Sunday, January 01, 2012

1994 in Music Review

Hello, and very Happy New Year to you all! Welcome to the sixth edition in a series of reviews of a year in music. So far I have covered all the 2000s together as the Noughtie series, and so far monthly, the year 1999, then 1998, followed by 1997 and 1996 and then last month, 1995.

Just in case you’re not familiar with it, here’s the format. It will be done in five parts. I'll do a brief history of what happened in that year, followed by my five favourite albums of the year, then what I think the five best videos are. I'll then do a Top 10 most impactful (still refraining from using the word important) songs from that year. To wrap it up, I'll do my favourite songs in a mixtape format. So now that you know where I'm going with this, let's get to it!

We’re half way through the decade now. 1995 was a great year for albums, but I think 1994 will be even better. Let’s see if I’m right.

Brief History of the Year 1994 in Music

  • Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, commits suicide. The band disbands shortly after.
  • Rammstein form, becoming one of industrial metal's finest acts.
  • Green Day release "Dookie" and are arguably responsible for the punk rock revival of the mid nineties.
  • After many other names, Muse is the name three young English boys decide to call their band. Five years later their debut was released, starting a very successful music career.
  • Oasis release "Definitely Maybe", at the time becoming the quickest selling debut album of all time.
  • System of a Down also start their career, becoming one of metal's biggest bands of the Noughties.
My Top 5 Albums of 1994

#5 – “No Need to Argue” by The Cranberries
Released: 3/10/94
Rating: **** stars
Stand-out tracks: “Dreaming My Dreams”, “Ode to My Family”, “Daffodil Lament”
In the 1996 review The Cranberries’ next album, “To the Faithful Departed” was listed as #4 in my favourite albums, and while this is ranked #5 for albums from 1994, this is my favourite Cranberries effort. 1996 wasn’t the best year for albums where as there was some really strong competition in 1994, from Oasis and Beck who both missed out on my Top 5 (with “Definitely Maybe” and “Mellow Gold” respectively).

This is a great album, it’s definitely my favourite album by the Irish band, and it’s probably their most popular and most widely praised piece of work. And while “Linger” gave the band a lot of worldwide notice, it was inevitably “Zombie” that helped this album sell over 7 million copies alone in the US, and become the song that the band are most famous for. But it’s not just “Zombie” that is good on this album, from start to finish this is an alternative Irish rock clinic, and Dolores O'Riordan’s vocals are as beautiful and striking as they ever were. This is definitely the album to get if you want to try and get into The Cranberries as it’s a damn solid album.

#4 – “Let Love In” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Released: 18/4/94
Rating: **** stars
Stand-out tracks: “Red Right Hand”, “Jangling Jack”, “I Let Love In”
“Let Love In” was the first time really that Nick Cave was really taken seriously and favourably with both critics and fans. When he was with The Birthday Party, he had the fans on his side yet the band eventually ceased to exist and they weren’t taken seriously, they were just considered a nutty post –punk band. For a lot of the eighties when he formed The Bad Seeds, he never really made much of an impact, especially as his new band was such a contrast in comparison to the crazy and frenetic style of his old band, his fans didn’t take to The Bad Seeds straight away, and while he was critically more well received, he still looked like he was floating around, not cementing any style of clarity in terms of what his music was about and what he wanted to achieve.

But with the release of the super cool and sexy “Red Right Hand”, people started to notice. The man matured. The music was toned down and smooth. The lyrics were just excellent (I mean they have never been bad, but critically they were much better received). “Let Love In” started cementing what would be one of the best underground careers Britain has seen. Nick Cave has never really made hits, he’s never really sold records. But the critics love him and their cult fans love him even more. And “Let Love In” really started the whole thing off, even if I much prefer “The Murder Ballads” to it.

