When I was younger, I lived for year-in-review specials; heck, I still really enjoy anything with a good retrospective attached to it. But as December 31 drew closer, I always found myself getting psyched for two things: being able to stay up past midnight, and watching whatever special was on that looked back. Even if it was a badly produced local news special, I would look for it in TV Guide and if I wasn’t going to be home to watch it, I’d pop a tape in the VCR and set the timer.
Unfortunately, throughout those years my year-in-review options were limited by my not having access to cable, so I missed what the kids in my generation considered the definitive retrospecticus, which was MTV’s Year in Rock. I don’t think that the channel does this anymore, but I’d say that up until maybe the late 1990s or early 2000s (when TRL had basically taken everything over), the news department was pretty steady with its programming, bringing news every hour (set to the bass of Megadeth’s “Peace Sells”), and The Week in Rock every single Friday. So the Year in Rock made total sense.
I am sure that I saw at least one of these Year in Rock specials at one time or another, because my sister and I would often spend New Year’s Eve at my grandmother’s house and would go to bed shortly after midnight. Some years, we stayed up listening to 106.1 WBLI play their “Top 106 Songs of the Year” coundown; others were spent watching a hockey game or reading books. But as I went through my rather disastrous first few years as a teenager and my sister inched closer to adolescence, the two of us would sit in the back room with MTV playing, watching whatever was on it (or sometimes flipping to VH-1) because we were fully ensconced in trench warfare with my father over whether or not we would ever get cable, and at the time were taking heavier losses than at the Battle of the Somme, so we took our cable where we could get it.
Anyway, YouTube being the beautiful thing that it is, someone took the time to put the 1991 Year in Rock special up in seven parts and since it was twenty years ago–a huge year for music as well as the year I finally escaped junior high and headed to high school–I thought I’d take a look at it for my last entry of the year. Usually, I’d spin a few paragraphs here about the various things in it and provide a link or two, but I felt like doing a bit of commentary because the entire special is available for viewing. It may be unethical in a way and I am essentially piggybacking off of someone else’s upload … so H/T to YouTube user 1BigBucks1, whoever you are.
Okay, let’s get started.
Part One: Opening, concert sales woes, music economics news.
Okay, so right off we can tell this is the early 1990s and I really do like this opening, mainly because it shows you how this part of the decade was still very “transitional” from the 1980s and not everything in the early 1990s was dark and grungy. Then we get our generation’s Walter Cronkite, who is Kurt Loder. I say that with the utmost respect, by the way. Loder was the most serious face on MTV at the time and he was the source of news on the channel. Yes, it was the heyday of the Rather-Brokaw-Jennings triumvirate, but ask your average GenX-er who represents serious journalism from back in the day and you’ll get Loder’s name. Next to him? Tabitha Soren, who I have to admit I had a crush on when I was in junior high/high school. Maybe it was because she just seemed like she’d be the type of girl you actually dated as opposed to thought about in ways that were too inappropriate for someone who attended church on a regular basis.
Anyway, adding to the reality that 1991 was a truly transitional year is the fact that as they went through these stories on declining ticket and record sales as well as the advent of SoundScan, we see that the New Kids on the Block are still hangin’ … uh, around; hair metal tours are still raking in big bucks; and Michael Jackson was still considered big. He was headed for his freakshow heyday, but this was the year of Dangerous and the “Black or White” video. The release of Nevermind wasn’t The New 52, kids. Plus, Van Hagar! Metallica!
The economics of the music industry are very interesting here because the complaining about bad concert ticket sales and declining record sales during a recession could have been from any of the last couple of years. Except that nobody goes to record stores anymore and they definitely don’t sell CDs in those long cardboard boxes. But Lollapalooza is still around …
Part Two: R.E.M.
