The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

The Top 200 Albums of the 1990s

Traditionally, when it comes to arguments about which was the greatest decade in music, not many have spoken in defence of the Nineties. However, the decade is increasingly being regarded as the last hurrah for the classic rock album, as well as a new dawn for many other genres. As the internet era loomed and downloaded tracks began being judged as ‘singles’ once again, many have argued since that expansive rock masterpieces like Radiohead’s OK Computer were the last of their kind.

In Britain, most music fans remember Britpop with great fondness, with the likes of Oasis, Blur, Suede and Pulp spearheading a cultural revivalism that meant guitar bands reigned supreme in the mainstream for several years in the middle of the decade. Over the pond, Nirvana represented the watershed moment for an underground punk and indie scene that had been bubbling underneath the surface throughout the entire 1980s. The so-called ‘alternative rock’ scene boomed throughout ‘90s in the States, producing million-selling masterpieces as well as muscling into prime MTV territory.

But in both instances, what began as an insurgence from the leftfield into the popular consciousness became co-opted by the mainstream and by money-hungry major labels as the decade ended and the CD era peaked. By 1999, both scenes had grown increasingly stale. The singles charts, particularly in Britain, came to be regularly manipulated by labels and heavy radio play, with the number of ‘one week wonders’ reaching an all-time high.

Among the huge revivals in guitar music, however, there were dozens of innovators and one-off masterpieces emerging in all kinds of other genres. In terms of rap, the East Coast-heavy era of hip-hop, with its cerebral and sample-heavy leading lights like Public Enemy, De La Soul and Beastie Boys, would gradually come to be eclipsed by the West Coast and the explosion in gangsta rap, as Dr. Dre’s The Chronic began to be the template for much hip-hop.

British electronica and dance music also enjoyed a great decade in commercial terms after rave had smashed its ecstasy-fuelled way into the media at the start of the 1990s, but serious auteurs such as Aphex Twin and Boards Of Canada crafted enduring masterpieces to go alongside the blockbusters such as The Chemical Brothers, Underworld and The Prodigy.

So, while it’s been an unfashionable decade for many mainstream critics in the past, the 1990s is now being re-discovered and re-evaluated constantly – was it a golden age, or was it the beginning of the end? Here, after much agonised deliberation and passionate argument, is The Student Playlist’s take on this astonishingly diverse decade for popular music. We hope you agree with us.

2 Discussions on
“The Top 200 Albums of the 1990s”
  • Fantastic list! In my eyes, the ’90s was the best decade for music, period. Some other great albums that weren’t on this list:

    Alice In Chains- Dirt
    Sunny Day Real Estate- Diary
    Jimmy Eat World- Clarity
    The Get Up Kids- Something To Write Home About
    Saves The Day- Through Being Cool
    Green Day- Insomniac (I actually prefer this to Dookie)
    Shai Hulud- Hearts Once Nourished With Hope And Compassion
    Earth Crisis- Destroy The Machines
    Blink-182- Enema Of The State
    Lifetime- Jersey’s Best Dancers
    Soundgarden- Superunknown, Badmotorfinger
    Hum- You’d Prefer An Astronaut
    Screaming Trees- Sweet Oblivion
    Love Battery- Dayglo
    All- Breaking Things
    The Dwellers- Whatever Makes You Happy (I swear I’m one of only 10 people who’s heard of this power pop gem)
    Mother Love Bone- Mother Love Bone
    Anal Cunt- It Just Gets Worse
    Talulah Gosh- Was It Just A Dream? (Okay, this one is technically from 2013, but it’s essentially just a deluxe edition of 1996’s Backwash)
    Nirvana- MTV Unplugged In New York

    The fact that you can create a list of 200 great albums and I can list off several more fantastic albums, and the fact that so many different people can have wildly differing opinions on the best ’90s albums proves how great the decade was.

    I love how you had a lot of choices that I haven’t seen on other lists, and I appreciate you ranking Pinkerton so highly, as that is probably my favorite album ever.

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