220px-heart_in_motionAmy Grant – “Baby Baby” – (1991)

Amy Grant’s career has mostly been spent in the Christian music realm but in the early 1990s she released a pop-tinged album, and this (the first single) went to #1 on the Hot 100. And because it was 1991, it naturally knocked Wilson Phillips out of the top spot. Oh, and this song is catchy as hell.

George Michael & Elton John – “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” – (1991)

Obviously this song was a big hit for Elton John in 1974, reaching #2 on the Hot 100. In 1991, he and George Michael performed the song as a duet during the Live Aid concert. This version went to #1 on the Hot 100 and on charts around the world. This version was included on Elton John’s 1993 album Duets. The first part of the song is George Michael just blowing everyone away with incredible vocals and then he brings out Elton who kills it. This is an amazing version. It’s two incredible voices battling it out and we all win.

Natalie & Nat King Cole – “Unforgettable” – (1991)

This song was one of Nat King Cole’s biggest hits and most well-known signature songs. Natalie Cole was 15 when her father, Nat King Cole, passed away. She’s a pretty incredible talent in her own right, even if her father’s shadow is rather large. Well, in 1991 she released an album of covers of her father’s material. This track was edited as a duet with his classic rendition. The album went on to win a Grammy for Album of the Year and is certified 7x platinum. It’s an amazing song.

Pearl Jam – “Black” – (1991)

Pearl Jam was one of the most important bands of the 1990s and one of the biggest in the grunge scene – even if Nirvana gets so much of the credit. “Black” was the fifth track on Ten – one of the best/most-important albums of the decade. This reached #3 on the Mainstream Rock chart and if you want an example of classic grunge music – it doesn’t come much better than this. It remains one of their best-known and most well-received songs despite the fact that it was never released as a single.

Ozzy Osbourne – “Mama, I’m Coming Home” – (1991)

How about a little more hard rock this week? Ozzy’s style from the 1980s bled over seamlessly into the 1990s. This is from one of Ozzy’s two best-selling albums. The song is about his as-famous-as-he-is-now wife Sharon. Interestingly, this is Ozzy’s only solo Top 40 single on the Hot 100 – it peaked at #28. The song was written by the lead singer of Motorhead and Zakk Wylde, Ozzy’s former guitarist.

Shanice – “I Love Your Smile” – (1991)

You might not remember Shanice and you might not recognize this song by its title – but I can almost guarantee you’ll remember it when you hear it. The lyrics are pure 90s R&B – but it’s the light “do-do-do-do-do” of the chorus that is most memorable. This song was one of those great transitional songs of the early 90s that showed that the 90s would be a lot different from the 80s. It would be more upbeat, colorful, and fun. It’s just a really good, classic tune.

Toad the Wet Sprocket – “All I Want” – (1991)

Mmm, early-90s alternative rock. At the height of grunge, there were still bands out there performing less angst-y, more pop-y rock n roll. There was a wonderful type of music produced in a short-lived era of about 1991-1997 that songs like this exemplify. I miss it dearly. This was the first successful single from Toad the Wet Sprocket, peaking at #15 on the Hot 100. It is also one of two tracks by the band that still pops up on radio airwaves every now and then. It’s a 1990s pop rock classic.

Bonnie Raitt – “I Can’t Make You Love Me” – (1991)

Bonnie Raitt’s 1991 album Luck of the Draw was her best in terms of popular singles. And this song is great – reaching #18 on the Hot 100 and #6 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The lyrics are mellow and the music – especially the piano (played by Bruce Hornsby) – with its stunted tempo, is just motivated enough to get the feeling across of loss. The song appears of multiple “best songs of all time” lists – including Rolling Stone‘s and Mojo‘s – who ranked it #8. Which might be a bit high, even if it is a great song.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Into the Great Wide Open” – (1991)

Well crap. I was going to do “You Wreck Me” here but I’ve already done that song. This one doesn’t sound quite as 80s as that one, but it’ll work. The music video features Johnny Depp and Matt LeBlanc, among others – and Tom Petty, still in his “Dressing-Like-A-Character-From-Alice in Wonderland” phase. This is the title track to the Heartbreakers’ 1991 album and it hit #4 on the Mainstream Rock chart.

