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.