the-best-albums-of-1990-cover-image

The Best Albums of 1990

The landscape of the world was shifting in extraordinary ways in 1990. In some respects, things would never be the same again.

The most impactful was the debut of the first webpage, which was a document helpfully explaining what a webpage is and how the World Wide Web would work. If that hadn’t happened, you wouldn’t be reading this, because Discogs would be a monthly newsletter printed on cheap paper.

Also in 1990, East and West Germany officially reverted to simply being Germany, but not before West Germany got in one last dig by winning the FIFA World Cup.

Conservative soul-crusher Margaret Thatcher resigned after 11 years as England’s first female prime minister, causing a significant drop in post-punk protest songs. Ireland responded by electing its first female president, Mary Robinson, a humanist who championed radical ideas centered around making the world a better place for everyone.

Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the first Black governor in United States history, Douglas Wilder, was inaugurated — two things that clearly should have happened long before 1990. Happily, American Civil Rights giant Ralph Abernathy lived long enough to see both before dying in April.

CDs had all but wiped out the vinyl record by 1990, but vinyl has clearly proven itself to be the format that wouldn’t die, which is another reason we’re all gathered here today at the LP-loving home we call Discogs.

This list, like the ones for 1970 and 1980, was put together by collating cold, hard facts. The Wantlists and Collections of Discogs users were entered into the world’s most powerful computer (not really) and after months of intense labor (more like three weeks), this list appeared in all of its glory.

These are the records that appear the most often in both Collections and Wantlists, making them some of the most desired by the hardcore music lovers who make Discogs your one-stop shop for anything and everything related to our favorite obsession.

Top 25 Most Collected and Wanted Albums of 1990

Gary Moore - Still Got The Blues album cover

#25. Gary Moore – Still Got The Blues

Moore, who died in 2011, spent his career as a bandleader and gun-for-hire guitarist who had two stints in Thin Lizzy. His career hit an unlikely commercial peak in 1990 with this solo album, the unlikely part being that a blues and boogie album could sell more than 500,000 copies in 1990. Wild. The Belfast native has a juicy tone and can shred for days but is also an expressive singer, and Still Got the Blues is a goldmine for fans of the genre. Some guy named George Harrison guests on “That Kind of Woman.”

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Ride - Nowhere album cover

#24. Ride – Nowhere

The U.K. music press is crazy about labels, and the term “shoegaze” was one of the worst and most accurate. Bands such as Ride, which followed in the wake of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, explored a version of psychedelia that was largely based on creating elaborate, visceral guitar sound that required the use of multiple effects pedals. So they were always looking down at the stage when performing, get it? But it somehow turned into an insulting label and that’s dumb because Ride’s Nowhere is awesome. It’s sneakily melodic and, unlike My Bloody Valentine at its most self-indulgent, doesn’t lose sight of the songs. Singer Mark Gardener could stand to sound more invested in his vocals but no one can deny the commitment he and Andy Bell had to creating a psychedelic great wall of guitars.

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Pet Shop Boys - Behaviour album cover

#23. Pet Shop Boys – Behaviour

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe make pop music that sounds completely effortless, which is how you know it isn’t. A good pop song is not easy. For their fourth album, Tennant and Lowe backed off the dance-floor throttle and looked inward, concentrating less on the party and more on the post-party comedown. While it may lack the giddy highlights of the first three records, it’s an endlessly rewarding listen and a necessary chapter in the Pet Shop Boys’ decades-long story.

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Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Good Son album cover

#22. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Good Son

Nick Cave has long been one of rock music’s most restless creators, and his songwriting has shifted and evolved many times over his nearly 50-year career. The Good Son represents a move away from guitars and more toward piano with string arrangements, and there’s even a couple of moderately happy songs, such as “Foi Na Cruz.” Cave’s preacher persona makes an early appearance on a rousing “The Witness Song” but “The Weeping Song” is the album’s most enduring moment.

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The Black Crowes - Shake Your Money Maker album cover

#21. The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker

Old-school rock fans in 1990, meaning people in their early 30s who had grown up on 1960s and ‘70s rock, were feeling ignored by most new music at the time. Then the Black Crowes crawled up from the dirty South, full of vintage swagger, and sales of cheap beer soared as spontaneous Tuesday night parties broke out worldwide. Chris Robinson’s raspy voice, Rich Robinson’s filthy guitars, and Adam MacDougall’s rolling piano firmly aligned the Crowes with the Faces, which is never a bad thing. Trying to find an original vinyl pressing in decent shape will be a vision quest that ends with you spending a lot of cash.

