Friday, 30 August 2013

The One With All The 90s Groups, #10 - 1


Who will be #1?!






#10. Nirvana




If this was a list of the most important 90s groups, I hope there would be a general consensus that Nirvana’s placement on that list would be significantly higher. When most people think of McDonald’s, they picture golden arches or a scary clown. When most people think of 90s music, they picture Nirvana, a band that literally changed the landscape of an industry. Nirvana’s music gave the young people that made up Generation X a voice that reflected their own inner-thoughts and fears, creating a pop culture icon in Kurt Cobain – the “spokesman of a generation”. Cobain, along with Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, popularised the grunge movement and cemented Seattle as the new ‘it’ place for emerging talent.


But that’s just a bit of history and it’s history you’d more than likely already know. Just like you’d know about the huge success of the ground-breaking album, Nevermind and the single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Triple J had to find a way to stop that song from topping an all-time Hottest 100, so they limited the last one to the past twenty years so it couldn’t be included. Even if you’re not a Nirvana fan, you’ve either heard on the radio or been forced by a friend to listen to ‘Lithium’, ‘Come As You Are’ or ‘Heart-Shaped Box’. If you’re really lucky, someone’s made you listen to ‘Polly’ and creeped you the fuck out and if you’re really lucky, someone has sung it to you at karaoke (right, Jo?). You’d also be aware of Kurt Cobain’s tragic suicide and if you’re sane you would have dismissed the conspiracy theories surrounding any direct involvement of Courtney Love in her husband’s death. Enough of that, let’s talk Nirvana and the 90s!


“With the lights out, it’s less dangerous, here we are now, entertain us.” Released in 1991 as the lead single for Nevermind, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ captured the world’s attention and became an international sensation. Many of the lyrics were indecipherable under the guise of Cobain’s growls. Did he just say an albino? Something about a mosquito. I still don’t even know what a mulatto is. Never before or since has a song so perfectly captured the essence of teen apathy. Nirvana’s popularity was bolstered by their next single, ‘Come As You Are’, a mess of contradictions in the form of iconic lyrics like, “take your time, hurry up, choice is yours, don’t be late.” A variation of those lines would later be used in Blink-182’s anti-suicide ‘Adam’s Song’ to almost heartbreaking effect. Lyrics were reportedly never considered as important to Nirvana’s songs as the music itself by Cobain, but he was still quite the storyteller. Forget the mulatto, jalapeno, libido thing. Think ‘Polly’ and the horrifying story (based on a true one) of a girl and her abductor. The story might be depressing, but it’s perfectly written. I’ve always been partial to the happiness destroyer that is ‘Something In The Way’ as well, a song written about Cobain’s supposed days as a vagrant who’d sleep under a bridge.




In Utero, Nirvana’s third and final studio release was unleashed in 1993 and it held no punches. ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ was the lead single, a four-and-a-half minute knockout. The confrontational ‘Rape Me’ would follow, alongside the severely underrated ‘All Apologies’. As an insight into Cobain’s mind, the latter track shows the suffering he was enduring with the attention from the media (“what else should I write, I don’t have the right”), his take on getting hitched (“married, buried”) and someone desperate to find some sort of happiness again (“in the sun I feel as one, in the sun, in the sun”). In November of 1993, Nirvana would perform a critically acclaimed set for MTV Unplugged. Mixed with reinventions of tracks like ‘Dumb’, ‘About a Girl’ and ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ were inspired covers of tracks like David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and Lead Belly’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’. The accompanying record would be released after Cobain’s suicide, going five times platinum in the United States. To this day, it’s still the best execution of the MTV Unplugged format. Admittedly, for every Bjork or Alanis Morissette Unplugged there’s been a Katy Perry or 30 Seconds to Mars, but Nirvana’s take on it was perfection.




Kurt Cobain’s suicide on April 5, 1994 was the definitive end of the Nirvana story, but their music has lived on well into the 2000s. I’m not going to say they were the greatest band of the 90s or the greatest band of all time, but they were certainly one of the most important acts in the history of music. Many fans would argue they are the greatest of all time and I can understand why. Those disenfranchised feelings many of us experience in our teen years and into our young adult lives are validated in music like Nirvana’s. Their songs provide an outlet for teen angst, confusion, frustration and, most importantly, an affirmation that you’re not alone in thinking the way you do. They certainly did for me and I know I’m not alone in that either.

- Matt Bond




9. Red Hot Chili Peppers




When you look at incredibly successful bands, you can look at all sorts of things to define them. Record sales, awards, film clips, iconic images; they’re all things that are important to a band's history, but some bands have something bigger than those things to make up who they are. Some bands are more than the amount of CD’s they’ve produced or tickets they’ve sold.


By the time their fifth album was released in 1991, the Red Hot Chili Peppers had been through numerous line-up changes and an awful lot of life experience, the most tragic being the death of their guitarist, Hillel Slovak, due to overdose three years prior. It was this overdose which led to drummer Jack Irons leaving the group (which turned out ok because he joined another incredible 90s band, Pearl Jam) but this left singer Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea to find both a new drummer and guitarist, which they did in Chad Smith (who still remains) and John Frusciante, whose guitar skills managed to define the band’s sound in the first half of the decade. This line-up of incredibly talented musicians are the ones who took a band with previously average sales and propelled them into superstardom. The first single from Blood Sugar Sex Magik; ‘Give It Away’ was perfectly RHCP, Flea’s phenomenal skills on the bass taking the song away from being an average rock guitar riff with a white guy kind-of-rapping-kind-of-singing over the top of it to a funk-filled fest.


