1991: My Light Shines On

(Originally posted on Kriofske Mix, 5/20/2015.)

If it seems a little conspicuous that the only album I wrote about for 1991 was a compilation, note that at times I seriously considered including the following: R.E.M.’s first number one album (which also contained their highest-charting single), Seal’s first eponymous release (believe it or not, he was actually interesting pre-Grammys/Steve Miller cover/Heidi Klum), Sam Phillips’ second secular album (I’ll write plenty about her soon), even PM Dawn’s dreamy, unclassifiable debut. In the end, none compelled me enough to want to write about them at length, but I’ve made sure to represent tracks from each here.

Historically, people love to sum up 1991 as The Year of Nirvana and Nevermind; I respected Cobain and co. but was never much of a fan. Looking over this curious selection, one might almost get an impression of ’91 as a last breath of optimism/utopianism before grunge and alt-rock’s irony/cynicism took over. Saint Etienne’s landmark early single (still easily one of the five best songs they ever did) sets the tone, and fellow Brits The Orb, The Shamen, Jesus Jones, The Farm, Primal Scream and even Seal all sustain it, although only “Right Here Right Now” really broke through over here. Kirsty MacColl’s vivacious Latin bauble carries the same spirit although musically it has precious little in common with the others.

As with 1990’s mix, this combines top 40 (Roxette, Prince) with modern rock (Billy Bragg, Electronic, Violent Femmes) and the occasional crossover from the latter to the former (Divinyls, Siouxsie and the Banshees). The mighty “Unfinished Sympathy” sounds absolutely undiminished, “Love… Thy Will Be Done” is a terrific, long forgotten top ten hit ripe for reappraisal while “Funeral” and “It Won’t Be Long” are obscurities everyone should know. Among tracks I wanted to include but are not on Spotify (just who holds the rights to Londonbeat’s immortal-but-impossible-to-find-in-its-original-version “I’ve Been Thinking About You”?), I was giddy with joy to at least locate “Justified and Ancient” on YouTube, especially since Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, the evil masterminds behind The KLF have done their best to keep their band’s output out of circulation since they dissolved in, um, 1992. A techno-pop hymn about the band itself and their ice-cream van, sung by no one other than country-western legend Tammy Wynette, “Justified and Ancient” is the most bonkers hit of its time (and perhaps the entire decade).

Twenty-odd years on, I still can’t believe how big it was. Watch the video above and ask yourself, “Did this really happen, and can something so delightfully weird and so far out of left field ever hit again?” (This sorta came close.)

Click here to visit my favorite tracks of 1991 on Spotify:

1. Saint Etienne, “Nothing Can Stop Us”
2. PM Dawn, “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss”
3. Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Kiss Them For Me”
4. Crowded House, “Fall At Your Feet”
5. Sam Phillips, “Cruel Inventions”
6. Alison Moyet, “It Won’t Be Long”
7. Roxette, “Fading Like a Flower”
8. R.E.M., “Near Wild Heaven”
9. Divinyls, “I Touch Myself”
10. Mekons, “Funeral”
11. The Orb, “Little Fluffy Clouds”
12. The Shamen, “Move Any Mountain”
13. Massive Attack, “Unfinished Sympathy”
14. Billy Bragg, “Moving the Goalposts”
15. Seal, “Future Love Paradise”
16. Electronic, “Get the Message”
17. Prince & the New Power Generation, “Diamonds and Pearls”
18. Joni Mitchell, “Come In From the Cold”
19. Erasure, “Love To Hate You”
20. Kirsty MacColl, “My Affair”
21. Martika, “Love… Thy Will Be Done”
22. Primal Scream, “Movin’ On Up”
23. Jesus Jones, “Right Here Right Now”
24. The Farm, “Groovy Train”
25. Violent Femmes, “American Music”

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