The Hits of 1991: Rock Makes a Comeback?

But diversity rules the songs of 1991


In early 1991, after the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in late 1990, a multinational coalition was formed that included the US, Middle Eastern and European countries. The coalition conducted the infamous bombing of Iraq and of their army in Kuwait, and in a relatively short time forced the invaders out of Kuwait. The Balkan Wars began in Europe and Lech Walesa was elected as president of Poland.  Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested in Milwaukee Wisconsin after investigators found the reamins of 11 boys and men in his apartment. Joseph Harris, a former post office employee, gunned down his ex-girlfriend, her boyfriend, and 2 other workers, thus giving birth to the expression "going postal." The videotaped beating of Rodney King sparked outrage and arrests of police that would eventually culminate in the trials and riots of 1992. In technology news, the airbag was invented, the first world wide web browser was born, and MS-DOS 5.0 was released.

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What happened in 1991's Music?
Freddie Mercury, the flamboyant singer for the band Queen, died of complications from AIDS. Eric Clapton's young son Conor fell 49 stories to his death, and Eric writes a hit song. The inductees for the sixth annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremony were Ike and Tina Turner, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, LaVern Baker, The Byrds, The Impressions, Wilson Pickett, and Howlin' Wolf. Perry Farrell started a trend when, to commemorate his band Janes Addiction breaking up, he organized the first Lollapalooza tour. And Bob Dylan, always up to something, started another trend by releasing the first box set volume of official Bootlegs, consisting of unreleased recordings covering a 30 year span. Nobody seemed to care that a bootleg couldn't be official, by definition, because they were too stunned by all of the great stuff in the box.

The Top Hits of 1991
Women seemed to dominate the number one song position for most of the year - Madonna, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan, Paula Abdul, Amy Grant, and the band Wilson Philips made the hits and made the fairer gender proud. The top 5 worldwide hits were I Do It For You by Bryan Adams, Black or White by Michael Jackson, Joyride by Roxette, Wind of Change by the Scorpions, and Losing My Religion by REM. Finally it looked like rock was gaining ground over dance-pop, and much of that success was due to the newer bands.

Alternative Rock Blooms
The mass of evidence was finally pointing to a genre that was being called alternative rock, although it wasn't really clear what kind of rock it was an alternative to. But it worked, and it was a great umbrella term that allowed writes and critics and later satellite radio to talk about something in an intelligent way. REM's Out of Time had a huge hit single and MTV video, Pearl Jam's Ten was a massively successful debut, and Nirvana hit critical and chart-topping paydirt with Nevermind. Other bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Throwing Muses added to the build-up of classics. Grunge was soon subsumed into alt rock, and everybody was happy with the name.

Big Ones, Great Ones
The 10 top selling albums of 1991 were by Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, The Black Crowes, C&C Music Factory, Wilson Philips, Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, Queensryche, and Whitney Houston. Clearly the popularity of dance pop, diva pop, and lite white rap hadn't worn off, but at least REM was at number 11, and Queensryche has to get credit for keeping some crunch in the top 10 smoothies. Some of the best albums of the year that eventually made classic album lists of all time were by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, U2, My Bloody Valentine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, and Primal Scream. Rock and roll was pretty much alive and well, even with the likes of Vanilla Ice still around.


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