What followed was a song that defined a band and pushed them into a commercial success they probably never dreamed of. ‘Under The Bridge’ was a complete departure from their previous material, a soft but powerful tale of some of Anthony Keidis’ darkest days, literally spent under a bridge in Los Angeles addicted to heroin. It’s this song that still outlines the band so well, fans truly get to appreciate the talents of each and every band member; Chad Smith’s restrained drumming until the crescendo at three minutes, Flea’s bass driving the song and John Frusciante’s hopeful guitar offering guidance to an incredibly sad tale. The singles that followed, including ‘Suck My Kiss’, ‘Breaking The Girl’ and ‘If You Have To Ask’ were all incredibly successful and set the band up for years of touring, most especially at festival appearances, which were a staple for any rock band in the 90s.




The mid-nineties brought something the band should have been used to, line-up changes and more drug habits, this time resulting in the recruitment of Jane's Addiction guitarist, Dave Navarro. Dave took them to a sound they’d never previously visited and although the writing of One Hot Minute was apparently vastly different from their previous albums, Flea’s impressive funk bass skills remained throughout, albeit a little overshadowed by Dave’s heavy guitar sound. The first single ‘Warped’ was an awesome introduction to the newer Chili Peppers and this time they created a controversy unlike their previous mostly drug related ones, this time causing issue with certain factions of society by including a shot of Dave and Anthony kissing in the final moments of the film clip (if only I could safely say this wouldn’t cause the same issues now, fifteen years later. Big frustrated sigh). Unlike their previous releases, the lyrical content of One Hot Minute faced their demons head on. This was an album, although not as commercially popular, that had to be made. Its almost cathartic feel took RHCP to a much more pleasant place in their next release, Californication.


With their seventh album at the very end of the decade, they welcomed John Frusciante back into the fold and released an album less introspective, more melodic and more commercially friendly than any of their previous releases. ‘Scar Tissue’ introduced them to a new younger audience and the beautifully shot clip was directed by the same guy, Stéphane Sednaoui, who had previously directed some of their most famous clips in ‘Give It Away’ and ‘Breaking The Girl’. ‘Around The World’ was the last single this incredibly talented group of guys released in a decade that had been unbelievably successful for them.


While I adore so much of their music, the thing I admire most about the Red Hot Chili Peppers is not what they have released, but what they have done and what actually defines them. While some bands are merely a group of musicians who happen to play together every now and then, the two constant members of the Chili Peppers; Flea and Anthony, have been to hell and back, together. They wrote some of the most catchy rock songs of the 90s, but they managed to do that while facing their demons together. Along with Chad Smith, they then proved and continue to show that more important than any career, any amount of money, any song, are the friends that you share those things with. Luckily for them, they’ve managed to balance the friendship and the music and luckily for their fans, we get to continue to enjoy the sounds that are the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  

- Jo Michelmore




#8. Oasis
 



If you google 'Oasis' now, the website that pops up first is Oasis.com, a dating website (and this is not indicative of my browsing history, thank you). It's lucky that the internet now is not what the internet was in the 90s (which was largely non existent), because if it was, the members and particularly brothers of Oasis (the band) would have had more than one or two words to say about that. One of the brothers, singer Liam Gallagher himself boasted if he wasn't in Oasis he'd be God and one of my favourite images is that of an Oasis poster that read:


Oasis: (noun) 1. British musical rock and roll group. 2. What The Beatles would have sounded like if they were making music today.


It's a big call, 'bigger than the Beatles', but if you have a look at the media machine that Oasis became in the 90s, maybe they were right, for at least a minute or two there.


Formed in 1991, the five original members of Oasis (yes, there were more than just Liam and Noel) released their debut album Definitely Maybe in 1994 and the title seemed to be a good indication of who Oasis were and where they were headed. Rock n roll? Definitely. Pop? Maybe. Catchy? Definitely. Life changing? Maybe. A definitive sound? Definitely. Their best album? Maybe. They certainly made an impact, releasing six singles from an eleven track album, including the awesome debut 'Supersonic' and a song that should have given the world an indication as to who Oasis were; 'Cigarettes And Alcohol' with the lyrics, "Is it my imagination, or have I finally found something worth living for?" probably best describing the lifestyle of a band that were on their way to massive commercial success.


