1995 was around about the time that I was rousing out of my 3-year break from following new music, thanks to some excellent releases from the likes of Matthew Sweet, Luna, Foo Fighters, and the flood of Britpop that began to seep onto U.S. shores. A plucky little band named Radiohead also dropped an album called The Bends, a ridiculous, shoulda been hit-spewing machine with nary a throwaway track out of the 12 on the record. Oh, and they also opened for R.E.M. for part of the Monster tour and absolutely blew the headliners off the stage, which was no mean feat in those days, as the lads from Athens had finally come to grips with playing arenas and were sporting one of the best back catalogues going.
All this means is that my depth of knowledge of the year is deeper and more sure-footed than it has been in a few years, so it’s probably no surprise that my mix will continue to diverge fairly radically from some of the best-sellers of the day. Specifically, the closer music gets to “Nu-metal,” the farther away I will run. I take pride in finding the good in pretty much any genre out there, but everybody has their limits, and I readily acknowledge mine.
Sick of Myself – Matthew Sweet
This one is a first ballot member of the “Bust a Gut Singing in the Car Hall of Fame.” So much fun and such a great blast of power pop.
23 Minutes in Brussels – Luna
This song is close to perfect, and a pretty sure bet to make the best of the decade final mix. Luna are perhaps the most criminally underrated band of the decade this side of Teenage Fanclub.
Down By the Water – PJ Harvey
The role of Prince in the 80s and Bowie/Stevie Wonder in the 70s is played admirably by Polly Jean in the 90s. An incredible body of work during the decade and beyond.
Good – Better Than Ezra
Another track that I could try and act too cool to enjoy, but again that would be stupid because it’s a great song.
As We Go Up, We Go Down – Guided By Voices
Hipster cred restored in less than two minutes of lo-fi goodness. It’s like a juice cleanse after over-indulging in some treacly holiday goodies.
AT&T – Pavement
And now we land in the waiting arms of Mr. Malkmus’ angular guitar-flavored gumbo. It’s a warm, welcoming embrace indeed.
I’ll Stick Around – Foo Fighters
Raise your hand if you think that Mr. Grohl’s second major band was the better one (hand raised high in the air). Or, if nothing else, Foo Fighters seem like a lot more fun to be a member of at least.
Caught By The Fuzz – Supergrass
Speaking of bands that seemed like they were having more fun than most of their contemporaries, I give you Supergrass. Few songs make being chased by the police seem like such a grand idea.
Sparky’s Dream – Teenage Fanclub
I’ve still yet to work out why Teenage Fanclub is not one of the biggest bands in the world. 1994′s Bandwagonesque should be enough for RnR HOF status on it’s own.
Peaches – Presidents of the United States of America
Come on, you know you like this song. Don’t try and deny it. Let’s all go move to the country and eat a lot of peaches, shall we? They were put there in a can by a man, after all. It’s as if they got blackout drunk while reading Dr. Seuss and woke up the next morning with this song recorded.
Sunday Morning – No Doubt
No Doubt is one of the largest intersections between this mix and the Billboard charts, even if this album really didn’t take off until 1996.
Drown – Son Volt
After Uncle Tupelo broke up, two bands were spawned (Son Volt and Wilco). For a short while it sure seemed like Son Volt was the horse to bet on in that race.
Disco 2000 – Pulp
More than a few excellent tunes on this album, Different Class, but Disco 2000 stands out to me, even if (or maybe because?) it weirdly recalls Gloria by Laura Branigan. The Britpop wars get a welcome injection of intellectualism.
Cumbersome – Seven Mary Three
Mark this one down as the song I like the most from the year that I had completely forgotten about. It’s a good ‘un.
Don’t Look Back in Anger – Oasis
Definitive proof that Noel was the most important and coolest Gallagher, the borderline insane John to Liam’s laddish version of Paul (if he wanted desperately to be John), if you’re into thinly drawn Beatles metaphors.
1995, you were a good one. Thanks for pulling me back into discovering new music, just in time for the rise of something called the .mp3 and the Internets, and to stop me from doing something stupid like selling off all my old vinyl. Here’s the Spotify playlist for your subscribing/listening/dissecting pleasure.
