Maybe we here at CREEM are just full of ourselves, but it’s hard for us to imagine anything cool happening without us being around to see it. Maybe, having missed the 1990s, we haven’t yet been house-trained into self-effacement. So we act proud, stand on our lil’ haunches, and bark real braggadocious-like. To paraphrase Bart Simpson in season 5, episode 17 of The Simpsons, “Bart Gets an Elephant” (airdate March 31, 1994), we think we’re people.

The last issue of the original CREEM magazine came out in October 1989. Exhausted by the release of “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and dreading the possibility of an end-of-the-year readers’ pool placing Simply Red over the B-52’s, we looked inwards—to the Love Shack of our souls—and, with hearts as heavy as a cetacean Cadillac, we set sail. We wish we could say that we were always around in spirit. Or that, when there was only one pair of footprints in the sand, we were carrying you. But the truth is that we had to take some time to work on ourselves. To find our smile. To get our groove back. To, in the parlance of the day, have what she’s having. We packed up our KISS records, put our Suzi Quatro jumpers on consignment, found a sitter for Lester Bangs’ ghost, and fucked off for greener pastures (a cute little bungalow on the outskirts of Bob Seger’s secret Upper Straits Lake estate, where fauna was plentiful, the earth fertile, and our landlord let us drink from his outdoor garden hose whenever we wanted).

In our defense, we didn’t know what we’d be missing. We didn’t know that punk would return, rock would return, England would return, that even boy bands would make a comeback, or that there’d be enough time when they weren’t around that anyone would have missed them. How could we have known any of this? In 1989, the Pixies were a solid college rock band, not the prophets of songwriting they’d prove to be. In 1989, vampires stayed west of Ventura Boulevard. Them claiming to be the world would’ve just seemed hubristic. In 1989, we were taking what Aerosmith were churning out with a creepy boner and a smile, and we were equally grateful to grade Neil Young on a curve. Hell, we were grading everything on a curve. When you’re convinced that rock ’n’ roll will never again be as raw as the Replacements were before Bob Stinson left, Great White covering Ian Hunter is like matzo in the desert.

This is what's left of Kurt Cobain
Woodstock ’99. Photo via Getty

In 1989, it wasn’t entirely unreasonable to see grunge as an entertaining enough regional scene and Sub Pop as a solid enough SST-type underground rawk label that could probably stand to throw a few more chicks in the mix. And Nirvana seemed fun too; doomy ’n’ punky, with a cutie-patootie frontman. Pretty great, if no Mudhoney. What was coming was hard to imagine, especially in scale. As documented by Aaron Gilbreath in his Alive in the Nineties newsletter, “At the time Cat Butt was recording for Penultimate Records, Pavitt loved them and thought they could be as big as Pussy Galore...” which beautifully illustrates the way much of the underground was perceived; nobody had any idea who might hit, and success, when you dreamed really big, was to someday—if everything went right—achieve the heights of Jon Spencer’s scum rock novelty act.

If you had told us that Cat Butt probably weren’t going to make it, we’d have believed you. But if you had told us that 50 percent of the rock music of the next 10 years was going to be an endless parade of Maynard G. Krebs cosplayers—either getting rich making timelessly heart-wrenching dirge pop or competing to see who could shit out the most toothless Replacements facsimiles—and the other 50 percent was going to be split between ska punk and rap rock...well, we’d probably not have believed you.

This is not to say that—between October 1989 and June of ’22, when CREEM chairman JJ Kramer knocked on our bungalow window and told us that,
for the first time in three decades, we needed to put some pants on—we haven’t been paying attention. Quite the opposite. Among a couple other things, music criticism is in our blood.

So yeah, we’ve been paying attention. To all of it. From A to Z. From “Arm, Mark” to “Zra, Better Than E.” And we’ve been taking notes. And making lists. So. Many. Lists.

What follows is, as our nature dictates, idiotic. To attempt to provide any sort of meaningful overview of a culture—especially one as diffuse as rock music, in the decade that further diffused the shit out of it—is madness. But to quote a wonderful band (that we only mention once because there were just too
many other bands we had to get to): Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we? Heck, we’re a print magazine, with few advertisers, so we’re not even doing it for love of clicks or money. We’re doing it because we can’t do otherwise. We were born to love Scrawl and Pulp and Fishbone and the Kids soundtrack and that song that used “creep” as a noun and that song that used “creep” as a verb. We were born to defend funk metal and to defend still hating nü-metal, no matter how stupidly the winds have changed. We were born to maybe overrate some grunge acts and maybe be a bit needlessly condescending about others. We were born to innocently forget to mention White Zombie, apparently, and we were born to intentionally barely mention Marilyn Manson, cuz that shit sucked hard the first time. It is our nature. Like Warren G is to regulating, CREEM is to opinionating.

What follows is, as our nature dictates, idiotic. To attempt to provide any sort of meaningful overview of a culture—especially one as diffuse as rock music, in the decade that further diffused the shit out of it—is madness

Is CREEM vs. the ’90s a bit rockist? Yes. We are a rock magazine. Is it more pop-minded than some might like? Yes. We appreciate a catchy tune, and Ronnie Spector lives in our heart too strongly to not think of girl groups as operating within a rock and soul tradition. Is there no consistent logic in what hip-hop/pop/etc. is included? Correct. The aim was to include what we felt might have been covered by CREEM—if perhaps an idealized memory of the magazine—at the time, while avoiding the freewheeling inanity that allows some of our competitors to do “Best Songs Ever” lists with, like, a Miles Davis song at No. 183, “Immigrant Song” at No. 51, something Jack Antonoff wrote on the toilet coming in at No. 8, and the Forever War of Nevermind vs. Lemonade taking the top two spots. So, no country, no classical, no jazz, no boy bands, and no Aphex Twin. At the same time, we endeavored to avoid the ’90s error of acting like Oasis were more “important” than Tricky.

If it makes the poptimists feel better, we probably ignore 60 percent of the modern rock charts for the entire decade. Just because old CREEM was nice to 10cc and the Doobie Brothers doesn’t mean we need to follow in lockstep about their ’90s equivalents. Which is a bit of a cop-out. If there’d been space, we’d have included everything. And it would have been a book. That sat on our bedside table, unread. So...hard and cruel choices had to be made.

On a personal note, it broke my heart to omit Pegboy.

The result, we hope, is as factually accurate as any other guide (except the parts we made up), and twice as true; something that hopefully conveys the wild hodgepodge absurdity of the decade. Either way, after reading this guide, you will never have to think about the 1990s again. You are free. “Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!” (The Simpsons, season 5, episode 15, “Deep Space Homer,” airdate Feb. 24, 1994.)

Get started.


History is written by the winners. Rock history is written by CREEM. For the full CREEM vs. The ’90s experience, head to the archive or pick up a copy in print.

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