Forte is 30: Let’s take a stroll down memory lane to the magic of the moment, 1991
01.03.2021

Forte is 30: Let’s take a stroll down memory lane to the magic of the moment, 1991

Photo by Kirk Weddle Grohl, Novoselic and Cobain in a hotel swimming pool in Los Angeles in 1991.
Words by Chester Ogilvie

The year we were born was a huge year for music.

Believe it or not, Forte is thirty this year. We are not looking at a hip replacement just yet. In fact, we’re still carded on our weekly wine run. We are at the point, however, where we find ourselves reminiscing about days past a little more than usual. Age has a way of doing that. But before you think we are slowing down, we feel we have plenty of golden years to come.

1991 was quite the year for music. Hell, people were lining up at midnight to buy Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I & II. So as we place the candles on the rainbow cake and get to thinking about who is getting a party invite, we are going to have a look back at a year when Color Me Badd wanted to sex you up, R.E.M. were losing their religion and Right Said Fred were too sexy for Forte Magazine.

Thoughts arrive like butterflies

What’s that they say about first impressions?

Ten – Pearl Jam

Named after the jersey number of basketballer Mookie Blaylock, Pearl Jam’s name at the time of recording the album, Ten was released in August of ’91 but didn’t crack the Billboard 200 until January ’92. The album would eventually go Platinum 13 times and in 2019 Rolling Stone ranked it #3 in the Greatest Grunge Albums of All Time.

Gish – Smashing Pumpkins

The recording of Gish sounded downright painful. It was co-produced by Butch Vig, the man responsible for Nirvana’s Nevermind, and frontman Billy Corgan. Corgan was meticulous from day one, with the recording of the album extending to some 41 days and seventeen days to mix. Corgan would later claim to have suffered a nervous breakdown as a result.

Alanis – Alanis Morissette

At the age of sixteen, Alanis Morissette’s debut album, Alanis, drew comparisons to Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. It did pretty well in her native Canada, cracking the Top 40 before being certified Platinum. While the album is a far cry from Jagged Little Pill, it allowed Alanis to dip her toe in the music waters and open the door to her true self as a musician.

Bluelines – Massive Attack

Formed in 1988 by Robert ‘3D’ Del Naja, Andrew ‘Mushroom’ Vowles, Adrian ‘Tricky’ Thaws and Grant ‘Daddy G’ Marshall, Massive Attack’s debut helped coin the term trip hop – although its creators aren’t too fond of that acclaim. Album track ‘Unfinished Symphony’ came in at #63 in a greatest songs of all time poll by NME.

He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs.

And then there were these albums

Nevermind – Nirvana

The follow-up to Bleach, the little band from Aberdeen changed the game with their second release (originally a title of Sheep was entertained). The album’s sales began somewhat slowly before exploding, and in 1992 Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous from the #1 spot. Not much can be said about this album that hasn’t already been said.

Metallica – Metallica

In 1989, flootin-tootin Jethro Tull beat out Metallica for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Recording at the Grammys. How do you recover from that? Record Metallica, commonly known as The Black Album. In 2019 it became only the fourth release in American history to reach the 550-week milestone on the Billboard 200.

Use Your Illusion I & II – Guns N’ Roses

A smidge more than 150 minutes of music heaven was made in 1991 when Guns N’ Roses released two albums on the same day. The accompanying tour stretched for more than two years, taking in 194 shows in 27 countries. The tour history is worth a read and includes the Riverport riot that took place in Missouri.

The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest

The second album from New York’s A Tribe Called Quest is regarded as one of the most influential in hip hop, with the band playing a heavy influence on the likes of Pharrell Williams and Kanye West. The label initially had concerns for the album, believing that perhaps it was attempting to be too commercial. They were wrong.

Give to me sweet sacred bliss

But wait, there’s more

1991 also saw releases from Soundgarden (Badmotorfinger), Primal Scream (Screamadelica), U2 (Achtung Baby), 2Pac (2Pacalypse Now), My Bloody Valentine (Loveless), R.E.M. (Out of Time), Pixies (Trump le Monde), Blur (Leisure), Mariah Carey (Emotions), Queen (Innuendo), Spin Doctors (Pocket Full of Kryptonite), Primus (Sailing the Seas of Cheese), Hole (Pretty on the Inside), Mr. Bungle (Mr. Bungle), Ween (The Pod), Fugazi (Steady Diet of Nothing), Prince (Diamonds and Pearls), The Screaming Jets (All for One), Dinosaur Jr. (Green Mind), Martika (Martika’s Kitchen), Public Enemy (Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black), The Tea Party (The Tea Party) and Red Hot Chili Peppers (Blood Sugar Sex Magik). Not a shabby year at all.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik marked the fifth album from Red Hot Chili Peppers. And so it became that every single guitarist in the galaxy would set out to learn ‘Under the Bridge’ (note: the film clip was directed by Gus Van Sant). It proved very popular locally, with the album peaking at #1. In 2006, when triple j ran a top ten albums of all time poll, BSSM came in at number eight. You can check out the documentary of the album’s making, Funky Monks, on YouTube.

