Mixes By Year: 1994 Most Recommended Albums

1994- the height of grunge, the birth of Brit-Pop, Pop-Punk & a transformative year for Rap.  If not the best music year of the 90’s, ’94 was definitely the most prolific- at least as far as quality music is concerned.

After the breakthrough of grunge and alternative music into the mainstream in late ’91 and early ’92, both had solidified themselves as cultural forces by ’94.  Pearl Jam released their weirdest album  with “Vitalogy”, which includes radio staples “Corduroy” and “Better Man”.  Soundgarden released their by far most mainstream (and I think best) album with “Superunknown”- it rocked plenty while remaining still loyal to their signature sound but several of the songs geared toward a mellower, more psychedelic but radio friendly sound.  Alice in Chains also seemed to lean toward a more mature sound by releasing a successful all-acoustic EP.  After the tragic death of singer, and Gen-X icon, Kurt Cobain in April of ’94, Nirvana released their swan song- “MTV Unplugged in New York”, an album recorded months before Kurt’s death that also pointed toward a new musical direction for the band.  Kurt’s wife, Courtney Love, released her band Hole’s second and best album “Live Through This” the same month that Kurt passed.  To this day I think it’s an underrated masterpiece (no matter who wrote it!)

After all of the above bands (and more) got big in the early 90’s, the major label record companies scooped in to sign every band they could with an alternative sound who was on an indie label.  This was both a blessing and a curse.  Radio & MTV were beginning to get (predictably) watered down by grunge also-rans like Candlebox, Songe, Bush & Silverchair.  But on the flipside some amazing bands unlikely able to gain much airplay or airtime during any other period, got to record their albums under a major label budget.  Post-Hardcore music like Jawbox and Shudder to Think are two examples.  Pavement also moved toward more of a mainstream sound, releasing their second standout album in a row with “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain”.

Even with the mass of major-label signings the indie world was still doing more than fine.  Stellar underground albums came out by indie stalwart Built to Spill, punk-rock Jawbreaker, spazz-core bands like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion & Brainiac, & the kings of the Lo-Fi movement Guided By Voices released their first truly noteworthy album with “Bee Thousand”.  Sunny Day Real Estate also released their breakthrough album “Diary”, which would influence countless late 90’s/early 00’s Emo bands in the future.  In addition to “Diary”, the much more mainstream major label band Weezer released their debut album.  It would prove to be a big seller and it generated three big radio/MTV hits.  As their music glutted the marketplace, there was a pretty big backlash and their next record stiffed two years later.  However, both of their first two albums deservedly became  touchstones several years later to accessible emo bands like Jimmy Eat World.  Weezer’s power-pop sounded great juxtaposed against all of the gloomy grunge that was everywhere during the early-mid part of the 90’s.

San Francisco punk band Green Day also caught lightning in a bottle during ’94 with their third album “Dookie”.  Their first two albums were very underground and only known by the punk faithful.  But by ’94 Green Day had signed to a major label, gotten a top notch producer & a big recording budget, and the public was ready for their sound.  Again, their urgent and aggressive sound was fresh next to all of the grunge and the band and producer new how to merge the pissed off attitude of punk with poppy hooks.  The Offspring, Rancid & Bad Religion all had big, but lesser, hit albums the same year and in the same vein.

Across the pond in the U.K. music was flourishing.  Brit-Pop was in full swing with two of the movement’s biggest and greatest albums released in ’94-  Blur’s “Parklife” and Oasis’s “Definitely Maybe”.  Though the movement had been started several years earlier by Blur, and with other great bands like Suede contributing, didn’t really hit full stride until ’94 mostly due to the Oasis-Blur rivalry- a rivalry unseen in Britain since the Stones vs/ Beatles in the early to mid 60’s, which captured the imagination of both British press and public alike.  And these bands, unlike the Beatles and Stone who were actually friends, honestly seemed to hate each other.  “Parklife” was arguably the pinnacle album in Blur’s career and the Oasis debut remained one of the two great albums they ever made. Speaking of Suede they released their second album in ’94 as well- the very good “Dog Man Star”.  A few year’s later the Brit-Pop scene became bloated and over-done, but ’94 was the beginning of its peak.

