1995 was a big year for me and for music. It was my first full year out of college, my first full year in NYC and my last full year before I met my future wife. I spent half the year living and working on the Upper East Side and the last half in the East Village, where I really fell in love with New York. Though I didn’t have a ton of spare change, I used what little I had left over from paying rent and going out to buy as many cd’s (new and used but mostly used) from the plethora of great stores in walking distance to me. “Norman’s Sound & Vision”, “Sounds”, “Kim’s Video” & “Accidental Music” were four of the biggest ones. I was in heaven! But trying to play catch up with music of the past sometimes took precedent over current music. The stuff I was actually listening to at the time- Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, Elastica, Foo Fighters, Chili Peppers, Green Day, Everclear, Sonic Youth & Rancid were typically your bigger name alt-rock groups of the time- selling in fairly large to very large quantities and garnering tons of MTV airplay- even if only on “120 Minutes”. Looking back at ’95, some of those bands still rank among my faves for the year, but in retrospect Britpop, Lo-fi, Radiohead, Trip-hop, techno & Jungle, alt-country, & the Wu-Tang Clan seem just as much or much greater and more important.
Britpop, in particular, seemed to rule the roost in ’95. So many of the best bands of the mid 90’s were British, even if they were considered outside the Britpop genre. The early 90’s Nirvana-led grunge revolution had led to a temporary period where radio stations began playing much more interesting music and major record labels signed up many left of center bands, hoping that one of them would stick and become “the next Nirvana”. By ’95, there was a post-grunge nadir, where most of the bands on the radio were 2nd wave imitators, rather than the real thing- corporate driven, rather than having something unique to say. The most interesting bands were across the pond in Britain. As anyone who lived through it and was reading music magazines at the time remembers, the big thing in ’95 was Blur vs. Oasis. In America Blur was an afterthought who had one minor hit in the early 90’s (There’s No Other Way), but they were absolutely enormous in Britain. Their lyrics and sound were Brit-centric like late 60’s Kinks so you had to be some kind of an anglophile to “get” them. Though not into them at the time I consider them to be one of the very best bands of the nineties. They were art school kids with a high level of creativity and a bit of pretention, which held them in direct opposition of the working class, more immediate, and anthemic Oasis. Blur’s “Country House” single and “Great Escape” album were certainly big and very, very good but Oasis won out in 1995 with their “What’s the Story Morning Glory” album with a handful of great singles- two of which “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova” (though not a single in Britain) also broke huge in the U.S. Outside of the big two, there was also Pulp’s “Different Class”, which contains the anthem “Common People”, another defining track of the time. The snotty, young, punkish band Supergrass released their great debut album “I Should Coco”. Elastica released their self-titled debut and other groups like the Verve and Ash were active as well. Though certainly not considered Britpop, the mighty Radiohead released their first great album “The Bends”, which showed them to be much more than a one hit wonder and effectively started their own one band genre. They may not have sold the most records over the last two decades, but they very likely carry the title of the world’s most important and best rock band during that time. PJ Harvey, who also very much stood alone outside of all genres, released her third straight great album “To Bring You My Love”
Britain was also responsible for a great share of the awesome dance music at the time. Bjork’s “Post”, Tricky’s “Maxinquaye” and Goldie’s series of 12” singles and first album “Timeless” all helped redefine club, house, trip-hop & jungle music, while The Chemical Brothers with their debut album “Exit Planet Dust” and the Prodigy with their second album “Music For a Jilted Generation” (released earlier in Britain but in ’95 in the U.S.) helped to define what would become electronica and big beat. Black Grape, a later offshoot of the uber-popular late 80’s/early 90’s rave rock band the Happy Mondays released their debut “It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah” as well. Though it would take another year and the release of the “Trainspotting” movie and soundtrack, techno band Underworld also released the great track “Born Slippy (NUXX)” on a b-side in ’95. To me it may be the ultimate techno anthem every recorded.
