The Top 103 Albums of The 1990s

A while back, I posted a list of my favorite 75 albums of the 2000s, and had so much fun doing it, I thought I would make a list for some of the previous decades as well. Thus, the 1990s! (And soonish, the ’80s, ’70s & ’60s.)

I started the ’90s making mix tapes and finished it by ripping mp3z. In the meantime, I’d pretty much replaced my entire vinyl collection with CDs, thanks to the Columbia Record Club, the BMG Record Club and the explosion of stores like Ragin’ in Fresno and Amoeba in Berkeley that had vast quantities of used CDs to buy and trade for.

It was also the decade where I once and for all got overwhelmed by new music: there was so much access to so much music and the time to listen to all of it had contracted so much that I feel much more confident about the early part of the decade than I do about the end part. That may be a natural thing: after all, by the time the 1990s ended, my 20s were long long gone.

So when I say that the best year for recorded music in my lifetime was 1991, please realize that I was probably in the exact right time and place for that to happen. Of course, 1991 was also a transitional year: not just the year of Nevermind and Achtung Baby! and Girlfriend and Use Your Illusion, but the moment when “indie” became a career choice instead of something that happened naturally.

So while I stood up and cheered when Nevermind took over the world, in retrospect, it was also kinda the end of the world. The one that I’d been in the middle of, that is. Maybe — probably, really — that would have happened no matter what: my life changed for good when I left Fresno in mid-1994. The upshot of all of this is that first half of the ’90s dominates my personal list, with albums from the years 1990 – 1994 making up nearly 80% of my top 50.

Finally, like I said, this is my personal list of the best albums of the 1990s, reflecting my taste, and nothing else. Any resemblance between this list and the actual best albums of the 1990s is purely coincidental.

