I have been thinking about the early '90s a lot lately. I graduated from high school in 1992, and that was 20 years ago! So I have been all sorts of nostalgic this last year about my formative music years. I was born in the '70s. But I really grew up in the new wave '80s. 1984 - 1986 were really the years that I first remember getting obsessed with music. These are the early years of MTV and the years I fell in love with new wave and all things British. The B-52's and Berlin were probably the only bands that I loved that actually came from the United States. Most of my favorite bands and albums throughout the '80s and '90s came from England.
My favorite bands in 1984 are pretty much my favorite bands today. I can't imagine my life without New Order, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Smiths, Human League, Pet Shop Boys, Ultravox, Talk Talk & Bauhaus. These bands have been a huge part of my life. My British obsession would only get bigger over the years. I got deep into shoegaze and dream pop in the early '90s. Which then led me into Britpop and British dance music in the mid '90s.
I have been obsessively making lists and CD compilations of each year of the '80s and '90s. I have made a playlist for each year and a list of my 10 favorite albums from each year. I will slowly be sharing these with you over the next couple of months. I am going to start with the early '90s since these are the years that have been on my mind the most lately.
I got my musical start in the '80s. But it was really the early '90s when I started to get obsessed with actual bands and albums. I feel like that period in your late teens is the most important time for your musical development. That period when you are 15-20 years old. It was not just watching music videos and listening to songs on the radio anymore. This is the period when I first got a job and starting buying records! These were the albums that I went out and bought for myself.
I really didn't start buying CDs until 1992. So the first couple of years of the '90s I was still really into cassettes. I like how portable they were. I liked that I could listen to them on my tape player at home. Or listen to them in the car. Or take them with me to my friend's house or listen to them on my Walkman. I would later replace them all on CD. I can't imagine my life without these albums. These albums have held up over time. They have for me, at least. They still sound as good as they did back then. Some of them even sound better. A remastered CD or LP is obviously going to sound better than an overplayed cassette.
I will break down my favorite 10 albums of the year starting with 1990. These are just the rock and indie albums of the period that are my favorites. I will be doing a '90s r&b, hip-hop and dance list later on.
The '80s were sort of over in 1987 or 1988. New wave had really peaked in 1984 and by 1988 and 1989 it was really time for something else to take over. I think the early '90s sound really began with My Bloody Valentine back in 1988 when they released Isn't Anything. I still think of this as a '90s album since I didn't first hear it until the '90s! I was first introduced to My Bloody Valentine when Loveless was released in 1991. I didn't know at the time what an important part of my life shoegaze would become. It just sort of happened. I didn't how the early '90s shoegaze bands would influence bands for the next 20 years. I was still very much obsessed with all things British in 1990. The Pixies and Sonic Youth are the only bands from the US that made it into my top ten of 1990. They were my B-52's and Berlin of 1990. Anything Box was also from the US but I still have a hard time believing that! I was sure they were british! The debut album from The Stone Roses would also become one of my favorite albums of the '90s that was released in the '80s! It was released in the middle of 1989. But is very much an album of the early '90s. It was really their only album that anyone cared about. And it was one of the best albums of all time.
So here is my first list. My favorite ten albums of 1990...
Ride - Nowhere (Sire)
Nowhere was released by Creation Records in 1990. Creation had been around since 1983, Pptting out albums and singles by The Jesus & Mary Chain, Felt & Primal Scream. This was really the first Creation release that I got obsessed with. The album still remains one of my favorites. It just got officially reissued on vinyl a couple of years ago and it has never sounded better. Just looking at this album cover art brings me back to the first time I heard this album. I was immediately hooked on Ride. This album is a favorite album of many of my friends over the years. It is sort of the perfect shoegaze album. One of those albums that had a huge impact on so many people.
Ride would go on to release Going Blank Again in 1992 and another album in 1994 and 1996. But Ride really only had two albums as far as I was concerned. The first two are classic albums and would both end up in my 100 favorite albums of all time. This album changed the way I listened to albums. There are of course tracks that stand out on the album like "Vapour Trail." But it is one of those albums best listened to in its entirety. I could never get enough of Nowhere.
Pixes - Bossanova (4AD)
Bossanova, the 4th album by the Pixies, was released in August of 1990. But it was my first Pixies album. Not only was it my introduction to the band but it was also my introduction to the label 4AD. I later got my hands on all the Pixies albums. I fell in love with Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. But Bossanova always remained my favorite.
