Twenty years ago today, Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, was released.

Twenty years.

Ten in particular (and to a similar extent a lot of its contemporary albums, including of course Nevermind, which will turn 20 just under a month from now) defined my transition into the teenage years in ways that aren’t really easy to capture in writing.

I grew up sheltered and nerdy, surrounded by scientists, on the East coast. The frenetic energy of “Even Flow” was something I was completely unprepared for when I first heard it. To this day I’m absolutely incapable of evaluating the record* — just hearing the opening to any of its songs switches off the critical part of my brain, and plays back all my memories of being twelve years old, beginning to be capable of understanding the world, and not knowing what to do with my energy.

Culled from Wikipedia, a selection of other albums released in 1991:

  • R.E.M.’s Out of Time
  • Temple of the Dog’s self-titled album
  • The Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish (though I wouldn’t start to enjoy the Pumpkins’ music until many years later)
  • Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge
  • Metallica’s Black Album, which turned twenty just two weeks ago
  • Rush’s Roll the Bones
  • Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I and II
  • Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tears
  • Nirvana’s Nevermind, as mentioned above
  • the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik — “Under the Bridge” was as inescapable as “Even Flow” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
  • Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger

…that’s a pretty good snapshot of the soundscape of my entire junior high and high school life, and if you add in a little more metal from a few years on either side, it’s just about perfect. And that’s just the music that shaped my tastes at the time — if you click through to the Wikipedia page you’ll see a lot of hugely important Hip Hop releases on that list also, from A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Ice-T, NWA, Ice Cube, and Public Enemy, among others; as well as some rock music I should have paid attention to but didn’t because it was “a girl band” and I was a dumbass, like Throwing Muses.

So, there’s my little bit of nostalgia for now. And I’ll close with this video from last December, of Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre relating a story from around this era. (Note that there are a couple of NSFW images shown on a screen in the background during the video.)

*OK, the lyrics to “Black” are actually kind of crap. But otherwise.


  1. It’s rather scary just how much much from that list that I still listen to regularly. Nevermind was one of the first CDs that I ever purchased. For most of those albums, I don’t just know a few tracks that hit the radio — I know the entire album.

    I don’t know if these albums were great because they were my early influences in my teenage years or if they were truly great. I can’t objectively look at them. I think that the music of a generation can’t be labeled as great by those who were in that generation. It’s up to the generations before and after to look it the music and decide, similar to how The Beatles are enjoyed by more than just the people who grew up in the 60s.

  2. Thanks for the trip down memory lane – that list of albums takes me right back! I was a 19-20 year old goth/punk living in Portland, OR in 1991. I feel really lucky to have been that age in that place at that time – we knew it was cool at the time, but I had no idea how much it would continue to shape me to this day. Hard to believe that was twenty freakin’ years ago!

  3. In 1991, back before KJ105 became the umpteenth corporate country station in the Minneapolis/St. Paul– because some geniuses decided that the alternative music and grunge they played during the day were not commercially viable– that brilliant radio station had an overnight show where one of the DJs played whatever he wanted. That was my introduction, at age 15, to Public Enemy, to De La Soul, to Riot Grrrl– basically, to the idea that political music hadn’t ceased to exist after the 1960s.

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