Roon Music Blog: 44 Days in '91

44 Days in '91

Music flashpoints are an exceedingly rare phenomenon. Even when considering a mainstream genre like Rock you can count these transformational convulsions on a single hand. Some of the reason for their scarcity comes from the difficulty involved in packing all the necessary ingredients into a single coalescent moment. The required elements are a creative environment that has gone stale, the sudden emergence of a new sound, a large audience, and a means for reaching them.

Historically, television has exploited those moments more effectively than any competing medium. A few examples spring instantly to mind: Elvis ‘ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, The Beatles ‘ first Sullivan performance… and the day in 1991 that Nirvana‘s Smells Like Teen Spirit broke on MTV.

Those who experienced that debut in real-time remember it vividly. ‘Everything will be different now…’, the screen seemed to convey with mysterious certainty. A new era had sprung to life before our eyes.

I was at the top of the rock world… then next thing I know it’s ‘Hey Joe’s Crab Shack, it’s great to be here!!’ Really, it was that fast, man. Nirvana murdered my career, and everyone else’s. Everything that came before was over.

Sebastian Bach, Lead Singer of Skid Row

The Long Winter of Hair Metal

If you weren’t of a certain age in the early 1990s, it may be difficult to understand the dominance that MTV enjoyed when it came to defining music trends. It was the most powerful visual platform music had ever seen. The problem was that it had become a wasteland of cheesy sound-alike hair bands. The programing had slowly devolved into a relentless parade of awful music and vapid videos filled with men in makeup, hairspray drenched teased hair, scantily clad women, spandex, studded leather, pointy guitars, and musical cliché. It had been that way for what felt like a lifetime, with no end in sight.

Then suddenly, in the waning days of the summer of 1991, seven landmark albums were released within 44 days of each other; with startling immediacy Rock was reborn!

  • MetallicaMetallica (The Black Album), August 12, 1991
  • Pearl JamTen, August 27, 1991
  • Guns N’ RosesUse Your Illusion I & II, September 17, 1991
  • Red Hot Chilli PeppersBlood Sugar Sex Magik, September 24, 1991
  • Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger, September 24, 1991
  • Nirvana – Nevermind, September 24, 1991

An interview scene from the recent SXSW premiere of the Ronnie James Dio documentary Dio: Dreamers Never Die captured the moment perfectly. Veteran Rock-radio DJ, and former host of VH1’s Metal Mania, Eddie Trunk, recounted how the program director of WDHA, ‘The Rock of New Jersey’, walked into the booth minutes before the start of his show. Trunk was told to put all the Metal discs on the console in a cardboard box. After doing so, he was handed Nirvana’s *Nevermind.; “*This is what we play now,” the program director said as he walked away. Trunk recalled that he had never seen a moment like that in Rock music before or since.

Sebastian Bach of Skid Row displayed self-effacing humor after the film screening as he shared a memory of that period. “We had just released an album and were huge! I was at the top of the rock world… then next thing I know it’s ‘Hey Joe’s Crab Shack, it’s great to be here!!’ Really, it was that fast, man. Nirvana murdered my career, and everyone else’s. Everything that came before was over.”

But Nirvana didn’t do all of this single-handedly; it was a unique joint effort from a truly unlikely confederacy of albums.

The Seven

Metallica‘s eponymous album was first, accompanied by a series of darkly themed videos beginning with the nightmare hell-ride, Enter Sandman. The band had previously enjoyed a committed cult following, but all that changed after The Black Album. They made the hair metal bands that preceded them look ridiculous. Their breed of metal was pulverizing, ominous, and entirely unlike the sound that had saturated the airwaves for years on end. And it was suddenly mainstream; one had the feeling that something was stirring.

Qobuz: Open Qobuz

Pearl Jam‘s Ten was branded “grunge” but there’s a substantial classic-rock aesthetic to their sound. The spirit of Hendrix, Page, and other late ’60s / early ’70’s guitar heroes can clearly be felt. Eddie Vedder’s words resonated with a whole new generation of listeners looking for deeper subject matter to identify with. Their video for Even Flow captured the raw energy of the new sound and scene.

