Some mid-90’s nostalgia is good for the soul

February 8, 2016

The-Blue-Album

A little levity is needed for this blog.

I could pick any time-frame from past decades, but I am especially fond of the mid-90’s when it comes to the rock radio format. This has much to do with how “alt-rock” became mainstream in the early 90’s.

Sure, the “grunge” sound was quickly made accessible through a pop-sensible retooling, but that was a good thing on the whole. It challenged and changed the radio for a generation (albeit short-lived) with a surge of creativity. It was fun and exciting.

I will limit the time-frame from 1994 to 1996. Three years — three awesome years. There are ten music videos below, in no particular order.

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Weezer, “Undone (The Sweater Song)”

Weezer’s self-titled debut album, dubbed “the blue album,” was perfect for its time in every way. In contrast to the the seriousness of the early 90’s (e.g., Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage,” Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” Alice in Chain’s “Man in the Box,” et al.), Weezer was fun and whimsical and witty, while retaining the distortion-driven dynamics of their grunge predecessors. The “true” fan of Weezer is invariably going to say that their follow-up release, Pinkerton, is their greatest album, but that is nonsense — as much as I love Pinkerton. The blue album was and remains their best work.

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The Smashing Pumpkins, “Tonight, Tonight”

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is the epitome of mid-90’s creativity and ambitiousness. “Tonight, Tonight” won wide acclaim as both a radio single and a music video. The album also yielded the now-classic songs, “1979” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” The lead singer, Billy Corgan, is a rather intelligent guy, and he enjoys bemoaning (rightly so) the current state of the music industry. Luckily for him, Billy and his band debuted at the perfect time, with a welcoming radio market and wide audience.

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Live, “Lightning Crashes”

Throwing Copper is one of the gems of the whole decade, and “Lightning Crashes” is the most treasured and recognizable song on the album. Everybody loves a slowly building tempo, especially when the payoff is as glorious as this. There is a reverence to the song, and the vocals are captivating from beginning to end. This was a song that would bind you to the seat of your car in the school parking lot, until the song was finished.

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Goo Goo Dolls, “Name”

Goo Goo Dolls began as a punk band from Buffalo. They had already been together for almost a decade by the time of their phenomenal breakout hit, “Name,” in 1995, from A Boy Named Goo. Obviously, their sound had changed, and it is why we all know them. They released several more hits and remain a popular band, even as their heyday has long passed. Goo Goo Dolls defined the crossover brand of “alt-rock-pop” in the mid to late 90’s.

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Tom Petty, “You Don’t Know How It Feels”

Tom Petty was already a well-established figure in mainstream music, having had multiple hit songs since the late 70’s. He continued to surprise the industry with his wide appeal, releasing massive hit singles like “Free Fallin'” in 1989. In 1994, he released Wildflowers and once again released a radio single that would become one of his most iconic songs: “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” This is classic Petty. According to Tom Petty himself, they record all of their albums “live” in the studio, without any layering or subsequent polishing. I saw them in concert several years ago, and I believe it. They are incredible.

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Collective Soul, “The World I Know”

It is a little-known fact that Collective Soul had the most #1 rock singles in the 90’s. The band is anchored by two brothers who are sons of a pastor in Georgia. While they are a “secular” band, they are noted for frequently introducing spiritual themes and expressions in their songs. I saw Collective Soul in concert in 2000, and they remain one of the most tightly-structured and impressive bands that I have ever seen.

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K’s Choice, “Not an Addict”

The deeper you stake it in your vein / The deeper the thoughts / There’s no more pain / I’m in heaven / I’m a god

Needless to say, this song connected with a lot of people. It is one of the most haunting and beautiful songs of the decade. K’s Choice is a Belgian band, and this is the lead track from their second album, released in 1996.

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Alanis Morissette, “Head Over Feet”

Now available in a four-disc “collector’s edition,” Jagged Little Pill is among the most recognizable 90’s albums, thanks to its multiple hit singles and crossover appeal. Alanis Morissette was one of the few women to appeal to both the modern rock and pop audience, and I cannot think of any woman today who is doing the same. Of course, rock ‘n’ roll as a mainstream format is now in a state of turmoil, if not complete collapse.