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Jane

#20. Jane’s Addiction – Ritual De Lo Habitual

“Been Caught Stealing” is the greatest children’s song ever. It perfectly captures that key moment of childhood when you first question all of the mysterious rules that adults have been laying on you vs. your very real desire to eat a Reese’s Cup despite not having any money. “I don’t want to pay for it,” sings Perry Farrell, “I walk right through the door.” Genius! That song’s on the groove-centric side one of Jane’s Addiction’s breakout album. Side two tells a much different story of youth and young adulthood as songs about the deaths of mothers and girlfriends steer the record into some dark places both lyrically and musically.

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Entombed - Left Hand Path album cover

#19. Entombed – Left Hand Path

This Swedish death metal pioneer debuted with Left Hand Path, beginning a long career that also saw the band pioneer the death n’ roll genre. That’s a lot of death. It all started with this album, which begins with a scream and then proceeds to melt every face within a six-block radius. There’s a surprising amount of subtlety here (relatively speaking) as far as sonic textures, but at the end of the day, only death-obsessed metalheads need apply. Hardcore collectors will also see the horrific death of their bank account when acquiring a first pressing on vinyl in top condition.

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Sinéad O

#18. Sinéad O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got

Time hasn’t diminished the emotional impact of O’Connor’s second album, which made her an international star. Her blood, tears, and anger are burned into the songs like a brand, and her luminous voice still startles. “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and especially its soul-crushing video, was the catalyst for the album’s success, but there is so much more here, from the plainspoken ache of “Last Day of Our Acquaintance” to the stark politics of “Black Boys on Mopeds” to the self-confident kiss-off of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

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Death - Spiritual Healing album cover

#17. Death – Spiritual Healing

It’s hard to definitively say that Death was the first death metal band, but it was certainly the first one from the home of Disney World. Spiritual Healing, the Orlando band’s third album, is a more fully realized version of death metal than found on its 1987 debut, Scream Bloody Gore, and many metal aficionados consider it the first pure expression of death metal. It’s a brutal record in just about every way, including the price you’ll have to pay for the most collectible version, an original vinyl press on Combat Records.

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Pantera - Cowboys From Hell album cover

#16. Pantera – Cowboys From Hell

Pantera’s breakthrough album turned the Texas metal band into an unlikely major player in the 1990s, during which they sold millions of records, making it easy for singer Phil Anselmo to buy lots of heroin and ultimately destroy the band that made him relevant. Cowboys From Hell, which introduced “groove metal” to the world, is most notable for the reliably insane guitar playing of the late Dimebag Darrell, who was a master of riffs, speed, and control.

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Alice In Chains - Facelift album cover

#15. Alice In Chains – Facelift

Considered part of the grunge revolution mostly by virtue of its location in Seattle, Alice in Chains had more in common with metal — although primary songwriter Jerry Cantrell had a gift for commercially savvy hooks even while the lyrics consistently dug deeply into issues such as mental illness and addiction. Facelift is the band’s debut album and it’s a darkly atmospheric masterpiece that established the late Layne Staley as a metal crooner of the first order.

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George Michael - Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 album cover

#14. George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1

George Michael was unfairly accused of a sophomore slump with this, his second solo album and follow-up to 1987’s massively successful Faith. To be fair, it’s understandable why the album didn’t meet the expectations of Faith fans; it’s a largely introspective work, sometimes devastatingly so, and is far more soul-stirring than rump-shaking. Time has been exceptionally kind to Listen Without Prejudice and it now stands as Michael’s most personal and beautiful collection of songs.

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Enigma - MCMXC a.D. album cover

#13. Enigma – MCMXC a.D.

Enigma became an unlikely major player in the first half of the 1990s by finding a market that no one suspected existed: lusty New Age fans turned on by Gregorian chants. Founder Michael Cretu, a veteran new wave musician and pop producer, fused his experience with his interest in ambient music to spark the creation of Enigma. The Gregorian chant samples were the wild card but they worked, even inspiring a series of copycat records. MCMXC a.D. sounds dated now but, in small doses, retains a weird charm.

