Howdy all! It’s been like what, two months or so since my last article on CXF? Where have I been? What’s been going on? Well, the only thing I’ll say is it doesn’t matter where I was, it only matters where I’m going. Now I just had to drop in and compose an article in the ongoing series that started it all. My very first piece was in 2013 where I looked back at music 20 years prior in 1993. I followed it up the year after with a piece about 1994 and last year with 1995. Now, we really start to feel old by looking back on what hit the shelves in and our television sets in 1996. When compiling this research, it really blew my mind just how much older we’re all getting. It blew my mind how much older I’M getting. The year 1996 really does not seem that long ago and it won’t be long before the 90s are too far a distant memory and no longer nostalgia for my generation.
Once upon a time in the 1990s, The Fugees were the premiere trio in the hip-hop and Lauryn Hill was beginning to make her case to become a breakout solo artist. The group’s second record, 1996’s The Score, contained one of the most recognizable tunes of the decade, a cover Lori Lieberman’s Killing Me Softly with Ms. Hill mostly on vocals. It netted her a Grammy for Best R&B Performance and the group the Best Rap Album accolade at the big event. With ties to Bob Marley (Hill was in a relationship with Bob’s son, Rohan Marley, for many years) the album boasted another cover, this time of the famous reggae singer’s No Woman, No Cry. We also can’t forget such cuts as Ready or Not and Fu-Gee-La. The threesome would disband a year later with Lauryn Hill going on to become a multi-platinum selling solo musician. Wyclef Jean didn’t do too bad for himself either with his own successful music career and becoming an ambassador for his native Haiti. What the hell happened to Pras? Better yet, who cares?
When people talk about the nu metal boom of the late 90s/early 2000s, many of its origins can be traced back to one band: Brazilian thrash metal act, Sepultura, whose 1996 album Roots was one of the standards that helped popularize the sound. The track Roots Bloody Roots is the most well known of the album and help kick off an era in heavy metal that would produce a plethora of soulless drones. What’s interesting is that the song Lookaway contained guest vocals by Jonathan Davis, whose band Korn is also considered one of the forefathers of nu metal and Mike Patton, vocalist of Faith No More, who is often cited as one of the genre’s biggest influences. While the brutality is still intact on each cut (Dusted and Straighthate being good examples), the touches that would plague the world of mainstream rock are on display, most notably the detuned guitars. It’s also worth noting that lead singer, Max Cavalera, would leave the band shortly after Roots’ release and go on to form Soulfly, a band that embraced the nu metal sound more than his former group did.
The rap world was going to get shook in a big way when Tupac Shakur’s double-disc epic entitled All Eyez On Me dropped. The record’s highlight was one of the biggest party jams of the decade, California Love, which features N.W.A. alum , Dr. Dre spittin’ verses. As a resident East Coaster, I’m not sure how much of the song I’m allowed to embrace but screw it, it’s rap at its finest. The song How Do U Want It features R&B duo KC & JoJo a full year before their hit track, All My Life, was would be played at weddings and high school proms worldwide. Unfortunately, this would be Pac’s last album while he was alive. We’ll get to that soon.
After the massive success of 1994’s Superunknown, Soundgarden would return two years later with Down on the Upside. Though overshadowed by its predecessor, this effort by the Seattle rockers unleashed some of their best work in Pretty Noose, Burden in My Hand, and Blow Up The Outside World, all of which still occupy their live setlists. This would be the very last Soundgarden record for 16 years as the band broke up in 1998 but reunited in 2010. After the initial split, Chris Cornell wound up having a moderately successful solo career before forming Audioslave with members of Rage Against the Machine. Speaking of RATM…
With the recent formation Prophets of Rage, it’s best to remember political headbangers, Rage Against The Machine, at the height of their success with the release of their sophomore effort, Evil Empire 20 years ago. Before former Rage Against The Machine members, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford team with Public Enemy’s Chuck D and B-Real of Cypress Hill this summer, Zack de la Rocha was laying down his most furious rhymes on Bulls on Parade and Vietnow. Morello never disappoints with his furious guitar work as heard on Revolver and the Down Rodeo. Don’t count out Timmy C. who puts it down on bass on Tire Me. The band were famous for spacing their released by quite a few years. Their next effort wouldn’t be until the eve of the new millennium in 1999.
It was 20 years ago when Metallica’s long-awaited follow-up to their self-titled smash hit record, affectionately nicknamed The Black Album, hit stores. Their sixth studio album, Load, moved further away from the thrash metal sound they helped popularized in the 1980s. To compliment this change in musical style, they drastically altered their image as well, chopping off their trademark long locks. Accusations of selling out and losing their edge ran rampant and other musicians even mocked them publicly. During their live unplugged set (more on that later), Alice in Chains’ Mike Inez branded the phrase “Friends don’t let friends get Friends’ haircuts” on his bass. Ouch. Despite this, the band still proved they had it with tracks like Until It Sleeps, King Nothing and Bleeding Me. People were still interested in what Metallica had to offer helping the album hit number one on the Billboard Top 200 within its first month of release. Was it the most popular Metallica record? Obviously not. Is it their best record? Hell no. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Does it deserve more praise looking back? Absolutely. Will it? Sadly not. I still believe that Bleeding Me is probably one of the best tracks the band ever wrote. A year later, the band would release the B-Sides from this record as a companion piece entitled Reload.
