30 albums turning 30 in 2021 that you should listen to
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30 albums turning 30 in 2021 that you should listen to

Whether talking pop, rap, hip hop, hard rock, metal, alternative, or grunge, 1991 might go down as the greatest year for music -- in terms of the albums released. Some of the biggest bands and artists in the world delivered career-defining and groundbreaking records.

Now, 30 years later, a number of those albums still resonate well. Here's our ranking of the best albums released from 1991, including one highlighted underrated track from each release.

 

30. "Heart in Motion," Amy Grant

"Heart in Motion," Amy Grant
Amy Grant

On her ninth studio album, Grant was able to successfully cross over from popular Christian pop singer to a full-blown mainstream commercial star. Released in March 1991, Heart in Motion was a 5-times platinum record, selling more than five million copies, cracking the top 10 in the Billboard 200 and scoring mainstream No. 1 hits with "Baby, Baby," "That's What Love Is For," and a No. 2 with "Every Heartbeat."

Underrated gem: "Good For Me."

 

29. "Cooleyhighharmony," Boyz II Men

"Cooleyhighharmony," Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men

A stellar debut from these R&B popsters, who were part of the East Coast Family and under the tutelage of New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe star Michael Bevins. What always stood out most about Boyz II Men was its collective ability to harmonize. Successfully displayed on this album's hit singles "Motownphilly" and a superb cover of G.C. Cameron's Motown classic "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday."

Underrated gem: "Please Don't Go"

 

28. "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge," Van Halen

"For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge," Van Halen
Van Halen

Van Halen's third studio release with Sammy Hagar debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and kept the band prominent among mainstream rock fans. Even though it's generally considered to be a mediocre effort in terms of critical acclaim, songs like "Right Now," "Top of the World" and "Runaround" are a large part of the "Van Hagar" legacy. Which was a more pop-friendly type of rock, made for MTV and enjoyed worldwide.

Underrated gem: "Poundcake

 

27. "Joyride," Roxette

"Joyride," Roxette
Roxette

While 1988's Look Sharp! was the Swedish pop duo's breakthrough from an international standpoint, this follow-up might be even better from start to finish. Fueled by the title track, Joyride sat at No. 1 in several countries and reached No. 12 in the Billboard 200 in the United States, where it also earned platinum status. The album took almost a year to complete, but Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle never bowed to the pressure put upon them to deliver another massively successful album. Instead, they did so on their own terms.

Underrated gem: "Watercolours in the Rain."

 

26. "Whenever We Wanted," John Mellencamp

"Whenever We Wanted," John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp

Over the years, Mellencamp has gone from being proud of this record upon its October 1991 release, to somewhat disowning it. He claimed he wasn't completely focused on making the album, yet it remains one of the legendary artist's more acclaimed efforts. It was a top-20 Billboard record, while "Get A Leg Up," "Again Tonight" and "Now More Than Ever" were successful hits.

Underrated Gem: "Last Chance."

 

25. "Girlfriend," Matthew Sweet

"Girlfriend," Matthew Sweet
Matthew Sweet

Matthew Sweet's third studio album is no doubt his most commercially successful, with the title track and single "Divine Intervention" both doing relatively well on various Billboard charts. Written, then released, in the wake of Sweet's divorce, it's a personal yet poetic record that shows the artist's maturity as both a songwriter and musician. For those alternative rock fans looking for a little nostalgia or wanting to introduce themselves to Sweet, this is a good place to start.

Underrated gem: "Evangeline"

 

24. "Naughty by Nature," Naughty by Nature

"Naughty by Nature," Naughty by Nature
Naughty by Nature

If we can move beyond MTV favorite "O.P.P.," this is one of the more underrated rap records of the 1990s. The aforementioned tale of understood adultery allowed the East Coast hip hop outfit to enjoy mainstream success (reaching No. 6 on Billboard Hot 100) throughout the country. Yet, if we dig deeper into the album, tracks like "Uptown Anthem" and the honest "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" proved that Naughty by Nature was more than a gimmick group.

Underrated gem: "Pin the Tail on the Donkey."

 

23. "Sailing the Seas of Cheese," Primus

"Sailing the Seas of Cheese," Primus
Primus

The alternative/progressive rock/metal crowd was officially introduced to the greatness that's Les Claypool. His work on the electric bass, specifically with "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" was something most rock fans had never heard at the time. Or at least not at the level of excellence and creativity that came from Claypool -- and the rest of the band, for that matter. It remains Primus' signature record and was another fresh music experience that 1991 gave us.