I was never that much on the R.E.M. train, in high school or in college. At the moment, I own one CD (the post-Document collection called In Time) and legally downloaded copies of “Radio Song” and “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” Maybe if I were older I might have gotten more into them, or maybe if I hadn’t been listening to Guns n’ Roses during the ninth grade … but the best I can say is that I dabbled in the band’s music over the years. I will say that I’ve never been a huge fan of “Losing My Religion” in both audio and video form. I first heard the song it was playing on the radio that Bob, my eighth grade bus driver played while he drove us home from school every day, and by the time it hit big it was nearly inescapable (mustachioed Fast Jimi from WPLJ–was it Mojo Radio by then?–was right). But I do loves me some “Radio Song” and I kind of want to track down their performance on Unplugged.
That montage at the end? I miss the early Nineties.
Part Three: The Gulf War, Breakthrough Music Acts
I was going to write something about Desert Storm but then I saw Helena Christiansen in that Chris Issak video and lost my train of thought.
Seriously, though, I think that for a news program aimed at teenagers, this was a pretty well-produced look at the first Gulf War. I remember the night Desert Storm started because I was at my grandmother’s house (I think my parents were both late for some reason because they usually didn’t have us eat dinner there on a school night) and WPIX picked up CNN’s feed when the news broke. I did my best to follow it, like a good smart student, but I didn’t get as immersed in all of the late-night war video that some of the other kids I knew were and I certainly didn’t know much about anti-war protests going on (though I do remember that “Give Peace a Chance” remake). In fact, I was definitely on the patriotism train in 1991.
As for the musical acts, when I was watching this part of the show I noticed that I wasn’t laughing at the acts that were popular (well, except for Nelson. Because … well, it’s Nelson); I was keeping track of which group’s songs I had taped off of the radio. I am very sure I had a copy of “More Than Words” by Extreme and played that song and “Hole-Hearted” a few thousand times. I would start listening to Metallica on a regular basis sometime in 1992, however, when my friend Brendan made me a copy of The Black Album (a tape I listened to endlessly through high school and eventually wound up letting a girl I thought was cute borrow and never got back).
And if you were ever wondering if rock stars back then were as brilliant as some of the ones we have today, well … the memorable quotes are proof, right?
Part Four: Genre-crossing Music
So this is how out-of-touch I was with the musical landscape in junior high. Back in the seventh grade, I was sitting in science class working on a lab and one of my classmates asked if I liked Red Hot Chili Peppers. My response: “I’ve never tasted them.”
This, of course, was the most hilarious thing that this particular classmate (whom I remember being kind of a dickhead anyway) had ever heard, so that stuck with me for a little bit afterward, but honestly, I knew nothing about music at the time. Oh yeah, I listened to the radio occasionally and could name a few key groups or artists, but honestly the most recent tape in my house at the time was probably my sister’s copy of Hangin’ Tough, and whatever I had managed to tape off the radio, which would soon grow to include EMF’s “Unbelievable” and Jesus Jones’s “Right Here, Right Now,” which were two of my favorite songs in the eighth grade.
But man, 1991’s pop music was pretty sweet. Gerardo aside, I still think most of that music is awesome, if not listenable, and I am pretty sure that the guy from Enigma still has that mullet.
Part Five: Madonna, Black Filmmakers
MC Ciccone? BWAH-HA-HA!!!
I think the only Madonna film I had seen at that point was Dick Tracy, which I didn’t really like when I saw it (and haven’t seen it since but have heard that it’s underrated so I may check it out one day), but I have seen Truth or Dare a few times now and it is one of the flat-out best music documentaries ever. The retrospective here offers little into Madonna at the time, although I do remember the Jose Canseco rumors and Yankees fans throwing blow-up dolls onto the field when the Athletics came to play.
As for black filmmakers, I have actually never seen any of the movies listed in this segment and I consider myself a movie buff. Honestly, I grew up in an area that isn’t exactly racist but does have that “be afraid of the black people” type of undercurrent among its citizenry and when stories started to surface on the news that someone had been assaulted or shot outside a movie theater showing New Jack City, I certainly wasn’t going to go and see it. I’m not exactly ashamed of that; after all, I was all of thirteen years old at the time and knew next to nothing about cultures outside my own vacuum. But I will say I am curious to see how well some of the films of the time hold up twenty years later.