Michael Bolton feat. Kenny G – “Missing You Now” – (1991)

Hey, imagine that, another track from Michael Bolton’s Time, Love & Tenderness. Is it just me or does Michael Bolton, when he’s speaking in the video (not singing) sound like Kevin Costner? They even kind of looked alike (back then at least). For that extra 1980s touch, enter Kenny G with that kickin’ sax in the background. This is early 1990s Adult Contemporary at its finest – which I consider part of the 1980s. Fun facts: the song peaked at #77 and Teri Hatcher was in the music video.

Genesis – “I Can’t Dance” – (1991)

So apparently it’s the entire We Can’t Dance album that sounds like it’s from the 80s, and not just this song or that. This was a #7 hit in the U.S. and U.K. (how weird. I wonder if that’s ever happened with another song, peaking at #7 on both continents. Maybe, but I’m sure as hell not gonna look). The song has a bluesy feel which doesn’t really sound like the rest of Genesis’ soft rock feel from this era.

Bryan Adams – “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” – (1991)

Does this sound like it’s from the 1980s? Yes. Does it also kind of sound like it’s from the 1990s? Also yes. While this was a massive #1 for Adams in the U.S. – it was also the #1 song of 1991. It won two Grammys and was nominated for an Oscar for its use in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. It’s a solid soft rock hit with music that could’ve been lifted from a song by Bette Midler.

Jesus Jones – “Right Here, Right Now” – (1991)

This is one of a handful of tracks that were actually the genesis of this list. It’s also one of the best songs on this list. In the U.S., the British band Jesus Jones is known for this and… well that’s about it. A #2 hit on the Hot 100, it was a super smash in the early 90s – but as far as rock songs go, it differed drastically from the very popular rock scene at the time: grunge. Which is why I always forget it came out at that time. It receives more airplay on adult alternative and adult contemporary radio stations than it does on pop music stations (and it did then, if I remember correctly). And in my eyes, all adult contemporary music came out in the 1980s. And it kind of reminds me of “In a Big Country,” which is from 1983. It’s too happy to be from a time that tried its best to be unhappy. Great tune.

Rod Stewart – “Rhythm of My Heart” – (1991)

Gotta love the use of accordion and bag pipes in the same pop song – especially one that manages to hit #5 on the Hot 100. Vagabond Heart was Rod Stewart’s last real album of note before he turned to just straight up covering classic rock songs on album after album. There were even covers on this album and even this song uses an adaptation of a Scottish poem. Ye gods, has this man ever done anything original? Apparently not since the 1980s.

Genesis – “No Son of Mine” – (1991)

Hey, here’s another Genesis song that sounds a lot like, well, every other Genesis song. That is, it sounds a lot like most Genesis songs from the 1980s. Or maybe that’s just how Phil Collins’ voice is. His voice is the 1980s. This was a top 20 hit in the U.S. and a top 10 hit in most European countries. This post is short and sweet – unlike the song, which is long and fairly bitter.

Extreme – “More Than Words” – (1991)

This awful hair ballad – I mean, wonderful acoustic rock song… was a #1 hit for Extreme in 1991. This song and Mr. Big’s “To Be With You” are more or less the same song (at least, in my mind). And I always say I don’t like either of them… except when listening to them. I really liked it back in the day, but it just kind of got on my nerves over time and now avoid it at all costs. It just sounds like an 80s hair metal band tried to go soft when the 90s came around – wait, that’s actually what it is. I understand that some people are fanatical about this song, and good for them. To each his own.

Michael Bolton – “When a Man Loves a Woman” – (1991)

Maybe the decade confusion caused by this song is because it’s a 1991 cover a song originally done in 1966 by Percy Sledge. I don’t want to say the original is better because I’m currently listening to the Bolton version (which won a Grammy and was a #1 hit). It’s confusing me. Michael Bolton has a very unique voice that has the ability to make just about anything sound catch. This version has a very late-80s early-90s bluesy feeling and I definitely recall hearing it a crap-ton on the radio during the early 90s.

