1993- a great year for me personally and musically. I think it’s right up there with 1991 and 1994 as the best year of the 90’s. By ’93 the alternative and grunge had already taken over youth culture but it was still several years before their pale corporate imitators took over MTV and radio and watered down a great thing. The bands were maturing- Nirvana was on their 3rd album and Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins were on their 2nd. The Brit Pop and shoegaze bands in the U.K. were starting to emerge and Hip Hop was still in the middle of its golden age before “jiggy’ took over. There was a noticeable lack of good mainstream music mostly because so much alternative dominated the charts. 1993 was the end of my junior year and the beginning of my senior year of college. I was living in an off-campus house with a pile of great friends at a small college where it was up to off-campus houses to supply much of the extracurricular fun. So the music of 1993 soundtracked that fun for me- very good times. It is a tendency for people to overrate the music of their “peak years”. I try to be as unbiased as possible and I still think the music of 1993 is pretty damn great- “peak years” or not. But I’ll let you guys be the judge.
1993 was a great year for heavy music. Nirvana released “In Utero”, their extremely uncompromising album that nonetheless became another huge hit for the band and garnered several hit singles. Even when Cobain tried to be inaccessible his knack for melodies usually shone through. Pearl Jam’s 2nd album “Vs.” solidified their status as one of the biggest bands of the alternative movement, despite them releasing no videos from the album at the height of MTV’s importance. Though for me Pearl Jam was never as interesting or as great as Nirvana at the moment in time they were arguably bigger. While Chicago’s Smashing Pumpkins delivered a much smaller hit with their 1991 debut “Gish”, their 2nd album “Siamese Dream” blew up huge and is still their artistic peak as well as one of my favorite releases of the decade. It doesn’t have a weak moment on it and showed that alt rock could be huge, arena ready with lots of guitar solos, sound like Queen and still be more than viable. The prog metal band Tool released their debut full length “Undertow” highlighted by two very cool claymation videos for tracks “Sober” and “Prison Sex”. Though their debut came out in ’92 rap metal band Rage Against the Machine didn’t really hit until ’93 and was all over the cultural radar. Dinosaur Jr. also had their first MTV hit with perhaps their signature song “Start Choppin'” off of the “Where You Been” album.
And the above were just the biggest major label bands. Plenty of great stuff was being released in the indie label underground as well. D.C. band the mighty Fugazi released their 3rd full length “In On the Kill Taker”, which was their best selling release yet mostly due to building up so much goodwill since their inception. Fellow DC-ers Girls Against Boys released “Venus Luxure No. 2 Baby”, another big deal among the post-hardcore scene. Chapel Hill, N.C. band Achers Of Loaf’s debut “Icky Mettle”, Morphine’s “Cure For Pain”, Sebadoh’s “Bubble & Scrape” and His Name Is Alive’s “Mouth By Mouth” were other great heavier indie albums. The Archers were the talk of the indie world in the mid 90’s only to fade away quickly thereafter. Sebadoh, led by Lou Barlow formerly of Dinosaur Jr., would become bigger (relatively speaking) with their next two albums, but “Bubble & Scrape” and the “III” album which preceded it remain perhaps their most loved. The unique Morphine, whose sound was made up of primarily sax, bass & drums, blew up a bit with “Cure For Pain” and their next album only to see their lead singer/bassist Mark Sandman unfortunately die of a heart attack in 1999. His Name Is Alive remained obsure but are well worth checking out for those who don’t know of them. Hoboken, NJ band Yo La Tengo had been at it since the mid 80’s, but their 1993 album “Painful” was their first great album and it put them on the map with rock critics and music connoisseurs. Okalahoma City, Psychedelic freak-rock group Flaming Lips had a left field hit with “She Don’t Use Jelly”
Other great alt-rock releases, actually on major labels include Frank Black’s (formerly of the Pixies) self-titled debut album, Urge Overkill’s “Saturation”, which was a prelude to them blowing up later with Neil Diamond cover “Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon” from the “Pulp Fiction Ost”, only to fall completely flat right afterwards. The Lemonheads “Come On Feel the Lemonheads” was a failure compared to the previous year’s “It’s A Shame About Ray” but was able to ride that album’s coattails, particularly with standout lead single “Into Your Arms”. Lollapaloooza creator, and Jane’s Addiction frontman, Perry Farrell debuted his new band Porno For Pyros, which was a disappointment compared to Jane’s but not a complete flop. Greg Dulli’s Afghan Whigs “Gentlemen” was another big ’93 release and still that group’s signature album.
