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Top Forty Favorite 90s Albums

Updated on January 29, 2020
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Justin W. Price, AKA PDXKaraokeGuy, is a freelance writer, blogger, and award-nominated author based out of Juneau, Alaska.

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I graduated high school in 1998. The music of the 90's is the music that I grew up on. it's the music that helped to shape me, it's the music that has the most memories associated with it. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and nostalgia is what shaped this list. This list is not a "Best of" , it's a list of my personal favorites from the decade of the 90's.

These are albums that take me back to specific times and places. That's the main importance of this list.

That was the main criteria for this list. It's the main reason why some amazing albums, like "Roll the Bones" by Rush and "Grace" by Jeff Buckley don't appear on this list. I didn't discover those albums in the decade of their birth. Radiohead is not on this list even the "The Bends" is one of my favorite albums. I discovered a lot of music from this era much after the era ended, hence, they don't fit the nostalgia criteria.

The other important part of the equation is that I only allowed one album per artist. That's why Temple of the Dog doesn't appear on this list. Pearl Jam and Soundgarden already do. My all time favorite band, Sonic Youth, didn't even make the list. Funny how that works.

The initial idea for this list was a top 25, but I found that too be daunting. I was cutting out some really good albums that still have a lot of meaning for me. Even forty was tough, but, I think it was a fair number. Also, you may be wondering why an era with so much great rap and hip hop why so little of it appears on this list: I've always been more of a rap track guy than a rap album guy. This is an album list and, since "Stankonia" by Outkast didn't come out until 2000, it didn't make the cut. My opinion on most rap albums is that they are too long and filled with too many little skits. It's about the songs.

This list contains some major hit albums and some obscure ones. Some of your favorites are no doubt (pun intended) left off this list. But, I find the list sublime. I have presented it here in alphabetical order. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this list and, I showed you yours... will you show me mine?

"(What's the story) Morning Glory?" By Oasis
"(What's the story) Morning Glory?" By Oasis

"(What's the Story) Morning Glory" by Oasis

Released October 2nd, 1995

Loved by fans but loathed by the critics, part of the second British Invasion,Oasis had a slew of hits in the mid 90's, most notably, "Wonderwall." While their debut album Definitely, Maybe was great, the follow up, (What's the story) Morning Glory? was excellent and it's the Oasis album I still listen to the most. While brother Noel and Liam Gallagher fought constantly, they created some of the most memorable tunes of the 90's.

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"Wonderwall"

"Adrenaline" by Deftones
"Adrenaline" by Deftones

"Adrenaline" by Deftones

Released October 3rd, 1995

Sacramento's Deftones are still making music but their first couple of albums, including their debut Adrenaline, set the standard. While many would argue that Around the Fur was a better album (and I can't fault them for that), this list is about favorites and this one is my favorite. It's raw and melodic and imminently listenable. It's everything that a heavy record should be.

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"Bored"

"A Picture of the Eighth Wonder" by Poor Old Lu
"A Picture of the Eighth Wonder" by Poor Old Lu

"A picture of the eighth wonder" by Poor Old Lu

Released April 10th, 1996

The final 90's album for Seattle alternative rockers Poor Old Lu is their best one. Every song is perfect, the arrangements, the lyrics. There isn't one second of this album that I don't like... and it has aged extremely well. One of my all time favorite songs (below) is on this album. That song always reminds me of Camp Firwood in bellingham, Washington, Summer of 1996. My church youth group used is for the recap video. I can't hear the song, or the album, without remembering that trip. I can't enough. I'll always be a LUser.

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"Chance for the chancers"

"August and everything after" by the Counting Crows
"August and everything after" by the Counting Crows

"August and everything after" by Counting Crows

Released September 14th, 1992

Counting Crows were the definition of alternative rock in the 90's. In an era with detuned, distorted guitars and screamed vocals, Counting Crows used acoustic or clean guitars, organs, and even accordions and (gasp!) actual singing. Their debut album, August and everything after. as with many on the this list, is their best album and one of the best of the decade.

