Is 1991 the greatest year in music? Who knows. I do know it is one of the most influential years in music. I know it was the death of 80’s rock and the start of a new style of music called Grunge. There were so many great albums that came out in that year, some that changed the landscape of music and some that were mostly ignored but were great just the same.
I have asked this question a couple other times…one for 1983 and one for 1987. I think both years were exceptional and now that I have picked 1991 as another year, I am noticing a pattern of great years coming every 4 years. I am definitely going to explore to look into that possible trend more. For now, I will keep focusing on the year that was…1991.
We will start off with the introduction of the new genre of music called Grunge. This subgenre of alternative music actually started in the mid-80’s mostly around the great city of Seattle. It was 1991 that saw this music go mainstream. This music killed off the Hair Bands of the 80’s and the music I grew up with and loved. What were those influential albums that changed the music landscape? Easy…
NIRVANA – Nevermind: On September 24th, 1991, Nirvana release their second album and change music forever. With one song and one video, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Nirvana singlehandedly put an end to the late 80’s rock sound. You know it is popular when Weird Al Yankovic goes on to parody one of its songs. The album would go on to sale well over 30 million copies and Kurt Cobain would be come the songwriter of a generation. Sadly, less than 3 years later, Kurt would take his own life. Dave Grohl, the drummer, would go on and form the Foo Fighters and have great success with his own band, but now as a lead singer.
Pearl Jam – Ten: Another successful band during the year in the Grunge movement was Pearl Jam. They released their debut album, Ten, on August 27, 1991. The album would be certified platinum over 13x and has been listed in many people’s and magazine’s list as one of the greatest rock albums of all time. It was one of their most successful albums still and gave us such hits as “Alive”, “Even Flow” and “Jeremy”.
Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger: On September 24th, the same day as Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, Soundgarden release their third album, the great ‘Badmotorfinger’. The album has gone multiplatinum and gave us such great songs as “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined”. Soundgarden was the heaviest of these bands and the late Chris Cornell probably had the best voice of all the singers. He was amazing. Chris took his life just this past year on May 18th, 2017.
Other Important Releases
Metallica – Metallica (or The Black Album): One of the greatest Metal albums of all time was released on August 12, 1991. Metallica were already the king of thrash metal, but this album took them to a whole different level. They had become mainstream. The album has sold well over 16 million copies in the U.S. alone. One of my favorite songs, “Enter Sandman” was off this album and even kids today are discovering this song and loving it. The album also brought us “The Unforgiven”, “Nothing Else Matters” and “Wherever I May Roam”.
Michael Jackson – Dangerous: Michael Jackson released ‘Dangerous’ on November 26th, 1991. Michael was still the King of Pop so the release of the first single was huge and broadcast on MTV, VH1, BET and Fox. The video which starred MaCauley Culkin and its ratings were huge. Over 500 million viewers in over 27 countries. The album gave us such great songs as “Remember The Time”, “Heal the World”, “In the Closet” and “Jam”. The album would go on to sale over 32 million copies.
Guns ‘N Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II: On September 17th, 1991, Guns ‘N Roses released two separate albums. Not a double album, but actually two individual releases called Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illuision II. Both albums have sold over 5 million copies each and some think are the crown achievement of the band. It brought us some great songs including “November Rain”, “Don’t Cry”, “You Could Be Mine”, “Civil War” and some great covers of “Live and Let Die” and “Knockin’ On Heavens Door”.
U2 – Achtung Baby: On November 18th, 1991, U2 bring a new musical direction with ‘Achtung Baby’. The band almost broke up while recording this album as the struggled with musical direction. They pulled it together and gave us a completely different sound that both shocked and awed us. With such great songs as “One”, “Mysterious Ways” and my personal favorite “Who’s Going To Ride Your Wild Horses”, it is one of their finest releases selling well over 10 million copies worldwide.
Temple of the Dog – Temple of the Dog: The album was a tribute to Mother Love Bone’s lead singer Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose. It was released on April 16th, 1991 and brought together various artists from both Soundgarden & Pearl Jam. We have Jeff Ament, Chris Cornell, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard and Matt Cameron. The biggest hit off the album was the classic “Hunger Strike”. The band recently got back together and performed before Chris took his own life.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic: On September 24th, 1991, The Red Hot Chili Peppers were about to break it huge. Their popularity was already growing with their last release “Mother’s Milk”, but it was Blood, Sugar, Sex Magic that catapulted them to the superstars they were to become. Hits like “Give It Away”, “Under the Bridge”, “Breaking the Girl” and “Suck My Kiss” made alternative music king for the 90’s. They helped bring it mainstream.
There were several artist and bands that had their debut during 1991 that went on to some great success thoughout the 90’s and beyond. The album might not have done anything for some, but their impact was felt shortly their after.
2Pac – 2Pacalypse Now: November 21st, 1991, the rap world was introduced to what would become one of the most influential rap artists of his generation. 2Pac was very controversial as his songs were thought to promote violence against the police. His commentary on social issues stirred people up and sometimes that is what is needed. Good or bad, he made a massive impact in the Rap world and even beyond. He would be gunned down and killed just five years later and ended a very promising career.
Live – Mental Jewelry: Before the end of the year, Live released their debut album ‘Mental Jewelry’ on December 31st. So they really had no impact on 1991, but their popularity would rise throughout the decade and become one of my favorite bands from the 90’s. This album gave us some great songs such as “Operation Spirit” and “The Beauty of Grey”, but it was the albums ‘Throwing Copper’ and ‘Secret Samadhi’ that made them stars.
