I turned 14 in January 1991, right in the middle of 8th grade. In terms of my lifelong musical (if not intellectual) journey, it was an important year for me; many of the releases that came out that year are still dear to me. I'm hardly unique. Spotify has published data on what people listen to and they found that songs from our teenage years influence our taste for our entire lives. Weirdly though, my recollection of that year feels like it could be played in some kind of remixed, slow motion video. From what I recall, I entered my 14th year still loving gangster rap and hip hop; however, mid-way through that year, as I started 9th grade, my tastes started to expand and I started to get caught up in metal, hardcore, and grunge. That is probably why there are a lot of dudes on this mix (sorry). Despite being a product of my time -- there were a lot less women in music even then -- all of this is to say that this eventually led me to want to participate in the creative parts of the culture by playing guitar and starting my own fanzine. From my experience, 14 is a very special year, full of possibility and exploration that can feed your soul forever. I don't say this as some sort of lesson to learn. I think it just happens. You don't have to chase it. This is an exciting time in your life and I love that I get to be here with you as you grow into these high school days.
Since it's hard for me to know what you really like anymore (no to Metallica?!), I thought I would just chronologically compile 12 tracks from 1991, one from each month. I confess that I don't remember these, so I used Wikipedia to help me along. There are two downloas below. One that is a single, mixed mp3, which makes playback easier and another folder of individual tracks that also includes a folder of the "honorable mentions." The mixed mp3 features an Australian-sounding text-to-speech bot (think Siri) that will read you back the month, artist, and song title.
I also used this as an opportunity to write my notes and learn some more about code, so although this site isn't really fancy (this is kinda what the web looked like in the mid 1990s), and it isn't made with paper like the CD mixes I made when you were little, this is still kinda hand made. After all "digital" literally means digits. While this might not stay online forever, hopefully this html won't become obsolete any time soon. In the meantime, while the mix is downloadable, I'll keep working on these notes as I learn more. And since you now own the site, you can play around with it too. I hope you like it!
Happy birthday! 🎂Love,
Jesus Jones - "Right Here, Right Now" - Doubt
Jesus Jones was too popular to be cool, but around this time there were these corporate music clubs you could sign up for that would give you like 9, 10, or even 12 free CDs for a penny. Sounds good right? The scammy part about these clubs was that they would send you a CD-of-the-month and then charge you $30 UNLESS you declined it through the mail via this little ticket thing (I think you *had* to buy at least one a year though). Anyway, this CD was a common one and I obtained a lot of these tracks through this club. Jesus Jones was on the alternative rock radio stations and on MTV through the 90s and I have to admit that the song holds up pretty well. They were basically taking influences from better bands like the Stone Roses, Primal Scream, and others who were popular in England in the late 80s and early 90s.Honorable mention: Gang Starr - "Beyond Comprehension" - Step In the Arena
Dinosaur Jr. - "The Wagon" - Green Mind
Haha, well this is also from a CD I got from one of the aforementioned clubs. Dinosaur Jr. are one of the most influential guitar-centric bands from 80s and 90s and they're still together, featuring J Mascis on guitar and Lou Barlow on bass. Barlow isn't on this record because he left to form another one of my favorite bands, Sebadoh. They reformed in the early 2000s, though, and I saw them in Philly last fall for the second time (the first time was at Lollapalooza 1993 in Toronto, Canada without Lou). Honestly, I wasn't that into these guys much in 8th/9th grade, but because there were not streaming services then, so we had to take what we could get. I remember listening to this on my portable CD player (which was fancy at the time since most people listened to tapes but the batteries died FAST) on the way to Niagara Falls with my family and wondering what the fuss was about. Now I love these guys and this song in particular. Google the cover.Honorable mention: Another Bad Creation - "Playground" - Cooling' at the Playground Ya Know!
R.E.M. - "Shiny Happy People" - Out of TimeOnce again, another music club CD I had, though looking back it's not as good as their first three records. That said, REM was really big at this time and the woman singing in the song is Kate Pierson from the B-52s. Like REM, they were from Athens, Georgia and early college radio bands. This was the second single from the album I think, after "Losing My Religion" which is about as cheesy as this song, but sadder. The honorable mention here is by a band that influenced a lot of what people call "post-rock" and it's the song I wish was my real pick, but I wasn't into it until a few years later, in 11th grade. Sometimes life is like that and you don't find things out until later. Kinda like how I'm learning to code html after all these years of doing design. :)
Honorable mention: Slint - "Good Morning, Captain" - Spiderland
Firehose - "Down with the Bass" - Flying the FlannelThe bass player in Firehose, Mike Watt, was in a very important punk band in the 80s called The Minutemen, though when this album was being passed along to my friends in 9th grade, I had no clue. Someone's brother, who was probably a skateboarder like us, told us that Firehose was good and we believed him. You can hear how solid the bass and drums are here -- much more central than the singer and guitar... though the solo is pretty sick!
Primus - "Tommy the Cat" - Sailing the Seas of CheeseThere were so so many great records released in this month that I still cherish, so I have to include a few honorable mentions here including Ned's Atomic Dustbin whose CD I had from the record club and which I converted to tape so I could listen to it on my paper route. I bought the cassette of De La Soul because that was a band I knew I loved. There was also NWA (Dr. Dre's original crew) and their album Efil4zaggin, which was their worst tbh. I counted the days to that record's release with another pretty bad kid from middle school named Jason lol. There were also very important albums that came out in May 1991 that were important to me in high school (Jesus Lizard, Melvins, Jawbox). However, no one had a more profound effect on me than Primus. Led by bassist Les Claypool, Primus was just plain weird as hell, especially Les Claypool's vocalizations and incredible bass playing. This song is about an alley cat and one of the narrators is sung by Tom Waits, who is a legendary musician too. A few years later, after I started my zine, I interviewed the drummer over the phone. Hell, I named my fanzine after one of their songs ("My Name is Mud").
