So I went back and forth between listing dozens of titles and narrowing it down. 10 was too few and 50 too many, so I finally settled on 30 (and a couple of box sets). Here they are in chronological order. My votes for the best music of the decade.
Midnight Oil - Blue Sky Mining - 1990
Probably the finest moment in a long long career. The perfect balance between the hard rock sound of the early days and the more tuneful of the latter days.
Concrete Blonde - Bloodletting - 1990
A dysfunctional wonder. You have to admire a woman who can write a line like "Love is a vampire drunk on your blood". This album has one of my favorite songs of the 90's, the eerie Caroline. A song about a woman who is constantly moving and redefining herself by other people. A sad sad song that reminds me of too many people I have known.
Fishbone - Reality Of My Surroundings - 1991
Ska/punk/metal/soul/thrash/funk. One of those bands that are impossible to categorize, they were also impossible to program on the radio. Someone buying this album for Everyday Sunshine, the greatest song Sly Stone never wrote, would have no idea what to make of the absolutely ferocious Sunless Saturday. This is a masterpiece on all levels except sales. And I think perhaps my second favorite album of the decade.
Richard Thompson - Rumor & Sigh - 1991
So many Richard Thompson albums to choose from, and I told myself that I wouldn't put on two by the same artist. This is where his eclecticism really works. Part acoustic wonders (VBL 52 ... just TRY playing it all you guitarists out there) part full band workouts, this is Richard at his best.
James McMurtry - Candyland - 1992
I wanted to include a James album on this but, like Richard Thompson, I was hard pressed to pick one. I picked this one for the opening song, a story of a young genius who just gives up one day. A song that paints a perfect picture of my generation.
Arrested Development -
3 Years, 5 Months, & 2 Days in The Life Of - 1992
In a genre filled with gangsta morons this is Rap as it should be. A direct descendent of the Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron this is music meant to make a positive change. The backgrounds are more than just beats. They use samples, backing vocals and killer killer rhythms. Speech has the smartest rhymes of his era but lost his way as the band disintegrated under him. Pity. All of their albums are this good.
Paul K And The Weathermen - Killer In The Rain - 1992
Once again, what do I pick, The brilliant Wilderness of Mirrors, or this early harder edged effort. This was the first album I heard of Paul's, and it changed my view of music for the entire decade. The tone of this album is unremittingly dark and depressed. The first song is about the terrors of withdrawl and the last song is inspired by the Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler's darkest novel. Like all of Paul's other work though there is an undercurrent of joy that can only be expressed by music. This is one of the great artists of the 90's.
Stairways To Heaven - 1992
High concept at it's best. A bunch of Australian cover bands take on one of the most famous rock songs of all time. Imagine if you can Stairway done by The Doors, The B-52's, The Beatles (circa 1964), and Andrew Lloyd Webber. You simply don't get funnier.
Morphine - Cure For Pain - 1993
Baritone or Bass Sax, Two string bass guitar, a minimal drum set. Three men in search of a groove, this is some of the funkiest most soulful music ever made. Not jazz, but not really rock. Fronted by the late Mark Sandman, this band could give your woofers a workout.
Silencers - Seconds Of Pleasure - 1993
Chiming 12 string guitars, Jimme O'Neill's soulful Scots tenor, great tuneful songs filled with joy and faith and just a bit of fear toward the modern world. This is a band that shoulda but probably never will. I just got their most recent album and haven't had a chance to get to know it yet. But they are one of my favorites.
Mercy Rule - Providence - 1994
Angst, angst and more angst. I have never heard a band that bleeds so much from every note. The music is jarring and powerful, Heidi's voice plaintive one moment and roaring the next. This is Indy rock at it's finest.
Boingo - Boingo - 1994
Their final studio album. A pity really. From the sound of this they still had years of life in them. This has a couple of Danny Elfman's finest moments on it. The sad quiet Mary and the epic Change. If you follow this up with the live album that came from their last set of shows a couple of years later (or the live video if you want to see what monsters they were onstage) You really have some of their best moments.
Saturday Morning - Cartoon's Greatest Hits - 1995
A bunch of alternative heroes take on the cartoon themes you grew up with. Some of it misses, but the stuff that hits hits hard. Worth it for the Butthole Surfers take on the Underdog theme, the Violent Femmes ripping version of Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah and Face to Face's rowdy version of I'm Popeye the Sailor Man. This is a hoot and a half.
Poster Children - Junior Citizen - 1995
Another band, that even while on a major, took the Indy route. This is their last major label album before they gave it up and did their own stuff their own way. Loud, pummeling guitars, exotic rhythms, smart lyrics. The first time I saw them I said they were like King Crimson doing Ramones songs. And that hasn't changed. You still never know where a PC song is going to lead you.
Mark Burgess & Yves Altana - Paradyning - 1995
Mark was the lead singer of my favorite band of the 80's, the late and lamented Chameleons. This is his second album on his own (after a bit with the band The Sun And The Moon) and the first where he teams up with Yves. Unlike this year's glamesque Invincible, this is Mark at his best. The glorious Always Want is worth the price of the album alone.
The Beat Farmers - Manifold - 1995
So, Country Dick died ONSTAGE behind his drums. What an exit! This was the album they were touring in support of and it is their finest (in a fine career). A great, hard rocking, rootsy, fun-filled album. The only odd moment is the song Whale*Oil*Beef*Hooked in which, for the first time, Dick talks about failure and the regrets of his life. He must have known he didn't have much time.