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"Mr. Jones"

"Badmotorfinger" by Soundgarden
"Badmotorfinger" by Soundgarden

"Badmotorfinger" by Soundgarden

Released September 24th, 1991

Badmotorfinger, Soundgarden's major label debut was released on the exact same day as fellow Seattle band, Nirvana's, major label debut, Nevermind. While this album was overshadowed by the ubiquitous Nevermind, this record surpasses it in many ways. Few rock vocalists had the depth of range and emotion as the late Chris Cornell and Soundgarden brought the metal and odd time signatures into the grunge scene. Badmotorfinger is another of those albums with no weak moments. A brilliant masterpiece that reminds me of playing video games late into the night with my best friend.

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"Outshined"

"Clarity" by Jimmy Eat World
"Clarity" by Jimmy Eat World

"Clarity" by Jimmy Eat World

Released February 23rd, 1999

While many critics cite Clairty as one of the great emo/pop records of all time, it actually got the Mesa, Arizona lads dropped from their record label. Even though the follow up, Bleed American (released on September 11, 2001) got them more attention, this album is what gave them cult status in the indie world. While the album does drag in parts, the highlights are too good to be ignored. Terrific album.

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"Lucky Denver Mint"

"Closer than you think" by Puller
"Closer than you think" by Puller

"Closer than you think" by Puller

Released August 11th, 1998

From the ashes of For Love Not Lisa, came Oklahoma's Puller. This second record was their coup de grace for this short lived yet deeply powerful band. Combining elements of post grunge, pop rock and alternative this thirteen song epic hits the spot, running the gamut with fast songs, slow songs and highly emotive songs. I once had a dream and this song album provided the soundtrack. I still remember the dream and it comes back every time I listen to this album. This is one of those albums you probably haven't heard, but it's worth a listen and a place on your own list.

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"Silent Film"

"Diary" by Sunny Day Real Estate
"Diary" by Sunny Day Real Estate

"Diary" by Sunny Day Real Estate

Released May 10th, 1994

Before Nate Mendel and William Goldsmith got famous in the Foo Fighters, they were part of the seminal emo band of the 90's. Complete with obscure lyrics, jangly yet aggressive guitars, and impassioned vocals, Diary is everything that an emo record should be. It's a modern classic that stands the test of time. It set the stage for the genre, and even, at times, served as a precursor for the more aggressive emocore sound that took shape at the end of the decade. I don't care about anything of that, though. I just love this record so, so much.

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"In Circles"

"Dirt" by Alice in Chains
"Dirt" by Alice in Chains

"Dirt" by Alice in Chains

Released September 29th, 1992

Another Seattle grunge band. like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains explored the heavier and darker side of grunge. With frank lyrics about death, war and drug addiction, Alice in Chains (which has lost two members to drug addiction) remained overshadowed by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the aforementioned Soundgarden, even though "Rooster" and "Would?" are two of the most iconic songs of the era. Great album, but you will need an antidepressant after listening.

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"Would?"

"Dookie" by Green Day
"Dookie" by Green Day

"Dookie" by Green Day

Released February 1, 1994

This album, named after a slang for poop, catapulted the still active Green day into the stratosphere and helped to signal the second coming of punk rock. While Green Day's brand, along with MXPX, Blink 182 and the Offspring, was more pop oriented, it still brought back that raw aggression and rebellion of the original punk rockers. Dookie takes me back to the summer of my freshman year of high school, a strange summer that would usher in the strangely wonderful remainder of my high school career. This album was a hit machine and has well stood the test of time.

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"Sassafras Roots"

"Downward is Heavenward: by Hum
"Downward is Heavenward: by Hum

"Downward is heavenward" by Hum

Released January 27th, 1998

While their debut album You'd Prefer an Astronaut spawned the minor hit "Stars", Downward is Heavenward, the follow up, is a true shoegazer classic. Combining distortion soaked guitars with monotone vocals, Illinois' Hum was an unheralded 90's group that built a devoted cult following. Despite the monotone vocals, plenty of emotion is achieved, especially in the heart wrenching "If You are to Bloom" (which, by my interpretation is about losing a child and then imagining a future that could have been with that child). This album is not for everybody, but, for shoegazer fans, this is a must own.

