Sunday, July 01, 2012

1991 in Music Review

Hey everyone, welcome to the ninth 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 1999, then 1998, followed by 1997 and 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993 and 1992.

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!

1991 was an odd year for music. Probably until September, when “you know what” got released by Nirvana, it pretty much felt like the old guard getting rusty from the eighties. Times were changing, the people who found success in the eighties were struggling to take to this change, and people wanted something new, something fresh. Nirvana and the grunge movement brought that, but it didn’t really come to full effect until 1992. So what we have here is a mixture of good and… okay. Enjoy the review!

Brief History of the Year 1991 in Music

  • Nirvana release "Nevermind", one of the, if not the biggest album released since, and the grunge genre movement explodes to the mainstream
  • Lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury, dies of AIDS.
  • Oasis form, becoming probably the biggest British band of the nineties.
  • Metallica release their self titled album (also called The Black Album), their most successful album in their 31 year career.
  • Rage Against the Machine form, starting the nu-metal era of metal, and become one of the most outspoken and controversial bands of the nineties.
  • Talking Heads, one of the biggest post-punk and new wave bands of all time, disband. They would only play one more time together, in 2002, when they were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

My Top 5 Albums of 1991

#5 – “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Released: 24/9/91
Rating: ***3/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: “Breaking the Girl”, “Give it Away”, “They’re Red Hot” 
I love the Chilis. They’re a great band. They make music like no other artist out there. There are have been a few bands that have tried to put their spin on the funk rock sound that the Chilis have perfected but none have had anywhere near the success that the Red Hot Chili Peppers have. But my problem with the Chilis is that their album material is usually a step down from their singles. Quite consistently in their career. Now I’m sure there are many people who disagree with me on that of course. It’s just me, I know. Blood Sugar Sex Magik is a great album though, I thoroughly enjoy listening to it. I mean, it’s the same pattern, the singles are by far the best songs on the album, but the non-singles are fun too. If I were to recommend one Chilis album, it’d probably be this.

#4 – “Out of Time” by R.E.M.
Released: 12/3/91
Rating: ***3/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: “Losing My Religion”, “Shiny Happy People”, “Radio Song”
Why the Radio Song is not on any Greatest Hits album R.E.M. have released is beyond me. What a cool track that is.

Anyway, “Out of Time” is an R.E.M. effort that I forgot about, until I made this article for your pleasure. It surprised me a little with how good it is. I mean I do prefer “Automatic for the People”, but I take nothing away from this album, it’s a cracker. One of my favourite non-singles is “Country Feedback” a song really pulls at the heartstrings, and was so good that it was released on R.E.M.’s final release of compilation tracks. Michael Stipe has also called that his favourite ever song, which is quite the statement. There’s a lot of gold on “Out of Time”, and deserves a lot of respect as one of R.E.M.’s finest albums.

#3 – “Look Mom, No Head!” by The Cramps
Released: November 1991
Rating: ****1/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: “Bend Over, I'll Drive”, “Dames, Booze, Chains and Boots”, “I Wanna Get in Your Pants”
Look at Poison Ivy. Man, she was so hot.

Anyway, I love The Cramps. I don’t swear often on this site but it deserves it here. I fucking love The Cramps. If I were to list you a set of bands that deserve more attention for their discography The Cramps would be very high on that list. The Cramps are a band that started a genre. Psychobilly wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for The Cramps. They’re so good, and while their songs going into the nineties were slowly losing quality, this is their last great effort. There are some absolute gems on this album; those three songs above are there for starters. They only released one single off it with “Eyeball in My Martini”, which is pretty good, but some of the other non-singles are brilliant. Just look at those song titles. Aren’t they brilliant? You know what you’re going to get with The Cramps, dirty yet sexy licks, with funny innuendo in their lyrics. They’re just a band that really deserves more attention; please PLEASE check them out if you’ve never heard them before. You’re missing out!

#2 – “Metallica” by Metallica
Released: 12/8/91
Rating: ****1/2 stars
Stand-out tracks: “Enter Sandman”, “The Unforgiven”, “Sad But True”
There are two albums from the year 1991 that probably get more recognition and praise than any other. It doesn’t matter who you are, what music you like, or anything else, there are two albums that trumped everything else in terms of attention and longevity. These two albums are to put simply, two of the greatest albums of all time.

