By GERRY GALIPAULT
What will historians remember about the 1990s? Most likely Saddam and the Gulf War, the Oklahoma City bombing, "The Simpsons," David Koresh, the impeachment of President Clinton, "Seinfeld," the downfall of Michael Jackson, "Beavis and Butt-Head," merger-mania, O.J. Simpson, the World Wide Web, a painful farewell to Princess Diana, the death of Frank Sinatra.
How about musically? The decade had it all: rap, alternative, hip-hop, grunge, country, electronica, old-school R&B, punk, Americana, power pop. There was Garth Brooks, the Three Tenors, Pearl Jam, Tupac Shakur, Cecilia Bartoli and a tortured soul named Kurt Cobain. There was plenty of banality to go around, too: the Spice Girls, Hanson, boy groups, "The Bodyguard" soundtrack, Woodstock II and an endless parade of interchangeable Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Boyz II Men hits.
In honor of the 1990s, Pause & Play is putting the spotlight once a month on 10 significant albums from the decade. By the end of November, you will have read synopses of 100 LPs. These are, in one column's humble opinion, the Top 100 essential albums of the 1990s - nothing more, nothing less ... and it's certainly open to debate.
Over the next 10 months, P&P will elicit commentary on the selections from a variety of artists. This month, comeback kids Julian Lennon and Nik Kershaw offer their two cents. Lennon, who will be featured in next week's P&P, returned Feb. 23 from an eight-year layoff with his Beatles-influenced album "Photograph Smile" (Fuel 2000/Universal). Kershaw, who will be profiled in a future P&P, is back April 6 with "15 Minutes" (Pyramid/WEA), his first album in 10 years. He had a slew of hits in his native England in the mid-'80s, notably "Wouldn't It Be Good" (which nearly reached the U.S. Top 40 in 1984) and "The Riddle."
(The following albums are not listed alphabetically, chronologically or in order of importance. Anything that came out in the 1990s - even greatest-hits packages, box sets and compilations - is eligible for inclusion. Everything's fair game; P&P wouldn't have it any other way.)
OUT OF TIME, R.E.M. (Warner, 1991) - Only R.E.M. could get away with being cryptic and pensive ("Losing My Religion") and unabashedly silly and poppy ("Shiny Happy People") in one sitting. Kershaw: "To be honest, before that album, I really didn't get R.E.M. There was so much hype about them beforehand, that they were the best band in the world, but I just didn't get it. But then 'Shiny Happy People' came out, I thought, 'What a great single.' When the other stuff came out, I had to get the album, and it's a complete album." Lennon: "I have to say I've never been the biggest fan. I just don't get it." (Must be an English thing.) "I mean, I'm sorry, the guys are nice; I've met Michael (Stipe) a couple of times very briefly. I would say one or two of the singles I have enjoyed." Prime cuts: "Losing My Religion," "Radio Song," "Shiny Happy People," "Texarkana."
THE SCORE, Fugees (Refugee Camp) (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1996) - This trio scored in a big way, blending old-school rap sensibilities with R&B vitality and social consciousness. That Wyclef Jean, Pras and particularly Lauryn Hill have gone on to immense solo success speaks volumes for their combined talents. Prime cuts: "Fu-Gee-La," "Killing Me Softly," "Ready or Not," "No Woman, No Cry."
ASTRO-CREEP: 2000-SONGS OF LOVE, DESTRUCTION AND OTHER SYNTHETIC DELUSIONS OF THE ELECTRIC WORLD, White Zombie (Geffen, 1995) - While overzealous parents and public officials were preoccupied with Marilyn Manson, Rod Zombie's spooky metal-funk madness roared with a vengeance. Rapid-fire rhymes mishmashed with vocal wails and heavy guitar riffs made for a bold sensory overload. Prime cuts: "More Human Than Human," "Electric Head Pt. 1 & 2," "Super-Charger Heaven," "I Zombie."
THE MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL, Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1998) - The Fugees rapper-singer effortlessly injected her soul-bearing music with finger-snapping energy and '70s-style hook-sense. Albums like this just don't come around that often. Kershaw: "I actually bought this two days ago. There's something about her voice that transcends everything. She has such an amazing voice. I remember talking with someone who was going on about Celine Dion or something, and I said, 'No, this Lauryn Hill is a singer, this is a real voice.' It moves you so much. It took me a few goes to get into some of the tracks and listen really closely to them and try to get into it lyrically as well, but her voice just makes you want to do it. It makes you want to do the work. It's extraordinary." Prime cuts: "Doo Wop (That Thing)," "Ex-Factor," "To Zion" and the hidden bonus track, "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."
