Sunday, November 29, 2020
Sunday, September 13, 2020
My final year of high school began. MTV, cassette tapes, a white Fender bass, Chinese Kenpo, the smell of orange blossoms on a warm desert wind. 1990. It was a good time to be alive and present. In addition to the unbelievable music entering the world (which you will read about below), here are some events that occurred to put everything into perspective. Average gasoline price in the United States was $1.15 per gallon, and the first Bush was President. Ghost, Home Alone and Pretty Woman sat at the top of the box office charts. Buster Douglas, in a shocking upset, dethroned unbeaten boxing champion of the world, Mike Tyson. Computer operating system Windows 3.0 hit the marketplace, selling over 10 million copies. We lost actors Alan Hale Jr. (Gilligan’s Island's The Skipper), Ava Gardner, Sammy Davis Jr. and in the music world, Leonard Bernstein, Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood, Stevie Ray Vaughan and jazz drummer Art Blakey.
Sarah and I would like to thank all of our friends for taking the time to put together commentary and well thought-out lists to look at the music of 1990 from all angles. We also welcome Frank and Kevin who are contributing with us for the first time!
So here’s the deal. 11 people ranked their 10 Best Albums of 1990. We also put together a Spotify playlist, collecting a recommended song from each record on everyones’ lists. (There are a couple gaps from where albums weren’t digitally available).
Thanks. - Bret and Sarah
P.S. We do earn a commission if you purchase anything through the links in this post.
Life on this Planet | Audra
10. New Model Army - Impurity
Intense, melodic sincerity. Perhaps Impurity is an overlooked record in the NMA catalog, shadowed by the monster record Thunder and Consolation from the previous year, but for me this is a worthy followup and one more in a line of great albums before and to come.
09. Lou Reed and John Cale - Songs for Drella
Drella - a combination of Dracula and Cinderella - was a nickname for Andy Warhol. Bandmates in The Velvet Underground, Reed and Cale hadn’t worked together since 1968’s White Light / White Heat. Through song, the duo reunite to document Warhol’s life, from a young outsider growing up in Pittsburgh to his shooting and eventual death. Being my brother’s favorite album of all-time, I’ve heard this record countless times, including the live VHS concert that came out shortly after. "Open House" is nearly untouchable. Give it a listen. Pay close attention to the line "There are no stars in the New York sky. They’re all on the ground." Did you feel that? Cale’s background harmony, simple and perfect. Goosebumps. Half a tear.
08. Social Distortion - Social Distortion
Producer Dave Jerden had a pretty stellar year. Alice in Chains - Facelift, Jane’s Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual and Social D’s self-titled third record all produced by him, all released in 1990. Singles "Ball and Chain" and "Story of My Life" greatly expanded their fanbase, including a 16-year old me falling for the grit and grime of the "Ball and Chain" video. My original cassette tape arrived in a small cardboard box (along with my #1 pick) courtesy of Columbia House’s mail order / 12 tapes for 1 cent super deal! I still love this band.
07. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
I didn’t appreciate the Cocteau Twins around the time this came out. I remember hanging out at my friend Robert’s house, looking through his box of tapes. He played me "Suckling the Mender" from 1988’s Blue Bell Knoll. How do you forget a title like that? And I remember not really getting it. A few years later, after finding a CD copy for the 4-song EP Love’s Easy Tears, I got it. I went back and discovered the catalog, including this glistening, layered masterpiece.
06. Morrissey - Bona Drag
While technically a compilation of singles and b-sides, I’ve always regarded this as Moz’s second album. Non-album singles like "Interesting Drug," "Piccadilly Palare," "November Spawned a Monster" and "The Last of the Famous International Playboys" are among the best Morrissey tracks of his solo career. And the b-sides.... take "Will Never Marry" for a spin. What does an artist do when you have an abundance of outstanding material? Save it for the next record? No, put it on the b-side. The Cure, Suede, The Smiths, U2, etc - so many great non-album tracks.
05. Mazzy Star - She Hangs Brightly
Mazzy Star was my generation’s Velvet Underground and Nico. RIP David Roback and Keith Mitchell.
04. Concrete Blonde - Bloodletting
Every day after walking home from high school, the ritual - turn on MTV. The music video for "Joey" was a constant dark mystery, separating itself from Poison and Trixter overload. The shimmery tone of James Mankey’s lead guitar felt like colored lights reflecting in the loosely-draped garland around the Christmas tree, that I would lose myself in as a kid. "Caroline," "Darkening of the Light," "Lullabye," "Tomorrow, Wendy" - I mean c’mon.
03. Sinéad O'Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
Like many others, this was my gateway to Sinéad O’Connor. Along with MC Hammer’s "U Can’t Touch This" and Vanilla Ice’s "Ice Ice Baby," the video for O’Connor’s heart-ripping version of Prince’s "Nothing Compares to U" sits in my memory as MTV’s most played of 1990. Back then it was the repeated soundtrack of high school heartbreak. As the years passed, "Black Boys on Mopeds" - a song that rings just as true 30 years later - became my favorite. She is a treasure.
The late 80s / early 90s were a great time to be a teenager with an unstoppable thirst for music. So many albums, that are now regarded as classics, would come out month-to-month, sometimes on consecutive weeks, probably even the same day. Violator was massive back then. Along with the Anton Corbijn-directed videos to the striking artwork, it’s pretty close to perfection. As high as that praise is, my favorite Depeche Mode album followed three years later.
01. Jane's Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual
Jane’s Addiction. I lived and breathed this band. This album. It’s sacred ground. As my friend Jaymz Todd would say, ‘This album changed my life.’ True. 30 years ago. I think back on that original cassette tape I got through Columbia House. 30 years ago. The censored, white First Amendment cover. The smell of the cassette’s j-card and liner notes. Figuring out Eric Avery’s bass lines on my bedroom floor. Rewind. Play. Listen. Rewind. Most of the songs here were already written, demoed and performed live before the previous album, 1988’s Nothing's Shocking, some even before the 1987 live debut album on Triple X. Any JA fan will tell you, it’s all about the second side of Ritual de lo Habitual. Like David Bowie’s Low, the songs are on the first side, and the high art is on the second. "Three Days" - which is probably my absolute favorite song of all time - is an epic journey. Unlike most songs, where they end more-or-less where they began, "Three Days" picks you up in Hollywood, drives you through the desert, the forests, the mountains, over rivers and bridges, eventually dropping you off in a shivering daze on some remote, rocky beach. My generation’s "Stairway to Heaven." But better. Follow that with "Then She Did," "Of Course" and "Classic Girl." Never such consecutive perfection put together on tape.
Sarah Quarrie Helm
Life on this Planet
10. Anything Box - Peace
This is 1990's synth-pop hidden gem. I discovered Anything Box while thumbtacking my stereo antenna to my bedroom ceiling trying to get maximum reception 30 miles away for High Energy 88.7FM broadcast from Loyola University in Rogers Park, Chicago. This station played all the electronic dance-pop - hi-NRG, Eurodance, new beat, acid house, EBM, synth-pop - exposing me to many 1990 albums such as The Beloved, Cetu Javu, Deee-lite, Enigma, The KLF and The Shamen. Anything Box was such a standout. They were from NJ, moved to CA, had big hair, cool clothes and provided dance songs with lyrics like trusted advisers to suburban teenage ennui.