First is “The Black Album”, or the self titled “Metallica” album. That’s got to be one of the coolest album covers ever. I’m not the biggest Metallica fan, especially for their albums, but if you love metal, it doesn’t matter what type of metal you like, you have to listen to this. It goes without saying. It’s just from the first track to the last, pure quality in the metal genre. The Black Album oozes brilliance throughout. It’s amazing how fucking good this album really is. And as I said, I’m not a huge Metallica fan, and it’s still damn good. You simply, can’t call yourself a metal fan until you appreciate this album. It’s a true classic, a true piece of legendary music that will go down in history as one of the finest albums ever recorded. It’s that simple.

#1 – “Nevermind” by Nirvana
Released: 24/9/91
Rating: ****1/2 stars
Stand-out tracks: “Endless Nameless”, “Breed”, “Territorial Pissings”
It’s probably not a surprise that this is my favourite album from 1991. But what you may find surprising is that I found it very hard to give this a star rating of ****1/2 stars. It’s one of those albums that for me is between ****1/4 and ****1/2, but because of the nostalgia, the impact and the significance of the album, I gave it the latter rating.

This isn’t my favourite Nirvana album. In fact, a case can be made that it’s my least favourite Nirvana album. But no one can dispute that this album is great. It’s a fantastic album. It annoys me when a lot of people talk about this album being crap. It’s not. It’s far from it. But… it was overplayed. Nirvana as a band, we’re overplayed, overhyped. I wouldn’t say overrated, but they got so much attention and it was shoved in everyone’s throats for a long long time. Nevermind was played so much during the nineties, especially “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. And as I say, rightfully so in a certain way as it is a great album. But enough was enough.

If you take away all the hype and attention away and strip this album down to its core and listen to it, it’s a great effort. It’s not the best, but it’s damn good. There are some fantastic songs on here, and the music singles were awesome too. They’re just not my favourite tracks on the album. But if, somehow, you haven’t heard this album, I do recommend you listen to it at least once. Regardless of your taste in music, if you like metal, rock, grunge, pop, dance music, RnB, it doesn’t matter. This is an album that strips musical barriers, and appeals to a vast audience. Simply at its core, “Nevermind” is a legendary album that is an album you have to hear before you die. It’s as simple as that.

My Top 5 Music Videos of 1991

#5 – “Give it Away” by Red Hot Chili Peppers 
I have to be honest 1991 wasn’t really that great for videos but one that always stands out is “Give it Away” by the Chili’s. How can a video where half naked men in shiny pants and make up in a black and while video be considered so popular? It’s beyond me in some ways but no one can deny how this video became iconic. You have to give credit to the director as the video matches the song perfectly, it’s lively, it’s a little crazy and it actually looks fun to direct. Just like the song “Give it Away” is all of those things to a certain extent. “Give it Away” is just a video you have to see to understand, and to experience.

#4 – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
It may be an odd choice but this was a great music video. It’s not the best music video in the world, and it doesn’t have much artistic direction, but it’s so iconic. It’s a legendary music video. And yes, it is purely because of the attention the song and the band got, but regardless, this is a good music video. It shows what Nirvana do best, play music in a raw and hostile environment. I love all the shots of the dirty gymnasium, the greasy hair, the playing hard, the cheerleaders, everything. It’s just a music video that does exactly what music videos are supposed to do, promote the song and promote the band. And it does both of these things perfectly.

#3 – “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M. 
I forgot how hot Kate Pierson is in this video, and at the age of 43 as well. What? What can I say? I love redheads! Anyway, I can’t help but love this video. I think it’s just because band members are all trying their hardest to look happy but all still look discretely despondent, with the exception of Kate Pierson anyway, of the B52’s, whose smiles just gleam the video camera lense. The video is just great, it’s just totally watchable despite not much really happening apart from the above, in front of a large painting of childrens drawings of ‘happy people’. It’s just an awesome video. Oh and one more thing, Michael Stipe’s incredibly brown suit and cap turned sideways is another amazing highlight of the video.

#2 – “Black or White” by Michael Jackson
If you’re wondering once again I’m including Michael Jackson when I don’t include pop artists as a rule it’s because I think Michael Jackson is above and beyond genre dividing. Michael Jackson is a member of an elite elite ELITE set of musicians of probably 5 to 10 bands or performers that are untouchable.

“Black or White” is possibly an odd choice for some of you. There’s, of course, the debate about the message of the video anyway, considering the weird change of skin colour of Michael Jackson throughout the eighties and nineties. But take that situation out of the way for a moment and you have a very cheesy, yet entertaining music video.

Macaulay Culkin plays as the kid who loves rock music and pisses his father off, and when getting told off, retorts by cranking his electric guitar volume to a ridiculous level, and the father gets blown away by the noise to what looks like Africa, where Michael Jackson is dancing and singing the song (so weird to say that sentence). It’s very cheesy but behind the cheese is a very serious message about equality and diversity amongst the races of humanity. At the end of the video was quite memorable and innovative at the time, is loads of people’s faces of different skin colour and complexions morphing from one person to another. This type of imagery and technology was rarely used before Michael Jackson used it in this video, so it was pretty cool. This video is pretty good but cheesy.

