The early nineties was a transitional period for music, and there was a lot of good music from 1991. The hair bands and bubblegum pop began to fade, soon replaced by grunge, alternative rock, and a new wave of hip hop. The artists who had been popular throughout the previous decade had to reinvent their image to continue their success. As a result, there is a lot of variety found in the music of the time. Here are the best songs from 1991.
1. “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams
Many weddings and romantic gatherings include this power ballad. Bryan Adams wrote it when he was asked to create a song to accompany the film “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” The movie was a hit that summer, and the song topped the Billboard Hot 100.
Two music videos were filmed for this song. The original had Adams singing the song in a forest while scenes from the film were shown. A second was footage of a live performance intended to continue being played after the film’s success died down.
2. “Baby Baby” by Amy Grant
When Amy Grant released “Baby Baby” as a single on her “Heart In Motion” album, she was known as a contemporary Christian artist. She was the first Christian singer to have a number-one single in the United States. While she received some controversy in her switchover to contemporary music, the increase in her audience was staggering.
3. “More Than Words” by Extreme
Extreme released “More Than Words” as the third single from their “Pornograffitti” album in 1991. Mostly known for heavy metal with a funky sound, they created this song as a departure to display their versatility.
The music video for the song is one of the most iconic ever filmed. Shot in black and white, it takes place in a recording studio with little else. There are no effects, story, plot, or live concert shots.
4. “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch
Today Mark Wahlberg is an Academy Award-nominated actor who starred in “Boogie Nights” and “The Departed.” In 1991 he was a hip-hop artist and frontman for this band that infused swing and rock into rap. “Good Vibrations” was a single from their debut album titled “Music for the People” that featured classic disco singer Loleatta Holloway.
5. “Coming Out of the Dark” by Gloria Estefan
An 18-wheeler hit Gloria Estefan’s tour bus early in her career, nearly killing her. After she recovered from her injuries in 1991, she was ready to release her second album, “Into the Light.” She wrote this song as a celebration of her survival. It hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and was also a hit in countries like Japan, Spain, and Canada.
6. “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.
R.E.M. was one of the first bands in the wave of alternative rock that grew throughout the nineties. Released on their “Out of Time” album, it departed from what they had made on earlier albums. MTV and VH1 played the music video a lot, helping give the song exposure and ultimately leading to the band winning two Grammys.
7. “Where Does My Heart Beat Now” by Celine Dion
Celine Dion has a special sound that is unmatched by many other artists. Her dynamic vocals are unique and made her famous in Canada, where she mostly recorded in French. Her album, titled “Unison,” was the first she did in English. It took her to the top ten on the charts and earned her an award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).
8. “Love Is a Wonderful Thing” by Michael Bolton
Michael Bolton is a singer with a unique voice, mostly known for singing romantic ballads and standards. He has an impressive list of singles, such as this one released on his 1991 album “Time, Love & Tenderness.” Some controversy surrounded this title when The Isley Brothers claimed it was a remake of a song they recorded in 1964. They won their case and were paid $4 million from Sony Music.
9. “Something to Talk About” by Bonnie Raitt
Anne Murray was originally set to record this song in the mid-eighties. She even named her album after it. Her producers talked her out of it, clearing the way for Bonnie Raitt to release it on her “Luck of the Draw” album. The US Billboard Adult Contemporary chart listed it as number 5. It was also a hit in Canada and New Zealand.
10. “Play That Funky Music” by Vanilla Ice
Wild Cherry recorded the original funk rock version of this song in the seventies on their self-titled album. Vanilla Ice’s song was strongly influenced by it, but he failed to credit Robert Parissi. He lost an infringement lawsuit. Another song on the album titled “Ice Ice Baby” made up for it.
11. “I Touch Myself” by Divinyls
This song was by the Australian band Divinyls for their self-titled album. It is about what you think it is about, with erotic imagery in both the lyrics and the music video. The song performed well in the US and the UK. The music video, by filmmaker Michael Bay, was nominated for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards.
12. “The Way You Do the Things You Do” by UB40
The Temptations first recorded this song in 1964, and it was covered by Hall & Oats in 1986. UB40 released their version on their “Labour of Love II” album and made it into a reggae song. It was a hit mostly in European countries but featured in the film “Black Rain,” which starred Michael Douglas.
13. “Rico Suave” by Gerardo
This Latin hip-hop song made it to number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it was released. It was a single by Gerardo, an Ecuadorian rapper, and singer. It was a single on his album titled Mo’Ritmo.
