1994. The best year of modern music?
It was brought to my attention over a few beers by an outspoken friend of mine that one of the finest years for modern music was 1994. He may have even said to me ‘The best year ever for music was 1994.’ At the time I agreed with him having experienced this time in music myself.
A few nights later I pondered his statement and decided to do a bit of research on what albums were released that year. My discovery sparked a number of different thoughts and feelings, some of the albums I knew had had a direct influence on my life at the time, others I had picked up on a few years later and some just outright astounded me that they had all been released in the same twelve months.
This amazing array of music made me think that if the music was so good that year what else of note happened and if 1994 was just a particularly good time in our planet’s history?
United States President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the Kremlin Accords a series of treaties that stopped the programmed aiming of nuclear missiles at any nation.
Brazil won their fourth FIFA World Cup in the United States, beating Italy on Penalties.
The cinema also had a good year as films such as Forest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Four Weddings and A Funeral, The Madness of King George and Ed Wood found their way onto the Big Screen.
The Republic of South Africa voted in its first Black President Nelson Mandela in its first fully representative multiracial election. He served for 5 years and his administration focused it’s time on undoing the apartheid legacy, and reducing poverty.
But this article is about music.
The music of 1994 helped influence the way I now listen to and love music. It introduced me to a whole new variety of genres from Dance to Metal and Hip-hop to Pop, before the year in question I had spent my time listening almost exclusively to a three piece Garage band from Seattle. It also paved the way for an eclectic personal back catalogue. Two albums in particular opened my eyes to something more than just Grunge music.
Firstly, Ill Communication by The Beastie Boys found its way into my hands and before long into my heart. Inspired after hearing ‘Sabotage’ on the radio I went out and bought the album. Upon first play I was surprised by the mixture of Jazz, Punk, Funk, Hip-Hop and Rock that drifted out of the speakers at me, it took quite a few listens and a bit of patience for me but I figure it out. It’s a collection of songs that should not really be on the same album together, but somehow they work. This made it clear to me that they were more than just a bunch of white guys making some gimmick Rap songs. They were, in fact, a group of accomplished musicians making inventive and original music. In my opinion their finest work.
The Second album was Music For The Jilted Generation by The Prodigy. A friend from school leant me the cassette and I took it with me on a family holiday. It never left my personal stereo for the whole week we were away and for that entire week all that I heard was the musical genius of Liam Howlett. Ever since I have followed his, Maxim and Keith’s careers with fascination as they continuously make thumping dance music. The mix of rave, heavy riffs and deep base lines still sets my heart pumping and feet tapping to this day. I believe Kerrang Magazine had called it the heaviest album of the year. In a year that included Far Beyond Driven by Pantera, debut albums from both Korn by Korn and Burn My Eyes by Machine Head and the second studio album of Trent Reznor’s material The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails this was a bold statement indeed.
Other albums that hooked me in at the time were Dookie by Green Day, a short but sweet piece of modern punk rock The Holy Bible by The Manic Street Preachers a journey into the darker side of their work and Troublegum by Therapy? a masterpiece of heavy rock if ever there was one. All three of them received a lot of playtime and still get dusted off every now and then for a replay. Their best album on all counts by a country mile.
Indie music was taking the industry by storm and the media fuelled battle between North and South England began with the debut album Definitely Maybe by Oasis and with the release of the third studio album Parklife by Blur, with this pairing British media had their two contenders. Other bands from all over the British Isles that were being labelled in the same Britpop category were releasing material. From Sheffield His ‘n’ Hers by Pulp, released their fourth album. Londoners Dog Man Star by Suede, were getting in on the action, Irish four piece No Need To Argue by The Cranberries from Limerick and Bradford based How To Make Friends and Influence People by Terrorvision. Trip Hop was still making noises from Bristol with Protection by Massive Attack and Dummy by Portishead and British music in general had a good year. The Second Coming by The Stone Roses gave us a second and last album by the four-piece from Manchester. The Division Bell by Pink Floyd showed that old masters were still making good music in what would be their last album to date.