Which one of your favorites did I leave out?
Hey, would you look at that – 1994 marks the 25th entry in the “best of” project. That’s a lot of mixes, and there are still many more to go, but at least I’m not having to fork over money for a new Maxell every time I make one of these.
On to 1994 then. I doubt there’s been a year thus far where my selections will differ more wildly with what sold massively during the year. Green Day, Alice in Chains, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, the Offspring, Live, Hootie & the Blowfish, the Cranberries, and Nirvana all had albums that moved multi-million copies, but none of them are represented on this list. The reasons vary – some made the long list but were just beaten out for a spot on the final mix (Nine Inch Nails, Live, Soundgarden, and the Cranberries), while others make me want to punch things (Offspring and Hootie. Hi, I’m JLo. I’m South Carolina native and I do not like Hootie & the Blowfish one bit. They seem like nice guys and all, but how they ever had an album that sold 10 million copies I will never be able to explain.) I really wanted to put Nirvana’s cover of The Man Who Sold the World or About a Girl on here, but decided against it since I’ve tried to stay away from live albums on these mixes.
So what did make it? Let’s find out.
Sure Shot – The Beastie Boys
Because I can’t, I won’t, and I don’t stop including the Boys on these mixes. So much goodness.
Boxcar – Jawbreaker
Hi, we’re Jawbreaker. Our album was about 10 times better than Green Day’s but they sleep on piles of money and we almost assuredly do not. Life is unfair sometimes.
California – Luna
Hi, we’re Luna. Our album was about 1000 times better than Hootie & the Blowfish but…um, you get the picture.
Cut Your Hair – Pavement
Well helllloooo, Mr. Malkmus. I’ve been looking forward to your arrival on the scene. Get comfy because I’m pretty sure you’ll be sticking around for a while.
Loser – Beck
It’s time to get crazy with the cheese whiz in the time of chimpanzees at a shot gun wedding. Cut it. Something like that. Got it?
Parklife – Blur
1994 marks the year that shots were fired in the Blur/Oasis Britpop rivalry. Parklife was strong, but the Mancunians were about to drop two musical a-bombs on the world.
Seether – Veruca Salt
Killer tune. Killer Charlie and Chocolate factory reference. Killer AC/DC reference in the album title (American Thighs). No way I was passing this one up. Can’t fight the Seether.
Delia’s Gone – Johnny Cash
And so began one of the most unlikely and amazing musical resurgences the world has ever seen. We’re likely never to see anything the likes of the American Recordings releases in our lifetimes, unless the Rolling Stones decide to put out a series of stripped-down blues records in the future.
Cigarettes and Alcohol – Oasis
The first two Oasis albums really are incredible, and this snarling, T-Rex riffing ball of fury is one of the best tunes they ever did. Plus, it introduced the world to Liam Gallagher’s unique pronunciation of the word “shine.” (Shuuuuu-iiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnneeeeeeee)
Headache – Frank Black
As good as the first couple of Frank Black and Breeders records are, it’s hard not to look back and wonder what kind of records the Pixies would be making had they not broken up (by fax – how 90s) a few years before.
Numb – Portishead
You can have your terrible, terrible Offspring records. I’ll stick with with the sultry, trippy Portishead, thanks very much.
My Name is Jonas – Weezer
One of the hardest decisions on this list was figuring out which Weezer track to include. There are others better known, but I’ve always loved the opener. It’s extra fun in retrospect with the added context of the Jonas Brothers to layer on the song.
Your Favorite Thing – Sugar
Tough call between this one and Gee Angel, but the riff on Your Favorite Thing is too good to deny.
Supernova – Liz Phair
The last of the great Liz Phair records, burning hot like a Supernova indeed.
Machinehead – Bush
Bush were pretty wicked, weren’t they? Some great tunes on their debut record, but this one stands out to me.
Karmacoma – Massive Attack
It’s not my scene, but I’m just guessing this song is really popular now in Colorado and Washington state these days.