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"If you are to bloom"

"Dulcinea" by Toad the Wet Sprocket
"Dulcinea" by Toad the Wet Sprocket

"Dulcinea" by Toad the Wet Sprocket

Released May 24th, 1994

I saw Toad the Wet Sprocket on the tour for this album at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon. Hootie and the Blowfish opened. By the end of the tour, the headliners had swapped places, and that is a true shame. Toad the Wet Sprocket was one of those bands that were everywhere in the 90's, yet never hit the stratosphere that they deserved. Mixing folk, pop, and alternative rock, Dulcinea picked up where the wildly successful Fear left off and, to me, took it up a notch. There's a couple of duds on this record, but the highlights are many and this record has been a constant part of my rotation for the last twenty years.

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"Fly from heaven"

"Eight Hours Away From Being a Man" by Roadside Monument
"Eight Hours Away From Being a Man" by Roadside Monument

"Eight hours away from being a man" by Roadside Monument

Released June 24, 1997

In the late 90's, early 2000's I was in a band called Royalty Wears Thorns. People called us Royalty Wears Roadside Monument. I guess Roadside Monument was an influence. Was it emo? Math rock? Screamo? Experimental? Noise? The answer was yes. Definitely a band requiring an acquired taste. Count me as one who acquired it, especially with this coming-of-age-with-less-cynicism album.

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"My hands are the thermometers"

"Example" by For Squirrels
"Example" by For Squirrels

"Example" by For Squirrels

Released October 3rd, 1995

For Squirrels could have been huge. However, a month before this record was released, singer John Vigilatura and bassist Bill White died in a car accident while on tour. The band stopped before the really got started. The irony in this, of course, is that the one hit that they are known for, "Mighty K.C." is about Kurt Cobain, who allegedly committed suicide at the age of twenty seven a year a half before Example was released. This record is tragic, haunting, and so good.

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"Mighty KC"

"The Fat of the Land" by The Prodigy
"The Fat of the Land" by The Prodigy

"The fat of the land" by The Prodigy

Released June 30th, 1997

I'll admit it, I hated this aggressive weird techno when I first heard it. Then, I got a $300 subwoofer for my 1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse with a manual transmission and it changed everything. This is some layered, heavy, dance-able shit. It really changed my views on what electronic music could be and this album is a personal classic. Definitely worth a spin on ye olde Spotify. I'm sure you've heard this album before, but maybe it's been years. Dust it off and give it a go.

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"Breathe"

"Gold" by Starflyer 59
"Gold" by Starflyer 59

"Gold" by Starflyer 59

Released June 27th, 1995

This was my favorite album to unwind to after a concert. This distortion drenched shoegazer with mostly whispered vocals, was just about perfect. It was loud, poignant, slow, and beautiful. It still is. Shoegazer in general is a genre that seems to have aged well, and this masterpiece is no exception. Whether you're sleeping, driving, or doing housework, this record hits the spot... but it's best played loud.

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"Dual overhead cam"

"2Pac Greatest Hits" by 2Pac
"2Pac Greatest Hits" by 2Pac

"Greatest Hits" by 2Pac

Released November 24th, 1998

The nineties was a great decade for rap and I am a huge fan of rap, The problem, though, is that most rap albums have a bunch of skits interrupting the dope beats and fresh rhymes. I just like the songs. Maybe it's cheating to put a greatest hits album on this list, but 2Pac's Greatest hits is just a great rap album, and ti's the one that really got me back into rap after trying to deny it's greatness for half a decade. It's easy to listen to all his hits without having to skip past the skits, which can be distracting and can interrupt the flow. 2Pac's Greatest Hits solves that problem.

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"Changes"

"In Loving Memory Of..." by Big Wreck
"In Loving Memory Of..." by Big Wreck

"In loving memory of..." by Big Wreck

Released October 7th, 1997

Forget Alanis Morissette, Big Wreck was the best Canadian import of the Clinton Era. Completely eschewing the trappings of grunge, this group, lead by the dapper Ian Thornley, performed in suits and made music that involved things like melody, harmony and actual singing... but they still knew how to rock. This debut album was phenomenal. They were never able to match it, or even come close, but that doesn't matter.

