Top 20 Albums Of 1990

We've done the '80s, so we're turning our attention to the '90s!

For this week's Ranked!, we decided to rank our twenty favorite albums released in 1990. Did we get it right? Let us know in the comments.

20. The London Quireboys, A Bit Of What You Fancy

A Bit Of What You Fancy was the debut album from The Quireboys, or The London Quireboys as they were known in the U.S. It was a dozen hard-rockin' tunes that came out during the last dying days of hair metal. The Quireboys had a bluesy feel to them, not unlike Cinderella, but sounding closer at times to Faces. Some of the best songs on the album were "7 O'Clock," "Sweet Mary Ann," "Hey You," and "I Don't Love You Anymore," a ballad that still kicks ass.--Chris

19. Various Artists, Pretty Woman Soundtrack

My mom was pretty strict about me being the right age to see movies so when Pretty Woman came out with its hookers and R rating, my mom firmly said no. Then I went to visit a good friend who'd moved to Omaha and HER mom said, "Shh, don't tell your mom." And then kinda regretted that during the sex on the piano scene. Every girl I knew ran to grab that soundtrack. With the title song and an epic Roxette song, it was in pretty heavy rotation at my house for a good long time.--Archphoenix

18. Warrant, Cherry Pie

If you were doing a term paper on hair metal (shut up, it could happen) and were looking to find a video that truly represented the genre, you'd be hard pressed to find a better example than the video to Warrant's "Cherry Pie." The video, starring Bobbie Brown (who has been in numerous hair band videos), showed the band acting goofy, dressed in the uniform of the day: spandex, leather, and bandannas. Bot the video and song were blatantly sexual unapologetically dumb. And freaking awesome. R.I.P. Jani Lane. R.I.P. hair metal.--Chris

17. Wilson Phillips, Wilson Phillips

This is one of those albums that people are ashamed to admit they like but you know what? You shouldn't be ashamed. This album made Wilson Phillips the best-selling female group of all time. It spawned three #1 songs. And it had three talented young women who were the daughters of some pretty amazing musicians (Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and John & Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas). They had the pedigree, the vocal talent, and I still think Chynna's short hair is one of the cutest hair cuts ever. This album rocks, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.--Archphoenix

16. Green Day, 39/Smooth

You can almost hear the highway rumbling overhead in the background of 39/Smooth, Green Day’s quickly recorded debut album. But you can also hear something special in the works. Songs like "Rest" and "Going To Pasalaqua" display a melodic sensibility quite advanced for a bunch of high school kids. "I Was There" is so much fun to sing that it will never leave your head, while "16" holds up a mirror to teenage life and makes the crazy things it finds there better. When you start out that well, it’s not hard to imagine selling out stadiums later.--Amanda

15. Alice In Chains, Facelift

Facelift is the kind of glorious noise that really good speakers were made for. Nothing scrubs away frustration like the wah wah wah-wah of "Man In The Box" and its explosive chorus. This is what rock is supposed to be: growling and unapologetic. Just listen to the perfectly ominous intro to "Bleed The Freak." Layne Staley's voice is a force unto itself, arresting and powerful. The overall effect is like a freight train, one you'd gladly jump on in the middle of the night. Facelift deserves more credit than it's often given for blowing the doors off grunge. Even without the stratospheric success of Nevermind, it made a commanding case for a new musical world order.--Amanda

14. Soul Asylum, And The Horse They Rode In On

And The Horse They Rode In On follows the contemplative tradition of The Replacements and Husker Du, with a lighter touch. It's always a good listen. In a neat trick, it keeps you going with the steady tick of the drums in "Nice Guys (Don't Get Paid)," but it also makes you turn over questions like If I lost my mind, would you help me find it? Just for the sake of it, not to gain profound insight into the world. There's a calm beneath the driving beat. In a YouTube clip from the unreleased documentary "Something Out Of Nothing," at the end of a jam session Dan Murphy says "interesting." In a word, And The Horse They Rode In On is exactly that.--Amanda