Qobuz: Open Qobuz

Guns N’ Roses rewarded fans who had patiently waited for a follow-up to their debut Appetite for Destruction with two full-length releases, Use You Illusion I & II. G&R wasn’t new to the scene. They were frequent fixtures on MTV and rock radio who withstood the sea change thanks to their skill at cranking out pure unadulterated Rock. Use Your Illusion I & II debuted at the Number 1 and 2 slots of Billboard’s Album Chart. Several songs from the record morphed into some of the most cinematic, and expensive, rock videos to ever appear on MTV.

Use Your Illusion I
Qobuz: Open Qobuz

Use Your Illusion II
Qobuz: Open Qobuz

September 24, 1991, delivered a devastating triumvirate of albums whose combined impact, and individual merits, are unlikely to be repeated.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood, Sugar, Sex, Majik sees the funk-rock tribe expand their sonic horizons thanks to production from Rick Rubin. The video releases for Breaking the Girl, Give It Away, and Under the Bridge are surreal scenes plucked straight from an Orange Sunshine fueled reverie. They played music with a warrior’s intensity, the RHCP were the only band who sounded like that.

Qobuz: Open Qobuz

Soundgarden was always too singular sonically to fit comfortably under the “grunge” banner. On Badmotorfinger, their eclectic influences and musicianship are on full display. Full of inventive arrangements, unusual time signatures, and sludgy guitar heaviness – the album cuts its own trail across the musical landscape of that summer. The crazed neon desert visuals of Jesus Christ Pose proved too controversial for MTV, earning a ban from the network. MTV hasn’t played the video in its entirety to this day.

Qobuz: Open Qobuz

Nirvana‘s Nevermind struck the final deadly blow. I don’t know if I’ll ever see another album redirect the arc of rock music the way that one did. No doubt, the six albums that preceded it had done their work in weakening the target; but Nirvana’s heavy sonic attack and subject matter recalled punk’s go-to-hell abandon with delirious ferocity. But it was the imagery of their videos that proved lethal.

Qobuz: Open Qobuz

The final nail: Smells Like Teen Spirit

On September 10th, 1991, Nevermind‘s first video Smells Like Teen Spirit exploded before an unprepared audience. Everything in that 4 minutes and 39 seconds was the mirror opposite of the soul-sucking drek we had endured in the long winter of Hair-Metal. The only makeup and spandex seen were buried in the greenish mire that obscured the Anarchy Cheerleaders thrashing in the foreground. Nirvana wore striped shirts, torn jeans, doc martens, and converse, with guitars slung low and set to destroy. Kobain with hair in his face tearing away at the guitar, Novoselic head down, driving the bass, Grohl a hurricane of blurred arms and bass drumming. The kids rocking out in the video were representative of the musical liberation we all felt. Everything that had previously assailed us musically was swept away in its aftermath.

In celebration of these records, we’ve built 44 Days in ’91; a playlist featuring the heaviest tracks from these albums. Together again, just as they were on MTV and the airwaves in the days that followed. You can find it on your Home Page in Roon.

If you were a member of Hair Nation who was sad to see those earlier Metal bands go, we want to hear your side of the story. Submit your favorite metal songs of the mid-80s to early 90s to our thread entitled Glam-Metal: Roon Listeners Playlist. We’ll compile the best and share a playlist of your favorites.


Nice summary of that very unique time. I was in my mid-twenties, sort of seeing the evolution of MTV and its influence beginning to wane at this point. The best things they aired were Sunday night’s Liquid Television showcasing avant garde animation and 120 Minutes showcasing up and coming and non-mainstream bands.

The first time I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit, it just felt that everything coming next was going to be very different and yet more real. Hair Metal (personally never a fan) was obvious for its extreme stereotyping, even Motley Crue became more “real” after this period.

