The South shaped ’90s music even more than Seattle. Of course, Seattle is the geographical location most closely associated with the sound of this decade. This is due to the successful grunge bands, like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, which sprang from it.
But the South – yes, it’s a region and not just a city – launched musicians who had a huge impact on pop, metal, rock and country. Here’s a look at 10 Southern artists who composed hit albums in the ’90s and created music essential to defining that era beyond grunge.
“Vulgar display of power” Pantera (1992): One of the most influential heavy metal releases of the decade. With the ’80s persona non grata flash of ’92, Pantera, which had a glam vibe in its early days, brought a more cathartic sound to heavy rock. On the fifth album “Vulgar Display of Power”, this howl earned double platinum sales. The Arlington, Texas band’s songs “Mouth of War” and “Walk” took Metallica’s razor thrash and pumped the intensity up to 11. Thanks to the Abbott Brothers – guitarist Dimebag Darrell and drummer Vinnie Paul – Pantera’s metal grooves have always sounded southern. TO TEAR APART
“…Baby Again” Britney Spears (1999): Commercially, teen-pop reigned supreme in the late 90s and early 2000s. “…Baby One More Time” launched the music career of teen pop’s biggest star, Britney Spears. The Kentwood, Louisiana-raised singer/dancer’s debut album has sold over 14 million copies in the United States. by Nigel Dick, who the previous decade directed Guns N’ Roses videos like “Welcome to the Jungle”.
“Aquemini” Out Kast (1998): In the 90s, Atlanta became a rap superpower. OutKast played an outsized role in this rise, especially on the duo’s third album “Aquemini.” The LP title mixed the zodiac signs of the two rappers, Andre 3000’s Gemini and Big Boi’s Aquarius. Highlights include hot Georgian summer jams “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 1)”. A certain civil rights icon gets a peppy ode to “Rosa Parks.” Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Aquemini” number 49 in their latest 500 greatest albums of all time listing.
“Wide Open Spaces” Dixie Chicks (1998): Few country bands over the past few decades have combined classic chops with contemporary sensibility like Dallas’ Dixie Chicks. (Rebranded in 2020 as simply The Chicks.) “Wide Open Spaces” turned Dixie Chicks into megastars. The band’s third album achieved the rare air of diamond sales status, 10 million or more, on its way to moving 13 million units. “Wide Open Spaces” spawned three chart-topping country singles: the evocative title track, the nostalgic ballad “You Were Mine” and “There’s Your Trouble.” The latter and the album itself won Grammys. The rest of Nashville was then trying to catch up with those chicks. The band’s next album also sold like crazy. It took a controversy involving the political views of feisty singer Natalie Maines to slow The Chicks down.
“Antichrist Superstar” Marilyn Manson (1996): In the grand tradition of those “Florida man” news headlines, I give you the most Floridian of all Florida men: Brian Warner, aka Marilyn Manson, the controversial frontman and namesake of Ft. Lauderdale group Marilyn Manson. The band’s 1995 EP was produced by Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor with the disturbing title for preachers and parents “Smells Like Children”. Marilyn Manson’s debut album, “Antichrist Superstar” has upped the ante and the anti. Middle-class white kids of the mid-90s needed something new to ruminate on and headbang. Manson’s industrial heavy-metal sound, on tracks like the MTV hit “Beautiful People,” gave them.
“Shake Your Money Maker” Black Crowes (1990): Pre-grunge and post-GN’R, The Black Crowes helped bring rock back to bluesy boogie. Instead of trying to be Van Halen, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin like many late ’80s bands did, this Atlanta quintet cosplayed Rolling Stones, Faces and Humble Pie. The Crowes’ rambling debut album “Shake Your Money Maker” was named after an old Elmore James song. “SYMM” singles like “Jealous Again” and “Twice As Hard” rocked enough to please Motley Crue fans, but with lyrics poetic enough for (some) R.EM. passionate. The ballad (not a power-ballad, mind you) “She Talks To Angels” swept through pop audiences. But it was The Crowes’ “Walk This Way” cover of Otis Redding’s classic “Hard to Handle” that really sparked the fire. ‘Money Maker’ lived up to its name, going quintuple platinum in the US
“Baduizm” Erykah Badu (1997): What would 90s Black music be without the neo-soul movement? Dallas native Erykah Badu was the high priestess of this sound, which blended classic soul music and hip-hop aesthetics. (D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill were among the other top practitioners. Badu’s earth-mama vibe and sultry vocals made her debut single “On & On” a sensation. Her debut album “Baduizm” became triple platinum. Badu’s deep groove also resonated on tracks like “Appletree” and “Other Side Of The Game.” “Baduizm” and “On & On” won Grammys. We should all aspire to be more like Badu .
“Out of Time” REM (1991): In the early 90s when electric guitar was dominant, REM managed to get a mandolin all over MTV and radio. “Losing My Religion,” hooking up a Southern phrase to be exasperated, was a perfect song. So much so that the song and its art video ultimately became impossible to escape. Back when REM formed in the 1980s in Athens, Georgia, their jangly punk music was called college-rock. A decade later, that branding turned to alternative rock, which included grunge bands like Nirvana but also pop bands like No Doubt. The art-metal freaks Jane’s Addiction traveling festival Lollapalooza blew up the alternative. But REM lit the fuse.
“Crash” Dave Matthews Band (1996): Hate if you must. But the Dave Matthews Band of Charlottesville, Va., distilled the grooves of ’90s jam bands into songs good enough to please people in showers. For some, DMB hits like “So Much To Say” and “Tripping Billies” conjure up memories of the chicken dancing days in college. The eccentric voice of vocalist/strummer Dave Matthews is an acquired taste at the level of black licorice. Still, there’s no denying the musicality of Matthews’ supporting cast, especially drummer Cater Beauford. And it was LeRoi Moore’s sax and Boyd Tinsley’s violin that further set DMB apart from contemporary guitarist-hippies like Phish and Widespread Panic.
“Cracked Rear View” Hootie & the Blowfish (1996): Twenty-one million and counting. This is the number of copies sold of Hootie & the Blowfish’s debut album. This puts “Cracked Rear View” in the same double-diamond ZIP code as juggernauts like AC/DC’s “Black In Black.” Powered by the basic yet heartfelt songwriting and resonant vocals of vocalist Darius Rucker, Hootie songs like “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna Be With You” brought brotherhood into your home. This affable foursome didn’t shoot black tar like rockstars, they shot the golf course. All of this made Hootie the 90s equivalent of Huey Lewis and the News.
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