Underrated gem: "Here Come the Båstards"

 

22. "Black and White," BoDeans

"Black and White," BoDeans
BoDeans

After its release in March 1991, the BoDeans' fourth studio album was on heavy rotation in college dorms and frat houses throughout the Midwest right into the middle part of the decade. Thanks to the single "Good Things," that is, arguably the most well-known song from the Waukesha, Wis. band that enjoyed a devoted following prior to this album. Other tracks like "True Devotion" and "Naked" helped make Black and White one of the quintessential albums of the 1990s and would become staples of the BoDeans' popular live shows.

Underrated gem: "Black, White, and Blood Red" 

 

21. "De La Soul Is Dead," De La Soul

"De La Soul Is Dead," De La Soul
De La Soul

De La Soul's second studio effort has been lauded by critics as one of the best rap records of the 1990s. Which is a big deal considering how good and well receptive the band's debut 3 Feet High and Rising was on the ears. This record's first single, "A Roller Skating Jam Named "Saturdays," which featured a sample of Chicago's classic "Saturday in the Park,"  still might be the best track off the album.

Underrated gem: "Pass the Plugs"

 

20. "O.G. Original Gangster," Ice-T

"O.G. Original Gangster," Ice-T
Ice-T

Released in May 1991, Ice-T's fourth studio effort was certified gold by the end of July, the same year. There are more than a few music critics and rap aficionados who believe this is Ice-T's best record. The title track is certainly a classic, while "New Jack Hustler (Nino's Theme)" earned mainstream love for being part of the hit film New Jack City --  which featured the Ice-T in his breakthrough movie role.

Underrated gem: "Mind Over Matter"

 

19. "Dangerous," Michael Jackson

"Dangerous,"  Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson

Released in November 1991, Dangerous might not be to the level of Thriller, or even Bad, but it's definitely one of the better pop albums of the decade. Debuting at No. 1, Dangerous won one of the four Grammy Awards it was nominated, took home an American Music Award for Favorite Pop/Rock Album, and was the best-selling album internationally for 1992. Hits like "Black or White" and "Remember the Time" still have a prominent place in Jackson's legacy.

Underrated gem: "Dangerous"

 

18. "Blue Lines," Massive Attack

"Blue Lines," Massive Attack
Massive Attack

Add this record to the list of best debut releases of all time. In terms of electronic music and trip-hop, it might very well be the best. Anchored by the acclaimed single "Unfinished Sympathy," England's Massive Attack thrust itself into the spotlight, where it soundly stood for the rest of the 1990s. The 1994 follow-up Protection (later remixed as No Protection) and the equally stellar Mezzanine from 1998, make up one of the greatest three-album stretches in music history.

Underrated gem: "Safe From Harm"

 

17. "Back from Rio," Roger McGuinn

"Back from Rio," Roger McGuinn
Roger McGuinn

McGuinn made a name for himself with The Byrds, but his solo work should also be celebrated. Perhaps the best of the bunch is his sixth studio record, fueled by the single "King of the Hill," which featured Tom Petty both as a writer and performer. The video for the track also enjoyed some MTV love. Other prominent musicians to work on the album included Elvis Costello, David Crosby, Dave Stewart, Michael Penn, Timothy B. Schmit, and Mike Campbell.

Underrated gem: "Your Love Is a Gold Mine"

 

16. "Temple of the Dog," Temple of the Dog

"Temple of the Dog," Temple of the Dog
Temple of the Dog

As we'll see, 1991 was a big year for the guys in Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. When members of those bands came together and released this tribute to late Seattle alt-rock legend Andrew Wood in April of that year, the door was officially opened to a special sound coming out of the Pacific Northwest known as "grunge." Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell superbly share vocals on the hit "Hunger Strike, while Cornell's emotional lyrics and performance on " Say Hello 2 Heaven" might be the highlight of the record.