Not sure that time, those bands, and the cultural effects they made ever can be recreated again.

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I was just turning 30 and was not a big fan of what was happening in music at that time. Nor were most of my friends. I guess that is why most of the popular and rock music I listen to is pre-1990.


@musicjunkie917, Submit some of your favorites from the pre-90s period here if you’d like!

How about tracks from Bush’s Sixteen Stone and maybe The Presidents of the United States of America, a couple of years later, but still sound great

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This was during a very important an influential time in my life; I started high school in Sept 1991.

Up until that point my musical tastes were largely influenced by my older brother; Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground, The Smiths, U2. I was also learning to play the guitar and played along with every song from The Cult’s album Electric. I discovered Bad Religion and their songs were fun to play and sing along to but more importantly their lyrics spoke to and educated me. I loved rock in its many forms but didn’t understand or enjoy what my friends were into and what was popular on radio or MuchMusic (Canada’s MTV).

Then the local rock radio station started playing Smells Like Teen Spirit one day and everything changed. Like up until then everyone just accepted Warrant’s Cherry Pie as what rock music was but not recognizing the collective anger and anxiety it was generating under the surface. When Smells Like Teen Spirit arrived, a generation of kids not only sang, “here we are now, entertain us,” but ‘we need this now more than ever.’

I think the significance of Nirvana’s Nevermind (especially), Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger and Pearl Jam’s Ten cannot be understated. Within a few weeks, rock radio and music TV completely changed and kids tastes were never the same again. The hopelessness of the 80s was past; it was the 90s and we were angry.


A quote that will live with us/me for a long time! Priceless! :smiley:

I love your write up of these special times and in retrospect i was obviously ignorant at the time! :slight_smile: But with some perspective this is all a very descriptive storyof the times.

I still feel that these releases cannot be held fully responsible for the changes on the music scene without some very important albums in the preceding years.
I’m thinking Pixies - Surfer Rosa & the magnificent Doolittle,
Faith No More - The Real Thing and perhaps even Depeche Mode - Violator and different but spectacular Talk Talk - Sprit of Eden

Edit: Almost forgot!:

Great post and efforts @jamie!


Music was great in the 70’s and 80’s…it was not a hopeless time for me. In fact some of the best times of my life were had in those years.

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I absolutely agree! My “hopelessness” comment was more in general.

I do think this is all a matter of perspective also and each generation inherently goes through some kind of iconoclasm when it comes to music.

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I don’t know of the hair metal was as big a thing in Europe? Certainly I’d be hard pressed to name any songs in this genre but I was 26 in 1991. Also I never was an MTV watcher.

I remember meeting a friend on 1989 and bemoaning how mediocre “rock” music had become and he loaned me 3 albums, Doolittle by the Pixies, the Wedding Present’s George Best and Lincoln by They might be Giants - I was saved!

Strangely although I have a huge proportion of purchases from the early 90s, I only ever owned Nevermind from that list but even its play count would be minimal compared to Pixies / Throwing Muses / Lemonheads / Frank Black / Breeders.

Interesting and thought provoking blog post though and undoubtedly nevermind had huge impact and did change the trajectory music for a few years but for me the best album released in 1991 was Achtung Baby!



Enjoying the playlist.

Very exciting time for music. I remember being in a bar in Covent Garden sometime in 90/91 and realising how annoying the rock scene had become. Cliched and worn out. The realisation was rammed home by seeing Alice Cooper - Poison on the video screens and whilst the track itself is not terrible, the visuals and stereotyping in the video was really grating.

I was in New York for work late Sept/Oct of '91 and bought Nevermind and BSSM during release week from a record store in Brooklyn. I bought Ten and UYI 1&2 on my return to London. This was a great period for rock.

I never truly warmed to The Black Album; I think it had a false sophistication which made it appeal to a more commercial market rather than the band’s fanbase. I think it was the album where Metallica came off the boil, personally. Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All were incredible albums and moved the dial for metal.