If it takes fifteen years for a movie to reach classic status, it takes a bit longer for music. We hold on a bit more tightly to the music we love. Music more easily seeps into our identities. We associate huge life events with songs or albums, and it’s harder to let those go or admit that they belong to a different time.
So I’d say it takes about five more years for music to become classic. Nirvana is now a classic rock band, since all of their music took place over twenty years ago. That’s hard to fathom, but it’s undoubtedly true.
Like my list of 2000’s movies that are now classic, I decided to make a list of albums from 1995 that fit under the same label. Again, this list isn’t the same as the Bummys. I don’t even like some of these albums. But some works of art belong in the canon regardless of how I feel about them.
The albums can be broken down into four categories:
Undisputable: Again, it’s supposed to be “indisputable”, but how boring is correct spelling, am I right? These are the albums that are unarguably classic, no matter what you say.
Critical Consensus: These are the albums that may not have huge album sales but will always be championed by the critical community.
By Popular Demand: And these are the albums that weren’t necessarily critically adored but were and have been enormously popular regardless.
Cult Status: These albums have achieved popularity over time, rather than making a big splash when they debuted.
The Bends, Radiohead
Radiohead’s best years have seemed behind them for a few years now, so now seems an appropriate time to remember their most underrated album. At the time it was their breakthrough of sorts; they had already seen success with “Creep” off 1993’s Pablo Honey, but The Bends cemented them as more than just another band riding the Nirvana wave. Whereas grunge was generally introspective, frontman Thom Yorke’s songwriting was externally focused, and, as such, made a strong musical statement from such young, under-the-radar Brits.
Brown Sugar, D’Angelo
It’s easy to forget how big R&B was in the ‘90s. And of all its stars- Aaliyah, Maxwell, Babyface- D’Angelo always seemed like the most tortured, and even more so in retrospect. Brown Sugar was the man at his freest- still dirty, but less haunted than on 2000’s Voodoo.
E. 1999 Eternal, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony
E. 1999 Eternal is nearly synonymous with BTH, as it’s really the only crossover success of their career, a lightning-in-a-bottle moment orchestrated by Eazy-E. BTH obviously had a singular sound of their own, considering they put Cleveland on the hip-hop map, but Eazy-E brought West Coast producers into the mix to catapult the group into stardom. The album would be a classic for “Tha Crossroads” alone if the rest of it weren’t so timeless.
Foo Fighters, Foo Fighters
Decidedly more lo-fi than the sound we’ve come to expect from them, Foo Fighters now sounds like their most authentic record. Grohl recorded nearly everything on the album himself and only found a temporary backing band later for the supporting tour. The current iteration of the band didn’t form until the recording of their third album, but Foo Fighters remains one of their best.
Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette
Being one of the best-selling albums of all time has its perks, but Jagged Little Pill’s financial success seems to have hampered its qualitative legacy. Alternative music wasn’t meant to be popular, but the ‘90s was the decade of the outsider. Thus, Morissette’s album of defiant confessionals has sold over 33 million copies, but make no mistake- Pill is a classic for its quality too.
Jars of Clay, Jars of Clay
Jars of Clay’s debut gets credit for popularizing acoustic worship music with songs like “Love Song for a Savior” and “Like a Child”. But Jars of Clay is more impressive for the offbeat sounds of “Flood” and “Liquid”. Jars of Clay has continued to produce unconventional Christian rock music, but their debut stands at the top of their catalog as their most influential.
Jesus Freak, dc Talk
And if we’re talking influential Christian rock albums, you don’t get more of an impact than the effect dc Talk’s most popular album had on the artists in their industry. At the time of the record’s release, dc Talk were already among the most popular Christian acts in America, but Jesus Freak was a significant step forward for the group artistically. Jesus Freak mixed genres and incorporated rap in ways unseen beforehand in the Christian music world, and the record now comes off like a collection of the band’s greatest hits.
Me Against the World, 2Pac
Pac has always been more complex than any critic or profiler could convey in a music magazine review or feature. Me Against the World seemed to pare down all the hype and controversy surrounding him and to present the purest form of 2Pac the world had yet received. You can’t really know an artist just from listening to one of his albums, but 2Pac made you believe you could.