While the world was still reeling in what was to become the end of grunge and still finding its feet in electronic and pop music, Oasis were on a path of Britpop and rock goodness and their second album, almost twenty years later, still stands as one of the strongest albums of the 90s. While their debut album was more rock based, the second (What’s The Story) Morning Glory focused on big songs and rock ballads, songs that seem made for singing along to in stadiums and at parties and by cover bands. Don’t tell me you haven’t sung along to the chorus of the title track ‘Morning Glory’ sometime. If you say you haven’t you’re lying. Or you haven’t lived. Go - do it now. If you haven’t sung along to the chorus of ‘Wonderwall’ sometime, I’ll say it again, you haven’t lived. I could say the same for ‘Champagne Supernova’, for ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ or for any of the six singles from the album, but this isn’t about what you haven’t done, it’s about what Oasis did. A band who spent the majority of the 90s sprouting their own talents and had an amazing ability to make absolutely everything about themselves; they became masters of the media, using it exactly as it should be used. It has to be said, they did so with an awful lot of talent to back them up and interestingly, while the Gallagher brothers spent most of the time arrogantly fighting and talking about themselves, they also managed to write some of the most introspective, awesome and defining lyrics of the decade;


“And all the roads that lead you there were winding, And all the lights that light the way are blinding, There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don't know how. I said maybe, you're gonna be the one that saves me, And after all, you're my wonderwall”




Things took a downturn at the end of the decade, but if an unknown band had released Be Here Now in 1997, it may have been a strong release. Strong guitars, solid beats, that great British sound and like all their previous releases, impressive lyrical content. The problem was, this wasn’t released by any band, it was released by Oasis. They fell in the trap of being a victim of their own fame and talent and while they still sold a huge number of albums, it just didn’t have the magic that had managed to keep the record buying public spellbound for the first half of the decade.


While they had a massive effect on not only the music industry but the general celebrity hungry public of the day, Oasis for me will always be a favourite. There is just so much to love; the drama, the infighting, the controversy, the rumour and the myth they became, but ultimately the music. I was even lucky enough to see the live 'legend' of Liam storming off stage in a tantrum midway through a show while Noel filled in for half and hour or so and that's a live music memory I adore. Amongst it all, no matter how many times I hear those sounds of the helicopters at the start of 'Morning Glory' I will always smile and in 'Champagne Supernova' they have forever posed a question significant to themselves and so many who lived through the 90s…


”How many special people change, how many lives are living strange, where were you while we were getting high?”

- Jo Michelmore




#7. Hole
 



“There’s a hole that pierces my soul.”
Medea, Euripides


Let’s play a game. All you have to do to win is forget everything you’ve seen, read or heard about Courtney Love in the past thirteen years or so. I know it’s going to be hard, but do you think you could do that? You can? Great. You’re a big winner today. If you can separate Hole’s music in the 90s from the bizarre and sad circus Courtney Love’s life would become, you’ll be able to remember that Hole was one of the greatest bands of the 1990s. Actually, you know what… let’s cut the crap. Even with all the junk that’s followed in recent years (including the horrible “reunion” a couple of years ago), Hole was one of the greatest bands of the 1990s. Their music was loud and abrasive, raw and passionate. Outside of the alternative moniker, it was largely undefined. Not quite punk, not quite riot grrrl and not quite grunge.  Their second and third albums were commercially viable, yet angry and isolating. The revolving cast of band members was beyond talented, with Love, Eric Erlandson, Kristen Pfaff, Melissa Auf Der Maur and Patty Schemel making names for themselves. In many ways they were better than Courtney’s husband’s band and even though it came as a surprise to me that Hole landed higher than Nirvana on this list, it was a welcome one.


Born from the partnership of Erlandson and Love (band mates, lovers, friends, enemies), Hole would release their debut album Pretty On The Inside in August, 1991. The album was a hot mess of unpolished noise rock and punk. The lyrics revolved around violence and touched upon drug use, rape, abortion on one side and public perception and self-image on the other. Subtle is not a word you would use to describe it. Here’s an excerpt from ‘Mrs Jones’; “look into the bloodroot, you suicide bitch, it takes an hour with you to make me want to live.” Think that’s rough? Go listen to the song. Pretty On The Inside saw Love draw inspiration from another Californian music icon, Joni Mitchell (who was born in Canada, go figure) on the closing track ‘Clouds’. Best described as a bastardisation of ‘Both Sides Now’ as opposed to a cover, Love reinvented the beautifully moody number through the eyes of a drug addict. Even with the lack of melodies and non-conventional song structures, you still found yourself drawn to Pretty On The Inside Hole and Courtney Love. She was a bonafide star; enigmatic, self-destructive, the personification of sex, drugs and rock and roll.


With the decision to move in a more progressive/commercial direction, bassist Jill Emery and drummer Caroline Rue would depart the band. Taking their place were Kristen Pfaff and Patty Schemel. Hole’s sophomore LP, Live Through This, would be released only days after Kurt Cobain’s death to critical acclaim. “I am the girl you know can’t look you in the eye, I am the girl you know so sick I cannot try.” Everything about Hole was different this time around, right from the opening lines of ‘Miss World’. The messages were still direct, open and honest, but without the borderline offensive delivery on Pretty On The Inside. There was more of a feminist worldview coming from Love’s new-found celebrity status in the wake of her marriage to Cobain and the birth of daughter Frances Bean. Themes of self-image and self-destruction were now woven into some of the greatest modern rock tracks of all time like ‘Violet’, ‘Jennifer’s Body’, ‘Doll Parts’ and ‘I Think That I Would Die’. The chorus’ are all sing/scream-a-longs. Where is my baby, I want my baby, I made my bed I’ll die in it, the pieces of Jennifer’s body… yeah!!! They still hold up so well today, but there’s nothing better than ‘Violet’. Written as a retrospective account of Love’s brief romance with old baldy pants (aka Billy Corgan), our leading lady rips and roars through the immortal lines, “I told you from the start just how this would end, when I get what I want then I never want it again… GO ON, TAKE EVERYTHING, TAKE EVERYTHING, I WANT YOU TO!” Can’t you feel that anger running through every fibre of your being? Live Through This has since found itself regarded as one of the greatest pieces of 90s rock, finding a home on the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die list, TIME magazines all-time 100 albums list and Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest albums of all time




