The Greatest Rock Albums of the 90′s


I was lucky to grow up during a time when music was undergoing a dramatic redefinition – particularly in the Rock genre.  The entire era was a rebellion against culture, politics, and fashion, and music was at the forefront leading the charge.

It was a harmonious melding of art, imagery, and attitude, that gave birth to brand new genres like Grunge, Alternative, Punk-Fusion, and Reggae-Fusion.  So much of it was Progressive in its own respect, and none of it was straight up; they were completely new sounds that took four decades of Rock and Roll influence to be born.

The music that came out of the early 90’s was emotionally heavy; dark, melancholy, and depressing – yet it was powerful and proven timeless.  It was an era that was so heavily saturated with some of the greatest bands in Rock and Roll history, and out of it came some of the best albums ever produced.

Here’s a list to skim through of some of my all-time favorite Rock albums that came out of that era:

STP coreStone Temple Pilots:  Core

What an insane album.  This one redefined heavy, and was about as Grunge-Alternative as it got with tracks like Sex Type Thing, Crackerman, and Dead and Bloated.  It was a heroine-inspired tour of some of the darker aspects of the human psyche.  The sound was dirty, yet beautifully melodic at the same time.  If you’re a guitar buff, look into the chord structures and you’ll see a lot of Jimmy Page in DeLeo’s riffs.  Same Gibson Les Paul too.

AIC DirtAlice in Chains:  Dirt

Alice in Chains’ first commercial success came after dropping this bomb.  This is straight Grunge Rock.  I love the raw sounding rhythms that gel this one together, and a lot of the drum tracks are played slightly behind time to give it a trashier sound – a perfect compliment to Jerry Cantrell‘s crunchy riffs.  The vocal harmonies created by Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell are unmistakable and haunting.  Them Bones.  Check it out.  \m/

Pearl Jam TenPearl Jam:  Ten

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to notice a trend here already…How exactly does one go about making Jam out of Pearls? Or maybe, how is it that a Pearl Jams?  I’m not sure, but I am sure that this album is loaded with classics:  Once, Even Flow, Alive, Black. This is one of those albums that you can play through without having to advance tracks.  It’s an era staple.

RATM Self TitledRage Against the Machine:  Self Titled

The only thing that I never liked about these guys was the whole political agenda shtick.  That aside, this was a revolutionary band (no pun).  It was the first time I ever remember hearing Hop-Hop vocals over a Hard Rock sound.  This album was heavy, funky, raw, and in-your-face.  Every track is bomb track on this album.  See what I did there?

NIN The Downward SpiralNine Inch Nails:  The Downward Spiral

The title of this one says it all.  Listen to it and you’ll ride the spiral all the way down with Reznor.  He’s a dark guy, and the dude who was responsible for discovering the controversial singer/songwriter Marilyn Manson.  Until I bought the album, I didn’t realize that their was a radio edited version of Closer.  You dirty dirty man!

Soundgarden  SuperunknownSoundgarden:  Superunknown

Ironically, I know everything about this album, because it was the first CD that I ever bought.  I love Chris Cornell, and this is another one of those straight Grunge bands of the era.  They were actually founded in the 80′s, and many credit them as the originators of the genre.  I can dig that.  There are a lot dismal tracks on this one, but man, it’s quality from start to finish.  Head Down, Fell on Black Days, and The Day I Tried to Live - all tracks worth noting.

Nirvana NevermindNirvana:  Nevermind

Don’t never mind this album – pay close attention it, because this was the album that single handedly defined early nineties Grunge.  Kurt Cobain’s death was on par with Lennon getting shot.  Smells like Teen Spirit is the standout track on this one for me – I still remember the first time I heard it;  I think I said something like, “WHO the HELL is THIS?!”  It was raw and heavy, and well, just eerie sounding – a trademark sound.

RHCP - BSSMThe Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Blood Sugar Sex Magik

This one is hands down my favorite album of all time.  It’s just a musical masterpiece.  Some people don’t dig much on the Chili Peppers, but there is no disputing that they are an incredibly talented group of songwriters.  Plus, I’m a huge Chad Smith fan.  And he’s from Detroit, so I like him even more because of that simple fact.  The album is just so punky, funky, sexy, and melodic – it’s a five-star dining experience on a disc.  Favorite tracks:  Funky Monks, Naked in the Rain, and Sir Psycho Sexy.  

SmashingPumpkins-SiameseDreamSmashing Pumpkins:  Siamese Dream

Cherub Rock is one of those tracks that I can still hear echoing down the halls of my Junior High School whenever I reminisce.  The album was angsty-sounding, dark and heavy, and heavily inspired at times by Corgan’s Heavy Metal roots.  Check out some of his garage band home videos – it’ll flip your lid.  This is absolutely a must-own 90′s Rock album.

