1. Juliana Hatfield
My first introduction to Juliana Hatfield came from MTV’s Sunday night alternative video show, 120 Minutes (another favorite below). They would always show her video for “What A Life” and “My Sister.” I immediately ran out to my local record store to pick up her album Only Everything. Juliana and her work were also featured on My So-Called Life. If you’re reading this article I’m assuming that you’ve already seen at least ONE episode of this short-lived (but forever loved) 90’s television drama. Playing a homeless girl looking for a place to get warm on the Christmas episode, she performed “Make It Home” while hanging out in the music room. She gave some words of comfort to Angela who had been worried about her friend Rickie, letting her know that she was looking out for him.
Growing up, one of the things I loved most about her and her records was that she gave the impression that someone like me could pick up a guitar and actually make records. You didn’t have to have some sort of gimmicky image to write music or be a musician. She wasn’t a shining manufactured popstar, she was a normal person with a guitar who wrote great songs. It was a very powerful realization for a teenager to have. Nowadays, we still see that manufactured image splashed across our computer screens and magazines. Even the music itself has been run through various processors to sound pitch perfect. How is anyone supposed to aspire to that? I can’t compete with a copy of ProTools.
2. Hole: Live Through This
I have this love/hate relationship with Hole and Courtney Love. I’ve been reading all about her shenanigans (for better or worse) since before this record was released. I know that Live Through This still has a fair share of naysayers who, to this day, continue to bring up the point that Kurt may or may not have had something to do with the production of this record. I understand that, but I can’t bring myself to hate this record it’s been the soundtrack to several angst-ridden, angry moments of my life. This record was also my first introduction to the Riot Grrrl movement. At the time I was throwing myself into researching articles about all the bands that I loved, and Riot Grrrl was mentioned in a Hole interview I was reading. I dug deeper, only to find a TON of new bands full of amazing women (I’m looking in your direction: Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, and Bratmobile!).
Live Through This also becomes a great topic of conversation whenever I’m listening to it with friends. We easily become involved in a number of nostalgic discussions:
“Where were you when you heard Kurt Cobain died?”
“Did you even really like Courtney Love that much?”
“Remember that time we went to Lollapalooza?”
“I wish I never donated my Doc Martins and flannel to Goodwill.”
I don’t have a lot of records in my collection that have that kind of power; it’s a record from a band that people either loved or hated, but was so rooted in the 90’s that you instantly become transported back to that era whenever you hear it.
If Beavis & Butt-head was on TV, I watched it, if for nothing more than the videos they made fun of. I wasn’t a huge die-hard fan as some people were. I did however thank the cable network gods that Daria was finally given her own show.
Clearly I was (and still am) obsessed with music in the 90’s, so this show was a bit of a godsend for me. Yes, I loved Daria’s sarcasm and witty observations, but I also loved the music that was featured in the show. Its one of the things that the show did well: pick music that was able to act as a soundtrack for each episode. Just in the same way a good soundtrack can make or break a movie, every episode of Daria featured a great soundtrack to compliment it. Plus, its because of this show I became obsessed with Monaco’s “What Do You Want From Me” (Monaco: side project of Peter Hook from New Order).
More importantly, Daria represented the cross section of the teenage population that I’m sure many of you can identify with. It kind of showcased an “us versus them” mentality when it came to her interactions with adults. Not in the sense that the adults were completely clueless, but it really highlighted the changing times that teenagers were dealing with, and in a really smart way. The show didn’t talk down to its audience, but engaged them on a mutual level.
This past Christmas I actually picked up the Daria DVD collection. I’m happy to have it in my collection, but was very disappointed to realize that the rumors were true: the songs that that were in the original MTV airings were not included due the cost of securing the rights for the DVD release. I’m sure I voice the opinion of many Daria fans when I say that the series without the music isn’t the same.
I’ll start by saying that I still love most of England’s exported bands during the heyday of Britpop. Even now, I’m waiting with bated breath for a Pulp reunion date to happen somewhere near my area code. Blur? Love. Suede? Sure. But my heart beats for Elastica’s debut record. I’ve read the articles that call out the similarities to Wire and the Stranglers, and if anything, those articles have lead me to own Wire records. Elastica to me came off as just a cool band. Not angry and angsty, like Live Through This, and not as stripped down and raw as PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me; it was just a catchy blend of punk rock and new wave…and I love both of those things.
I own it on every recordable format. Why I still have it on cassette when I don’t actually own a cassette player anymore is a question I ask myself at least once a week.
At some point in the 90’s I’d realized I’d been living a lie and that I needed to become a redhead. This revelation may have been realized when I was listening to the first Garbage record, but regardless I ran out to a drug store and bought some red hair dye and never looked back. Even to this day, I don’t know any other way; I haven’t seen my natural color since 1995. Shirley Manson, was and is, my red hairspiration.
