The Years That Were: 1969/1994
by Benjamin Ray
1969 and 1994. Two watershed years in music history.
One marked the real height of the hippie movement, a musical period where anything could go and often did. Songs became longer, lyrics more complex, instruments added and solos encouraged. Sometimes the results were laughable. Often they were brilliant, and the public was willing to accept any shift, embracing psychedelia one minute and roots rock the next.
The other year was the height of the alternative/grunge movement, which finally marked the death of '80s pop, hair metal and new wave. Once again, music mattered and anything was stylistically popular, from the rise of hip-hop to electronica to grunge to jam bands.
1967 is often cited as a watershed year, the year of Sgt. Pepper's and all of that, but much of that had to do with the social changes more than the quality of the music itself. Stacked side by side, the music of 1969 vastly outstrips other years in regards to quality, experimentation and diversity. The partial list below tells the story:
In a Silent Way/Bitches Brew* - Miles Davis
Chicago Transit Authority - Chicago
Crosby, Stills and Nash - Crosby, Stills and Nash
The Band - The Band
Stand! - Sly and the Family Stone
Electric Ladyland - Jimi Hendrix
Hot Buttered Soul - Isaac Hayes
In the Court of the Crimson King - King Crimson
Led Zeppelin/Led Zeppelin II - Led Zeppelin
Ummagumma - Pink Floyd
My Cherie Amour - Stevie Wonder
Abbey Road - The Beatles
Hot Rats - Frank Zappa
Tommy - The Who
The Soft Parade - The Doors
The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground
Nashville Skyline - Bob Dylan
Kick out the Jams - MC5
Let it Bleed - The Rolling Stones
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere - Neil Young
The Allman Brothers Band - The Allman Brothers Band
Willy and the Poor Boys/Bayou Country - Creedence Clearwater Revival
*Bitches Brew was released in January 1970 but recorded in 1969, and because of its power, influence and freshness, deserves to be on this list.
Add to this list some of the classic singles that year, such as David Bowie's "Space Oddity," Elvis' "Suspicious Minds," Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," the Guess Who's "Laughing/Undun," Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky," Rare Earth's "Get Ready," the Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" and debut records from Mott the Hoople, Grand Funk Railroad, Santana, Yes and the Stooges. The quality of Motown acts and the re-emergence of Johnny Cash only added to the diversity.
So on the music industry lurched, through several movements and a lot of dreck, until the early 90s. The alternative movement was in full swing when it hit the mainstream, giving rise to a wave of bands influenced by the 80s underground, 70s punk and rock and the spirit of the 1960s. Once it hit the mainstream, it was no longer alternative, of course, but by 1994 the level of quality was at a peak not seen for some time. Next time someone trashes the 90s because of boy bands or lame hip-hop singles or faceless corporate arena rock, whip out this list and remind yourself of how great the early decade - especially 1994 - truly was.
Ill Communication - Beastie Boys
Mellow Gold - Beck
Grace - Jeff Buckley
The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails
Definitely Maybe - Oasis
Parklife - Blur
Dookie - Green Day
Throwing Copper - Live
MTV Unplugged In New York - Nirvana
Vitalogy - Pearl Jam
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain - Pavement
Bee Thousand - Guided by Voices
Superunknown - Soundgarden
Dummy - Portishead
Monster - R.E.M.
Bedtime Stories - Madonna
Purple - STP
Illmatic - Nas
Cracked Rear View - Hootie and the Blowfish
Weezer - Weezer
Jar of Flies - Alice In Chains
Live Through This - Hole
Ready to Die - Notorious B.I.G.
Under The Table And Dreaming - Dave Matthews Band
No Need To Argue - The Cranberries
Sixteen Stone - Bush
Awake - Dream Theater
Memorable singles from unmemorable albums of the time include Blind Melon's "No Rain," Blues Traveler's "Run-Around," Everything But the Girl's "Missing," Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way," Lisa Loeb's "Stay," the Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds," the Smashing Pumpkins' "Landslide," Seal's "Kiss From a Rose," Sponge's "Plowed," Toad the Wet Sprocket's "Fall Down" and Veruca Salt's "Seether." For anyone still paying attention, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones came out of nowhere with solid (if overtly cash-grab) efforts.
Great music stands the test of time and weathers the fad of the day. You won't ever see Justin Bieber, Donny Osmond, New Kids on the Block, The Association or Christina Aguilera on a Best of the Decade list. But people will still discover the thrill of Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, the mind-warp of Miles Davis and Beck, the power of Pearl Jam and The Who. You could make a case that all of the albums above represented career highlights for the artist in question. More importantly, you can now make the case that these two years were perhaps the best wall-to-wall years in modern music history.
Stop reading and go discover.