09. The High - Somewhere Soon
What do you get when you combine former members of The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, pre-Roses, post-Buzzcocks and Manchester? The High! 1990 was a hot year for Madchester - 808 State, The Charlatans, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, James, The Mock Turtles, New Fast Automatic Daffodils all have albums this year and all are highly recommended. Legendary Factory Records' partner/producer Martin Hannett began producing Somewhere Soon, but sadly addiction interfered and duties were taken over by John Williams. This album hits you with grooving bass lines, hypnotic percussion and an overall psychedelia that will put you in an altered state. If any of you UK friends can scoop up a copy of the Martin Hannett Sessions released this past Records Store Day for me I would be forever in your debt!
08. The Posies - Dear 23
Dear 23 is power pop at its finest. The musicianship, harmonies and wordplay on this album are remarkable. Clear influences of The Hollies, The Beatles and Big Star, this is what was going on in Seattle other than grunge at that time. Fittingly, Abbey Road alumnus John Leckie who produced albums for Simple Minds, XTC and The Stone Roses makes his mark here by creating exploding moments enhancing the pensive lyrical life lessons.
07. Inspiral Carpets - Life
Two words: Farfisa organ. Every band from the Madchester scene had a certain charm, a shtick that made their sound theirs. Inspiral Carpets was a bit harder than the others, leaning 60's garage rock style and thematically relatable rather than twisting your melon (see what I did there?). Lyrically targeting the common folk, the working class, us normal people, this is the album to listen to when you're pissed off at life. The struggle is really real. Life is a pretty aggressive album if you listen closely, and the layers will blow you away. The drums are a clear standout. Tragically their drummer Craig Gill, who was an original member and joined the band when he was 14, passed away a few years ago. He suffered from unbearable tinnitus resulting in decades of sleep deprivation and anxiety taking a toll on his mental health. Fellow music lovers, please take care of your hearing by being mindful of volume and wear ear plugs. And always remember you are not alone - a friend or family member is just a call or message away to talk and put your mind at ease.
06. The Railway Children - Native Place
From Manchester-adjacent Wigan, The Railway Children debuted their single "A Gentle Sound" and first album on Factory Records in 1986-7 that quickly gained the attention of Virgin. Two albums later we have Native Place which to me is a wonderfully robust jangle pop journey from beginning to end. Their most commercial sounding release to date, but clean & artful. Keyboards are woven in adding a new texture to a more grandiose pop sound, and there are overarching feelings of innocence, confidence & positivity. I think this is an underrated album that got overshadowed at the time due to typical major label drama. Give this band, this album, some love. Fans of The Mighty Lemon Drops would particularly enjoy.
05. Redd Kross - Third Eye
This album rocks! Leaving the punk sound of their formative years behind, Third Eye takes you on a rock 'n roll pop culture adventure spanning decades. Perhaps an oddball choice for a major label to pick up, it was Redd Kross' first and last album on Atlantic. Whatever deluded shortcomings the big machine thought this album had, at least their money went into the vibrant production quality that contributes to this album's seamless flow. Pulling inspiration from The Cowsills (and backing vocals!), Big Star, KISS, Elton John, Shonen Knife and Kim Gordon, this album is infused with glam rock and bubblegum pop tied with a power pop bow. It has hooks, harmonies, soaring choruses, wailing guitars and it has the spirit - the spirit of 1976. Listening to the song "1976" you can't help but visualize yourself wearing platform shoes, and if you can't picture it there is a movie for you! The Spirit of '76 was also released this year where the McDonald brothers star as teenagers in 1976 who help time travelers from 2176 (David Cassidy (The Partridge Family), Olivia d'Abo (The Wonder Years)) who thought they were going to 1776 to recover the history of America as assigned by the Ministry of Knowledge (Devo). Fun fact: Sofia Coppola designed the costumes for this movie and is the enigmatic lady on Third Eye's album cover art.
04. The Mission UK - Grains of Sand
Technically a 2 album tie, The Mission released 2 albums this year - Carved in Sand and Grains of Sand. In my mind, I combine the two as one since Grains of Sand consists of unreleased tracks, covers, outtakes and leftovers from Carved in Sand plus a couple of remixes. As far as real Gothic Rock goes, The Mission is as genuine as it gets. You get that quintessential gothic guitar tone and mood with Wayne Hussey's signature vocals. My second favorite Mission song of all time is "Hands Across the Ocean" which is on Grains of Sand, produced by XTC's Andy Partridge and backing vocals by the always ethereal Julianne Regan from All About Eve.
03. The House of Love - The House of Love
Not to be confused with their self-titled debut album in 1988 released on Creation Records which yes of course if/when we do the Best of 1988 is a shoo-in on my list. This is their second album and since it was released on Fontana it's sometimes referred to as Fontana or The Butterfly Album after the album cover art. Everything I read about 1990 is drama central for bands. Here we have bandmates high on the hog and three sheets to the wind, but I wasn't there and all I know is this album is awesome. Always shimmering but with tormented undertones, post-punk fused with 60's psychedelia. They're up there with Echo & The Bunnymen, that vibe. Guy Chadwick liked my pic of an Alarm record I posted on Instagram and not his own I tagged him on the same day so there's that as well.
02. The Trash Can Sinatras - Cake
I used to record MTV's 120 Minutes religiously on our Sony Betamax. It was on Sunday nights, past a high-schooler's bedtime on a school night so maybe I got to watch an hour of it in real time. Drama ensued if a video came on and one of my New Wave crew called me to deliberate (see my #1). Dave Kendall presented this band to me in November of 1990, and I immediately (when I could borrow my parent's car) went on the hunt for the cassette. 30 years later, these Scottish wordsmiths still get me. This album is so very clever. The wordplay is off the chain. Carefully crafted harmonies and flourishes, jangling ala The Smiths. Cake more than holds up decades later, and I beg of them for a vinyl reissue ASAP. Be sure to check out their Go! Discs labelmates The La's and The Beautiful South's excellent releases from this year.