Smashing Pumpkins – Gish: On May 28th, 1991, Smashing Pumpkins came on to the scene with their debut ‘Gish’. The album would go on to be certified platinum and gave us some classic songs such as “Siva”, “Rhinoceros” and “I Am One”. Billy Corgan and crew would help legitimize alternative music and show that being different is good. These new rock stars looked nothing like the rock stars I grew up with. These new rock stars were kind of nerdy and very different. They were not the larger than life figures that came before them.
Brooks & Dunn – Brand New Man: Country music saw the introduction to what would become one of the greatest Country duos of all time. Brooks & Dunn released their debut on August 13, 1991. The album would produce 4 #1 hits including “Brand New Man” and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”. They started out with a bang selling over 6 million copies and they never slowed down. At least not until they retired as a duo back in 2009.
Alanis Morissette – Alanis: Okay, this album did absolutely nothing here in the States as this album was only released in Canada. No one had ever heard of this Canadian pop artist. That would soon change in 1995 when Alanis completely revamped her style and turned into an angry young woman and released ‘Jagged Little Pill’. But on April 6th, 1991, ‘Alanis’ was released and no one knew what angst was to come.
Boys II Men – Cooleyhighharmony: On February 14, 1991, Boys II Men exploded on to the scene with the major cross-over hit album ‘Cooleyhighharmony’. The album would race up both the R&B charts as well as the pop charts and go on to sell over 10 million copies. Hits like “Motownphilly” and “End of the Road” and the harmonies they could produced were unmatched at the time. And who would have thought that in 2017, the group would wind up on a TV commercial singing about side effects of a medicine causing gas problems (I don’t think that is a step up).
Seal – Seal: On June 7, 1991, one of my favorite albums of the year was released. Seal brought us his debut album simply titled Seal. The future ex-Mr. Heidi Klum soulfully brought us such great songs as “Killer”, “Future Love Paradise” and “Crazy”. I remember getting this on CD and playing it to death. There was something about that voice that was special. The album would sell over 2 million copies worldwide and he would go on to have quite a fantastic career, thankfully!
Harem Scarem – Harem Scarem: On August 6, 1991, the Canadian rock band would debut an album that was virtually unheard of here in the States. In fact, it was an 80’s melodic rock sounding band that was completely overshadowed by the alternative/grunge music of the time. Actually, I wouldn’t discover them until sometime in the 2000’s. So, why are they on my list? Because they were awesome and should have been bigger than they were. They have gone on to do 15 studio album and numerous live albums and should not be overlooked.
Hip-Hop / Rap
Hip-Hop was also huge in 1991 with some of the greatest artist releasing albums. Not only do you have 2Pac you have the following:
Ice-T – O.G. (Original Gangster) – May 14th
NWA – Niggaz4Life – May 28th
Boyz in the Hood Soundtrack – July 9th
Naughty by Nature – Naughty By Nature – September 3rd
Public Enemy – Apocalypse 911..The Enemy Strikes Back – October 1st
Ice Cube – Death Certificate – October 29th
A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory – September 24th
Heavy D & the Boyz – Peaceful Journey – July 2nd
Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch – Music for the People – July 23rd (not really an argument for greatest year, but had to include)
Other notable albums (at least to me):
There were also so many other albums that were released that were huge hits or special to me in some way and should be used in the argument of greatest year ever. Here they are in order of release…
Drivin N Cryin – Fly Me Courageous – January 8th
Sting – Soul Cages – January 22nd
Divinyls – Divinyls – January 29th
David Lee Roth – A Little Ain’t Enough – January 1991
Queen – Innuendo – February 5th
R.E.M. – Out of Time – March 12th
Mr. Big – Lean Into It – March 26th
Lenny Kravitz – Mama Said – April 2nd
Huey Lewis & the News – Hard at Play – May 7th
Alan Jackson – Don’t Rock the Jukebox – May 14th
Paula Abdul – Spellbound – May 14th
Skid Row – Slave to the Grind – June 11th
Van Halen – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge – June 18th
Anthrax – Attack of the Killer B’s – June 25th
Bonnie Raitt – Luck of the Draw – June 25th
Alice Cooper – Hey Stoopid – July 2nd
Tom Petty – Into the Great Wide Open – July 2nd
Rush – Roll the Bones – September 3rd
Tesla – Psychotic Supper – September 10th
Garth Brooks – Ropin’ the Wind – September 10th
Mariah Carey – Emotions – September 17th
Ozzy Osbourne – No More Tears – September 17th
Europe – Prisoners in Paradise – September 24th
Bryan Adams – Waking up the Neighbors – September 24th
Prince & NPG – Diamonds and Pearls – October 1st
John Mellencamp – Whenever We Wanted – October 8th
Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend – October 22nd
Richard Marx – Rush Street – October 28th
Stevie Ray Vaughn – The Sky is Crying – November 6th
Genesis – We Can’t Dance – November 11th
There you have the albums I think help make an argument for Greatest Year in Music. Is it better than 1983 or 1987, I don’t know. It is just a matter of opinion. If it is not the Greatest, it is one of the most influential years in music. That I think is a true statement.
As I mentioned earlier, there seems to be a trend with great music years every 4 years. Since I have now looked at 1983, 1987 and 1991. Next I need to explore 1979 and 1995 and see if that trend continues. What do you think?