Better Man – Pearl Jam
Man this is a great one. Pearl Jam’s contemporaries could have learned a thing or two about crafting songs from them.
Alrighty then, here be the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure.
So let me have it, which of you favorites did I leave out, children of the 90s?
I’ll be honest with you, I’m surprised at how good the 1993 mix turned out to be, as I went into this one expecting not to like this list very much. There was a period right after I graduated from college that I turned away from new music by and large, turned off by a few too many Nirvana clones and (and way too much Nevermind.) Looking back though 1993 was a really great year for music, thanks in large part to female artists (or female-fronted bands) cranking out three unassailable classic albums (The Breeders, PJ Harvery, and Liz Phair) or just great singles (Mazzy Star and Bjork). Heck, 1993 even had the best Nirvana album, not to mention a killer record by The Rev Horton Heat.
As a result, the mea culpa list for this year is long and exceptionally good, so apologies to The Verve, Fugazi, Radiohead, Blur, and Letters to Cleo (I’m not kidding, Here and Now is a great track) for not finding space for you on the tape.
The Breeders – Cannonball
I wish I was as cool as Kim Deal. You know, just without the crippling heroin addiction and social awkwardness. (Yes, I know, I use that joke too much. Stop pointing it out.)
Ugly Truth Rock – Matthew Sweet
The “Rock” version of this song takes the acoustic version back behind the woodshed and deliveries an old fashion whooping to it.
Fade Into You – Mazzy Star
Such a killer song. Everything about it is just perfect. Definite best of the decade contender here.
Los Angeles – Frank Black
I love the tonal shifts in this song, when it abruptly shifts from acoustic strummer to heavy thrash and back again.
50 Ft. Queenie – PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey can basically do no wrong in my eyes. Note for note she puts out the most interesting and challenging music of just about anyone of her generation.
Wiggle Stick – The Rev Horton Heaton
So glad to be able to find room on here for the good Reverend. Testify!
Jupiter and Teardrop – Grant Lee Buffalo
GLB is this list’s winner for “band I hope some of you go back and discover” award. This one got a decent amount of exposure back in the day, but didn’t get the recognition it deserved.
Big Time Sensuality – Bjork
It’s pretty much impossible to hear this song and not move. A great one for your workout playlists.
Get Off This – Cracker
Cracker are awesome. That is all. There’s not much more that really needs to be said.
Today – Smashing Pumpkins
Another pretty great record from the Pumpkins, I’ll admit. I think my perception of them has been unfairly blotted by Billy Corgan’s general jerkiness. Oh, and Zwan.
Rain King – Counting Crows
I could play the typical hipster music snob card and and try to act all aloof and deny that August and Everything After was a great record, but that would be stupid and pointless because it is great, this song especially.
Divorce Song – Liz Phair
I still try and reconcile the dichotomy of Liz Phair’s career sometimes, but it makes my brain hurt. Anyway, there’s no denying how monumentally great Exile In Guyville is. Take your pick of songs here.
All Apologies – Nirvana
Their best song from their best album.
Laid – James
Once upon a time it took me a while to warm to this song because I thought the central conceit was a little tacky, but the tunefulness just wore me down eventually.
Into Your Arms – The Lemonheads
Evan Dando wrote some ridiculously good and catchy guitar pop songs, this one included.
Stay (Faraway, So Close) – U2
Zooropa kind of ushered in the “pretty good to mediocre albums with a couple of killer tracks” era of U2′s career. Sending out some healing vibes to Bono though. Take it easy on the bike, my Irish cycling brother!
Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure. (Don’t even try and deny that you’re going to sing along with Rain King at full throat though.)
Which one of your favorites did I shortchange?
1992 was kind of an odd year in music, as much of the popular music of the year was a carry over from the wave 1991 grunge releases. Nevermind, Ten, etc were all more popular in terms of chart position in 1992 than they were in the previous year. 1992 ends up being a little top heavy as a result, with a few absolute classics (hello Check Your Head) strewn amongst a handful of pretty good releases and a lot of flotsam and jetsam. Apologies go out to Alice in Chains and Tori Amos for being the final two songs cut from this list.
Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead – XTC
Andy Patridge’s ode to JFK and/or Jesus Christ, depending on who you ask or which verses you point to, seems like a fine way to kick off the mix.
Nearly Lost You – Screaming Trees
Hands down one of my favorite songs of the year, this tune gained greater popularity when it was included on the Singles soundtrack.
Tennessee – Arrested Development
Toss up between this track and People Everyday for inclusion here, but Tennessee gets the nod.
Plush – Stone Temple Pilots
Great tune, just don’t listen too closely to the lyrics unless you want your head to hurt.
Weirdo – The Charlatans
Or The Charlatans UK for American audiences. A bit of psych-Madchester pop is always a welcome inclusion in my book.
Bad Luck – Social Distortion
I was never a huge Social D fan, but this song is pretty great and was fairly inescapable at the time. Plus, cowbell!
It’s a Shame About Ray – The Lemonheads
Speaking of inescapable, I remember almost getting sick of this song I heard it so much. It would literally come on at just about any bar, restaurant, or record store I walked into for about 6 months. A pretty great track though.
If I Can’t Change Your Mind – Sugar
My “Desert Island Top 10″ records change like the wind depending on my mood, but Copper Blue is probably as close to a sure thing for inclusion as any record I can think of off the top of my head.
I Palindrome I – They Might Be Giants
Such a fun song. Who else could get away with writing a song with palindromes in the title and start it out with the line “Some day Mother will die and I’ll get the money” and not come off looking like idiots and/or murderous creeps?
Tomorrow – Morrissey
Song for song Your Arsenal might be my favorite Morrissey solo album. Funny Moz story, I was cleaning out my gmail inbox the past few days and came across multiple e-mails going back to 2007 with some variation of the phrase “Morrissey Concert Postponed and/or Cancelled” sent from Ticketmaster. Like enough that they had their own thread going. Silly, Moz.
Jimmy James – The Beastie Boys
“This song is the first song from our new record.” It’s also a wicked good one, especially since I get a double name check in the title.
Hey Jealousy – Gin Blossoms
This one ranks high on the “songs that I secretly belt out in the car when nobody else is around” top ten.
Dress – PJ Harvey
Dry is such an incredible record, and it was next to impossible to decide between this, Sheela-Na-Gig, and Oh My Lover. I do love me some Polly Jean Harvey.
100% – Sonic Youth
Such an awesome track, and a great 1-2 sonic punch with Dress.
Candy Everybody Wants – 10,000 Maniacs
I didn’t do intend to line up PJ, Kim Gordon, and Natalie Merchant, but it just worked out that way as a happy coincidence.
Find the River – R.E.M.
Sure, Man on the Moon is the track you’d probably expect from Automatic for the People, but this is one of the dozen or so best R.E.M. songs, and a heck of an album/mix closer to boot. When the harmonies kick in the first time (Mike on the high end and Bill on the low) it still makes the hair on my arms stand up. Just beautiful.
Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure.
Which of your favorites did I miss?
Before I get started, here’s a couple of things you need to know about of the music of 1991:
- There were a half dozen or more stone cold classic albums released during this year, so half of the spots on the playlist are gone before we even get started. Think about the goodness that 1991 brought into our lives. Ten, Achtung Baby, Blue Lines, The Low End Theory, Bandwagonesque, Loveless, and Girlfriend jump out just off the top of my head. In terms of classic albums 1991 is right up there with 1972, 1977, and 1983.
- There’s a pretty glaring omission from that list of albums in the previous bullet, namely Nirvana’s Nevermind. Here’s a spoiler alert, Lithium was one of the last songs cut from this playlist. It’s not that dislike Nirvana totally and I certainly recognize their cultural significance, but they’ve always seemed to me to be too much of a band just milking the Pixies for all they could to be considered truly great. I was always gravitated to Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees more when it came to “grunge.”