#3 – “How to Make Friends and Influence People” by Terrorvision
Released: 18/4/94
Rating: ****1/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: “Alice What's the Matter?”, “Oblivion”, “Pretend Best Friend”
Released on the same day as Nick Cave’s “Let Love In” above, was the best piece of music Terrorvision ever produced. Now Terrorvision is a hard band to categorize, because they have mixed so many genres into their music. This is their hardest album, it’s their most creative and a lot of the more hardcore fans think it’s their best. But they didn’t have the most success with it, album wise the follow-up “Regular Urban Survivors” fared best with the single “Perseverance” getting the band their first Top 5 hit.

But in 1999 they released their song “Tequila”, which got to #2, and took away all the coolness the band had away, and was a dancy/party/pop-rock track that felt like a lot of 1-hit wonders. A lot of people remember “Tequila” now when they think of Terrorvision, and while I can listen to the track on a good day, it’s a damn shame that this album has pretty much been forgotten about as it was so good. “Alice What’s the Matter” and “Oblivion” are two of the coolest songs in the early nineties, they’re so fricking awesome and deserve so much airplay but get none. If you want to see the serious and hard edge that Terrorvision once had, the best side of Terrorvision, get this album, you won’t be disappointed.

#2 – “Portrait of an American Family” by Marilyn Manson
Released: 19/7/94
Rating: ****1/2 stars
Stand-out tracks: “Dope Hat”, “Cake and Sodomy”, “Lunchbox”
Marilyn Manson’s debut album was great. What I love about “Portrait” is that it’s obviously low budget, it’s obviously raw and while a lot of people see these as negative traits I think Manson did a great job with what he had. Trent Reznor’s work on the production was appreciated of course, and evidence of that really is in the demos and cassettes and early music clips that Manson released after he got even bigger than he was in 1994. The old tracks and rare clips are in awful condition and the music is atrocious. Looking at that a stage, a stage that Manson was in up to 1993, and comparing it to the actual release of “Portrait”, shows the jump in quality and the effort is there for anyone to see if you want to listen to those demos and stuff.

“Portrait” isn’t really an industrial metal album; it’s more an industrial rock album, with a lot of raw punk and post-punk elements. It’s a slightly different sound to what Manson was then to release, an inferior sound in the end, but it’s still a great listen, and there are some great tracks on here. Of course, the best was yet to come for Manson, and I’d only recommend you get this if you have heard some of his later work and want to hear more of “The God of Fuck”. Because in the end “Antichrist Superstar” is THE Manson album to get if you want to start somewhere.

#1 – “The Downward Spiral” by Nine Inch Nails
Released: 8/3/94
Rating: ****3/4 stars
Stand-out tracks: “Piggy”, “The Becoming”, “March of the Pigs”

Was it ever in doubt what I would put down as the #1 album of 1994? Ever since I’ve been doing this Yearly Music Review I couldn’t wait to get to 1994 because of how good the music was this year. And NIN’s finest effort is possibly my favourite album of all time.

If you’ve been reading my Yearly Music Review every month I’ve always talked of the three albums on top of a large pillar of albums when it comes to my favourite albums of all time. There’s this, and the two Manson efforts, “Antichrist Superstar” and “Mechanical Animals”. I always change up what is my favourite of the three but I can never make a decision on what it truly is. I just can’t. But regardless, this album is definitely on top of the mountain for me, and when it comes to industrial metal, you’d be hard to find an album to top it.

The Downward Spiral is a classic metal album, it’s considered one of the biggest and best albums of all time and rightfully so. When Trent Reznor released “Pretty Hate Machine” back in 1989 I don’t think anyone expected him to be considered the pioneer of industrial metal going into the nineties. But that’s exactly what happened. If you like your metal, even if it’s not distinctly industrial metal, this is a must listen. I don’t care if you disagree, you must hear it!

My Top 5 Music Videos of 1994

#5 - "Basket Case” by Green Day

“Basket Case” isn’t an amazing video, but it’s one of those videos that are enjoyable to watch and you can respect the effort the director put in. Set in an actual mental institution (it was abandoned), the band act like patients throughout the video, apart from in the actual sections where they play the music, in these scenes they’re the actual normal performers of Green Day. The video was actually shot in black and white, and all the colours were added in afterwards, which explains the green irises that Billy Joe Armstrong has, and the odd colour schemes in the hospital. It all works out well and as I said, it’s not amazing, but it’s definitely a cool little video to watch.