01. Depeche Mode - Violator
Depeche Mode is one of the bands that molded me as the person I am today, and Violator was an integral part of my formative years. I remember every step of this release. The radio premiere of "Personal Jesus" in 1989 was all the hype on 93XRT Chicago's modern rock program The Big Beat. When I heard prominent guitar from the dark synth pioneers at first I didn't know what to make of it, but it actually was a logical progression from the blues-influenced single "Route 66" released the year before. The stomping beat, the cryptic lyrics, the deviously sensual album-worthy b-side "Dangerous" - when can we hear more?! After anxiously waiting 6 months, "Enjoy the Silence" debuted on 120 Minutes with Dave Gahan and Martin Gore hosting. Anton Corbijn's snowcapped visuals in the video contributed to the cold lyrics, paradoxical to an otherwise buoyant melodic arrangement. My new wave phone tree lit up. It was midnight, my parents were pissed off, and I was too excited to sleep counting the days until the release of Violator. After procuring the cassette from Record Town in the local mall, this was played pretty much non-stop. Every song captivating in it's depraved poetry and instrumentation. That summer they rolled into town with Nitzer Ebb on the World Violation tour. The sound of synths in a stadium, the rose graphics and the "World in My Eyes" hand shadow make for an unforgettable moment. And speaking of "World in My Eyes", two more album-worthy b-sides "Happiest Girl" and "Sea of Sin" are on the single. As you can see, Violator is not only a favorite album of mine but an experience, a series of events, a way of life in 1990. This album turned the masses on to them, but make no mistake this is not a happy pop album. For those newly exploring this album, go to the 2006 Remaster which includes the aforementioned b-sides for the full engagement and let your mind do the walking.
Rockford, Illinois | Contributor since 2014
10. Indigo Girls – Nomads • Indians • Saints
I am unashamedly an Indigo Girls fan, especially when it comes to their first four albums. This one was their third and, as far as I’m concerned, their best. A poetic world view, powerful metaphors, gorgeous vocal harmonies and subtly brilliant acoustic guitar interplay between Amy Ray & Emily Saliers. This is what I often want "folk” records to sound like (although they rarely do.)
09. The Sundays – Reading, Writing & Arithmetic
There are some albums you fall in love with upon first listen. Luckily, some of those also stick to your ribs and remain favorites years later. The debut album from The Sundays is one of those albums. The combination of Harriet Wheeler’s delightfully sweet vocals and David Gavurin’s jangly guitar hit sweet spots for me, to say the least. I know I’m not alone. This is also one of those albums that will improve your mood no matter when you listen to it.
08. Depeche Mode – Violator
During Depeche Mode's 80s heyday, I was much more into guitar-based bands like U2, R.E.M., The Waterboys, Talking Heads, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Replacements, etc. I heard DM hits on the radio and felt that was good enough. By the time this album had been released, I had tuned out. My mistake! Someone introduced me to Violator years later and it blew me away. Now that I’ve spent time with most of their albums before and after, this is still my favorite album in their catalog.
07. The La's – The La’s
I was late to the party with this band, only discovering them through recommendations of friends in recent years. I honestly don’t understand how this one got by me for as long as it did. This is a perfect Brit-pop confection, and nearly every song on it is a gem. I don’t know what happened after this, but this was the band’s first and only album. Maybe this was just too difficult to top.
06. Rosanne Cash – Interiors
Unlike many of her previous albums, everything on Interiors was either co-written or written by Rosanne. As the title suggests, it’s a deeply personal album, largely chronicling the breakup of her marriage with Rodney Crowell. Yet, it maintains a sense of commonness and relatability that keep it from becoming mired in introspection. I had a fairly lukewarm reaction to a lot of Rosanne’s 80s records but the one/two punch of King’s Record Shop in 1987 and then Interiors in 1990 made me sit up and take serious notice.
05. World Party – Goodbye Jumbo
I was introduced to the talents of Karl Wallinger because he was once member of The Waterboys. That didn’t prepare me, though, for the Beatlesque pop-psych of World Party. His first two albums made it obvious the Wallinger would never have been content in someone else’s band. Goodbye Jumbo is arguably the better of the two. A close cousin, in many ways, to XTC’s Oranges & Lemons, which I also adore.
04. Concrete Blonde – Bloodletting
Concrete Blonde’s third album is my favorite in their catalog. I was first exposed to this band with “God Is A Bullet” from their second album (I think it was a video for it on MTV’s '120 Minutes') but Bloodletting is the album that made me a die hard Concrete Blonde fan. It’s hard to overstate the uniqueness of a talent like Johnette Napolitano, too.
03. Uncle Tupelo – No Depression
Before Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco and Jay Farrar formed Son Volt, they were partners in a band called Uncle Tupelo, and they blew on to the alt-country scene with this killer debut album. It was as though a band like The Replacements had taken to banjos and pedal steel guitar but left their amps cranked up. Comparisons to Nirvana are not unwarranted, either. “Full of piss and vinegar,” as my dad would sometimes say. To this day, I prefer Uncle Tupelo to either of the aforementioned spinoff bands.
02. Cowboy Junkies – The Caution Horses
People often point to The Trinity Session as their go-to Cowboy Junkies album. Although I love it, I adore their next album, The Caution Horses, at least as much. Half of The Trinity Session was cover material and much of it outshined the original compositions. The brilliantly observational songwriting of Michael and Margo Timmins move into the spotlight on The Caution Horses. Accompanied by the intentionally restrained musical talents of the band, this album is the perfect distillation of the Cowboy Junkies aesthetic.
01. Sinéad O'Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
Sinead's second album is an absolute gem from start to finish. It’s full of painfully honest passion, delicately whispered at times but screamed out loud at others. It can be almost uncomfortably personal, yet still somehow relatable. This isn’t an album you just listen to — this is an album you feel.
1990 truly feels like a transitional year, on the cusp of several massive genre movements (grunge, shoegaze, britpop) that both are highly indebted to the decade beforehand and yet somehow as forward-looking as can be. Slacker culture begins before this, as does dream pop and indie culture, and certainly hip-hop had tremendous roots before the 90s hit that are worth exploring. 1990 has always been a strange musical year for me, for this very reason. It pained me greatly to neglect certain genre staples, including the Sundays' stellar debut, the first Tribe Called Quest record, and the second House of Love album, which while brilliant in its own right, was sadly eclipsed by many bands they directly influenced, but here we are...
10. Pale Saints - The Comforts of Madness
1990 really was a year for shoegaze, huh? It's almost a shame to have this record come in at the end here, because it truly is a stunner, through and through. It's a masterpiece of interwoven delights, fuzzed-out textures, and heavenly vocals; another stunning debut record in a budding genre, seldom topped since. I remember being stunned the first I heard "Sight of You," a track that still brings me to my knees after all these years.
09. Sinéad O'Connor - I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got
I can empathize with the immense amount of pressure that Sinéad likely felt while recording this record - attempting to follow up such a singular debut as The Lion and the Cobra is no easy feat, and while this record does pale a touch in comparison, it's got plenty to write home about on its own merit. No shadow stories and sophomore slumps here. Those who bought it just for the hit and kept it on the shelf certainly missed out on this collection of haunting protest songs, booty-shaking covers, and genre-bending tracks that push the limits of pop music. Honestly though, let's not beat around the bush here, the Prince-written cut really *is* jaw-dropping and one of the most important tracks of the decade.
