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“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like… Books, records, films — these things matter.”
— High Fidelity

Etcetera

Best Songs of 1991

Maybe I just think this because I was 12-going-on-13 in 1991, but looking at this list, it feels like a transitionary year in music. The funny thing about decades in pop culture is that they rarely align on the 0s and 9s. If anything, 1991 feels like the last year of the ’80s to me, and you can see that reflected here.

Sure, there are some huge records that went on to be generation-definining, and sure, they even had plenty of immediate impact. But they were still butting up against all this other stuff that sounded a little older, a little cheesier, or a little more obscure.

Some of it stayed in the shadows, too. A handful of these songs were ones I had to dig up over the past decade or so of collecting songs and albums in my effort to complete these lists. That said, a very large portion of these songs were ones I listened to at the time, and throughout the early ’90s. That I still listen to them so often today—well, most of them—is less surprising, for the music we discover at this age tends to stay with us for ever.

For these year-end lists, I like to undertake the seemingly impossibly task of creating an hours-long mix. The order you see below represents that effort, which you can listen to via Spotify. Sadly all 100 tracks aren't available, but you get the general idea. Track notes to come eventually or maybe never.

  1. Temple of the Dog

    Hunger Strike

    Temple of the Dog

    Temple of the Dog

    A&M

    Notes

  2. Nevermind

    Come As You Are

    Nirvana

    Nevermind

    DGC

    Notes

  3. Gish

    Rhinoceros

    Smashing Pumpkins

    Gish

    Caroline

    Notes

  4. Blood Sugar Sex Magik

    Under the Bridge

    Red Hot Chili Peppers

    Blood Sugar Sex Magik

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  5. Deadicated

    Ripple

    Jane’s Addiction

    Deadicated

    Arista

    Notes

  6. International Pop Overthrow

    Valerie Loves Me

    Material Issue

    International Pop Overthrow

    Mercury

    Notes

  7. Raise

    Rave Down

    Swervedriver

    Raise

    Creation

    Notes

  8. Loveless

    Only Shallow

    My Bloody Valentine

    Loveless

    Creation

    Notes

  9. Pretty on the Inside

    Clouds

    Hole

    Pretty on the Inside

    Caroline

    Notes

  10. Revolution Girl Style Now

    Feels Blind

    Bikini Kill

    Revolution Girl Style Now

    self-released

    Notes

  11. Badmotorfinger

    Outshined

    Soundgarden

    Badmotorfinger

    A&M

    Notes

  12. Use Your Illusion II

    Don’t Cry

    Guns N’ Roses

    Use Your Illusion II

    Geffen

    Notes

  13. Metallica

    The Unforgiven

    Metallica

    Metallica

    Elektra

    Notes

  14. Steady Diet of Nothing

    Long Division

    Fugazi

    Steady Diet of Nothing

    Dischord

    Notes

  15. Uncle Anesthesia

    Bed of Roses

    Screaming Trees

    Uncle Anesthesia

    Epic

    Notes

  16. The Curse of the Mekons

    The Curse

    Mekons

    The Curse of the Mekons

    Rough Trade

    European release

  17. Everclear

    Crabwalk

    American Music Club

    Everclear

    Alias

    Notes

  18. Heavenly vs. Satan

    It’s You

    Heavenly

    Heavenly vs. Satan

    Sarah

    Notes

  19. Still Feel Gone

    True to Life

    Uncle Tupelo

    Still Feel Gone

    Rockville

    Notes

  20. Black and White

    Good Things

    BoDeans

    Black and White

    Slash

    Notes

  21. Flight of the Cosmic Hippo

    Flying Saucer Dudes

    Bela Fleck & The Flecktones

    Flight of the Cosmic Hippo

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  22. Fear of God

    Straight Image

    The Bats

    Fear of God

    Mammoth/Flying Nun

    1991 New Zealand Release, 1992 US release

  23. Native Son

    Daylight

    Judybats

    Native Son

    Sire

    Notes

  24. Distant Plastic Trees

    100,000 Fireflies

    The Magnetic Fields

    Distant Plastic Trees

    Red Flame

    UK release; 1994 US release (with The Wayward Bus)

  25. Why Do Birds Sing?

    American Music

    Violent Femmes

    Why Do Birds Sing?

