So, as the year ends, I have decided to write about twenty years ago…
This was a pivotal year in music for folks my age. “Alternative” music had peaked, and not only that, but it was sharing equal time on MTV with hip-hop stars like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2-Pac, and Biggie. All the while, the Beastie Boys straddled both genres with yet another masterpiece of their own. “Grunge” was officially dead. Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell were declaring the death of a genre they never liked being categorized under, and bands like Pavement and Weezer were calling for you to “cut your hair” and wear glasses “like Buddy Holly.” Rock and roll hasn’t been the same since. I argue that 1994 was it’s last banner year. Where in 1991, bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana broke through to the mainstream, “jam bands” like Dave Matthews Band and R.E.M.-influenced Hootie and Blowfish created a world where frat-boys all across America could get in touch with their sensitive side. Twenty years into his career, one of rock and roll’s greats released his second solo album, and The Man in Black found a new creative spark. Finally, 1994 was a year of second comings. A second British Invasion, a second Woodstock, and for the second time, punk became a “new” religion to America’s youth.
Just look at some of the albums that were released in 1994…
When I think back on the music of 1994, I think about my younger brother. That year, we actually had really similar taste in music. The main reason being that in 1994, they actually played the music that I liked on the radio. You see, there was an actual “alternative music” radio station then. Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Oasis, Soundgarden, etc. – all played in regular rotation on a radio station in Greenville, South Carolina. I listened to that station, so naturally – my brother did as well. We heard the same songs, and bought the same music at the record store. We didn’t exactly own the copies of all the same albums. There were bands that I bought into, and bands that he bought into. I was mostly reacting to what I saw on 120 Minutes on MTV. He was reacting to what he heard on the radio. We both bought some outright shit back then. But, when I think back on some of the albums that he selected that I didn’t? He did a pretty damn good job for a 12-13 year-old kid. As I graduated high school, and he ventured through it, our taste in music saw some divergence. Our Osmond duet would say he was “a little more Goodie Mob, and I was a little more Alternative Country (whatever that is).” Our musical paths have crossed more recently over the last 10 years. I was thinking the other day how interesting it would be if we gathered up our 1994 CD collection together. It would be pretty amazing.
I feel that I should mention how important soundtracks were in 1994. They were a huge tool for the music industry and generating an audience for the film. Soundtracks were also a source of discovering new bands. There were some classic soundtracks in 1994. The Crow. Pulp Fiction. Natural Born Killers. Reality Bites. Forrest Gump taught the kids about the classics. Above the Rim brought us “Regulate.” And, of course… Who could forget this?
Some people ask me… “Jon, how did you amass such a large music collection?” The truth is, it has multiplied as my income has multiplied. So, you do the math. However, from 1992-1995… I was apart of this exclusive music club. You might have heard of it. Columbia House? Yeah. So, here’s the trick to amassing a large CD collection at a young age with no source of personal income – it’s a step-by-step process. Cut out a Columbia House subscription card out of a magazine, or fill out a Columbia House subscription card that comes in the mail. My parents may have called it junk mail, but I promise you, it was pure gold. Select 12 CD’s that you want, and mail it in. It only cost 1 penny! (Again, this might not be how my parents recall it.) Anyway, sign up two, maybe eight different times (under different aliases), and you are off to a wonderland of musical delight. Just stay on top of those monthly selections, folks! Nobody wants to get stuck with a copy of Bigger, Better, Faster, More! that they didn’t ask for.
Today we live in an age of immediate access to just about any source of media you could want. If you’re a music geek like myself, it’s very easy to just get stuck in the now. “It’s 2014, I don’t have time to listen to anything from 2013. No, I’ve moved on.” Luckily, I’m not like that, but I see that in a lot of today’s youth. In 1994, we still had songs from 1991 or 1992 in heavy rotation. It existed that way on MTV, as well as on the radio. Even though Siamese Dream came out in 1993, that didn’t mean I wasn’t listening to it all the time in 1995. It was because of the limited access that we had as consumers. This was pre-Napster – pre-BitTorrent. You got the most out of the CDs that you owned. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes I find it hard to keep up with my own listening habits in today’s music-consuming culture. The early-90s had many of their own classics, but, the albums that were released in 1994 had greater staying-power. Hell, I remember introducing folks in college or even after college that to Jeff Buckley for the first time – as much as 10 years after Grace had been released. They didn’t even remember “Last Goodbye” being a Buzz Clip on MTV. There are so many memories that I have attached to these albums. I remember friends and I gathering together in a circle to listen to our friend Emily sing “Dreaming My Dreams” long after that album had been released. I remember late-night drunken sing-alongs to Weezer’s “Blue Album” on my friend Jon’s porch. I was at least a freshman in college then. Sure. I got rid of my copy of The Offspring’s Smash long ago, but Ill Communication? No. A constant fixture in the background of house parties all through college. I talked earlier about my younger brother… He might not even realize it, but his first dance at his wedding was to a song from 1994.
I’m including a 1994 mix with this post. It’s 3 discs worth. You can download here. I’ll have a streaming version available later. The following albums and songs will not be featured, but at some point in 1994 played a prominent role in my life.
Under the Table and Dreaming – Dave Matthews Band
Hitchhike to Rome – Old 97’s
Sixteen Stone – Bush
Throwing Copper – Live
Pisces Iscariot – Smashing Pumpkins
Welcome to the Cruel World – Ben Harper
Smash – The Offspring
Purple – Stone Temple Pilots
Under the Pink – Tori Amos
Jar of Flies – Alice in Chains
Live Through This – Hole
Four – Blues Traveler
Day for Night – The Tragically Hip
American Thighs – Veruca Salt
Stranger Than Fiction – Bad Religion
Betty – Helmet
“Little Bastard” by The Ass Ponys
“Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow
“Secret” by Madonna
“Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories
“Regulate” by Warren G feat. Nate Dogg
The early 1990s was a time for serious people. The excess of the 1980s had turned into a long apathetic hangover. “What now?” so many asked. It was an even more interesting time be a teenager. The music of 1994 was a soundtrack to all those mixed-emotions. The longing. A longing to belong. A longing to be a part of something more. A longing to be loved. There was a lot of longing back then. I don’t long for much of anything anymore, except maybe a nap. So, here I sit. New Year’s Eve 2014. Yet, I’m writing about twenty years ago. It’s not that I’m avoiding 2014. It was a great year. A great year in music. There were a couple of classics released this year that I will probably share with my grandchildren. I’m not avoiding 2014 for personal reasons, either. This year has been one of my favorites, personally. My first wedding anniversary. My first home (mortgage). It’s been a busy year with some great surprises. Maybe that’s why I am so inspired by this eve by my past. Maybe because I can’t believe where I find myself now. Maybe it’s because at 36 years-old I’m actually happier now than I ever could have been at 16. That’s probably why the music sounds even better now.