Ten Great Songs from 1991

What? No Nirvana?

This Mortal Coil: Late Night This is the kind of thing that's sometimes called "deceptively simple", but what's that to mean anyway? Simple in a deceiving way? I guess what people often mean is that something is only seemingly simple, as in "Merton's anomie theory looks simple at first, but is actually pretty complicated". (And that's a fair point.) Maybe even more often people use it when they want to articulate that something, albeit simple, is cultured enough for their refined tastes. But what's wrong with simple? "Tutti Frutti" was simple, and so is this song, which doesn't sound like Little Richard at all.

Dinosaur jr.: How'd You Pin That One on Me? "Their songs explode," said Thurston Moore. He was right, too.

Matthew Sweet: I've Been Waiting On the same (very good) album (called Girlfriend) was a song called "Winona", which was generally understood to be called that because of Winona Ryder. That's because it was generally understood that Matthew Sweet had a crush on her. And then Sould Asylum, whose lead singer (name escapes me right now) was Winona Ryder's boyfriend at the time, booked Matthew Sweet as a supporting act for their tour. I would like to have been there.

Pixies: Letter to Memphis Once read a review of a Pixies best of album the first sentence of which went something like, "Let's get this straight right away: There were the Beatles and then there were the Sex Pistols and then there were the Pixies." At least the Sex Pistols should be blushing, I think.

Throwing Muses: Not Too Soon Some works of art aren't just great, they also make you me think that the people responsible are genuinely nice. This is one of them.

Sting: Mad about You Yeah, I know, after the great music revolution people who like Sting will be first against the wall. Well, fuck you.

Massive Attack: Unfinished Sympathy It's not trip-hop. It's not soul. It's "Unfinished Sympathy". A stand-alone song, really.

U2: Ultra Violet Strange Relationship: U2 and Me is not the title of my upcoming book, but a good summary of this: I actively dislike most of U2's pre-1990 stuff, think their 1991 Achtung Baby is one of the great albums in the history of pop, really like their follow-up Zooropa and am bored by everything that followed. "One" is an even better song from the album, but you've all heard it more than once, so here's the not-quite-as-brilliant-but-quite-brilliant "Ultra Violet".

Elvis Costello: Couldn't Call It Unexpected No.4 It's a waltz and it's really good and I have no more to say.

John Cale: Hallelujah Leonard Cohen's own version of this great composition of his is rather poor, so many people recommend the Jeff Buckley one instead. Buckley's version is very good, but John Cale's is one of the great, say, 100 recordings in the history of pop music. Dignity!

Summary: 1991 was a very good year for music.

If you use the player below, some songs are going to be faded out after 30 seconds. To avoid this problem, go here and click on the "play" icon next to the first song to start the playlist.

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