The ‘90s may have been the last great decade for rock music. With guitar bands on the upswing thanks to Nirvana and the excess of the ‘70s and ‘80s falling out of fashion, there had never been a better time to put together a band and start making tunes.
Complexity and indulgence was out, passion and songcraft were back in a big way.
This was a boom period for the industry, and with that came an influx of great music videos. The ‘90s were the first full decade in which making a music video was part of the package. MTV was well established, a raft of similar channels were beginning to spring up, and some fantastic directors were getting collaborating with bands and artists to create videos that, in many cases, outstrip the songs themselves in the cultural memory.
The tunes in this list are great by themselves, but it’s the visuals that make them truly legendary. Whether they’re embracing new technology, telling a story in three minutes and change, or simply attacking the funny bone, these videos represent the best the increasingly inventive format had to offer.
10. Nirvana - In Bloom
The breakthrough single for the grunge legends, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, had a bare bones video that quickly conveyed the key essence of Nirvana. Three guys in a grotty venue, playing this amazing new music that sent the kids wild.
For the final single, “In Bloom”, they took a different tact, instead highlighting the band’s oft-overlooked sense of humour. The band appears on a fake ‘50s variety show, dressed in ill fitting period clothing, with Cobain, one of the era’s great heartthrobs, in full nerd garb complete with swept over haircut and bottleneck specs.
It’s an effort to play down the messiah treatment the guys were getting at the time, and while the fans only took Nirvana more seriously as time went on, the video itself is a blast. Cobain insisted director Kevin Kerslake used period-appropriate cameras, and it looks the business.
In due course, the trio strip off their dork outfits and trash the stage - they could only keep up the act for so long - but the point was clear: there’s much more to Nirvana than just doom and gloom.