Note: All information below is based on my notes from my History of Rock course. The songs found at the bottom will be competing in our “Most Influential Rock Song of all Time” (MIRST) tournament, which will begin here at LivingTheDream.org on Sunday, August 18th.
It is difficult to truly latch on to historical importance of any given incident within 25 years of today. However, this represents a best shot at what constituted a continuation of trends studied in the 80s. The first and foremost musical trend to be noted is the rise of alternative rock. Altrock itself was catalyzed by the success of Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991) but that in turn took pages from REM’s Document (1987.) The key takeaway here is the transition from college rock radio to mainstream. In the midst of the popularity of alternative rockers in this era (including Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots, and Smashing Pumpkins among others) is the perennial question of “selling out.”
Indie rock continues to thrive under the belly of the FM rock hits. The College Music Journal justifies the lo-fi movement of making music without making money- including Pavement, Guided By Voices, and Elliot Smith. Merge Records grabs hold of these opportunities in college radio with bands like Superchunk, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Magnetic Fields. Finally, noise pop continues to thrive on the backs of Yo La Tengo and My Bloody Valentine, arising from influences like The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. Alt-country starts as a genre, and the leaders here are Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, and most importantly, Beck.
Metal sees a mixing with alternative sounds as well as rap styles in the 90s. Rage Against The Machine is perhaps the best example of this, but also notable are Korn, Limp Bizkit, System Of A Down, and Kid Rock. An industrial rock style arises simultaneously, blending electronic options with live performances- see Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.
90s Hip Hop increases use of digital sampling and also sees the rise of the West Coast versus East Coast wars- i.e., Death Row Records and Suge Knight on the West Coast versus Bad Boy Records and Sean Combs on the East. Eminem’s rise to prominence at the end of the 90s signaled a new direction for rap out of the deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, facilitating a more pacifistic return for rap.
Classic Rock continues to chart big- the music scene is so saturated at this point that it is hard to parse out a given strategy for any band to make it to the top. Older musicians retain popularity in the 90s via a resurged and focused appreciation of older music (the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame opens in Cleveland in 1995, the Experience Music Project opens in Seattle in 200.)
New Rock Traditions are seen in the work of bands like Phish in continuing the “play live, make it new” style first scene in psychedelic San Fran groups in the late 60s. British pop continues to emulate innovative trends from that era as well with bands more directly emulating The Beatles (Oasis) as well as new sounds experimenting with approaches reminiscent of late 60s McCarthy/Lennon work (Radiohead.) New bands continue with old styles and achieve great success, including Hootie & The Blowfish as well as Sheryl Crow- no deviation from earlier songwriter work with them but still charting high.
Female songwriters bring the opening from 80s female artists into a new position of guitar with sincerity. Preceded by artists including Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Tracy Chapman, and Kate Bush, these artists include Tori Amos, The Indigo Girls, Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, and Alanis Morissette. A number of female songwriters take the indie route with great success under the cuff: Liz Phair, Ani DiFranco, and Sleater-Kinney.
The teen idols model reemerges in the late 90s, perhaps precipitated by the success of Boyz II Men revitalizing Motown at the start of the decade. Lou Pearlman starts assembling boy bands like Backstreet Boys and N Sync, while the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera see success on the female side.
Last but not least, electronic dance music surges as a notable trend in this decade. Reminiscent of disco motivations, the DJ is tasked with keeping people dancing for as long as possible. The rave culture firms as an option for the youth party scene. Orbital, Moby, Prodigy, and The Chemical Brothers.
We’ll do a bonus post on the 2000’s based on input from regular LTD contributors- as we have 994 great selections from Professor Covach and want to make it an even 1024 to start! Look for that tomorrow!