Songs of the Year—1991

Saying I love you
is not the words I want to hear from you
it’s not that I want you
not to say, but if you only knew
how easy it would be to show me how you feel…


(Before I even get to this post: how can I deal with the grammar of the first two lines of this song? I loved these lyrics, I really did. In 20 years will I think that the current me is as dumb as I now think that 1991 me was?  Will I actually be any smarter? Had I rejected the me from 1990? I know I was in denial about my NKOTB phase.)

Songs of the Year: “More than Words”, Extreme; “Summertime”, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
Runners-Up: “I Touch Myself”, Divinyls; “Losing my Religion”, R.E.M.

In the year that “American Music” by the Violent Femmes, “Alive” by Pearl Jam, and “Smells like Teen Spirit”  were released as singles and during the same year that 2Pac, U2, Pixies and Guns N’ Roses released albums, I was listening to some real schmaltz. Some true crap. It is almost embarrassing to think of the two albums I remember buying that year after my sojourn with M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice.

The two albums: Pornograffiti (Extreme) and Homebase (D. J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince). My brother will probably remember that peppering this fine collection were such tasteful acquisitions as the debut album of Another Bad Creation, the hit record by Heavy D (R. I.P.)  and the Boyz and a copy of Color Me Badd’s self-titled offering (including the sublimely subtle “I wanna sex you up”).

(At least I wasn’t listening to “Everything I do…” by Bryan Adams or “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Michael Bolton. But, there’s only so much solace to be had there).

Now, the “More than Words” fixation is not one I am actually that embarrassed about. The song remains, if trite and a little too polished, a unique and pretty song. Certain aspects of it reflect tastes that I never quite shook: intricate harmonies and acoustic guitars. (As you can imagine, I saw the Simon and Garfunkel reunion special on PBS many times when I was very young. That explains it all, really. And this: I think my parents preferred Art to Paul. Seriously.)

“More than Words” came on the radio as I was just beginning to think about someday, just maybe, dating girls. The tone, rhythm, pace and overall arrangement made it sound like quite the love song. Upon contemplation, however, I was in a quandary. At first, I thought the singer was trying to guilt-trip his girl into sex. After almost rejecting the song for such a base message, I decided instead that it was really about matching words with actions (thus beginning a long personal practice of debating, rejecting, and reconciling song meanings).

The dark side of this song is the rest of the album. My recent album training under M. C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice led me to expect “More than Words” to be surrounded by songs that were more or less like it (just not quite as good). My shock, upon discovering that Extreme’s name was no accident, was incurable. I don’t think I could ever get through the screaming vocals and heavy guitars of the rest of the album.

The Younger J and I grew up on a dirt road; our family had built a house in the 1980’s and my dad spent most of the non-winter part of the year taming the forest around it. By 1991, the lawn was large enough that it took several stages to mow it. This was also the year when I was deemed old enough to operate the lawn mower alone on the uneven terrain. As incentive (besides an allowance), my father let me use his personal tape player.

The lawn was large enough that in just finishing the front part I listened to the entire album Homebase twice. That’s right. I had to flip the cassette three times while mowing. (My brother will attest to this; the lawn is his labor of love and hate now.) I bought Homebase less because I liked anything on it than that I thought, as with Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Them and To the Extreme, that knowing this album would win me acceptance. I already knew the lyrics to the show’s theme song.

For better (and not for worse), I don’t really remember anything from that album. No one at school the next year recited it; I can kind of think of some words and images from the title track “Summertime”. But, when I think of Homebase, I think of long summer afternoons, the humid, languorous air, the smell of fading lilacs and the whirring lawnmower blade over that stupid, endless lawn.

Not the only one who touched herself

The  Runners-up from this year deserve mention: No song has ever been so fine an accompaniment for or comforter about “personal massages” than the Divinyls’ number 1 hit. A local station would play the top nine most requested songs of the day at nine PM. There was a several week period when I heard that song every night. The Divinyls should get a Nobel prize or something.

“Losing My Religion” was memorable on the radio because of the mandolin riff but the visuals of the video were striking. No matter what Michael Stipes or the rest of the band did before calling it quits, I will always think of that video when I hear the letters R. E. M.

And you, brother? What music makes you think of the lawn? Is 1991 a year you can remember yet? You may have been tying your own shoes….

12 comments on “Songs of the Year—1991

  1. thesister says:

    I’ll be honest, all I could think of while reading this post is “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd. I am very happy that the song got a shout-out though I certainly understand why it was not your pick for “Song of the Year.” As I recall, you got the Color Me Badd cassette tape as a prize that our mother picked after you’d won a radio contest or something. She had a chance to dig around in a hot tub full of sand at a strip mall to see if she’d pull out a diamond ring, but instead she pulled out the Color Me Badd cassette, which you thought was quite scandalous. I remember you mowing the lawn, listening to that tape and gesturing to me to come over to you, and you let me listen to the song and I remember being somewhat horrified yet amused as well.