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, The Smashing Pumpkins
If 28 songs seems like overkill to include on a single album, that’s because it is. But Mellon Collie’s bombast is one of its charms, reflective of every teenager’s inner self-centeredness. Billy Corgan makes it easy to hate Smashing Pumpkins; Mellon Collie makes it impossible.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, Raekwon
Produced by RZA and masterminded lyrically by Rae and Ghost, Cuban Linx was the second of a post-Enter the Wu-Tang wave of solo albums from the Wu’s collection of misfits. It also might be the densest, the one with the most complete arc from beginning to end. If Ghostface is inarguably the group’s best rapper and RZA the group’s de facto godfather, Cuban Linx is the proof, even 20 years later, that Raekwon is Wu-Tang’s indisputable narrative genius.
In her 30-year career, little has changed about the public perception of Björk. Sure, she’s grown in critical estimation, but she’s still by and large seen as an otherworldly artpop chanteuse, a persona cemented by her breakthrough second album. She was hounded by the paparazzi in Iceland and was a star in her own right for her unique style, but Post was her crowning achievement to date.
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Oasis
Morning Glory is the kind of record it’s easy to dismiss, since “Wonderwall” (as well as, to a lesser extent, “Champagne Supernova”) is one of the most overplayed songs of all time, especially by any schmo on a college campus with an acoustic guitar. But it’s important to remember that Oasis, for all their faults, were one of the two biggest British bands in the world at a time when that meant something. And while Morning Glory comes off as more generic than its predecessor, Definitely Maybe, it’s still a bloody good album.
Wrecking Ball, Emmylou Harris
There never hasn’t been such a thing as Americana, but Wrecking Ball may have created it anyway. The ‘90s were around when the country industry began to mirror the pop industry far more often than it wanted to. So Emmylou Harris’s release of Wrecking Ball, while lowkey, was a strong statement of intent for one of country’s elder states(wo)men. As lovely an album as she’d ever written, Wrecking Ball became an inspiration for singer-songwriters anywhere that traditional folk music still had a place in America.
Exit Planet Dust, The Chemical Brothers
Hardly the most influential electronic album of the ‘90s (or even of 1995; see below), but it’s the one the critics liked the most and has been remembered as a result.
Lament, Resurrection Band
Glenn Kaiser’s band was never enormously popular, but they were always critical favorites among the Christian media, and this, their last album, was their most championed.
This is the aforementioned most influential electronic album of 1995; the best of EDM in 2015 sounds an awful like Leftfield’s prog house album.
Maxinquaye, on the other hand, seems to have had the most influence on hip-hop’s beats; it’s hard to imagine the current vast expanse of rap without Tricky’s seminal Brit-hop production.
Definitely the electronic album with the most apt title.
To Bring You My Love, PJ Harvey
There’s an alternate universe in which To Bring You My Love was the most popular alt-rock album of the year in place of Jagged Little Pill; PJ Harvey will just have to settle for being a critical darling instead.
By Popular Demand
Daydream, Mariah Carey
Mimi’s first Billboard #1, but not her last.
Different Class, Pulp
If Blur were the Stones to Oasis’s Beatles, Pulp were The Who, but they might have secretly been the Beatles all along.
Only in the ‘90s would an album as alternative and queer as Garbage be one of the most popular of the year.
Tragic Kingdom, No Doubt
If, like me, you dislike No Doubt for being a middling band that achieved great success at the expense of better bands, you still can’t deny that they achieved great success.
The Woman in Me, Shania Twain
The first album from a female artist to go diamond (sell over 10 million copies), and the first of Shania Twain’s efforts to take over the world.
Elliott Smith, Elliott Smith
The ultimate cult album from the ultimate cult artist.
Liquid Swords, GZA
The Genius didn’t seem to care that Liquid Swords, the rappers’ rap album, wasn’t commercially successful; neither do its many admirers 20 years later.
Mercury, The Prayer Chain
The Prayer Chain is often described as underground, though their first album was quite popular; Mercury, on the other hand, went seemingly unnoticed until it grew in the estimation of alt-Christian music’s enthusiasts over the years.
Soul Food, Goodie Mob
In retrospect, it’s amazing that CeeLo became as popular as he is now, since Goodie Mob always seemed like OutKast’s outcast cousins, but now Soul Food looks like one of the more prescient albums to come out of southern rap.