1991 was one of the biggest years in modern music. It was when metal went pop, radio country ruled, grunge went mainstream, and rap began its climb to chart dominance, even if it was spearheaded by a white candy rapper from Dallas.
There were many debut albums that year too, with bands striking out into the world with their first birthing cries. In many ways, 1991 may have been the most influential year of the past few decades, at least since the late '60s and the last years of the '70s.
Almost everything from '91 seems to still be fresh two decades later. Few of these albums have aged badly. Many remain mainstays on yours and our iPods and turntables even now. Even the two albums that Guns N' Roses put out still make their way onto our weekly playlists.
1991 was also the year America's ears would first meet drama queen Courtney Love, firebrand Tupac Shakur, the bellow of Eddie Vedder, Josh Homme's stoner-rock crunch, and get a whiff of what Cypress Hill would be smoking for the next 20 years on the reg.
So get ready to feel old as we reel out the biggest, best, and most influential albums of 1991, the year that punk and grunge left the clubs and set up a tent on the lawn of pop culture. Remember to turn the tape over.
Nirvana, Nevermind: We all know that story by now of how Nevermind changed the face of rock and roll. Even if you are a contrarian who is sticking your nose up now in favor of the band's Sub Pop work, you cannot deny the power of a single like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or the production work of Butch Vig. The band would destroy their own template with 1993's In Utero.
Also: Guns 'N Roses, Use Your Illusion I & II; Lenny Kravitz, Mama Said; Big Audio Dynamite, The Globe; Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik; U2, Achtung Baby; R.E.M., Out of Time; Elvis Costello, Mighty Like a Rose
Jesus Lizard, Goat: Goat is arguably the best album that the Jesus Lizard would record with producer Steve Albini at the helm, aside from the lesser-known Head, Liar, and Down. "Monkey Trick" and "Mouth Breather" are crucial tracks that beg for blaring at all costs to property and health alike.
Also: Slint, Spiderland; Fugazi, Steady Diet of Nothing; Melvins, Bullhead; Nitzer Ebb, Ebbhead; Uncle Tupelo, Still Feel Gone; Butthole Surfers, Piouhgd; Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend; Primus, Sailing the Seas of Cheese; NOFX, Ribbed; Ween, The Pod; Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger; Pixies, Trompe Le Monde
My Bloody Valentine, Loveless: Loveless is 11 tracks of vicious, lovelorn feedback. MBV leader Kevin Shields managed to recreate with pedals and guitars the sound of your body in love and falling out of love.
Also: Morrissey, Kill Uncle; Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque; Spaceman 3, Recurring; Primal Scream, Screamadelica
Geto Boys, We Can't Be Stopped: Bushwick Bill, Scarface nd Willie D set Houston on fire during the summer of 1991 with this album, which featured H-Town classic "Mind Playing Tricks on Me."
Also: Ice Cube, Death Certificate; N.W.A., Niggaz4Life; Ice-T, O.G. Original Gangster; Public Enemy, Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black
Michael Jackson, Dangerous: Dangerous was Michael Jackson's last hit album, unless you count his postmortem success with Thriller in 2009. He unwittingly would write his epitaph with "Gone Too Soon," which would become popular again as the soundtrack during every nostalgic look back at his life.
Also: Prince, Diamonds & Pearls; A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory; De La Soul, De La Soul Is Dead; Crowded House, Woodface
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Into the Great Wide Open: This album had "Learning To Fly" and the title track as standout singles, including a baby-faced Johnny Depp in the nearly eight-minute video for the latter.
Also: The Rolling Stones, Flashpoint; Neil Young, Weld; Queen, Innuendo
Garth Brooks, Ropin' the Wind: Brooks' third LP spawned five singles, and only furthered his rep as the pop-country Michael Jackson. Twenty years later, the singles are the templates for almost every grinning, rugged face on CMT and on the arm of a million Hollywood starlets.
Also: George Jones, And Along Came Jones; Alan Jackson, Don't Rock the Jukebox; Reba McEntire, For My Broken Heart; George Strait, Chill of an Early Fall
Metallica, Metallica (The Black Album): This album easily took Metallica from left-of-mainstream metal band into pop-rock juggernauts. Soon the whole world would be terrorized by Alcoholica and their mulleted minions. Come for "Enter Sandman," stay for "Of Wolf and Man."
Also: Motorhead, 1916; Ozzy Osbourne, No More Tears; Sleep, Volume One; Death, Human; Prong, Prove You Wrong
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Pearl Jam, Ten: Next to the rest of the albums that Pearl Jam would make over the next two decades, this is actually the most linear, pop-inflected album. The next 20 years would prove to be a wild artistic ride for the band, but Ten is still the people's champ for "Jeremy" and "Even Flow."
Also: Del The Funky Homosapien, I Wish My Brother George Was Here; Mercury Rev, Yerself Is Steam; Hole, Pretty On the Inside; Slowdive, Just For a Day; Unsane, Unsane; Tupac Shakur, 2pacalypse Now; Trisha Yearwood, Trisha Yearwood; Massive Attack, Blue Lines; Temple of the Dog, Temple of the Dog; Brooks & Dunn, Brand New Man; Kyuss, Wretch; Blur, Leisure; Cypress Hill, Cypress Hill; Monster Magnet, Spine of God; Jawbox, Grippe; Live, Mental Jewelry; Nation of Ulysses, 13-Point Program To Destroy America; Green Day, 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours; Smashing Pumpkins, Gish