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1991: Year of Music in Review

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When looking back at the year 1991, one could still sense that the music world would not let go of 80s music acts, such as Madonna (her “Justify My Love” and “Rescue Me” were major hits); Michael Jackson (“Black or White” might have sounded hypocritical from him, but certainly didn’t fail to reach number one); Prince (“Cream”); Janet Jackson (“Love Will Never Do Without You”); and Whitney Houston (“All the Man That I Need” and “Miracle.”). While all the hit singles from these artists charted well, they were not groundbreaking. But that didn’t stop up and coming acts from releasing groundbreaking records which stood the test of time.

The best and most groundbreaking record of 1991 was Seal’s “Crazy,” which took over the airwaves during the summer of that year. Not only did this record sound like nothing that was on the radio at the time, but it remains just about the best dance song ever released. The lyrics were very vague, but that hardly mattered. The song’s bass-heavy beats, along with a constantly building up keyboard rift perfectly fit Seal’s soulful voice. The video, which featured multiple versions of Seal in front of a black background, was even more mysterious.

Another groundbreaking record during 1991 was “Show Me The Way” by Styx, a  band who peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This song was used as the theme for the Persian Gulf War that started in early 1991. The song questions God’s existence in a world “so filled with hatred.” Some lyrics include: “And as I slowly drift to sleep, for a moment dreams are sacred/I close my eyes and know there’s peace in a world so filled with hatred/That I wake up each morning and turn on the news to find we’ve so far to go/And I keep on hoping for a sign, so afraid that I just won’t know.” “Show Me The Way” remains one of the most thought provoking songs ever released.

Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity” was another major musical milestone in 1991, not only winning several MTV Video Music Awards, but touching listeners with its symphonic and dreamy music, hard rock beats, and child comforting lyrics that include: “Hush now don’t cry/Wipe away the teardrop from your eye/You’re lying safe in bed; It was all a bad dream spinning in your head.”

Cathy Dennis became a household name on the music scene in 1991 and released one of the best singles of the early 90s, “Too Many Walls.” The song could be analyzed as a relationship between a man and woman of a different race or two people of the same sex. Some of the lyrics include: “Too many walls have been built in between us/Too many dreams have been shattered around us/If I seem to give up they'll still never win,
deep in my heart I know the strength is within. Cathy’s thin (but soulful) voice combined with simple beats propelled this song into the top ten in September of 1991.

The most influential single, released in late 1991, was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from their breakthrough album, Nevermind. Many consider this song that began the Grunge/Alternative music scene that took over the early and mid 90s. Kurt Cobain revealed to Rolling Stone Magazine that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was an attempt to write a song in the style of the Pixies, a band he greatly admired. Some of the lyrics include: “With the lights out its less dangerous/Here we are now, entertain us/I feel stupid and contagious/Here we are now, entertain us.”

Although 1991 produced many great singles, the year also produced major disasters, such as Mariah Carey’s singles “Emotions,” which features everybody’s favorite human dog whistle barking it up to the point it hurts your ears. She also released another disaster, “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” in which her voice shows no connection with the lame lyrics she was trying to sing. At least she didn’t need to severely deep discount this single, like she did for many of her future “hit” singles, in order for it to hit number one.

Paula Abdul released the worst ballad of all time, “Rush Rush” and followed it up with another disaster, a dance song called “Promise of a New Day.” Gloria Estefan released her cheesier than cheese ballad, “Coming Out of The Dark,” which made people wish that Gloria would never see the light again after hitting us with this disaster. But it was Vanilla Ice who committed the biggest musical crime in 1991 with his single, “Play That Funky Music.”

Despite these mentioned musical disasters, 1991 was still a great year for music. Most importantly, it was the year that introduced us to one of the most compelling musicians of all time, the late Kurt Cobain.