John Mellencamp – “Again Tonight” – (1991)

This could have totally been the b-side for “Hurts So Good.” Sorry, Mr. Mellencamp, but your sound hasn’t evolved all that much in the past 30 years. This was a #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart, but it only hit #36 on the Hot 100. It’s not that rock-y that I feel it would’ve performed better on one chart over the other, but it was 1991, and things were weird.

Gloria Estefan – “Coming Out of the Dark” – (1991)

This was Gloria Estefan’s third #1 single in the U.S. There is a Spanish and an English version of this song and while trying to find it on YouTube, I clicked on the official video and skipped through it to try and determine which version it was. It took quite a while because I could barely tell a difference. Estefan’s 1989 album Cuts Both Ways was fairly big in terms of hit singles and everything she did with Miami Sound Machine was in the 1980s. This song picked up right where those left off.

Genesis – “Hold on My Heart” – (1991)

Maybe it’s just me, but Genesis is an “80s band,” even though they were formed in the late 1960s. All of their big hits came from the 1980s – yet this album is from 1991, although it sounds just like everything they did in the 80s. This is your run-of-the-mill soft rock song, but Phil Collins, as is his custom, pushes it over the top from sappy to good.

Michael Bolton – “Love is a Wonderful Thing” – (1991)

I love the “wahooo” scream at the beginning of this song. It makes me think that Michael Bolton really does think that love is a wonderful thing. This is easily his best song – and I’m willing to look past his ridiculous hair in the music video (and for most of his career). Unfortunately, a variety of courts in the U.S. ruled that this song was too similar to an obscure Isley Brothers song of the same name. Fortunately, all of the royalty money he is paying to the Isley Brothers over his best hit has been made up by a weird new fame brought on by his appearance in a Digital Short on Saturday Night Live. Hopefully all of the kids that love that video will discover this awesome song. Oh, and want to know why this would’ve been just as popular in the 80s? Two words: sax solo.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Learning to Fly” – (1991)

When learning to fly, coming down really is the hardest thing. Most people like to stay up flying around – that, and landing is the most difficult part. This was a #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart (where it stayed for six weeks) and a Top 30 on the Hot 100. This is one of Petty’s best songs and it doesn’t necessarily sound like all his other songs – the vocals do, of course. But the music is up-tempo and a little different. It’s good.

Mariah Carey – “Can’t Let Go” – (1991)

If you remember your 90s pop ballads – that is early 90s pop ballads – then you just might recognize this one. It hit #2 on the Hot 100 and was a mainstay on pop music stations – but not to the extent of other Mariah songs. Sure, this one got regular play through the mid-90s, it was often overshadowed by later hits, and let’s face it, Mariah had many and some were so much bigger than this. This is definitely a good one and you can hear the pure talent in her voice – especially the parts where it sounds more like an exasperated whisper than singing.

Spin Doctors – “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” – (1991)

Gotta love the Spin Doctors. They fizzled out after their two hits from Pocket Full of Kryptonite, but those two hits were kick-ass. Call it funk-rock or blues-rock or whatever you want, but it’s catchy as can be and makes for a great party song. It was tempting to put this in place of “Two Princes” in our 90s countdown. “Little miss little miss little miss can’t be wrong, what’cha gonna do to get into another one of these rock ‘n’ roll songs?”

#1 – Nirvana – “Lithium” – (1991)

I’m wondering, if Nirvana knew how big this album would turn out to be, would they have changed the album cover at all? It’s not the content, but look at the typeface of “Nevermind.” It looks incredibly cheap, like this album was made in someone’s basement. Maybe it looked okay at the time, but it certainly hasn’t aged well. I guess it’s kind of irrelevant seeing how timeless this album has become. I’ve known a few gigantic Nirvana fans in my life and every one of them has called this their favorite song from the band. And I have to agree. There’s a lot of Kurt just yelling “Yeah!” over and over, dragging it out and such. The rest of the lyrics are pretty good too, “I’m so happy ’cause today I found my friends – they’re in my head. I’m ugly but that’s okay ’cause so are you.”

Nirvana was the biggest thing – and most important thing – in rock music in the 1990s. This might not be their signature song but it’s damned fine and a great example of their work. What an era grunge was. To have been in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s must’ve been one hell of a time.