The best of 1991 mix tape
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?