The 1990’s were a time in the musical world where era-defining music was perhaps never greater. Genres such as Pop-Punk, Britpop and Grunge were coming into their element and as a result the quality of the albums that were being churned out is difficult to rival. With that being said, when you have Oasis, Nirvana, The Notorious B.I.G. and Blink-182 all hitting their peaks in the same decade it is always going to be hard to compete with. This is my personal top 15 albums of this momentous decade which captured the musical imaginations of so many for so long, making every single one of these albums increasingly relevant and incredible even to this day.
15. Radiohead – The Bends
Named after decompression sickness, it is no surprise that Radiohead’s second studio album is as raw and heartfelt as it is. We always knew that Thom Yorke had a side of instability but this is where it stemmed from, an unhinged record full of passion and fear. Songs such as ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and ‘High and Dry’ provide a hugely sensitive and acoustic side to this album as we hear Yorke pour his heart out over Johnny Greenwood’s fantastic guitar chords but it is the dark songs on this which really stand out. ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out) is perhaps the best song on the whole album as all pieces of the Radiohead puzzle come together to create a phenomenal jigsaw of cut loose depression. The song documents the voices in his head and the instrumental helps paint that picture impeccably. As well as this, ‘Just’ features on this album and is perhaps a more savage and aggressive way to combat the emotion in Radiohead’s music, with cuts from acoustic slow jams to psychedelic prog-rock in the space of seconds. In 2006, NME teamed up with British Hit Singles and Albums to form the best albums of all time, and ‘The Bends’ was rated in 10th place. As well as this Paste rated it as the 11th best album of the 90s. Well deserving of a place in this list.
14. Green Day – Dookie
Released in February 1994, punk-rock outfit Green Day really broke out to a wider audience and became one of the biggest bands in America with their third studio album ‘Dookie’. The stand out feature of this album is without doubt the fact that it possesses a whopping FIVE of Green Day’s biggest hits, including ‘Welcome To Paradise’, ‘When I Come Around’ and most notably, ‘Basket Case’. It is their best selling album and has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, as well as going Diamond in America. Rolling Stone called it the best album of 1994, Kerrang called it the second best pop-punk album of all time and Guitar World ranked it 13th in their ‘Superunknown: 50 Iconic Albums That Defined 1994’ list. To put it short, ‘Dookie’ has more critical acclaim and accolades than most albums in the decade and so thoroughly deserves it’s spot in this list. Many of the songs on here are very personal to lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong and I believe that is a major contributing factor as to why it has possessed the legacy it has. From anxiety attacks to feelings of heartbreak and neglect, this album really contains a wide spectrum of negative feelings and the coping mechanisms he uses to get past them. A truly great album and it is one for the genre’s archives for sure, pushing Blink 182’s ‘Enema Of The State’ album very close indeed for the best punk-rock album ever.
13. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine
The debut album from one of the most outspoken bands of all time. To start things on a lighter note, their biggest song ‘Killing In The Name’ is the proud holder of a Christmas Number One in the charts, when a campaign was started to deny Simon Cowell’s X Factor winner the top spot. The public obliged and Rage had their first number one single in the United Kingdom, some 17 years after it’s initial release. Onto it’s critical acclaim, and this album has plenty of it. Widely respected BBC Radio 1 and now Beats Radio DJ Zane Lowe described this album as one of four “masterpieces”, with this one topping his list. It was ranked 5th on Guitar World’s 2011 ‘Top Ten Guitar albums’ thanks to Tom Morello’s astonishing riffs along with his ability to add effect onto his guitar and create a sound unlike any other. The band as a whole possessed a huge aurora of energy and anger, no more so than the front man Zack De La Rocha who’s unique style of rap metal gave the band one of the most recognisable sounds of the 90s. Songs like ‘Bullet In The Head’ and ‘Bombtrack’ give that aggression we hear on ‘Killing In The Name’ and then some. This album is a huge public statement and it has taken time to be truly appreciated for how incredible it really is, still sounding fresh and original to this day.
12. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Loveless is the second studio album of Irish rock band My Bloody Valentine, fronted by lead singer and guitarist Kevin Shields. The album is often compared to the debut album from The Stone Roses because of the funk style guitar and murmured vocals both bands give. The difference with My Bloody Valentine was simply lust a greater curiosity to experiment other sounds, particularly through the techniques of tuning and tremolo. It was a rare glimpse of genius from Shields and co, who really struggled to build a fond relationship with their record label Creation Records, despite the obvious talents on display in the album. It wasn’t hugely commercial and in a way that made it all the more special as although the general public weren’t listening to it, critics were truly aware of how fantastic a piece this was. The two singles released from the album were incredibly psychedelic and created a brilliant rhetoric for the rest of the album, something which many bands can fail to deliver. Critically, as mentioned before, this album was a huge hit. Pitchfork voted it as the best album of the 90s, while NME put it 18th in their “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time” list. High praise indeed for an album which only went silver in the UK. Either way it’s influence is unrivalled and many believe it to be better than The Stone Roses’ debut album with it’s experimental guitar riffs along with the psychedelic elements which chip in to add another dimension of unique energy to the project.
