Years of My Life: 1991

1991
In which R.E.M. are ‘Out of Time’, Sonic speeds onto the scene, and faces are soundly smashed in on the ‘Streets of Rage’

To recap: This is a series of posts that will cover each year of my life since my birth in 1987; mainly the things that interest me that happened/were released or conceived that particular year. This will include happenings in the world of music, video games, literature and television that are of particular importance or nostalgia to me. I’m hoping that this will give my followers a better idea of where my interests and passions in life lie 🙂

Check out the previous post for 1990 here.

On to 1991!

World events:

 

In Music:

R.E.M._-_Out_of_Time

R.E.M. – Out of Time (Released March 12th, 1991)

Another year, another R.E.M. album (they will crop up quite a lot in these posts, I think!) This one has some real classics, however: three of my favourite tracks of theirs, and perhaps among their most well-known overall, are ‘Losing My Religion’(which was one of the biggest hit singles of ’91, and also spawned many cover versions), ‘Near Wild Heaven’ and ‘Shiny Happy People’.

‘Losing My Religion’ does indeed use religious imagery in its video, but it isn’t strictly about that; The phrase “losing my religion” is apparently an expression from the southern region of the United States that means losing one’s temper or civility, or “being at the end of one’s rope.”-and singer Michael Stipe also claims it to be about unrequited love. This is hinted at somewhat in the video as well, and one could argue it has a similar sentiment as to their later song, ‘Everybody Hurts’ (released the following year, which I wrote a detailed post about here) – only with a more upbeat sound, mainly achieved through the use of the mandolin, which Stipe learned how to play through conceiving of and then composing this song.

‘Near Wild Heaven’ just has a great sound and rhythm to it, and again appears to have similar themes – right from the start, the lyrics tell us ‘There’s a feeling that’s gone/Something has gone wrong’, and the constant lament that it’s ‘Not near enough’. Yet it still has that upbeat sound – a suggestion there is still hope.

‘Shiny Happy People’ meanwhile, feels like a complete antithesis of the majority of their other work – so much so, that the band apparently even dislike it themselves! The video is so colourful and bouncy and yes, happy, almost to the point of being absurd – but I still have a soft spot for this one, and find it’s usually one of those songs that cheers me up when I’m down. It’s entirely possible that the intention may have been for the song to be a little cynical and/or sarcastic – especially in the affirmation that ‘There’s no time to cry/Happy, happy!’), but either way, I like it! Kate Pierson of the B52s also lends guest vocals to this one, a collaboration which feels like a perfect musical marriage of the strange and/or bizarre.

Video for ‘Losing My Religion’

Video for ‘Near Wild Heaven’

Video for ‘Shiny Happy People’

 

In Television:

vvandhmain
Victor and Hugo

11 August – Nickelodeon introduced its first original animated series, Doug, Rugrats and The Ren & Stimpy Show. (Doug and Rugrats in particular I have fond childhood memories of watching. Ren and Stimpy meanwhile was one I tried to avoid – the animation in that made me feel physically ill!)

6 September – Victor and Hugo (1991–1992) (a sort of spin-off from Count Duckula, only the two characters were changed from being birds to humans, and their names also changed. Unfortunately it was never released on DVD, a great shame…)

17 September – Comedy series Bottom starring Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson debuts on BBC2.

25 December – In an unusual move, the Royal Christmas Message is integrated into the first of the day’s episodes of Coronation Street on ITV. Character Alf Roberts sat down in front of his television, ‘watched’ the speech in its entirety, and the episode resumed.

In Video Games:

son1_00

June 23 — Sega releases Sonic the Hedgehog (16-bit) (by AM8, later Sonic Team) for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog (8-bit) (by AM8, later Sonic Team) for the Sega Master System and Sega Game Gear. It introduced the eponymous character, who would go on to become Sega’s mascot.

So here we are with the game that started it all. I am a slightly obsessed fan of Sonic the Hedgehog, having played the vast majority of the games in the series. I must confess, however, that I didn’t actually play this one first – the sequel, Sonic 2, was the first one I played when I first got a Mega Drive, released the following year (so I’ll talk about that game in the 1992 post). I got to playing this one later, and while the slightly slower place compared to the sequel was quite noticeable, this is still a fantastic game in its own right. There hadn’t really been a platformer quite like Sonic before. Forget the rather sedate pace of Nintendo’s Mario series with its square, blocky levels – Sonic had speed, slopes, and of course those trademark loop-de-loops.

son1_02

Right from the game’s get-go in the glorious Green Hill Zone, the focus on speed is clear. While the slower paced Marble Zone and Labyrinth Zone (the first of many frustrating, hair-pulling water levels in the series) can be a bit of a chore to get through on repeat playthroughs, the rest of the game zips along with abandon, stopping only for the end-of-level boss battles against the evil Dr. Eggman (or Dr. Robotnik as we first knew him in Europe and the US). The colourful, trippy ‘Special Stages’ (bonus stages) also provide an extra challenge in acquiring the trademark magical macguffins of the series, the Chaos Emeralds. While the series would go on to have its ups and downs over the years, the original game still holds up pretty well even 25 years later. The Game Gear/Master System versions are worth checking out too, with some unique levels not found in the Mega Drive version.

sor1_title

August/September 1991 – Streets of Rage released for Sega Mega Drive. (‘Bare Knuckle’ in Japan)

1991 also saw the debut of another Sega series – their answer to Capcom’s Final Fight , the arcade scrolling beat-em-up that had been ported to Nintendo’s SNES. One edge that SOR1 had over FF was it had a 2-player co-op option – this had to be taken out in the SNES port of FF. Also, it had three playable characters, where FF had to cut out one of theirs in the console port. Admittedly, the characters and stages may not have been as detailed as FF, but SOR was still a fun game that had the edge over its competitor in other ways.

sor1_round1a

As with Sonic, I actually played the sequel, again released in ’92, before I got round to playing this one. The sequel is superior in many ways (arguably even to the 3rd game, but we’ll get to that once we arrive to ’94), but the original game still has its charm. You play as Axel, Adam or Blaze, ex-cops who have gone vigilante, taking things into their own hands in order to rid their city of a criminal syndicate. They do this by walking through the streets and punching lots of people – the foundation of the scrolling beat-em-up genre, which was all the ‘rage’ (sorry) during the 90’s. The three characters mainly play very simiarly – this was something improved on in the sequel – and there isn’t a whole lot of variety in terms of the enemies either (to the point where two of the game’s bosses are just recolours of Blaze’s sprite!), but it is still a fun, arcadey romp, made all the better by Yuzo Koshiro’s fantastic soundtrack – sometimes considered ahead of its time, compared to electronic dance and trance music that came much later. There are links to three of my favourite tracks from the game below. (‘Moon Beach’ especially just fills me with nostalgia) So overall, quite primitive and simplistic compared to its sequel, but very much still worth a play.

‘Fighting in the Street’ (Stage 1)

‘Moon Beach’ (Stage 3)

‘Keep the Groovin” (Stage 4)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, wraps up 1991. See you next time!

Previous entries in ‘Years of My Life’:

  1. 1987
  2. 1988
  3. 1989
  4. 1990

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, available NOW for download as an eBook on Amazon. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M

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