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Cocteau Twins - Heaven Or Las Vegas album cover

#12. Cocteau Twins – Heaven Or Las Vegas

There are two ways to listen to the Cocteau Twins. One is to just let the music wash over you, not caring about anything but the sounds. Given singer Elizabeth Fraser’s habit of turning words into nothing but sounds, it’s not like you have a choice. However, you should also call up the lyrics and read along because she can be a sharp, funny, incisive writer. Heaven Or Las Vegas is the band’s most acclaimed record and dream pop has rarely sounded this dreamy, but if you don’t have much patience for anything twee then look elsewhere.

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Judas Priest - Painkiller album cover

#11. Judas Priest – Painkiller

New drummer Scott Travis introduced himself to Priest fans with one of the most famous drum intros in heavy metal history on the title track, one that endures to this day as a testament to what two hands and two feet. It’s a fitting kick-off to an album where Judas Priest, after a decade of making very successful mainstream metal, decided it was once again time to get heavy. Rob Halford has never shrieked better and guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing duel to the death. You might want to scare up some Kevlar before spinning this one.

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Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet album cover

#10. Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet

This is a landmark album that shaped the direction of hip-hop to come. There was nothing apolitical about hip-hop prior to Fear of a Black Planet — Public Enemy was already making headlines for the political content of the group’s first two records — but Fear took everything to a conceptual level as it dissected not only racism but the reasons why racism was invented. Musically, it represents sampling as an art form. The hundreds of samples used were chosen not just for musical value but because the original song added something to the themes being addressed by Chuck D. Think about that the next time you want to drop a break into a beat just because it sounds cool.

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Pixies - Bossanova album cover

#9. Pixies – Bossanova

The beauty of the Pixies is centered around the unmatched eccentricity of Black Francis and how he’s able to twist his off-center worldview into elaborate, yet still raw, pop songs. While not as inspired as the band’s first two albums, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, Bossanova might be weirder. The wild ride of unhinged subject matter includes alien abduction, planets crashing into suns, and jazz cool cat Mose Allison. Highlights include “Allison,” “Havalina” and “Dig For Fire.”

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Iron Maiden - No Prayer For The Dying album cover

#8. Iron Maiden – No Prayer For The Dying

One of metal’s most prolific bands, Iron Maiden entered the 1990s with eight banging albums behind them, including their classic 1980 debut. By No Prayer For the Dying, only two original members remained, although singer Bruce Dickinson had been with the band since 1982. Maiden changed a lot in the 10 years since Iron Maiden, exploring synthesizers and arrangements that leaned toward prog-rock arrangements. No Prayer tried to get back to the band’s roots but the entire record feels like an afterthought compared to its classic earlier material.

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Slayer - Seasons In The Abyss album cover

#7. Slayer – Seasons In The Abyss

By 1990, Slayer was one of the most recognizable names in metal. Even people not into metal had at least heard of 1986’s Reign in Blood and knew of Slayer’s reputation on the thrash metal scene. However, the band was certainly not resting on its laurels with its fifth full-length album, Seasons In The Abyss, which is as unrelenting as anything in the band’s catalog. Guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman are in especially fine form, combining jackhammer riffs with intricate and aggressive solos. First pressings of the Def American vinyl are now officially in grail territory.

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A Tribe Called Quest - People

#6. A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm

This is a wildly inventive and hugely influential debut album that helped spark the emergence of underground, or alternative, hip-hop. While it would be insane to argue that the hip-hop being made in the 1980s wasn’t art, A Tribe Called Quest was truly artful — a subtle but meaningful difference. There are very few weak tracks here and the samples used are consistently surprising while the lyrics are hilarious and insanely clever, making this a record so ahead of its time that it’s hard to fully appreciate its groundbreaking qualities.