Part Six: Legal troubles, New acts.
You know, my son names his stuffed animals names like “Horsey Horse.” Just sayin’, Mr. Mark. “Good Vibrations” is a great song (actually it’s two great songs, but I was speaking in context).
I think that if I wanted to paint my childhood as something out of Footloose where I was forbidden from listening to rock music, I probably could, because I heard my parents complain at least once or twice that rock stars were all “shoving their careers up their noses” and what have you. In fact, my sister asked for Color Me Badd’s album for Christmas 1991 and my mom hesitated because she didn’t like the way “Badd” was spelled. Meanwhile, the fact that I had dubbed both Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II from Brendan and was listening to “Get In the Ring” constantly went completely unnoticed. Oh well, what are you going to to.
Nirvana is finally mentioned here and given a few seconds of face time. Personally, I didn’t like Nirvana very much in high school. I thought “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Lithium” were awesome songs, but I didn’t own a copy of Nevermind until about 2002, choosing instead to listen to Pearl Jam, then Stone Temple Pilots, before finally settling on Green Day as my teen music of choice for the latter part of high school. Then again, I was also heavy into collecting Billy Joel’s back catalogue and would spend most of the ninth grade listening to Classic Queen and Queen’s Greatest Hits because this would be around the time that “Bohemian Rhapsody” charted. I think this just reinforces how appropriate my response to the chili peppers question was.
Part Seven: World Events, Guns N’ Roses
As I was sitting here, watching this show and taking some notes, I began to see that it’s twenty years later and our culture is still having the same arguments over the same issues. Some of them are important issues, but there’s still the same lengthy and often idiotic debate about political correctness (or let’s be bigoted by referring to other races/genders/orientations as “them” and talking about “what we’re supposed to call THEM”) and I’ve heard GOP candidates spout the same rhetoric as David Duke did in this clip. What’s interesting to me, though, is that I only really remember being invested in two of those stories: the fall of the USSR and Clarence Thomas. The Clarence Thomas story was inescapable and I think that’s why I was so into following it (plus, we talked about it in school quite a lot), but the fall of the USSR was something that a kid like me who played with G.I. Joe figures just a few years before and was heavy into movies where commies were the enemy couldn’t pass up following.
The end of the Soviet Union was a long, slow process when you think about it and had more or less started when I didn’t even know what the Soviet Union was; however, it seemed that between 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall and 1991 when the flag was finally lowered from Red Square, things happened at an exceptionally quick pace. I don’t remember celebrating but I do remember being in awe of the amount of change (and being annoyed by having to hear that damn Scorpions song over and over on the radio), as well as in awe of the fact that my father actually bought Newsday when it happened, citing historical significance.
As for Guns N’ Roses? I think that both the Use Your Illusion albums came out right around the time Springsteen released Human Touch and Lucky Town, which were the two albums I bought in 1991 with my own money, and which are two albums I never bought again on CD because they were a huge disappointment. But The Boss really didn’t have that much impact on the 1991 landscape. Axl was king and king douche–it’s nice to see some things haven’t changed.
Loder and Soren close with a rather quiet Times Square–quiet in that it’s pre-Giuliani New York and everything is not screaming at you as much as it is now (am I the only one who finds the ABC News building obnoxious?). Thinking back to myself in 1991 at the age of fourteen, I was about as naive as any typical fourteen-year-old kid living a well-protected life in the suburbs. A glance at my journal at the time shows someone who was annoyingly lovesick, having crushes on girls but rarely the courage to do anything about it; a glance at my grades shows someone struggling with the transition to high school. A geeky kid in a sheltered suburb living a “normal” life who’d learn a lot more about that time’s pop culture landscape in retrospect. But at least I learned something, I guess.