The Brits were just coming out of the ‘Baggy’ movement sparred by bands like Stone Roses and Happy Mondays (and errr… EMF & Jesus Jones) and were smack dab in the middle of Shoegaze. Bands like Slowdive, Swervedriver, Flying Saucer Attack & Catherine Wheel all came out with great stuff that didn’t really register much in the U.S. ’93 also saw the release of Radiohead’s debut “Pablo Honey” which remains by far their weakest released despite containing the epic single “Creep”. The bombastic, overtly gay, glam-rock throwback Suede also debuted with their great self-titled release, which received plenty of 120 Minutes and Alt Nation MTV play in the U.S. even if it wasn’t a smash hit here. The soon to be British institution Blur released their 2nd album “Modern Life Is Rubbish”, which kickstarted the Brit-Pop era which would be especially dominated by them and Oasis. Space-Age, bachelor pad band Stereolab Brit group combined 60’s Pop, lounge music and Krautrock to create a wholly new mixture. They released their first well known album “Transient Noise-Bursts…” as well as a handful of great singles. James came out with the great single “Laid”, an actual U.S. hit destined to be in movie trailers forevermore. The Boo Radleys, another band huge in Britain and unknown in the U.S., released their best record “Giant Steps”. Synth-pop institution New Order had their biggest hit single ever with “Regret”. Pet Shop Boys came out with “Very”, the next record after their excellent career-spanning released “Discography” and the chilled-out St. Etienne released their 2nd album “So Tough”, containing some of the best songs of their career.
I remember back in the day that 1993 was dubbed “The Year Of The Woman” in rock music, or something to that effect. And despite the bit of condescension that title implies, it’s pretty easy to see why. Check it out. Liz Phair’s debut album “Exile In Guyville”, Bjork’s debut “Debut”, The Breeders “Last Splash”, with the monstrous hit “Cannonball”, Mazzy Star’s (featuring lead singer Hope Sandoval) “So Tonight I Might See”, containing the enduring & romantic perennial mix-tape fave “Fade Into You”, PJ Harvey’s brilliant 2nd album “Rid Of Me” all came out in ’93. Also the aforementioned Stereolab & St. Etienne, which both featured major contributions from female band members. The hit driven Tanya Donnelly (formerly of Throwing Muses) led band Belly’s debut “Star” album was another biggie. Not to mention the Riot Grrrrl movement which started in Olympia, WA, featuring Godmothers Bikini Kill, as well as other bands like Babes In Toyland and Bratmobile as well as Brit group Huggy Bear- all made contributions in ’93 laying the groundwork for later, more accessible music by bands like Hole and Sleater-Kinney.
It’s tough to think of a bigger year in Hip-Hop since 1988 than 1993. The Native Tongues groups were nearing the end of their dominance but my favorite of the groups A Tribe Called Quest released “Midnight Marauders”, a close 2nd to their best album “Low End Theory”. De La Soul’s “Buhloone Mindstate” was a lesser album than their last two but still a worthwhile listen. it also contained one of their standout singles “Ego Trippin’ Out”. Run-DMC released their last great single “Down With the King” though the album was lukewarm. Other East Coast groups like Black Moon & Lords Of the Underground cut great tracks like “Who Got the Props”” and “Chief Rocka”. Longtime Queens rap duo Salt-N-Pepa had a huge commercial hit with the album “Very Necessary”, containing smash singles “Shoop”, “None Of Your Business” and En Vogue collaboration “Whatta Man”. East Orange, NJ native Queen Latifah had her biggest hit yet with single “U.N.I.T.Y.” off of the “Black Reign” album. She would go on to bigger things later to say the least. New York City also featured two absolute standout debut albums. The first was “Reachin’: A New Refutation Of Time & Space” by jazzy, bugged out philosophical rappers Digable Planets. The album was a hit and college dorm room staple but is strangely only truly appreciated by people around my age. They sold far less with their 2nd album and disbanded shortly after. Rapper Butterfly is now in the great Shabazz Palaces. He relocated to Seattle, got older and releases even more bugged out music. For those who don’t know Digable check them out. It’s one of my favorite rap albums and a top 20 albums of the 90’s pick for me- so underrated! The other group was a little known Staten Island outfit called Wu-Tang Clan. Wu-Tang was a collective who would absolutely dominate the rap world in the mid to late 90’s- both as a group and as solo artists. Unlike Digable I didn’t get into the Wu until well after they hit (around 1997), but their debut is an absolute masterpiece. It’s in my conversation as one of the top 5 rap albums of all-time. Check it. Last but not least The Notorious B.I.G. released his debut single “Party and Bullshit” on a largely forgettable movie soundtrack. It was a great song though and a sign of even better things to come.