Just in case you were wondering, the original video was quite controversial as it had racial graffiti all over it, but this isn’t the version I’m placing at #2 in my list, but the revised version now found all over music channels that cuts this section out.

#1 – “Enter Sandman” by Metallica
What can I say about “Enter Sandman”? It’s just one of the best music videos of the early nineties. What it lacks in technological quality it makes up in vivid imagery. The video pretty much follows the lyrics song, and deals with a child who can’t sleep properly and dreams vividly of the Sandman, who, in the video, is a very strange old man that is haunting the little girl. The girl falls from the top of a building, gets covered in snakes, gets chased by a truck and falls from a mountain while trying to escape the truck, all the while the Sandman lurks in and around her dreams throughout the video. And while all of these events are happening, the band is playing in parts and throughout the entire time, the screen is flickering, only showing you in parts what’s happening. It’s just a truly magnificent video, especially when it aired in 1991, and one that really needs to be seen if not seen before.

The Top 10 Most Impactful Songs of 1991

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 – “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred

By trade this is a pop song of course, but it’s status is legendary as a one-hit wonder of a balanced feeling of cringe and awesomeness. I mean that. This song is absolutely awesome, but it’s cringe-worthy at the same time. It’s just a truly remarkable song of cheese, slime and facepalmingly bad lyrics but I dare you not to like it. This track got to #2 in the UK charts, but it’s never gone away. It’s too bad not to go away. Right Said Fred has made a career from this song and you will like it, if you like it or not. That didn’t make sense. In summary, you love this song so don’t deny it!

#9 – “You Could Be Mine” by Guns ‘n’ Roses

Getting to #3 in the UK charts, this GnR song was their highest charting single in our country until they released “Knockin’ On Heavens Door” a year later, and the video promoted the classic film “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, one of my favourite films ever. It’s tainted nowadays by arguably better songs like “Paradise City”, “Welcome to the Jungle” and “November Rain”, but for Guns ‘n’ Roses to get a #3 hit was quite a big deal, and kudos to them for that. Sorry, I’m not a big fan of Guns ‘n’ Roses or this song! But yeah, you can’t argue facts, and facts are that in 1991 this was a big hit. A very big hit.

#8 – “The Fly” by U2

Probably by today’s standards this song isn’t that popular in comparison to other U2 songs, but this song got to #1 in the UK and at the time showed a very different side to the band, a slightly harder edge. The song is probably more famous for being the song that knocked Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do it for You)” off the #1 spot after a 16 week stay up there. That being said it’s only U2’s second #1 single in the UK, and they’ve had seven. It definitely showed that U2 are capable of branching their sound to different genres so kudos to them for that.

#7 – “There’s No Other Way” by Blur

Before the days of “Girls and Boys”, “Parklife”, “Country House”, “Song 2” and “Coffee and TV” came “There’s No Other Way”, only Blur’s second single, and the single that brought them huge mainstream attention. The rest of Blur’s career speaks for itself, but if it weren’t for this song, life would have been a lot more difficult for the Britpop band that made such an impact over the course of this decade. It’s one of Blur’s more simple songs, but it’s still exceptionally catchy, and got to #8 in the UK.

#6 – “The Show Must Go On” by Queen

If there’s any song by Queen that’s tragic on a personal level it’s probably this. The song got to #16, and was written primarily by legendary guitarist Brian May, and speaks volumes of the pain that Freddie Mercury was going through in the final year of his life. So much in fact, there were many concerns whether or not Freddie Mercury could actually sing the song, but in Brian May’s words, despite all his struggles, Freddie Mercury “he went in and killed it, completely lacerated that vocal”. So strong is Freddie’s performance in this song you’d be hard to believe he had any problems at all, but that was the strength of the man. This was Queen’s last single in the life of Freddie Mercury. He died six weeks later.

#5 – “Black or White” by Michael Jackson

It may have got to #1 in the UK (and in no fewer than fourteen other countries) but this song has really tainted over time as a song that is considered a great Michael Jackson song. It’s not bad don’t get me wrong, but over his entire career his nineties work is really not taken in high regard, and even when compared to his other songs of the nineties, this song still doesn’t really shine ‘brilliance’. Maybe it’s due to the fact that Michael Jackson is asking us all not to judge a man or woman by the colour of their skin, yet the mysteries of his skin colour changing over time definitely questions that logic. Regardless of is Michael Jackson had skin pigmentation surgery or not, this song and its ethic and moral message, is still important, and obviously the song had a fantastic impact in 1991.