I got obsessed with 4AD in the years that followed, becoming a huge fan of The Cocteau Twins, Lush, Dead Can Dance, Red House Painters, This Mortal Coil & His Name Is Alive. I loved the bands and I loved those Vaughan Oliver album covers!
I was super into the vocals of both Kim Deal and Frank Black and really loved everything about this band. They were like nothing I had ever heard before. The album included "Velouria," "Allison," "Dig For Fire" & "Down To The Well." I seriously have this entire album memorized from the first to last song. I know the beginning of the next song before the previous one ends. It was just one of those albums that got inside of me for ever. I love the Pixies forever because of this album. And I can't thank them enough for introducing me to the world of 4AD.
The Charlatans - Some Friendly
Some Friendly was released in October of 1990 and was the debut album from the band. The band was called The Charlatans "UK" much like "The" Verve and "The London" Suede. They had a different name in the UK and the US. But I always thought of them as just The Charlatans. They were part of the "Madchester" scene of Manchester. I became a fan of all those bands. The Happy Mondays, James, Inspiral Carpets & The Stone Roses. It was the perfect combination of indie music and dance music. I thought it was the coolest thing.
The album featured "You're Not Very Well," "Then" & "The Only One I Know." The Charlatans released Between 10th & 11th in 1992 and nine more albums after that. But like Ride it is just really all about those first two albums.
Cocteau Twins -
Heaven Or Las Vegas (4AD)
Heaven Or Las Vegas was released in September of 1990 and was the band's sixth album. Cocteau Twins had already put out five amazing albums in the 1980s. Blue Bell Knoll was released two years earlier and was my first introduction to the band. Although the first 3 albums are probably my favorites. Garlands, Head Over Heels & Treasure are the albums that I can't imagine my life without. But you really can't go wrong with any Cocteau Twins album. Heaven or Las Vegas remains a great album after all these years. The album features "Iceblink Luck," "Heaven Or Las Vegas" & "Frou-Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires."
I can't even begin to explain what this band means to me. You either love them or you just don't get them. I couldn't begin to explain to you what Elizabeth Fraser is singing about. But these songs manage to get deep down inside of me. The Cocteau Twins would only put out two more albums after this one. Four-Calendar Cafe in 1993 and Milk & Kisses in 1996. I still hope that they have another album in them somewhere. But I know it will never happen. I will be always be more than content with the brilliant albums that they have already given us. They are on the top of my list of bands that I would love to see live that I never got to see. It breaks my heart a bit.
Depeche Mode - Violator (Sire)
Depeche Mode was one of the first bands that I really got into. I had all their albums I could get my hands on and had their posters on my wall. I had picked up Music For The Masses when it came out a couple of years before and had really worn it out by this point! I had to actually replace my cassette because it was so worn out. So I was anxiously waiting for this album. Violator was a bit of a change for them. It was dark but still had their signature synth sound. It was a masterpiece and became their biggest album and probably most Depeche Mode fan's favorite album. It included "World In My Eyes," "Enjoy The Silence," "Policy Of Truth," "Clean," & "Halo." And of course "Personal Jesus." Personal Jesus sort of became the Friday I'm In Love of the album. It was so overplayed that I never wanted to hear it again for a while. I was finally able to like that song again a couple of years ago.
I can't imagine 1990 without this album. It became such a part of my life in the early '90s. It really was the bands gift to us. It was one of those albums that I grew up while listening to. The Cure had given us Disintegration the year before and now we had Violator in 1990. It was almost too much for one teenager to handle! The band embarked on another huge tour and overtook the world with this album. It brought them a whole new group of fans. But those of us that had loved them since Black Celebration or even Speak And Spell knew the greatness of this band years before.
Anything Box - Peace (Epic)
I honestly never knew much about Anything Box. I just loved the song "Living In Oblivion." It was one of those songs from 1990 that still sounded like the '80s. I never got sick of this song no matter how many times I heard it on the radio. Peace was released in 1990 and included "Living In Oblivion," "Carmen" & "I Felt The Pain." Anything Box looked like a goth band on 4AD and sounded like a synthpop band from the UK. They were from New Jersey! I seriously still can't believe that this band came from New Jersey!