    Worst part about 1991: NKOTB released no new material that year.

    • theelderj says:

      Ah, The Diamond Dig. I had such big hopes. That was the one and only time I ever called in to a radio contest. It was my birthday and I won! (a chance to drive to a second-rate mall and have my mother try to win a prize).

      It was not the most embarrassing album of the period. For a friend’s birthday I was asked to buy the album “Sex Packets” by the Digital Underground. For some reason everyone knew I could get away with it. The Twins who received the album had to hide it from their parents.

      • professormortis says:

        Oh, come now, dissing Digital Underground when Color Me Bad gets a pass?

        “I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom”-classic. “The Humpty Hump” was a song even the Metal Kids I was kinda sorta a part of in the first half of 1991 (twas summer 1991 when I shifted to ten-fifteen year old punk and began my ever backward journey through pop culture) were allowed to get up and dance to at Middle School dances. Yes, the nerdier, upwardly mobile socio-economic half of the Metal Kids at my Middle School went to dances, at least on a couple of occasions, where the more socially adjusted and/or prettier ones might even have girlfriends to dance with. I was not in that last class, not really even in the upwardly mobile slice of the demographic, but my older siblings schooled me in METAL (Sis Mortis had me listening to Dio, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot and Def Leopard in the early 1980s, for crying out loud) and I was most certainly nerdy but not in any way actually dangerous or living in the bad part of town, so this was my social group. We all went to separate schools afterward, but the way it sliced, IIRC, the more well off ones went into Alternative (and to the public high school), the less well off ones went deeper into METAL (and to the technical high school) and, well, me? I got shipped off to the Catholic High School thanks to my habit of not finishing my homework and somehow wound up buying Combat Rock, and the rest, as they say, was history. Though I also bought Nevermind in the fall and very nearly stumbled into being cool (as you might guess, I turned away from that path amazingly easily).

  2. theelderj says:

    Oh, Professor, I wasn’t dissing the Digital Underground, just the title “Sex Packets”. Can you imagine being in grade school (or middle school) and explaining that album title to your mother?

    I had no older siblings, so the lords of Metal were mysteries into which I was never initiated.

    • professormortis says:

      Heh. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to explain that to my mother now.

      I think 1991 was my last full year of Metal Fandom. I left the faith quickly thereafter, but it was in 1991 I saw Metallica in concert, owned the Black Album, listened to Guns and Roses a LOT with liberal does of Operation: Mindcrime from Queensryche.

  3. londongigger says:

    Good post. Got me thinking way back. In 1991 I must admit I was working hard and into my second clubbing phase. Thoughts of going to gigs never crossed my mind then and the last one I went to see in that era – Sinead O’Connor in 1989 at the London Dominion Theatre was starting to become a memory.
    1991 was far from a vintage year in the UK. Too many remixes, too re-releases from previous years with 1991 tacked on the end. Too many 80’s throwbacks trying to cling on.The dance music scene wasn’t bad though. It wasn’t yet at its 90’s peak but not bad nonetheless.

    So there weren’t mant great songs but the ones there were stood out. I agree with you about REM’s Losing my Religion and I’d also include Shiny Happy People; also agree about Summertime. I would add to your list from a UK perspective Enigma’s Sadness Part 1(chanting monks and synths), Erasure’s Chorus (masterpiece of synth), You could me mine – Guns and Roses, Sunshine on A Rainy Day – Zoe (hippy one hit wonder trip hop that’s sums up the autumn or fall); and Let’s Talk About Sex- Salt n Pepa.

    • theelderj says:

      So right on the chanting monks (“Sadness Part 1”). That was big here, too, but I guess I was suppressing my memory of it.

      Your other suggestions are good. I was still afraid of Guns N; Roses at the time and a little confused by REM. I guess I was too young.

      • professormortis says:

        Oh, man, “You Could Be Mine”, “Sadness Part 1” and “Let’s Talk About Sex”-all very, very heavily played songs in 1991. I think they hit in the UK earlier, but this reminded me that “Unbelievable” from EMF and “Right Here, Right Now” were huge in 1991 in the States. I owned the Jesus Jones album that track came from, I’m ashamed to admit, as well as Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s God Fodder, which I bought but did not “get”.

      • theelderj says:

        Good call on Jesus Jones. I must have seen that video every time I turned on the TV. And EMF? I still get excited when I hear that opening “Boom”

      • professormortis says:

        EMF holds up….the Jones, not so much.

  4. […] Zooropa, I went back in time to bands I had missed out on when I was too busy loving NKOTB and M. C. Hammer. 1993 is when I bought and consumed Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. I immediately fell in love with the […]

  5. […] remember listening to this album in alternation with DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s Summertime. The brightness and optimism that can only belong to child stars is infectious. This song in […]

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