1994: The Playlist
GRANTED, this is not the first (or last) time I will look…
at a wonderful year in music. I was just ten when 1994 began and, rather fortunately, at the right age to start appreciating music and understanding just what it was all about. Away from the middle-school dramas and challenges of childhood; music provided an escape, passion and purpose. It still does not but I would say it was at its strongest then – the force was most definitely strong with 1994! Not only did the rise and battle between Blur and Oasis intrigue, but so much more. That class/music/geographical come-together is something that threatened to blur everything around it. Oasis, the Manchester band with sounds of the 1960s and its magic; the simplicity, feel and physicality of their music. On the other side, Blur’s intellectual, Kinks-like songs – Oasis taking more from The Beatles in a sense – sat with complexity, characterisations and a rather quirky look at British life. Whether you favoured Oasis’ direct, honest and impassioned anthems or Blur’s charm and quasi-masterpieces; it was a wonderful time to witness. Oasis’ Definitely Maybe – with Live Forever and Slide Away – competed against Blur’s Parklife – that title track and This Is a Low – showed two different side to British music.
There are two Japanese sentences that describe the feeling one gets when listening to 1994’s music. The first, Koi No Yokan, is ‘the sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall in love’; the next, Boketto, is ‘gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking’. It is a perfect combination of emotions that, for me, defines the year. Away from that rivalry of Blur and Oasis; there were classic albums from Suede (Dog Man Star), Portishead (Dummy) and Green Day (Dookie). A great and prosperous year for music, in terms of Rock alone. The Electronic/Hip-Hop/Trip-Hop scene was starting to blossom: The Prodigy came in with the Jungle-Trance-Rave classic, Music for the Jilted Generation. Alas, there was some cheese during the year – Cotton Eye Joe, anyone?! – but even some of the one-off/novelty Pop songs stuck. I love Ace of Base’s The Sign – many people have that same affection. It was not just the quality that endures and outstands but the breakthroughs and variation. Not only did you have Britpop – continuing and blossoming this year – but a whole wave of Dance and Electronic acts; some classic Soul and Grunge. That Grunge movement underwent a severe paradigm shift during 1994. After Cobain’s suicide on April 5th; contemporaries like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden has to react to the death of their leader. A month before Cobain’s death, Soundgarden released the biblical, Superunknown. Songs like Black Hole Sun seemed to predict dark days and the need for sunshine and hope. Vitalogy, Pearl Jam’s November-released album seemed to react to the times but reflect what was coming – the development and evolution of Alternative-Rock.
Jeff Buckley, and that extraordinary debut, Grace, arrived in 1994 and introduced one of the greatest voices of any generation. Unlike anything else on the scene: the beautiful, note-perfect voice and timeless songs. Maybe untraditional and scary for the charts; Buckley’s one-and-only album has gone on to inspire legions of singer-songwriters and those unafraid to put sensitivity on their sleeve. American acts like Green Day and Pavement crafted some peerless, staggering records – the latter’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain a masterpiece whose legacy will never fade. Away from the harder-hitting songs and grittier albums, other exceptional songwriters were emerging. In fact, Tori Amos’ Under the Pink is as gritty as it is haunting and revealing. Her sophomore record looked at sexual alienation and personal struggles but resonated with critics and amassed huge reviews of praise. Away from all of this, there was the fantastic Dance seen emerging and growing. Not quite on the same wavelength as Trance and Jungle: it was a more commercial sound that spawned some wonderful moments. There was nothing quite like 1994, so, with that in mind, I have captured some of the best songs (from the fantastic albums) that came out that year…