A horrible tragedy would befall the band a couple of months after the release of their breakthrough album. In June of 1994, the beautiful Kristen Pfaff would pass away at the age of 27 from a drug overdose. Replacing her as Hole’s bassist was the enigmatic Melissa Auf Der Maur and her inclusion would spin the band in another new direction four years later with the release of the third studio album, Celebrity Skin. “Oh make me over, I’m all I wanna be, a walking study, in demonology.” At the time the title track was pure, unadulterated pop-rock perfection. Guess what? It still is. The direction Hole took was certainly a more commercial one, but the music was still so very good. My favourite Hole track to this day is still the second single from Celebrity Skin, ‘Malibu’. “Crash and burn, all the stars explode tonight, how’d you get so desperate, how’d you stay alive.” I don’t think anyone had ever called a Hole song beautiful before ‘Malibu’ and they probably didn’t after, but this almost four minute gem was really beautiful. Everything about it was; the song, the words, the video… even Courtney herself. Not everything was sunshine and roses behind the scenes. Drummer Patty Schemel found herself replaced with some lame session drummer due to the manipulations of a d-bag producer during the recording session. Taking over touring duties was another fantastically talented drummer, Samantha Maloney. Hole’s final 90s release was the single ‘Awful’. It was a ridiculously poppy end to a decade for a band that spent the majority of it redefining what ‘rock’ music could be. Still, it was a little bit catchy, right?




Three incredible albums, each unique and showcasing the evolution of a rock act in the 90s. One of the most iconic fronts for a band, male or female, regardless of your personal opinion of her. Rock and roll extravagance, soaring highs and crushing lows. Hole did it all in the 90s and you know what? They did it very well. The most important thing though was that their music was extraordinary. ‘Teenage Whore’, ‘Violet’, ‘Miss World’, ‘Jennifer’s Body’, ‘Doll Parts’, ‘Celebrity Skin’, ‘Malibu’, ‘Reasons to Be Beautiful’. This was rock in the 90s, kids. Accept no substitutes.


“You can’t have a hole running through you all the time, Courtney.”
Linda Carroll, mother.

- Matt Bond




#6. Spice Girls     




The 90s wasn’t all about long hair and flannelette. It was also about platform shoes and girl power. It was about zig-a-zig-ahhhh-ing and spicing up your life.


The Spice Girls can lay claim to being one of the best-selling female groups of all time, one of the best-selling pop groups of all time, and also one of the most successful British bands of all time. That’s no mean feat for five girls nicknamed Baby, Ginger, Scary, Sporty and Posh.


Originally I fancied myself as Baby, and then Scary (mostly because of my unruly hair) but then I fell in love with Ginger. She was the rebel.


The group was formed after the girls showed up to an audition advertised in the paper. There were several different rounds before Melanie Brown (Scary), Melanie Chisholm (Sporty), Victoria Adams (Posh), Geri Halliwell (Ginger), and Michelle Stephenson were picked as the final five. That’s right, Baby aka Emma Bunton wasn’t originally selected, however, got a call to join the gals after Michelle left due to personal circumstances.


After the release of debut album, Spice in 1996 the success of the Spice Girls was compared to Beatlemania. There were five big singles from the release – ‘Wannabe’, ‘Say You’ll Be There’, ‘2 Become 1’ and ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. Can you believe ‘Wannabe’ went number one in 31 countries? Amazing! My personal favourite song from the album was ‘If U Can’t Dance’. I like to think that’s where I had my apprenticeship in rapping.


“Spicemania” swept the globe, so the girls went back into the studio quite quickly to release their follow up album, Spice World. In fact, it was released only 9 months after their debut which attracted some criticism. Around this time Scary and Ginger also caused a controversy by breaking protocol to kiss Prince Charles on the cheek and pinch his butt. I thought it was hilarious and still do. ‘Spice Up Your Life’, ‘Too Much’, ‘Stop’ and ‘Viva Forever’ were the singles from Spice World. All excellent choices for karaoke, but it’s hard to resist ‘Stop’ for the dance moves. Don’t pretend like you don’t know them.




The Spice Girls fame rose to dizzying heights but the world got a shock on 31 May 1998 with the announcement that Ginger had left the group. She claimed it was due to exhaustion, but there were rumours of in-fighting, particularly with Scary. The other girls continued on, releasing the single ‘Goodbye’ later in 1998 as a tribute to Ginger. Personally, however, it just didn’t feel the same without her. I think the group felt the same, because they agreed to take a hiatus. Fast forward a couple of years and the Spice Girls have gone on to reunite for a number of shows including the 2012 Olympics.


