Thursday, December 01, 2011

1995 in Music Review

Hey everyone, welcome to the fifth edition in a series of reviews of a year in music. So far I have covered all the 2000s together as the Noughtie series, and so far monthly, the
year 1999, then 1998, followed by 1997 and then last month, 1996.

Just in case you’re not familiar with it, here’s the format. It will be done in five parts. I'll do a brief history of what happened in that year, followed by my five favourite albums of the year, then what I think the five best videos are. I'll then do a Top 10 most impactful (still refraining from using the word important) songs from that year. To wrap it up, I'll do my favourite songs in a mixtape format. So now that you know where I'm going with this, let's get to it!

We’re half way through the decade now. 1996 was a fantastic year; let’s see how good 1995 was.

Brief History of the Year 1995 in Music

  • Dave Grohl of Nirvana starts his own band and calls it the Foo Fighters. They would go on to be one of the biggest rock bands for the next decade.
  • Oasis release "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" and it becomes one of the best selling albums of all time and many of the singles get to #1.
  • Pink Floyd disband after a career that covered 31 years. The classic lineup wouldn’t play together again for another 10 years.
  • Nickelback form. They release their first album a year later, but find worldwide success at the start of the next decade.
  • In rap, Tupac gets sent to prison on sexual assault charges. Later his album, "Me Against the World" get to #1 in America, the first time in history a solo artist has a #1 album whilst in prison.
  • In pop, Michael Jackson releases a double album named HIStory and it becomes the highest selling double album of all time.

My Top 5 Albums of 1995

#5 – “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” by Oasis
Released: 2/10/95
Rating: **** stars
Stand-out tracks: “Champagne Supernova”, “Don't Look Back in Anger”, “Roll with It”
Just in case you didn’t know, the albums lists are completely biased. Doing unbiased lists on albums is impossible unless you’re part of a collective group of people. It goes without saying that this would be the top album of 1995 in an unbiased list however, the album is the fourth highest selling album in the UK ever, it got to #1 in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Spain, it won a Brit Award for best album, two songs got to #1 in the UK charts (Some Might Say and Don't Look Back in Anger), the Brit Awards named the album the best in the past thirty years, it being on Rolling Stone’s list of best albums of all time, and other accolades.

But this is a biased list and while this is my favourite Oasis album, my feelings on Oasis are mixed. However, this is their best work and it’s got some fantastic tracks on this album, none better than the brilliant and anthemic “Champagne Supernova”, a song that most certainly should have been released as a single in this country, and of course the song that was heavily influenced by John Lennon’s “Imagine”, “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, a song that is considered one of the band’s best singles ever, this album is a fantastic listen. It’s one of those albums that you just have to hear, no matter what your taste in music is and if you like Oasis or not. It’s a classic, and a legendary album.

#4 – “Astro Creep: 2000” by White Zombie
Released: 11/4/95
Rating: ****1/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: "Electric Head Pt. 2 (The Ecstasy)”, “More Human Than Human”, “Real Solution #9”

Astro Creep: 2000, or if you want its elaborate title, “Astro-Creep: 2000 – Songs of Love, Destruction and Other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head”, is definitely my favourite White Zombie album. I much prefer the work of Rob Zombie as a solo artist rather than the band he was associated with prior, but this is a fine piece of work. The album’s sound is the closest White Zombie came to being the sound Rob Zombie is most associated with; the album is full of industrial metal, obscene lyrics and snippets from old horror films cut into the core of the tracks. The album and the single, “More Human Than Human”, were nominated for Grammy awards, and the album was and is featured on many “Best of the Nineties” album lists. It’s a truly great album, the final album White Zombie did as a group, and paved the way for Rob Zombie’s solo career to be as big as it’s become.

#3 – “Garbage” by Garbage
Released: 15/8/95
Rating: ****1/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: “Not My Idea”, “Supervixen”, “As Heaven is Wide”

Garbage’s debut album is probably my favourite, although their first three albums were all good quality. This debut has some excellent work on it, and Shirley Manson, who at this point was eleven years into her musical career, sounds fantastic. Manson has always had a good voice, but I don’t think she’s ever sounded as good as she did in 1995. The music sounds great too, Garbage have always managed to combine alternative rock with electronica and parts of dare I say it, industrial rock. There’s a certain element of Garbage’s sound that hasn’t really been replicated, despite there being a few bands that are associated with them. I thoroughly enjoy listening to Garbage’s debut album and put it on every once in a while, and it always manages to sound as fresh as it did in 1995.