You seem alright to me

Thinking local

diVINYLS – Divinyls

The band’s fourth studio album became their most successful, thanks largely to the international hit ‘I Touch Myself’. While the song would debut at #77, several weeks later it would dethrone Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’ from its #1 perch.

Blind Love – Ratcat

Ratcat held the #1 spot for both album and song with Blind Love and ‘Don’t Go Now’, a feat that was last achieved by a local band in the 1980s. That band was INXS, and it wouldn’t be achieved by a local band again until Savage Garden came along.

Woodface – Crowded House

The album that features some of their most well-known tracks, including ‘Chocolate Cake’, ‘Fall at Your Feet’, ‘It’s Only Natural’, ‘Weather with You’ and ‘Four Seasons in One Day’. If you catch a cover band and they don’t play one of these, something has gone wrong.

Tribal Voice – Yothu Yindi

The second album from Yothu Yindi would have success locally, winning the Song of the Year ARIA for ‘Treaty’. It would also have success abroad, with ‘Treaty’ reaching an international audience by appearing on the soundtrack to Encino Man.

Baby Animals – Baby Animals

Baby Animals spent six weeks atop the local charts and 46 weeks in the Top 50 to become the highest-selling debut by an Australian artist at the time (Jet would later take the crown with Get Born). It would lead to tours with Bryan Adams and Black Crowes.

There’s nothin’ left to hide

Make it stop. Please, make it stop

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves gave us Kevin Costner’s ‘doesn’t quite belong’ accent and the late Alan Rickman’s wonderfully fun portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham. It also gave us the monster Bryan Adams song, ‘(Everything I Do) I Do it For You’. Other songs may have held the #1 spot, but not like this song. Following a sixteen-week stay atop the UK Singles Chart, it was eventually knocked from its top spot by U2 with ‘The Fly’.

According to Adams, the song was written in 45 minutes with Michael Kamen. Not bad for a song that still holds the record for most consecutive weeks at #1 in the UK. Kate Bush, Annie Lennox and Lisa Stansfield all turned down the opportunity to sing the song.

Saying I love you

No, that’s not the band I meant

It’s not uncommon for heavy bands to release a ballad. They’re softies, after all. In 1991, Extreme released ‘More Than Words’ as a single. This wasn’t a big power ballad like we had come to know from other hard rockers. In the words of Nuno Bettencourt, it was more like an Everly Brothers or Beatles track. The guitarist for the band even quit temporarily in protest when their label didn’t want to release the track as a single.

The story goes they were in the studio with Sebastian Bach, when the Skid Row frontman gushed about the song and offered his services as their manager. Weird Al Yankovic, meanwhile, parodied the iconic film clip with his track ‘You Don’t Love Me Anymore’.

The song would confuse listeners, who would head to record stores to purchase the track only to be led to the hard rock/metal section.

 

Come on swing it

A man with the moves

In 1991, a simple man and a bunch of funky friends released ‘Good Vibrations’. A #1 in the US, the hit song took Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch everywhere. There was the Mega CD game called Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch: Make My Video, where fans could edit their own video clip starring the band. There was the workout video The Marky Mark Workout: Form…Focus…Fitness. Unfortunately, it also led to readers of Rolling Stone voting Mr Mark the ‘Worst Male Singer of the Year’ in 1992.

Now living in the world of one hit wonders, the track samples ‘Love Sensation’ by the late Loleatta Holloway, who appeared on the track with Marky Mark. The anti-drug song may sound a touch cheesy now (although, let’s face it, still pretty darn catchy), but in becoming one of the first hip hop songs to crack the Hot 100, it did its bit for the music world.

 

Here we go!

 

Who doesn’t love a good festival?

Lollapalooza

Perry Farrell, Ted Gardner, Don Muller and Marc Geiger put their heads together and came up with Lollapalooza. Performers at the festival’s inaugural event included Jane’s Addiction (as part of their farewell tour), Siouxsie and the Banshees, Nine Inch Nails, Butthole Surfers and Violent Femmes. Ice-T also performed, using the festival to launch Body Count.