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About Daryl D

  • JC Mosquito

    Interesting… other than Nirvana, I wouldn’t have said most of these acts have had a lasting inpression on the music world. Cathy Dennis? Later day Styx? Queensryche? All have sold CDs and all have their core base of fans, but they haven’t had nearly as much influence as some of those old timers like Madonna who are actually still in the game (or, like Jacko, at least still in the public eye). And nobody I know listens to Seal – I’ll have to assume he once had a big single or two.

    Of course, maybe it’s a location issue – perhaps that music just never made it up here. But the Class of ’91 has had sixteen years to prove themselves – if they haven’t graduated with their Ph.D’s (or even their B.A’s) I don’t expect them to any time soon.

  • daryl d

    While Seal, later day Styx, Cathy Dennis or Queensryche didn’t have a lasting impression on the music world, the records they released that year were excellent. The article I wrote was really about the songs, not the artists.

    Of course, there’s Nirvana, who had a major impression on the music world even years after Kurt Kobain’s death. I still remember watching the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” the very first time and thinking the song was awful. Of course, it grew on me, as well as Nirvana’s other songs.

  • kenj

    I think Emotions from Mariah Carey is a milestone no matter how much you hate it. It is still a reference for many female artists out there. It features such vocal acrobatics that nobody has been able to cover the song yet. I Dont Wanna Cry isnt that bad either, it is as good as Whitney’s All The Man That I Need. It seems to me that you have a thing for Mariah Carey herself, not her music.

  • JC Mosquito

    Yeah, “Teen Spirit” kicked mainstream rock square in the gonads fer shure that year.

  • You might do better to talk about this as the 1991 that you experienced. That certainly wasn’t the 1991 that I or anyone else I know knew, besides Queensryche and Nirvana. Where is Guns ‘n Roses? Metallica? U2? Most importantly . . .

    . . . You forgot to mention that other long-lasting, extremely influential band that surfaced in 1991: Pearl Jam (I could also make a case for Smashing Pumpkins, since their first album, Gish came out in late spring 1991 – but I won’t since they didn’t take off until 1993’s Siamese Dream). Guitar rock seemed to take two basic paths in the 90s – bands either followed the noisier, angrier one blazed by Nirvana or the more churning, contemplative droning of Pearl Jam. But, man, Pearl Jam was a very important part of 1991, even if “Jeremy” didn’t hit until summer of 1992.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “Where is Guns ‘n Roses? Metallica?..”

    Metallica released one the shittiest metal albums of all-time in 1991 and G’n R’s idea of a double album pales in comparison, even with all those songs, to “Appetite…”.

    We know that radio & tv never did or never will cover any groundbreaking material,But, I’ll tell you why ’91 was a great year: *BTW*- F*ck Seal,U2 or any of that stale, boring BS!!)

    1. Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
    2. Mr. Bungle – s/t
    3. Death – Human
    4. Sepultura – Arise

    And I’m sure there was a couple more…
    Anyways, F*ck Nirvana!! Ironchrist came out with Getting The Most Out Of Your Extinction back in 1990 that was far more raw & intelligent than anything Nirvana ever released and as such because all the little teeny boppers are like such sheep they don’t get the credit that is most deserved!!

  • My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless came out in 1991 and remains the best album of the ’90s. Yay 1991!

  • I guess my first question is: why 1991? My second question is, of course, how have the songs you mentioned had an impact in our current culture? An okay tune is one thing, but lasting impact is quite another.

  • daryl d

    why 1991? It’s a first in a series I am going to do on the whole decade. I tried 1990 but became frustrated. The songs I’ve mentioned were, in my opinion, the best singles of the year. I suppose one could argue about how “groundbreaking” they were, especially the songs by Styx and Cathy Dennis. I didn’t forget to mention Guns and Roses. “November Rain” is easily one of the best singles of 1992 and I will talk about it when I write about 1992.

  • I’m trying to help you here, Daryl. You can’t just list your favorite songs, and call them “groundbreaking. Please don’t embarrass yourself and everyone else by calling “November Rain” as groundbreaking. If anything, mention it as the song that finally buried 15 minute tunes that went nowhere, and subsequently destroyed promising careers.