#2 – “Elastica” by Elastica
Released: 14/3/95
Rating: ****1/2 stars
Stand-out tracks: "Vaseline", "Connection", "Line Up"

Elastica’s debut album is something else. At the time, it got to #1 in the UK charts, it was certified gold, and became the fasting selling debut album of all time (it’s now Leona Lewis with “Spirit”). Elastica had a brilliant sound, mixing punk, post-punk, early indie, grunge and brit-pop together and with the fantastic female vocals of Justine Frischmann, this is one of my favourite childhood albums. It’s odd that they were as popular as they were, also being nominated for a Mercury Music Prize, considering the genre, but in the years of post-Nirvana-mania, the popularity of the harder rock sound obviously was still strong, at least for this moment of 1995. I absolutely love this album, the first half is as good as any album out there and while the quality is on the slight decrease towards the end, the final track “Vaseline”, an awesome 90 second piece, is as great an ending to an album around. Overall, this is a brilliant album, one I definitely recommend you get if you like female bands (the drummer is male mind) and the idea of a punky grungy brit-pop outfit.

#1 – “The Bends” by Radiohead
Released: 13/3/95
Rating: ****1/2 stars
Stand-out tracks: "My Iron Lung", "Just", "(Nice Dream)"

The Bends is my favourite Radiohead album, as well as my favourite album of 1995. It was a challenging time for the band. “Pablo Honey” was released; “Creep” became a huge hit in the UK and the US. The sound of their first album, a more raw and aggressive version of their eventual style, was considered a soft Nirvana, grunge if you will. They hated the idea that they were considered a Nirvana knockoff, as well as the increasing reputation to do a bigger and better song than “Creep”. They took refuge from the hype throughout 1994 and 1995, releasing an EP of the track “My Iron Lung” to show a different direction that they were heading in. “The Bends” is the end product of that separation from their debut, and it’s a transitional step to the sound they would then develop with “OK Computer” a sound they have tweaked around with, but haven’t drifted too far away from.

But I preferred this sound. It’s the hardest and heaviest album they’ve done (not that it’s heavy) and it’s just a great sounding rock album. Radiohead have been called everything, from indie, alternative, grunge, rock, dance, techno, ambient, brit-pop, everything. But this is just rock; it’s a rock album and I just love it. Johnny Greenwood was at his experimental best here, his distortions in his guitars are absolutely magnificent, and sounds best in “My Iron Lung” and “(Nice Dream)". This is just an album you have to hear, and it’s my preference over “OK Computer”, if you want to try and get into Radiohead but don’t know where to start.

My Top 5 Music Videos of 1995

#5 - "It’s Oh So Quiet” by Bjork

You can’t help but love a bit of Bjork. Iceland’s best export since four chicken breaststeaks for £1, she really was something in the nineties. So cute, so weird, so different and she had a fiery temper when she wanted to. But her finest moment really was this, a cover version of Betty Hutton’s version from 1951; a song that was forgotten about completely by 1995 was revived in amazing fashion. The video played every part in its success. The song and video were very reminiscent of the musicals of old, where normal day life is emphasised in the slow and ‘quiet’ verses and then the bright and colourful chorus brings everyone to life and lots and lots of dancing commences. Bjork’s fine video remains one of the most iconic videos of the nineties.

#4 - "Common People” by Pulp

This was one of the first music videos that really struck me as a kid. I was six years old when this came out, and I still remember being engulfed in this fantastic artistic location that the video was in. The supermarket section especially was something that stuck with me as a memory from my childhood. The art direction is just great and the homages to “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles is cool. The awful yet cool dance routine at the end makes me laugh now as it fits Jarvis Cocker to a tee. The actress, Sadie Frost, who also was in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Krays, does a great job playing the ‘uncommon’ person who likes the ‘common people’. This video is a must see if you’ve never seen it before, it’s just a great video.

#3 - "Where the Wild Roses Grow” by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue

If there ever was such a perfect video for a perfect story told in song format this is it. Nick Cave’s “Murder Ballads”, which was released the following year and covered last month, is a phenomenal piece of work anyway, and this video gives a fantastic visual for one of the deaths in the album. “Eliza Day”, otherwise known as the Wild Rose, is played by the beautiful Kylie Minogue and her murderer is played by Nick Cave. The video pretty much word for word describes the song’s story, but it’s just beautifully crafted, filmed and acted by the two musicians. The Wild Rose is murdered by the character Nick Cave plays, the reasoning possibly being he wants her to be remembered as beautiful in his memories forever, rather than her getting old and weak. She takes him to the river, they kiss and then he kills her with a rock. He then closes her eyes, puts a rose between her teeth, and sets her body to the river. It’s a beautifully crafted death and it’s one of the best videos of the year.

