Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1996

by Benjamin Ray

A fascinating year for music, 1996 was really when the musical landscape changed from alt-rock to hip-hop, electronica and a harder strain of rock that emphasized noise and aggression. The final strains of alternative music were released this year, along with some good one-hit wonders, but it was clear that artists and audiences were moving on.

2Pac, fresh out of jail, dropped the double-disc All Eyez On Me and became an icon, even to white suburban kids. Jay-Z offered the strong Reasonable Doubt, the beginning of a brilliant career, and Outkast released the sophomore effort ATLiens. Other strong hip-hop discs included the Geto Boys' Resurrection, the Fugees' The Score, Nas' It Was Written and De La Soul's Stakes Is High.

R&B was seeping into pop music in a major way as well in hits like R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart," En Vogue's "Don't Let Go," Tony Rich's "Nobody Knows" and Aaliyah's "One In A Million." And although it didn't receive airplay, DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..... was a revolutionary album that pointed the way forward; made entirely of samples, it blended hip-hop, electronica, jazz and funk into something new and made both the concepts of DJ as artist and sampling legitimate.


Some of the better one-hit wonders of this year include the Bodeans' "Closer To Free," Dishwalla's "Counting Blue Cars," Dog's Eye View's "Everything Falls Apart," La Bouche's "Be My Lover," Donna Lewis' "I Love You Always Forever," No Mercy's "Where Do You Go," Duncan Sheik's "Barely Breathing," the Wallflowers' "One Headlight" and the Primitive Radio Gods' "Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand." Two of the more dubious singles of the year were Joan Osborne's smarmy "One Of Us" and Los Del Rio's "Macarena"; as a reminder of what used to be, the Beatles released the "new" and somewhat boring singles "Real Love" and "Free As A Bird," from the mammoth Anthology project.

Grunge, which was on its last legs, died when Soundgarden broke up after releasing the underwhelming Down On The Upside. Pearl Jam moved on to the more introspective No Code, Alice in Chains offered an MTV Unplugged show and Stone Temple Pilots released the weird psychedelic pop-rock Tiny Music...Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop. R.E.M. released the subdued New Adventures In Hi-Fi, Dave Matthews Band put out the excellent Crash, Tonic offered Lemon Parade, Phish had Billy Breathes, Beck had the adventurous Odelay and Nada Surf recalled the indie rock sound of the early '90s on High/Low.

Metallica's anticipated return hit with a controversial thud with Load, featuring a band with shorter Southern-rock inspired songs, haircuts and little of the extended suites or guitar flash that had symbolized the band, though the album is quite good. Other rock bands offered sophomore LPs that didn't quite live up to the debuts, such as Rage Against The Machine (Evil Empire), Bush (Razorblade Suitcase) and the Cranberries (both No Need To Argue and To The Faithful Departed). Tool's second disc, Aenima, put them on the map in a major way, the Verve Pipe offered the strong Villains and Matchbox 20 debuted with Yourself Of Someone Like You, which spawned three hits and garnered lots of airplay.


It wasn't all serious in rock, though, considering this was the year of Bloodhound Gang's "Fire Water Burn," the Butthole Surfers' "Pepper," Cake's Fashion Nugget, Monster Magnet's "Space Lord," Weird Al Yankovic's Bad Hair Day, Sublime's self-titled LP (a week after singer Brad Nowell's overdose) and Weezer's sophomore effort, Pinkerton. Still, listeners were turning to the new strain of aggressive hard rock, typified in Korn's Life Is Peachy, Marilyn Manson's popular and controversial Antichrist Superstar and Type O Negative's October Rust.

Other highlights include the Gin Blossoms' "Follow You Down," Paula Cole's This Fire, Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy," Tori Amos' Boys For Pele, Eric Clapton's "Change The World," Celine Dion's slow-dance classic "Because You Loved Me," Robert Miles' electronic/classical outing Dreamland and Van Halen's "Humans Being" (from the Twister soundtrack). Also recommended is the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, featuring great songs not available anywhere else.

Country music was pretty much ruled by a newcomer named Shania Twain, whose The Woman in Me was the hot album for most of the spring and summer. Brooks and Dunn released Borderline, Alan Jackson had Everything I Love and a teenager named Leann Rimes also debuted with Blue, which held the top sales spot for most of the fall and winter.

And that, friends, is the Year That Was in music.

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