To me, the albums represented in this piece are the top albums due to the impact that these albums had on the music industry during the 1990s.
I think the first album that was not only a big seller, but helped to define the early 1990s, was Metallica’s 1991 self-titled album; this is better known as The Black Album. From the rocking “Enter Sandman,” to the melancholy “The Unforgiven,” to the power ballad “Nothing Else Matters,” this album was really the last of the “1980s rock sound” to be successful in the mainstream in the 1990s.
Just a few short months later, Nirvana’s Nevermind came out of nowhere and changed the course of popular music for the next few years. Nevermind and its lead-off single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” kicked the door wide open for the Seattle “grunge” scene, as well as the college alternative scene, to become very successful in the mainstream for a few years.
The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness proved that a double-album could still be a big seller. Not only that, but this album helped to mark the transition in alternative music from the “grunge” sound to a more “pop” sound. “1979” and “Tonight, Tonight” were standout tracks on this album.
The last album I would truly consider to be a “top album” of the 1990s would be the Backstreet Boys’ 1999 album, Millennium. It was a huge seller out of the gate, and it was able to maintain its relevance into the next decade.