#2 - "Dope Hat” by Marilyn Manson

I don’t know how many of you have seen this video. It’s basically Manson’s homage to one of the greatest children’s films of all time, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Just in case you’re not familiar with Manson’s full work, this was from his debut album released the year earlier, “Portrait of an American Family”. The first few Manson videos actually had Marilyn Manson with virtually no makeup, although he did have his contact lenses. This was the first Manson video for him to feature heavy amounts of makeup, and looking like the Manson we all know and love/hate. The video is pretty much the boat ride from the Willy Wonka film, with some of the images in the background being slightly more vivid than those in the original film. The funny thing is, the original scene in the Willy Wonka film was quite scary in the first place, despite it being a children’s film, and this is only a slight notch above that. The video does insinuate that these vivid images are all to do with drug use, hence the title “Dope Hat”. The CGI isn’t great, especially the awful looking ‘chocolate river’, but still I like this video and it was the first time Manson used his imagination on a visual basis.

#1 - "Just” by Radiohead

This is one of the best music videos of all time. Of all time. If you’ve never seen this video before, watch it above. Seriously.

It’s such a simple video, a simple message but it hooked every person that saw it. It doesn’t matter if you like Radiohead; you wanted to know what was said at the end of the video. The idea behind one man, just one guy, falling to the floor and lying there for no reason in the middle of a road astounds everyone around him. Everyone questions why he’s lying there, doing nothing and the man tells everyone to leave him alone as they wouldn’t understand. They beg of him to explain his actions, and he warns them, that if he tells them, God help them all as they don’t know what has been asked of him. And then the man tells them. By the way, the entire dialogue of the video is subtitled… apart from the last line! So when he tells them, you the viewer, hasn’t a clue what was said. And the consequence of him telling everyone? They all fall to the floor too, and join the man. WHAT MADE THEM DO THAT?! WHAT DID HE SAY?! GAARRGGHH! It’s just a brilliant yet simple story.

The Top 10 Most Impactful Songs of 1995

As I said, I'm NOT calling it the 'important' list, although it's more than just popularity as well. Anyway, here are the 10 songs of the year. It's an unbiased list.

#10 - "Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails

This was a promotional single rather than a commercial one, but it doesn’t matter, it was a single and it more than deserves entry in this list. No the song didn’t chart well, it got to #54 in the Radio Songs Chart in the US, and never charted here, and yes, the excellent Johnny Cash cover version was and is more popular. But the original, by Nine Inch Nails, is still well thought of today and remains one of the most amazing songs of the nineties. The song deals with self harm and self destruction and is the amazing finale to one of the best albums of all time, The Downward Spiral. Many people interpret the lyrics as a suicide note for the character portrayed in the album while others find the song dealing with the long hard road of life, battling through the scars and blood and falling to the depths of destruction only to finally accept life and finally accept that live is worth living for. I personally interpret the song as the latter and find the song a real inspiration for those who struggle with their demons in their personal lives. I’ve been fortunate not to have many struggles, and as such don’t appreciate the song as much as many other people do. But I know a lot of people who have had hard times in their lives, and find comfort in this song knowing they’re not alone. These reasons are the simple reason of its inclusion in this list, and the justification for me to call it one of the most impactful and most important songs of all time.

#9 - "Only Happy When it Rains” by Garbage

While “Stupid Girl” became Garbage’s signature track the year later, “Only Happy When it Rains” was the new platform that Garbage set for themselves. It was not only their first major hit, but it was also a decent hit in America and got them noticed over there. The song only got to #29 at the time but it was a major step forward from the previous two singles and made the band go onto bigger success. In America it got to #16 in the Modern Rock Charts, #11 in Canada’s Alternative Chart, #36 in the Netherlands and #41 in New Zealand. All these facts and figures don’t relate to the real story in which the song is still played a decent amount today and is still considered one of Garbage’s best songs. The fact that “Stupid Girl” became such a big hit later on shows the strength this song had, if it wasn’t for this “Stupid Girl” wouldn’t have done so well.

