Regulars here know that I have a thing for the early Alternative Music scene of the 1990s. That is not all that I listen to, of course; I listen to the Grateful Dead, Phish, Canadian Indie, Classic Rock, Progressive Rock, and a whole variety of other things. I guess I have just been on a nostalgia kick with the Grunge/Alternative music from the early 1990s lately, and I have been resurrecting some of my old favorites via the new-fangled MP3 player.
I know I am a week late for Valentine’s Day, which is why I am posting this now. My contrarian nature would never allow me to honor such a mainstream holiday, but I do love me a good love song. Part of what makes music such a life force for me is that it triggers certain heartstrings. I can get overly emotional with any type of song, but love songs are special. They bring you back to a certain time when you felt a deep amorous love for someone. These songs mean a little something extra to me.
And, they are good songs, to boot. There were about 25 million love songs that came out in the 1990s, but most of them were crap, and most of them were not Alternative Rock. Since most Alternative/Grunge bands were mewling and whining throughout the 1990s, the Alternative Rock love song is something of a rarity.
I have chosen ten songs that I remember having a special fondness for that come from the 1990s. I have tried to use only happy love songs, but as I just mentioned, a happy Alternative song from the 1990s is rather exceptional. There were a few that came to mind that I wanted to list, but after more careful consideration, I realized that they were either from 1989 or 2000, and that would never do. I’m a stickler that way.
So here we go:
10) The Cure – Halo
This song was a B-side to the single “Friday I’m in Love”, which was released in 1992. “Halo” did not make it onto the album Wish, and it did not receive much radio play until around 1994. It was later released later on the 2004 compilation album, Join the Dots: B-Sides & Rarities 1978–2001 (The Fiction Years). This beautiful and playful song brings images of young lovers dancing around in a field or beach. It has the feel of new, young, love, and has the hopelessly naïve lyrics:
I never felt like this with anyone before, You only have to smile and I’m dizzy.
9) The Jesus and Mary Chain (with Hope Sandoval) – Sometimes Always
“Sometimes Always” was the first single from the Jesus and Mary Chain’s fifth studio album, Stoned and Dethroned. It is also a beautiful duet with the sultry-voiced Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star. The song tells a two-sided story of one lover who walked away, and the other who was left behind, but still welcomed him back. The interplay between Sandoval and Jim Reid is fun and quirky, adding a realistic element to the song.
8) Mazzy Star – Fade Into You
And speaking of Mazzy Star, you couldn’t get very far without hearing this song on the radio in 1994. . “Fade Into You” was first released on Mazzy Star’s second album, So Tonight That I Might See, in October, 1993, but not released as a single until April of 1994. It is a gorgeous song, and features Sandoval’s soft, whispery voice over a three-chord musical drone. Lyrically, it tells the tale of two lovers so deeply intertwined that their bond could never be so easily broken. It is haunting and almost sacred. Simply stunning!
7) Ween – Springtheme
Okay, after the seriousness of “Fade Into You”, I wanted to add something a little silly. Alright, it is very silly, but a love song nonetheless. “Springtheme” tells the story of very young love—probably teens—who are new to the whole love and sex thing. Lyrics like “Can I touch you on the boob?” probably will never be taken seriously, and rightfully so, but just try to think back to when you were a young teen, fumbling around and trying to figure out how to get to second base.
By-the-way, you can find this masterpiece on Ween’s third full-length album, Pure Guava, released in 1992. Ween is one of my favorite bands, and their subversive nature in recording and writing songs cannot be matched!
6) The Lemonheads – Into Your Arms
Hey, remember this one? Here is another song that drowned the radio waves and MTV back in 1993. “Into Your Arms” was a hit single from the Lemonheads’ sixth studio album, Come on Feel the Lemonheads. It has a warm and charming pop feel that might remind you of a more innocent time. In stark contrast to the heavy drone of the Grunge era, or the post-Goth sadness of many Alternative bands at the time, this song is light, refreshing, and playful. I have never been a big fan of the Lemonheads, but I cannot resist this song. It is one of the songs that I associate with this time.
5) Elliott Smith – Between the Bars
Ahh, Elliott, I love you, man! One of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters, Elliott Smith still finds his way into regular rotation on my iPod. On the surface, “Between the Bars” is a love song, and a deeply heartfelt one at that, but it is also a little sad, which one expects from Elliott. The protagonist professes his love for someone and tells her (?) that he will make everything okay. It is one of the most co-dependent love songs that I have ever heard. The sentiment is true and loving, but the relationship is messed up!
Drink up one more time and I’ll make you mine
Keep you apart, deep in my heart
Separate from the rest, where I like you the best
And keep the things you forgot
You can find “Between the Bars”, on his third solo album, Either/Or, released in 1997. It is also featured on the Good Will Hunting movie soundtrack. I like this video taken of him performing the song in his bathroom.
4) Elliott Smith – Angeles
You didn’t think that I could stop at only one Elliott Smith song, did you? I had both of these songs in mind and decided to include them both. Just about everything I said about “Between the Bars” is applicable to “Angeles.” It is heartfelt, touching, heart-wrenching, co-dependent, and unhealthy.
I could make you satisfied in everything you do
All your secret wishes could right now be coming true
And be forever with my poison arms around you
However, it, too, is a gorgeous song. You can also find “Angeles” on Either/Or, and on the Good Will Hunting movie soundtrack.
3) Dave Matthews Band – Crush
I almost did not include any Dave Matthews. I used to love his stuff, but we had a falling out about 13 years ago when he started to make shitty albums and write mediocre songs. I do not ever listen to the Dave Matthews Band anymore, but I do like to hear his solo work with Tim Reynolds.
Anyhoo, I guess I could have used “Crash Into Me”, but I like this one better. No one could ever accuse Dave Matthews of lacking in passion. His lyrics, while non-traditional, are still very heartfelt. I imagine that he was thinking about his lover and sung a sort of stream of consciousness rambling while recording the song. Lyrically it has little form, but hey, when is love ever formulaic? The words are fiery and adoring, and he belts them out with urgency.
“Crush” comes from the 1998 Dave Matthews Band album, Before These Crowded Streets. But this video is just Dave and Tim.
2) Smashing Pumpkins – Drown
I am not sure if this is a love song or not, but I have always thought that it was. It reminds me of the Cure’s imagery of drowning as a metaphor for losing oneself in someone else. Lyrically, I guess is akin to “Fade Into You.”
“Drown” comes from the Singles movie soundtrack, and was Smashing Pumpkins’ breakthrough hit. To me, this song takes me right back to 1992. The tone of the music; part psychedelic and part metal, sums up the early 90s perfectly for me. You can decide if it is a real love song or not.
1) Stone Temple Pilots – Still Remains
This is the perfect Grunge-era love song, and it was the soundtrack to when my former-wife and I fell in love back in 1994. Many years and a divorce later, I still look back fondly to this song and how I felt at this time. “Still Remains” comes from Stone Temple Pilots’ second album, Purple, and remains a classic in their live repertoire today.
Lyrically, the song presents images of lovers who can take the passion and beauty of their bedroom out into the rest of the world. Scott Weiland is, at times, oblique with his metaphors, but that only heightens the sense of young, blissful, love.
Pick a song and sing a yellow nectarine
Take a bath, I’ll drink the water that you leave
The lovers share everything, and never want to leave each other’s side.
If you should die before me
Ask if you can bring a friend
So, those are my ten favorites from this era. What about you? Do you have anything to add to the list? And please do not say Lisa Loeb!