Rock in Rio 2

First held in 1985, the second edition of Rock in Rio took place in January of 1991. Artists included Prince, Joe Cocker, Guns N’ Roses, Faith No More, Judas Priest, Run-DMC and New Kids on the Block, as well as Australia’s own INXS. It marked the first concert Guns N’ Roses played with new drummer Matt Sorum, as well as keys-man Dizzy Reed.

Meredith Music Festival

Its inaugural year wasn’t so much a festival as it was an end of year party for around 200 people. But Meredith Music Festival sounds better than ‘a bunch of artists performing on the back of a truck’. Performers included The Dead Salesmen, The Boxing Tostados, Kill Sarah, Flamenco Sketches, The Celts, Picko and Ursula’s Dream.

Monsters of Rock

Just before the fall of the Soviet Union, a staggering 1.5 million people were alleged to have turned out for the Monsters of Rock Moscow leg. Held at Tushino Airfield, the festival featured AC/DC, Metallica, Pantera, The Black Crowes and local outfit E.S.T. Do yourself a favour and check out the YouTube footage.

 

The show must go on

I won’t be a rock star. I will be a legend

On November 24, 1991, Freddie Mercury passed away from bronchial pneumonia caused by AIDS. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ hits the top of the charts in the UK for a second time.

Queen would also release their fourteenth studio album, Innuendo. The album reached #1 in the UK. In a promotional video for the album at the time, drummer Roger Taylor said: “We’ve always been stronger together. I feel very lucky that we’ve had those fantastic times. [Freddie] was just a tower of energy, really. Working with him, he always gets the best out of you and drives you, and inspires those around.”

 

Remember the time

The King of Pop

Michael Jackson signs a deal potentially worth one-billion dollars with Sony. Yes, you read that correctly. The deal was made in the wake of album Dangerous. According to an Inquirer article at the time, the deal was to be for six albums for Epic Records and a number of films for Colombia Pictures.

In case it ever comes up on a pub trivia night, on November 14, 1991, some 500 million people across 27 nations watched Michael Jackson grab his crotch 17 times. We’re talking about the telecast of ‘Black or White’ here, a $4 million dollar, eleven-minute unedited telecast directed by John Landis and starring Macaulay Culkin.

Meanwhile, Jermaine Jackson releases the track ‘Word to the Badd!!’, a song slamming his younger brother, Michael. In his memoir, LaFace Records co-founder L.A. Reid said the brothers met at their mother’s house in order to discuss the track’s issues. A couple of days later, he says, “The record disappeared off the air, as if it had never been there in the first place. I don’t know what Michael did. I don’t know if Michael did anything, but it went away in a flash.”

 

Strike a pose

A blond with ambition

Madonna: Truth or Dare (alternatively known as In Bed with Madonna – a title Madonna apparently had little affection for) is released. The documentary chronicling Madonna’s Blond Ambition World Tour became the highest-grossing documentary of all time on its release, until Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine surpassed it more than a decade later. The tour took in 57 shows, beginning in Japan and ending in France, and supported her albums Like a Prayer and the Dick Tracy soundtrack I’m Breathless. 200 hours of footage was recorded, whittled down to two hours.

The tour was not without controversy. Originally Pepsi was a sponsor, before they backed out due to the hoopla around ‘Like a Prayer’. Meanwhile, the Vatican banned her from performing in Italy. Madonna’s speech in regards to this is available through an easy search.

In the US, Truth or Dare was released to 538 theatres. It would also feature at Cannes, where several thousand people waited to watch her step out on the red-carpeted stairs. Locally, Madonna appeared on 60 Minutes in an interview with Mike Munro and on the cover of Smash Hits. David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz also took a look at the film as part of The Movie Show, which you can watch through sbs.com.au.

 

Things that make you go hmmm

Why don’t they play this song anymore?

Ah, controversial songs. Back in the mid-eighties, Tipper Gore, Susan Baker, Pam Howar and Sally Nevius, known as the ‘Washington Wives’, founded the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). It’s an interesting history that partly comes down to this: You know that Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyrics sticker that you sometimes see? Yep, that’s their work.

Come 1991, ‘In the Air Tonight’, the Phil Collins song that brings out the air drummer in everyone, was temporarily banned by the BBC. The song was one of almost seventy banned during the Gulf War, deemed to be inappropriate with lyrics often about war and fighting.

Other songs on the no-no list included The Bangles’ ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’, Cutting Crew’s ‘(I Just) Died in Your Arms’, The Beatles’ ‘Back in the U.S.S.R’, Pat Benatar’s ‘Love is a Battlefield’, Billy Ocean’s ‘When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going’, ABBA’s ‘Waterloo’ and Elton John’s ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’.