Even more stuff was going on on the West Coast. The Dr. Dre G-Funk sound was dominate. Though Dre’s debut “The Chronic” was released in late ’92 it achieved cultural omnipresence in ’93 and along with co-rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg’s debut album Doggystyle” (also 100% produced by Dre) was THE biggest sound in early-mid 90’s rap. Tupac Shakur was also becoming a force- his 2nd album “Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z.” far outshone his debut and tracks like “Keep Ya Head Up” and “I Get Around” remain among his very best. Hispanic gangsta-stoner rappers Cypress Hill released their 2nd album “Black Sunday”- lead single “Insane In the Brain” would become their most well known song. San Fran rappers like Souls Of Mischief and vet rapper Too Short were holding it down in Northern Cali.
Techno & club music was also thriving in ’93. One hit wonder Robin S. had a huge crossover House smash with “Show Me Love” and more esoteric artists like Moby (Move), Jaydee (Plastic Dreams), Orbital (II), Aphex Twin (On) and Underworld (Dubnobasswithmyheadman) came out with great tracks and even whole albums. All but Robin S. would become hugely influential on so much of the techno music released throughout the decade and up into today. Biggest band in the world U2, was coming off of their biggest reinvention yet and was still in the middle of the enormous “Zoo TV” worldwide tour when they released the follow-up to the 1991 smash “Achtung Baby!”. Though the new album “Zooropa” is mostly thought of as a companion piece to Achtung (like “Amnesiac” to “Kid A” in Radioheadland) it had some great moments and took U2’s incorporation of electronic music further and into more experimental places.
So even a very mainstream group like U2 was pretty weird in 1993. As far as mainstream rock goes there’s not much for me to say. Tom Petty had a big hit with the great “Last Dance With Mary Jane”, a new single that went on his huge selling career spanning “Greatest Hits”. Not much else to mention. Though mainstream country was HUGE in the early to mid 90’s I didn’t listen to most of it. Two artists I would like to mention are Dwight Yoakam, who along with Steve Earle had straddled the line between Alt-Country and Outlaw Country since the mid 80’s. His “This Time” was another very solid album in a long line of solid to great albums since the beginning of his career. Also Alt Country Gods Uncle Tupelo released their swan song “Anodyne”. Tupelo would go on to split into Wilco and Son Volt, both important bands who would make noise later in the decade. Tupelo was largely unknown by the general public but they released four great albums during their lifespan- all have endured and continue to sound great today.
So 1993- as great as I think?
SMASHING PUMPKINS- SIAMESE DREAM
AFGHAN WHIGS- GENTLEMEN
LIZ PHAIR- EXILE IN GUYVILLE
THE BREEDERS- LAST SPLASH
*Not available via iTunes
NIRVANA- IN UTERO
WU-TANG CLAN- ENTER THE WU-TANG: 36 CHAMBERS
YO LA TENGO- PAINFUL
PJ HARVEY- RID OF ME
PEARL JAM- VS.
Buy Vs. & Vitalogy (Deluxe Edition) [Remastered] – Pearl Jam
FUGAZI- IN ON THE KILL TAKER
BLUR- MODERN LIFE IS RUBBISH
STEREOLAB- TRANSIENT RANDOM- NOISE BURSTS WITH ANNOUNCEMENTS
THE FLAMING LIPS- TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART
DIGABLE PLANETS- REACHIN’ (A NEW REFUTATION OF TIME AND SPACE)
A TRIBE CALLED QUEST- MIDNIGHT MARAUDERS
SNOOP DOGG- DOGGYSTYLE
UNCLE TUPELO- ANODYNE