13. Bad Religion, Against The Grain

Against the Grain reads like a Bad Religion hit list. "Faith Alone," "21st Century Digital Boy," and "God Song" are particular standouts. As always, there is plenty of incisive social commentary. "Digital Boy" sums up the state of the modern world: I don't know how to read but I got a lot of toys. It's spooky how accurate that description continues to be. "Walk Away" captures the frustration of being unable to escape responsibility, and falling back instead into the same old routine. It's not a pretty picture. But the thing about Bad Religion is that even when they're singing about things being a total mess, they can always be counted on to make sense. It's reassuring to see them keep their heads above the chaos.--Amanda

12. Concrete Blonde, Bloodletting

This was my favorite album of 1990. Concrete Blonde was one of my favorite bands (lead singer Johnette Napolitano was our very first interview at Culture Brats) and I have always felt that Napolitano had one of the most powerful voices in rock. Bloodletting was Concrete Blonde's crown jewel. There were a lot of different styles going on in this album from the spooky and eerie "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)" to the punk of "The Sky Is a Poisonous Garden." While everyone knows "Joey," my favorite track is the album's closer, "Tomorrow, Wendy," a hauntingly beautiful song about AIDS that showcases each band member's strengths. These guys should've been huge.--Chris

11. Garth Brooks, No Fences

There was a time back in the early '90s when there was but a thin membrane between mainstream country and mainstream rock, thanks in large part to the unstoppable juggernaut that was Garth Brooks. "Huge" wasn't a big enough word to describe him at the time, and despite my deep and abiding love for paint-peeling rock and roll, No Fences absolutely sucked me in. Blame for this can be laid squarely on "Friends In Low Places," a ridiculously catchy sing-along that seemed to strike a chord with every man who'd ever raised a bottle of beer to his lips. With that as the gateway drug, I soon found myself taking line-dancing lessons at bars in State Line, ID (known mainly for its motor speedway and "massage parlors") and (briefly) adopting a rather silly twang. Every once in a while I'll still catch "The Thunder Rolls" or "Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House" on my iPod and be transported back to those hard-partying days, and am reminded that the chasm between country and rock--both musically and in personality--isn't quite as wide as we might think.--CroutonBoy

10. George Michael, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1

George Michael's blatant bid to be taken seriously caught a few people by surprise in 1990. After all, this was the guy whose ass was shaking all over MTV three years earlier, and a collection of moody, thoughtful songs wasn't what people were lining up to buy. Remove the weight of expectations, though, and Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 reveals itself to be a mature and rewarding album, and revealed George Michael to be (surprisingly) the artist he wanted everyone to think he was. There are lots of sophisticated and enjoyable songs here, but let's cut to the chase: if this album had one song, and that one song was "Freedom '90," it would still make the list. It's an absolutely glorious piece of pop (and an incredibly sexy video) that is both pleading and defiant, with an infectious groove that just won't stop. It turned out to be his last album until 1996, but damn what a way to go out.--CroutonBoy

9. Depeche Mode, Violator

When it comes to music, I have ADD. Whoever it is that invented the shuffle function, you're my personal Jesus. But Violator is one of the few albums I will listen to in its entirety. It blends a kind of '80s synth vibe with a darker, more '90s electronic sound and is just a fantastic album from start to finish.--Archphoenix

8. LL Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out

This album was the first hip hop album I ever purchased. I grabbed it for the title track because come on, it's awesome. But I actually really dug the whole album. There's a ton of Rick James samples, some smooth lyrics, and an amazing live performance on MTV with a full band that made LL Cool J a pretty unique artist.--Archphoenix

7. Jon Bon Jovi, Blaze Of Glory

A whole album of cowboy-inspired songs from the man who gave us "Wanted Dead or Alive" should have sold seventeen trillion copies. It didn't. But it did win a Golden Globe and was nominated for both a Grammy and an Oscar. This album was a little over-the-top with all the cowboy imagery, church choirs, and Jon Bon Jovi's emoting, but it was also pretty badass. Favorite tracks: "Billy Get Your Guns," "Blaze Of Glory," "Blood Money," and my personal favorite, "Never Say Die."--Chris

6. Public Enemy, Fear Of A Black Planet

While Fear Of A Black Planet doesn't receive as many accolades as Public Enemy's previous album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, that doesn't mean it doesn't kick ass. While this album is probably best known for Flav's "911 Is A Joke," it also boasted heavy hitters like "Welcome To The Terrordome," "Burn Hollywood Burn," and "Fight The Power," Public Enemy's greatest song and the one that pretty much served as the entire soundtrack to Spike Lee's equally explosive Do The Right Thing.--Chris