In the U.S. rock world, things may not have been as prolific as in the earlier part of the decade but they were hardly bleak. Rancid’s 2nd album “…And Out Come the Wolves” and Green Day’s “Insomniac”, the following up to the massive 1994 album “Dookie”, kept things going in the pop punk realm and though the major first wave grunge bands were either over or between records, the Smashing Pumpkins released their double album opus “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”, as good a marker to the end of an era as any. Washington D.C. post-hardcore group Fugazi released the excellent “Red Medicine”, their last record (for awhile) in an incredible run starting in the late 80’s. More cultish, purely indie groups like Yo La Tengo, Chavez, Archers of Loaf, Pavement and Guided By Voices continued to thrive. GBV released the awesome “Alien Lanes” one of the best albums of their career. Alanis Morrissette’s breakthrough album “Jagged Little Pill” was one of the biggest selling albums of the year and though much of it sounds very dated now, the lead single “You Oughta Know” still rules and is a defining 90’s track. The album helped jumpstart the female centric Lilith Fair movement for better or for worse. Many of the artists were of the acoustic singer songwriter variety. Some were excellent and made inspiring music, some not so much. The great Uncle Tupelo, said to have spearheaded in the alternative country movement in the U.S. in the early 90’s (though others including me think it started sometime in the mid 80’s) had broken up and split into two band- Wilco, led by Jeff Tweedy and Son Volt, led by Jay Farrar, who was the principle singer and songwriter in Tupelo. Though Son Volt’s debut “Trace” was solid, Wilco’s “AM” was even better and would be the first of many in a long, illustrious career still going today. Minneapolis’s Jayhawks, another early alt-country pioneer, released the third album- the excellent “Tomorrow the Green Grass” containing the mid crossover hit “Blue”. In a much weirder, folkier and left of center vein, the eccentric indie musician Will Oldham released “Viva Last Blues” under the moniker ‘Palace Music’, which is thought to be one of the crowning achievements of his long career. Country musician Steve Earle, released his second comeback album “Train A-Coming”. He had been releasing albums since 1986’s “Guitar Town” and to me is truly one of alt-country’s originators.
R&B music was the pits in the mid 90’s. The airwaves were littered with phony Boyz II Men style boy bands singing syrupy, overproduced songs- each one more puke-worthy than the last. There are several exceptions to every rule, including sexy party jams like Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me” and Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It”. The biggest exception was D’Angelo, whose debut album “Brown Sugar”, was very likely the album to kickstart the neo soul movement. Another group who I really disliked in the mid 90’s were R&B/Rap group Bone Thugs N’Harmony. I don’t know what I was thinking back then but I just downloaded two of their most well known tracks (“Tha Crossroads” & “1st Of Tha Month”) and they smacked me in the face with awesomeness- a totally unique group, which I look forward to checking out more in the future.
Rap music, on the other hand, was in a great place until the East Coast vs. West Coast rift got completely out of hand and two of the world’s biggest starts, The Notorious B.IG. & Tupac Shakur eventually wound up dead. But in ’95 Biggie was riding high off the success of his “Ready to Die” debut releasing huge singles like “One More Chance/Stay With Me” and “Player’s Anthem” and “Get Money” with Junior MAFIA. Tupac’s “Me Against the World” was his biggest and best album yet and helped catapult him to true rap stardom and made him a household name in American culture at large. The Wu-Tang Clan totally dominated the landscape. Members Raekwon with “Only Built for Cuban Linx” and GZA/Genius with “Liquid Swords” were the year’s best rap albums and two of the best of the gangsta rap era. Wu’s Method Man released his biggest single with Mary J. Blige with “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By” and the crazy Ol’ Dirty Bastard released his debut album “Return to the 36 Chambers” which included standout singles “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”. In Queens Mobb Deep released the gangsta rap classic debut “The Infamous” which included their signature cut “Shook Ones Pt. II”. The year also produced some great one hit wonders like Luniz “I Got 5 On It” & Skee-Lo’s I Wish” as well as the Pharcyde’s second album which included the great track “Drop” & Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob’s debut album “Soul Food”, a southern rap classic. Along with fellow Atlanta group, Outkast, Memphis groups UGK & Three-Six Mafia & the Miami trap rappers and the New Orleans No Limit roster, they would help spur the “Dirty South” movement, which would come to dominate the rap landscape in the oughts.
Buy Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2 (Gold Edition Deluxe) – Raekwon
Buy Only Built 4 Cuban Linx [Explicit] Amazon
D’ANGELO- BROWN SUGAR