Korn - Life is PeachyKorn:  Life is Peachy

This is one of those bands that is constantly evolving their sound, and this was the first example of just how artistically dynamic they are.  The sound and imagery is reminiscent of a Tim Burton Film fused with some sort of morbid nursery rhyme, but with an Urban California-twist, and sporting a sequenced Adidas jumpsuit.  Awesome.  But can we just ditch the Nu Metal tag and call them pioneers?  Good.  Done.  I saw these guys on the main floor three times, and they are absolutely insane live performers.  Off of this album, I’ll take A.D.I.D.A.S., and Wicked, featuring the Deftones’, Chino.

Tool UndertowTool:  Undertow

Kudos to Henry Rollins for droppin’ a little bit of that weird-ass spoken word shit on track #4.  It just adds to the mystery surrounding the band, Tool.  Their imagery is so bizarre, and they rarely give away their identities outside of performances.  The music itself is a soundtrack for a slightly discomforting dream, and yet, it also has a sort of cleansing element to it.  It’s psychological, and it delves into the shadowy sides of reality.  It’s like a thunderstorm; increasing in intensity, washing away the sins, then rolling out and giving way to the sun.  Here’s a neat little extra if you own the album: remove the black disk-holder portion of the case, and inside you’ll find a hidden image. Brilliant Marketing tactic.

Candlebox Self TitledCandlebox:  Self Titled

This is another album that haunts the hallways of my mind when I think back.  I can still remember some dude named Frank passing the tape around in Science class, trading it for some other era classic.  Change is the song on this album that really flipped my lid.  Great tune with another haunting vocal track.

311311:  Self Titled

I played the shit out of this album.  To this day I’m still a 311 junkie. Hip-Hop Reggae Rock?  You couldn’t come any more original than that.  Chad Sexton is a beast on this album, and I love me some Nick Hexum rhymes.  And P-Nut?  Slap dat bass, man.  These guys are pretty open about the amount of Pot that they ingest on a daily basis, and it’s pretty evident in the upbeat sounds radiating from these extra terrestrial-worshiping hippies.  They are hands down the most fun show you’ll ever see.  Saw ‘em three times. \m/

Green Day DookieGreen Day:  Dookie

How the hell could I leave these guys out of the discussion?  This album probably got more spins on the radio at that time than Nirvana.  It was a Punk-inspired Alternative mix, fronted by a dude that was pretty open about his mental instability – pretty evident in a lot of the lyrics.  If it’s possible to be happy and sad at the same time, this album would fall into that emotionally confused category.  Welcome to Paradise:  still jam it.

Jane's Addiction - Nothing's ShockingJane’s Addiction:  Nothing’s Shocking

Alright, I cheated a little bit because this album actually dropped in the late 80′s, but a lot of this stuff lingered on into the 90′s.  Plus, Perry Ferrell is one of the coolest motherfuckers on the planet.  The guy is so completely over the top, and the perfect front man for any Progressive Alternative Rock band like Jane’s Addiction.  Jane Says, and Mountain Song are the two standout tracks.

White Zombie - Astrocreep 2000White Zombie:  Astro-Creep 2000

The first time I heard this one I was scared.  This album and the artwork is like a horror flick crammed into a box.  It’s just weird and scary, but oh so sweet.  This is about as Heavy Metal as it gets in my book.  I’m not just talkin’ about that Speed Metal, Thrash, Death Metal stuff – I’m talkin’ about straight up Heavy Metal.  Rob Zombie pounds the pavement pretty hard on tracks like Supercharger Heaven, Electric Head, and More Human than Human.

Pantera - Vulgar Display of PowerPantera:  Vulgar Display of Power

Damn Right!  Speaking of ass-kicking Metal, this one stomps.  This is Pantera in their absolute prime.  I saw these guys at Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit one time, and it was probably the best Metal show I’ll ever see.  We jumped down onto the floor and almost made it to the front row.  They had two flame-throwers on both sides of the stage, and every time they went off I could smell my eye brows burning.  Fuck yeah.  Rest in Peace, D.D.  \m/

Beck OdelayBeck:  Odelay

“What the FUCK am I listening to?”  I think that’s what came out of my mouth when I heard this album for the first time.  Beck is such a weirdo – but a genius weirdo.  The band is like the musical equivalent, in my opinion, of head cheese.  It’s a little bit of everything:  Rock, Electronic, Hip Hop, and heavily seasoned with retro samples.  It’s just weird.  Where it’s At, and High 5.  Yes.

