Music in the 1990s


Music in the 1990s was truly inspired. So many great, timeless songs were written and recorded by so many different types of artists, it’s impossible to list.

Every other week a new genre popped up. First it was Alternative, then SkaPunk, then Fusion, then RapRock — you get the idea. Musicians were blending styles like never before, aided by the affordability of digital recording equipment that could now operate in the artists’ homes.

Pop still sold strong. Country did well. Rap and hip-hop exploded. Industrial went mainstream. Even electronic music came to the forefront. I mean, if David Bowie does a drum n bass record you know it’s popular.

There was a rebirth of creativity and inspiration in the early to mid-90s. Much of music had gotten stale and old and a new, younger crop of musicians burst onto the scene and took control. Generation X was born.

Slowly electronics and orchestral elements crept back into the music that had been stripped down so much. The music got very interesting and became the basis for what most music sounds like today.

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Music engineers got really good in the 1990s. Being able to cut and paste sound files gave song writers and engineers and entirely new way of looping and constructing recorded music.

Let’s just break it down year by year! I’ll highlight important events, concerts, sales and artists. If you read all the way through this you will feel like you just took a trip through the decade. Just don’t blame us for the boy bands that eventually took over the 2000s. 🙂

Music in 1991

In 1991, a new method for ranking top-selling music albums was used. The rankings were based on actual retail store sales using bar code data opposed to telephone or fax reports, which could be be manipulated.

In respose to the Persian Gulf War, Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and Lenny Kravitz resurrected John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” The song, recorded by a number of artists listed as the Peace Choir, was released on January 15, the UN’s deadline for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait.

Some concerts were just plain dangerous. Three fans were crushed to death at an AC/DC concert IN Salt Lake City and rioting destroyed a Guns N’ Roses concert in St. Louis after Axl Rose dove into the crowd during “Rocket Queen” to punch a dude with a camera (see video).

The rock n roll scene was still dominated by arena rock. Motely Crue, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Queensryche, Extreme, U2, Skid Row and Metallica all were selling strong.

Nirvana was beginning to catch on as well, but hadn’t quite taken over the entire music industry just yet.

Solo artists did well. Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Seger, Prince and Bryan Adams all sold a ton of albums.

Phil Collins was the Record of the Year Grammy Award for “Another Day in Paradise.”

Best new artist in 1991? Mariah Carey.

Garth knows you loved him in 1991

Garth knows you loved him in 1991

Garth Brooks owned country music that year. His third album, Ropin’ the Wind, was the first country album ever to debut at number one.

Hip-hop and rap was gaining unprecedented popularity. Ice Cube & Ice-T both scored motion picture roles. N.W.A and Public Enemy had top-selling albums. “Can’t Truss It” was one of my favorite songs back then.

Natalie Cole covered her dad’s song “Unforgettable.” It was pretty sweet. Amy Grant even hit it big with “Baby Baby.”

Paul Simon held a free concert in NYC’s Central Park on August 15 in front of an astonishing 750,000 people.

“EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!” That’s right, 1991 gave us C&C Music Factory. What an awesome year.

Music in 1993

In 1993, Many music stores revolted against high CD prices by selling used CDs. The music industry saw this as a conflict of interest and threatened to withhold advertising dollars from any dealers who sold used CDs.

Controversy over lyrics and graphics continued to create headlines in 1993. I remember one day when my grandma asked me to promise never to listen to Ice-T’s “Cop Killer” because my grandpa was a cop.

Photo of the In Utero back album cover without effects

Photo of the In Utero back album cover without effects

The back cover of Nirvana’s album In Utero showed human fetuses, so K-Mart and Wal-Mart refused to carry it. The highly anticipated follow up album to 1991’s Nevermind debuted at number one in September.

BET imposed a month-long ban on videos with gun images to protest violence in the African-American community.

Cypress Hill, whose album Sunday debuted at number one in July, drew media attention for their pro-marijuana stance.

Michael Jackson’s 1993 started well as he performed the Super Bowl halftime show in January. His overseas tour drew even more attention than usual after the singer was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy. He canceled the remaining stops on his tour in November, claiming he was addicted to pain medication.

In April, Prince announced his retirement from studio recording and changed his name in June to a symbol for which there is no word, representing male and female unity.

Meat Loaf enjoyed a huge and unexpected comeback in 1993 with his hit song “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)”.

“Alternative” rock bands, whose name comes from not being mainstream, became mainstream. The shift occurred as album rock radio stations shifted from the long ruling 60s and 70s rock mainstays to the younger, harder guitar-based bands.

Bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Blind Melon, Soul Asylum and Alice in Chains led the way along with top dogs Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The latter’s album Vs. debuted at number one and had to be one of the most eagerly anticipated albums in rock history.

Garth Brooks returned to his position at the top when his album In Pieces debuted in August at the top of the pop album charts. Other popular country artists in 1993 include Billy Ray Cyrus, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Vince Gill and Wynonna.

Softer sounding music received a boost when MTV introduced “MTV Unplugged”, a concert where the musicians use only acoustic instruments.

Murder was the case that they gave Snoop in 1993

Murder was the case that they gave Snoop in 1993

Hardcore rap enjoyed unprecedented airplay on Top 40 and R&B radio stations in 1993. Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Onyx and Naughty by Nature all rose to prominence in the music scene.

Rappers were in frequent trouble with the law in 1993. Tupac Shakur was accused of shooting two off-duty police officers. Flavor Flav was arrested and charged with attempted murder after allegedly shooting a neighbor. Snoop Doggy Dogg got into the mix too after he was charged with murder in the August 25th shooting of a Los Angeles man.

And let’s close out 1993 with one of the most horrific songs ever made. Snow’s Informer was just plain terrible, but every middle schooler loved it for a couple weeks.


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Last modified: Sep 07, 2015 | Written by Paul Phipps