As the music world gears up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind, it’s also bears mention that there were no shortage of other magical, massive and equally mythological albums that hit stores in 1991. To celebrate the year when rock truly rocked, MTV News has been asking some of today’s biggest acts (everyone from Blink-182 to DJ Skrillex) to remember their favorite albums from that truly epic year.
So far, we’ve looked back at Metallica’s Black Album, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Dinosaur Jr.’s Green Mind, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless and Slint’s Spiderland. And now, a couple of professional music fans reminisce about two other game-changing 1991 releases: Pearl Jam’s Ten and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger:
Pearl Jam, Ten
A little more than a year after they formed from the ashes of Seattle’s Mother Love Bone — with an assist from a gas station attendant/surfer from San Diego — Pearl Jam roared to life with Ten, an album that not only ranks as a cornerstone of American rock, but one of the most successful debuts of all time. Few bands went from relative obscurity to international superstardom with the speed of Pearl Jam, a breakneck pace seemingly predicted on tracks like “Once” and “Why Go.” Of course, Eddie Vedder’s contemplative, everyman (yet otherworldly) ruminations on “Black” and “Jeremy” added depth and breadth to the sonic squall. A classic in every sense of the term, Ten remains Pearl Jam’s most popular release to this day, and the fact that the band is still going strong proves that not all overnight success stories have to come with an unhappy ending. Also, rather indirectly, it remains the greatest thing Mookie Blaylock has ever been (loosely) associated with, even better than Oklahoma’s run to the 1988 NCAA title game.
As Remembered by Amy Lee, Evanescence: “We moved from Rockford, Illinois, to Little Rock, Arkansas, when I was 13. It was really hard, you know, right at the wrong age, didn’t have any friends, didn’t know anyone, moved to a new school. It was real preppy, didn’t fit in … all that classic stuff. And, at the same time, there was some music that I was addicted to, like, needed it, and Pearl Jam’s Ten was one of those records. I had the tape … and I would listen to it, turn it over, listen to the whole other side, start it over again. All night. Like, I could just lie in bed and cry or think … that was the outlet. I love that record. I love ’Black,’ that song’s just so totally beautiful, I could listen to that one over and over. ’Alive,’ ’Jeremy,’ probably the biggest song on the record for me. That video, that kind of horrifying, childlike experience, it completely moved me and touched me. That had to be the song for me. I wore that tape out, completely. And, I remember, the [liner] had them with their hands raised, together, and I had that on my wall. … They felt like I felt, and their music described things I couldn’t say out loud. And that idea and revelation was so inspiring to me, like, I wanted to live inside the songs.”
They’d break through to the big time with the follow-up, 1994’s Superunknown, but to the purists, Badmotorfinger remains Soundgarden’s crowning achievement, a sludgy, leaden thing that channeled the bludgeon of Black Sabbath and the keening vocal pyrotechnics of a million hair-metal frontmen. And, in the process, the band created an album that was heavily indebted to the past, while still managing to forge new territory that left their grunge contemporaries (and contemporary critics) grasping at straws. Pounding, primal, precise … all the adjectives apply here, and on songs like “Rusty Cage,” “Outshined” and “Jesus Christ Pose,” they often apply at the same time.
As Remembered by Matt Pinfield, host of MTV2’s “120 Minutes”: “Badmotorfinger is such a great record, and it says a lot about the band and their songwriting, just the crazy time signatures on tracks like ’Rusty Cage’ and ’Jesus Christ Pose’ — it took balls to write a song and do a video like ’Jesus Christ Pose’ back in the day — but also, if you look at how songs like ’Outshined’ have lasted, how incredible they are as a band. Chris Cornell, one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, Kim Thayil, one of the most incredible guitar players, just dirty, sludgy, tuned-down. Ben Shepherd, a powerful bass player who plays rhythm with his bass, and, of course, Matt Cameron, one of the greatest drummers … still going strong, looks as young as he did then, playing with Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. So, I love Badmotorfinger. It’s one of the greatest albums in a year that had so many really great albums.”
Share your favorite memories of 1991’s seminal albums in the comments below!