Foo Fighters - Color and the ShapeFoo Fighters:  The Colour and the Shape

I think it’s safe to assume Dave Grohl is gonna make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in his lifetime.  What a talent.  The guy breaks in playing drums for one of the most pivotal bands in music history, then goes on to front another one of music’s greatest Alternative Rock acts.  He’s a model songwriter and musician, and you don’t have to be a Foo Fighter Fan to recognize that their an insanely talented group.  Monkey Wrench makes me want to break lamps. \m/

SublimeSublime:  Self Titled

Another super-talented musician gone too soon.  Bradley Nowell was a pioneer who brought the underground to the mainstream with a Punk, Ska, Rock, and Reggae blend.  Sublime’s self-titled album was killer – every single track.  This album was the soundtrack for a road trip I took down to Daytona Beach, and it was the perfect sound.  It’s upbeat, fun, and funky, and another one of those immortal records that should be owned by all.  Why can’t we all just sit around in the hot and humid Florida air and drink cold beer all day?  Can’t life just be like that?  I’ll keep dreaming…

*****

There are so many more great albums.  What were some of your favorites?

Let’s Talk Music, Chowderheads \m/ 

58 comments

  1. The Indecisive Eejit

    Hmm I thought, this is going to be a disaster, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought as I own / have owned 7 of them. Tool are a relatively new discovery for me, but I am liking them a lot. Right in Two has to be my favourite song.

  2. Christopher De Voss

    Great list! At the time I refused to like STP because I thought they were a blatant clone of Pearl Jam. It wasn’t until years later did I grow to really appreciate them…like after they broke up for the fourth time.

  3. thefoodandwinehedonist

    Any time I have this conversation with people, they always say something like, “…and there hasn’t been any good music since.” Thanks for not including that. And Hootie & The Blowfish. I think I liked Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream better. I would’ve added Radiohead and Weezer (only their first two albums). Great list!

    • Chowderhead

      You know what? I’m editing that one. You’re absolutely fucking right. I don’t know what I was thinking…

      And thank you, Radiohead and Weezer were two great acts too! Both were HUGE.

    • Chowderhead

      The album art and lyrics were half of the intrigue of owning a CD. I used to love that, because there was an enigmatic quality to all of it. It added to the mystery behind all of the bands – like, it reinforced it. So cool!

    • Chowderhead

      Thanks Jules, but this list is by no means definitive. There are a SHIT ton of great bands that came out of that era. Even the one hit wonders came up with some great stuff!

    • Chowderhead

      Live was a great band and that was a great album too. They were HUGE at one point – a lot of singles came off Copper.

      As far as Metallica goes, I thought Load was decent, but they just turned into a bunch of whiners. I think it’s time they hang it up, sadly. I saw them live once and it honestly wasn’t even a good show – and I used to be a huge fan at one point.

  4. Nicole Marie

    All of these are AWESOME. I had that Green Day “dookie” poster on my bedroom wall for years.! I’ve seen Tool live once, Pearl Jam 3 times (most recently this past October), and I saw the NINJA tour where NIN and Janes Addiction toured together. So badass. NIN is hands down my favorite band!

    • Chowderhead

      Oh man, so cool! I love the artwork inside of the album foldout. I think I have every single lyric memorized to that entire thing. I actually had it on tape. You remember those things? (haha) And Tool live?! I’m so jealous. I’ve seen SO many shows, and that is one that I haven’t seen yet. I gotta check ‘em out. NIN is killer too! What would call them, like, Industrial?? I heard that Reznor is an absolute TWEAK on stage – the piano and candle thing? Pssh. Dunt get no weirder than that!

      • Nicole Marie

        Yes, I like to consider them Industrial! Have you heard their new album, Hesitation Marks?? It’s gotten mixed reviews, but I love it. “Copy of A” and “Satellite” are my favorite songs on there. Tool is an AMAZING show. Especially when you have lawn seats, and it’s pouring on you. So epic. And better yet…remember getting a blank tape and using it to tape your favorite songs off the radio?!?!

  5. singlegirlie

    OH, man. See, this is when I stopped liking modern (at the time) music. I figured, I am very well aware that life is depressing and I didn’t need a song to make it more vivid. Except Chili Peppers. I could listen to them forever. I’m actually shocked that Radiohead isn’t on this list. Every guy I knew in the 90s loved Radiohead. They make me want to slit my wrists.

    • Chowderhead

      You get style points for the RHCP drop there. As far as not liking that era, I can’t argue. There was some pretty depressing stuff goin’ on. The Radiohead thing, yeah, I dunno. Rolling Stone jerks off to them all the time, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. I know they were big, but I only know ‘Creep’. And that is in fact one of those ‘wrist slicing songs’. It’s just sad?

  6. calahan

    Years ago, I scored a bootleg of Nirvana live in Athens (it may have been their final show, actually) and I listened to that thing so many times that it literally broke. I’d always been somewhat indifferent to music, but Nirvana changed things for me.

    • Chowderhead

      Boosh! Bootleg albums are the best if you’re a hardcore fan of anybody. Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains shifted me too, and I did the same thing with that Chilli Peppers album I mentioned. I think it’s the third copy I’ve owned.

    • Chowderhead

      I just checked that series, and damn, that’s a pretty good idea! I got lost on the first one, and on YouTube, for a few. But I dug up and posted one of my all “time” favorite Zep tunes for ya \m/

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