Maybe 1991 actually was the best year for music.... and here's the evidence
1 January 2021, 17:00
Nevermind, Chili Peppers, Screamadelica. All in the space of a few weeks. Did rock music peak 30 years ago? Let’s look at the evidence.
1991. Sandwiched between the end of The Smiths and the beginning of Oasis. The Stone Roses had gone into hibernation and Madchester was now but a distant memory. There was nothing else to listen to until Definitely Maybe came out, right?
Wrong. In the space of 12 months, we saw Nirvana go stellar, Primal Scream go baggy, Red Hot Chili Peppers go poptastic, R.E.M. go stadium-rock and Bristol go trip hop. Radio X thinks that it’s entirely possible that 1991 was the peak of rock music altogether and that everything since has been fallout. Have we lost the plot? Let’s look at the evidence…
THERE WERE A TON OF LANDMARK ALBUMS
As we said above, R.E.M. released their second major label album, Out Of Time, which saw them head out of the Student Union jukeboxes and into everyone’s homes, thanks to tracks like Losing My Religion and Shiny Happy People.
With Screamadelica, Primal Scream capitalised on their huge hit Loaded with a whole album of tripped out, dance-tinged wonderousness, while U2 also reinvented themselves with the sonically-ambitious Achtung Baby.
Massive Attack issued their landmark debut Blue Lines, while My Bloody Valentine dropped their own milestone with the shoegaze classic Loveless. And Red Hot Chili Peppers brought out Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which included Under The Bridge. Need we say more?
Although Nevermind cast a long shadow over 1991 (and the next couple of years, in fact), the swampy sounds of Seattle and beyond were finally about to break loose. Alongside Nirvana’s second outing, Smashing Pumpkins issued their debut Gish, as did Pearl Jam with Ten and Hole with Pretty On The Inside (a mere week before Courtney’s squeeze Kurt released his album). Pixies called it a day with their noisest outing yet (Trompe Le Monde) and Soundgarden finally had a UK hit with Rusty Cage. Sales of plaid shirts skyrocketed.
INDIE WAS ABOUT TO HIT THE MAINSTREAM
Those in the know already “knew” about classy guitar music but in 1991, the charts were being troubled by the bands we loved and the bands that were about to become massive.
James finally had a hit with Sit Down, three years after it was originally released, The Wonder Stuff played a stadium show in their West Midlands home after having a huge hit with Size Of A Cow and The Farm’s Groovy Train was an indie dancefloor smash.
More interesting, in light of what would come next, was the surprise success of Blur’s single There’s No Other Way. Were they riding the Baggy bandwagon, or would we hear from them again?
ROCKERS WEREN’T AFRAID TO SHOW THEY WERE, LIKE, SENSITIVE, YOU KNOW?
Un-PC German metallers The Scorpions turned it down a bit for their huge peace-loving ballad Wind Of Change, which was all about the Berlin Wall coming down (or something) and Boston longhairs Extreme picked up a load of female fans with the ultra-sensitive More Then Words. You’d never get Motley Crue singing something like that.
…BUT METAL STILL MADE THE CHARTS
Elsewhere, the horned salute was still out, with Metallica’s “Black Album” spawning the hit Enter Sandman and Guns N’Roses releasing TWO new albums on one day, featuring such classics as You Could Be Mine, November Rain, Live And Let Die and Knocking On Heaven’s Door-ah-hawr.
HOUSE WAS TURNING INTO RAVE
Everyone had chilled about during the Acid House years, but the tempo started to pick up as the choons got more insane. Europe had a lot to answer for, with songs like Get Ready For This by 2 Unlimited, Insanity by Oceanic and Move Your Body by Xpansions increasing the BPM.
Moby kicked off his long career with Go, while divas made themselves known in clubs around the world: see Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good) by Zambian singer Rozalla and, of course, the incredible mash-up You Got The Love by The Source Featuring Candi Staton.
GREAT TUNES BACK IN THE CHARTS, FOR SPURIOUS REASONS
TV ads were responsible for the re-appearance of Should I Stay Or Should I Go? by The Clash and All Right Now by Free; Oliver Stone’s ludicrous biopic saw The Doors back in the charts with Light My Fire; cash-in reissues meant The Waterboys whipped up some new fans with The Whole Of The Moon; and Freddie Mercury’s untimely death in November meant Bohemian Rhapsody went back to Number 1.
NEW JACK SWING! IT WAS THE BIG THING, THEN
New Jack City was a numbnuts crime movie that nobody remembers, but its soundtrack was lush, featuring Color Me Badd’s mildly creepy smash, I Wanna Sex You Up. The light, smooth style was the big hit in the dance/RNB circles in ’91, with Salt N Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex, PM Dawn’s Set Adrift On Memory Bliss and BoyzIIMen’s Motownphilly all enjoying success.
AND THERE WAS TONS OF MAD STUFF IN THE CHARTS
The Wonder Stuff collaborated with Vic Reeves and scored a Number 1 with a cover of Dizzy, while Monty Python’s Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life hit home with Gulf War soldiers and charted again. Meanwhile, club diva Crystal Waters took on the tricky subject of homelessness and turned it into a dancefloor smash.