September 7, 1977

My favorite albums (1990s), vol. 1

1. AMERICAN RECORDINGS (1994) Johnny Cash

American Recordings might be the most handmade, most organic, most Johnny Cash album of them all. It was recorded in Cash’s Tennessee cabin, Rick Rubin’s living room and The Viper room in Los Angeles. No studio. Cash, in his autobiography: “We experimented with added instrumentation, but in the end, we decided that it worked better with me alone. We bore down on it that way and got our album: no reverb, no echo, no slapback, no overdubbing, no mixing, just me playing my guitar and singing. I didn’t even use a pick; every guitar note on the album … came from my thumb.”  Key tracks | “Delia’s Gone,” “Drive On,” “Tennessee Stud”

Producer | Rick Rubin  Label | American Recordings  Released | April 26, 1994

2. NEVERMIND (1991) Nirvana

A noisy masterpiece that belongs on the Generation X teen angst shelf next to Slacker, My So-Called Life, Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation and actual Prozac. Or maybe “Lithium.” Kurt Cobain said he wanted Nevermind to sound like “The Knack and the Bay City Rollers getting molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath.” The sound was grunge — garage rock from Seattle, flush with power chords, pop hooks and inaudible lyrics. Nevermind was depressing and life-affirming, led by the zeitgeist-capturing “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Millions of kids picked up guitars and wore flannel because Nirvana looked inward and raged outward. Here we are now. Entertain us. Key tracks | “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come as You Are”

Producer | Butch Vig  Label | DGC  Released | September 24, 1991

5. THE CHRONIC (1992) Dr. Dre

Dr. Dre’s solo debut, his emancipation proclamation from N.W.A. and Ruthless Records. He produced the album, released it on his own label and introduced hip-hop’s next great MC: Snoop Doggy Dogg. The Chronic mixed smooth samples of George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic and gangsta takedowns of former N.W.A. frontman Eazy-E and Ruthless founder Jerry Heller. Snoop wrote and rapped on most of the 16 tracks, his Long Beach drawl the just-right complement to Dre’s righteous anger. The album’s title is slang for high-grade cannabis, its cover art an homage to Zig-Zag rolling papers, and inside was a higher education on bitches, 16 switches and all things ComptonKey tracks | “Nuthin’ but a G Thang,” “Let Me Ride”

Producer | Dr. Dre  Label | Death Row  Released | December 15, 1992

6. ODELAY (1996) Beck

White man’s funk from Southern California, a pastiche of hip-hop, folk and country, garage rock and bossa nova, produced by the Dust Brothers. Beck was music, and the music was in him. He sang of the “jig-saw jazz” and “get-fresh flow.” He was not any genre, but every genre. He was not from any era, but every era. He was acoustic, electric and remixed. The way he moved and grooved was completely original. Beck was a hipster Prince, credited with playing 16 instruments on Odelay: four kinds of guitar and few that sounded made-up: clavinet, moog synthesizer, rhumba box and echoplex — and two turntables and a microphone.  Key tracks | “Where It’s At,” “Devil’s Haircut,” “The New Pollution”

Producers | The Dust Brothers, Beck  Label | DGC  Released | June 18, 1996

10. THE PREDATOR (1992) Ice Cube

Ice Cube’s reportage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, released seven months after four LAPD officers were acquitted for use of excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King, which was videotaped and watched by everyone in the country. Offenders are name-checked, warnings dispensed:

People wanna know how come
I got a gat and I’m lookin out the window like Malcolm
Ready to bring that noise
Kinda trigger happy like the Geto Boys
April 29th was power to the people
And we might just see a sequel

Since 1992, there have been riots or civil unrest in response to the murder of unarmed African American men by police officers in St. Petersburg, Fla., Cincinnati, Oakland, Anaheim, Brooklyn, Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Charlotte and on and on. “I’ve given so many warnings,” Ice Cube says in “Fuck ’Em.”  Key tracks | “It Was a Good Day,” “Wicked”

Producers | DJ Pooh, Sir Jinx  Label | Lench Mob  Released | November 17, 1992


Sweet Soul Music: Voices from the Shadows (1992) Peter Guralnick, who wrote the definitive soul history Sweet Soul Music, curates his favorite lost treasures — songs by Solomon Burke, Laura Lee and more.

Risque Rhythm: Nasty 50s R&B (1991) A collection of bawdy blues songs, every title a double entendre, every lyric an invitation to bump, each instrumental flourish a command to grind.


The Best That I Could Do 1978-1988 (1997) John Mellencamp. Jim Miller (Newsweek, 1986): “Mellencamp has pulled off an almost impossible feat: he has taken some of the most elementary facets of old-fashioned rock — its romance, its implicit promise that any kid can make his mark, its youthful air of adventure — and made them seem brand new.”

The Immaculate Collection (1990) Madonna. 73 minutes, 17 tracks, nine No. 1 hits, including the new release “Justify My Love.” So good, so consistent, so catchy that it nearly fulfills the album title’s proclamation.

Gold: Greatest Hits (1992) ABBA. Released in 1992 and five times since. From Muriel’s Wedding to Mama Mia, from “Dancing Queen” to “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anni-Frid remain timeless.

The Ultimate Collection (1997) Jr. Walker & the All-Stars. The most underappreciated and raucous of all the great Motown acts, Junior Walker was a saxman first, singer second and truly sui generis.


Whenever We Wanted (1991) and Human Wheels (1993). John Mellencamp

Doggystyle (1993). Snoop Doggy Dogg

The Spaghetti Incident? (1993) Guns N’ Roses

Ill Communication (1994). Beastie Boys

Say It Live and Loud: Live in Dallas 08.26.68 (1998). James Brown

On How Life Is (1999). Macy Gray

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