08. His Name is Alive - Livonia
This debut record gave birth to one of the most enigmatic, principled, prolific and experimental artists, one of the last true 4AD visionaries. The band put their hometown in Detroit on the map, offering up a ghost-ridden record that sinks its teeth into you and leaves you dazzled with its unsettling sing-song beauty. Scraping samples, sparsely winded guitar, and the most angelic-yet-detached pair of female vocalists are just a handful of the aural treats that Livonia has to offer. It's an impressive and extremely emotive set of re-recorded four track demos polished by John Fryer, operating in the same sphere as Lynch and Buñuel and channeling the same delicate beauty as Ivo's own project, This Mortal Coil. Frontman Warren Defever would spend much of the next decade dismantling the band's trademark sound and injecting heavy doses surf rock, r&b, folk, and everything else you can dream of, but the satisfyingly surreal story begins here.
07. Dead Can Dance - Aion
Arguably the last truly great Dead Can Dance record from beginning to end, and my first introduction to the band back in early high school (the same night as Kevin, coincidentally). Dead Can Dance somehow bridged the gap between the music my teachers listened to and the music my misfit friends were into, and this record has some of their most unforgettable moments. While they've always operated in neo-classicism and explored dark passages in the past, Aion feels so calculated and flawlessly executed, from its carefully selected medieval instrumentation to its exploration of ritual dance and gregorian chant. It's their warmest record, their most sexual, and one of their most positive offerings.
06. Sonic Youth - Goo
I got this album in middle school, and for a long time, it was the only Sonic Youth record I owned. Yes, it's front-loaded, but what a series of stunners... The singles on Goo show the band firing on all four cylinders, reconciling their art-damaged past with their Carpenters obsession, paving the way for Nirvana's success in so many ways. I still get chills when I hear the climax of "Dirty Boots" and can't help but smile when Chuck D drops a "word up" in the middle of "Kool Thing." Over the years, as I've gotten more into Sonic Youth's past and future, I've grown to love the second half of the record as well, which is just as noisy and shrill as anything that came before. While I might prefer Evol these days, Goo still remains a favorite in their catalog, and no amount of t-shirt parodies of the album's comic-book cover can take that away from me.
05. Ride - Nowhere
Ride are the quintessential shoegaze band in so many ways - and their first record is both their brightest and their best work. It's almost a cliché - a pretty young rock n' roll band knocks out a series of perfect EPs and follows up with an equally perfect debut, and then spends the rest of their career chasing that dragon to oblivion. Nowhere has so much to offer and is a record on the cusp of so many movements - taking the House of Love and The Stone Roses blueprint and running with the Lennon/McCartney baton even further, balancing these pre-britpop songwriting chops with dark passages of noise and neo-psychedelic swirls. This record is the sound of blossoming youth, eternal promise, and cocksure talent, easy to love and lose yourself in forever.
04. Mazzy Star - She Hangs Brightly
What a debut, one with a series of connecting records that certainly paved the way for it. While there were hints of genius in both The Rain Parade and Opal, the forced re-branding of David Roback's latest paisley underground project delivered on years of promise with a string of perfect hazy songs (most of which were slated for Opal's second album) that encapsulate those early romantic sparks and late autumn evenings. Don't even get me started on Hope Sandoval; the glue that binds all things, the most delicate and detached vocals this side of the spectrum, the sounds of falling in love over and over again with a sweet sigh. I think everything Mazzy Star has done is brilliant, but this is a favorite among favorites, highlights including the definitive cover of Slapp Happy's "Blue Flower," the darkness-through-the-dawn shuffle of "Ghost Highway," and the psychedelic title track, which is suitable justification for the entire Doors' catalog. Word on the street is that many of these tracks would have comprised Opal's sophomore record had Kendra Smith not departed, and while Smith/Opal have their own share of highlights, it's hard to imagine this album being anything but Mazzy Star.
03. Asylum Party - Mére
From the opening call-and-response riff of "Pure Joy in My Heart," this record comes out swinging and just doesn't let up. Asylum Party (and their Lively Art labelmates) prove that there's still life in "goth" yet, adding their own blend of hard-hitting psychedelia to The Cure's earlier, darker sound, running circles around the series of Sisters-clones that plagued the UK and US scenes in the years before and after. Though leaps and bounds away from the genre, Mère is somehow harder and heavier than some quintessential metal records, with sonorous production, deep bass grooves, and more reverb drenched guitar riffs than you can shake a stick at. At the album's core however, lies a poetic beauty, aided in part by the band's dreamy half-English, half-French vocal delivery and some carefully sprinkled pianos and lush synths.
What else can be said about Violator that hasn't been said a hundred times over? This is not Depeche Mode's best record as far as I'm concerned, but it is their most complete in so many ways. A string of near-perfect, if but overplayed singles that one might loathe to hear in a club in 2020, but deep down, you can't help but shake your ass to in private, with the lights down low and a lone candle burning. Ah, to be seventeen again. Singles aside, the hidden gems on Violator are the dirty, hard-hitting "Halo," the quintessentially sleazy Martin Gore number "Sweetest Perfection," and the album's tear-jerking/lovemaking centerpiece, "Waiting For the Night."
01. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
The perfect summer album, and the beginning of the end for one of the most enigmatic and singular bands of the 1980s. One of their more intelligible records, full of clarity and warmth. The album's bookends are its strongest parts, from the campfire swirl of "Cherry Coloured Funk" down to powerful showstopper "Frou Frou Foxes in Midsummer Fires," while the tracks in between strike the perfect balance of crystalline, unattainable beauty and shimmery songwriting. Some may argue that the band lost their edge with this record (impacted primarily by births, family deaths, and marriages), and *gasp* you can actually make out quite a bit of what Liz Fraser is singing this time around, but the album is such a benchmark for the band that they spent the next six years unravelling in the wake of its success.
10. Bell Biv Devoe - Poison
When I was eight years old, I wanted to be the fourth member of Bell Biv Devoe. Or, rather, I hoped that one day I could be cool enough, smooth enough, to merit them allowing a little vanilla in without ruining their flavor (or more likely, get a place in the all-white Sudden Impact band Biv organized). Of all the albums on this list, I’m pretty sure this one sounds more 1990 than any of the others. This album is perhaps the most perfect embodiment of New Jack Swing, defined on the album’s cover and running through the title-track’s video as a subtitle: “Our music is mentally hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it.” (Janet Jackson’s Control is another acceptable answer for New Jack Swing apotheosis.) This is still such a fun sound. The lyrics are maybe not aging so well (and looking back, this is pretty steamy for how young I was in 1990), but it’s great to dance to and for lightening up, which you’ll need to do if you listen to most of the other albums on this list. You can imagine the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles partying and eating pizza to it. Nostalgia, then? Maybe. But when I put it on, my kids begin busting a move immediately. I remember when Boyz II Men put out their first single, “Motownphilly,” with Biv co-writer and featured on it, being excited but generally confused as time went on and Boyz became the much better known group. Bell Biv Devoe still has it all. Word to the Mutha!