Honorable mentions: De La Soul - "A Roller Skate Jam Named 'Saturdays'" - De La Soul is Dead
Ned's Atomic Dustbin - "Grey Cell Green" - God Fodder
Anthrax & Public Enemy - "Bring the Noise" - Attack of the Killer BeesRap and rock artists were starting to collaborate in the early 90s and this is a popular example (the other one is Run DMC & Aerosmith's "Walk This Way"). I wonder in hindsight if this somehow helped give me permission to like all the genres. Even so, I was called a "wigger" (white + n-word) by other kids because I had baggy hip hop pants and loved rap so much. The honorable mention here was also the lamer version of Van Halen (lamer because they David Lee Roth wasn't singing). But if you isolate the first letter in each word you get the wink. Naughty.
Honorable mention: Van Halen - "Right Now" - For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
Fugazi - "Long Division" - Steady Diet of NothingI remember skateboarding all around Hamburg (my hometown) during a lot of the summer of 1991 or 1992 and someone gave me a stack of CDs to tape and one of them was Fugazi's Steady Diet of Nothing, which was their 2nd album and a follow up to Repeater. The influence this band has had on emo and punk cannot be overstated. One of the lead singers, Ian McKaye, was in band called Minor Threat prior to this (among other bands) and has been a guiding force for DIY artists ever since, preaching vegetarianism, straightedge, and other purist philosophies that sometimes get taken too far imho. When I started playing guitar a year later, this was one of the easier songs I learned first.
Honorable mention: Tom Petty - "Learning to Fly" - Into the Great Wide Open
Pearl Jam - "Even Flow" - TenAs I was compiling this I was kind of in awe of how much incredible music came out when I started 9th grade. Pearl Jam's Ten, Metallica's self titled album, Nirvana's Nevermind (see below), RHCP's Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and A Tribe Called Quest's Low End Theory are some of the most important albums to come out in the history of pop music -- and they were all released in the span of a few weeks! Needless to say, it was really hard to pick one for August and September, but I do remember buying Pearl Jam's CD in the fall of 1991 because in those days the CDs sold in record stores were packaged in these long cardboard boxes so that they could fit in the same bins as LP records did. Anyway, my teenage self loved this because I could cut them out and tape them to my door, which is what I did with Ten and lots of other CDs I bought at the McKinley Mall.
Honorable mention: Metallica - "Sad but True" - Metallica
Nirvana - "Come as You Are" - NevermindNirvana changed my life more than any other artist. I sometimes tell my pop culture students that no one was born underground, meaning that no matter how deep inside a (sub)culture we get we started on the outside. Nirvana introduced me to all the indie labels I had relationships with when I published my zine and when I was the music director at my college radio station: Sub Pop, Touch and Go, Drag City, Thrill Jockey, Matador, etc. Through Nevermind I was introduced to more underground music like hardcore, which is where I learned about zines. Michael Azzerad's book about the band was also helpful having a guide into this world."Come As You Are" and honorable mention "Under the Bridge" were also some of the firrst songs I learned on guitar.
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Under the Bridge" - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
A Tribe Called Quest - "Check the Rhime" - The Low End Theory
Public Enemy - "By the Time I Get to Arizona" - Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes BackI don't think I actually got into Nirvana until a month or too after that record came out because I remember going to the mall before winter to buy is with a skater friend named Tim Johnson slam dancing at a 9th grade dance to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and getting into trouble with the chaperones. What I was really looking forward to, though, was Public Enemy's follow up to Fear of a Black Planet, which came out the year before. It was kind of a disappointing album to be honest, but this song was a standout (which is funny because it was a b-side). The title and lyrics refer to the state of Arizona's push in the 1980s to not recognize Martin Luther King Day. Public Enemy embraced militant black nationalism and made a video that included images that made a lot of white people uncomfortable (you can google it). Technically you witnessed the lead MC, Chuck D, speak at Syracuse when you were a little kiddo. The honorable mention for this month is also unflinching.
Honorable mention: Ice Cube -"The Wrong N_ to F_ With" - Death Certificate
U2 - "Mysterious Ways" - Achtung BabyU2 has been putting out records since 1980 and this one is probably my favorite. At the same time I don't have much of a relationship with the band and there's part of me that can't stand the lead singer, Bono, who just kinda omnipresent. If I was cooler in November 1991 I would have been listening to My Bloody Valentine, but I would not get into them until many years later.
Honorable mention: My Bloody Valentine - Loveless
Green Day - "Welcome to Paradise" - KerplunkI'm postive I didn't know about Green Day in 1991. Their breakthrough album, Dookie, didn't come out until 1994, but this song (which was re-recorded for that album) was originally on this one. Green Day turned into a mainstream pop band, but they came from the punk scene of the Bay area in California and everything through Dookie is worth your time. What I was actually listening to was the band Live, who are a lot cheesier than Green Day. I had not listened to this song in years and it... does not hold up. But for posterity's sake, I listed it as an honorable mention.
Honorable mention: Live - "Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)" - Mental Jewelry>