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AC/DC - The Razors Edge album cover

#5. AC/DC – The Razors Edge

No one can argue that AC/DC’s career is based on a very specific template of rock ‘n roll that varies little over the decades, but some AC/DC records manipulate that template a lot better than others. The several albums leading up to The Razors Edge were mediocre at best, so imagine what it felt like in 1990 when Angus Young’s iconic guitar intro for “Thunderstruck” came blaring out of car windows, turning Toyotas into Camaros for five magical minutes.  There are a lot of great performances and songs on The Razors Edge, including the remarkable “Moneytalks” and one of the most amazing Christmas songs ever written, “Mistress For Christmas.” RIP Malcolm Young, you glorious bastard.

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Angelo Badalamenti - Music From Twin Peaks album cover

#4. Angelo Badalamenti – Music From Twin Peaks

Smell that? The sweetly bitter scent of freshly-brewed coffee, pine needles, and murder? That’s the smell of Twin Peaks, which was ground zero for when American network television discovered that not everyone was an idiot and let David Lynch run wild for two years. Badalamenti’s music was crucial to the show’s success and this evocative, noir-influenced soundtrack remains a damn fine listen, conjuring visions of deep woods and the Double R Diner.

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Megadeth - Rust In Peace album cover

#3. Megadeth – Rust In Peace

Rust in Peace marked the debut of Megadeth’s most revered lineup of co-founders Dave Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson with Nick Menza and Marty Friedman. That quartet would go on to create the band’s most sustained run of quality records, including Countdown to Extinction and Youthanasia. While Mustaine is undermined by his never-ending corniness on several tracks, Rust in Peace is thrash metal at its visceral finest.

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Sonic Youth - Goo album cover

#2. Sonic Youth – Goo

Sonic Youth was a line in the sand during the latter half of the 1980s. Friendships were made and tested based on whether or not you embraced the New York band’s tightrope act of art rock, hard rock, dissonant pop, and a strange version of tranquility. Goo took the band into the mainstream (sort of, by being on a major label). The extra exposure helped to spread Sonic Youth’s already formidable influence, which had infected bands such as My Bloody Valentine and Pavement. Original vinyl releases of this and other early Sonic Youth records are getting more rare, and pricey, every day.

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Depeche Mode - Violator album cover

#1. Depeche Mode – Violator

Violator was Depeche Mode’s seventh album, and the English band had already achieved a reasonable level of notoriety, but this album turned David Gahan, Martin Gore, Alan Wilder, and Andrew Fletcher into international superstars. A seamless blend of hooks and constantly pending doom, Violator plays with the idea of what pop music is and can be while becoming the soundtrack for sad dancers everywhere. Fans of CDs are in luck because you can grab this record for pennies. Vinyl lovers may have to settle for a reissue as there weren’t a lot of records pressed in 1990.

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18 Comments
  • Aug 13,2020 at 06:29

    Too much metal, too little house/techno/trance/rave.

  • Aug 5,2020 at 12:52

    Adam Mcdougall was NOT the Black Crowes keyboard player at that time, Chuck Leavell played on that record.

  • Aug 5,2020 at 05:36

    Too much metal in that chart!!! There is not much from the UK rave scene. Charlatans – Some Friendly should definately appear here. Happy Mondays, Shamen, KLF Chill-Out definately a must. Sisters of Mercy also had a good album out that year. Further album to name would be:

    – Innocence – Belief
    – Black Box – Dreamland
    – Soul II Soul – Vol. II
    – 49ers – 49ers

    Violator deserves the number 1!!!

  • Aug 2,2020 at 21:37

    I would have much preferred links to the Discogs master releases than to the bloody artist-ripoff site “Spotify” – sad. Also, hello: The KLF, “Chill Out” and Queensryche “Empire” are both from 1990 – just to name two albums that, looking back, were actually HUGE, compared the lame Priest and Maiden albums that have been included for whatever reason…

  • Jul 29,2020 at 10:42

    They Might Be Giants Flood deserves some sort of mention for being mind-blowing awesome.
    It rocked my 13 year old world and is still fresh 30 years later.

  • Jul 29,2020 at 01:43

    … turning Toyotas into Camaros… that’s good

  • Jul 22,2020 at 21:49

    This is based on cold hard facts yet you almost immediately editorialize and ruin the subject matter with politics…” Conservative soul-crusher Margaret Thatcher resigned after 11 years as England’s first female prime minister, causing a significant drop in post-punk protest songs.” Ha! Was that a disappointment?