British music was also making waves across the pond with Sixteen Stone by Bush becoming massive in the United States and the American market was having a good year also. Grunge may have seen the death of its involuntary hero as Kurt Cobain commit suicide, although MTV Unplugged in New York by Nirvana did get released, but the Seattle Rock scene lived on with Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains an acoustic EP recorded over two days as a break from extensive touring, Superunknown by Soundgarden their breakthrough album that brought them notoriety and Vitalogy by Pearl Jam. The US Rock genre in general continued to produce good work with many diverse acts publicising quality music such as Purple by The Stone Temple Pilots, Weezer by Weezer, Smash by The Offspring, Live Through This by Hole, Welcome To Sky Valley by Kyuss, Grace by Jeff Buckley, Mellow Gold by Beck, and Monster by R.E.M. Mainstream music in the States gave as good as everyone else with CrazySexyCool by T.L.C, Bedtime Stories by Madonna, Ready To Die By Notorious B.I.G., Illmatic by Nas and southernplayalisticadillacmuzik by OutKast adding credit to the year from the RnB/Soul market.
So looking at the list of material above I think I will have to agree with my highly opinionated friend that those twelve months were possibly one of the greatest in modern music history. You may disagree, if so I am willing to hear your argument and open to listen to the reasons you give for an alternative year. But for me it’s all about 1994.
Below is a more comprehensive list of albums and their release dates including many more artists not mentioned above:
Jar of Flies by Alice In Chains. January 24th
Dookie by Green Day. February 1st
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement. February 2nd
Troublegum by Therapy? February 7th
Mellow Gold by Beck. March 1st
Point Blank by Nailbomb. March 8th
The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails. March 8th
Superunknown by Soundgarden. March 8th
Vauxhall and I by Morrissey. March 14th
Far Beyond Driven by Pantera. March 18th
The Division Bell by Pink Floyd. March 30th
Live Through This by Hole. April 12th
Give Out But Don’t Give Up by Primal Scream. April 12th
Weight by Rollins Band. April 12th
Let Love In by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. April 18th
His ‘n’ Hers by Pulp. April 18th
How To Make Friends and Influence People by Terrorvision. April 18th
Smash by The Offspring. April 19th
Illmatic by Nas. April 19th
Parklife by Blur. April 25th
southernplayalisticadillacmuzik by OutKast. April 26th
Stacked up by Senser. May 2nd
Weezer by Weezer. May 10th
Ill Communication by The Beastie Boys. May, 23rd
Seal II by Seal. May 23rd
Lifeforms by The Future Sound of London. May 27th
Purple by The Stone Temple Pilots. June 7th
Regulate…G Funk Era by Warren G. June 7th
Welcome To Sky Valley by Kyuss. June 28th
Music For The Jilted Generation by The Prodigy. July 4th
Portrait of an American Family by Marilyn Manson. July 19th
Burn My Eyes by Machine Head. August 7th
Niggamortis by Gravediggaz. August 9th
Dummy by Portishead. August 22nd
Grace by Jeff Buckley. August 23rd
Without a Sound by Dinosaur Jr. August 23rd
Snivilisation by Orbital. August 23rd
The Holy Bible by The Manic Street Preachers. August 29th
Definitely Maybe by Oasis. August 29th
Change Giver by Shed Seven. September 5th
Stranger Than Fiction by Bad Religion. September 6th
File Under: Easy Listening by Sugar. September 6th
Ready To Die By Notorious B.I.G. September 13th
Monster by R.E.M. September 23rd
Protection by Massive Attack. September 26th
Deliverance by Corrosion of Conformity. September 27th
Divine Intervention by Slayer. September 27th
Under The Pink by Tori Amos. October 2nd
No Need To Argue by The Cranberries. October 3rd
Dog Man Star by Suede. October 10th
Homegrown by Dodgy. October 17th
Everybody’s Got One by Echobelly. October 25th
Bedtime Stories by Madonna. October 25th
MTV Unplugged in New York by Nirvana. November 1st
Wildflowers by Tom Petty. November 1st
Korn by Korn. November 7th
CrazySexyCool by T.L.C. November 15th
Sixteen Stone by Bush. December 5th
The Second Coming by The Stone Roses. December 5th
Vitalogy by Pearl Jam. December 6th