#4 – “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

It was initially hard to choose between “Give it Away” and “Under the Bridge” as the Chili’s song from the classic “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” album but after a deeper thought it became very obvious that this song had to be included in a list of songs that created the most impact. Sure, on a commercial level, “Give it Away” is the cooler, funkier, more mainstream track, but deeper down, on a personal level for Anthony Kiedis himself, and as a song that has created more for the band long term, there’s barely no dispute that this is one of the Chili Peppers’ finest moments in their illustrious career. What a song this is. Getting to #13 in the UK, it’s only one of two songs in the entire Chili’s discography to go platinum in the US (the other being the far inferior “Dani California”). It’s just a beautifully sad song that deals with loneliness and depression, and is one of Kiedis’ finest pieces of music.

#3 – “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.

Once again, another song by another band has been more successful (this time it’s “Shiny Happy People”) but is omitted for a song that may not have charted as high, but has had a far larger impact on the career of the band long term. “Losing My Religion” got to #19, their second biggest hit in the UK at the time (“The One I Love” got to #16). The song’s lyrics deal with pining for someone who doesn’t really feel the same way, a feeling I’m sure we’re all very familiar with. But the song is much more famous for the riff on the mandolin, an instrument Peter Buck, the guitarist was only starting to learn at the time. It’s such a beautiful instrument and is the key to why this song is so memorable. What a song.

#2 – “Enter Sandman” by Metallica

Getting to #5 in the UK is no easy feat for a metal artist, but Metallica did just that with this blistering effort (they also did it a second time with “Until it Sleeps”). It’s arguably one of, if not the biggest Metallica song ever. The lyrics are infamous, the music video memorable, but nothing can beat the opening intro of the song. It’s absolutely sublime; it’s one of the best openings to a song ever. “Enter Sandman” is responsible for turning heads to how good metal can sound, and then “The Black Album” solidified that foundation. It’s such a huge track, such a brilliant song, and it’ll forever go down in history as one of metal’s finest efforts.

#1 – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

It’s not really a dispute about what was the most “Impactful” song of 1991. You can easily make a case that this song made a bigger impact than any song of the nineties. But that’s a conversation for another day. For today, is the day we celebrate “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, THE song of the year 1991.

My opening paragraph talks about how the old guard of the eighties were losing their hold on the change in music. Something was needed to shake music up, but nothing new was really coming. Until September. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” changed music history forever.

I don’t even know how or why. It’s not as if it’s the most amazing song. Nirvana have made much better songs than this. I mean, I really like “Teen Spirit” but I prefer other songs. But something happened, something clicked, a bond was made between audience and song, and it changed Nirvana forever. It changed grunge forever, alternative rock and music changed. Suddenly bands who were previously considered uncool became cool and it changed the pop charts for a good amount of time. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is responsible for that change, and if you like the song or not, you have to appreciate what impact this song had. It may have only got to #7 in the UK, but it simply changed everything.

The Year 1991 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 1991. Yes, this is a biased list.

You can now listen to this playlist on YouTube! Just click here!

  1. You Belong in Rock and Roll - David Bowie
  2. I'm Going Slightly Mad – Queen
  3. Losing My Religion - R.E.M.
  4. There's No Other Way – Blur
  5. Mistadobalina - Del the Funky Homosapien
  6. Gett Off – Prince
  7. Charly - The Prodigy
  8. Sheela-Na-Gig - PJ Harvey
  9. Love Your Money – Daisy Chainsaw
  10. Planet of Sound – The Pixies
  11. Rhinoceros - Smashing Pumpkins
  12. Give it Away - Red Hot Chili Peppers
  13. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  14. Eyeball in My Martini - The Cramps
  15. Hey Stoopid - Alice Cooper
  16. Jesus Built My Hotrod - Ministry
  17. Hangar 18 – Megadeth
  18. Enter Sandman - Metallica
And here are the five alternative songs if you don't like some of the above...

  1. How I Could Just Kill a Man - Cypress Hill
  2. Black or White   - Michael Jackson
  3. When You Don't See Me - Sisters of Mercy
  4. Well, Did You Evah! - Iggy Pop and Deborah Harry
  5. Kiss Them For Me - Siouxsie and the Banshees
And there we go! The year 1991 in review! Next month naturally I’ll be covering the final year in the nineties, 1990, and continue my descend into music history. What we your favourite songs and albums from 1991? Any other comments or queries? Raise them below. Thanks for your time.

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