1991: Music’s Best Year?

Earlier this year, I caught some of an NPR show called Sound Opinions, where the hosts talked about the twentieth anniversary of 1991, one of music’s best years.  It was quite a thought-provoking discussion, and made me realize how special that one year was.  While I’m not old enough to remember the British invasion of 1964 or the glam and punk rock virtuosos of 1976, I can certainly say that none of the last twenty years have seen anywhere near the amount the quality that we saw in 1991. 

Consider, all the following landmark albums were released within the same twelve months:

  • Nirvana, Nevermind
  • Pearl Jam, Ten
  • Guns N Roses, Use Your Illusion I & II
  • U2, Achtung Baby
  • REM, Out of Time
  • Metallica, Metallica (The Black Album)
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Each of these and more get their mentions on the show, as well as several less popular yet equally excellent/influential works. 

And it wasn’t just a banner year for rock music.  Country?  1991 was the year of Garth Brooks’s Ropin the Wind, his third album and the first country record to reach #1 on the pop charts, forever changing the sound of mainstream country music.  Rap?  Both Public Enemy and NWA released signature albums that year.  Boyz II Men inaugurated a new era of mainstream R&B. 

1991 was also the year that Lollapalooza began. 

And that whole “end of the Soviet Union and winning the Cold War” thing wasn’t too shabby, either. 

Of course, 1991 was also a big year for Poison, MC Hammer, Michael Jackson, and Vanilla Ice.  So it wasn’t exactly an Athenian golden age. 

Audio and notes on the NPR show are on the Sound Opinions web site here

Other ideas for “music’s best year” (with evidence!) are encouraged. 


4 comments on “1991: Music’s Best Year?

  1. Also released in 1991:

    Loveless by My Bloody Valentine
    Ceremony by The Cult
    Electronic by Electronic
    Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet

    Yeah, it was a good year.

  2. Did you listen to the show? Because My Bloody Valentine was one of the “other” groups from that year that they praised.

    And Matthew Sweet? Remembering him is like remembering all those little obscure details about your hometown that bond you with the other people who grew up there. Girlfriend? Clearly, I’m talking to a 1991 native.

  3. You know, I glossed over the Sound Opinions part and just saw “NPR show” and reacted only to your list. As it turns out, yes, I have heard that Sound Opinions show (I listen to it in podcast form). And you’re absolutely right — they talk in depth about Loveless.

    And: I graduated high school in 1991 so I’m about as native as you can get. Although I have to say that all of those albums have aged well except for REM’s Out of Time. I can’t even stand to listen to “Near Wild Heaven” anymore.

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