way the bass and guitar grind together. Blood Sugar Sex Magick is probably one of RHCP’s best albums, since it also features “Give It Away” and “Under The Bridge,” but I picked “Suck My Kiss” because it seems to straddle the line between their dirtier, punkish early albums and the band we’re more familiar with today.

If It’s Over – Mariah Carey

Changing gears almost completely, genre-wise, I must tell you that I listened to Mariah Carey’s Emotions roughly eleventy-gerbillion times as a child. I still have a bit of a weakness for it, and “If It’s Over” is still a great song, co-written with Carole King, no less. Say what you will about Mariah, but girl can sing.

Loaded – Primal Scream

Ah yes, let’s get some Creation Records up in here. I always mean to listen to more Primal Scream, yet for some unknown reason, they’re a bit of a gap in my British Rock Repertoire. “Loaded” is a bit like the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” if that song was a fun, woozy acid trip.

This March, Primal Scream are playing the annual Teenage Cancer Trust benefit. This year, Roger Daltry turned over the curating to Noel Gallagher and holy shit do I wish I had a generous benefactor to send me to all these shows. In addition to Primal Scream, Noel is playing with Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon of Blur, Ryan Adams is playing with Beth Orton, Russell Brand and Noel Fielding are doing a night of comedy, and Kasabian is also playing. All that great music plus a great cause? Jeezy Chreezy.

Unfinished Sympathy – Massive Attack

Let’s take the trippy-ness a bit further with some Massive Attack, shall we? Massive Attack are another group that I tend to forget about for no good reason. Every time I listen to them I think, This is so good, yet I always neglect to buy anything by them. They would make for excellent writing music, I think – the beat here feels like a gently prodding mental freight train, if that makes any sense – and I’ll have to rectify this gap in my music collection soon.

Jazz (We’ve Got) – A Tribe Called Quest

Well, I was going to close out with the Tiny Purple One’s “Gett Off,” but Prince is a pain in the ass sometimes, and many of his videos are not available online. Prince, darling, we cannot spread the love if you insist on being cranky.

No worries though, for A Tribe Called Quest are quality hip-hop. The Low End Theory is one of those classic albums that rappers love, but perhaps it doesn’t get enough widespread love. I picked “Jazz (We’ve Got)” for its more direct tribute to how hip-hop and jazz owe so much to each other, and how important they are as musical genres. It’s fantastic stuff.

And you don’t stop…

Peruse 1991 in music and tell me your own favorites, friends.

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.

20 replies on “30 Years of Music: 1991”

As a five-year-old, I of course could not have had a highly developed musical taste, but looking through these songs made me smile. I know a good chunk of these now, and the one that stuck in my head reading this was “Suck My Kiss.” Anthony freaking Kiedis is amazing.

Coulda been, woulda been, shoulda been dead
If I didn’t get the message goin’ through my head
I am what I am
Most mothafuckas don’t give a damn….

I think 1991 was all about Amy Grant and Baby, Baby for me. I had that tape and I listed to it a lot. I was 10. I think I can still sing all the words if I think about it. O.P.P. also played heavily, but only because I had a friend who would sing, “I gotta go pee-pee, yeah, you know me!” over and over when she had to use the bathroom.

This was my year!!! I graduated high school in 1991, and met Selena in 1991 and well, I love everything about 1991. We listened to a lot of Nine Inch Nails that year, other people I knew listened to a LOT of Garth Brooks “Friends in Low Places” that year, and the sound track to the movie Robin Hood plays more of a role in that summer than I care to admit. There was also a passing flirtation with Roxette and Divinyls, and holy crap, I think I saw Chris Issak in 1991. I freakin’ loved 1991.

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