THE TOP 103 ALBUMS OF THE 1990s

  1. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
    Songs to die for: “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come as You Are,” “On a Plain” “Drain You.”
  2. U2 – Achtung Baby! (1991)
    Songs to die for: “The Fly,” “One,” “Even Better Than The Real Thing,” “Until The End of The World”
  3. R.E.M. – Automatic for the People (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Man on the Moon,” “Nightswimming,” “Find The River,” “Sweetness Follows”
  4. Whiskeytown – Strangers Almanac (1997)
    Songs to die for: “16 Days,” “Yesterday’s News,” “Inn Town,” “Losering”
  5. Pixies – Bossanova (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Dig For Fire,” “All Over The World,” “Velouria,” “Stormy Weather”
  6. Billy Bragg & Wilco – Mermaid Avenue (1998)
    Songs to die for: “California Stars,” “Ingrid Bergman,” “Walt Whitman’s Niece,” “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”
  7. Hole – Live Through This (1994)
    Songs to die for: “Asking For It”, “Violet”, “Rock Star,” “Miss World”
  8. Sugar – Copper Blue (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Changes,” “Helpless,” “A Good Idea,” “Man on the Moon”
  9. Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)
    Songs to die for: “Unfair,” “Cut Your Hair,” “Gold Soundz,” “Range Life”
  10. The Breeders – Last Splash (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Cannonball,” “Divine Hammer,” “The New Year,” “Do You Love Me Now?”
  11. Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol 1-3 (1991)
    Songs to die for: “Tangled Up in Blue (New York),” “She’s Your Lover Now,” “Farewell, Angelina,” “Walking Down the Line”
  12. Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (1995)
    Songs to die for: “Morning Glory,” “Roll With It,” “Some Might Say,” “Champagne Supernova”
  13. Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Disarm,” “Hummer,” “Today,” “Mayonnaise”
  14. Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Divorce Song,” “Fuck and Run,” “6’1″,” “Explain it to Me”
  15. Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion II (1991)
    Songs to die for: “Pretty Tied Up (The Perils of Rock N’ Roll Decadence),” “Breakdown,” “Civil War,” “Estranged”
  16. Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend (1991)
    Songs to die for: “Divine Intervention,” “Your Sweet Voice,” “Evangeline,” “Winona
  17. Beck – Odelay (1996)
    Songs to die for: “Jack-Ass,” “Lord Only Knows,” “Devils Haircut,” “The New Pollution”
  18. Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque (1991)
    Songs to die for: “Star Sign,” “Alcoholiday,” “The Concept,” “December,”
  19. Neil Young – Harvest Moon (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Natural Beauty,” “Unknown Legend,” “Harvest Moon,” “Dreaming Man”
  20. Wilco – Being There (1996)
    Songs to die for: “Misunderstood,” “I Got You (At the End of the Century),” “Outtasite (Outta Mind),” “Monday”
  21. Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
    Songs to die for: “Karma Police,” “Paranoid Android,” “Airbag,” “Lucky”
  22. Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Three Babies,” “Jump in the River,” “Black Boys on Mopeds,” “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance”
  23. Soundgarden – Superunknown (1994)
    Songs to die for: “Superunknown,” “My Wave,” “Head Down,” “Black Hole Sun”
  24. Lemonheads – It’s a Shame about Ray (1992)
    Songs to die for: “It’s a Shame About Ray,” “Rudderless,” “My Drug Buddy,” “Confetti”
  25. The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs (1999)
    Songs to die for: “All My Little Words,” “The Death of Ferdinand DeSassure,” “Sweet-Loving Man,” “Reno Dakota”
  26. that dog – Retreat From The Sun (1997)
    Songs to die for: “Hawthorne,” “Minneapolis,” “Never Say Never,” “Long Island”
  27. Sonic Youth – Dirty (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Sugar Kane,” “JC,” “Chapel Hill,” “Teresa’s Sound-World”
  28. Grant Lee Buffalo – Fuzzy (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Dixie Drug Store,” “The Hook,” “Fuzzy,” “America Snoring”
  29. Nirvana – Unplugged (1994)
    Songs to die for: “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam,” “About a Girl,” “Polly,” “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”
  30. Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Ragged Glory (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Over and Over,” “Fucking Up,” “Love and Only Love,” “Country Home”
  31. Uncle Tupelo – No Depression (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Whiskey Bottle,” “Factory Belt,” “John Hardy” “Screen Door”
  32. Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand (1994)
    Songs to die for: “I Am a Scientist,” Tractor Rape Chain,” Hardcore UFOs,” “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory”
  33. Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Trigger Cut,” “Summer Babe,” “Loretta’s Scars,” “Perfume-V”
  34. James Brown – Star Time! (1991)
    Songs to die for: “Cold Sweat,” “Get it Together,” “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved,” “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open The Door, I’ll Get it Myself”)
  35. Dinosaur Jr. – Where Ya Been (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Get Me,” “What Else is New?” “Out There,” “I Ain’t Sayin”
  36. Pavement – Brighten The Corners (1997)
    Songs to die for: “We Are Underused,” “Date With IKEA,” “Starlings of the Slipstream,” “Fin”
  37. Nirvana – In Utero (1993)
