30 Years of Music: 1996

Much like 1995, 1996 is one of my favorite years to write about in this series. It holds a special place in my heart as the year that my music taste began to come into its own, and so much of what I listen to then, I still listen to quite often today. Maybe I’m a hopeless dino at times, but that’s all right. I know what I like, I am unapologetic about those likes, and that’s all one can ask for. Let’s get into it, shall we?

30 Years of Music 1996

Blood Roses – Tori Amos

Boys for Pele is such a great album, and probably my third favorite Tori Amos album (with slots #1 and #2 belonging to Little Earthquakes and From the Choirgirl Hotel, respectively). She breaks out the harpsichord for this song, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s also further evidence that Tori Amos’ brain does not work like the rest of ours.

Big Bang Baby – Stone Temple Pilots

A few of you, in previous installments of this column, have mentioned your love for Stone Temple Pilots, and so here is my contribution to that conversation. I quite like the low rhythm to “Big Bang Baby,” and Tiny Music… is the only STP album I own. I’m not sure why it’s the one I responded to when the previous singles and albums didn’t do much for me. My only theory is that it must have hit me at just the right time.

Only The Lonely – David Gray

Despite the same title, this is not a Roy Orbison cover. David Gray is terribly boring now, but his second album, Sell Sell Sell, might be my favorite of his. It retains much of his busking/folksy roots, and he’s not yet busy trying to be some sort of pop star/Van Morrison hybrid. Previously, I mentioned my love for “Gutters Full of Rain” from this album, and “Only the Lonely” has a similar hurts-so-good melancholy.

Angel on My Bike – The Wallflowers

I could’ve mentioned the singles that everyone knows like “One Headlight,” but I’m going with “Angel on My Bike” because I neglected to mention it for Alphabet Soup. After “Josephine,” this is one of my favorite songs from Bringing Down the Horse. I never owned the album myself because so many of my friends had it and played it constantly, and now I miss it. For fun though, I’ve embedded an acoustic version of the song. It’s a bit quieter and less soaring than the original, but I dig it.

Ramshackle – Beck

(Sorry about the strange video – this song is not very present on YouTube.)

Oh, Odelay, what a classic album you are. I’ve previously talked about “Lord Only Knows,” and for our purposes here, I could’ve talked about any of the other songs on the album, but I decided to go the quiet route. Though I must be honest about how “Ramshackle” came to lodge itself in my brain – I once had a boyfriend who was (is still, probably) a big Beck fan, and this was “our” song. (I’ve rarely been one to have typical love songs associated with a relationship. My husband and I consider “Cum on Feel the Noize” our song, for example.) For a long time, I couldn’t listen to it without having to mentally dissect everything wrong about that relationship. Now, a decade on, it’s finally back to being just a lovely album closer on an excellent album.

Sleep to Dream – Fiona Apple

Speaking of perfect albums, Tidal is certainly one of them. Previously, I’ve talked about “Never is a Promise,” and I had a hard time deciding between the remaining songs for this column. I know every word, remember every note, and will forever love every song. “Sleep to Dream” is the outstanding opener with such great lines:

You say love is a hell you cannot bear
And I say give me mine back
and then go there for all I care

A Long December – Counting Crows

Hey, the non-Bruce Springsteen Courtney Cox video! Well, okay, this a great song too. I quite like Counting Crows, and I don’t get why people make fun of them sometimes. Adam Duritz can wear his hair however he wants, yo. “A Long December” has both piano and accordion, and it’s full of California-based loneliness and tentative hope.

Never Recover – The Cardigans

Nope, no “Lovefool” here. That’s a fine enough song and all, but First Band on the Moon is so much more than that. Though I was tempted to include their slowed down cover of “Iron Man,” I decided on “Never Recover” because it’s an excellent example of Nina Persson’s purring despair mixed with an upbeat tempo.