09. His Name is Alive - Livonia
Livonia put its namesake town on the musical map and put Warren Defever’s singular musical approach on the map. By the end of his 4AD run, a decade later, he was making a very unique and historically aware version of R&B, perhaps trying to reclaim it around the same time D’Angelo was with Voodoo, but in this first missive from a musical genius, guitars are loud, up-front, and layered, and calm disaffected female vocals (courtesy of Karin Oliver and Angie Carozzo) sing about how ghosts affect relationships. (And they do, trust me on this.) Drums and percussion are pretty much entirely absent and appear in very odd form when they do show up. Sometimes it’s a spirited bass performance that is the top layer of a song, while various sonic effects circle and spark off it. Songs end as abruptly as they begin. Scanning the tracklist, you’ll see the same titles appear several times, something that will be a defining trait of future HNIA releases. Like ghosts let out of an attic, like emotion stored up for years let out one hot rainy day, the sounds and words that pour out of the speakers are haunting, affecting, alternately incendiary and luminous. Livonia comes out of a state of mind. Seemingly uninterested in commercial success or established structures, its outsider black-and-white non-linear perspective feels akin to David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD; while Lynch comparisons are way overdone, this one extends to the specifics of sound design, with a sense of some desolate cosmic wind or scratching at the outer rim of the world at the periphery, creating a context for these sorrowful dispatches. Naming itself after the town in which it was created, a suburb outside of Detroit, this Midwestern avant-garde concoction reminds me of part of the title of a favorite recent book by someone else who grew up in the Midwest: “Goth in the Country.” Once Livonia gets in your head, it redecorates, changes the wallpaper, reconfigures your aesthetic priorities. Livonia is not my favorite HNIA album, but I am not OG. I love it because it’s an incredibly alluring enigmatic origin point. I love how you can hear amps and space around sounds. If ride released one of those debuts it was nearly impossible to ever live up to, the first officially-released His Name is Alive album was enough to garner interest that an interesting talent was at work, but no one could’ve known how stylistically divergent, wildly obscure, and sonically experimental Defever & Co’s future adventures in ESP, Time Stereo, Silver Mountain, and 4AD would prove to be.
08. A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
A watershed album clearing and illuminating a whole new path within hip-hop. Mellow, introspective, playful, socially conscious, clearly invested in different lyrical content. Introducing the inimitable flow of Q-Tip (predominantly) and Phife Dawg, with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White present as well, the tribe was fully intact in this opening manifesto, and rather than burning brightest on their debut, they went on to make several great albums, even coming back with a partially-posthumous release in 2016 that was one of the best albums of the year. While it’s Tribe’s debut, it was actually the last of the big three of the Native Tongues movement’s first releases (the boys’ club, at least—Queen Latifah had dropped her debut, steeped in Afrocentrism and feminism, the year before). Jungle Brothers and De La Soul had put out their first records in ’88 and ’89, but Q-Tip was a part of all of it, learning production, spitting his first verses on record, digging through the crates for juicy and jazzy samples. Tribe’s first album is an enriching patchwork of ear candy and mental food, creating a life-affirming tapestry of urban life.
07. Bathory - Hammerheart
Another masterpiece, hugely influential. Like Too Dark Park, Hammerheart constitutes the middle act of a mid-period trilogy for a band who has no problem diving into the darker parts of life. Hammerheart is the sound of a Swedish extreme metal band transitioning from a field they pioneered, black metal, to the creation of a new subgenre, Viking metal (a term disputed—like just about everything else—in the trve metal community), under the leadership of its visionary songwriter, guitar player, and vocalist, Quorthon. (Fun fact: director Jonas Åkerlund was their drummer.) But there’s nothing transitional about it. It’s such an epic, completely devoted artistic statement that they considered going no further after its completion. Hammerheart is about storytelling; it’s about reaching into your own nation’s history and creating a compelling sonic world in which to tell these stories and dramatize this history. The sound is quite raw; it’s not as lo-fi as Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal from their trilogy later that decade, but it’s not hi-fi, either. While I’m not an apologist for these kinds of decisions, here I do think it adds indelibly to the aesthetic. Metal should feel a little dangerous, a little forbidden. And this album certainly does. Environmental sound effects set the scene before chill-inducing guitars brush in. There is 100% commitment to everything follows. The guitars are heavy; the singing alternately clean and ripped (with monastic choir-like chanting in parts) and quite cathartic; the drums pulverizing; the bass chugging. It paints dark nights with raging fires and crashing waves across the inside of your skull real quick. Hammerheart is an album spiritual, anthropological, and imaginative. It’s a quintessential album of its kind that is highly revered within the metal lovers’ community.
06. Dead Can Dance - Aion
On Aion, Dead Can Dance begin to bring in the musicology and anthropology that continues for the rest of their original 8-album run. Their name is made manifest, as they blow the dust off a 14th-century Italian dance number and come up with a banger (I used to scour the bins for other recordings of “Saltarello” and had one or two). “Song of the Sibyl” is Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard intertwining their voices in that way that gives you chills. Meanwhile, some of their finest songs appear, with “Black Sun” being one of their greatest moments. They were working with such integrity at this point. This is an album with absolute commitment, and the nature of its instrumentation and recording make it timeless. I love the percussion and vocalizing on this album, its segues, its short length, that it begins and ends on an energetic high note. There’s an air of ritual and revelry throughout. Aion was my first Dead Can Dance album. I’ve listened to it a thousand times; I still listen to it regularly; and it still holds a special place in my heart.
05. The Cure - Mixed Up
Some people don’t count live albums and remix albums as albums, and I get that, but Mixed Up is not talked about enough. Mixed Up is amazing. Mixed Up was my entry to The Cure. For this reason alone, this album should probably be higher on my list. Almost every song is improved by its remix. (The one huge exception is “Pictures of You,” which goes for a loping dubby shuffle that doesn’t quite work, but the other three choices from Disintegration are much deeper and more interesting and immersive in these versions than in their initial incarnations from just a year before). Ones that remove the strumming acoustic guitars for a cold and hollow clatter of electronica such as William Orbit’s take on “In Between Days” and the seductive trip of “The Caterpillar” are equally worthy alternate readings. With its fat beats, fun horn section, and bed of keyboard organ, this “Close to Me” is the best of its hundred versions for me. A lot of remixes go for a trend and repeat a lyric sample and these often wind up as curios or bits of ephemera, but every song on Mixed Up is treated with seriousness and respect and they blend together beautifully. Several of them are clearly not merely remixes but whole new recordings, giving the album its own unique flavor while strengthening its integrity. It’s the kind of album that takes you on an inner journey and rewards your attention. I love the extended lengths and the extra flange on the guitars. It’s a beautiful album and it ends on a howl, a great raging stomper that sets the scene for the new cure to emerge in two years on wish (who are quite smitten with the band in our number one spot on this list, it should be pointed out). Smith will excoriate himself for his excesses, his lovers for not letting him be enough, and life itself for being finite. No matter how much he gives us, his fans, it’s never enough.
04. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Good Son
This is the album where Nick Cave, one of the world’s great living songwriters and artistic figures, discovered he could sit at the piano and write beautiful, singular songs while losing none of the dramatic intensity on which he had built his name. In fact, some songs build up nearly unbearable tension before rewarding the listener with moments of swooning melody. (“The Good Son” and “The Hammer Song” I find to be heavier, harder-hitting songs than many metal songs; tension is everything.) Nick Cave recently posted a picture of himself with Burt Bacharach, describing him as one of the greatest; on this album Cave the crooner and torch-song balladeer spreads his wings—you can see the connection. It was the beginning of a new decade, one which would see the creation and release of Let Love In, Murder Ballads, and The Boatman’s Call, classics each. He had a few more fiery sermons to deliver before he turned out some of the greatest songs on love and loss, sorrow and spirit, ever penned. One thing I love about this album is the way it opens up with “Foi Na Cruz.” Immediately, we’re in another language than we’re used to hearing in his music, and there’s almost syrupy strings—it puts you on your back foot. Cave himself said putting it as track one was "deliberately divisive," a subversive statement of intent. It’s a song that takes its time, though, and reveals the sort of craft ahead as well as the cavernous voice Saint Nick is in this time around. The previous album, Tender Prey, recall, opened with perhaps the quintessential Nick Cave song, “The Mercy Seat.” One of the things this does is establish a new terrain for the Bad Seeds—where they’re calling from, to borrow a Carver title. This isn’t Australia; this isn’t England; this isn’t Germany. Nope, the boys are in Brazil, and a certain strange South American Gothic flavor infuses the whole album in subtle ways. Another thing I love about this album is the voice of Blixa Bargeld. I love the way they trade vocal lines on “The Weeping Song,” and I love his insistent back-up refrain, “Who will be the witness?” The one-two punch of “The Weeping Song” and “The Ship Song,” two of Cave’s finest moments, is simply overpowering. A beautiful, strange album that I feel sometimes gets lost in the Cave discography.
03. Depeche Mode - Violator
Perfect. Their most perfect album, which isn’t to say it’s their best album. Still sounds incredible to this day, and doesn’t sound quite like the eighties or quite like the nineties. (Take “Strangelove” off the previous album, which sounds very eighties, or the nineties beats on the following album, Songs of Faith and Devotion, and you see what I mean, right?) The mixture of pulsating electronica with huge guitar hooks is irresistible. Perfect length, perfect flow: a goth masterpiece.
02. Skinny Puppy - Too Dark Park
This is one of my favorite bands and this is one of their best albums. I like Last Rights more, and I love the early stuff, too, but this album is a masterpiece. There’s really no one like them. In this period (VIVIsectVI; Too Dark Park; Last Rights), their music became quite challenging, a quality that pulls me back to it often. The big beats are gone. More than songs, Skinny Puppy create a sound and a mood that gives you permission to get involved with thorny things. There’s a wilderness within, where we’re raging against the modern world and what it is and what it does to us. cEvin Key creates this textural, layered environment for that, for you to go there, and then Nivek, he just tears into it. His free-associating, punning lyrics protest a thousand horrors, from treatment of animals to “kicking the habit.” His voice scrapes along the insides of your gut, releasing stored traumas and repressed emotions. Which is not to say the music isn’t fun, much the way a horror movie or a dark carnival amusement can be fun. There’s a pace, a rhythm to this album, like you’re going on a nightmare house of mirrors rollercoaster ride, with drum patterns deployed at key moments and tension built and released—and of course there’s the screams. After an outrageous, inside-out opening three-song suite with incredible breakdowns, the album enters its dark heart in “Rash Reflection” and “Nature’s Revenge,” two of their best ever songs, where the tempo drops and repeated lines like “Kiss the Master’s feet” create a chilling mood. Back to that Dickinson quote, she also wrote in that same letter: ““If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry.” Too Dark Park makes your whole body so cold no fire can warm it.
01. Ride - Nowhere
The best album of the year. some debuts are so incendiary, so moment-defining, so full of pent-up energy and life, so unique in their sensibilities, there’s simply no topping them. As rocket propulsion, they guarantee a band or artist a life in music should they want it or they burn up everyone involved in making it. Nowhere is such an album. From its opening track, “seagull,” it takes the top of your head clean off, like Emily Dickinson said poetry should do. It sounds and feels like the promise of everything about England and psychedelic, atmospheric rock come to fulfillment, yet with zero pastiche. Song after song are classics: ”In a Different Place,” “Dreams Burn Down,” “Vapour Trail.” Alternating propulsive rock with dreamy romanticism but never losing momentum, it works more as an album than a collection of songs. The tracks that aren’t unforgettable masterpieces still work beautifully in the context of the whole, never killing the vibe or overstaying their welcome. It’s about aura, and presence, and mood. It’s what a proper effing LP is supposed to be. An experience. You drop the needle, you put the CD in the car, and you proceed to have your mind blown. I’m late to this classic album, and every time I listen to it, I almost can’t believe such a powerful, entrancing, timeless album exists. I can’t think of many more amazing debuts. Everyone talks about My Bloody Valentine, but this is my favorite shoegaze album from its original era, hands-down.
Chicago, Illinois | Contributor since 2018
10. The Church - Gold Afternoon Fix
After Starfish there was this big push to repeat it. This album took an unfortunate path of losing their original drummer, so the label just used the samples from him and the band wrote on top of it. It’s much more stiff than anything before (and after), but it still has several great tracks. There is a demo version out there that has Ploog on drums and I highly recommend.
09. Angelo Badalamenti - Twin Peaks [Original Television Soundtrack]
I’ll admit it, I’m a Peak Freak. Love the world of Twin Peaks. The soundtrack made this world. This could easily be my #1 pick, as someone who is deep into Peaks culture. The music Angelo is quite different from about any soundtrack out there.
08. Primus - Frizzle Fry
Saw Primus soon after this album was released. They were the freakiest trio I’d ever seen. Les Claypool ranks near the top of the most unusual (five string) bass players. He can literally play the melody and the beat at the same time. This album is full on anthem rock.
07. A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
This is a feel good album. It’s another unique hip hop release, like Public Enemy. 1990 was a great year for hip hop and whenever I want to be in a good mood, this album is a great choice.
06. Happy Mondays - Pills N Thrills and Bellyaches
This is probably their best album from this Mad-Chester band. They had a whole scene, with a designated dancer on stage, and these guys were a tough crowd. They knew how to kick out the jams, nonetheless!
05. Sonic Youth - Goo
Along with Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth became a pivotal band that launched so many bands in the 1990s. A follow up to Daydream Nation, it was still an epic release that had lots of great layers.
04. Meat Beat Manifesto - 99%
With rave on the incline, MBM was there to keep you up all night. They were a great mixture of apocalyptic overtones and infectious grooves. Their samples, loops, and heavy beats were one of a kind.
03. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
Every album was so great with this band. They could do no wrong. By the time Heaven or Las Vegas came out, you could finally understand what Elizabeth Fraser was actually singing. It didn’t matter, just her voice alone would reel you in. And this band made a huge impact with so many dream pop and shoegaze bands of the 1990s.
02. Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet
Such a powerful album and Public Enemy was like nothing else out there at the time. The way they mixed vocals, drums machines and samples was cutting edge in the late 80s and 1990. I remember back in college that you would always find someone in a dorm room with a Fear of a Black Planet poster.