Charlie Sexton Sextet - Under The Wishing Tree - 1995
Music too lush and rich to describe. Go out and buy it. Nothing I could say could do it justice.
Victor Krummenacher's A Great Laugh - Out In The Heat - 1995
This is it, the best album of the decade. A quiet, still, shimmering fall evening out in the Arizona desert. You still can't quite get your breath from the heat of the day but the chill of the desert evening is about upon you. An album of loss, longing, lust, love, and betrayal. It's an album that reveals something new to me every time I put it on. Rootsy but with no twang, folkie but with electric guitars, as I said in my best of 99 my only regret is that Victor didn't put out an album in 99.
Tool - Aenima - 1996
A smart bomb. Metal as it should be. Challenging songs. Incredible dynamics. A singer who can actually sing. This is the best metal album I have ever heard. Each decade seems to have a band that redefines the genre. Black Sabbath started it (for all practical purposes) with Paranoid, Metallica set it on it's ear with Master Of Puppets, and Tool took it over in the 90's.
Me First And The Gimme Gimmies - Have A Ball - 1996
I included their newest CD on my best of 1999. It's not as good as this. This is a punk rock supergroup in a way. Members of Face to Face, NOFX and others pound their way through One Tin Soldier, Uptown Girl, and 10 others. All in under 30 minutes. Without the shouting that typifies parodies such as this (hear Limp Bizkit's lame remake of George Michael's Faith for an example of how not to do it) they take the songs and transform them into raging punk songs. But still keep the song intact. This is one of the funnest and funniest albums of the 90's.
Drywall/Stan Ridgway- Work The Dumb Oracle - 1996
Stan has always been a bit odd. A bit. But with this album he goes off the edge of the universe. Imagine the X-Files, The National Enquirer and the city of Los Angeles set to music. This is it. Anyone who can underpin a song about the Menendez Boys with Frere Jacques gets my vote.
Lyle Lovett - Road To Ensenada - 1996
There are songs on any of his other albums that I like better on anything on this. This has nothing on the level of Black and Blue or Church. It's just solid songwriting, great singing and intelligent arrangements. This is the one that I go back to when I want to listen to an entire Lyle album.
Black 47 - Green Suede Shoes - 1996
Ok, let me explain. There is no band like this. A three-piece horn section consisting of Sax, Trombone and Uilleann Pipes. Fronted by an expatriate Irish songwriter/playwright. The music is equal parts beat box rhythms and big anthem rock, all surrounded by jigs and reels. The songs are about living in New York, Irish politics, personal politics, sometimes at the same time, sometimes not. They defy description.
Counting Crows - Recovering The Satellites - 1996
How often is a band's second album heads and above better than their first? Here's one. Their passionate songwriting and playing has stuck a chord with the record buying public and so they sell millions. This is one of those bands that I would have figured for Indy cult status but I am so glad they aren't stuck in that. Like I said in my best of 99 this is one of those bands that I look forward to hearing their 10th album in a decade or so.
Tonio K - Ole - 1997
From his iconoclastic rants of the 70's to his more pop songwriting of the 80's to today Tonio has been a favorite of mine for 20 some years now. This is his best. A series of demos that the record company passed on, he finally got the rights to release these songs and the good folks at Gadfly Records did the job. Tonio is one of the great songwriters.
Radiohead - OK Computer - 1997
So there was this kinda grungy british band that had a near-novelty hit in a song called Creep. That's all they wrote right? Wrong. Two years later they came back with The Bends (brilliant unto itself and almost on this list) and two years after that they came out with this. 12 constructions that in no way fit a pop music stereotype. This is music that challenges.
Bill Hicks - Rant In E Minor - 1997
Ok, so this is stand up comedy. It's still great. Bill died of pancreatic cancer a couple of years before this came out and we lost the great comic mind of the 90's. Like Lenny Bruce, his act wasn't so much about humor as it was an obsession to make a point. This is his finest moment. Recorded in his last year of performing, there are no holds barred in this. This is worth it alone for an obscene and possibly libelous riff on Rush Limbaugh.
Greg Brown - Slant 6 Mind - 1997
So, there is no great music in Iowa. Tell that to the 1000's of people who have seen Greg perform. Tell that to the fawning reviewers who fall over themselves over Greg's CD's. Naw ... just go out and hear it for yourself. Bluesy, folkie, soulful. Great.
Roy Harper - The Dream Society - 1998
Hat's Off To Roy Harper indeed. This is the most recent album by a 70's British music icon. Led Zeppelin sang songs about him. Pink Floyd turned to him when they wrote a song that none of them could sing. Members of both bands have appeared on his albums. His backing band for a tour included Jimmy Page and Keith Moon. This is part one of his autobiography. This is a half century of a highly personal British history from one of the finest singer/songwriters that the island has ever produced.
I didn't put any of 1999's CD's on this list, you can read about those elsewhere on my site.
But I do want to mention a couple of great box sets.
The Jam - Direction, Reaction, Creation - 1997
This is one of those few box sets that actually gets it right. All of the songs in the order they were released. And a bonus disk of songs that a lot of Jam fans didn't even know existed. If you get this and the earlier Extras you have everything they ever recorded. This was a band that came up through punk rock but never really fit the stereotype. Imagine a young Who with Ray Davies writing songs for them. One of Britain's best ever, and one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
Benny Goodman - The Complete Small Group Recordings - 1997
Three CD's of perfect playing. Benny with his greatest band doing what they do best. And this is everything they did. About three hours worth of music. And some of the best you will ever hear.