American Graffiti’s countdown of the best albums of the 90’s
By Carter Bagley
For my first list on this website I decided to do a countdown of some of my favorite albums from one of my favorite decades for music: the 1990’s. A very diverse era full of unique sounds and the first time when alternative rock ruled the billboard charts. A time when people from all across the spectrum could pursue music unlike decades before. Before I get a bunch of hate, I want to clarify that these are my personal favorites so if some of your favorites aren’t on the list it just means I didn’t necessarily like them as much as these for any number of reasons. Here’s my countdown of the twenty-five greatest albums of the 1990’s
Albums That Almost Made It
There were quite a few that I had a hard time not putting on the list. So here’s only a few that I would consider to be honorable mentions.
R.E.M. – “Out of Time” (1991)
The album that turned R.E.M. into one of the most popular and richest bands of the 90’s isn’t as fantastic as many of their others as it has a lot of flaws despite the highs being so good with songs like “Losing My Religion”, “Shiny Happy People”, and “Country Feedback”. Click here for my full review of it.
Semisonic – “Feeling Strangely Fine” (1998)
A lot of people might not agree with me here, mostly because Semisonic is pretty much the definition of one hit wonder with their song “Closing Time”, but their album “Feeling Strangely Fine” is fantastic outside just that one song.
My Bloody Valentine – “Loveless” (1991)
I really do enjoy this album as it’s such a unique and important album. Although it’s never had the effect on me that’s it had on others.
Jeff Buckley – “Grace” (1994)
Jeff Buckley is another singer-songwriter tragedy like Elliot Smith was. His magnum opus “Grace” is nothing short of fantastic, it’s just that I couldn’t find a place for it on my top 25. His music is so personal and transcended the decade even and I have a feeling many people would get mad at me for only putting it here.
The Magnetic Fields – “69 Love Songs” (1999)
The Magnetic Fields have always been on those low profile indie bands but they created a somewhat classic of the indie genre in “69 Love Songs”. With such an interesting concept you can hear songwriter and primary lead singer Stephen Merritt searching his heart and putting his soul into this record and it works out as because of the length you begin to not focus on the individual songs or words, but the feel of the whole album.
The Stone Roses – “Second Coming” (1994)
The second studio album by The Stone Roses took a long time to hit the shelves, too long even. Legal disputes troubled them but they finally got around to releasing their follow-up in 1994. It took many off guard with it’s loud lead guitar and songs that sounded more like 70’s rock than the jangle britpop from their debut. This didn’t make it bad by any means as it’s actually quite great but it was too different and too late and many didn’t give it a chance.
Here it is now: The Top 25 Albums of the 1990’s
25. Cast – “All Change” (1995)
Cast was a band that was created after the singer songwriter of The La’s, Lee Mavers, left the band and the remainders of the group formed a new one. Their debut “All Change” came out after Britpop exploded in the U.K. and it was the genre The La’s helped create and it’s only fitting that Cast’s debut would be amongst the best records of the era.
24. Wilco – “Being There” (1996)
Like I said on my review for Wilco’s “Schmilco”, I have yet to fully delve into their discography. Although when writing that review I totally forgot about their sophomore effort “Being There”. This being my favorite album out of the one’s I’ve heard from the band is saying a lot because I also quite love “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”. “Being There” is a double album and the songs split up into what sounds like two complete albums. The songs “Misunderstood”, “Outta Sight (Outta Mind)”, and “Sunken Treasure” from iy should also be heard by everyone.
23. Neutral Milk Hotel – “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” (1998)
Neutral Milk Hotel has always been their own band. They have a unique folk-indie rock sound and great strained vocals by Jeff Mangum combined with some truly fantastic lyrics that made this record such a success. “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” is definitely not for everyone, but I can guarantee first hand if you do like it on first listen, it will only grow on you more and more from then on.
22. Radiohead – “The Bends” (1995)
The album that came before “OK Computer” would’ve been the best for most bands and you can hear how it prepared the band to make their 1997 classic. Still though, “The Bends” has some beautiful moments on it and is a phenomenal album all on it’s own. This is also the album with “Fake Plastic Trees” on it which is no doubt one of the best from the band.