11. Dr. Dre – The Chronic
The debut album of Compton icon Dr. Dre just had to be on this list. One of the most iconic rap albums of all time and one which propelled the former N.W.A. star into the limelight. It was released in 1992 by his own record label, where he documents his unrivalled production skills along with his legendary flow. Any album which contains ‘Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang’ is going to be a classic in my eyes and it provides us with a great combination of Dre’s production and Snoop Dogg’s flow and it was rightfully certified as a platinum single. He also won “Best Rap Performance” at the 1994 Grammy awards for his second single ‘Let Me Ride’, with the previous single being nominated for the same award. Vice ranked this album as the sixth best rap album of all time, while Spin stated it was the eight best album in their “90 greatest albums of the ’90s”. It’s influence has been astonishing, almost paving the way for West Coast rappers to get themselves out there, influencing big names such as Snoop Dogg and Warren G. It is also widely regarded as the album which re-defined West Coast hip-hop.
10: The Verve – Urban Hymns
The third studio album released by the Lancashire based band who, fronted by Richard Ashcroft, contained one of the most recognisable sounds in music at the peak of their powers. This album remains one of the best selling of all time and there is very good reason it was so well received by the masses of people who bought it. Winning the 1998 ‘Best British Album’ award at the Brits proves this, as well as the album being voted the 18th best album of all time by Q magazine. Songs such as ‘Sonnet’, ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ and ‘Lucky Man’ are revolutionary acoustic hits which are hard hitting even in the modern day and they’re a good enough reason for this album to be a classic. But the real masterpiece of this album was ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, one of the most famous songs of all time and the defining moment in Ashcroft’s musical career. Co-written with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this hit opens the album with sheer elegance and it never seems to drop off. “You’re a slave to money then you die”.
9: Blink-182 – Enema Of The State
This was the third studio album to be released by American punk rockers Blink-182 and upon it’s release in 1999, there was a fair amount of hype given the success of the previous two albums and it did not disappoint. The lead single off the album, ‘What’s My Age Again?’ has become a timeless pop-punk anthem thanks to it’s quirky and satirical lyrics and the same can be said for the next single they then released; arguably their biggest song in ‘All The Small Things’. As a duo, these songs proved that the mood of the pop-punk genre didn’t have to be limited to a serious and rebellious attitude, instead opting for a feel-good nature. They then follow that with ‘Adam’s Song’ which could well be the most heart-breaking song of their entire genre, showing the phenomenal variety the band possessed. Also, it’s the first Blink album which featured Travis Barker as a member as the band so there’s more reason for it’s talents. Rock Sound called this album the greatest pop-punk album of all time and that’s some praise when you consider albums such as ‘Dookie’ by Green Day and ‘All Killer, No Filler’ by Sum 41. Simply put, this album has it all.
8: Oasis – What’s The Story? (Morning Glory)
It is the biggest selling British album of all time, that is no fluke and it basically guaranteed that this album would place on this list. The infamously difficult second album from Manchester outfit Oasis came just a year after their timeless 1994 debut ‘Definitely Maybe’ and the pressure was on massively. Their debut was already a classic of it’s time and they needed to have a follow up which could follow suit. Luckily, you can always put trust in Noel Gallagher to deliver, especially in the 90s. There is literally no song on this album which I would deem as a weak track, that’s enough for me to class it as a masterstroke. Banging rock and roll hits came out of it such as ‘Roll With It’ and ‘Morning Glory’ as well as their first UK number one single with ‘Some Might Say’, a song which Noel described as the “archetypical Oasis song” and he isn’t wrong. There is that rock and roll sound on it which allows for Liam’s raspy vocals to excel and to make a crowd jump around, but the glorious thing about this album is the ballads it possesses. ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ is some of the band’s best work and ‘Champagne Supernova’ is quite simply an iconic British song. Oh yeah, and it has that little known song Wonderwall on it. It was the winner of the BRIT Awards’ fan voted ‘Album of 30 years’ award in 2010, sustaining it’s legacy for years to come. Masterful follow-up album but in my opinion it isn’t the best album they’ve done; I’ll give you a clue, this isn’t the only Oasis album on the list.