Underrated gem: "Call Me a Dog"

 

15. "Gish," Smashing Pumpkins

"Gish," Smashing Pumpkins
Smashing Pumpkins

If the Pumpkins' exceptional debut came out one year earlier or later, it could have been the biggest album of the alternative rock genre that season. Instead, it often gets lost in the shuffle of the alternative and grunge explosion that enveloped the year. While Billy Corgan's nasally whining voice isn't for everyone, we couldn't imagine a Pumpkins song without it. That, combined with his screeching guitar work on songs like "Siva" and the break during the melodic "Rhinoceros," make this a hauntingly special album.

Underrated gem: "Snail"

 

14. "Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black," Public Enemy

"Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black," Public Enemy
Public Enemy

This album might be best known for PE's collaboration with Anthrax for a thrash version of "Bring Tha Noize." No doubt, that was another memorable crossover moment between rap and rock, but there's so much more to like about this record. The message is as strong as ever, taking aim at everything -- and everyone -- from politicians ("By the Time I Get to Arizona") to an overabundance of malt liquor in black communities ("1 Million Bottlebags). The record reached No. 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

Underrated gem: "Shut 'Em Down"

 

13. "Seal," Seal

"Seal," Seal
Seal

The world's official introduction to Seal was truly spectacular. And, rightfully so, is critically considered one of the best debut albums of the '90s. The record debuted at No. 1 in the United Kingdom and is best known for the hit "Crazy," arguably one of the best singles of the decade. The album when platinum in the U.S. and double-platinum in the U.K., but in reality, it made Seal an international name.

Underrated gem: "Killer"

 

12. "Badmotorfinger," Soundgarden

"Badmotorfinger," Soundgarden
Soundgarden

Coming out in September 1991, Soundgarden rode the beginning of the grunge wave to breakthrough success with its still-heavy, yet highly polished, third studio effort. Thanks to classic tracks like "Outshined," "Jesus Christ Pose" and "Rusty Cage," which Johnny Cash would go on to cover, " Badmotorfinger earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Metal Performance. This album also opened the door for the band to enjoy massive mainstream success with 1994's Superunknown.

Underrated gem: "Searching with My Good Eye Closed"

 

11. "Luck of the Draw," Bonnie Raitt

"Luck of the Draw," Bonnie Raitt
Bonnie Raitt

It would seem a daunting task to successfully follow up her 1989 breakthrough Nick of Time, but Raitt pulled it off quite well. Tucked away in Northern California, Raitt created an album that went on to sell more than seven million copies in the U.S. and was commercially, and in the eyes of some critics, better than Nick of Time. Luck of the Draw's opener "Something to Talk About" might be Raitt's signature tune, while the rest of the album is just as easy to listen to.

Underrated gem: "Good Man, Good Woman"

 

10. "Cypress Hill," Cypress Hill

"Cypress Hill," Cypress Hill
Cypress Hill

Back in 1991, college radio wasn't all about alternative and grunge rock. Cypress Hill's unique hip hop debut was in regular rotation on such forums upon its August release from that year. B-Real and Sen Dog's lyrics on top of a creatively urban-infused sound were quite refreshing for the time period. "How Could I Just Kill a Man" is a hip-hop classic and good enough for Rage Against the Machine to later cover.

Underrated gem: "Latin Lingo"

 

9. "Loveless," My Bloody Valentine

"Loveless," My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine

The second of the three full-length studio albums from the underrated Dublin alternative rockers is arguably their best. The creation and execution were quite intense, but when it was finished, the effort showcased Kevin Shields' innovated, and quite brilliant, distorted guitar work. The record, considered the epitome of the "shoegazing" sound (the United Kingdom's unique combination of indie and alternative rock), has influenced many from Billy Corgan to Robert Smith. "Soon" is one of the great alternative album closers of all time.

Underrated gem: "When You Sleep"

 

8. "Use Your Illusion I" & "Use Your Illusion II," Guns N' Roses

"Use Your Illusion I" & "Use Your Illusion II," Guns N' Roses
Guns N' Roses

Since both albums were released on Sept. 17, 1991, we'll consider these two ambitious projects from a revamped G N' R lineup as one entry. Both records were completely over-the-top with several epically-long songs like hits "November Rain" "Civil War," and "Estranged. While UYI II went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200, thanks to the popular cover of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "You Could be Mine, " the first of the two peaked at No. 2 and produced a hit cover of Paul McCartney and Wings' "Live and Let Die." The grueling recording and issues with the monster tour that followed ultimately led to the end of the group -- until Axl, Slash, and Duff recently reunited.