#4 - "Sabotage” by Beastie Boys

Spike Jonze directed this video (and the one at #2 in this list) and he did a damn good job. The video is basically homage to 1970’s American Cop shows like Starsky and Hutch and Hawaii Five-O. All the band members play as cops and do decent looking stunts (I don’t know if they were stunt doubles mind) and just kick a lot of 1970’s ass. The video is a parody, but it’s more homage than parody as it’s not a funny video really, it actually looks quite cool. Danny Boyle actually says that this video inspired the opening to “Trainspotting”, now that’s praise for the quality of the video. What more can I say? They have awesome moustaches!

#3 - "Parklife” by Blur

I love this video. It was one that I remember vividly from my childhood, and it’s one that describes Britain very well in a nutshell. I love the role Phil Daniels fills, both in the vocal verses and the double glazing salesman character he portrays. I love the fact that Damon Albarn is so placid about everything that goes on around him, and you have to give credit to Alex James for cross dressing in the video. I also love the spoof done by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse on the TV show “Harry and Paul”, where Whitehouse plays Phil Daniels and Nelson Mandela, played by Enfield, sings along to the song in silly fashion. But this is about the original video, which is still great to watch today.

#2 - "Buddy Holly” by Weezer

Spike Jonze has to be one of the best music video directors ever. He did this cracker, he also did “Sabotage” above, he did “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Bjork, featured last month, he did “Praise You” and “Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim, he did “Wonder Boy” by Tenacious D. “Buddy Holly” has to be up there with his best, it’s amazing how well done this video is, with old footage from the great 1970s show “Happy Days” merged with footage of Weezer playing at “Al’s Bar”; it looks so authentic and real but the truth is it’s all edited clips of the show. The only genuine new footage was Weezer playing, Al the barman, who made a cameo in the video, and Fonzie, who was a body double and they used editing for his appearance as well. But if you didn’t know all that you would still be guessing to how they managed to pull it off, which is full credit to Spike Jonze in the end, and his career flourished from here.

#1 - "Closer” by Nine Inch Nails

What can I say about this video? Collectively, it’s possibly Nine Inch Nails’ best video, and the song is considered the most popular the band has done. The video mixes allsorts of controversial elements, especially back in 1994, including a monkey, perceived to being tied on a wooden cross, a decapitated pigs head turning on some weird metal instrument, a diagram of a woman’s vagina and Trent Reznor, mastermind of the band, wearing lots of leather and S&M and being tied up. All of these controversial images however are beautifully crafted onto early 20th century film and the video has been set in a very old laboratory. To block out the controversy for when the video was viewed before the watershed they often put “scene missing” signs, to keep with the flow of the video. It’s truly a magnificent video and fits the song perfectly, not to mention good for you ladies who fancy Trent Reznor, who is in the buff in the second half of the video and tied up.

The Top 10 Most Impactful Songs of 1994

As I said, I'm NOT calling it the 'important' list, although it's more than just popularity as well. Anyway, here are the 10 songs of the year. It's an unbiased list.

#10 - "Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill

This song was actually recorded two years earlier on an EP, but was released as a single in 1994. Why? Well if you’ve heard the song before you will know that it was featured in the classic 1994 movie Pulp Fiction. That film, and the scene in which the film was in, propelled this song to reach #37 in the UK charts. That’s not high really, but considering no one had heard of Urge Overkill before or really since, it says something of the song. The song is a cover version of the original by Neil Diamond, and is just fantastic. Urge Overkill will always be known for this cover, and because it’s featured in such an important film in history, their name will be cemented for a long time to come.