01. Ride - Nowhere
Ride was the band that started my whole shoegaze infatuation back in 1990, despite British media being so critical. Ride helped bring Creation Records to the forefront of a legit label that included Jesus and Mary Chains and My Bloody Valentine. The album is a great balance of soft lyrics and a wall of guitar sound. It’s very melodic despite also being noisy. Probably one of my most influential albums of all time.
New Orleans, Louisiana | YouTube Channel
10. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult – Confessions Of A Knife…
A completely blind buy. I liked the cover, I liked the song titles, I liked acid, and I liked dark things. I quickly realized I was familiar with MLWTTKK from the clubs. This album was so many things, the sampling, the funk rhythms, the wickedness, and over-the-top camp quantified into perfection on this album. Seeing them open for Christian Death (UK) was one of the most salacious events of my life…
09. Midnight Oil – Blue Sky Mining
My list is loaded with unique dancers. This album exceeded all my expectations after “Diesel and Dust”. I loved Midnight Oil’s politics, I loved the passion with which they performed, and I loved their crafting of rebellion-heavy choruses. This is my favorite from their catalog.
08. Sidewinders – Auntie Ramos’ Pool Hall
I want to just credit this on Eric Westfall. But truth is, it was Eric Snider that lured me to “Witchdoctor” and the reason I have this album. To this day, I can’t pinpoint one thing specifically to say this is why I love this album… it has an early-Smithereens quality, that might be it. I think this is my country music. Whatever void country music fills – this is my patch.
07. Sinead O'Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
I didn’t need a throw-away Prince song to be excited for this release. I’d already fallen in love with Sinead’s vocal power from her debut, and pairing that strength with stripped down acoustic pieces make this album so emotionally charged, it can turn on the waterworks still today.
06. Concrete Blonde – Bloodletting
Free was my first CB album, and it was perfection to me, so I had a lot of anticipation for this follow-up. The aesthetic and sound was a little more goth-leaning, which tapped into my personal tastes. The singles choked the airwaves – so I don’t revisit it as often as I should, but there isn’t a flat track on the entire album. It would have benefitted from the inclusion of “Everybody Knows”, but then who would have bought the Pump Up The Volume soundtrack?
05. Jellyfish – Bellybutton
Red K(C)ross-loving me saw the video for ‘The King Is Half-Undressed’ on 120 Minutes, and skipped class the next day to go to the mall to buy Bellybutton. I wore this album out – every track was so perfectly built and full of hooks. Basically, it felt like a modern version of The Partridge Family, albeit, a little more decedent and wicked. I still love this album and can play if front to back over and over. I wish I had picked this up on vinyl 3 decades ago.
04. Sonic Youth – Goo
Good Jesus was I in love with Sonic Youth. After Daydream Nation I bought their entire catalog and thought I had discovered something that was entirely mine. I bought this album, every single, even the LaserDisc, and told everyone Sonic Youth was the future of music. I wasn’t really wrong – but definitely an ass about it. “Kool Thing” video – one of my favorites til today. The band getting “freaked” – priceless. Kim Gordon in a leather bikini top with a black cat… yeah, everything an 18 yr old boy needs. “What’s that you said? She’s old enough to be my mom…Kool.”
03. Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual
I jumped into this album like a lot of JA fans did, with a bucket-load of expectation and excitement. We did not get Nothing’s Shocking Part Two. I immediately fell in love with the complexity of this album, primarily with the lyrics, but it wasn’t the life-changing moment the previous album gave me. Tracing its roots back to Psi Com, seeing "Three Days" and repeated listens gave me a deeper appreciation for Ritual. My only complaint is that “Been Caught Stealing” takes me out of the album. I like the track as a stand-alone, but in an album with such striking and profound lyrics, it serves up commercialism that didn’t need to be there.
02. Mazzy Star – She Hangs Brightly
It was honestly difficult putting this at #2. I waited in anticipation of this album, wanting to hate it. I was going to reveal this album to the paisley underground (the two people I knew) as a fraud and failure. Who the eff is Hope Sandoval, anyway? Definitely not Kendra Smith. The promos from Rough Trade were listing this as Opal… sacrilege. When I listened, all of that angst and frustration melted in a fuzzy, garden-bed of sunflowers and ubiquitous melancholy; a familiar friend. It’s as much a successor to Happy Nightmare Baby as it is a jumping off point for what Mazzy Star would popularize. It’s an amazing album. RIP David Roback… you are one musician I can honestly follow through all of my years of collecting. From Rain Parade to Mazzy Star… you never ceased to captivate me.
01. The Breeders – Pod
I went in to Pod blind. I didn’t know it as Kim Deal, knew nothing about it; never heard a song. It was one of my “song title-Chris Bigg-4AD-impulse” purchases. The simple structure of the songs, somewhat stripped down, but with that Pixies-esque stream of consciousness. I’m transfixed each and every time I listen to it – I want every song, especially ‘Metal Man” to be 10 minutes longer than they are. In my opinion, it’s one of the most perfect recordings in my collection.
Seattle, Washington | Popdose
10. Extreme - Extreme II: Pornograffitti
09. Propaganda - 1234
08. The Sundays - Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
07. Depeche Mode - Violator
06. Gene Loves Jezebel - Kiss of Life
05. Morrissey - Bona Drag
04. Debbie Gibson - Anything Is Possible
03. Danielle Dax - Blast The Human Flower
02. Iggy Pop - Brick By Brick
01. The Beautiful South - Choke
Reflections from Keith: Looking back on it now, this list truly encapsulates the range of my musical taste at the time. I loved the Housemartins, and in 1990, I bought my first album by The Beautiful South, setting into motion a countless Paul Heaton albums to follow. While nothing compares to my Prince collection (1990’s Graffiti Bridge being the first dud I ever bought from him), I think Heaton’s share of CDs on my wall is rivaled only by Miles Hunt (his band, The Wonder Stuff, took 1990 off) and Dave Grohl (who would enter my life the following year). The Extreme record wasn’t as good as their debut, but a lot of great hair metal albums made my year-end lists back then (White Lion, Cinderella, Motley Crue); Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Rancid and Foo Fighters were natural extensions of their sound in the 1990s. In many ways, The Beautiful South perfectly set up the decade to come, with Pulp, Blur, and Manic Street Preachers leading the Brit Pop movement that I was way more into than the genres that kinda defined the decade: Grunge, Eurodance, and New Jack Swing. 80s acts came into the new decade swinging on my list, but for artists #3-10, this was their last stand in terms of new music I liked. Iggy Pop has steadily released either great or awful albums in the 30 years since. Gene Loves Jezebel (with half the original twins on board) came back in 2017 with the quite awesome Dance Underwater. I know Depeche Mode never really went away, but after a decade of being quite obsessed, I was just kind of over them after 1990, much like Morrissey and The Smiths. I’m happy to hear Claudia and Suzanne from Propaganda are recording again with A Secret Wish’s original producer, Stephen Lipson. Claudia sat out the 1234 album, but the other original members made cameos; it was a surprisingly mainstream pop record compared to their daring debut album that remains my all-time favorite album to this day.