My television screen was starting to become inundated with Garbage videos for “Queer,” “Vow” and “Only Happy When It Rains,” which inspired me to purchase Garbage’s debut record. The debut had many things going for it: Electronic music (which I was slowly starting to grow to like), grunge influences (obviously), Butch Vig (amazing!), and of course, Shirley Manson. The record yielded several great singles and the band went on to release several more albums. They are currently in the works to release another.
6. 120 Minutes
I’m sure most people will recount the same experience: my favorite thing to do on a Sunday night was to record MTV’s 120 Minutes on my VCR. I ended up with several volumes of VHS tapes filled with 120 Minutes programming. I learned so much from watching this show…it was where I first discovered my love of unsung shoegaze heroes Lush (via the video “500 (Shake, Baby, Shake)” — albeit not a traditional “shoegaze” song by any means, but I celebrate their early work on a daily basis). Nowadays, its so easy to hit up your favorite music blog for new music, or search youtube for your old school favorites’ videos, but back then there was just something so special about having a Blur video, or an old school Pixies interview show up on your TV screen. You were the die-hard music fan that stayed up late on a Sunday night; you’re the one who cared enough to figure out how to actually program your VCR in order to discover new music. You wore that to work/school on Monday morning like a badge of honor.
7. Empire Records
To this day, when I hear Throwing Muses’ “Snakeface” all I can think of is Liv Tyler’s desperate attempt to seduce Rex Manning while she brought him his lunch. I then purchased this soundtrack only to find out that the Throwing Muses track wasn’t actually on it, which then leads me to purchase a Throwing Muses album. While I was purchasing University at my local record store, I also asked for an application…and then subsequently got hired.
8. The Internet in the 90’s
Once you got past that static filled AOL dial up sound you were good to go, you could go to a random chat room, work on your Geocities page, or write in your Livejournal. I enjoyed the internet in the 90’s, I listened to a number of .wav files in order to seek out new bands and yes, I admit it, I wrote in my Livejournal every once in a while. I think pop culture fandom cut its teeth on the 90’s version of the Internet. I remember visiting so many band pages on random geocities and Angelfire sites – I guess they would have been considered to be the “Wikipedia” of their day, where else would I find out the latest on my 90’s bands? I’d search out quotes, read articles, see new pictures, and learn about tour dates, all before the days of Pitchfork, all while gaining some internet friends in the process…which leads me to my next point about the 90’s:
Between my foray into zine culture and being apart of a few email-based newsgroups, the 90’s were when I perfected my skill as an awesome mixtape artist. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but “toot toot.”
Long before Spotify, and CD burners, if you wanted to share music with someone you were making a mixtape for them. For some, it went far beyond putting a blank cassette in your tape deck and hitting record and walking away. You spent hours meticulously making sure each cut of the song flowed perfectly into the next. You would sit, picking out songs from your collection that would properly showcase a bands true talent, going beyond the singles. Or spend hours just seeking out the perfect song that would express how you felt about the person you were going to give it to. Either way, you gave up an afternoon creating it, or put off countless high school assignments while you created the artwork for the cassette sleeve. Before Photoshop, you were cutting and pasting, and not on MS Paint. Every mix had an important message to send, and you knew not to hold back on the cover art.
Sadly, the last mix (or rather, playlist) I made was on Spotify. Even though it was pretty good, it just wasn’t he same.
10. Sonic Youth
When I first discovered Sonic Youth, it was like striking gold. There weren’t many people in my high school that really were as into them as much as I was, so they were a band that I could consider “my own.” Admittedly they were a little more difficult for some people to get into. The fuzzed out guitars and lazy sounding musings from Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore may not be as straightforward as some music fans would like…but I ate it up with a spoon. I remember when I first purchased Daydream Nation and heard “Teenage Riot” for the first time…it was everything I wanted in a song, and to do this day continues to be in my “Top Five Songs EVER!” list.
Daydream Nation was officially released in 1988, my very first Sonic Youth record was actually Washing Machine, which I picked up used from my local record store. By the end track one, “Becuz,” I was hooked! I’ve seen the videos for “Bull In The Heather” and “Teenage Riot” on 120 Minutes before picking up this record, and a number of bands that I already liked had namedropped Sonic Youth in interviews so assumed that this would be a band that I would be able to get into. And I was right, I haven’t looked back since purchasing that album, Even though Washing Machine was my first record, it was Daydream Nation that sealed the deal for me, I’ve been a Sonic Youth fan since then, and haven’t looked back.