MESSAGE IN A BOX: THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS, The Police (A&M, 1993) - Four CDs and 78 tracks blissful enough to put you in a Police state. All the hits are there, plus B-sides, live performances and a 67-page booklet. Worth every penny. Kershaw: "I was a Police fan. It's a pop thing that Sting has kind of turned his back on, and I wish he hadn't, really. He's so good at it. They mixed pop with reggae and there was sort of a shamelessness about it, that it was fun. I have some great memories of that time. Lately, I've been buying a lot of old albums, because it just makes you feel good." Lennon: "I definitely like that. I always admired The Police. They were innovative and different. They combined sometimes serious topics but sometimes a lot of fun topics with great rhythms." Prime cuts: So much to go for ... "Every Breath You Take," "Don't Stand So Close to Me," "Message in a Bottle," "Roxanne," "King of Pain," "Spirits in the Material World."
DIDN'T IT BLOW YOUR MIND: SOUL HITS OF THE '70s, VOLS. 1-20, various artists (Rhino, 1991-1995) - Some magazines poll readers for their desert-island picks, discs they would take with them if they were stranded, ignoring the fact there would be no electricity or replacement batteries for a boom box. First off, Pause & Play would take along the professor from "Gilligan's Island," who could do some amazing electrical things with bamboo and coconuts, and make him live on the other side of the island. Secondly, P&P would pack up this vital soul series so it can feel at home with the likes of the Chi-Lites, Al Green, the Isley Brothers, War, Barry White and the Stylistics. Kershaw: "That was around the time when I was growing up and going to clubs ... Chic and all that stuff, and I was in a cover band at the time and we used to play that stuff all the time. There's some fantastic songs, and those CDs are something I could embrace, but I don't have it." Kershaw wouldn't mind if Rhino passed along copies, in care of P&P. "That would be great. That might be something I can't get enough of. I'm not sure I could find that over here (in England)." Lennon: "I don't have this (series), but as a general rule, I like a lot of soul music. I would definitely be up for that." He also wouldn't turn down promo copies from Rhino - hint, hint. Prime cuts: For starters, how about the Undisputed Truth's "Smiling Faces Sometimes," the Chi-Lites' "Oh Girl," the Three Degrees' "When Will I See You Again" and Norman Connors' "You Are My Starship"?
SURFACING, Sarah McLachlan (Arista, 1997) - The follow-up to her breakthrough 1994 album, "Fumbling Towards Ecstasy," put her over the top. She's at the multiplatinum level now, and there's no turning back. Fortunately, her passionate lyrics and graceful sound haven't been compromised along the way. Prime cuts: "Adia," "Angel," "Building a Mystery," "Sweet Surrender."
DOGGY STYLE, Snoop Doggy Dogg (Death Row, 1993) - The Dogg was let out of his cage for this one. His fist-pumpin' anthems and streetwise posturing had an inane charm about them. Kershaw: "I admire characters. It's funny, I know of him, but I don't know him for his music. I know he's sort of a legend already, but I'm not really sure why." Lennon: "Well, no ... what can I say?" Prime cuts: "Gin and Juice," "What's My Name?," "Doggy Dogg World."
PULP FICTION (film soundtrack), various artists (MCA, 1994) - This Quentin Tarantino film and its witty banter made a big impact in 1994. It marked the comebacks of John Travolta and Dick Dale; violence became wickedly funny, and Urge Overkill's cover of "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" made it okay to publicly admit liking Neil Diamond. Kershaw: "I loved the movie. There's one particular famous guitar line in there, and it brings up just an immediate picture." Lennon: "Yeah, I can dig it." Prime cuts: Dick Dale & His Del-Tones' "Misirlou," the Statler Brothers' "Flowers on the Wall," Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man," Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie."
HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS, Cocteau Twins (Capitol, 1990) - It's hard to decipher nearly everything Elizabeth Fraser sings, but it doesn't matter. It's wonderfully lush and tuneful, and guitarist Robin Guthrie is grossly underrated. Kershaw: "I haven't got a clue. I've got a pair of friends who are mad Cocteau Twins fans. Maybe I should go out and buy this one." Lennon: "I would like to hear that, but I haven't heard it. I've heard some very good things about it." Prime cuts: "Heaven or Las Vegas," "Iceblink Luck," "I Wear Your Ring," "Cherry-Coloured Funk."