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Hootie and The Blowfish, “Let Her Cry”

Cracked Rear View gave us one huge hit after another. In fact, most people experienced “Hootie fatigue” at some point. As a result, we have forgotten how great they were, especially this album. It doesn’t matter what genre of music you like, if you don’t like “Let Her Cry,” then you are a soulless bastard! The lead singer, Darius Rucker, is now a successful country artist. They proudly hail from South Carolina.

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Hum, “Stars”

Hum’s “Stars” was a one-hit wonder on rock radio in the mid-90’s, though enjoying spins well into the late 90’s. Their album, You’d Prefer an Astronaut, is very much representative of what college guys (and gals) were into at the time. The distortion is extra thick throughout the album, and “Stars” stood-out with its melody and infectious riffs. To quote one of the YouTube comments (forgive the language), “Best fucking riff of the 90s.” Yep! Also, check-out Downward is Heavenward.

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If we continued into the late 90’s, I would include Foo Fighters, Everclear, Our Lady Peace, Matchbox 20, and Third Eye Blind, to name a few.

Among other songs that I could have listed for the mid-90’s: Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova.” No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak.” R.E.M.’s “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” The Cranberries’ “Zombie.” Spacehog’s “In the Meantime.” 311’s “Down.” Sublime’s “What I Got.”  And, of course, plenty of Dave Matthews Band.

27 Responses to “Some mid-90’s nostalgia is good for the soul”

  1. Solid collection. Two thumbs up. Ed kowalczyk, [of Live fame], has some cool solo albums, worth checking out. His ability to walk between the secular and CCM markets, without being consumed by either, is intriguing.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Ah, I wasn’t aware of Ed Kowalczyk’s solo work. Is he writing from a Christian perspective? I know that he has always had a deep, personal investment in spiritual and religious matters, but I assumed that it was not specifically Christian.

  2. cal said

    My memories of 90’s music was certainly on the darker side of things. I think of Slipknot, Disturbed, and Tool etc. Though I don’t listen to too much of that anymore.

    Tool I think is a really pulse-touching band for the 90’s. Not all of the 90’s, not everyone everywhere in the US, but certainly a nerve. They were the post-grunge band that was self-consciously sold-out (“Hooker with a Penis”), representing the kind of anxiety of the “what do we do now?” that grunge epitomized, and answering it with incoherence. Lateralus, to me, is remarkable in form. It’s like Deleuze for Dummies. It is simultaneously dull, disturbed, and hazy transcendental (the best of grunge?).

    • Kevin Davis said

      That’s fascinating and sounds right to me. Some of the smartest guys I know (not Christians) have praised Tool as both representing and defining their own perceptions of the world. Of course, it was the deconstructive fervor that attracted them and “spoke to them,” but they expressed their own dissatisfaction with this…even while feigning a faux-satisfaction in the deconstructive spirit.

  3. Ian said

    Guys, for one brief shining moment Hum was the apotheosis of badass riffery. If you haven’t listened to their record Downward Is Heavenward you have missed out- correct that post haste!

    • Kevin Davis said

      Oh, right, I forgot about that album. I knew a couple people who adored Hum and that album in particular. I’ll add a link to it in the post. I love their sound.

  4. Robert F said

    Oh, let’s not forget that there were some pretty good girl groups back then:

  5. Robert F said

    But if you want pure rock ‘n roll energy, nothing from any era compares with the recently deceased David Bowie when he was at his creative peak:

  6. Ian said

    Hot damn, gents! There’s some rollickingly good rock ‘n roll erupting outta this one! Kevin, thank you for demythologizing Pinkerton- it’s good and all, but doesn’t even asymptotically approach Blue’s greatness. Everything post-comeback feels like pseudepigraphia to me. Torch it!