    BTW, you might want to mention Nine Inch Nails as the most important band of the 90’s, in terms of influence on how we view music now.

  • daryl d

    I agree with you on this one Ray. When I do the other years, I need to separate the best and the most groundbreaking- A major flaw in this article. I may even skip grounbreaking all together and just list what I think is the best. November Rain surely isn’t a groundbreaking record, but I feel it is one of the most enjoyable of 1992. In terms of Nine Inch Nails-definitely a groundbreaking band.

  • I absolutely don’t want to take sides in the Daryl and Ray lovefest, but I must agree with the latter in terms of why the 1990s, which was absolutely the worst decade of the second half of the 20th Century in musical terms.

  • There may be hope for you yet, Daryl. One othe thing, though– loce the cell phone strapped prominently to the belt–it’s so 1990’s. j/k

  • daryl d

    Ugh…forgot to mention Walking In Memphis. I love that song! I
    believe that was by Marc Cohen. More Than Words by Extreme was also a great record, though many would disagree.

  • Writing’s not about quantity–it’s about quality. If you learn to think before you speak and make sweeping statements that just beg for ridicule, people are going to take you a lot more seriously. I actually enjoyed your iPhone series, but the way you’re pursuing music has so far been –well, uninformed.
    Here’s a hint, though–if you’re going to start out with a grandiose statement (which IU’ve been known to do) be ready for backlash, and be ready to back up what you’ve said. It’s all about research.

  • daryl d

    Writing is about having fun too and not taking ourselves, as well as other writers, too seriously. It’s also about getting people to react, whether it’s a positive or negative reaction.

  • Wrong! Never take yourself seriously. Always take your work seriously. Yeah, you want a reaction, but not some kneejerk reaction. Positive, negative–doesn’t matter. But we don’t write merely to provoke. That’s like dangling a leg curbside.

  • JC Mosquito

    Excellent advice all around by Mr. Ellis.

    I mentioned this once before in an article, but a professional journalist friend of mine once told me everybody has about a half dozen interests on which they can write authoritatively and easily, and after that, it’s about hard work, research and editing.

    And I’d add one more thing – there are hardly ever any absolutes, so it’s wise to stay away from extreme statements that can’t be supported. But if you’re gonna do that, be prepared to take the flak – sometimes what one thinks is a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek statement ends up provoking some very exciteable people.


  • daryl d

    It also depends on who your audience is. Some people like reading over-exaggerated statements that add personality. Look how much money Entertainment Weekly and the New York Post make. Have you ever read the colums from entertainment columnist Roger Friedman at Fox News? There are factual errors in almost EVERY article he writes and unresearched lies, but he still makes a lot of money because people obviously read his stuff. Look at the Drudge Report. I’m not saying that what these outlets are doing is right, but look how much money they make. I think the type of professional journalis that you are talking about has really gone out the window, whether we like it or not.

  • daryl d

    “professional jounalis”

    I meant professional journalism. It is very difficult typing on an iPhone.

  • JC Mosquito

    You may be right, daryl – and I DON’T like it. It’s simply another way in which our culture is becoming – I don’t know the correct term – post-literate? Illiterate? Non-literate? But it seems to me that people like ourselves, who for whatever reason have stumbled into the online world as writers of sorts on a website like bc have the responsibilty to do our best and not fall into lazy writing, using the almost right word when only the right one will do, goading and baiting our audience into emotional outbursts when what is needed in the world is rational discourse. And I mean discourse about all the things we feel are important to us as a culture: civil rights, the purpose of war, race relations, the nature of art, the health of the environment, the existence of God, and, yes, even what constitutes good rock and roll – all these topics are important to all of us so we can get ahead as a culture and as a literate people, for without some kind of currency of ideas that people can exchange with each other, there is no culture.