14. “Something to Believe In” by Poison
Power ballads were a type of rock song popular throughout the eighties that continued into the nineties. Poison was a glam metal band that made a lot of power ballads, including this one they released on their album “Flesh and Blood.”
The song was dedicated to James Kimo Maano, a security guard who was best friends with Bret Michaels, the band’s lead singer. During the shooting of the music video, images of Maano played on a screen to elicit an emotional response from Michaels. It worked, and the result is in the final cut.
15. “Everybody Plays the Fool” by Aaron Neville
This song was a single in 1972 for the Main Ingredient. Most people consider the definitive version to be Aaron Neville’s cover he recorded for his “Warm Your Heart” album. This song was the third time Neville had a song that hit the Billboard top 10.
16. “O.P.P.” by Naughty by Nature
When this song was released on Naughty by Nature’s self-titled album, there was a lot of discussion over what O.P.P. stood for. It isn’t hard to figure out the song is about infidelity, though it was a hit among kids who did not know what that meant. Later, it was named one of the 40 greatest hip-hop songs of all time by VH1.
17. “Things That Make You Go Hmmm…” by C+C Music Factory
C+C Music Factory was a dance group that specialized in hip-hop songs with a big sound. The inspiration for this song was a joke used frequently by Arsenio Hall about certain things that happen that make you have to stop to think about them. They released it on their album titled “Gonna Make You Sweat.”
18. “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd
This song was written for use in the film “New Jack City” and also became one of Color Me Badd’s best-selling singles. They released it on the film’s soundtrack and the band’s album “C.M.B.” The structure of the song was simple and allowed more focus on the lyrics and vocals, which were the group’s strengths.
19. “Justify My Love” by Madonna
Madonna had become a household name during the eighties and took the opportunity to change her image a little as she headed into a new decade. “Justify My Love” was a step away from the bubblegum pop she had produced before and went for a tough look. She released it as a single on her album “The Immaculate Collection.”
20. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash
Rolling Stone Magazine included this song on the list of the 500 greatest of all time. English punk rock band the Clash released it as part of their “Combat Rock” album in 1982. With the newfound popularity it received from a Levi’s commercial, it was re-released. It found its way back to the top of the UK Singles Chart again.
21. “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam
This quintessential song by Pearl Jam was released on their debut album titled “Ten”. Eddie Vedder, the lead singer, saw a newspaper article about a high school student who shot and killed himself in front of his class. That story inspired the song and the music video’s haunting imagery.
The editing of the music video left a lot of misinterpretation of the theme. MTV would not show a teenager putting a gun in their mouth. The scene was edited, making many believe Jeremy had shot his classmates. After a shooting at Frontier Junior High School, prosecutors argued that the edited version of the video inspired the shooter.
22. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
“Nevermind” was a seminal album for rock music. It ushered in the alternative rock movement of the nineties, eventually changing the sound of mainstream music. Nirvana was at the forefront with this song which became the anthem of Generation X. In 1997, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a song that shaped rock and roll.
23. “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
“Under the Bridge” was a song written about the loneliness and depression that comes along with getting out of a life of drug addiction. The song’s lyrics were inspired by poetry written by someone who had gone through it and never wanted to experience it again. It was released on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ fifth album, titled “Blood Sugar Sex Magik.”
24. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica
Metallica is one of the most versatile heavy metal bands ever. Their songs are not inaccessible to people who are dipping their toes in the genre. This song from their self-titled fifth album is filled with the imagery of a child’s nightmares. It reached number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100.
25. “You Could Be Mine” by Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses were an iconic band during the eighties. As the nineties were ushered in, they succeeded in staying relevant by releasing this song as part of the film “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”. Even though the song is about one of the band member’s failed relationships, the sound it created with a one-minute drum and guitar solo was what James Cameron was looking for.
Top Songs From 1991, Final Thoughts
There is a lot of variety in the best songs from 1991. Grunge was taking off, alternative rock was becoming more commonplace, and the budget for music videos would sometimes rival feature films. Video outlets like MTV and VH1 were becoming powerhouses in their musical influence.
This list can be a starting point for the many songs from that year. Use the links provided here to head down a rabbit hole of music. The songs of the early nineties were a powerful lesson in the transition of culture as time passed. The way the best songs of 1991 covered so many genres is a breathtaking look at the influence of that year’s music.