7: Primal Scream – Screamadelica
Yet another third studio album, this time it comes from Scottish band Primal Scream who burst onto the scene with this revolutionary sound where they left behind an indie rock sound and became a mesh of a wide variety of genres, from club house to gospel. As a winner of the 1992 Mercury Music Prize, it has large credentials and colossal critical acclaim. The album contains masses of bizarre samples which vary from bands like 13th Floor Elevators to speeches from a Peter Fonda character in the 1966 movie ‘The Wild Angels’ and when it is all collated together, it creates an absolutely majestic sound. Songs such as ‘Loaded’ and ‘Come Together’ are very long cuts and have often been utilised for theme songs and backing music all over television screens for years, most notably on BT Sport’s football coverage. They are also absolutely magnificent pieces of music and beautifully illustrate the crazed ideology of the band’s image and how they developed their sound. The cover itself is iconic and memorable, and that came about from the inspiration of a damp water spot on the wall which was exaggerated thanks to the use of LSD. As well as these long gospel preach songs there is also space for funky indie tunes in this album, such as ‘Movin’ On Up’ which has become a staple song for the group and one which has gained immensely positive receptions from their adoring fans. This album has that aurora around it, something which makes it greater than life, it is more than just music.
6: The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death
The second and final album officially released by Christopher Wallace, otherwise known as Biggie Smalls or The Notorious B.I.G. and it was released posthumously a fortnight after his death in 1997. It is the best album released by the best rapper to ever live, I shouldn’t really need to say much more than that but for the sake of displaying it’s genius I will do. ‘Life After Death’ is a direct follow up to his debut album ‘Ready To Die’ and it picks up from where the last song on that album (‘Suicidal Thoughts’) ends. It does this in the style of a story, documenting his life and his rise to prominence as the greatest to ever do it. The way this album flows from song to song is almost as smooth as Wallace’s bars as he proves his ability and leaves the world with a lasting memory of his genius tendencies. As well as his anecdotal tales there is also a large collection of bangers on this album, many of which can be deemed as the best and most popular ones he has ever done. These include ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ which contains a fantastic Whitney Houston sample which is mixed perfectly to create a bouncy hip-hop track, and of course ‘Hypnotize’ where Biggie again uses the female vocal in the chorus to create a classic sound. ‘Notorious Thugs’ and ‘Sky’s The Limit’ are a couple of the other highlights to come from a quite frankly earth shattering album and one which could easily be classed as the best hip-hop record of all time.
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
This is the fifth studio album which came from American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers and it is easily their best and most daring. It is an album which just has such attitude and swagger in abundance, whether it come from the rapid vocal delivery of Anthony Kieidis, or the funky bass lines of Flea, or the cymbal smashing beats of drummer Chad Smith, or last but by no means least, the face-melting and logic-defying noises John Frusciante would make with his guitar. When all of these are combined it creates a sound which has made the Chili Peppers one of the greatest bands of all time and never more so when it was those four as the band’s members. The hardcore rock style of their big hits on this album such as ‘Give It Away’ and ‘Suck My Kiss’ were arrogant and stylish as well as exceptional on a sonic level. The title track is my personal favourite on the whole project with those immense guitar licks from Frusciante and the brilliant variation in Kiedis’ vocals. As well as these heavy tracks this album also has a much slower sound in parts and contains perhaps the Chili’s most recognisable song in ‘Under the Bridge’ which as we are all aware is an iconic acoustic track with a power ballad styled chorus making it impossible not to belt out at full tones. A truly magnificent project from a truly magnificent band and it is of no great surprise that most people have this album atop many of their “best of” lists.
4. Nas – Illmatic
The album which changed hip-hop as it was once known. Groups like the Wu-Tang Clan and N.W.A. were the staple acts of the genre in the 1980s and they created absolutely phenomenal albums as a result, but when an unknown New York rapper known as Nas came about in 1994 with this as a debut album the whole world stood still. A storytelling record which displayed his tough upbringing around drugs, guns and violence as well as the battle with racism and cultural issues, this album had absolutely everyone listening. With an album cover as iconic as the music it demonstrates, this album was always going to be a classic and as he has said recently in a verse on a DJ Khaled song, he “invented” the baby on an album cover technique and others are copying it. It almost single-handedly tackles the East Coast vs. West Coast issue as he holds it down for the East and propels his name to be at the forefront of the East coast traditions. He is also being hailed as the man who created the new era of “spoken words hip-hop” where we have been introduced to rappers such as Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar as a result and if that isn’t enough justification for this album’s legacy then I don’t know what is. There is also countless hits on it, including perhaps the greatest beat on a hip-hop song of all time with ‘N.Y. State Of Mind’ and it’s rhythmic piano mix, a technique which has been used throughout this album on songs like ‘The World Is Yours’ which is another of Nas’ biggest hits. Arguably the greatest rap album ever and you wouldn’t begrudge someone for thinking that, it is certainly up there amongst the top two or three.