    Freedom is the mother of creativity. Keep the politics out of it even though politics sometimes inspires the artist. Just the facts or call it an opinion piece. Please and thank you for your research on this year which was pivotal and important musically.

  • Jul 20,2020 at 13:55

    Also Snap! – World Power

  • Jul 19,2020 at 22:32

    X by INXS. Enough said. :)

  • Jul 19,2020 at 19:37

    At least we now realise that it is all about “Collection and Wantlist numbers” not the misleading title “Best Of”, which confused many of us when the 1970 and 1980 lists were released. Well done Discogs buyers. This list is more like it, fantastic. Violator at No 1; you betcha! Still mind blowingly good. Would make the Top 25 of the 90s in my humble opinion. Four killer albums not on the list from 1990 are Morrissey’s Bona Drag (albeit a compilation), Sisters Of Mercy’s Vision Thing, Iggy Pop’s Brick By Brick and Luka Bloom’s Riverside.

  • Jul 19,2020 at 13:02

    “Violator” is the No1 in the whole ’90s decade, not just No1 for a specific year. DM first changed the history of pop music (turned into “dark”) with “Black Celebration”. “Violator” was the peak and the epitome of that transformation.

  • Jul 19,2020 at 12:06

    Mi favourite musical year, I began focuing on music then, and so many good albums. In metal, Anthrax – Persistence Of Time, Annihilator – Never, Neverland, Testament – Souls Of Black, Bathory – Hammerheart, Yngwie Malmsteen – Eclipse, Poison – Flesh & Blood, Warrant – Cherry Pie, Scorpions – Crazy World, besides, Happy Mondays – Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, Morrissey – Bona Drag, Bad Religion – Against the Grain,
    The Durutti Column – Obey The Time, Iggy Pop – Brick By Brick, Suicidal Tendencies – Lights…Camera…Revolution!, The Mission – Carved In Sand, VA – Red Hot + Blue, The Exploited – The Massacre, Black Sabbath – Tyr, Living Colour – Time’s Up, INXS – X…

  • Jul 19,2020 at 05:10

    Depeche Mode – No. 1! Well deserved. The greatest album ever IMHO.

  • Jul 17,2020 at 22:59

    Have to agree with brightpavilions, the headline did say “the best albums of 1990”, which this isn’t. Nevertheless an interesting list. I remember “Enigma – MCMXC a.D.” very well; I enjoyed it. As well as copycats it also spawned an interest in real Gregorian and Byzantine Chant. Many people were dismayed to discover however that Enigma had mucked around with it a bit to fit the rhythm. Still, I love choral music and just for a brief second it got a bit mainstream.

  • Jul 17,2020 at 11:17

    This might be the “Most Collected and Wanted” records of 1990, but the headline is “The Best Albums of 1990.” Let’s not conflate best with most collected/wanted. 🙂

  • Jul 16,2020 at 16:45

    I’ll echo the above, a superb review of a year virtually bereft of round black plastic. However, like all years there were a few near-classics and a few of Jeffrey’s list appear in my own collection. We need articles and lists like this more frequently.
    I have compiled a Top 12 basically for comparitive opinion and to satisfy my own self-indulgence!….
    1. Van Morrison – Enlightenment
    2. George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1
    3. Enigma – MCMXC A.D – The Limited Edition
    4. Lloyd Cole – Lloyd Cole
    5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Good Son
    6. Gary Moore – Still Got The Blues
    7. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Ragged Glory
    8. Elton John – The One
    9. Charlatans – Some Friendly
    10. Notting Hillbillies – Missing…Presumed Having A Good Time
    11. Depeche Mode – Violator
    12. Happy Mondays – Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches
    Regards :)

  • Jul 15,2020 at 12:01

    Jeffrey, I would like to congratulate you on the article as a great and clear reference to one of the most unknown moments for me that was that decade of the 1990s. Especially with the fact that the list in its first 5 are quite diverse, but excellent records. I can say that I would do one of these from the 1970s and 1980s, now I have more to explore with that list. I have discogs as a fundamental reference site and access to all of that. With my best wishes, Lacava.

  • Jul 15,2020 at 07:41

    It’s interesting how the criteria for this list changes everything. I would have never guessed that these are the records that appear the most often in both Collections and Wantlists.

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