#9 - "Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys

Getting to #19, “Sabotage” was the Beastie Boys’ first Top 20 hit in the UK for seven years (when "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" and "No Sleep till Brooklyn" were released, jeez, now I feel old as I might cover these songs on this site soon!). The Beastie Boys often take long breaks between their albums and come back with a bang, and a usual change of direction. They often play between the lines of rock and rap, and this was a transition to a more rock environment, with extensive usage of a bass and drums and less rap-style vocals. It’s a decent track, and the video as mentioned above was great, and the song is still considered one of their best, getting decent airplay today.

#8 - "Zombie” by The Cranberries

“Zombie” got to #13 in the UK charts and is actually a protest song against the bombing attacks of the IRA in Northern Island. But the song regardless of its protest origins, became The Cranberries’ biggest hit, not chart wise (that honour goes to “Salvation” and “Promises”, which got one place higher at #13) but popularity, longevity and in terms of airplay, this is their greatest song, surpassing “Linger” released a year earlier. The song got to #3 in the Irish charts so the song shows its strength on the big green island to the west. “Zombie” incorporates everything good about The Cranberries, the hard edge their alternative rock has, Dolores O'Riordan’s iconic vocals, her howls, and proves why they’re arguably Ireland’s best import in the past twenty years.

#7 - "Buddy Holly” by Weezer

Weezer are an odd band, and I say that with affection. They seem to be here with us all the time, yet manage to slip by us often. We don’t appreciate Weezer like we should, they have consistently released good singles with very good music videos yet their success in the charts never match how good they are. I’m not saying they’re the best band in the world, but they’ve been constantly good now since 1994. When “Buddy Holly” was released. It’s odd to think of this song being as old as it is, but it shows how good Weezer have been for so long. And the song’s credit truly is only once since, have Weezer had a higher charting song (that was “Beverly Hills”, which got to #9, their only Top 10 hit). “Buddy Holly” got to #12 and the song combined with the video, are make it one of the most memorable songs of the nineties.

#6 - "Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden

Also getting to #12 in the UK charts was Soundgarden’s biggest hit, “Black Hole Sun”. 1994 is arguably the death of grunge, due to the death of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, as well as the fact that the punk revival was kicking in around this time. “Black Hole Sun” is odd though, in terms of why it’s such a big hit, the songs lyrics are odd and the video is freaky. It does have a relatively catch chorus however. This isn’t personally a song I like, nor do I like the band, but there’s no doubt at all that Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” is a song that has remained popular throughout the last 17 years and deserves a place on this list as one of the biggest songs of 1994.

#5 - "Live Forever” by Oasis

Oasis released five singles in 1994 and it was hard choosing one for this list, but I’ve gone with “Live Forever”. It was the band’s first Top 10 hit, getting to #10, and charted well in the US, Spain and Ireland. “Cigarettes and Alcohol” and “Whatever” did chart higher than this, and were also released in 1994, but I think this song has been played more than any other song released that year, it’s more fondly thought of and also, it’s lyrically considered better I’d say too. It’s just a great Oasis song (although personally I prefer “Supersonic”), one that won’t go away anytime soon.

#4 - "Basket Case” by Green Day

“Basket Case” was Green Day’s biggest hit in the UK for 10 years, getting to #6 in our chart (“American Idiot”, the song I placed as the #1 song of the Noughties, you can read that here, got to #5). It’s a great punk rock song, and I mean it when I say punk rock, I don’t care if modern punk is considered inferior to the originals of punk in the seventies, I consider this one of the best punk songs ever made. The song naturally deals with paranoia, and it’s a personal song for Billy Joe Armstrong when he was dealing with his diagnosis of a panic disorder. It just sounds great and is fondly thought of by the Green Day faithful and general modern punk fans. In short, it’s a classic.

