20 Years Later: The 15 Best Albums of 1991
In last week's edition of our regular feature, The Conversation, Pete Freedman and Daniel Hopkins debated on whether 1991 or 1994 was the greatest music year of the '90s. It was an interesting read for sure.
And, since this week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of both Nevermind and The Low End Theory, we figured it fitting to put together a list of 1991's top 15 releases. Because whether you're on Team '91 or Team '94, it doesn't matter: '91 will still forever be considered one of the best years in music history.
After the jump, we prove once and for all just why it is and will forever be considered so damn great.
The 14th full-length from the band was also the last released with singer Freddie Mercury, who died only ten months later. While not one of their biggest hits, the title track was the longest single Queen ever released (35 seconds longer than "Bohemian Rhapsody") and eventually helped the album move 11 million units.
Though the album suffered due to the departure of Ice Cube, Niggaz4life still featured Dr. Dre's groundbreaking production. As the controversial group continued their battles with the PMRC (the parental advisory folks) the album still managed to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and was instrumental in bringing gangsta rap into the mainstream.
GNR's third and fourth studio efforts, released months apart, are often viewed as the double album that allowed the band to really show off their versatility; the album features tinges of country, blues, prog, and classical. Spastic frontman Axl Rose even manages to stop snake-dancing long enough to sit down at the piano for several tracks.
Though it didn't blow up until the 1992 reissue, the project featuring Soundgarden members Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron (who would also later drum for Pearl Jam) and future Pearl Jam members Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready,and Eddie Vedder was first released in April 1991. Only after Pearl Jam's Ten and Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger dropped later in the fall did folks truly grasp the magnitude of the collaboration.
While the '80s were welcomed in with the question "Who shot JR?," the '90s officially began with us wondering not only just what was an O.P.P. was, but fearing we just might be one. Other people's pussy? Other people's property? We're still not 100 percent sure, but time has proven Naughty by Nature's self-titled second album to be one of the best rap albums of all time, fueled largely on the strength of one of the greatest rap singles of all time.
The high studio costs used to make My Bloody Valentine's second (and last) record were rumored to have bankrupted their label at the time. But their innovative usage of the guitar on Loveless marked the zenith of the shoegaze movement as well as pushing the boundaries of psychedelic music in the '90s. Though it didn't fare well commercially, the highly significant work influenced loads of other '90s bands such as Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Phish and Guided by Voices.
Benefiting heavily from Rick Rubin's trademark bare-bones production style, the guitarwork on Blood Sugar Sex Magik leaves enough room for the rest of the band to really groove. Bolstered by a long string of singles, the album was easily the band's greatest effort, pushing the already huge U.S. stars into the international spotlight.
Along with Pearl Jam and Nirvana's breakthrough albums the same year, Soundgarden's wonderfully weird collection of hard rock on Badmotorfinger helped bring Seattle's grunge scene into the nation's musical focus. The strange tunings and various irregular time signatures of guitarist Kim Thayil mixed with the vivid imagery of Cornell's lyrics and his matchless soaring vocals, making it one of the preeminent heavy rock albums of all time. Granted, the band's '94 album Superunknown might have something to say about that.
Like RCHP's Blood Sugar Sex Magik, R.E.M.'s Out of Time proved to be the mid-career release that catapulted the band from cult-following status to one of huge international stars. Featuring cameos from both KRS-ONE and the B-52's Kate Pierson, as well as their biggest hit, "Losing My Religion," the album almost single-handedly earned them a position amongst the forefathers of alternative rock. Sad, then, that the band announced its breakup this morning, 20 years after this album's release.
U2's seventh studio album is widely regarded their best, finding itself regularly on various "Greatest Albums of All Time" lists. Likewise the album's second single, "One," often finds itself on numerous "Greatest Songs of All Time' rankings. No wonder the album has since gone on to sell over 18 million copies.
Boston's self-titled album aside, Ten is quite possibly the greatest debut album ever. Bolstered by five hit singles, the album has moved nearly 10 million units. It also launched the careers of the longest-running -- and arguably the most successful -- of any of the '90s grunge bands.
In a nutshell: What Nevermind was to alternative rock, The Low End Theory was to hip-hop. It is an undeniably brilliant record from start to finish, and one would be hard pressed to find a fan of the genre that doesn't have a soft spot for the album. Even 20 years later, it remains one of the smoothest, most beloved rap albums ever produced.
By the time 1991 rolled around, the only artist managing to break Michael Jackson's sales records was Jackson himself. He continued that trend with Dangerous, selling seven million copies only two months after its release. (It took prior album Bad four months to reach that amount.)
Much like the R.E.M. and Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1991 was the year that saw Metallica go from being just another successful band to a global powerhouse. 282 weeks on the Billboard chart -- and 30 million copies later -- and it is undoubtedly the most well-known, commercially-successful metal album ever made.
Perhaps the most important releases of the entire decade, Nevermind spearheaded the growing grunge movement, influencing an entire generation of teens, and bringing the sounds from the late '80s punk underground to mainstream America. As Pitchfork once wrote: "Anyone who hates this record today is just trying to be cool, and needs to be trying harder."
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