    Slash

    Notes

  26. Artistic Vice

    My Life Is Starting Over Again

    Daniel Johnston

    Artistic Vice

    Shimmy Disc

    Notes

  27. Road Apples

    Bring It All Back

    The Tragically Hip

    Road Apples

    Universal

    Notes

  28. The Sky Is Crying

    Little Wing

    Stevie Ray Vaughan

    The Sky Is Crying

    Epic

    Notes

  29. Living With the Law

    Living With the Law

    Chris Whitley

    Living With the Law

    Columbia

    Notes

  30. Luck of the Draw

    I Can’t Make You Love Me

    Bonnie Raitt

    Luck of the Draw

    Capitol

    Notes

  31. Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me

    Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me

    George Michael & Elton John

    Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me

    Columbia

    Notes

  32. Marc Cohn

    Silver Thunderbird

    Marc Cohn

    Marc Cohn

    Atlantic

    Notes

  33. The Soul Cages

    All This Time

    Sting

    The Soul Cages

    A&M

  34. Woodface

    Weather With You

    Crowded House

    Woodface

    Capitol

    Notes

  35. Fear

    Walk on the Ocean

    Toad the Wet Sprocket

    Fear

    Columbia

    Notes

  36. Travelers & Thieves

    Sweet Pain

    Blues Traveler

    Travelers & Thieves

    A&M

    Notes

  37. Pocket Full of Kryptonite

    Jimmy Olsen’s Blues

    Spin Doctors

    Pocket Full of Kryptonite

    Epic

    Notes

  38. Blow Up

    Now and Then

    The Smithereens

    Blow Up

    Capitol

    Notes

  39. Girlfriend

    Girlfriend

    Matthew Sweet

    Girlfriend

    Zoo Entertainment

    Notes

  40. School of Fish

    3 Strange Days

    School of Fish

    School of Fish

    Capitol

    Notes

  41. Leisure

    There’s No Other Way

    Blur

    Leisure

    Food

    Notes

  42. Doubt

    Right Here, Right Now

    Jesus Jones

    Doubt

    Food

    Notes

  43. The Globe

    Rush

    Big Audio Dynamite

    The Globe

    Columbia

    Notes

  44. Naughty By Nature

    O.P.P.

    Naughty By Nature

    Naughty By Nature

    Tommy Boy

    Notes

  45. Homebase

    Summertime

    DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

    Homebase

    Jive

    Notes

  46. Mo Ritmo

    Rico Suave

    Gerardo

    Mo’ Ritmo

    Interscope

    Notes

  47. Derelicts of Dialect

    Pop Goes the Weasel

    Third Bass

    Derelicts of Dialect

    Def Jam

    Notes

  48. We Can't Dance

    I Can’t Dance

    Genesis

    We Can’t Dance

    Atlantic

    Notes

  49. Into the Great Wide Open

    Into the Great Wide Open

    Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

    Into the Great Wide Open

    MCA

    Notes

  50. Out of Time

    Losing My Religion

    R.E.M.

    Out of Time

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  51. Mighty Like a Rose

    So Like Candy

    Elvis Costello

    Mighty Like a Rose

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  52. Don't Try This at Home

    You Woke Up My Neighborhood

    Billy Bragg

    Don’t Try This at Home

    Redeye

    Notes

  53. September't Not So Far Away

    September’s Not So Far Away

    The Field Mice

    September’s Not So Far Away 7"

    Sarah

    UK release

  54. Cerulean

    Cerulean

    The Ocean Blue

    Cerulean

    Sire

    Notes

  55. BeatSongs

    Yr Own World

    The Blue Aeroplanes

    Beatsongs

    Chrysalis

    Notes

  56. Electric Landlady

    The Girl From Washington

    the Windbreakers

    Electric Landlady

    DB Recs

    Notes

  57. III

    Black-Haired Girl

    Sebadoh

    III

    Homestead

    Notes

  58. Flyin' the Flannel

    Toolin’

    fIREHOSE

    Flyin’ the Flannel

    Columbia

    Notes

  59. Frigid Stars

    New Year’s

    Codeine

    Frigid Stars

    Sub Pop

    Notes

  60. Bandwagonesque

    The Concept

    Teenage Fanclub

    Bandwagonesque

    Creation

    Notes

  61. Green Mind

    The Wagon

    Dinosaur Jr.

