The best albums of the 1990s – definitely… maybe?

Can you believe 1990 is 30 YEARS AGO? We revisit the decade with our fave albums.

best 1990s albums

by Kirk Schwarz |
Updated on

If you’re a 90's kid, you’ll know the only thing better than the music of the decade was the names they gave to it. And since my editor said if I could write this intro by using 90s song and album titles I’d get paid extra, I said OK Computer…

Acthung baby, Nevermind having to Justify My Love for the 1990s, it felt like Only Yesterday that the best bands to ever create music were belting out Serious Hits… Live! Any 90s kid growing up in this Happy Nation will tell you that they had the perfect soundtrack to life, and it was cool, rad, awesome and a completely Different Class even! Bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were championing new Genres. The Wu-Tang Clan, Tupac and The Notorious BIG proved Rap and Hip Hop could define a people, and in the case of the latter two, even mean Life After Death. Dance, Techno and Rave continued to Carry On Up The Charts and gave the young generation a purpose, with bands such as the Prodigy creating Music for the Jilted Generation. It was not just a cool time to be alive, it was honestly a massive Wake Up! And proved The Great Escape to the disillusionment of the 80s… Definitely, Maybe…

But seriously, you don’t need me to tell you that the 90s was probably the last great musical decade. Bonus points if you got every reference! It’s time to look at our picks for the 9 best of 90s albums. They're written in no particular order!

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Best 1990s Albums

Radiohead - OK Computer1 of 9

Radiohead - OK Computer

The third studio album for this English 5-piece, OK Computer distanced itself from the previous albums, and paved the way for a more experimental take on their music. Despite the record company not believing in the commercial appeal, this is the album that launched Radiohead into the stratosphere, and gave the jilted generation somewhere to get lost in, with searching questions and abstract answers. It crescendos violently with Paranoid Android, a mix of jazz fusion, riffs both psychedelic and driving, and depressive chorals - a masterpiece of ponderance.

REM - Automatic For The People2 of 9

REM - Automatic For The People

Leap-frogging Out of Time, this 1992 album paved the way for bands such as Nirvana, and became a culturally and commercially historic record in its own right. It spawned some of the most iconic tracks ever laid down, that still hold relevances to this day and is a roller coaster of meaningful loss and self reflection of a hopeless people. The tone, though dour, is prominent and captures the dreams of a generation. Tracks like Man on the Moon and Everybody Hurts are deserving of the highest recognition in their own rights, while a ballad-heavy flow makes this one a meaningful menagerie of music to get lost in.

Beastie Boys - Ill Communication3 of 9

Beastie Boys - Ill Communication

The Beastie Boys are an eclectic three-piece, with a pumping, anthem heavy history that could on be strengthened by this phenomenal third studio album. Permeated by jazz fusion licks, driving overclocked guitar riffs and some of the heaviest beats put to music, the vocal styles bounce to create 100 MPH driving iconography. Each track passes the baton to the next in genuine style, while the lyrics eschew the typical Gangsta flavour of early 90s rap. It may also be the only acceptable use of jazz flute outside of Guru's Jazzmatazz series. If you like your beats smooth and eclectic, and your vocals punchy, you can't deny the boys bring the party.

Nirvana - Nevermind4 of 9

Nirvana - Nevermind

If you weren't there, you don't know. Nevermind is a tour de force that literally defined a generation. Coming after the rough and rugged first album Bleach, Nevermind was possibly the biggest refinement of the decade, and simultaneously boasts one of the most iconic track lists, and an instantly recognised cover. Not only did this propel Nirvana to the heights of greatness that see them stand as rock royalty to this day, but it gave us a glimpse into the mind of musical geniuses. It's this kind of lasting appeal that means Nevermind finds itself at the top of lists the world over, and if you disagree, just go back and give it another listen - you can't deny the mark it left on the world.

Notorious B.I.G - Ready to Die5 of 9

Notorious B.I.G - Ready to Die

Wherever you sat on the Biggie vs Pac, East vs West debate, you can't deny both artists did excellent work for the freshly adored rap genre. While Tupac could easily take this spot with his lyrical poetry, it's Notorious B.I.G's debut album that we think just takes the lasting appeal award. With a tracklist that features realness and grit in bags - describing the often violent, tough and murky life up-to his music career - it was the rapper's only album released in his lifetime. The smooth beats, paired with Biggie's raspy vocals and Sean "Puffy" Combs' production know-how gave rise to tracks such as Juicy and Big Poppa, leaving a fit epitaph for such a talented, but tragically short life.

Prodigy – Fat of the land6 of 9

Prodigy – Fat of the Land

Prodigy pin-pointed the crossover between the emerging dance and rave cultures of the early 90s in a way that few had managed to this point. They were fresh, forceful and had a panache for mixing genres in their search for perfection. While Music for the Jilted generation is an excellent example of down and dirty techno beats, it's the 1997 Fat of the Land that put them on the map. Starting with Keith Flint's debut punk-infused anger lyrics of Firestarter and Breathe, Liam Howlett's underscore leant pangs of electro and techno to create driving rave anthems. If you were a teenager in the 90s, you knew who the Prodigy were, and just how exciting it was to hear them.

Oasis – Whatu2019s the story (Morning Glory)7 of 9

Oasis – What’s the story (Morning Glory)

A welcome nod for Brit pop - one of the hardest-fought battles of the decade. Whether you were a fan of Oasis, or you favoured Pulp or Blur, you can't deny that this was a jukebox belter. Produced in the golden years, before the rocky sibling rivalry of brothers Noel and Liam became unrepairable, the track listing has become anthemic. It has sold more than 22 million copies, cemented Oasis as one of the most important bands of the 90s and Wonderwall has become an international classic. It catapulted the previously UK-centric Beatles-inspired rock outfit to international acclaim, and easily earns its place on this list.

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang: The 36 Chambers8 of 9

Wu-Tang Clan - Enter The Wu-Tang: The 36 Chambers

While the term supergroup has been banded about in recent years, it's hard to think of a collective more impactful on today's music scene that the Wu-Tang Clan. This seminal debut album brought raw street styles of the early 90s, with minimal flare, pointed flows and kung fu coolness. It stood out as a new age in the still budding hip hop world, gave prominence to each of its nine members equally and transcended the simple aggressive Gangsta rap of the time. What's more impressive is that each of the members and frequent contributors are certified rap legends in their own rights, with the 36 Chambers launching solo careers that can equally claim some of the best albums of the decade. If you haven't revisited this album in recent times, do yourself a favour… you won't regret it.

Pearl Jam - Ten9 of 9

Pearl Jam - Ten

Nirvana may have been the poster child for Grunge, but Pearl Jam's Ten was released a whole year before Nevermind, and features a pounding, guitar heavy soundtrack that includes songs like Alive, Even Flow and Porch. It's an album that has aged phenomenally, did a great deal for procuring mainstream success for the Seattle sound, and paved the way for future bands. If you want anymore proof as to the lasting appeal of this instrumental-laden rock classic, it's currently recognised as being 13x Platinum in the US alone… that's over 13 million sales!

We've linked through to Amazon Music to download each of the albums, because surely no one buys CDs any more?

ED'S NOTE: This list reflects the opinion of the writer and not the whole of the Heat office. Indeed, we've had several arguments about this and many of them are still ragin'. Feel free to shout at us on Twitter or Facebook about what you reckon ought to be on the list instead.

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