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"That Song"

"Mercury" by The Prayer Chain
"Mercury" by The Prayer Chain

"Mercury" by The Prayer Chain

Released April 11th, 1995

After two straight forward, yet angst ridden, alternative/grunge albums, the Prayer Chain released this, their masterpiece. I didn't get it at first, what with the atmospheric guitars, ethereal vocals and obscure lyrics. But, now, years later, I view it as one of the greatest albums ever made. The Prayer Chain, always controversial, broke up immediately after this album released and many say that you can hear the band fighting and breaking up while listening to this album. It's a somber, meditative classic.

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"Bendy Line"

"Metallica" By Metallica
"Metallica" By Metallica

"Metallica" by Metallica

Released August 12, 1991

Die hard Metallica fans say the band sold out with this record, opting to slow things down and even introducing a ballad or two. In the words of vocalist James Hetfield "Yes, we sold out. Everywhere we play." This album is great from start to finish and it's actually my favorite Metallica album-- possibly because it was the first one I really listened to, since I was just a wee little lad in the 80's and was not allowed to listen to Metallica. It's a great album. Who cares what anyone else has to say.

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"Sad but true"

"Nevermind" by NIrvana
"Nevermind" by NIrvana

"Nevermind" by Nirvana

Released September 24th, 1991.

I said everything that I needed to say about this album in my article "Nevermind, never forgotten."

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"In bloom"

"New MIserable Experience" by the Gin Blossoms
"New MIserable Experience" by the Gin Blossoms

"New miserable experience" by Gin Blossoms

Released August 4th, 1992

Arizona's Gin Blossoms found a way to make jangly pop depressing. When you name your band after a disease caused by alcoholism and have the word "Miserable" in your album title, you kind of know what to expect. Doug Hopkins, the primary songwriter for this album, killed himself shortly after this wildly successful album was released. This hit machine, despite all of this, is a landmark, classic album of the 90's. It's a sad little masterpiece.

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"Allison Road"

"Once Dead" by Vengeance Rising
"Once Dead" by Vengeance Rising

"Once dead" by Vengeance Rising

Released: 1990

Vengeance Rising put out two stellar Christian death/thrash metal albums, Human Sacrifice and the follow up, Once Dead. These were followed by two sub par records, followed by founding member and vocalist Roger Martinez abandoning Christianity for a hybrid version of atheism/satanism. The roller coaster ride of this group aside, this record is fantastic, mixing elements of thrash and speed metal, with classic metal and even death metal. Once Dead is musically fast and lyrically brutal.

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"Cut into pieces"

"Our Newest Album Ever" by Five Iron Frenzy
"Our Newest Album Ever" by Five Iron Frenzy

"Our newest album ever" by Five Iron Frenzy

Released November 11, 1997

Third wave ska was huge in the nineties and one of my favorite bands of this genre was Colorado's Five Iron Frenzy. Mixing the serious with the humorous, and exploring themes from Christianity, to divorce, to bullies, to the treatment by the U.S. Government of Native Americans, this listen is fun and insightful. Our Newest Album Ever by Five Iron Frenzy is also the best Five Iron Frenzy album ever.

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"Handbook for the sellout"

Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance, Tourniquet
Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance, Tourniquet

Released July 1, 1992

With medical terms for song titles and with a logo that reminds me of Terminator 2, the only thing I knew when I popped in this cassette for the first time was that it would be different than anything I had ever heard before. The foresight proved accurate. Combining elements of classic thrash and speed metal with jazz, blues and even classic rock, Tourniquet took extreme Christian music to the, well, extreme. This album is a timeless classic.

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'Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance" by Tourniquet

"Planes Mistaken for Stars" by Planes MIstaken for Stars
"Planes Mistaken for Stars" by Planes MIstaken for Stars

"Planes Mistaken for Stars" by Planes Mistaken for Stars

Released April 13th 1999

Before making a name for themselves (at least in indie circles) with more stoner metal/space rock type stuff, they released this brilliant post hardcore/emo EP. There was a time where this 24 minute album made the daily listening rotation for me and, even though those days are gone, I still listen to this gem several times a year. PMFS is still going strong (even with a lot of member turn over and the suicide last year of founding member Matt Bellinger), and playing at a punk rock club near you.

