Being a pubert back in the 90’s was epic! Or shall we say… “mega”. It was DOPE.
The distinction between rock music at present and those back in the day has become so apparent that I’ve gone apeshit from a nostalgia overload even when I dug through old files in the hard drive.
You see, Jake gave me the task (okay, pleasure) of cooking up a playlist for our huge trip last January. We decided hands down that we badly need some generous helpings of everything 90’s to stream through our ears.
I grew up in the age of MTV (pure ‘Music Television’ which actually played videos and none of those mostly annoying reality shows), personal mixtapes, and of course radio. Those were usually our lifelines to the wonderful world of music. They were THAT valuable. Talking audio here. And now that I’m all grown up, I can’t quite comprehend the actual evolution of music now. What the heck is happening.
Aspiring artists were dependent on these main “channels” to disseminate their life’s work. Access to a wide selection of media was… how do you say it… implausible. Unlike now where it’s so easy to gain overnight fame through something like YouTube without even breaking a sweat.
Now… let’s dig up our old band shirts, turn up the speakers and kick it with some’a these!
Quick note: The 90s was also the height of 3rd Wave Ska, but we’ll save those for another entry.
TOAD THE WET SPROCKET
The highschool band which started out as a bunch of laid back California sunshine loving kids morphed into one of the most successful alternative rock influences of the early 90s. Their music has been repetitively made familiar through overuse in numerous film and television soundtracks and to this day manages to find its way towards the soft spot called ‘nostalgia’ in our hearts.
Must-Listens: “All I Want”, “Walk On The Ocean”, “Crazy Life”, “Something’s Always Wrong”, “Fall Down”, “Little Heaven”, “Good Intentions”
Plunged right down in the heart of post-grunge mainstream reception! Quite a major player in the late 1990s-early 2000s booming change of pace.
I remember choking on a sandwich when I first heard the song Miserable on MTV. Okay, that was the year 2000 and I was given loads of time to grow up and quit being so naïve about certain words. But the way those lyrics were strategically placed plus Pam Anderson in the vid? You know what I’m talking about. Intrigued, I got myself a copy of their album A Place In The Sun (1999) and my life has not been the same ever since.
The title alone suggested what I would expect from this Orange County band’s sound and overall tone— warm, bordering on hot summer sun… poppy but edgy, catchy riffs, punk-inspired vocal work but none of that uncontrolled off tunes and screaming… Love.
Must-Listens: “Over My Head”, “Miserable”, “Zip Lock”, “Bitter”, “Lipstick and Bruises”, “The Best Is Yet To Come Undone”, “My World”
They were more than a one-hit-wonder to me. Correct me if I’m mistaken but Electronica hasn’t really matured to something as conceivable and well-received as now. Their heavier counterparts took in more attention though, such as Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, but sad to say they haven’t gone past duplicating the kind of success those two were set apart with. Nevertheless, I hold the boys close to my bosom. *giggle*
Must-Listens: “So Little Time”, “Insomnia”, “House on Fire”, “Eat Me”
LETTERS TO CLEO
One word: CUTE.
Despite the fact that they got they were named after a shoebox filled with letters for a childhood penpal named Cleo, and despite the fact that they sang for teenybopper movies such as 10 Things I Hate About You and Josie and the Pussycats and, despite the fact that Kay moved to a solo career with Disney, they made it on the mainstream rock U.S. Billboard Charts so early on in their career. So what does that tell you? Cute. Exactly!
Must-Listens: “Here & Now”, “I Want You To Want Me”, “Dangerous Type”, “Anchor”, “Veda Very Shining”, “Cruel To Be Kind”, ”Co-Pilot”
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
What 90s playlist would not be complete without Dave, Leroi (RIP), Carter, Peter, Stefan and Boyd’s eclectic smooth sound? It brings back lazy afternoons laughing with great friends diving into a clear lake from a swinging tire. With the unique blend of various influences such as jazz, bluegrass, funk and soul brought in by its individual musicians (each as incredible as the other) coupled with Matthew’s brilliant song making skills, it’s not surprising DMB would sell almost 40 MILLION big ones all around the world and hold critical favor in the musical community… especially in the United States. If you ask me, they are one of the all-time true-blue grassroots American bands holding that sound uniquely American.