Underrated gem(s): "Coma," "Breakdown" 

 

7. "The Low End Theory," A Tribe Called Quest

"The Low End Theory," A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest

It's the record that made Phife Dawg a star and featured some memorable quest work from Busta Rhymes on the hit "Scenario." While also showing off Q-Tip, the producer, instead of just a regular member of this widely celebrated alternative hip hop outfit. Tribe's second studio release seems to get better with age and remains one of the great overall records of the 1990s -- thanks to the group's overall musicianship and strong and steady lyrical presence. "Check the Rhime" is a perfect example of that.

Underrated gem: "Verses from the Abstract"

 

6. "Ten," Pearl Jam

"Ten," Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam

While Pearl Jam's debut album fits nicely in with the grunge movement, it also appealed to those fans of classic and hard rock. After all, the band was highly influenced by The Who. The coming together of members from previously celebrated Seattle bands like Green River and Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam burst on to the mainstream music scene thanks to hits "Alive" and "Jeremy." The latter receiving Grammy nods for Best Rock Song and Best Hard Rock Performance, while both were MTV staples.

Underrated gem: "Porch"

 

5. "Blood Sugar Sėx Magik," Red Hot Chili Peppers

"Blood Sugar Sėx Magik," Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Chili's enjoyed a solid following thanks to their previous four albums and received plenty of acclaim for 1989's Mother's Milk. However, the band seemingly became poster boys for the alternative rock explosion of early 1991 with this effort. More melodic and lyrically mature than its previous records, the Rick Rubin-produced Blood Sugar Sėx Magik spawned some of RHCP's biggest hits like "Under the Bridge," "Give It Away," and "Suck My Kiss." It peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200.

Underrated gem: "Blood Sugar Sėx Magik"

 

4. "Out of Time," R.E.M.

"Out of Time," R.E.M.
R.E.M.

Like several other artists on this list, R.E.M. went from an acclaimed indie-pop band to an international sensation with the release of a record that became the soundtrack for the suburban, Polo-wearing high schoolers, collegians, and young professionals. Fueled by the smash "Losing My Religion," which dominated both radio and MTV, Out of Time won three Grammys (including Best Alternative Music Album). Other highlights of the record include the poppy "Shiny Happy People" and "Radio Song (featuring KRS-One).

Underrated gem: "Half a World Away"

 

3. "Metallica," Metallica

"Metallica," Metallica
Metallica

While hardcore Metallica fans feel the band sold out on its self-titled fifth album (also known as the "black album"), this was the record that brought true heavy and thrash -- all be it polished -- metal to the mainstream. Featuring some of the band's biggest hits "Enter Sandman," The Unforgiven," Wherever I May Roam," "Sad but True" and the - gasp - ballad "Nothing Else Matters, the Bob Rock-produced project went 16-times platinum and spent four straight weeks atop the Billboard 200 upon its August 1991 release.

Underrated gem: "Don't Tread on Me"

 

2. "Achtung Baby," U2

"Achtung Baby," U2
U2

Upon its late 1991 release, U2's much-anticipated seventh studio album was described simply as "different" by some loyal fans of the group. Critics praised the new alternative/electronic sound U2 incorporated, and the record went on to become one of the best albums of the 1990s. Somewhat darker in nature than U2's previous efforts, Achtung Baby debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Songs like "Mysterious Ways" and "One" became live staples, while "Zoo Station and "The Fly" captured a new musical direction the band was taking at the time.

Underrated gem: "So Cruel"

 

1. "Nevermind," Nirvana

"Nevermind," Nirvana
Niels van Iperen/Getty Images

If there was one moment that officially ended the hair/glam metal movement and changed the complexion of mainstream and MTV, it was Sept. 24, 1991 -- the day Nirvana's groundbreaking second album was released. While sounds and images of the record were like nothing playing on MTV at the time, it was stripped-down, raw rock that fueled the grunge movement and made alternative mainstream. It turned Kurt Cobain into a tortured rock icon and introduced the music world to a young drummer named Dave Grohl. Thanks to the massive hit " Smells Like Teen Spirit," and its iconic music video," Nevermind went to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and was selling roughly 300,000 copies per week by early 1992. Other special moments on the album include "Lithium," "In Bloom" and "Come as You Are."

Underrated gem: "Territorial Pıssıngs"

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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