#3 - "Girls and Boys” by Blur

For all the hype that was to come in the next few years in the battle between Blur and Oasis, in 1994 Oasis were just getting noticed, where as Blur had already established themselves slowly through the start of the decade. And while I prefer “Parklife” personally, there’s no denying that “Girls and Boys” is the bigger and more “impactful” of the two, getting Blur their first Top 5 hit (it got to #5) and setting them up for their illustrious career throughout the nineties. “Girls and Boys” the song stands well today, it sounds fresh and it’s so amazingly catchy – there’s no denying this song sounds good. The video looks amazingly dated though, but you can’t win them all!

#2 - "Closer” by Nine Inch Nails

This isn’t me being biased when I put my favourite band’s most popular song at #2 of the most ‘impactful’ songs of the year. I try to consider alternative genres equally with rock and indie, and when it comes to industrial metal, and songs from that genre, there’s no bigger song. “Closer” became an underground classic, a metal bar staple, a piece of genius to the people of metal and alternative dance music. It’s still played extensively today and sounds just as good now as it did then. The controversy of the video, along with the fantastic chorus of “I want to fuck you like an animal” definitely helped the song reach as high as #25 in the UK charts, a high that Nine Inch Nails would not beat for another eleven years (with “The Hand That Feeds”, that got to #7, the only Top 10 hit of NIN’s career), but there’s no taking away from this song, it’s a classic, it’ll be played in metal bars and dancefloors for a long long time. If you haven’t heard the song before, then you’re missing something, it’s as simple as that.

#1 - "Loser” by Beck

The year 1994 means a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, it marks the year of Marilyn Manson’s debut album, and the release of Nine Inch Nails’ finest work. It also marks the first year that I truly remember from memory rather than tracking back into music, or listening to my parents play vinyl records and tapes to get my influences and tastes. But for the most part, I’d say the year 1994 marks the beginning of Beck. Now, Beck doesn’t do chart success, he never really has. He’s a brilliant musician however, and does things his own way on his terms. “Loser” however is the anti-commercial track, yet it managed to set Beck’s career going very well. Beck had released an album a year earlier, and his second album, Mellow Gold, wasn’t a big hit as it was released the week before this single. But since then the album has been critically acclaimed and has gone platinum. “Loser” got to #15 despite its genre of music and lack of promotion. Only “The New Polution” has charted higher, yet Beck’s career has come leaps and bounds and the man has so much respect across the music industry.

And to think that Beck wrote this song to describe how his life was. The guy was a homeless singer and song songs about gibberish. “Loser” describes the type of songs he sung on the spot. And the song has since become one of the most important and impactful songs of the nineties.

The Year 1994 Mixtape

Just in case you didn't know by now...

"A Mixtape is a playlist of a certain genre, band or era. The list is generally 80 minutes long, the same length of a blank CD, with further recommendations if some of the songs aren’t to your taste. Remember kids, downloading is wrong!"

So here we go! My favourite songs from the year 1994. Yes, this is a biased list.

  1. Parklife – Blur
  2. A Girl Like You - Edwyn Collins
  3. Zombie - The Cranberries
  4. Buddy Holly – Weezer
  5. Do You Love Me? - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  6. Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon - Urge Overkill
  7. Loser – Beck
  8. Stutter – Elastica
  9. My Iron Lung – Radiohead
  10. Alice What's the Matter? – Terrorvision
  11. Voodoo People - The Prodigy
  12. Doll Parts – Hole
  13. Basket Case - Green Day
  14. Come Out and Play - The Offspring
  15. Lost in America - Alice Cooper
  16. Disarm - Smashing Pumpkins
  17. Black Sunshine - White Zombie
  18. Get Your Gunn - Marilyn Manson
  19. March of the Pigs - Nine Inch Nails
  20. Blind - KoRn
And here are the five alternative songs if you don't like some of the above...

  1. Supersonic – Oasis
  2. Sabotage - Beastie Boys
  3. Infected - Bad Religion
  4. Freedom - Rage Against the Machine
  5. Bring the Pain - Method Man
And there we go! The year 1994 in review! Next month naturally I’ll be covering 1993 and continue my descend into music history. What we your favourite songs and albums from 1994? Any other comments or queries? Raise them below. Thanks for your time.

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