To add to their list of accomplishments, besides garnering a Grammy Award & a NAACP Chairman’s Award, they have been triumphant in their philanthropic endeavors through their own established charity which helped address the needs of many in several areas in the U.S. So far, they have managed to raise millions of dollars for organizations aimed at assisting the youth, the handicapped, victims of natural disasters, environment awareness and humanities in general. In time, their cause might have a worldwide scope.
I am just as ecstatic that the guys are still holding strong up until now regardless of some members pursuing healthy successful solo careers. Not only have they been driving forces of shaping a respectable world with their music, but they’ve been inspirations for countless people— including me.
If you would like to help, click here.
Must-Listens: “Ants Marching”, “Crash Into Me”, “Satellite”, “What Would You Say”, “Don’t Drink The Water”, “Rapunzel”, “Stay”, “Typical Situation”, “So Much To Say”, “Crush”, “Two Step”
I thank God for bands like these that make memories of the late 90s as feel good as riding a 20 foot wave or as sweet as fresh honey!
What with lyrics such as
“I’ve been thinking bout the good old days, my silly clothes and my silly ways.”
“Sittin’ here in your room, I’ve been listenin’ to the freeway and the moon shining through.”
“As the dawn is breaking through the darkness, the morning star will fade but never die.”
During the bulk of the supposedly “angst-ridden” decade, Fastball shines a light of optimism in an otherwise lost generation with their upbeat groove and cheery lines. Even if they had been a tad underrated, to quote Miles Zuniga, “Labels aren’t that good at moderate success, but moderate success is still success. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In fact, that’s detrimental to creativity.” Oh, he knows. All The Money Can Buy (1998) struck a Platinum chord with “The Way” and catapulted them to 2 Grammy Nominations not to mention a vote on VH1’s television special The 100 Greatest Songs of the 90’s.
I have to say I hold these guys in high regard ‘coz if I didn’t discover them sooner, I’d be drowning in a moshpit of… how shall we say this… brainwashed bleakness.
Must-Listens: “The Way”, “G.O.D. (Good Ol’ Days)”, “Are You Ready for the Fallout?”, “Better Than It Was”, “Fire Escape”, “Sooner or Later”, “She Comes Around”, “Nowhere Road”, “Out Of My Head”, (newer ones) “Airstream”, “You’re An Ocean”
ALICE IN CHAINS
Heavy is the name of the game. The band rose to international fame as part of the grunge movement together with others of the same distinguishing Seattle Sound such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden , Temple of The Dog and Mother Love Bone to name a few. Despite the apparent “death of serious rock”, Jerry Cantrell and the rest of the gang are back with a vengeance. C’mon, you can never go wrong with sexy searing riffs. Bend it, baby.
Must-Listens: “No Excuses”, “Down In A Hole”, “Got Me Wrong”, “Heaven Beside You”, “Man In The Box”, “Get Born Again”, ”Fear In The Voices”
The radio just loves this band. For more than a decade, it’s been on playlists all around the world, 24-7… 7 days a week… leaving kids (ehem, young adults) my age frothing in the mouth for more, more, more. As any fan would know, Everclear is an inspiration for tough times and wrong turns as reflected on their uplifting and sometimes tongue in cheek music despite rickety beginnings.
Must-Listens: “Father of Mine”, “Santa Monica”, “One Hit Wonder”, “Everything to Everyone”, “Wonderful” (isn’t really ‘sposed to count as it has hit the year 2000 mark but what the hey- it’s worth mentioning)
Winning formula? Their quirky lyrical style of half-spoken, half-sung, 100% pure scholastic wordplay! Ripe with the peculiar but intelligent amalgamation of elements from funk, ska, rap, county and other fusion of genres too subtle for my rookie ears to distinguish, this band is one to stand out and leave my penchant for complicated lexicon dumbfounded. WHEW.
Must-Listens: “Friend Is A Four Letter Word”, “Never There”, “Jolene”, “The Distance”, “I Will Survive” (a clever cover), and a couple of more recent hits such as “Short Skirt, Long Jacket”, “Love You Madly” and “No Phone”
The 90s gave birth to a slew of “b*tches of rock n’ roll” (I say that in the most adoring way possible) and it could not have gotten any better than them! Louise & Nina. Household names in a nice cozy basement pad of an ill-tempered femme living with her parents. The band which is still active at present has undergone massive line-up changes, with Louise plastered in as the only remaining original member. Drama much? *Huge frown with the tousled hair and cherry red lipstick*
Must-Listens: “Shutterbug”, “Seether”/”All Hail Me”, “Volcano Girls”
When we hit the karaoke, we flip to the page with the S on it. Once “Runaway Train” (which was an award winning Grammy single by the way) plays, chances are the one on the mic is confoundedly drunk. Can anyone vouch the same thing? Anyone?