    Green Mind

    Sire

    Notes

  62. Ten

    Porch

    Pearl Jam

    Ten

    Epic

    Notes

  63. Mental Jewelry

    Mother Earth Is a Vicious Child

    Live

    Mental Jewelry

    Radioactive

    Notes

  64. Achtung Baby

    Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses

    U2

    Achtung Baby

    Island

    Notes

  65. Mama Said

    It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over

    Lenny Kravitz

    Mama Said

    Virgin

    Notes

  66. Dangerous

    Remember The Time

    Michael Jackson

    Dangerous

    Epic

    Notes

  67. Emotions

    Emotions

    Mariah Carey

    Emotions

    Columbia

    Notes

  68. The Five Heartbeats

    Nights Like This

    After 7

    The Five Heartbeats

    Capitol

    Notes

  69. C.M.B.

    I Wanna Sex You Up

    Color Me Badd

    C.M.B.

    Giant

    Notes

  70. Ain't a Damn Thing Changed

    Sometimes I Rhyme Slow

    Nice & Smooth

    Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed

    Def Jam

    Notes

  71. A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

    The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)

    Black Sheep

    A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

    ??

    Notes

  72. We Can't Be Stopped

    Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me

    Geto Boys

    We Can’t Be Stopped

    Asylum

    Notes

  73. De La Soul Is Dead

    Pass the Plugs

    De La Soul

    De La Soul Is Dead

    Tommy Boy

    Notes

  74. The Low End Theory

    Scenario

    A Tribe Called Quest

    The Low End Theory

    Jive

    Notes

  75. A Future Without a Past

    Case of the P.T.A.

    Leaders of the New School

    A Future Without a Past…

    Elektra

    Notes

  76. Cooleyhighharmony

    Motownphilly

    Boyz II Men

    Cooleyhighharmony

    Motown

    Notes

  77. Coolin' at the Playground

    Iesha

    Another Bad Creation

    Coolin’ at the Playground Ya Know!

    Motown

    Notes

  78. T.E.V.I.N.

    Round and Round

    Tevin Campbell

    T.E.V.I.N.

    Qwest

    Notes

  79. Diamonds and Pearls

    Diamonds and Pearls

    Prince & The New Power Generation

    Diamonds and Pearls

    Warner Bros

    Notes

  80. The Utopian Experience

    Set Adrift on Memory Bliss

    P.M. Dawn

    Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience

    Gee Street

    Notes

  81. Forever My Lady

    Come & Talk to Me

    Jodeci

    Forever My Lady

    Uptown

    Notes

  82. 2Pacalypse Now

    Brenda’s Got a Baby

    2Pac

    2Pacalypse Now

    Interscope

    Notes

  83. Sons of the P

    Kiss You Back

    Digital Underground

    Sons of the P

    Tommy Boy

  84. Peaceful Journey

    Now That We Found Love

    Heavy D & the Boyz

    Peaceful Journey

    Geffen

    Notes

  85. Schubert Dip

    Unbelievable

    EMF

    Schubert Dip

    EMI

    Notes

  86. Cypress Hill

    How I Could Just Kill a Man

    Cypress Hill

    Cypress Hill

    Ruffhouse

    Notes

  87. New Jack City

    New Jack Hustler

    Ice-T

    New Jack City

    Giant

    Notes

  88. Mr. Scarface Is Back

    Born Killer

    Scarface

    Mr. Scarface Is Back

    Rap-a-Lot

    Notes

  89. Juice

    Juice (Know the Ledge)

    Eric B. & Rakim

    Juice

    SOUL

    Notes

  90. Apocalypse 91

    Can’t Truss It

    Public Enemy

    Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Back

    Def Jam

    Notes

  91. Too Legit to Quit

    2 Legit 2 Quit

    MC Hammer

    Too Legit to Quit

    Capitol

    Notes

  92. Music for the People

    Good Vibrations

    Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch

    Music for the People

    Interscope

    Notes

  93. The White Room

    Justified & Ancient

    The KLF featuring Tammy Wynette

    The White Room

    Arista

    Notes

  94. Spartacus

    Groovy Train

    The Farm

    Spartacus

    Sire

    Notes

  95. Blue Lines

    Unfinished Sympathy

    Massive Attack

    Blue Lines

    Virgin

    Notes

  96. Screamadelica

    Higher Than the Sun

    Primal Scream

    Screamadelica

    Sire

    Notes

  97. Welcome to My Dream

    The City Sleeps

    MC 900 Ft. Jesus

    Welcome to My Dream

    I.R.S.

    Notes

  98. Seal

    Crazy

    Seal

    Seal

    Sire

    Notes

  99. Superstition

    Kiss Them for Me

    Siouxsie and the Banshees

    Superstition

    Geffen

    Notes

  100. God Fodder

    Grey Cell Green

    Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

    God Fodder

    Columbia

    Notes