Uttoxeter, England | Contributor since 2015
10. Aztec Camera - Stray
Roddy Frame is one of the UK's most underrated singer songwriters. I've liked them from the very first album (High Land Hard Rain). This was the 5th outing by which time the band was basically Roddy, only one more album surfaced under the AC name before he decided that all future releases would be in his own name.
09. Dusty Springfield - Reputation
Dusty influenced by the Pet Shop Boys who co-wrote half the songs and clearly had a huge influence on the production and instruments used.
08. Lou Reed & John Cale - Songs for Drella
The beauty of these long term retrospectives is that you get to select albums that maybe you didn't hear when they first came out. Reed and Cale cooked the idea for this one up at a memorial (or maybe it was the funeral) of Andy Warhol. Afterwards said working with Lou Reed reminded him why he hadn't worked with him for 20 years and why he didn't intend working with him again. As for the album it's told from the perspective of Warhol and details his life as it unfolds..lyrically it's superb.
07. Pet Shop Boys - Behaviour
This is my go-to PSBs album. I think their recent output has been a bit formulaic but this album sees them in top form. The album itself reminds me of holidays and the sun, it still does.
06. The Beautiful South - Choke
The BS are Paul Heaton's followup band to The Housemartins. Lyrically, Paul Heaton has always been very clever and the title of this band says it all. Paul is a confirmed "northerner" and the irony in the bands title says it all and is probably lost on a lot outside the UK. The record itself is full of great stories and melodies and our eldest came with us to see the band touring this album a year later even though he hadn't quite emerged to the world at that point.
05. Everything But The Girl - The Language of Life
We saw EBTG in 1990 live in Nottingham before Ben was ill. We now know that Tracey suffers from terrible stage fright - in fact she won't sing live now. We had really good seats and it kind of explains a lot regarding her "stage act" in retrospect.
04. Neil Young - Ragged Glory
In recent years Ive fallen out of love with Neil Young after seeing him play a shockingly bad gig at the NEC with Harry. It was self indulgent rubbish and pretty much most of what he has released in the last 10 years has been weak imo. In 1990 I had this on heavy rotation and still love it with the exception of one track - "F****in UP," the short version on this album is terrible, seeing it played for 10 minutes makes you want to lose the will to live however the rest of the album is superb.
03. The Waterboys - Room to Roam
My favourite Waterboys album, "A Man is in Love" is the highlight for me.
02. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
The same weekend as above we went into Newcastle and our friend bought his first CD player and this was the CD he bought first to play on it. When he and I first met 9 years earlier as students the early Cocteau Twins were a common interest so it seemed fitting and this has become my favourite Cocteau Twins album.
01. The Sundays - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
I remember the exact time I first heard this album. We'd just come back from our first visit to the US (Florida) and went to stay with a friend in the North East. It was a little cottage in a small village and it was a time before we had kids so we spent the time listening to music and going backwards and forwards to the village pub. He had just bought the vinyl record and raved about it and passed enthusiasm on to us. I found a 2nd hand cd copy a few weeks later and then got a vinyl copy many years later. If I was putting together a top 20 of my favourite albums this would be in it. Of all the lists for this blog that Ive done in the last few years this has been my favourite one. It reminds me of a time when everything seemed pretty uncomplicated and I could run around playing football 3 times a week with no injuries or aches!, how is it 30 years ago?
London, England | Contributor since 2017
10. Fleetwood Mac - Behind the Mask
Lindsey Buckingham had just left, the band were a mess yet this is still a Fleetwood Mac Album. I always thought the moody cover photo was them, but apparently they didn’t want to be photographed together so it’s a good lookalike and pretty telling of the lack of harmony.
09. The Sundays - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic
I first heard The Sundays on John Peel if I can remember back that long ago, and I always paid attention to his recommendations even though to be frank he was a bit hit and miss. The Sundays were definitely one of his hits and this album still gets regular plays in the Brown house!
08. Inspiral Carpets - Life
Yes it’s the 90’s Yes it’s the second “Madchester” Album by the vastly underrated Carpets. The organ sound gives it for me a Doors-like feel and I bought this album after seeing them support The Stone Roses.
07. Happy Mondays - Pills N Thrills and Bellyaches
Putting the Mad in Madchester, I often think if me and my mates, who all have no musical talent put together a band we would be the Happy Mondays. I’d definitely be Bez. They really shouldn’t work but magically they come together in this hotchpotch of musical weirdness. Love it.
06. Depeche Mode - Violator
Great album which bridges the 80s and 90s in terms of style, although definitely a bit darker, moodier feel.
05. Cowboy Junkies - The Caution Horses
I really loved The Trinity Sessions when it came out and played it to death. No this doesn’t reach the same heights but its still really good. A cover of one of my favourite Neil Young tracks and Bruce Hornsby on piano? What’s not to love!
04. Everything But The Girl - The Language of Life
I remember when this came out it really divided opinion among friends who shared my musical taste. I loved it instantly and still do. Silky smooth, sends shivers down my spine to this day.
03. The Pogues - Hell’s Ditch
Love them or hate them the Pogues are instantly recognizable from the gravelly drawl of Shane McGowan. This album was produced by Joe Strummer foreshadowing his temporary replacement of McGowan as lead singer. Check out the amazing cover, one of my favourites.
02. A Tribe Called Quest - People’s instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
Oh man this was so close to my number one, ask me again next week and it might be. Groundbreaking is a term that’s thrown about way too often for my liking, but it fits here. So laid back it’s almost comatose, this is a no anger, no politics, hip hop masterpiece with an almost psychedelic feel to what is above all, a really happy album.
01. The Beautiful South - Choke
There’s not much musical unity between me and Mrs. B it has to be said. She dislikes most of the stuff I love and vice versa. As you can imagine this makes long car journeys interesting as we meander from Take That to Dylan and and back. Of the bands we do have in common, several appear on this list with Beautiful South being firmly at the top. I love everything about them. The bouncy feel to the music, the wonderful lyrics, the back and forth of male and female vocals. Everything. There is literally not a single track on this album that I do not adore, no weak link, no track I want to skip, just pop perfection. What more could you ask for. Beautiful. In more than just name.
Phoenix, Arizona | Contributor since 2010
10. LL Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out
09. A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
08. Prince - Graffiti Bridge
07. Alien Sex Fiend - Curse
06. Leaether Strip - The Pleasure of Penetration
05. Jane's Addiction - Ritual de lo Habitual
04. The Afghan Whigs - Up In It
03. Danzig - Danzig II: Lucifuge
01. My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult - Confessions of a Knife...
Jaymz's Confessions of a Knife discourse: Try listening to this with out moving or at least smiling... once. It's pretty hard to do as this is truly a perfectly absurd and terrific banger. And still 30 years later it sounds as perfect as it did in the early 90s.
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