Kidding aside, Soul Asylum is one of those bands that defined the angst of the 90s. It surprises me loads that they are still playing gigs, touring and making albums up until now. Grave Dancers Union, released back in 1992, is my personal album of choice though. Besides the fact that it catapulted the Minnesota band to commercial success, its overall sound and character alone was enough for my young ears to obsess on and do the entire loop of rewind-play-rewind-play-rewind on the boom box.
Dave Pirner’s coarse vocal work coupled with the tenacity of honest lyrical style aided much in the symbiosis of heartfelt music and generally straightforward composition that reaches out to the ears of geeky kids who get punched in the face by life. Props to the rest of the gang too! The melodic and sometimes rough quality of their grungy sound encapsulates the simple teenager growing up in the time where he is stuck in a limbo of a self identity crisis and the need to relate to something— anything. To be cool. Or not cool. Rebel but follow the rules? Take it out on uplifting anger.
Must-Listens: “Can’t Even Tell” (featured on the cult movie “Clerks” by Kevin Smith— also a long time fan), “Somebody To Shove”, “I Will Still Be Laughing”, “Misery”, “Black Gold”, “Stand Up & Be Strong”, “Runaway Train” (influential in the cause of reuniting lost children to their families), “Without A Trace”, “Just Like Anyone”, “Promises Broken”
Their bluesy sound just makes me want to kick back in a lawn chair, grab a coleman full of ice cold beer and feel the mid-afternoon sun right smack on my face as I fly a remote controlled toy helicopter.
That naked shoot in Rolling Stone Mag wasn’t as disturbing as I thought either.
Must-Listens: “No Rain”, “Tones of Home”, “Three Is A Magic Number”, “Galaxie”, “Change”
CRASH TEST DUMMIES
Brad Roberts and the words ‘Bass-Baritone’ are one and the same. Try going for pitches as low as him and crap your lungs out. P.S. Canadians are super cool.
Must-Listens: “Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead”, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”, “Afternoons and Coffeespoons”, “Superman’s Song”, “God Shuffled His Feet”
When their hit single “Sex and Candy” blew up the music charts back in 1997, I said to myself… “I never thought I would live the day when freedom of speech allowed the broadcast of the S-word without getting bleeped out.” And from then on, I have been anesthetized from pure unadulterated expletive-laden goodness.
It didn’t stop there though. The boys of Marcy are known to bury double-meanings in between cool vocals, whimsical lyrics and placid guitar work bordering on minimalist— singing about everything from drugs to getting laid. In short, you can liken them to a piece of innocent strawberry shortcake spiked with a truckload of LSD. Not the kind of tapes you’d hit the play button on in a prep school.
Must-Listens: “Sex and Candy”, “Sherry Fraser”, “Saint Joe on the School Bus”, “Poppies”, “It’s Saturday”, “Comin’ Up From Behind”, “A Cloak of Elevnkind”
See VERUCA SALT. Just kidding. It was destined for Hole to bust out of the California rock scene for their notable forceful punk-noise rock oriented sound, and not to mention the total “babe”-ness of Courtney Love.
With the vital success of their 1994 album, Live Through This, they pushed boundaries of the mainstream vs. underground which was quite apparent in their change of sound to a more pop-oriented crash in their later albums. Attitude, character, style and the evident public reception of a more popular riot girl image heaved them up top garnering them Grammy nominations and the like. (Including a staggering number of faux Hole wannabes mushrooming everywhere.)
From what I’ve noticed, the 90s was the age of rockstars who were born to be, not made. And having Kurt Cobain’s widow playing rhythm guitars and vocals isn’t bad for their persona either.
Must-Listens: “Malibu”, “Celebrity Skin”, “Gold Dust Woman”, “Miss World”, “Violet”, “Doll Parts”
TO BE CONTINUED! (On to part 2)
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the images used and will take them out if necessary as they fall under the discretion of their respective owners. Peace!