(in chronological order)
Shake Your Money Maker by the Black Crowes (1990)
At the dawn of a new decade, when hair metal was collapsing under the weight of it’s own excess and grunge was beginning to spread angst and flannel across the nation, rock music was searching for an identity. Enter the Black Crowes, labeled by Melody Maker as “The Most Rock ‘n’ Roll Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World” and by the readers of Rolling Stone as “Best New American Band” in 1990. Their debut album brought rock back to it’s bluesy, classic roots, and “Hard to Handle” remains a prime staple in my karaoke repertoire.
Metallica (the Black Album) by Metallica (1990)
The majority of metal purists will probably say that Metallica’s 1986 masterpiece, Master of Puppets, is their best album, and they’re probably right. But The Black Album represented the band’s step into the mainstream, and it remains their most accessible and commercially popular release. But from a more personal standpoint, this was the album that introduced me to Metallica when I was a teenager — actually, it introduced me to metal — so it will always hold a special place for me.
Innuendo by Queen (1991)
Queen is and probably always will be my favorite band. So it would be remiss of me to make a list like this without including their epic swan song, the final album released while Freddie Mercury was still alive. When the band recorded “The Show Must Go On”, Freddie was dying of AIDS and Brian May didn’t think he was physically capable of singing it. At the recording session, Brian said, “Fred, I don’t know if this is going to be possible to sing.” And Freddie (who could barely walk) responded, “I’ll f***ing do it, darling,” downed a shot of vodka, then stepped up to the mic and laid down one of his most powerful vocals of all time in a single take.
Revenge by KISS (1992)
I was never that into KISS until I finally got to see them live (with Aerosmith) in 2003, and then… I got it, and I was hooked. The band’s first Top 10 album in the United States since 1979, Revenge ditched the ’80s pop-metal of their past few releases for a more edgy, hard rock, heavy metal sound. I was first introduced to this particular album after I heard their cover of “God Gave Rock & Roll to You,” which was heavily featured on the soundtrack to Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Either way, it’s probably the best thing released by the band since 1979’s Love Gun, and one of my favorite KISS albums.
Cracked Rear View by Hootie & the Blowfish (1994)
When I was a teenager, absolutely everyone had this album (along with Human Clay by Creed and Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt). I mean, if you were a suburban white kid, I think it may have been issued to you automatically, like a Pottery Barn catalog or an acceptance to Arizona State. I also have vivid memories of standing in line for rides at AstroWorld while the music video for “Hold My Hand” played on nearby TVs. Ah, 8th grade nostalgia. And despite his long-term, successful career in country music, Darius Rucker will always be known as Hootie to us ’90s kids.
Weezer (the Blue Album) by Weezer (1994)
This seminal, power-pop classic is Weezer’s first and best album. Some people would argue that their best album is actually 1996’s darker, self-produced Pinkerton, but those people would be wrong. Not that Pinkerton isn’t good, but it’s just more of… an acquired taste. However, even people who don’t own a single recording by Weezer are probably still familiar with “My Name Is Jonas”, “Buddy Holly”, and “Say It Ain’t So”, because they’re all great and still get played regularly on the radio 20 years later. If you’ve never listened to Weezer before, you should definitely start with The Blue Album.
The Colour and the Shape by Foo Fighters (1997)
This album represents the debut of Foo Fighters as a real band, because their first album was really just Dave Grohl doing everything by himself. Admittedly, I was never a big fan of Nirvana, since the incessant angst and cynicism of grunge music never really appealed to me very much. But as much praise as people tend to heap on Kurt Cobain as a musician, I maintain that Grohl was always the most talented member of that band. So yeah, I love Foo Fighters. Primary singles “Monkey Wrench”, “Everlong”, and “My Hero” all reached Top 10 status on U.S. rock radio, and all remain fan favorites and concert staples to this day.
Our Newest Album Ever by Five Iron Frenzy (1997)
When I was around 15 years old, I heard Supertones Strike Back by the O.C. Supertones, and I was introduced to ska music for the first time. But I didn’t really start to love ska until I heard a little band from Colorado called Five Iron Frenzy. This is hardly their most polished recording, but most fans will agree that it’s their best. At least half the songs on the album are frequently played live, including “Every New Day”, which has served as the finale to every single one of their concerts for the past 20 years. It’s such a popular song that they even re-used the ending refrain for “On Distant Shores” the closing track on their 2003 farewell* album, The End Is Near.
Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo by MxPx (1998)
One day during my sophomore year of high school, an older kid in our church youth group gave me a ride home, and this album was playing in his car. It was the first time I had ever heard punk rock, and on that day, Pandora’s Box was officially opened. Before long I was into MxPx, Green Day, the Offspring, New Found Glory, Blink 182, Good Charlotte, and a bunch of other bands I got to watch from the mosh pits at Warped Tour or Numbers Nightclub. As a side note, I used to have a boom box that would play music as an alarm clock, and I actually woke up to “Under Lock and Key” for the majority of my high school years.
Okay, so I cheated. Sue me. I actually debated for a while over which of these albums I should include, since both hold a similar place in my heart and were released only a year apart. They’re both fantastic ska albums, but I mostly love them because of the memories they evoke. I listened to Hello Rockview pretty much non-stop during one summer at the beach (along with Cheer Up! by Reel Big Fish, but that one came out in 2002 and thus doesn’t count), and it always reminds me of that relaxing, carefree time with family. Similarly, my best friend and I listened to Heads Are Gonna Roll constantly while we were on a mission trip in the Philippines during the summer of 2000, and when I put it on now, I can still almost feel the tropical breezes.