 

I think I remember the film

It’s nice to meet you

1991 saw its share of artists taking their first steps in the music world. AFI, Dave Matthews Band, Deep Blue Something, Grant Lee Buffalo, CAKE, Incubus, Lucious Jackson, Machine Head, East 17, Oasis, Portishead, Counting Crows, Cradle of Filth and Rage Against the Machine all sprung to life. A few Aussie bands also said what’s up, including Blood Duster, Ikon, Front End Loader, Juice, Swoop and The Dukes.

Only the most cynical would argue against the world being a better place with Deep Blue Something’s ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ in it. In an interview with Q Magazine in 2008, lead singer Todd Pipes said: “As the song had breakfast in the title, radio stations thought it would be genius to have us on at breakfast time. We’d be up till 3 a.m. and they’d wonder why we were pissed off playing at 6am.”

 

When you wiggle you can’t go wrong

A colourful introduction

In 1991, The Wiggles both formed and released their debut (self-titled) album. Made for around $4000, the album would sell 100,000 copies, win ARIA and APRA awards, and set in motion a band that continues to delight children everywhere. And test the patience of all parents. Do you want to get in a heated argument with a kid? Ask them what their favourite Wiggles song is, and then strongly disagree.

… But why would you want to start an argument with a child?

 

Hey, are you satisfied?

A band calls time

Formed out of Minneapolis in 1978, The Replacements are considered a pioneer of alternative rock. 1984’s Let It Be (which features the song ‘Unsatisfied’) is widely regarded as their masterpiece and is included in several best albums of the 1980s lists. In 1991, the band played their final show. Two decades later, they performed at Riot Fest in Toronto.

 

You play the guitar on the MTV

Another round, anyone?

It was a pretty solid start for Dire Straits, announcing their arrival with debut song ‘Sultans of Swing’. ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Money for Nothing’ and ‘Walk of Life’ would follow. Come 1988, Mark Knopfler announces the band’s dissolution. But in 1991, the band was active again and would release their sixth and final album, On Every Street.

 

Baby, here I am

Don’t mess with a Robinson

The Black Crowes released their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, in 1990. Thanks to singles ‘Hard to Handle’ and ‘She Talks to Angels’, the band was one of the hottest tickets in town and in early ’91 scored a gig supporting ZZ Top. It didn’t end well.

The band was allegedly booted from the prized gig when they called out corporate sponsorship on stage. More specifically, Miller Brewing. In an interview with Q Magazine in ’91, guitarist Rich Robinson claims Miller told them, “You don’t say that, and if you do, we’ll throw you off the tour.” The band’s response: “Hey, we don’t have a contract with you. We thought we were going on tour with ZZ. If you wanna throw us off, throw us off.’ And they did.”

A couple of months later, frontman Chris Robinson allegedly spat on a woman while in a 7-Eleven. Fresh from a show, Chris Robinson overheard a discussion between Elizabeth Juergens and a friend. In response to her friend’s exclaim of seeing Chris, Elizabeth responded with, “Who are the Black Crowes?” None too pleased, Chris berated her for eating Twinkies, before spitting on her and walking out with a couple of cases of beer.

You can read more on that here.

 

I’m the one who wants to be with you

Stick it to the man

1991 saw a new way of tracking sales, when Billboard made a deal with Nielsen SoundScan. Rather than relying on information provided by retailers, sales would be recorded at point of purchase through cash registers. This meant retailers and radio stations were not able to doctor figures for their own gain. It was power to the people.

What sales noticed was tastes were very different than what was thought. Both N.W.A and Skid Row had their time sitting pretty at the top of the pile in the first month of the SoundScan era. It is also believed that Nirvana’s Nevermind may not have become the album it did without the new system.

 

23 positions in a one night stand

Step right up

Having referred to himself as the “Beatles of Freak Shows”, Jim Rose founded The Jim Rose Circus out of Seattle. Before the beast unfolded, he performed as Jimmy the Geek on Venice Beach, allegedly pulling in more than $15,000 a month entertaining tourists.

The world would soon be introduced to The Amazing Mister Lifto, who hung various weights from his numerous piercings and Bebe the Circus Queen, whose most well-known act was arguably using an electric grinder on a metal chastity belt, showering the stage with sparks.

The circus got bigger and bigger, and in 1992 became a match made in heaven with Lollapalooza. In 1995, Jim appeared on an episode of The X-Files and in 1996, The Simpsons came knocking with the classic episode, Homerpalooza. “Homer, nothing’s more important to me than the health and well-being of my freaks. I’m sending you to a vet.”

Check out this old article about Jim Rose here.