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.