    Songs to die for: “All Apologies,” “Pennyroyal Tea,” “Dumb,” “Serve The Servants”
  38. Magnapop – Hot Boxing (1994)
    Songs to die for: “The Crush,” “Texas,” “Leo,” “Slowly, Slowly
  39. Buffalo Tom – Let Me Come Over (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Darl,” “Mountains of Your Head,” “Saving Grace,” “Staples”
  40. Uncle Tupelo – Anodyne (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Anodyne,” “Give Back the Key to My Heart,” “New Madrid,” “The Long Cut”
  41. Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy – Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Music and Politics,” “Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury,” “Television, The Drug of the Nation,” “Satanic Reverses”
  42. Tom Petty – Wildflowers (1994)
    Songs to die for: “Time to Move On,” “Wildflowers,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels, “Crawling Back to You
  43. Imperial Teen – Seasick (1996)
    Songs to die for: “Pig Latin”, “You’re One,” “Luxury,” “Eternity”
  44. Pearl Jam – Yield (1998)
    Songs to die for: “MFC,” “Wishlist,” “Given to Fly,” “In Hiding”
  45. U2 – Salome! (The Achtung! Baby Demos & Outtakes) (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Blow Your House Down,” “Take Today,” “I Feel Free,” “Salome”
  46. Living Colour – Time’s Up (1990) “Type,” “This is the Life,” “Time’s Up” “Fight the Fight”
  47. Wilco – A.M. (1995)
    Songs to die for: “Box Full of Letters,” “I Must Be High,” “Passenger Side,” “Shouldn’t Be Ashamed”
  48. Aimee Mann – I’m With Stupid (1996)
    Songs to die for: “It’s Not Safe” “Par For The Course,” “That’s Just What You Are,” “Long Shot”
  49. Soul Coughing – Ruby Vroom (1994)
    Songs to die for: “Screenwriter’s Blues,” “Sugar Free Jazz,” “Casiotone Nation,” “Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago”
  50. Sugar – File Under: Easy Listening (1994)
    Songs to die for: “Explode and Make Up,” “What You Want it to Be,” “Gee Angel,” “Believe What You’re Saying”
  51. Bob Mould – Black Sheets of Rain (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Out of Your Life,” “It’s Too Late,” “Disappointed,” “Sacrifice / Let There Be Peace”
  52. Son Volt – Trace (1995)
    Songs to die for: “Windfall,” “Drown,” “Route,” “Tear Stained Eye”
  53. The Replacements – Nothing For All (1997)
    Songs to die for: “Can’t Hardly Wait [Tim Version],” “Wake Up,” “Portland,” “Cruella DeVille,”
  54. Robyn Hitchcock – Moss Elixir (1994)
    Songs to die for: “I Am Not Me,” “Heliotrope,” “Beautiful Queen,” “Filthy Bird,”
  55. Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Fight The Power,” “Brothers Gonna Work it Out,” “Welcome to the Terrordome,” “Revolutionary Generation”
  56. Goo Goo Dolls – Hold Me Up (1991)
    Songs to die for: “There You Are” , “You Know What I Mean”, “Kevin’s Song,” “Two Days in February”
  57. Guided By Voices – Alien Lanes (1995)
    Songs to die for: “Motor Away”, “A Salty Salute,” “The King and Caroline”, “Closer You Are”
  58. Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One (1997)
    Songs to die for: “Sugarcube,” “Autumn Sweater,” “Deeper into Movies,” “Moby Octopad”
  59. L.L. Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out (1991)
    Songs to die for: “Mama Said Knock You Out,” “Eat Em Up L Chill,” “6 Minutes of Pleasure,” “Mr. Good Bar”
  60. Lou Reed – Magic and Loss (1992)
    Songs to die for: “What’s Good,” “Sword of Damocles,” “Power and Glory Part II,” “Magic and Loss”
  61. Sonic Youth – Washing Machine (1995)
    Songs to die for: “Skip Tracer,” “Washing Machine,” “The Diamond Sea,” “Little Trouble Girl”
  62. Hole – Celebrity Skin (1998)
    Songs to die for: “Boys on the Radio” “Celebrity Skin” “Awful, “Dying”
  63. Belly – Star (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Slow Dog”, “Feed The Tree” “Gepetto,” “Untogether”
  64. Pixies – Trompe Le Monde (1991)
    Songs to die for: “Distance Equals Rate Times Time,” “Trompe Le Monde,” “Planet of Sound,” “Head On”
  65. Too Much Joy – Cereal Killers (1991)
    Songs to die for: “Goodbye, Ohio,” “Long-Haired Guys From England,” “Crush Story,” “Susquehanna Hat Company”
  66. The Replacements – All Shook Down (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Nobody,” “Attitude,” “Merry Go Round,” “Torture”
  67. Sebadoh – harmacy (1996)
    Songs to die for: “Willing to Wait,” “On Fire,” “Ocean,” “Beauty of the Ride”
  68. Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole (1997)
    Songs to die for: “Setting Sun”, “Lost in the K Hole” “Block Rockin Beats” “The Private Psychedelic Reel”
  69. Wilco – Summer Teeth (1999)
    Songs to die for: “A Shot in the Arm,” “Can’t Stand It,” “When You Wake Up Feeling Old,” “I’m Always in Love”
  70. Son Volt – Wide Swing Tremolo (1998)
    Songs to die for: “Blind Hope,” “Flow,” “Medicine Hat” “Straightface”
  71. The Miss Alans – Blusher (1994)
    Songs to die for: “Mag Wheel,” “Victoria,” “State of Grace,” “Supercharged
  72. Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty (1998)
    Songs to die for: “I Don’t Know” “Body Movin,” “The Negotiation Limerick File,” “Super Disco Breakin”
  73. Sonic Youth – Goo (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Tunic (Song For Karen)” “Kool Thing,” “Disappearer,” “Dirty Boots”
  74. Bob Dylan – World Gone Wrong (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Delia” “Blood in my Eyes,” “World Gone Wrong,” “Broke Down Engine”
  75. Neil Young – Mirror Ball (1995)
    Songs to die for: “I’m The Ocean,” “Throw Your Hatred Down” “Act of Love,” “Song X”
