10 albums from the ’90s that need to be listened to front to back
Interestingly, some of our favorite albums ever recorded always seem to have one or two, if not more, tracks that we can just do without. The songs we hit the forward button on robotically, just as the one before it fades completely or comes to its triumphant cymbal-smashing final note.
We have conversations about how other songs, either from later albums, demos or rarities we’ve managed to unearth, would have been perfect substitutes for these tracks that prevent an otherwise perfect record from being a simply perfect one, front to back.
Then there are the records, whether we’re the hugest fan of the artist(s) or not, that we all (for the most part, anyway) agree you can put on and leave on. Here are 10 from the ’90s.
Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill
One of the best-selling albums of all time, Alanis Morissette’s third full-length saw a staggering six songs get released as singles, Dave Coulier’s street cred skyrocket and, decades later, an actual Broadway show get based on it. Those singles are strategically placed in such a way that just leaving the sucker on comes easy, as a well-known song from it is always one or two tracks away. But why skip over gems such as “Right Through You,” “Perfect” or “Not The Doctor”? Those songs became well known in their own right.
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
As difficult as frontman Billy Corgan had reportedly gotten as the ’90s gave way to the 2002s, Siamese Dream was exactly that: a dreamy, oftentimes raucous invitation to rock ’n’ roll revelry. Most of the band’s best (or at least best-known) songs can be found here, from “Disarm” to “Today” to “Cherub Rock,” but fan favorites also dot the lyrical landscape, such as “Luna” and “Mayonaise.” Selling over 6 million copies worldwide, Siamese Dream is widely regarded as one of the greatest records of the ’90s. The person who skips over tracks 10 and 11 (“Spaceboy” and “Silverfuck,” respectively) is somebody who’s got to go.
Nirvana – Nevermind
Arguably the greatest record of the ’90s (some would even say ever), the fact is even if there’s a song or two that one is inclined to skip over, you simply don’t. Out of respect. Not due to groundbreaking frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide, but out of deference to it being an indisputable masterpiece. Many of the initially dismissed tracks would find new life in record time, when the band would either perform them live or earned raves upon going “unplugged” on MTV. “Something In The Way” would fall into the latter category, even though it’s the perfect and powerful final song on the LP (hidden track notwithstanding). It grew and grew in popularity due to Cobain’s even more plaintive vocals on the song live, whether plugged in or not.
Weezer – Pinkerton
The self-produced sophomore effort by Rivers Cuomo and company was dogged with the dreaded “sophomore slump” label by many a critic. Hit singles didn’t fly off it as they had on the band’s debut, but it’s emerged as the underappreciated record in the band’s oeuvre. As such, it gets pored over by purists. Rightly so. Lead single “El Scorcho” was ahead of its time and simply too much of a curveball for an audience awaiting the sequel to “Buddy Holly.” Fact is, it was there (“Across The Sea”), but so was so much else. “Pink Triangle,” for starters, had enough crunch to make it similar to “Undone - The Sweater Song,” but the provocative title coupled with one hell of a storyline rendered it a head-scratcher of a single for radio stations across the country. Despite all this, it was certified platinum in 2016 and is best listened to uninterrupted. It’s that simple.
Soundgarden – Superunknown
Damn, this record is a beast. The cataclysmic “Spoonman” created ripples in the rock world upon its release as the first single. It easily straddled what was then an unbeknownst actual thin line between grunge and rock ’n’ roll, with the late Chris Cornell’s vocals simply startling. But with the success of “Black Hole Sun” on the Top 40 charts came a dismissal by the hard-rock purists. It would take many years to realize that Superunknown was as much a relentless rock record as it was a story. No, it didn’t knock on “concept record”’s door, but it told the tale of a 10-year-old Seattle band of brothers who fell on black days but remained resilient throughout each and every one of them.
Metallica – Metallica (The Black Album)
Up until this point, lead singer James Hetfield had only growled. The release of “The Black Album” showed that Metallica—who had taken the baton by this time from Guns N’ Roses as one of the few rock acts still selling tickets—were capable of commercial success, albeit intentionally or not. “Enter Sandman” might rock, but it was also a great start to a Volvo-driving parent’s day. “Nothing Else Matters” illustrated the band had something that in 1991 had yet to be witnessed: soul. Catering to fans both old and new, there simply isn’t any song worth skipping, as you might miss miraculous cuts such as “The God That Failed” or “Holier Than Thou.” How hand in hand do those titles go, anyway?
Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
While the sibling rivalry took center stage almost immediately following what many critics dubbed a “second British invasion,” this Oasis record does stand the test of time like a lot of that Beatles stuff. Bombastic, anthemic and unrelenting, any record that ends with a monster such as “Champagne Supernova” is worth just putting on and leaving alone. It kicks off with “Hello” and the stellar “Roll With It,” coughing up an astonishing six singles out of 12 tracks. Along the way, you get “Wonderwall” and “Don’t Look Back In Anger” (the latter being the en vogue cover by today’s new bands), but you also get divine deep cuts such as “Hey Now!” and the title track. That’s the story.
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
Whether there’s a track that one doesn’t find as strong as all the others or deems “skip-worthy” isn’t really the point here. This ’90s masterpiece plays like The Wall or Dark Side Of The Moon. Interestingly, Nine Inch Nails maestro Trent Reznor, upon moving into 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon (where the notorious Charles Manson slayings took place), cited The Wall as inspiration for the record. He dubbed the studio he built there “Le Pig,” which might explain “Piggy” and “March Of The Pigs.” However, it’s the final cut, “Hurt,” that is something a music lover simply must move toward—a destination to be reached.
R.E.M. – Out Of Time
Michael Stipe and company’s seventh studio record is a testament to both bravery and brevity. Juxtaposing singles “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People” tested radio programmers and listeners alike, both becoming hits while being completely different, subject- and tempo-wise. The whole thing clocks in at around 44 minutes and manages to be all things at once—upbeat and downtrodden, forlorn and hopeful—while genre-hopping all the way through. By the time you get to the back-to-back “Texarkana” and “Country Feedback,” you realize that’s exactly what is of the essence: time.
Radiohead – The Bends
Having already demonstrated that Radiohead were capable of commercial success with the ’90s staple “Creep,” singer Thom Yorke steered the entire band in an entirely new direction. It all began with, of all things, him collaborating on the cover of this groundbreaking LP with Stanley Donwood. But Yorke took it so far beyond the artwork, striding away from grunge into a considerably more experimental direction, from lyrics to introducing keyboards. Six charting singles sprang forth, with “My Iron Lung,” “Fake Plastic Trees” and the title track among them. This is yet another record on this list that demands to be listened to straight through not because every single song is so good but because it’s a damn experience.