21. The Verve – “Urban Hymns” (1997)
Maybe the last britpop album ever made if you ask me, as everything that came after never had the same feel. This album made The Verve a recognizable name amongst most music fans as this was definitely their most marketable album they’ve made. Although the success of their single “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was unprecendented (as it is a really great song) but “Lucky Man”, “The Drugs Don’t Work”, and “Sonnet” are also fantastic songs.
20. Nirvana – “In Utero” (1993)
The third and last studio album by grunge band Nirvana differed from it’s predecessor in many ways and although it’s not nearly as consistent as Nevermind, the highs are just as high with songs like “Serve The Servants”, “Pennyroyal Tea”, “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” and the lows are also not very that low but admittedly they’re still present.
19. Guided By Voices – “Alien Lanes” (1995)
90’s indie darlings Guided By Voices always had their unique vision on alternative rock. “Alien Lanes” is my favorite album by the band and it consists of 28 shortened songs written brilliantly by Robert Pollard (despite a few of the tracks by other members) that run together almost like Side 2 of The Beatles “Abbey Road” famously did. This unique trait is what really makes “Alien Lanes” feel like a true cohesive gem with underrated tracks like “A Good Flying Bird”, “Game of Pricks” and “Closer You Are”.
18. Pulp – “Different Class” (1995)
Pulp’s “Different Class” is a pure britpop album that might not have worked in any other era. Looking back at it though it still holds up as being consistently great all the way through and Jarvis Cocker’s breathy vocals, retro pop instrumentation and exhilarating lyrics still make it pretty fantastic. It’s really an album that’s unlike any others and I advise you all to give it a chance.
17. Pavement – “Slanted and Enchanted” (1992)
The first studio album by indie rock band Pavement. It’s more jumbled than “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” but that’s what also gives it some charm. The critical success of this album is also kind of bizarre because Stephen Malkmus has never had the best voice and the lyrics also trail off sometimes. Overall though that’s what made Pavement such a unique band with endless charm. Besides, the songs “Here” and “Zurich Is Stained” are both very personal songs to me.
16. Blur – “13” (1999)
Blur’s last album with guitarist Graham Coxon who besides Damon Albarn was definitely a creative force in the band. It also happened to be their last album of the decade that made them so famous. From beginning to end “13” is a very fascinating, original album with some immense creativity put into it. Also, “Tender” is definitely one of the greatest songs of the decade if you ask me.
15. The Smashing Pumpkins – “Siamese Dream” (1993)
Billy Corgan and co. had a very good album streak in the early to mid 90’s and this is the pinnacle of all that. With almost a post-grunge sound “Siamese Dream” stands out as a truly unique and spectacular album. Anyone who ever gives The Smashing Pumpkins shit just play them “Today” or “Disarm” and I can guarantee it will shut them up.
14. Nada Surf – “High/Low” (1996)
“High/Low” is a very very very criminally underrated album. Produced by Ric Ocasek and released by Elektra records “High/Low” should’ve been a massive success although Nada Surf tragically fell into the one hit wonder category with their hit MTV video for “Popular”. Because of that their tremendous very 90’s sounding debut album sadly got overlooked by many.
13. Elliott Smith – “Either/Or” (1997)
Elliott Smith probably came the closest to being considered the Bob Dylan of his generation than anyone else. His melancholy raw writing style is fantastic and the tragedy of his death years after this release only elevated the sadness of his entire discography. Elliott Smith was a true genius lyricist with a very recognizable voice and “Either/Or” is a singer-songwriter classic for any music fan to listen to.
12. Oasis – “Definitely Maybe” (1994)
The debut album by rock band Oasis is truly amazing for a debut album. “Definitely Maybe” is extremely confident showing that Oasis knew exactly how great they were before they even released anything. I mean, put this in perspective. Two poor brothers and their friends from Manchester weren’t complaining about their lives like other bands were at the time, instead the first song on their first album singer Liam Gallagher was confident enough to scream that he was a rock n roll star in the chorus. Sure the Gallagher brothers are cocky assholes 99% of the time, but in the end isn’t that what rock n roll has always been about?
11. Blur – “Parklife” (1994)
Being an American myself I can only get an understanding of the Britpop movement in Britain from what I read online. Although I’ve often understood from what I’ve seen and heard is that Blur’s “Parklife” did for Britain what Nirvana’s “Nevermind” did for America. It’s an endlessly catchy and creative masterpiece and maybe one of the greatest straight-up pop albums I’ve ever heard.