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"Copper and stars"

"Question the Answers" by Mighty Mighty Bosstones
"Question the Answers" by Mighty Mighty Bosstones

"Question the answers" by Mighty MIghty Bosstones

Released October 4th, 1994

I saw Mighty Mighty Bosstones several times (usually with reel Big Fish) at the long defunct Portland, oregon all ages venue La Luna. MMB is another skacore/third wave ska band making an appearance here. Boston's Mighty Mighty Bosstones played an aggressive brand of ska, backed by Dicky Barrett's gin and cigarettes vocal delivery. Add to that mix a dancing tour manager and some of the catchy tunes you'll ever hear, and this record is a skatastic.

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"Hell of a hat"

"Rage Against the Machine" by Rage Against the Machine
"Rage Against the Machine" by Rage Against the Machine

"Rage Against the Machine" by Rage Against the Machine

Released November 3rd, 1992

This record blew my mind when I first heard it. It was the first overtly political record I was really into, even though I didn't understand the politics at the time (and, even today, find myself at odds with many of the views). But, the music was so groundbreaking, and fun, funky, heavy. Full of NSFW language and anger, Rage Against the Machine's self titled debut is one of the all time greats.

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"Bombtrack"

"Reborn" by Living Sacrifice
"Reborn" by Living Sacrifice

"Reborn" by Living Sacrifice

Released November 4th, 1997

Mainstays of the Christian metal scene for more than two decades now, Living Sacrifice, which began as a death metal band, found their groove as a thrash metal mainstay, starting with this album. From the build up of the title track which opens the album to the waning notes of the finale, this album lets up only long enough for you to catch your breath before popping suffocating you again with power and raw brutality. I still remember hanging with these dudes, and their rottweiler, at Tom Fest in Skamania County Washington shortly after this record was released. This album is heavy, abrasive and absolutely timeless.

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"Reject"

"Regretfully Yours" by Superdrag
"Regretfully Yours" by Superdrag

"Regretfully yours" by Superdrag

Released March 26th, 1996.

No one in the nineties did melancholy alternative power pop better than Superdrag. While many argue that Head Trip in Every Key is a better overall album, this one has always been my favorite and it's really the only one that I still listen too. Backed by mega hit "Sucked Out" (which, ironically, is about the soullessness of the record industry), Superdrag cemented a rabid cult following. This album is a catchy and melancholy masterpiece.

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"Phaser"

Scrolls of the Megilloth" by Mortification
Scrolls of the Megilloth" by Mortification

"Scrolls of the Megilloth" by Mortification

Released August 28th, 1992

Mortification was one of the first Christian bands to unabashedly play death metal music. A niche genre, to be sure, this album would make any fan of old school death metal proud. Plenty of blast beats, death growls and insane riffage, this Aussie trio somehow manages to create a sound that is as full and brutal as the output of a quintet. One of the best metal records ever made. Period.

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"Terminate damnation"

"Siamese Dream" by Smashing Pumpkins
"Siamese Dream" by Smashing Pumpkins

"Siamese dream" by The Smashing Pumpkins

Released July 27th, 1993

Yes. Meloncollie and the Infinite Sadness is a better album. But this isn't abut which albums are better, it's about my favorites, it's about nostalgia. It's only been in the last decade that I really appreciated Meloncollie for what it is. Siamese Dream, though, has all of the nostalgia and memories for me. I remember listening to "Mayonaise" on repeat over and over again while working on term papers. It's dirty and abrasive and raw and absolutely brilliant.

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"Today"

"The Soft Bulletin" by The Flaming Lips
"The Soft Bulletin" by The Flaming Lips

"The soft bulletin" by the Flaming Lips

Released May 17th, 1999

While for many, "She Don't Use Jelly" was their first exposure to the Flaming Lips, they've always been a serious, albeit quirky, rock n roll band. The Soft Bulletin is, quite frankly, one of the best records ever made. From the soaring orchestration to the lush arrangements, The Soft Bulletin proves that you can be quirky and serious and still make music that you can be proud of even decades later.