The Spice Girls were an incredibly popular and iconic part of the 90s. They’ve left a huge legacy, paving the way for many all-girl female groups. They brought pop back into the limelight and fashion into music. Who could forget Ginger’s iconic Union Jack dress?


I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want… To see the Spice Girls live in concert!

- Katie Langley




#5. Massive Attack
 



Massive Attack were initially nothing to me but visual. I was familiar with the name after seeing a video where a creepy baby floated in embryonic fluid while singing along and opening its creepy lil eyes though at the time didn’t pay much attention to the music. For about a year I would often walk past music stores and eyeball an album with a big scarab beetle thing on the front cover, Mezzanine. I love beetle things (like LOVE them) and at that stage of life I would buy an album just because I like the cover. So I did and never looked back!


Pioneering the “trip-hop” movement of the ‘90s, Massive Attack are responsible for developing my insatiable taste for the genre at the time. With their darkness and vulnerability underpinning an intimate sexuality all driven by funk and hip-hop beats and balanced by soulful and jazzy vocals with quite perfect instrumentation and production.


The album Blue Lines marked the beginning of their success, with the single 'Unfinished Symphony' gaining critical acclaim and a Brit Award nomination. The album's sound combined elements of electro, soul, hip-hop, acid jazz and reggae, which made it difficult for critics to categorize this music the group were creating, although at this stage their US hip-hop influence was still strong. By the time their second album Protection was released in ’95 the term “Trip-Hop” had been coined to describe the more psychedelic “tripped out” sound and marked a definite move away from their more specific hip-hop roots.




By the end of the ‘90s Massive Attack had released three critically acclaimed albums, Blue Lines, Protection and Mezzanine as well as a string of well recieved singles. Highlights for me being 'Protection' and 'Better Things' (Tracey Thorn), 'Angel' and 'Spying Glass' (Horace Andy), 'Teardrop' (Elizabeth Frazer), 'Be Thankful For What You’ve Got' (William DeVaughn) and 'Unfinished Symphony' (Shara Nelson).


The peak of the Trip-Hop genre was in the mid ‘90s and Massive Attack paved the way with their unique music style that helped to influence many bands of the late nineties in what would later be dubbed “Post Trip-Hop”. Such bands include some we’ve already covered in our countdown like Moloko and Sneaker Pimps. Morcheeba and Radiohead are also notables who include elements of The Massive’s original sounds.


The best part about a group like Massive Attack is that through combining elements of so many genres they’re able to open doors for me into other musical realms I’d never usually venture. They provide me a link to expand and enjoy more of these methodically combined sounds we call music. They are my musical skeleton key.

- Nayt Housman




#4. Garbage




“I came around to tear your little world apart… and break your soul apart.” What happens when you take one of the most respected producers in the music industry, add two talented guitarists and mix in a spectacular rock goddess as a front? You get absolute Garbage. It was in 1994 that Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker took the idea that their music sounded like garbage to heart, with the intent to create a band that would make music drastically different to what was expected from rock acts in the first half of the 90s. Having spent their careers working with all-male groups, the three music makers sought out a woman to take the vocal lead and it was Marker that stumbled upon Scottish singer Shirley Manson, then part of the alternative band Angelfish. For the rest of the decade and now well into the 2000s, the core-four members of Garbage would challenge the notion of what pop music could be with incredible albums that took influence from grunge, trip hop, electronica and alternative rock.
 

Garbage and the sophomore album Version 2.0 would be released in 1995 and 1998 respectively. Garbage still stands as one of those rare, perfect debuts. From the spectacular first single ‘Vow’ to the sexually charged ‘Queer’ and the lost and lonely ballad ‘Milk’, Garbage showed the world they were a band like no other. Had there ever been music so dark that was so damn catchy? “I’m only happy when it rains, you wanna hear about my new obsession? I’m riding high upon a deep depression, I'm only happy when it rains.” So it wasn’t exactly sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere, but who would want it any other way? Manson was untouched in 90s sex appeal as she cooed at the audience to pour some misery down on her throughout ‘Only Happy When It Rains’. Manson was untouched in 90s sex appeal period. Have you seen the video for ‘Stupid Girl’? It was that Grammy-nominated track that really broke Garbage into the mainstream and into the top 40. Nellee Hooper’s remix of the b-side track, ‘#1 Crush’, would work its way onto the soundtrack to Romeo + Juliet in 1996 and spend four weeks at the top of the US Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart. A song as beautifully disturbing as this one (it’s about a stalker… woo!) should have been #1 on all the US charts. ‘#1 Crush’ remains Garbage’s sole #1 on any American singles chart to this day.




