1. Bob Dylan - Seven Curses - The Bootleg Series, Volume 2
I can't fathom why Dylan left this off The Times They Are A-Changin' album. It's a song of mystery and the sort of dreamy, psychedelic storytelling that characterized "A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall." Dylan's early songs had tremendous structure - here the entire song is rooted in numbers and counting (Seven Curses, of course). Any other songwriter alive would have this song at the top of a Best Of album. But not Dylan; he tossed it, and let it sit there for nearly 30 years. And here's how that translated: only one person to my knowledge has covered "Seven Curses" (Tom Russell), while my collection has more than a dozen covers by nine bands of "Hard Rain," and nearly 20 versions by a dozen different people of "Blowin' In The Wind."
2. Guns N' Roses - Garden Of Eden - Use Your Illusion I
What was bold and a marketing coup in 1991 seems especially unnecessary now. This is one of the songs that could've easily been clipped to make one really kick-ass Use Your Illusion album. Then, nowadays - perhaps right before the release of Chinese Democracy - Geffen could've put out the ultimate Deluxe Use Your Illusion, and pull all those purged songs back out of the vault. Instead, no matter how great the keepers are, the Use Your Illusions are remembered as the ultimate "filler" records.
3. U2 - Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses - Achtung Baby
This has long been my favorite U2 record, by a long shot actually, despite the fact that I got into it about eight years after it came out. I can cite the general atmospherics, I suppose, but it's not like U2 never brought that sort of dreamy soundscape before. More than anything, it just really hit me, and "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" is a big part of that. Bono sounds like a wiseman and a searcher simultaneously on this song, and it's one of the bigger "builders" of the band's catalog. When I kicked off this weekly shuffle with a prologue picking my favorite album for each year of my life, Achtung Baby came out on top for 1991, and this is just the second time in the weekly shuffles that a song from the year's favorite album has come up (X's "When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch," from 1981's Wild Gift)
4. De La Soul - My Brother's A Basehead - De La Soul Is Dead
I don't know this album as much as Three Feet High And Rising, and it wasn't part of my teen years, so hearing this song fresh so far removed from the album's time definitely creates a disconnect. Regardless, De La Soul brought at least two amazing albums to the world in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and it takes a blind, stubborn dismissiveness to ignore that fact. Rural Northern Arizona isn't the most enlightened place to grow up, and the anti-rap pull was strong there, so I missed a lot the first time around.
5. Sebadoh - Rennaissance Man - III
I got the reissue of this a couple years back, trying to figure out exactly what the big deal was with Sebadoh, and I think I'm still searching. My freshman roommate had the Rebound EP, which I still love, but with the stubbornly low-fi recording approach, the band's earlier stuff seems to throw up a deliberate veil that I can't seem to get around to actually find the songs.
6. Billy Bragg - Rumours of War - Don't Try This At Home
It's not like Billy Bragg got political as his career went along - quite the opposite, in fact - but those political songs just started seeming so much heavier. The strings (cello especially), the spare piano and the hazy slowness of Bragg's vocals make this sort of song a far cry from his frantic strumming and shouting of the early 1980s. But unlike most musicians, Bragg handled the disparity in styles without skipping a beat.
7. Gin Blossoms - Just South of Nowhere - Up And Crumbling
What the world got to know of the Gin Blossoms was a band just passed its peak, about to embark on a heartbreakingly steep decline. The jangly bar rock that sent the band soaring to begin with had all its edges sanded away by the major label executives (A&M in this case, long since having lost its rep as an artist friendly label). Then the band's creative force, Doug Hopkins, was kicked out of the band, killing himself not long after. It's a heartbreaking and amazing story, chronicled in great detail by Hopkins' friend, Brian Smith. Seriously, if you want one of the best pieces of music journalism around, read Smith's Jusus of Surbubia. The Gin Blossoms will always remain one of my favorite bands; check out Dusted if you want one of rock's all-time great unheard records.
8. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - Summertime (reprise) - Homebase
This is what I knew of rap in 1991, instead of De La Soul, but Summertime has had a bit of a rennaissance with me over the last couple years as it hit me that aside from all the Fresh Prince hype, it's one hell of a song. With Jazzy Jeff and Quincy Jones on hand, this fell right in between the goofy kid rap and the Hollywood blockbuster musical commercials that defined the rest of the Fresh Prince's career.
9. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Suck My Kiss - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Now we've come to my favorite 1991 album at the time. Nothing was cooler in junior high in my mind, not even Pearl Jam's Ten or Nirvana's Nevermind. It's still a high-water mark for alternative rock. That "Suck My Kiss" was about the fourth single really speaks to the album's quality. This song is bouncy, hard (but not heavy, an important distinction then), with just about the most authoritative bassline in alternative music.
10. Pixies - Head On - Trompe Le Monde
I've always had a hard time remembering whether this was a Pixies song covered by Jesus & Mary Chain, or the other way around. Hopefully this little exercise will serve to make it stick in my mind that it's a Jesus & Mary Chain original, covered excellently by the Pixies. "Head On" might be from the band's swan song, but it's as strong as anything the Pixies ever did.
Bob Dylan - Seven Curses (live)
U2 - Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses (live)
Gin Blossoms - Just South of Nowhere (live)