Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1994

by Benjamin Ray

Not only was this the greatest single year for music in the ‘90s, it could be argued it was the greatest single year for music since 1969. So many wonderful albums and songs came out of this year that it's difficult to condense it into this format. Clearly, the alt-rock and hip-hop movements were at an all-time creative and commercial high, and the year is full of great release after great release.

This was the year that Kurt Cobain ended his life, shortly after recording the haunting, spare MTV Unplugged album. Fellow Seattle "big four" bands Pearl Jam released the experimental Vitalogy, Soundgarden the epic hard rock of Superunknown and Alice in Chains the acoustic EP Jar Of Flies, all containing some of the best music of the respective band's careers. For those bands, it would prove difficult to top, though the grunge scene never recovered after Cobain's death.

The alternative scene burned bright with experimentation, unique voices and a feeling that anything was musically possible, ranging from Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral to Beck's Mellow Gold to the Dave Matthews Band's Under The Table And Dreaming. The more esoteric and/or lo-fi side of the scene saw Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Guided By Voices' Bee Thousand, Frank Black's Teenager Of The Year, Ween's Chocolate & Cheese and Weezer.

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Britpop had been gaining steam in the UK and made its splash with Blur's Parklife, Oasis' Definitely Maybe and Suede's Dog Man Star, and one could argue those are the best discs by those bands. Other rock releases included Stone Temple Pilots' excellent Purple, Jeff Buckley's sole CD (the epic Grace), Live's very good Throwing Copper, Bush's second-rate-grunge debut Sixteen Stone, Kyuss' Welcome To Sky Valley, the debut of Korn and R.E.M.'s Monster, which sought to capture the grunge scene but failed miserably and is now available at a discount bin near you.

Two of the biggest releases of the year were Green Day's pop-punk Dookie and Hootie & The Blowfish's monster Cracked Rear View, an acoustic bar band album that somehow sold, like, 16 million copies. Other solid rock or alt-rock songs included Blues Traveler's "Run-Around," Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way," Toad the Wet Sprocket's "Fall Down," Veruca Salt's "Seether," Sponge's "Plowed," Deadeye Dick's "New Age Girl" and the Smashing Pumpkins' cover of "Landslide." Electronica also continued its rise with albums by Aphex Twin, the Orb ("Little Fluffy Clouds") and Portishead's Dummy.

On the lighter side, Lisa Loeb offered "Stay (I Missed You)," Everything But the Girl had the intense "Missing," Des'ree had "You Gotta Be," Elton John had "Can You Feel The Love Tonight," Bruce Springsteen had "Streets Of Philadelphia," Seal had a second self-titled disc and "Kiss From A Rose," All-4-One had the slow dance classic "I Swear," Bon Jovi had "Always" and En Vogue had "Whatta Man." Madonna also offered Bedtime Stories, a good album that established a warmer alternative to the prior year's cold Erotica.

Established artists Pink Floyd offered their final album, The Division Bell, Alice Cooper stormed back with the very good The Last Temptation, Tom Petty had a hit with Wildflowers and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant performed unplugged, though No Quarter: Unledded was half electric and featured several new songs with a world-beat influence.

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Hip-hop saw the release of what some consider the greatest rap album of the decade, Nas' Illmatic, along with The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die, 2Pac's Thug Life Vol. 1, Scarface's The Diary, the Beastie Boys' Ill Communication (which was half a rock album), the debut from Outkast, Common's Resurrection, TLC's Crazysexycool and Jeru the Damaja's under-played but solid The Sun Rises In The East.

And in country music, future spouses Tim McGraw and Faith Hill offered their debut singles; McGraw's Not A Moment Too Soon was a big seller this year, not least because of "Don't Take the Girl" and the controversial "Indian Outlaw." Other country hits included John Michael Montgomery's Kickin' It Up and Mary Chapin Carpenter's Stones In The Road.

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




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