Version 2.0 was a perfect pop record that retained the dark lyrical themes of its predecessor. It was received with universal praise and even scored a nomination for Album of the Year at the Grammys. Kicking things off with ‘Push It’, Garbage again showed the world they were a band like no other. The accompanying music video is a prime example of 90s weirdness that combined bizarre concepts with striking imagery that you’d never be able to forget. The song itself is a true representation of everything that was amazing about late 90s music. So many great ideas were seemingly thrown out to see if they’d stick, influence was taken from unlikely sources that worked unbelievably well (The Beach Boys – ‘Don’t Worry Baby’), the chorus deserved to be shouted along to. Every track on Version 2.0 was gold. ‘Temptation Waits’ invites you into Garbage’s eclectic world of paranoia, broken hearts, sex and madness. ‘When I Grow Up’ was a crossover hit that sounded like a 60s girl group had been teleported to the 90s, discovered electronic music, got drunk and made amazing music. “You look so fine, I want to break your heart and give you mine.” ‘You Look So Fine’ opens and closes with lyrics that stop you in your tracks. Those first lines lull you into a false sense of security that Garbage would close an album on an upbeat note. Upbeat? Ha! This is Garbage. “Drown in me one more time, hide inside me tonight, do what you want to do, just pretend happy end, let me know let it show, ending with letting go, let’s pretend, happy end.” Shirley so sweetly sings such crushing words about her inability to accept that her entire world is falling apart around her. It goes against everything pop music was supposed to be. It was smart. And it was heartbreaking, but in a very real way. No sappy melodrama to be seen á la ‘All By Myself’.


The 90s ended on a high for Garbage as they found themselves invited to record the theme for the James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, securing their place in music and movie history. It helps that it was a totally badass Bond theme, right up there with the best of the best from Tina Turner and Shirley Bassey. Garbage might not be the band that automatically comes to mind for most people when they think 90s, but they definitely played a huge part in making the music of the decade so good. Their music was years ahead of its time, which is why their albums still sound fresh and exciting today. What someone once considered garbage became something so, so awesome. One of music’s true pioneering acts and most definitely one of the greatest groups of the 90s. And the 2000s. And the 2010s. P.s. marry me, Shirley! 

- Matt Bond




#3. Pearl Jam 
 



A couple of months ago I said to Matt, "If Pearl Jam make our 90s countdown, I want to write about them. In fact, I demand it." That was before I sat at my laptop for hours on end, wondering how I could do justice writing about a band I adore. How do I possibly write words about a band that not only defined parts of a musical genre and a decade, but also define parts of my life, dramatically affecting it along the way?


Perhaps I could write about how bassist Jeff Amment and guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready began playing together, found singer Eddie Vedder and drummer Dave Abbruzzese and wrote and recorded what was to become one of the most well known albums of the early 90s; Ten. I could write about the singles from that album; 'Jeremy', 'Even Flow' and 'Black' or I could write about a band not afraid to tackle big issues head on, for they were issues faced by some of the band members themselves, like Eddie Vedder's semi-auto biographical tale of abuse in 'Alive'.


Perhaps I would talk about the incredible sophomore album released in 1993, Vs. and how its sound was even more intense than the first. I could talk about how the lyrics were even more agonising and extraordinary; things like police racism on 'W.M.A.' or child abuse on 'Daughter' or America's controversial gun laws on 'Glorified G' or I could talk about the music itself, like those intensely driving drums on 'Animal'.


Maybe I could write about their 94 release Vitalogy and its medical textbook artwork, how it was the fastest selling album in history at the time or I could mention the risks they took with the sound of that album, the experimental, stripped back, almost scary mood of 'Bugs' or the completely different radio friendly and often misunderstood 'Better Man' or I could have discussed the restrained heartbreaking guitars on 'Nothingman'. Perhaps I could have mentioned the tension within the band during the recording of that album. I could have mentioned their drummer being fired and replaced with someone who was originally not interested in joining; one time Chili Pepper Jack Irons. I could even write about their next album, No Code and its complete departure from all their previous releases and the beautiful Eastern influences on 'Who You Are' or the soft approach to ballads like 'Off He Goes'.


Perhaps I could talk about their final release of the 90s, Yield, from 1998 and how the band finally managed to make a record together, without tension, with a real sense of being 'a band' but then Jack Irons left after the recording, unhappy with so much touring, only to be replaced by a drummer from another awesome 90s band, Matt Cameron, originally from Soundgarden and how the songs from that album that are mind-blowing to see played live, songs like 'Wishlist' and 'Do The Evolution'.




Maybe I would mention the morals of a band who early in their career refused to make film clips, who fought a very public legal battle with one of the worlds biggest ticket agencies in an attempt to keep concert ticket prices affordable for fans, a band whose live show is legendary and who spent a huge portion of the 90s touring the world or I could write about a band who have managed to keep their personal lives personal, their fame manageable and their attitudes grateful for the success they have achieved.


I could write of all those things, but while that describes the history of a band essential to a musical genre of an incredibly diverse decade, for me it doesn't even begin to give justice to a band who play an intricate part in my life. All of that doesn't describe the forceful sense of needing to move every time I hear the beginning notes of 'Spin The Black Circle', the unstoppable goosebumps at the very end of 'Black', the endless tears that fall for a sadly lost and so intensely missed best friend every single time I hear 'Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town' and it certainly doesn't describe the bittersweet and hopeful smile I have every time I sing along to some of my all time favourite lyrics;


"He still gives his love he just gives it away, The love he receives is the love that is saved. And sometimes is seen a strange spot in the sky, A human being that was given to fly..."


All of the history, all of the facts, they are important to a decade, but they are just the details that make up a group of phenomenally talented humans that I admire, who have prompted thought, inspired change, evoked emotion beyond my control and who have appeared in my life soundtrack, time and time again. To Pearl Jam, I have nothing but admiration and gratitude for they were a band that meant the world to me in the 90s and manage to still keep me (somewhat) sane today. 