3. Radiohead – OK Computer
This album is the surgical removal of the traumas and deep feelings inside of Thom Yorke’s bizarre mind, and we sure are grateful for it’s release. You will do very well indeed to find a more emotionally destroying album than this one while also balancing the musical genius possessed deep within every single song. The talents that Radiohead possess are no secret to you and I, but I personally feel that they are criminally underrated and albums such as this one are an obvious way for me to display this. They should be spoke about as one of the greatest bands of all time with their crazy and eccentric ways of creating and playing music but are instead snubbed and viewed as a morbid group of whingers. This album won countless awards including a Grammy for ‘Best Alternative Music Performance’ and it topped just about every single music list of that year and rightfully so. ‘Paranoid Android’ is the big hit on the project and it does a remarkable job of pinpointing the incredible progressive art rock sound that Radiohead were aiming for at that time. As the album goes on this becomes more apparent and it becomes an unveiling of the band’s inner demons, no more so than on the fittingly titled ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ where the space age instrumental is unlike anything from that time. Songs such as ‘Karma Police’ and ‘No Surprises’ also surfaced from this album as it grew from strength to strength the longer it went on. It’s a truly wonderful piece of music and it will forever hold a deep lying place in my heart. It is truly mind-boggling to me that people struggle to rate Radiohead.
2. Oasis – Definitely Maybe
The debut album to rival all debut albums. Oasis’ meteoric rise from lads on a Manchester council estate to the biggest band in Britain is hardly a coincidence, especially given the sheer quality of this album. The perfect balance of rock and roll hits along with the slower acoustic cuts where Noel and Liam compliment each other in perfect harmony. To put this into perspective for you, the band’s first ever single was ‘Supersonic’, a song which glorified feeling great about having nothing and most importantly, living your life the way you want to live it. It is a masterpiece and a stroke of sheer genius from Noel Gallagher who made some of the most relatable songs ever written from a working class background. As well as ‘Supersonic’, this album contained other world class singles such as ‘Live Forever’, ‘Shakermaker’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’; the album’s opener. ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ and ‘Slide Away’ were other chances for Liam Gallagher to show himself as a truly great singer as well as a captivating front man. ‘Half The World Away’ remains to this day one of Noel’s most iconic performances as well as one of his most well crafted songs. An album cover which every music fan wants to recreate, a band that everyone wants to see live and most certainly a band that, with the aid of this heroic album, will remain in the hearts of fans all over the world until the end of time. In 1997, ‘Definitely Maybe’ was named the 14th greatest album of all time in a ‘Music of the Millennium’ poll conducted by HMV, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 2006, NME rated the album as the 3rd best British album of all time, behind The Stone Roses eponymous debut and The Smiths’ ‘The Queen Is Dead’ album, both of which were released in the 1980s. It is a ground-breaking record and one which will stand the test of time as one of the best ever written.
1. Nirvana – Nevermind
Nirvana are often believed to have gone on to be one of if not the greatest music acts of all time if Kurt Cobain had not tragically taken his own life at the age of 27, joining the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison in the ’27 Club’. One thing that is for certain, however, is that this album defined a generation, it defined a genre, and it was simply the best album to be released in this star-studded decade. It was the second album for the American grunge outfit, released in 1991 and it was the first album in which Dave Grohl was part of the band as a drummer. Grohl of course has gone on to document his talents elsewhere in music, as the front man of Foo Fighters as well as a guest drummer for Queens Of The Stone Age. The album went straight to number one on Billboards Hot 100, mainly thanks to their lead single and most famous song ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ as it replaced Michael Jackson at the top spot. Rolling Stone described this album as the best of the 90s and the 17th best album of all time, high praise indeed from a typically stubborn and hard to please publication. Tracks such as ‘Lithium’ and ‘In Bloom’ gave us listeners a huge feel of the emotion of Cobain while still being sonically incredibly pleasing and talented. ‘Come As You Are’ is another of Nirvana’s biggest hits and has a very gritty undertone to match it’s dark and mysterious instrumental. A certified diamond album in America, having sold over 10 million copies solely in the States, it gained a huge reception and made grunge a huge entity, allowing for acts like Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins to gain the credibility they deserved. This album is at number one not only for it’s musical exploits but also for the influence it gathered, creating a definitive sound and making an under-appreciated genre one of the most personal around. Genius.