  76. R.E.M. – New Adventures in Hi-Fi(1996)
    Songs to die for: “Electrolite,” “Undertow,” “So Fast, So Numb,” “The Wake-Up Bomb”
  77. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Soon,” “Only Shallow,” “Come in Alone,” “When You Sleep”
  78. Rancid – . . . And Out Come The Wolves (1995)
    Songs to die for: “Lock, Step Gone,” “Ruby Soho,” “Avenues and Alleyways” “Junkie Man”
  79. The Old 97’s – Fight Songs (1999)
    Songs to die for: “Murder (or a Heart Attack)” “Jagged,” “19” “Busted Afternoon”
  80. Liz Phair – whitechocolatespaceegg (1998)
    Songs to die for: “Uncle Alvarez,” “Big Tall Man,” “Perfect World,” “What Makes You Happy”
  81. Too Much Joy – Mutiny (1992)
    Songs to die for: “In Perpetuity,” “Strong Thing,” “Magic,” “Donna Everywhere”
  82. Swervedriver – Raise (1991)
    Songs to die for: “Son of Mustang Ford,” “Rave Down,” “Sunset,” “Sci-Flyer”
  83. Superchunk – Tossing Seeds (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Slack Motherfucker,” “Garlic,” “Train From Kansas City,” “Brand New Love”
  84. The Mysteries of Life – Keep A Secret (1996)
    Songs to die for: “Once in a While,” “Alibi,” “Keep a Secret,” “Gone Beyond”
  85. Dramarama – Hi-Fi Sci-Fi (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Don’t Feel Like Doing Drugs”, “Incredible”, “Work For Food” “Late Night Phone Call”
  86. Guided By Voices – Do The Collapse (1999)
    Songs to die for: “Things I Will Keep”, “Wrecking Now,” “Liquid Indian,” “Wormhole”
  87. The Miss Alans – Smack The Horse (1990)
    Songs to die for: “The Shiny Unfeeling” “Her Drug,” “The Indifference,” “Yellow Gardens
  88. R.E.M. – Up (1998)
    Songs to die for: “Hope,” “Sad Professor,” “At My Most Beautiful,” “The Apologist”
  89. Yo La Tengo – Elect-ro-Pura (1995)
    Songs to die for: “Tom Courtenay,” “Decora,” “The Ballad of Red Buckets,” “Blue Line Swinger”
  90. Spiritualized – Live at the Royal Albert Hall (1998)
    Songs to die for: “Take Your Time,” “Electricity,” “Walking With Jesus” “Medication”
  91. The Geraldine Fibbers – Butch (1997)
    Songs to die for: “Seven or In Ten”, “Trashman in Furs,” “Butch,” “You Doo Right”
  92. Paul Westerberg – 14 Songs (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Knocking on Mine,” “World Class Fad,” “Down Love,” “Things”
  93. Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind (1997)
    Songs to die for: “Cold Irons Bound,” “Not Dark Yet” “Trying to Get to Heaven,” “Love Sick”
  94. Goo Goo Dolls – Jed (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Road to Salinas” “Out of Sight,” “Up Yours,” “Had Enough,”
  95. Drive-by Truckers – Pizza Deliverance (1999)
    Songs to die for: “Nine Bullets” “Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus),” “Box of Spiders,” “One of these Days”
  96. Robyn Hitchcock – Eye (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Raining Twightlight Coast,” “Cynthia Mask,” “Transparent Lover,” “Beautiful Girl”
  97. The Posies – Amazing Disgrace (1996)
    Songs to die for: “Grant Hart,” “Ontario,” “Song #1,” “Throwaway”
  98. The Miss Alans – Ledger (1996)
    Songs to die for: “Sparkler Queen,” “Ride on Me,” “Big Sun,” “Junk
  99. The Pogues – Hell’s Ditch (1990)
    Songs to die for: “House of the Gods,” “Rain Street,” “Lorca’s Novena,” “Ghost of a Smile”
  100. Rancid – Life Won’t Wait (1998)
    Songs to die for: “Who Would Have Thought?” “Something in the World Today,” “Coppers,” “Backslide”
  101. Swervedriver – Mezcal Head (1993)
    Songs to die for: “Duel,” “Last Train to Satansville,” “For Seeking Heat,” “You Find it Everywhere”
  102. Morrissey – Your Arsenal (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Tomorrow,” “You’re The One For Me, Fatty,” “The National Front Disco,” “Certain People I Know”
  103. Freedy Johnston – Can You Fly? (1992)
    Songs to die for: “Trying to Tell You I Don’t Know”, “Responsible,” “The Mortician’s Daughter,” “The Lucky One”
  104. Sebadoh – Bakesale (1994)
    Songs to die for: “Skull,” “Rebound,” “Magnet’s Coil,” “License to Confuse”
  105. Dwight Yoakam – If There Was a Way (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Dangerous Man” “Sad Sad Music,” “Since I Started Drinking Again,” “It Only Hurts When I Cry”
  106. The Posies – Dear 23 (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Golden Blunders,” “Any Other Way, “Apology,” “Suddenly Mary”
  107. The Jazz Butcher – The Cult of the Basement (1990)
    Songs to die for: “Girl Go,” “Mr. Odd,” “She’s On Drugs,” “Sister Death”

A note on reissues: Basically, if a reissue covers a specific recording date — or contained within a single decade — , then for the purposes of this project, it will be rated against that date. So Dylan’s “Royal Albert Hall” concert will be part of my 60’s list. However, if a reissue crosses multiple decades, then I rated it for when it came out, so James Brown’s Star Time is part of my 90s list. Trust me, I’m not wild about this, either.

7 Responses to “The Top 103 Albums of The 1990s”

  1. Kellye says:

    Great list! I like all kinds of music, from all kinds of decades, but there really was something about the indie movement that especially resonated with me.

  2. Mervin Balow says:

    This article is very helpful for me to determine the right product.

  3. Uncle e says:

    Really great list, although you are indeed missing the #1 album of the ’90s, The Boo Radleys’ Giant Steps. You have no doubt not heard it yet, as I feel confident it would be right up there, given your excellent taste.

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