    Look at all the people who get a laugh out of the Simpsons TV show and it’s constant reference to our culture and history – it’s a well written show, for sure. But then look at the children who only know Edgar Allan Poe because Bart flew around the room saying “Nevermore.” It’s not the Simpsons’ fault – it’s the cumulative effect of the dumbing down of the modern world, because there’s lots of people who don’t care enough to do the work and the research and the editing and write well, or at least as well as they are able.

    Sorry for the rant on your space, dd, but sometimes a few words doesn’t say it. I’m no pro, and I’ve got no beef with you in particular, but I thought it needed to be said to the world in general, at least once. At least I can say if given the option, I’d prefer to live in a smarter world, and I hope you and everyone else would too.


  • “Writing’s not about quantity–it’s about quality.”

    Ray, can you spread that around, please?

  • daryl d

    Anybody wanna chime in on the records I listed. I would defend Seal’s song as groundbreaking too. I could hear this song’s influence on a lot of electronica style songs in the late 90s.

  • If you feel that way, Daryl, that’s exactly what you should have written. Don’t tell us a Seal song is “groundbreaking” and then just leave it at that – tell us why it is groundbreaking. You’re getting a hard time here for a reason – you’re not doing your “job” as a writer to completion. This is not to say we’d agree with you, but if you strongly feel that “Crazy” is such an influential piece of work, you need to spell out why, otherwise you get reactions like this.

    And for Brian (Guppus), I fully agree that Metallica’s black album wasn’t their greatest, but it was HUGE, as were the two GnR discs. And I give you Bungle and Sepultura – great albums, just not particularly “big,” which is what I think Daryl’s talking about with this piece. But I will STRONGLY disagree with you about U2’s Achtung Baby being “stale.” Way WRONG. U2 embraced a brand new sound that a million other bands would attempt throughout the next decade, and no one, including themselves, could match it. Incredible piece of work from beginning to end.

  • daryl d

    I have made my feelings about U2 well known. But Achtung Baby is a great record. It was released in 1991 but didn’t really break through until the second single was released in 1992. I believe that was Mysterious Ways.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Well, Tom, my point was to show how the media isn’t always accurate in the field of “groundbreaking” music,as Daryl D mentioned in his review,“While all the hit singles from these artists charted well, they were not groundbreaking.”. It was not about what makes albums popular or not. Metallica’s Black album may have been huge but it didn’t even come close to the progression that was shown on “And Justice”. U2’s “Achtung Baby” was also huge & I’m sure it was a big progression for them but again,and even Daryl D said it,”Radio”didn’t catch on till 1992.

  • Sean Paul Mahoney

    Another great article, Daryl.

    I graduated from high school that year and I’ll always remember it for the pop alternative hits. Like “Kiss Them For Me” by Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones, and the one hit wonder “Unbelievable”.

  • daryl d

    Thanks, Sean

    I liked all the songs you mentioned. Under The Bridge hit its peak in the Summer of 1992 and you can bet this song will be discussed in my upcoming 1992 overview.

  • zingzing

    ok–i was going to totally berate you for the seal and groundbreaking comment (although i do love trevor horn)… but it looks like a lot of people beat me to it.

    i second the mighty michael j. west for my bloody valentine’s “loveless.” you want “groundbreaking?” that’s what “loveless” really is.

    but then you said styx was groundbreaking. now i just have to laugh. i know, i know, i read your comments. you really like styx. that’s ok. but, don’t… aww… christ.

    remember, 99% of the music that comes out never even bothers the charts. i’d say there’s a corresponding 99% chance that there were hundreds of better albums out there.

  • mcph

    You said that this article you wrote “was really about the songs, not the artists” but when you talked about Emotions and I Don’t Wanna Cry, you just simply lambasted Mariah Carey and dissed her vocal skill that almost all current female artist are trying to emulate. This article of yours is an all-time “major disaster”!!

  • Belle 2

    Regarding comment #21. I want to live in a smarter world too. JC, you seem to have so much to say, yet you keep the focus of your articles on music. I wish you would branch out from your… I don’t know… comfort zone of music, and crank out a full blown article on a different topic. Trust yourself. Your most insightful thoughts are buried in the comment sections of less than good articles. I feel confident I’m not the only BC reader who would like to hear more from you!!

