Hugh Hession: Five Albums That Rocked The ’90s

On Saturday, February 11th, Rock The 90s returns to the Capitol Theatre for a night of music from the decade that gave us Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, and more! We asked RT90s frontman Hugh Hession to share five of his top albums that define the era!

The 1990s. Instantaneously, it devoured all the spandex-wearing, self-indulgent hair bands into literal oblivion while creating a cathartic outlet for new artists to unleash their obstinate fury against the excessive grandeur of the previous decade. The era of the shredding guitar was over, making way for bands that refused to be defined by conventional song arrangements, lush productions, and aqua-net hairspray!

As the lead singer for a ’90s tribute band, I openly admit that I actually loved the 1980s. It was the decade of my youth. However, I also feel that the decade of the ’90s is underrated and often pigeonholed with the period of grunge which plateaued in 1994. Although the grunge movement had definite historical and musical value, it was hardly the only style of music from that time.

Recently I was asked by The Creek to name my Top 5 Album choices from the 1990s. This was no easy task as there are so many great albums. Here it goes!

1. Ten, Pearl Jam (1991)

What can I say about this gem? After the demise of Mother Love Bone, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard had been working on MLB instrumentals that would eventually be re-worked by new vocalist recruit Eddie Vedder, resulting in what many critics (and fans) claim as one of the best grunge records ever released. Although the band admitted that they would rather have not overdubbed so many guitar tracks, the album still managed to keep its organic and edgy appeal. I was 23 when this album came out and I remember how unique it was compared to the rock albums that were released a mere 2 years before.

Favorite Cuts: “Once”, “Even Flow”, “Jeremy”, “Alive”, “Black”

2. Core, Stone Temple Pilots (1992)

Core was an album that was widely misunderstood at the time it was released and received an onslaught of unwarranted digs for such an iconic album. Lead vocalist Scott Weiland lamented through the years how critics failed to grasp the deliberate 1970s rock influence while writing the band off as a Pearl Jam spin-off. This was NOT a grunge album although it’s often thrown into the mix as such (years later Rolling Stone would identify Core as the #11 top Grunge album of all time). The raw energy and magic captured on this album were undoubtedly due to most of it being recorded live with few overdubs. Having producer Brendan O’Brien working the console didn’t hurt either.  Rock The 90s performed this entire album from front to back on one glorious night at The Hummingbird in Macon, 5 years ago.

Favorite Cuts: “Crackerman”, “Wicked Garden”, “Creep”, “Where The River Goes”

3. Superunknown, Soundgarden (1994)

This record really needs little introduction as Chris Cornell’s 4-octave range goes without saying. One of the best rock singers to ever grace a stage. So many great jams on this one and it really highlights Soundgarden coming into their own with the production and songwriting value on their fourth release.

Favorite Cuts: “Let Me Drown”, “Fell on Black Days”, “Spoonman”, “The Day I Tried to Live”, “Black Hole Sun”, “Like Suicide”

4. Under the Table and Dreaming, Dave Matthews Band (1994)

Dave Matthews built his fanbase through relentless touring after finally releasing his debut studio album on RCA in 1994. Of course, Matthews is known for the spontaneity of his live shows, performing different arrangements of their songs, so capturing that dynamic and solidifying arrangements in the studio was a challenging endeavor. Choosing producer Steve Lillywhite was an interesting choice being that he was a well-known alternative, punk rock, and New Wave producer (Simple Minds, The Jam, Talking Heads, Psychedelic Furs) but it worked. Highlights on this album are the production presence of Carter Beauford’s drums and of course, the guest harmonica appearance of John Popper (Blues Traveler).

Favorite Cuts: “Ants Marching”, “Typical Situation”, “Satellite”, “What Would You Say”

5. SEAL (1994)

One of my favorite albums of that time still holds up. The musicianship, production, and songwriting are phenomenal. So many gifted musicians on this one, including Jeff Beck, Trevor Horn, Wendy and Lisa (from Prince and the Revolution) among other notable session players. There’s so much of what I term “air” on this recording, meaning space within the groove. Bassist Victor Wooten once said, “Learn how to make a rest louder than a note… Create space in an appropriate way and then fill that space with solid emotion.” What I like the best about this record is the emotion it evokes from track to track, taking you on a musical journey that keeps the listener both intrigued and captivated.

Favorite Cuts: “Fast Changes”, “Prayer for the Dying”, “Don’t Cry”, “Bring It On”

See Rock The 90s LIVE at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday, February 11th! Advance tickets are available now!