The band sounded like other bands like Book Of Love, Red Flag & Camouflage.It was a distinct sort of synthpop that came at the very end of the '80s and the early '90s. New wave had pretty much ended in 1987. But around 1989 it came back as synthpop. I was happy to find these bands and happy to have these albums in my life. This album still holds up and is really one of those consistent albums from start to finish. The band went on to release many albums after this one. But I never really got into anything other than Peace. It was just this one album that hooked me on this band. And it has kept my a big fan even after all these years.
The Sundays - Reading, Writing & Arithmetic (DGC)
I can still remember the first time I got into this band. It seriously seems like just yesterday, which is weird. I remember hearing the single on the radio and being sort of into it. But then I borrowed my friends copy of the album and got super into it. It was sort of twee and very British. "Here's Where The Story Ends" was their big single in America. And it was overplayed without a doubt. It was sort of like their "What I Am." It was just as overplayed as Edie Brickell. But the album was awesome. The album also included "Can't Be Sure," "Skin & Bones," "A Certain Someone" and "Hideous Towns." I listened to this album a lot. As soon as I put it on it brings my right back to 1990.
The Sundays went on to put out two more albums. Blind in 1992 and Static & Silence in 1997. I was also a big fan of Blind. Harriet Wheeler fronted the band. She was the sort of front person that could only exist in the early '90s. She always seemed introverted and shy, perhaps a bit quirky. They were the kind of band that Angela Chase from My So-Called Life or Darlene from Roseanne would listen to. Before they got really into grunge music.
The Lightning Seeds - Cloudcuckooland (MCA)
Cloudcuckooland was released in February of 1990. I loved this album. Obviously I loved every album on this list, but I really did get obsessed with these guys. But for some reason my love of The Lightning Seeds was only for this one album. The band went to to put out 5 more albums after this one. But I never listened to any of them but this one. I think I probably heard "Pure" on KROQ for the first time and was hooked. The band was from Liverpool. Ian Broudie was the singer. I seriously wore this album out. I couldn't get enough. They were not shoegaze. They were not dreampop. Britpop didn't really exist yet. But they existed somewhere in between all that. They probably had more in common with the new wave bands of the '80s. They were most certainly a pop band. And I can't think of this band existing anywhere other than the early '90s. Think of them as the perfect mix of OMD with Belle & Sebastian. New Wave meets Twee!
Sonic Youth - Goo (DGC)
Goo was released in June of 1990 and was Sonic Youth's sixth studio album. But Goo was my first Sonic Youth album. And of course because of that will always be my favorite! They had been putting out albums throughout most of the '80s. But I really didn't know who they were until the '90s and until this album came out. Years later I would go back and discover their earlier albums. But their early '90s period is still my favorite. I was also a big fan of Dirty from 1992, Experimental Jet Set Trash & No Star from 1994 and Washing Machine from 1995. Goo was their first album on a major label and part of the reason they got more exposure with this album. I know this was seen as a sell out for many of their old fans. But I didn't ever know they were a band before 1990 so I was just happy to have them in my life finally. The album featured "Dirty Boots," "Kool Thing" & "Tunic (Song For Karen)."
The cool thing about this album is that they made a video for every song on the album and released it on VHS. It made me love the album even more. And they did a song about Karen Carpenter! I have seen this band live probably a dozen times over the years and they still remain an important part of my life. I thought they were the coolest thing ever when I first started listening to them. And I was glad to be into a band that was not from the UK! This album started my love affair with Sonic Youth. It will forever be one of my favorites.
Sinead O'Connor - I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (Chrysalis)
I was already a fan of Sinead O'Connor because of her song "Mandinka" from a couple of years before. The song was on her debut album The Lion & The Cobra. I am still a huge fan on that album. But I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got was the first album of Sinead's that I got. This album was huge. You really can't talk about 1990 without talking about this album. She was the Lady Gaga or Adele of 1990! She was all over MTV and the radio with this album. It was one of the biggest selling albums of the year. And it really divided a lot of people. You either loved her or hated her. I became a huge fan and still love listening to this album. It is one of those consistent albums that is still great from the beginning to the end. As soon as I put on this album it brings me right back to 1990. The album features "Feel So Different," "The Emperor's New Clothes," "Jump In The River," "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" & "Nothing Compares 2 U." "Nothing Compares 2 U" was of course one of the biggest songs of the year. As much as I have heard this song over the years I am still a fan of it. I could still listen to it over and over again. I have seen her many times over the years and have always remained a big fan. This album for sure was her biggest. And it remains one of the best of the decade.