#8 - "Down by the Water” by PJ Harvey

Similarly, “Down by the Water” didn’t chart too well but as many PJ Harvey fans are also aware, not many of Polly Jean’s songs do. Similar to Nick Cave, there’s an injustice in popular music where the artist and the quality of music isn’t associated with chart success. PJ Harvey’s work is always appreciated critically, but it never turns into cash and chart success which is a damn shame. Still, this song is considered one of PJ Harvey’s biggest and best songs and still gets a decent amount of airplay today. The song may have only got to #38 here in the UK but it did pretty damn well in America, getting to #2 in the “Alternative Songs”. PJ Harvey has had better chart success in the UK since, but not many of her songs are fondly thought of and played as often as this.

#7 - "Connection” by Elastica

Elastica’s story is so sad. They had so much potential, such a kickass sound and they had a decent period of success too. Everything was going so well. “Connection” is the song that people fondly remember by Elastica and it’s still played today. It was brilliant. The song got to #17 here in the UK and #2 in the US Modern Rock Charts, quite a feat for such a new band. And then, the horrible happened. They got accused for stealing certain parts of certain songs by a band called Wire and many court settlements ensued. After that, the band turns to drugs, and lead singer Justine Frichmann admitted she was a “sad junkie” for long periods of time. They never released a new album for five years, despite announcing in 1996 they were to release new material. The band just self imploded after that. What a shame. “Connection” as a song was fantastic and the band successful at one point. Then that potential was lost to drugs. Again.

#6 - "It’s Oh So Quiet” by Bjork

What a cover version. The original is barely remembered while Bjork has made this her signature song. It’s difficult to label Bjork anywhere, she’s a bit of an enigma. But this song is the one most people remember of her, with the fantastic video and her cute looks, combined with the fun and musical elements of the song itself. The song got to #4 here in the UK while elsewhere it got to #5 in Finland, #6 in Australia, #7 in Ireland #19 in the Netherlands and #20 in Belgium.  I don’t know if Bjork thinks as high of this song as her other tracks, I mean it was a cover version after all and there are many sides and variances in her career that I’m sure she’d like to remembered more for. But she took a song that was at the time 44 years old and was forgotten about and resurrected. Great stuff.

#5 - "Earth Song” by Michael Jackson

Now now. If you’re going to complain about me putting a pop song in this list then forget about it. It’s my rules and I can break them because I’m a hypocrite. No, the reason why I’m including a pop song is purely because of the artist. Michael Jackson is bigger than pop music. His legendary career is among the elite in the world of music and deserves mention in these lists. If (and it’s still an if) I start covering the eighties and seventies, I may have to include more and more pop music, as certain pop music is well received in the rock and metal scenes.

Anyway, the “Earth Song” needs no introduction really. It’s an epic track. In terms of presentation, lyrics, message and sound, it can be argued no song is bigger and grander than the “Earth Song”. Michael Jackson pleads to the world to start thinking about the devastation humanity is doing to the world. He pleads for us to think about the environment, the treatment of animals amongst other things. The video also is grand and further emphasises this. Because of Jackson’s fame and wealth, he was able to portray a message that broke all blockages in communication in the world. Regardless of your race or language, you understood the message of the song. In its grandeur, this song is one of the greatest. It got to #1 in many many MANY countries, at least fourteen to be exact. But there’s one major negative feeling about the whole thing and many people feel this way. It just felt over exaggerated and pompous for Michael Jackson to preach about morality like that. It’s the only criticism, and the live performances and the video, which in certain elements make Michael Jackson look like a modern Jesus, adds to this frustration. Regardless of the negative connotations to the song, it was incredibly successful and full of grandeur, and deserves a mention as one of the biggest songs of the year and decade.

#4 - "Country House” by Blur

As I mentioned earlier, I was six years old when these songs came out. 1995 is the earliest year really that I thoroughly remember as a kid rather than as an adult looking back on the history of music. 1994 backwards is going to be an odd challenge for me. Anyway, I clearly remember the battle between Oasis and Blur, the “Battle of Britpop” as it’s dubbed, and I remember “Country House” beating “Roll With It” for the #1 spot. You can debate what the bigger song between those two is, but “Country House” was still a huge hit. Blur have had songs before and after this song that are more popular, but this is only one of two #1 hits the band has had (the other being “Beetlebum”). “Country House” might not have the long term airplay as other tracks but you can’t deny that this song is a classic, and it’s still catchy and sounds good today.

