Archived / November 2, 2009
By Jeff Groat [Entertainment Bureau Chief]
Music from the 90’s is a strange beast. There are a few major movements worth mentioning, some more than others, some less than others.
What follows is a list of a few of the bigger scenes in the 90’s, and like anything in music, the list is completely debatable.
The Seattle grunge scene was hot in the early to mid 90’s, with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden and their heavy, distorted guitars.
In some ways, you could say that the angsty depressing, and sometimes angry, artists like Alice in Chains were a reaction to the glam-rock and hair metal of the late 80’s.
Suddenly it wasn’t cool to wear makeup, and sing like a girl.
Instead, it was respectable to be the moody rock star, always—unfortunately—one step away from overdose.
Keep in mind that Pearl Jam’s Ten album is one of the most successful debuts of all time, Chris Cornell sung the theme to Casino Royale a few years back, and almost every band on rock radio is still trying to capture what Nevermind accomplished, sonically and commercially.
Grunge is still huge in many ways.
New wave was one of those things that could only exist in the 1980’s, kind of like Kelly McGillis being hot, and Tom Cruise before Scientology.
By the time the 90’s came around, the synth and pop sounds of new wave bled into the guitar and pop sounds of alternative.
In some ways, alternative in the 90’s is a bit like indie now.
Just as indie is not truly a genre and really means “independent,” alternative is supposed to be anything but mainstream.
But really, both include bands that are truly “independent,” and bands that just sound like they are.
So this is why artists like Blur, Weezer, R.E.M. and even Nirvana and U2 are under the alternative umbrella, even though they were met with huge commercial success and signed with major labels.
Purists would say that Pixies, Sonic Youth, Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. embody the true spirit of alternative rock at the time.
Notable albums might include Sublime’s 40 Ounces to Freedom, and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magic.
In the 90’s, it was simply East coast versus West coast. Where have you been?
Instead of the post-funk, New York sounding raw beats and rhymes of the 80’s, the 90’s saw the first major splintering of the genre as it headed out West.
West coast rap was laid back and loose, it had a West coast vibe, and it had Warren G, Dr. Dre, and California Love.
Sure there was Ohio rap, with Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony, and Southern rap with Outkast, but when 2Pac and Notorious B.I.G. were murdered, the East coast versus West coast battle defined the times.
Sarah McLachlan and her creation of Lilith Fair were as significant as Nevermind.
The all-women festival was the first of its kind to be commercially successful, and countered the view that concert promoters and radio stations held that kept the concentration of female performances down.
Performers included Jewel, Lisa Loeb, Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple and Tracy Chapman, all of whom had a huge impact on music in the 90’s.
Unfortunately, this one is a notable.
There was a time when The Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls were popular for their music.
How and why are questions that may never be answered fully, but let’s just attribute it to millions of teen crushes.
Despite attempting to play punk music, artists like Blink 182, Sum 41, and other number bands were nothing more than carefully packaged pop acts, attempting to cash in on another group of teens who were equally capable of having crushes.
It’s also worth pointing out that many record companies were quick to cash in on naive teen minds, stuffing covert sexual innuendos into every song, video, album cover and photo op. These are the groups whose albums sounded like Satan having phone sex when you played them in reverse.
Notables include B44, Spice Girls and N’Sync.