Put a Lid on It – Squirrel Nut Zippers

The mid-90s swing revival had some bright spots, and Squirrel Nut Zippers were often lumped into it, despite their sound having more of a cabaret/gypsy style. Andrew Bird used to play with them in the earlier days, and despite a 2000s hiatus, they’re still a band today. Katharine Whelan has a great voice, and my husband has one of her solo albums. Though it doesn’t really matter, exactly, I’m curious if Katharine is a trans-woman? It’s my writerly curiosity that makes me ask, what with my desire to explore experiences different from my own.

Caress Me Down – Sublime

This song is purposely outrageous, and it makes me laugh. I can even sing along to the Spanish portion of the lyrics, and whenever I hear someone cover it (There are a lot of people in my fair city who do Sublime covers), I’m always a bit disappointed they don’t attempt to learn them. Usually, it ends up being a mash-up with some other song, which works too, but I love this part:

Levanta, levanta
tienes que gritar
Levanta, levanta,
tienes que bailar

And that’s the lovin’ sound.

Breathe – The Prodigy

I love, love, love this song and The Prodigy in general. They were so out there compared to the other things I listen to in 1996, and in dance class, we did a Prodigy mash-up that was primarily this song. We had crazy hair and makeup, and parents of the small children who were also a part of the recital complained, but bless our teacher, she just let us do our thing. Out of my many years of dance, it’s still my favorite song that we performed.

Psycho! Somatic! Addict-insane!

6 Underground – Sneaker Pimps

’90s trip-hop is one of my favorite things. I never got around to owning a Sneaker Pimps album, though they did pop up on a few mixes and soundtracks I have. This song is pure club-sexybusiness. In 2002, when my husband and I were on our honeymoon in San Francisco, Sneaker Pimps were playing at a club (I think) somewhere in the North Beach area. We considered going ““ tickets were under $20, I remember – and I’m not sure why we changed our mind.

Cosmic Girl – Jamiroquai

In Alphabet Soup: The Letter V, I mentioned “Virtual Insanity,“ but Jamiroquai’s Travelling Without Moving has a lot of other fantastic songs on it, “Cosmic Girl” included. It’s sorta disco, and it is a dance party good time.

Drop Dead Gorgeous – Republica

I loved the singer from Republica’s hair so much that I did a similar version of it in 2002. Black and red and talk about drop dead gorgeous. Yes. But before I was able to do that, 13-year-old Me in 1996 did plenty of dancing and singing along to this whole album. The band were basically two-hit-wonders, but people like me will still remember them.

Distant Voices – Bush

Yep, I get to talk about Bush again. Razorblade Suitcase received awful reviews when it came out, and it annoyed me endlessly. It’s my absolutely favorite Bush album, and one of my all-time favorites of any artist. Perhaps people were still stinging from the loss of Kurt Cobain and didn’t like anything that sounded too similar, especially sung by someone as pretty as Gavin Rossdale. The haters can fuck right off, honestly. (Okay, maybe I’m still annoyed.) Once again, I am picking a quiet album-closer. “Distant Voices” is just gorgeous, especially on headphones.

I’m gonna find my way to the sun
If I destroy myself
I can shine on

Get in.

Now then, read over the many good albums of 1996 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.

22 replies on “30 Years of Music: 1996”

I’m under the impression that SQZ aren’t together still, just occasionally do reunions. However, if you do like them there’s this band the Firecracker Jazz Band that has a lot of their members and is fantastic. In the same general family, there’s this other band Kevin O’Donnell’s Quality Six which is basically Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire + 2 people, headed up by the drummer KO’D who is a brilliant lyricist (seriously, go listen to “Oh, So Quietly He Went.” It’s hilarious). It’s very, uh, quality.

Also, is the Whalen solo CD you’re referring to Jazz Squad? I work at swing dance venue and our DJ plays a lot from that, it’s really good. And as a trans* person (of the neutral variety), I don’t read her as trans* and haven’t heard anything that would indicate her being so.

