From the outset of his presidential campaign, with saxophone in hand, Bill Clinton made it clear that pop music played an integral role in his life. Pandering to young Gen-Xers, Clinton answered questions on MTV about his past weed use as well as his underwear preference. Helping to curate the image of a hip music lover, Clinton played the role of an impromptu musical guest during an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show. Partying with musicians like Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, and Michael Bolton, our 42nd president charged into the Oval Office like Led Zeppelin looking for groupies after a concert in Seattle.
Before listing the ten best albums released while Bill Clinton was president of the United States, here are the Honorable Mentions: Houdini, Melvins; Superunknown, Soundgarden; (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Oasis; Bee Thousand, Guided by Voices; Odelay, Beck; Urban Hymns, The Verve; XTRMNTR, Primal Scream; The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem; Emergency & I, The Dismemberment Plan; Things Fall Apart, The Roots; Dig Me Out, Sleater-Kinney; Life After Death, Notorious B.I.G.; Mellow Gold, Beck; Weezer (Blue), Weezer; Suede, Suede; Audible Sigh, Vigilantes of Love; MTV Unplugged in NY, Nirvana; Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Wu-Tang Clan; Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, PJ Harvey; To Bring You My Love, PJ Harvey; The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill; Post, Bjork; Sublime, Sublime; The Bends, Radiohead; Vitalogy, Pearl Jam; Aquemini, OutKast; XO, Elliot Smith; Entdroducing, DJ Shadow; If You’re Feeling Sinister, Belle & Sebastian.
10. Alien Lanes – Guided by Voices
One of the best examples of what lo-fi albums can accomplish artistically, Bee Thousand (an honorable mention above) propelled Guided by Voices to a deal with major record label Matador Records. Thankfully that record deal didn’t ruin the band’s lo-fi aesthetic, and they produced their magnum opus, Alien Lanes, using almost none of the money budgeted by Matador for the record’s production.
9. Kid A – Radiohead
Though not necessarily a DIY album in the same sense that the ethos had meant for the previous two decades, with Kid A, Radiohead demonstrated that the new millennium’s DIY was going to be found in front of a computer keyboard and not in dirty, rundown garages. On Kid A, Radiohead metaphorically, and often literally, laid down their guitars and dove headfirst into the new technology pool that they had merely waded in with Ok Computer.
8. Rid of Me – PJ Harvey
Few musicians have been as blisteringly raw as PJ Harvey. Rid of Me was the apex of her brilliant, soul-unleashing, creatively melodic and time-signature wails. Coming on the heels of a mental breakdown, PJ Harvey poured personal angst into an album that out-grunged the boys of grunge.
7. Grace – Jeff Buckley
Most people only know one song off of this album. And most of those people don’t even know the name of the album that contains that one song. Those are both unfortunate lapses of knowledge. Grace, the only studio album released by the ill-fated Jeff Buckley, is almost an anomaly among the great grunge albums released during the first couple of years of President Clinton’s administration. Buckley’s voice is emotive in ways that the grunge singers ran from, and his hauntingly beautiful songs are transcendent during an era that attempted to eschew transcendence in music.
6. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain – Pavement
Unlike other bands on this list, Pavement remained signed to an indie label during their entire ten-year existence. As a result, the band never achieved the commercial success of some their contemporary “indie” acts, but critically, Pavement is almost without peer. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain gave the band their closest brush with success in the form of the single, “Cut Your Hair.”
5. Ok Computer – Radiohead
Ok Computer, Radiohead’s third studio album, has been alternately praised as one of the greatest rock albums of all time and one of the most overrated and bloated rock albums of all time – sometimes by the same publication. For many music lovers, though, Radiohead and their critical benchmark resiliently withstand the wishy-washy nature of the cultural milieu they occupy.
4. Either/Or – Elliott Smith
Either/Or is often described as a bridge in the Elliot Smith canon. It may be, although the lo-fi aesthetic is still very much apparent. But, regardless, the album also reflects Smith at his best.
3. In Utero – Nirvana
Kurt Cobain insisted on making an album that he, as a fan, would want to buy, and that created tension with the band’s record label and management company. Cobain, of course, didn’t care. After some remixing by REM producer Scott Litt of the album that was originally produced by Steve Albini, Nirvana released the final studio album of their career.
2. The Soft Bulletin – The Flaming Lips
Coming off an experimental album, The Flaming Lips opted to produce an album with a much more accessible sound than they had previously released – especially more so than the aforementioned Zaireeka. One of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 1990s, The Soft Bulletin is symphonically textured and layered, marking the turn to the more commercially viable version of The Flaming Lips that dominated the following decade.
1. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel
Neutral Milk Hotel believed that lo-fi didn’t have to mean no-fun and not-catchy. With jangly melodies that most top-40 pop music writers can only poorly mimic, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea married bizarre — at times dirge worthy at other times party worthy — lyrics with catchy melodies. If Brian Wilson had operated within the lo-fi aesthetic, it’s entirely possible that the pop music master would have recorded In the Aeroplane Over the Sea before Neutral Milk Hotel did.