5. Paul Simon, Rhythm Of The Saints

I have so many fond memories of this album, but the thing I like the most about this album, beyond its terrific sound, is the fact that it's an album I listened to with my dad. He taught at my high school so I had to go in to school insanely early every morning since he was my ride. And we had a tradition of starting many days off with this album. He'd pop it in to his work computer and would crank up the volume. The drums at the opening of "Obvious Child" just rang down the empty school hallway at 6 something in the morning. Later that year, my dad programmed a computer to play "Can't Run But." He was a super geek and was doing it for some nerd conference or something. But he chose that song because it was off our album, and that's something that's stuck with me since he passed away from cancer at far too young an age. So yeah, I'm a pretty big fan of this album.--Archphoenix

4. The Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker

I like to think of Shake Your Money Maker as the last great classic rock album. I was listening to a lot of classic rock back in 1990, the dial of my boombox permanently set to the KKZX, the local station. The Black Crowes seemed to emerge fully-formed as a whisky-soaked bar band, steeped in the blues with a sound that would be perfectly at home on an early '70s Stones album. In other words, it felt like classic rock long before it ever became classic rock. It was an album all of my friends could agree upon (a rarity, trust me) and every riff and lyric to "She Talks To Angels," "Jealous Again," and "Hard to Handle" was duly memorized and recited--loudly--when we took our frequent study breaks. It was a tremendous declaration of purpose, a sincere embrace of rock's heritage repackaged for a new generation, and a stone-cold classic.--CroutonBoy

3. Social Distortion, Social Distortion

Social Distortion was when Social Distortion really found their sound. It's more focused than Prison Bound, and the major label recording budget shows. Everything sounds sharper and stronger. "Ball And Chain" finds a way to sing past the boozy blues, carrying with it a sense of hope that runs through the whole album. "Sick Boys" is unexpectedly catchy and the crashing chord at the end of "So Far Away" delivers. The melodies come through clearer as the stories gather detail. Social Distortion is the foundation of pretty much every SD album since. There are echoes of it anywhere you care to look. Some things bear repeating.--Amanda

2. Jane's Addiction, Ritual De Lo habitual

What the hell were these guys doing on MTV? That's what I kept asking myself every time I saw the video for "Been Caught Stealin'," which was my first real exposure to the weird genius that is Jane's Addiction. A frenetic, blistering plate of awesome, Ritual De Lo Habitual was like being caught in the center of a twister if the twister were made of angular guitar antics and dogs barking. That makes it sounds like it's just a cacophony of noise, but in reality Perry Farrell and the band know how to write great pop tunes, and the yelps, multi-layered chords, and propulsive rhythm coalesce into a hell of a batch of songs. "Stop!" kicks the doors wide open, and "No One's Leaving" grabs the baton and runs with it. But the album smoothes out over its latter half, with songs like "Then She Did" and "Classic Girl," whose beauty predict some of the great slow-burn songs of the grunge era. Ritual De Lo Habitual was ahead of its time, yet has lost none of its punch in the years that have passed.--CroutonBoy

1. They Might Be Giants, Flood

I think it was Neal Pollack who once said that They Might Be Giants is the only band whose audience keeps getting younger every year. That generation-bridging appeal first took root on their masterpiece, Flood, perhaps the most successful blend of hipness and dorkiness in cultural history. Effortlessly retro and endlessly catchy, Flood made it OK for college students to bounce back and forth and sing out loud like they were in preschool again. I'd even argue that they were harbingers of the Generation X aesthetic; constantly balancing on the cusp of adulthood but unwillingly to fully let go of the innocent pleasures of youth. No wonder that "Particle Man," "Birdhouse In Your Soul," and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" were among the first songs I shared with my young daughter, and have been mainstays of our impromptu dance parties ever since. (Personally, I've always been a bit partial to "Minimum Wage," but that's a level of humor she hasn't achieved yet.) I'd say more about Flood, but if you're a Culture Brats reader you probably already have an love this album, so why don't you stop what you're doing, put it on and have yourself a great time!--CroutonBoy

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