    • Kevin Davis said

      Yes, I agree about the post-comeback material. I saw Weezer with a friend in 2000 for their comeback tour, and it is hard to express our excitement at the time. We were in middle school when the blue album and Pinkerton were released, and we knew every line to every song. But I could never really get into the green album, though it was enjoyable enough, and the same is true for the subsequent albums.

      As for Pinkerton, I think the fanbase — the self-styled “true” fans at least — were exhausted by the popularity of the blue album, so it became cool to say that Pinkerton is the more authentic of the two albums and therefore better. These fans were the proto-hipsters of the time.

      • Ian said

        Oh man, exactly: Pinkerton’s elevation was purely reactionary, and long after the fact. It tanked with fans upon release! “The true” baptized it as a precursor text for themselves upon deciding to mark themselves as the true. It’s just a shibboleth, another weaponized boundary marker for preposterous identity politics.

        All that to say, Blue rules. “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” is untouchable.

  7. Ian said

    Also, this was ’93, but for cryin’ out loud:

  8. cal said

    Though he stretches beyond the 90’s, Ronnie James Dio is the greatest rock singer ever. Period. He represented the major fusion of operatic training into the otherwise goofy metal scene, turning what was once a hub of orgiastic drugs and sex into a fantasy world. He made it his mission to be a voice for all the voiceless kids out there who felt they were freaks. He was Lady Gaga before Lady Gaga and wasn’t a perv about it. Progressive Metal is what it is because of Dio, the best collision between the soul of Europe and the soul of the Americas (opera and rock) (pace every other musician).

    I know this is intentionally over the top and hyperbolic, but so it is.

    cal

  9. Joel said

    I love REM. Their best album of the mid-late 90s is New Adventures in Hi-fi. Their 80s work is well worth a listen too, if you haven’t already (their debut of Murmur has aged really well).

    I enjoy Radiohead’s 90s work, though they lose me with Kid A in 2000, when they dropped the “rock” part from alienated existential rock and switched to just moping. This is ’97:

    Pink Floyd’s late period was troubled to say the least, but the last song on their last album in 1994 (okay, for about twenty years until the recent Endless River release…) was sure a great way to go out. It is of course hardly typical 90s music:

    I just can’t get into grunge, and I’ve tried a few times. Besides a few Pearl Jam songs maybe. I didn’t really listen to music growing up besides the CCM and classical my parents listened to, so I wonder if that’s a part of it.

    Maybe more later…

    • Kevin Davis said

      I have only been able to appreciate REM in small doses, but I have not really listened to them in over ten years (i.e., since college in the early 00’s). Since I grew-up with Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, I have no problem with understanding its appeal. I would recommend starting with Alice in Chain’s ‘Jar of Flies’ — their highly acclaimed EP, which is simply perfect in its bluesy grunge vibe.

  10. Joel said

    Bob Dylan released Time Out of Mind in 1997, which was his best album in at least ten years and probably twenty. It’s a very dark and atmospheric work, drenched in swampy blues. The 2001 follow-up of Love and Theft is more light-hearted and might be better, but it’s debatable.

    Also we can’t forget that the mid-late 90s were a pretty good time for CCM.

    • Kevin Davis said

      Love Dylan. I couldn’t appreciate an album like that at the time (too young), but I love it now. I thought about doing CCM — dc Talk’s “Jesus Freak,” Newsboys’ “Take Me to Your Leader,” Audio Adrenaline’s “Walk on Water,” Jars of Clay’s “Love Song for a Savior,” and more. That Jars of Clay album was a favorite of mine. “Flood” got some mainstream rock radio exposure, but that was probably my least favorite song on the album for some reason. I like “Liquid” too.

      • Joel said

        I think Flood was deliberately EQed and mixed to sound slightly thin and abrasive to make it edgier for mainstream radio. Time has not been as kind to that effect as some of the other songs on the album. I still like it though.

      • Kevin Davis said

        Yeah, that seems to have been the case. It didn’t fit with the rest of the album, and time has definitely not treated it well. “Worlds Apart” was/is my favorite song on the album.

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