#3 - "Alright” by Supergrass

“We are young! We are free! We have teeth! Nice and clean! See our friends, see the sights, feel alright!” What a great song this was. It’s a shame though as it’s been misinterpreted as a song about young lads having a good time, but it was actually about young teenagers starting to discover the joys of adolescence. Supergrass will always be associated with this song even though they grew up and matured as a band, and it’s a shame really, that other songs didn’t get the same reception as this. Supergrass aren’t a bad band at all, I’ve seen them live, but they’ll never beat this track, a song that got to #2 in the charts. “Alright” still gets played today and is featured on many soundtracks even today, sixteen years after its release. This song is a brit-pop classic and is a staple in the history of the nineties in music.

#2 - "Common People” by Pulp

I’ve only just realised but the Top 3 songs of 1995 are all #2 hits. It goes to show that getting to #1 isn’t always the best thing for longevity, as I really put my foot down when I say that the Top 3 in this list are songs that have made a bigger long term impact than “Country House” and “Earth Song”.

Anyway, allow me to copy and paste the last sentence in the previous entry. This song is a brit-pop classic and is a staple in the history of the nineties in music. Now that was lazy on my part but that sentence fits perfectly. “Common People” is one of the biggest tracks in brit-pop history, in the nineties and possibly, of all time. “Common People” was just so amazing, describing the idea of rich and upper class people trying to fit in with the common. It’s something that does and has happened, and I think it’s something that has become more of a thing of the past now. 1995 was definitely a transitional year, not only in music where brit-pop was in its prime, but also in society. The difference in attitude between upper and lower class doesn’t really exist as much as it did in the eighties, and parts of the early nineties. This song definitely describes that subtle change. And the song itself is just fantastic, it’s very catchy and Pulp are responsible for the imagery and putting these changes into song format. Not only is the song important, but it made a phenomenal impact and is easily considered Pulp’s finest moment in the eyes of many people.

#1 - "Wonderwall” by Oasis

Well I was going to put the Mike Flowers version as #1 but last minute I decided against it. Okay seriously, I’ve covered 1995 to 2009 on this website now in this format and I can quite easily say this song is the biggest song to come out in this time period. “Wonderwall” can’t be beat in terms of impact, at the time and long term. The song is one of the most covered tracks in recent history with Mike Flowers above doing it, as well as Ryan Adams, Jay-Z, Robbie Williams, Richard Cheese and Radiohead all having a bash at it, some for comedy value, others because of the greatness of the track. “Wonderwall” joins #2 and #3 in this list as the threesome of tracks to get to #2 at the time, but then excelling many other songs, if not every other tracks to be released in the year of 1995. “Wonderwall” doesn’t really need any introduction, it’s the song Oasis will always be associated with, it’s a classic, it’s anthemic, it’s just unavoidable. “Wonderwall” will live forever in music history as one of the greatest songs of all time, if you like it or not.

The Year 1995 Mixtape

Just in case you didn't know by now...

"A Mixtape is a playlist of a certain genre, band or era. The list is generally 80 minutes long, the same length of a blank CD, with further recommendations if some of the songs aren’t to your taste. Remember kids, downloading is wrong!"

So here we go! My favourite songs from the year 1995. Yes, this is a biased list.

  1. It's Oh So Quiet – Bjork
  2. Common People – Pulp
  3. Just – Radiohead
  4. Lump - The Presidents of the United States of America
  5. Queer – Garbage
  6. Down by the Water - PJ Harvey
  7. Connection – Elastica
  8. Daydreamer - Menswear
  9. I'll Stick Around - Foo Fighters
  10. Geek Stink Breath - Green Day
  11. Poison - The Prodigy
  12. Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs - The Cramps
  13. Red Right Hand - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  14. Hurt - Nine Inch Nails
  15. Do What I Say - Clawfinger
  16. Shoots and Ladders – KoRn
  17. Dope Hat - Marilyn Manson
  18. Electric Head Pt. 2 - White Zombie
  19. Bullet With Butterfly Wings - Smashing Pumpkins
And here are the five alternative songs if you don't like some of the above...

  1. Alright – Supergrass
  2. Ridiculous Thoughts - The Cranberries
  3. I Don't Want to Grow Up - The Ramones
  4. Roll With It – Oasis
  5. Just a Girl - No Doubt
And there we go! The year 1995 in review! I hope you've enjoyed this. So that’s half the nineties covered, next month naturally I’ll be covering 1994 and continue my descend into music history. What we your favourite songs and albums from 1995? Any other comments or queries? Raise them below. Thanks for your time.

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