- Jo Michelmore




#2. Portishead
 



“I’m so tired of playing, playing with this bow and arrow Gonna give my heart away. Leave it to other girls to play” (Glory Box)


Few artists have the ability to take me back to an era of my own personal liberation like the English band Portishead. It was the mid 90s when I heard 'Glorybox' from the album Dummy for the first time. I can’t remember where I was or what I was doing when I heard this iconic track. But I won’t forget how I felt. Oh Mama. As corny as it sounds, it was a revolution of sound that reverberated through me and made me feel like a woman. The strings, slow and thick trip hop beats, and the wailing sexy guitar mixed with the sultry vocal stylings of Beth Gibbons made me move in a way I don’t think I had ever moved before. This was my coming of age soundtrack. A season of independence, growing up and well... just getting my cool on.


Beth Gibbons - along with band members, Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley - provided a chilled yet haunting and dramatic backdrop to the 90s. There were elements of jazz, flicks of 60s French mod, James Bond-esque soundtracking and a whole lot of new in the music Portishead were making. I was lucky enough to see them live at the now defunct Festival Hall in Brisbane (may the old dame of a building RIP). The lighting show (yes I remember the lights!) was all blues and greens highlighted with much dry ice. Then again the “dry ice” could have been smoke from those in the crowd. It was the 90s, it was still legal for people to smoke in doors. WHAT they smoked, well, the legality to THAT is questionable, but all I know is that the music Portishead made that night made the crowd mellow with soft smiles and a very subdued happy buzz.

- Lou Endicott



Have you ever heard the song 'Roads'? It appeared on Portishead's debut, Dummy. At moments the song is dreamy, with cinematic strings and Beth Gibbons' ethereal vocals providing an out of body musical experience like no other. Mostly though, 'Roads' is a lonely journey traveled by the narrator. Sparse use of instrumentation accompanies the desperate question from Gibbons, "How can it feel this wrong? From this moment, how can it feel this wrong?" Portishead were masters of the trip-hop genre in the 90s with tracks like this. The music was both isolating and inviting, incredibly moving and heartbreaking. 


Portishead never found the overwhelming chart success of many bands that made this 90s list, but that isn't to say they weren't incredibly popular or influential throughout the 90s. They developed a passionate fan base that lost themselves in tracks like 'Wandering Star', 'Numb' and 'Sour Times'. Gibbons voice was undeniably beautiful, but held mysterious, sexy and dangerous qualities that made you want to hear more and more from her. Portishead's live shows were emotionally incomparable, with the most famous being the 1998 collaboration with the New York Philharmonic at the Roseland Ballroom.




Beth Gibbons, Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley weren't known for rushing out new releases. Throughout the 90s there were two studio releases; the Mercury Music Prize winning Dummy came out in 1994 and the follow-up, Portishead came out towards the end of 1997. The sophomore album fused jazz with Dummy's trip-hop on slightly disturbing songs like 'All Mine'. Nothing was as dark and haunting though as the track 'Over'. Its repeating guitar line leaves you feeling unsettled as Gibbons sings of the uncertainty taking over her. It's amazing. Their final release of the 90s was the single, 'Only You'. A truly memorable end to the 90s for Portishead with the video and song perfectly showcasing everything that made trip-hop so memorable throughout the decade. To hear Portishead's 90s music, even close to twenty years later, you still find yourself completely removed from time while Beth Gibbons works her magic. 

- Matt Bond




#1. Radiohead




When I think about the 90s, I'm so very glad I was alive while they happened. So many musical genres adapted, changed, started and so many incredible singers and bands and musicians that I love and some I'm only discovering today. I love the fact that kids in their early teens relate to Nirvana, I love that people in their 40s now relate to Gaga because they loved the Spice Girls in the 90s. Now, looking at the decade that was, one of the things I love most about the 90s is a little unexpected, a little off centre and a little bit amazing. They happen to be the band that have made it to number one on our countdown of best groups of the 90s.


Radiohead.


An unassuming group of five from Oxfordshire in the UK, Radiohead were a band that somehow managed to change the soundscape of a decade, without too much fanfare, while rejecting the paparazzi publicity and seemingly, without much effort.


Forming in 1985, they played around their hometown before a chance meeting with an EMI representative, which led to the recording of an EP in 92 and the eventual release of that ever famous song 'Creep' from their debut album Pablo Honey in 1993.


That one song became an anthem for fans at the time and made a small band from the UK become poster boys of what was the alternative music scene at the time. They toured the world on their debut release, but were a band that seemed uncomfortable with the rock star lifestyle being handed to them.


With great expectations of success for their second album, they instead released an EP, My Iron Lung in 1994, which was a small indication of where they were creatively and how they were departing from the sounds they had created on Pablo Honey. A band that was to prove that sometimes by following their own creative path, commercial success will in turn follow, they released The Bends in 1995. It was an introspective album, with singles like 'High And Dry', 'Fake Plastic Trees' and 'Just' all showcasing Thom Yorke's beautiful falsetto vocal over crunching guitars and drums. While it was simply the Radiohead style, it was a sound that would change the musical landscape of the 90s and in turn the decades after.