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"The race for the prize"

"Speckled Bird" by The Choir
"Speckled Bird" by The Choir

"Speckled bird" by The Choir

Released July 1, 1994

My Aunt Peggy stayed with us for a month when my parents were away. She would take me shopping and spoil us with new things. This album was amongst those things that she spoiled me with. The Choir have seemingly been around for eternity. Creating alternative rock with hints of folk, pop, country and blues, The Choir have long been one of my favorite bands, and one of the most unique in Christian music. The lyrics are often obscure and to the left of much of their peers. The Choir has long been one of my favorite bands and this album was my first exposure to them. Maybe that's why it's my favorite.

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"Love your mind"

"Ten" by Pearl Jam
"Ten" by Pearl Jam

"Ten" by Pearl Jam

Released August 27th, 1991

I hated this album the first time I heard it. I thought Eddie Vedder couldn't sing a lick. I'm glad I gave it a second, third, 5,000th chance. Pearl Jam is perhaps the most enduring band of the grunge era. And, while "Ten" is definitely a grunge album, it was also loaded up with blues and straight forward rock. Eddie Vedder's smooth growl was backed up by four brilliant musicians which, the outside of the drummer (David Abbruzzese on this record), has remained unchanged for nearly three decades. This album is now considered classic rock by many, but it's as fresh as the day I heard it for the first time, although my thoughts on Eddie Vedder's singing have grown much more positive.

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"Even flow"

"Throwing Copper" by Live
"Throwing Copper" by Live

"Throwing copper" by Live

Released April 19th, 1994

This album will always remind me of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. That may seem strange since Live is from York, Pennsylvania, but, I remember going into a Tower Records at age fourteen while my family was traveling through Nawlins. I purchased this cassette and popped it into my walkman and listened the hell out of it. Live was an unusual band, and I mean that in the kindest way possible. This album is fantastic and filled with memories!

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"I alone"

"Understand this is a dream: by The Juliana Theory
"Understand this is a dream: by The Juliana Theory

"Understand this is a dream" by The Juliana Theory

Released March 23, 1999

I saw the Juliana Theory in concert, once, right before I heard this debut album. I don't remember much about the concert, but I remember it was at a small concert club in Southeast Portland called the Meow Meow with my friends (and fellow bandmates) TJ, Andrew and Paul. I remember liking the band and I remember liking this album even more. In fact, I still like it, very much so. The Juliana Theory had a nice decade long career, and it started with this kickass album.

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"Duane Joseph"

"Weezer" by Weezer, also known as "the Blue Album"
"Weezer" by Weezer, also known as "the Blue Album"

"Weezer" by Weezer

Released May 10, 1994

One of my enduring childhood memories is listening to this album while sitting in the back of a Dodge Caravan as we traveled across the country. My dad was a musician and this is how we spent our summers. My little sister, who would have only been four or five, at most, would sing along to this album, getting all of the words wrong. It was a toss up between this one and the Fountain of Wayne debut album, but this one won out.

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"Say it ain't so"

"Wish" by The Cure
"Wish" by The Cure

"Wish" by The Cure

Released April 21, 1992

Disintegration is the best Cure album of all time. you'll get no argument from me. But that album came out in the 80's. Wish is a fantastic album, and also bridged the gap between their more gothy, mopey sound of the 80's and the poppier sound that defined the 90's for them. I have no specific memories of this album. I just really like it.

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"Letter to Elise"

"The World as Best as I remember it" by Rich Mullins
"The World as Best as I remember it" by Rich Mullins

"The world as best as I remember it Volume 1 and 2" by Rich Mullins

Released 1991 and 1992 respectively.

Rich Mullins was someone whom the church would have likely burned at the stake in the middle ages. He challenged the church with his radical ways of thinking (which were completely based on scripture) and he challenged the Christian music industry with his refusal to make a pop record. I had the chance to have dinner with Mr. Mullins in 1996, about a year before his passing. I'll always remember his kind eyes and unassuming demeanor. This album always reminds me of that night.

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"Calling out Your name"

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