Monday, July 12, 2010

On the schizophrenic nature of 90s music

I watched a VH1 program the other night that counted down the top one hundred songs of the nineties, and I was suprised by the startling variety of music that was produced and popular during that decade. I was an alternative/grunge/goth/whatever music fan, and listened mostly to college radio at the time. So, I tried to miss the majority of the more mainstream stuff. A lot of the songs I loved made it onto the countdown, because this was the decade where college radio cracked the mainstream. Whatever that means.
The Number One song, as voted by the VH1 audience, was "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. No big surprise here. This song was such an anthem for disaffected, disillusioned youth, and it was HUGE in 1991-92. You couldn't escape it. I didn't want to escape it. From the first gritty guitar chords, it was like a buzzsaw cutting through all of the crap, wasn't it? I listened to that tape until I wore it out. The doomed Kurt Cobain really was our Elvis, and his early death was such a tragedy. "I feel stupid and contagious." Absolutely.

The Number Two song on the big old countdown was "One" from U2. Although it comes from
the same loosely defined genre of music as Nirvana's song, it could not be more opposite in sound or message. "One" originates from similar feelings of hurt and isolation as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" does, but, instead of wallowing in and celebrating that state, it calls for unity and strength to overcome it. "One" has been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Mary J. Blige, and has come to define U2's political and spiritual message. Whatever you might think of U2, this song is perfectly gorgeous, poetically lyrical and almost religiously sincere.

And the Number Three song? "I Want It That Way" by The Backstreet Boys. This was the boyband phenomenon at its peak. It's everything I dislike in music--slickly produced, slickly packaged, almost prechewed bubblegum romance teeny bopper music. But you know what? Zillions of people all over the globe loved this song. And when the VH1 show was over, what song was I humming? "I Want It That Way." Why? Because the song is indeed "stupid and contagious," and the hook lodges in your brain and spins over and over and over. And that is the very definition of a successful pop song right there. Along with "MMMBop" and "Wannabe." I need to put some Replacements on, and get this infectious pop up out of my head.


  1. who knew? I like this post because it gives a little definition to the person behind the blog! aren't really a crazy 80 year old cat lady or Laura, the arthritic, conservative lady who gives out stale cookies to the neighborhood kids. Hmmm, I will have to rethink the whole avatar even! Instead of one of 13 cats all spoiled and sleeping all over the furniture-this is a punk rock killer cat who actually bites you if you try to pet it.
    jk loved your post. More later

  2. Well, I'm not 80, arthritic or conservative, and I only have two cats. And I never feed the neighbor kids, because I wouldn't want them to come back. Okay, okay, I have fed the two girls next door, but they're adorable. Crazy, bitey? Sometimes!

  3. That Nirvana was
    absolutely my favorite!!!.....:D

  4. thanks for reminding me of the music in the 90s. there was a lot of music I loved....and a lot I could leave....

  5. Guilty of being the brainwashed back street boy fan and I still play it, sometimes, really loud and no, it isn't 'coz I'm deaf, not yet anyway. Big U2 fans in our house too. Don't want to dis your man but I never really got the whole grunge thing but having lived thru the late 70's, early 80's in punk London I guess I was over that whole indulgent wounded stuff, (Sorry)

    Have a great evening, T. :)

  6. Poppy, I love late 70s and early 80s punk stuff too. And I listen to Hall and Oates, on occasion! :)

  7. This is bringing back a flood of memories for me! Grunge was it when I was in college as well and I miss that genre. I was all about flannel. It is fantastic that Pearl Jam is still rockin'! I have to agree with you about One. I feel moved everytime I hear that song today since it is perfect in so many ways.