Another damn fine list! I love STP, Counting Crows, and mangling the Spanish parts of Sublime (even though I speak Spanish, I’m terrible at deciphering lyrics even in English). Fiona Apple is my jam; some friends and I kind of freaked out a bunch of guys by loudly singing “Criminal” in a bar in college. Agreed on the Bush album; I still have that CD somewhere (pretty sure I swiped it from a college roommate, oops!). I freaking love “Breathe;” Prodigy in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics pretty much blew my mind. And I *may* have done a spirited sing-along of “Hell” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers just the other day. :)

Holy hell is that a long Wikipedia list! Some of my faves from ’96 (even if I didn’t listen to them until later) are Stabbing Westward, GIN BLOSSOMS, “Killing Me Softly” by The Fugees, “Banditos” by The Refreshments, Weird Al’s Bad Hair Day album, “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe, “Pepper” by The Butthole Surfers, Soundgarden (especially “Blow Up the Outside World”), Primitive Radio Gods’ Rocket album is amazing, TOOL, “Fire, Water, Burn” by The Bloodhound Gang, and probably about a million others.

And my god, how can you leave out “Pony” by Ginuwine?!?!?!

So, my 1996 music world was not nearly as cool. It consisted mainly of Mmmmmbop. And Dave Matthews (Crash will forever remind me of the first guy I really, truly made out with),

It wasn’t until MUCH later that I discovered Dilate. Joyful Girl remains one of my favorite songs of all time.

Though I am VERY pleased that you but the Squirrel Nut Zippers on there because that was the one tape I owned that I had in my car just after learning to drive and I’m pretty sure I know all the words to every song on the album Hot.”

I always had an aversion to Sublime. I don’t know why, I just really, really didn’t like them. All my friends did, though, and I was actually at the show they performed the night before the singer killed himself. That was kind of disturbing. But the one thing that I always think of when they come up is the fact that my ex-boyfriend, who did not speak Spanish, could sing along to the Spanish parts PERFECTLY when he was on mushrooms. Accent, pronunciation, and all. It was freaky. Or maybe he totally sucked and I was just high.

As I was reading through this list, I didn’t recognize a lot of the titles (I did recognize a lot of the songs once I played them.) I was very confused, until I remembered I was working three jobs in 1996, and that whole time is kind of a blur.

That being said, there’s no time which is the wrong time for Squirrel Nut Zippers.

I’m going to make up for my lack of participation with a big ass list. Excellebt year for good music.

I have to admit Big Bang Baby wasn’t an instant hit for me. It had to grow on me a bit, but once it did, it’s one of my all-time faves.

My pick from Odelay would be Devil’s Haircut.

Sublime pick – the whole damn album.

Sneaker Pimps pick is Walking Zero (yes, love the trip-hop too)

From Squirrel Nut Zippers, it would be Hell. Jfc I love that song.

Bush pick is Mouth

Rowboat and Unchained – Johnny Cash (The cd is entirely perfect, but these two are in my top 10 of best songs ever. Top 5 if I don’t include NIN or Porcupine Tree)(Incidentally, Rowboat was originally a Beck tune. Johnny Cash had a way of covering a song and making it all his own)

Novocaine for the Soul – Eels

Mary Magdalene, and Make Me Wanna Holler – Me’shell Ndegeocello

Photograph, and Veneer – The Verve Pipe (I hate that they only got airplay for The Freshmen, these songs are so much better)(There’s another song on the cd that I really like, but it’s so problematic I’m not going to include it, it should probably come with a TW)

Burden in my Hand – Soundgarden

Pepper – Butthole Surfers

Sunny Came Home – Shawn Colvin

Every Day is a Winding Road – Sheryl Crow

Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First) – John Mellencamp

Under Your Skin – Luscious Jackson

Moby’s cover of Verb: That’s What’s Happening for Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks is awesome:

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