Alternative music has such a broad definition and contains infinite sub-genres that any list of top ten alternative albums from the 1990’s is sure to create debate. What follows are ten albums that I continue to listen to and enjoy for a variety of reasons. Come on back a couple decades with me.
10. Creed – “Human Clay” – This album barely sneaks into the 1990’s category with its release in September of 1999, but with the success of “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open,” Creed kept the alternative / grunge sound going as the ’90’s came to an end, laying the foundation for bands such as Nickelback, Staind and Three Days Grace to succeed in the 2000’s.
9. Bush – “Sixteen Stone” – Bush’s debut album was released in 1994 and contains the hit songs “Glycerine” and “Comedown.” “Everything Zen,” “Machinehead,” and “Little Things” also enjoyed success. Lead singer Gavin Rossdale’s grinding vocals personified the grunge sound of the early- to mid-’90’s.
8. Soul Asylum – “Grave Dancers Union” – Released in 1992, this album contained the smash hit single “Runaway Train,” which won the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song. “Somebody to Shove,” “Black Gold,” and “Without a Trace” were successful in 1993, as well. The 1995 album “Let Your Dim Light Shine” went platinum, but the triple-platinum “Grave Dancers Union” was Soul Asylum’s best album by a long shot.
7. blink-182 – “Enema of the State” – Like “Human Clay,” this album barely makes it into the 1990’s category, released in June of 1999. Hit singles “What’s My Age Again?,” “All the Small Things,” and “Adam’s Song” played a huge role in bringing pop punk into the mainstream. A lot of their lyrics are pretty darn funny, too.
6. Live – “Throwing Copper” – The singles “I Alone” and “Lightning Crashes” from this 1994 album were developed into memorable videos on MTV, back when MTV used to be about music videos. Most members of that generation probably remember lead singer Ed Kowalczyk’s shaved head and braided rat-tail flying around in those videos. “Selling the Drama” and “All Over You” were two other popular songs, but I really enjoy this entire album from start to finish. I also saw Live live in Austin, Texas, during their tour to promote the album, and they sounded fantastic.
5. Sublime – “Sublime” – This band introduced the masses to a ska and reggae style of rock when this album came out in 1994 and had two big hits with “Santeria” and “What I Got.” With such a unique sound at the time, this album intrigued me, and I’ve loved it ever since. Sadly, it was released after the death of their 28-year-old lead singer Bradley Nowell from a heroin overdose. His death made these lyrics from “What I Got” even more poignant: “Life is too short / so love the one you got.”
4. The Offspring – “Smash” – I was initially drawn to the Offspring by their punk sound, their high energy, their driving guitars, and their Caucasian lead singer, Dexter Holland, sporting corn-rows in their videos. Then as I listened to Holland’s unique voice, I realized that what he was singing about was often absolutely HILARIOUS! “Self Esteem” is a great example of the band’s humor that can be found in many of their songs on this and later albums. “Come Out and Play” and “Gotta Get Away” were also quite successful, and nothing beats “Bad Habit” at maximum volume when you’re sitting in traffic.
3. Pearl Jam – “Ten” – It’s hard to have a conversation about 1990’s alternative music and not mention this album. Lead singer Eddie Vedder’s uniquely mournful voice carries us through depressing topics and hit singles “Jeremy,” “Alive,” “Even Flow,” and “Black” in an album that played a huge role in bringing alternative rock into the mainstream. “Ten” reached #2 in the Billboard 200 in 1992 and has sold close to 10 million copies.
2. Green Day – “Dookie” – Believe it or not, Green Day was actually unknown at one point in time. This 1994 album was the band’s third effort, and it blew the doors open for their career. Hit singles “Longview,” “Basket Case,” “When I Come Around,” and “She” struck gold for Green Day, and from that point on, the band was a founding member of the pop punk movement that has led to their incredible success.
1. Nirvana – “Nevermind” – I hate to be cliche–the vast majority of lists involving 1990’s alternative albums are topped with this album–but “Nevermind”‘s impact on alternative music when it hit the scene in 1991 was epic. Mention grunge music to virtually anyone, and this album will come to mind. You’d be hard-pressed to find a member of the MTV generation who can’t describe the video to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in great detail. In fact, most people could probably recognize the song after hearing only the first three notes. “In Bloom,” “Come As You Are,” “Breed,” and “Lithium” are just a few of the outstanding songs on this album. Not much of what lead singer Kurt Cobain sang was understandable, and what could be understood made very little sense, but Cobain’s voice and the general melody of every song being on the razor’s edge between music and pure chaos brought the Seattle grunge angst out of the Pacific Northwest and into everyone’s ears. I’m hard-pressed to think of an album that comes anywhere close to this granddaddy of alternative music in the ’90’s.
What do you think?