10. Pearl Jam – “Ten” (1991)
There’s not much more I can say about Pearl Jam that hasn’t already been said. They’re simply one of the biggest bands of the past quarter century and “Ten” is a grunge classic that came out the same year as Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. It made Pearl Jam the Rolling Stones to Nirvana’s The Beatles. Fighting for the number one I’d say Nirvana came out on top but it easily could’ve went the other way. Either way “Ten” is still considered a classic rock record these days as it deserves, right up there with “Nevermind”.
9. Weezer – “Pinkerton” (1996)
The sophomore follow-up to “The Blue Album” was a commercial and critical flop at the time of release. Which I can understand because it’s much different with Rivers Cuomo singing about depression and loneliness. It is much less fun than their debut although it makes up for it with it’s pioneering emo undertones. It acts as a confessional for singer-songwriter Rivers Cuomo and has since become an undisputed classic.
8. Pavement – “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” (1994)
The second album by indie rock band Pavement is what brought them to a wider audience and rightfully so. “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” is a tremendous indie rock classic that was a critical and commercial success. Filled with some bizarre songs that are endlessly catchy like “Gold Soundz”, “Cut Your Hair”, and “Range Life” it’s really a record everyone should give a listen to.
7. R.E.M. – “Automatic For The People” (1992)
R.E.M. was one of the most prevalent independent bands of the 80’s and also a pioneer of Alternative rock. Their 7th studio album “Out Of Time” made them a massive rock band which nobody saw coming, although the follow-up “Automatic For The People” is the one where they really found their footing with the major label. With several classics like “Everybody Hurts”, “Man On The Moon”, and “Nightswimming”… “Automatic For The People” is truly one of the bands best work. Click here for my full review of it.
6. U2 – “Achtung Baby” (1991)
The follow up to “Rattle and Hum” came in ’91 and instantly became one of their greatest albums. With a new sound the band previously didn’t have, “Achtung Baby” is one of the albums that made U2 one of the biggest bands on the planet. Front to back original and powerful with so many great songs on it that you almost forget how it’s not a greatest hits album. Everyone knows classics like “One”, “Even Better Than The Real Thing” and “Mysterious Ways” but one of my favorites is the lovely album closer “Love Is Blindness”.
5. Oasis – “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory” (1995)
Yes, this is the album with “Wonderwall” on it. It is probably the only song most people outside of Europe know from Oasis, but they were always so much more than that. The majority of the album is just hit single after hit single including one of my favorite songs ever is track 4 on the album “Don’t Look Back In Anger”, which everyone should check out. Besides that the album runs together really well with little 40 second instrumental segments sprinkled through that makes it feel as if it’s a massive show being broken down by intermissions and the whole thing is closed with the 7 minute masterpiece “Champagne Supernova”.
4. Green Day – “Dookie” (1994)
“Dookie” is what turned Green Day into the international success that they are known to be today. It’s simply just an extremely phenomenally fun rock record that has such an amazing energy to it. 90’s staples like “Basket Case” and “When I Come Around” and others that influenced a whole new generation of punk bands to come after, whether what for better or worse still doesn’t take away the greatness that is “Dookie”.
3. Nirvana – “Nevermind” (1991)
Easily one of the most influential albums ever made and probably the album most people would pick for Number One. Nirvana left an unmistakable mark on the music world and this is the album that caused it. Almost every song on it is a downright classic and this is one of those classics that will never be forgotten, and a new generation of teenagers will always find it and fall in love with it just like they did when it came out.
2. Radiohead – “OK Computer” (1997)
“OK Computer” is one of those albums that’s just so beautiful to listen to. Out of all of Radiohead’s stellar discography this one stands out as their greatest achievement. Beautiful melodies mixed with Thom Yorke’s lovely vocals turn the record into a true creative masterpiece. Almost every single damn song on it is just so good and most may know the singles but please give a listen to underrated tracks like “Let Down”, “Exit Music (For A Film)” and “Climbing Up The Walls”.
1. Weezer – “Weezer (The Blue Album)” (1994)
Starting off I didn’t think this would be my number one. Although after thinking about it I honestly couldn’t think of another album I’ve gotten into more than Weezer’s debut. It’s easily one of my favorite albums of all time and it never seems to get old or lose it’s effect on me. It’s just so fun all while being so perfect in almost every way. Very few albums have ever been as air tight as Weezer’s debut, and I mean ever. Click here for my full review of it.