The next release, in 97 was self produced and although still unmistakably 'Radiohead', it took another musical turn, moving themselves creatively forward and turning the music industry and critics upside down. Not quite rock, not long lost grunge, not quite electronic, not Britpop, this was an album that was less introspective and a little bit uncomfortable, it was recorded in a mansion rather than a studio and the album is a journey, each song a different road on a path all ending at Radiohead. OK Computer was unlike anything else at the time, almost uncomfortable, a little scary on first listen, it's abstract lyrics and sounds spoke to an audience in a way like none before them. 'Karma Police', 'No Surprises', 'Let Down' and 'Exit Music (For A Film)' were all surprisingly confronting in different ways but none as extreme as 'Paranoid Android', an almost six and a half minute tour of emotion. Like the greats Queen and The Beatles before them, they created a signature song, one that defined a year, a decade and inadvertently a career and an incredibly beautiful album. While they released another EP before the end of the decade, it was OK Computer that had the most impact on an already impressive decade.




They are not a band that everyone understands, they are not a band that everyone likes but Radiohead are not a band afraid of exploring their own creativity, not afraid of their own talent and not afraid of what people think of that. The reason they were so important to a decade like the 90s is that while not sounding like anyone else, they sounded a little bit like everyone else, with elements of so many genres influencing their own sound.


What I love about Radiohead topping our list of groups of the 90s is that it shows that some groups speak to vastly different people with vastly different tastes in very important ways. While Matt, Nayt, Lou and I all like Radiohead in one way or another and Katie has her own thoughts about them, it doesn't really matter who you like or why, as long as some kind of music means something to you, from any decade or genre. Like who we are at It's My Kind Of Scene, while our tastes from the 90s and every decade and genre are differing, I think Radiohead sum up our collective thoughts about the 90s and music in general when they sang;


"When I go forward, You go backwards, And somewhere we will meet." 

- Jo Michelmore 
 



"I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo. What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here..."


The first time I heard 'Creep' was on a summers day by a pool with my friend J. He played it as a cover on his guitar. And damn well too from memory. I was captivated and intrigued. Who was this “Radiohead” and how did they read my teenage diary and almost steal my words (or at least feelings) and put them in a song? I am pretty sure that a gazillion other angst ridden teenagers during this time had the same question. Thom Yorke nailed the honesty, rawness and awkwardness of low self esteem and wanting to be loved and lovable. And as a late teenager I lapped it up (with just a touch of wallowing).


And of course this wallowing led me to follow Radiohead religiously throughout the rest of the 90s. They grew with me. Thom Yorke’s unusual, sometimes indecipherable yet beautiful sound hooked a generation of music lovers. The track 'Exit Music (for a film)' was my favourite in the Baz Luhrmann film Romeo + Juliet. Again, it cried with the sadness and confusion that the human condition brings. I sat in the cinema on a new year's eve with a then boyfriend and we held hands tightly and didn’t say a word through the credits, just absorbing the music and the sadness of the story.




It was Ok Computer that sealed the cult status deal for Radiohead. I have a couple of friends who recently bought tickets to see Radiohead. In New Zealand. And in Australia. They are perhaps the leaders of the fan club in Melbourne. But there are die hard fans everywhere that speak of this album and Radiohead with a fervent passion. Ok Computer set a precedent for experimental and atmospheric alternative music. It’s still cited as the influence of many a modern band today. The themes brought up in this album were so poignant of the time (and perhaps of this time too). The existential lonlieness, mass consumerism and the human lost amongst the machine of an uncaring and numb society was a theatrical lock in.

- Lou Endicott




Thoughts from a 2000s Radiohead fan...




I discovered Radiohead when they released Kid A in 2000. I was fresh out of high school; self-loathing and self-searching, feeling like the strangest human being that ever lived and spent as much time sleeping as possible. Now, sleepy time may not seem like the best time to discover music but each morning I would set my radio alarm and would lie semi-slumbering for hours just listening.


In amongst the usual procession of punk-rock, ska, metal and other relatively mundane genre’s that offered me barely anything to fit my angsty, internal situation, occasionally would come a rare gem shining from within the depths of the alternative music industry. “Everything in its right place, in its right place… Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon, yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon…” What is this? What is with these chanted, bizarre lyrics, this haunting voice, this pulsing synth and buzzing robot noises? Had I died and been reborn as an emotionally erratic cyborg? I LOVE THIS! It was in fact Radiohead, 'Everything In Its Right Place'.


I can still remember buying the Kid A CD and playing it for the first time, totally reveling in the manic dreamy atmosphere, dancing unabashed with flailing limbs (probably in my undies) to the likes of 'National Anthem' (who can resist a good sax moment?) and trying to convince my mum that listening to this kind of music could only make her a better person.


From here I moved on to Amnesiac, then OK Computer, which satisfied my Radiohead love for many years until almost a year ago I finally saw Radiohead live. AMAZING! Prior to this I hadn’t followed their last several albums, what a fool I was… King Of Limbs, Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows are all now way up there. Radiohead, I LOVE YOU.

- Nayt Housman


Thoughts from K-Tizzle...


I didn't like them in the 90s and I don't like them now.

- Katie Langley
   
 

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