Before she was having on-stage meltdowns, Fiona Apple gave pop music another face with her ultra personal and dark sonets. Her introduction to the music world was two decades ago with Tidal, which was a huge hit with the aid of the single, Criminal, which won the young singer a Grammy. The song, hit the right chords for fans all over the world as did Sullen Girl, which was inspired by her real-life experience of being horrifically raped at the age of 12. The album’s success was also capitalized with the tracks Shadowboxer and Sleep to Dream.
Two months following the tragic death of singer Bradley Nowell, Long Beach punks, Sublime, released what was supposed to be their final album under the Sublime banner. The self-titled disc boasted the hit, What I Got, which received got tons of air and radioplay breathing new life into the band. The adorably filthy, Wrong Way, maintained that politically incorrect Sublime feel and Santeria led a lot of car sing-a-longs in my teenage years. It was accompanied by a music video reminiscent of old Western flicks and payed tribute to Nowell’s memory. More enjoyable cuts included Same in the End and the half-english, half-spanish reggae-tinged Caress Me Down whose lyrics I still cannot recite to this day in my pathetic attempt at espanol. This would be the perfect send-off to Nowell’s memory…until a guy named Rome Ramirez came in and tarnished in the years following.
Alice in Chains made their last high-profile television appearance with Layne Staley in 1996 with an acoustic set for MTV’s Unplugged series. Taking place in Brooklyn, a pink-haired Staley led the band in stripped-down versions of all your favorites from Dirt and Jar of Flies. The personal highlight for me was my favorite AIC tune, Down in a Hole, where Layne really belts it down. A shout out is also in order for Would? Where Jerry Cantrell assists Staley in laying down vocals. This would be the beginning of the end for Staley sadly as he continued to spiral down the path of his heroin addiction which he eventually succumbed to.
Weezer’s first self-titled record is one of my all-time favorites and 1996 saw the release of their follow-up, Pinkerton. The ten-track LP contains such timeless cuts as No Other One, The Good Life, and Across The Sea. I myself never cared too much for fan favorites like Tired of Sex and Butterfly but I feel the two minute and change little ditty, Getchoo is underrated. A funny tidbit for my wrestling fans out there: there’s an ECW reference in the song El Scorcho with the lyric “watching Grunge leg drop New Jack through a press table”. Grunge refers to Johnny Grunge, former member of the the pro wrestling duo, Public Enemy, who dominated the world of tag team wrestling throughout the 90s. While not as good as their first effort, Pinkerton is still really good and is probably the last consistently good Weezer record. The band underwent a five-year hiatus following Pinkerton so that frontman Rivers Cuomo can attend school at Harvard University.
Two years shy of A Perfect Circle’s entrance into music, Maynard Keenan was hard at work releasing Tool’s third album, Aenima. The title track coupled with Pushit, Stinkfist, Forty-Six & 2, and Hooker with a Penis made the LP just as essential as 1993’s Undertow. Also included is one of my favorite Tool tracks, H.
While Fiona Apple was giving pop music a somber tone, it still has its perky moments. None of this was more evident when, in the late 1990s, pop got a British makeover with the introduction of the fiery Spice Girls. The all-female quintet from the U.K. burst onto the scene 20 years ago and into hearts of our children and siblings with their five distinctive personalities, fashion sense, and catchy lyrics. Sporty, Baby, Scary, Posh, and Ginger Spice took over the world of music with their chart-topping debut record, Spice. It was evident that the readymade hit song Wannabe, along with the ballad 2 Become 1 whose music video displayed classic 90s cheesy green screen and the upbeat Say You’ll Be There would make the ladies memorable in music history. Their meteoric rise to popularity led to huge merchandise licensing, a clothing line, and even a feature film. Hell, they even had a video game for the original Playstation!
It was indeed the end of an era in 1996 when the Ramones played their very last show together. Unfortunately, any hopes for a reunion soon became dire as the members started passing on one by one starting with Joey Ramone in 2001 and most recently with Tommy Ramone in 2014.
Just seven months after the release of All Eyez On Me, a black cloud hovered over the rap world during the Fall of 1996 when 2Pac was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. The prolific hip-hop artist was slain in Las Vegas while on the road when a passenger riding in a Cadillac fired shots at his BMW striking him lethally. He was pronounced dead the next day. Six months later, The Notorious B.I.G. was also gunned down effectively ending the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop feud.
After lead singer, Sammy Hagar, exited Van Halen following disagreements with his bandmates, Eddie, Alex, and Michael Anthony reunited with original vocalist, David Lee Roth, to the excitement of fans everywhere. They soon headed to the studio to crank out some new material. The original line-up then made a highly-publicized appearance at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards but sadly, the reunion was short-lived as Roth left the group in the dust less than a month later citing frustrations behind the scenes with Eddie Van Halen. The only evidence of this homecoming was on Van Halen’s greatest hits compilation “Best of – Volume 1” which contained the newly recorded Me Wise Magic and Can’t Get This Stuff No More.