They are old enough to serve in the military. But they are not quite old enough to drink (not legally anyway). Of course that probably wouldn’t stop a lot of them. Get ready to celebrate with some post-teen spirit. That’s right, I’m talking about albums that turn 20 this year.
1991. I was a wee 14 years old (20 years ago today in fact). The Cold War ended. The reign of George Bush Sr. was half over. The Persian Gulf War had just begun. That spring the world watched with shock and horror as Rodney King took 56 baton blows and a few kicks. News outlets around the world played the video tape shot by a bystander of an LAPD drunk driving arrest.
MC Hammer and Vanilla ice still lingered on the album and singles charts with the pop-cross over material most of America celebrated the previous year and derided by the following year. Meanwhile Gangsta rap took over. Ice cube made his debut on the silver screen and continued to make violent and sexist yet intelligent, eye-opening and important music without NWA. Dr. Dre and the boys put together one of the most nihilistic, misogynistic and lyrically empty rap albums ever. But the lyrics were laid over a sonic tapestry of soul samples and production that made the album sound like it was from the past and the future all at once. Ice-T released his last great album before becoming a heavy-metal cop killer, succumbing to the Dre blueprint for all of his subsequent hip hop releases and eventually becoming a self parody. In a time when the West Coast was taking over, Naughty By Nature brought some rough and rugged East Coast heat. However, it was a newcomer raised on the east coast but representing Oakland that made the most important hip hop record that year.
Guns N’ Roses were the biggest rock band in the world; but not for too much longer. Along with bands like skid row, they offered albums that year that provided an updated, darker, harder sound than their glam-rock predecessors a few years earlier. But it was not updated enough. One week after G N’ R released Use Your Illusion I & II a little band from Seattle released an Album called Nevermind that changed everything in rock in many ways – some of them good and some of them bad – for years to come.
It was the year that R.E.M. and Red Hot Chili Peppers went mainstream. Smashing Pumpkins were still underground. U2 had their first (and perhaps best) of several major sound and image makeovers. And in addition to that breakthrough sophomore effort from Nirvana, Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam and Sound Garden saw to it that every other headline in music publications included the words alternative, grunge or Seattle.
It was the year that brought us Lollapalooza. Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center were in full force and “Parental Advisory” stickers became formalized and were slapped on more albums than ever before thought imaginable.
It was the year that Tupac Shakur and Kurt Cobain were introduced to the world. Over the next few years they would each become household names while courting controversy and fame. Each artist provided a unique soundtrack for those who were fatherless, or at least felt they were. Before the decade was over, the world would lose both artists to violent deaths, each shrouded in conspiracy theories.
Do you remember in Back to the Future II when Marty tells Doc Brown that they need to go back to November 12, 1955? That was the last and most hectic day of Marty’s stay in 1955 in the first movie. The Doc responds to Marty saying, “It could mean that that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance. Almost as if it were the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.”
I truly believe that 1991 was one of the years in music. Like a few pivotal years in the 50′s and 60′s, it contains some sort of cosmic significance, at least for the world of music. Neither the pop charts nor “underground” music have been the same since.
Throughout 2011, I will be taking you back to 1991. I have about 25 albums and at least one movie on the list to blog about throughout the year. I will try my best to post on or near the anniversary of the original release date. Most of these albums were at least pretty good. Some of them were Masterpieces. And I would be less than honest if I didn’t include a couple that in retrospect are quite embarrassing. The majority are rock of one sub-genre or another, or hip hop. A couple are pop albums. There will be at least one R&B and one Country album. Most of them I discovered upon their release or shortly there after. A couple of them it took me a considerable amount of time to catch on to. I will note that as I go along. But all of them came from that important and game changing year. 1991 I solute you.