- The “long list” that I considered for inclusion on this list had a lot more “golden age” hip hop, with Ice-T, N.W.A., etc. Only here’s the thing – I’m a dad, I often play these mixes around the house where my young kids are around, and I’m not nearly Portlandia enough to think that them hearing the number of profanities on your average track off O.G. Original Gangster is a great idea, as much as I wanted to include New Jack Hustler. Call it one of the unwritten rules for inclusion on the mix tapes.
- Now that we are getting into the 1990s, I’m expecting more blowback from some of my younger friends who consider the 90s their formative years musically. I’m willing to take that challenge though, so come at me, bro. (I almost type that without laughing.)
- Does my writing just seem to have an extra dose of pretentiousness today? If so it’s because this is the first post I’ve written on my MacBook Pro, and holy smokes I’ve swallowed the kool aid big time. Why did I wait so long to so this again? Well yeah, probably because this thing retails for more than my house, but one of the benefits of my graduate school program is this puppy is included in my tuition. Love it, even if I need to get into habit of using the “command” key vice “control.” I’m getting there.
So here we go, let’s see who ran the gauntlet that was 1991 well enough to make the final cut of 14.
Unfinished Symphony – Massive Attack
The first of the no-brainers. Massive Attack was one of those bands that it took me a few years to come around on, but now I consider Blue Lines to be one of the best albums of the decade.
U-Mass – The Pixies
Trompe La Monde was the last Pixies albums, understand? THE LAST ONE. I will not be swayed from this position.
Movin’ On Up – Primal Scream
With a bit more time available on a playlist, I probably would have chosen Loaded instead, but this track works just fine.
So Cruel – U2
This is one of the two or three best U2 songs ever, and probably Bono’s finest achievement lyrically. I think everybody has that one relationship at some point where they were into to the other person just a little too much for their own good, only it turned out the feelings weren’t exactly mutual. No song has captured that feeling of helplessness and desperation better than this one. The sequence from “Desperation is a tender trap” to “You need her like a drug” is just particularly devastating.
Getting Away With It – Electronic
Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner together? What’s not to like here again? A breezier take on So Cruel’s theme.
I Am the One – Smashing Pumpkins
I’m not a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan as a whole, but Gish is a pretty great record, and I Am the One is certainly worthy of inclusion here.
Black – Pearl Jam
Ok, so it turns out that most of the great songs from this year are about as uplifting and cheerful as an episode of The Wire. No surprise there I guess. As emotionally raw and great as Bono’s lyrics above are, “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life/I know you’ll be the sun in somebody’s sky/But why can’t it be mine?” may be even better. Or maybe it’s just the plaintive howl of Eddie Veder’s delivery that elevates that line.
Jazz (We’ve Got It) – A Tribe Called Quest
Seriously, ATCQ was just ridiculously good and an almost wholly unique animal musically. Seek out the documentary “Beats, Rhymes & Life” (by Michael Rapaport?!?) as it is well worth your time.
Still Be Around – Uncle Tupelo
One of my biggest regrets of all of these mix tapes so far was not finding a spot for anything off No Depression on the 1990 list. I’m not making that mistake twice, Tweedy!
She’s So High – Blur
No, not the much better known Tal Bachman song of the same name (which may be in running when I get around to the 2000s though.) One of the first shots fired in the rise of “Britpop.”
Girlfriend – Matthew Sweet
When all is said and done, this may be my favorite album of the year, and one of the best of the entire decade. Just an absolute juggernaut of power pop.
Sometimes – My Bloody Valentine
Loveless is another ridiculously good album. The only problem is that the whole album is so good that there is no easy standout track to select, so I went with one of my favorites.
What You Do To Me – Teenage Fanclub
This mix is so loaded down with classic records that I’m afraid it might buckle under the weight. Here’s one of the best, used to most awesome effect by Edgar Wright in The World’s End introducing the most awesome Rosamund Pike for the first time in the movie.
Country Feedback – R.E.M.
Out of Time hasn’t aged as well as most of the records in R.E.M.’s catalogue, but this gem has only become more brilliant and revelatory with age.
Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure and dissection.
Ok, which of your favorites did I leave out?