Bristol’s Portishead also came out with their debut, which didn’t invent the trip-hop sound but did take to another level both artistically and popularly.  The original inventors of the sound, Massive Attack, released theirt second album, “Protection”, which contained several classic songs but was unable to reach the heights of the debut 1991 album.  Both of these bands would influence countless others as trip-hop would become one of the dominate sounds of young adults in the late 90’s- unfortunately much of it was watered down so that its primary function became dinner party music.  Stereolab also released their first song oriented album- “Mars Audiac Quintet”.  Their sound was dubbed ‘Space-age bachelor pad music’- they sounded futuristic while giving a nod to the mellow cocktail jazz of the late 50’s and the Moog synthesizer sound of the early 60’s.  Eccentric genius and reclusive techno artist The Aphex Twin released “Selected Ambient Works Volume 2”, which is to this day the most influential ambient album outside of Brian Eno.  He is considered the Mozart of the genre and would have countless influence over other techno artists.

While early 90’s Hip-Hop was dominated by the Native-Tongues conscious rap in New York City, and the G-Funk West Coast sound of Dr. Dre & the Death Row label, ’94 the New York East Coast scene again added skin in the game.  Two of THE all-time rap classics were released.  One from Bad Boy label-mate The Notorious B.I.G. with “Ready to Die”, and the other from Queens native Nas with “Illmatic”.  Both debuts would be the best either artist ever released and both would influence up and coming NYC rappers like Jay-Z and Mobb Deep who would be featured rappers in the mid to late 90’s and beyond.  B.I.G., along with the Posse cut “Flava In ya Ear” by Craig Mack (which B.I.G. also appeared on) would put the Bad Boy label on the map- their sound would dominate rap music in the mid to late 90’s for better or for worse.  NYC’s The Beastie Boys released “Ill Communication”, which ran the musical gamut incorporating hardcore, rap, soul-jazz & deep funk workouts all within the same album.  Their blending of genres would point the way forward for many other like-minded bands at the turn of the century.  Down South, the talented Outkast also released their debut “Southernplayasticcadillacmuzik”.  Though it generated some hits and was well thought of in rap circles and would prove hugely influential on rap in the south, it would be years until Outkast was a household name.

Jeff Buckley- Grace

Buy Grace – Jeff Buckley

Buy GraceAmazon

Guided By Voices- Bee Thousand

Buy Bee Thousand – Guided By Voices

Buy Bee ThousandAmazon

Green Day- Dookie

Buy Dookie – Green Day

Buy Dookie Amazon

Blur- Parklife

Buy Parklife – blur

Buy ParklifeAmazon

Hole- Live Through This

Buy Live Through This – Hole

Buy Live Through ThisAmazon

Nas- Illmatic

Buy Illmatic – Nas

Buy IllmaticAmazon

Stereolab- Mars Audiac Quintet

Buy Mars Audiac Quintet – Stereolab

Buy Mars Audiac QuintetAmazon

Portishead- Dummy

Buy Dummy – Portishead

Buy Dummy Amazon

Oasis- Definitely Maybe

Buy Definitely Maybe – Oasis

Buy Definitely MaybeAmazon

Nirvana- MTV Unplugged in New York

Buy MTV Unplugged in New York: Nirvana – Nirvana

Buy MTV Unplugged in New YorkAmazon

Built to Spill- There’s Nothing Wrong with Love

Buy There’s Nothing Wrong With Love – Built To Spill

Buy There’s Nothing Wrong With LoveAmazon

Outkast- Southernplayasticcadillacmuzik

Buy Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik – OutKast

Buy SouthernplayalisticadillacmuzikAmazon

Elvis Costello- Brutal Youth

Buy Brutal Youth – Elvis Costello

Buy Brutal YouthAmazon

Jeru Da Damaja- The Sun Rises in the East

*Album not available via iTunes

Buy Sun Rises in the EastAmazon

Pavement- Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Buy Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain – Pavement

Buy Crooked Rain Crooked Rain

The Beastie Boys- Ill Communication

Buy Ill Communication – Beastie Boys

Buy Ill CommunicationAmazon

The Notorious B.I.G.- Ready to Die

Buy Ready to Die – The Remaster – The Notorious B.I.G.

Buy Ready to Die (W/Dvd) (Reis)Amazon

The Aphex Twin- Selected Ambient Works Volume 2

*Album not available via iTunes

Buy Selected Ambient Works 2 Amazon

Soundgarden- Superunknown

Buy Superunknown – Soundgarden

Buy SuperunknownAmazon

Weezer- Weezer (The Blue Album)

Buy Weezer – Weezer

Buy WeezerAmazon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.