  • JC Mosquito

    You’re too kind, B. For now, my “comfort zone” needs to be where it is – if it’s any consolation to you, I do have an outlet for this stuff in my real life. Maybe another time, maybe more sooner than later…

  • imo, you missed some VERY important Music…

    Anthrax – Attack of the Killer B’s and the infamous Bring the Noize team up with Public Enemy for one…

    Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood/Sugar/Sex/Magic with the infamous autobiographical Under the Bridge

    Rush – Roll the Bones

    some others, Stevie Ray Vaughan, U2 and Van Halen(Hagar) all had albums out that year, as did Elvis Costello, as did They Might be Giants, the Flaming Lips and Warren Zevon and Motorhead

    don’t even get me started on underground stuff…

    enjoy the clips, ya can only put in 3 per comment, so yas would have to look up the rest, if interested


  • Belle 2

    Okay, JC, go ahead and save your wisdom for the folks in your neck of the woods. Hopefully someone is listening!! I’ll continue to settle for the crumb or two you give to us here. Nice job teasing me with the “maybe sooner than later” comment. Let’s just say, I’m NOT going to hold my breath.

    In the meantime I’m going to check out Gonzo Marx’s links.

  • JC Mosquito

    Sorry if I disappoint, B, but right now c’est a vie, c’est moi vie. Gonzo’s pretty cool – have fun.

  • bah, ya never disappoint JC…to each their own when it comes to taste in Music..you have some good stuff there, i just come from a different *world*, sonically

    for example, Nirvana never really impressed me..some solid songs there, but not much that scratched my itch…since i was more into Tool, Primus, Helmet and Soundgarden from that time period (yes i know, much of that stuff’s mainstream didn’t hit until ’92, but there was early stuff out there for those of us in the loop at the time)

    i look forward to your take on ’92

    and don’t take shit from anybody, bro…


  • ooops…i meant Daryl’s take on ’92



  • JC Mosquito

    I’d look forward to anyone who can find more than a handful of good albums from the early 90s. Problem was I was on a tight budget – but when one door closes another opens – the public library had an excellent collection of jazz CDs and I spent the early 90’s cultivating my jazz tastes (Coltrane, Dolphy, Shepp, Cecil Taylor, etc.) while trying to learn how to play country in a cover band (highly unsucessful – Achy Breaky Heart kept morphing into Cat Scratch Fever!).

  • daryl d

    It’s taking me a long time for my 1992 article cause I’m in the process of relocating to New Jersey from Los Angeles and i want to get this one as accurate as possible (even though some may not agree with it). I’m actually driving (I have a dog and had no other way to get him there).

    Anyhow, the most interesting thing about 1992 is that it was the year that rejected 80s Megastars. Michael Jackson took a lot of flack in 1992 because his album, Dangerous, didn’t live up to the hype. Bruce Springsteen was backlashed when releasing “Human Touch” and “Lucky Town.” Would have he done better if he had just released one album and not tried to copy what Guns N’ Roses did with both Use Your Illusion albums? The biggest backlash in 1992 belonged to Madonna with her Erotica album, which I still say is just about her best album to date – just poorly timed and marketed. Then, there was Prince and his Love Symbol Album.

    1992 also saw the mainstreaming of country music. Who can ever forget Garth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus (sp?). More to come soon.

  • this ’92 one should be Fun indeed, good luck with the move

    here’s another one from ’91 that should be mentioned


  • and my last, but far from least Contender from ’91

    Helmet and the song, “Unsung”

    kind of sez it all concerning most of the really good stuff from then, eh?


  • zingzing

    j.c. mosquito: “I’d look forward to anyone who can find more than a handful of good albums from the early 90s.”

    i dunno how you’re saying this. are you being sarcastic? there were tons of good albums from the early 90s.