Top Alternative Rock Songs Of The 90s – , Ohio – The 90s can be hard to sum up musically. Imagine that the first half of the decade was defined by the rise of grunge, while the last few years saw acts like the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys take the pop world by storm.
Examining the ’90s within the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is even more difficult. There haven’t been too many “1990s artists” accepted into the museum both because it takes 25 years after your debut to be eligible and because voters tend to prefer the sounds of the 1970s and 1980s.
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Where we could have made a list of the 50 Greatest Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Albums from a single year like 1971, we find ourselves narrowing down the list of the 25 Greatest Rock Hall of Fame Albums of the 1990s to the top 25. Otherwise, we’d only have some artists with four or five albums.
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That still left some really great material on the floor of the room, including great albums by Tom Waits (“Bone Machine,” “Mule Variations”), Foo Fighters (“The Color and the Shape”), N.W.A. (“Efil4zaggin”), Neil Young (“Ragged Glory”) and others. Here’s what made our list:
Of all the times Madonna reinvented herself, “Ray of Light” seems the most important. Maybe because it came before the new millennium or maybe it’s all that went into one of her best albums. “Ray of Light” takes the electronic sounds that became huge in the 1990s and places them in an atmospheric light, predicting a new pop landscape for the 2000s. Dance songs are one thing, but Madonna also elevates her vocal performance on songs like “Frozen” and “Power of Goodbye” (no doubt influenced by her role in “Evita”). The result is Madonna’s most critically acclaimed album, winning her four Grammys and keeping her at the top of the pop world in the new century.
“Hello, my name is…” It was a pretty popular introduction for Eminem. But that only gave an impression of what kind of artist Marshall Mathers is. “The Slim Shady LP” is a wild debut full of disturbing shock rap that will take the mainstream by storm. It should have come with an X rating. Instead, teenagers are flocking to stores to buy the album in its 5 million copies. More than 20 years later – thanks to numerous imitators – the shock of it all has worn off. But Eminem’s dizzying lyrical display and ability to turn erratic behavior into art is still impressive.
The sequel Check Your Head was overshadowed by how influential its predecessor was. But “Ill Communication” is a collection of records that is even more eclectic than “Check Your Head”, weaving from rap and hardcore punk to jazz and funk. No matter what style the Beastie Boys have, they take things up a notch, making songs like “Sure Shot,” “Tough Guy,” “Sabotage,” “Root Down” and “Do It” instant classics. “Ill Communication” was an alternative to an alternative and fun entertainment.
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Michael Jackson could have spent the rest of his career conquering the pop mountain without much risk. Instead, he started the 1990s by pushing the trendy new genre of jack swing to its peak. For “Dangerous,” Jackson linked up with new king of Jack Teddy Riley for a slick-sounding hybrid of pop and R&B that also proved to be Jackson’s most personal record to that point, even if he toyed with the tabloids in surprising ways. Almost every song on “Dangerous” has heavy hits (even ballads) with its influence felt in younger songs for years to come.
“Time Out of Mind” is one of the first projects that comes to mind when you think of a comeback album. It was Bob Dylan’s best effort since the 1970s, drawing on many of the raw and intimate lyrics with which he wowed listeners early in his career. Producer Daniel Lanois gives the album an old-school blues that matches Dylan’s voice, which later in his career became a worn but effective instrument. In a catalog of almost 40 studio albums – some of which are undisputed classics – “Time Out of Mind” is a unique triumph.
2Pac left prison in 1995 with a chip on his shoulder the size of a mountain. His signing to Suge Knight’s Death Row Records gave Pac the best production team he’s ever had to help him air any grievances. And boy, right? “All Eyez on Me” is Pac’s most dangerous album. But it is also the most attractive to him. While it’s a bit bloated (most double albums are), there’s no getting around the sonic wonder created by producers like Daz, Johnny Jay, Dr. Dre and DJ Quick. And Rat’s charisma and swagger match every sound. He was never the most lyrically complex. But 2Pac had a way with words that listeners gravitated towards. All the rage on “All Eyez on Me” made way for (and contributed to) the biggest singles of Pac’s career. The album turned him into an icon.
During a career spanning more than 60 studio albums, Johnny Cash has tried many things. But it never sounded better than those early, stripped-down days at Sun Records. Just like Sam Phillips, producer Rick Rubin knew this, signing Cash to his American label and letting the country icon sit in his cabin in Tennessee with an acoustic guitar and sing as guests. With some great originals mixed in with stunning covers, almost every song on “American Recordings” packs an emotional punch thanks to Cash’s old but provocative voice. “American Recordings” marked the re-emergence of Johnny Cash and the beginning of a series of albums that would remind a new generation of how indispensable the man in black was.
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Positioned as a follow-up to his landmark debut “Ready to Die,” The Notorious B.I.G. “Life After Death” takes things to the next level. To say that it is spreading would be an understatement. While “Ready to Die” featured one guest rapper (Method Man on “The What”) and a tight-knit circle of producers, “Life After Death” brings in a dream team of collaborators. And almost every second of its two-hour duration leaves you breathless. Biggie’s cinematic vision is fully realized on a wide variety of tracks with his unparalleled lyricism and storytelling as the centerpiece. “Life After Death” might be the best and most expert emcee to ever sound in hip-hop history.
Technically, “Wildflowers” is Tom Petty’s solo album. However, the album features almost all members of the Heartbreakers. Still, “Wildflowers” is about Petty embracing creative freedom with producers Rick Rubin and Mike Campbell bringing him to life musically. Ruby’s aesthetic provides some new bells and whistles. But the driving force behind “Wildflowers” is Petty’s courage and honesty. The lyrical and sonorous portraits he paints are both authentic and hypnotic. It’s debatable whether it’s Petty’s best work. But there’s no doubt that “Wildflowers” is the quintessentially American album.
For many 2Pac fans, “All Eyez on Me” would take this spot. But there is a difference between definitive and best. While “All Eyez on Me” is an iconic double album with few weak points, “Me Against the World” is 2Pac’s most consistent effort – a balance between the light and dark sides of his personality that finds him with his back against the wall. Instead of going all out like he did on “All Eyez on Me,” Pac goes into introspection mode, showing that behind the controversy and headlines is an incredible artist.
Green Day spawned modern pop-punk on “Dookie,” an album of whiny, teenage angst that had a punk rock edge but crossover appeal. It only takes a few seconds into the opening “Burnout” to make Green Day feel like Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Trey Cool and producer Rob Cavallo were on to something else. The songs on “Dookie” come with a catchy bounce that was destined to take over rock radio. When the baseline for “Longview” played, the rough guitars of “When I Come Around” hit, and Armstrong delivered his lyrics for “Basket Case,” there was no stopping pop-punk from reaching the mainstream.
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“Reasonable Doubt” was Jay-Z’s reinvention. He wasn’t a young emcee looking for a big break. Jay-Z was well into his 20s as he struggled to get a record deal. So he channeled his past as a drug dealer and ambition as a con artist into a magnificent landmark of mob rap. “Reasonable Doubt” is one of the great debuts in rap history with Jay-Z arguably at his lyrical peak for a tight collection of songs that positioned him as a force to be reckoned with. It would take a few more albums for Jay to explode. But the plan is in place.
Whether you think “Violator” is Depeche Mode’s best album or not, it is certainly the culmination of the band’s creative growth during the 1980s. Not only does it feature several of the band’s signature songs — “Enjoy the Silence,” “Policy of
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