and now, back to those golden oldies … from the ’90s

Garbage  Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

In a class I was teaching at Grand Valley State University a couple of years ago, I presented a segment on rock stars who had died at age 27. I focused on Kurt Cobain, figuring my room full of 18- to 21-year-olds would relate better to the Nirvana front man than to Jim Morrison.
How wrong I was. Most of them looked at me with blank stares when I cued up “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Maybe some of them had heard the Weird Al Yankovic version but they sure didn’t know anything about Kurt Cobain. Of course not, you dope, I said to myself – these kids weren’t even born in 1991 when “Nevermind” came out. Kurt Cobain meant about as much to them as Tony Bennett.
With Nirvana’s recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, signifying 25 years since the release of their first recording, the point was brought home to boomers like me: The ‘90s are no longer a modern decade. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is now an oldie.
Think about it. If you were 15 in 1967, digging Sgt. Pepper, the Stones and the Doors, an oldie was a record by Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly from the 1950s. A song 25 years old would have been recorded in 1942. We’re talking Glenn Miller and Dinah Shore.
This does not compute. I just can’t think of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as in the same category as “In the Mood.” But generationally speaking, there we are.
The ’90s, despite giving us the first Iraq War and the rise of Newt Gingrich, also revived rock. The Seattle grunge scene brought back the electric guitar from those cheesy ’80s synths and drum machines. So in an attempt to put the ‘90s in their proper perspective and my mind in a sunny mood, I hereby offer a few of my golden oldies from the decade of we-didn’t-know-how-good-we-had-it:

“One of Us” by Joan Osborne: I swoon over the grinding guitars and Joan’s soulful voice contemplating God as a slob on the bus. Even if she no longer sings it, my band the Honeytones does, so there!
“1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins: A groove that hooks me like a pike in Lake Superior and pulls me along for a 4-minute thrill ride. Billy Corgan’s rat-in-a-cage snarl is under control in the service of a gloriously transcendent chorus.
“Stupid Girl” by Garbage: An early bit of sweet nastiness from the decade’s best band. They’ve never been huge, but fans of the mesmerizing Shirley Manson and co. will never understand why.
“Basket Case” by Green Day: The definition of irresistible. Punk purists sneer that Billie Joe and the boys sold out with this full-throttle joy ride of adolescent angst. Poppycock. It was just so damn good that lots of people liked it. Horrors!
“Follow You Down” by the Gin Blossoms: A three-minute trip to jangle heaven. If you don’t smile at this song you need regression therapy, back to the days when all you needed was a sweet tune on the radio to make you feel on top of the world.
“Breakout” by the Foo Fighters: Not one of their better-known songs but certainly one of the best with which to bang the head. They come no cooler than Dave Grohl, who can scream with the best of them while gamely playing the dork on video.
“She’s So High” by Tal Bachman: He seemed to have learned some nice licks from his father, Randy, but it’s Tal’s gorgeous falsetto that lets him get away with hitting notes as high as the ledge from which the winged damsel leaps. Whatever happened to this guy anyway?
And now for two entries from our guest star John Sinkevics, my bandmate and maestro of the music blog
“Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.: Perhaps the perfect R.E.M. single, a brilliantly compelling nugget that not only represented the heart, soul and sound of one of the era’s most important rock bands, but also struck a chord with mainstream audiences, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard 100 — their highest charting U.S. hit. And to think it featured a mandolin …
“Smooth” by Santana with Rob Thomas: For a few years, it seems, this song was omnipresent — on radio, TV, you name it. And it deserved that sort of treatment: It’s a unique and catchy pop tune starring an iconic guitarist and a captivating rock voice.

Hey, you know what? That was a pretty darn good decade of music. I’d love to hear what you thought of it, and what you listened to.

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7 Responses to and now, back to those golden oldies … from the ’90s

  1. Matthew Fouts says:

    “Under The Bridge” – Red Hot Chili Peppers. Blood Sugar Sex Magik is an incredible album, all great songs.

  2. Emily Hamilton-Honey says:

    Hi Dad – these are all great songs! For as much awful music as was released during the ’90s (and yes, I include every single boy band in that), there was a lot of good music. Was just listening to the Gin Blossoms the other day. “She’s So High” is a great song. For all that I don’t really like No Doubt, “Spiderwebs” is another awesome ’90s tune. Also, remember that the ’90s was the era of swing revival – The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies come to mind. Also Save Ferris, though they were really ska. 🙂

    Oh, and The Cranberries – “Linger.” Alanis. Jane’s Addiction -“Been Caught Stealing.” The Goo Goo Dolls (their new album is also really good). TLC. Cake. Counting Crows. Luscious Jackson.

    And I can’t believe you don’t have any Flaming Lips on here! You! They were never my favorite, but if memory serves you had most of their albums. 🙂

  3. Doogie says:

    interesting post. funny thing is, i used to work with high school kids a year or two ago, and they all new about and even listened to Nirvana and other rock bands or rappers from the 90s. those kids didn’t think of it as “ancient music,” and they actually thought it all sounded like the rock and rap of today. they all knew about Kurt Cobain and his suicide. the internet has made it easier for today’s kids to know about older music, so i’m really surprised the kids in your college class didn’t know who Nirvana was. therefore, i don’t know if you could compare it to teens in the late 60s not knowing about or listening to cheesy early 40s crooners like Glenn Miller or Dinah Shore. plus, although i wasn’t alive in the late 60s, i can imagine that once popular 25-year-old music sounded more ancient then, when compared to how Nirvana and other now-25-year-old artists sound today. think about it, there’s a much bigger jump culturally from Bing Crosby to Jimi Hendrix, than from Nirvana to Kings of Leon. and today’s kids who listen to “old” Nirvana and Pearl Jam can back me up on that. however, i doubt there were that many teens in the late 60s who were listening to Bing Crosby or Perry Como.

    • soulmailing says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Doogie. I can well believe your high schoolers were more clued in to Nirvana than my college class. I too was surprised by my class’ apparent ignorance of Kurt Cobain and the band, although I’m sure some of them knew more than they let on. Quite agree that comparing 90’s music to now is a much different ballgame than 40’s music was back in the Sixties. Rock and roll has become a unified canon of work going back to the late ’50s, which most music fans of any age are pretty familiar with, whereas the swing and pop of the ’30s and ’40s were very different music forms from what we listened to. I like the fact that today’s teens still dig the Beatles and Stones along with the current stuff they listen to!

  4. Doogie says:

    i agree. it’s kinda crazy to think how rock and roll really changed the popular music landscape in the 50s, and not just in America, but across the whole world. and of course, the music of the 60s took it one step further. i’ve also noticed how today’s teenagers still dig bands like the Beatles and the Stones, who were around 50 years ago! i’ve also known kids who listen to 70s or 80s music. in the 80s or 90s, i doubt many kids could have listened to, or even named, big-band artists or crooners from the 30s or 40s, which would have been 50 years before that time. 50 years ago today doesn’t seem as “old” as it did then.

    • soulmailing says:

      Righto! Bands like the Doors and artists like Hendrix are real popular with my son’s generation (twentysomethings). Last time I went to a McCartney concert there were tons of teens and young adults in the audience. Great rock remains great no matter what the generation is!

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