Why 1994 Matters to Me: Part 1

It’s a weird feeling, getting older — nostalgia might hit you at anytime. I work with people who were born after the subjects of this column were released. I am guessing for people born in the late ’60s or early ’70s, the death of John Lennon is seen as the separation between that generation and the next. For me, it is the death of Kurt Cobain. Every time I find out someone was born after he died, it throws me off. 1994 is one of those outstanding years in music where a lot of seminal and well-recognized albums came out. Some of the albums I came to listen to later in life, but the impact was still immeasurable. The year has always had a special place in my heart; I turned twelve that year and entered middle school. I met a lifelong best friend in 1994 whose parents pretty much let him listen to anything he wanted, and I was introduced to a lot of these albums through him. Sadly, he passed in 2006, but his legacy lives on anytime I hear “Buddy Holly” or “Longview.” 

These albums are not in order of how I feel about them. They were just jotted down as I thought about them and confirmed they were indeed released in 1994.

1. Under the Pink by Tori Amos

I was introduced to Tori in college by a great friend who was doing his duty as a Tori Amos fan and spreading her gospel. I have always been enamored with this album, though it is not my favorite of hers. “Cornflake Girl” is probably the most famous track of this album, but I’ll always count “Yes, Anastasia” as my favorite.

2. Dookie by Green Day

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The breakthrough album by Green Day introduced me to a sound that was not necessarily in my wheelhouse at the time, pop punk. I remember listening to “Basket Case” and thinking wow, I kind of understand the point of this song. Adolescent giggles over some of the sexual themes occurred, as well as laughing at the fact the record was called Dookie. For a 12-year-old from a conservative family in Montana, this was definitely considered subversive. “When I Come Around” is my favorite song from this album.

3. Weezer (1994) by Weezer

The Rivers Cuomo-led power pop band debut commonly called The Blue Album reminds me so much of my friend Mike. We used to listen to this album on repeat. As a somewhat nerdy kid, this album hit me right square in the heart. Though Weezer, like Green Day, has fallen off completely, they crafted some of the best songs put to wax in the 1990s. “Buddy Holly” is probably one of the most recognizable songs of that decade. “My Name is Jonas” has inspired me to name every spider who lives in my house Jonas. I don’t know why, but Jonas sounds like a good spider name. “Only in Dreams,” though, has always had a special place in my heart.

4. 24 Hour Revenge Therapy by Jawbreaker

I have written about my Jawbreaker love before here. I discovered them too late for me to actually get to see them perform live. They have influenced a generation of bands that have come since and have also influenced a lot about how I view music and lyrics. Blake Schwarzenbach’s lyrical ways have informed my own song writing of late, and his writing is pretty much why I have followed every band he has been a part of. Standout track: “In Sadding Around”

5. Mellow Gold by Beck

Long before he released an album that you had to perform if you wanted to hear it, Beck was making quirky music for the mainstream. Everyone knows “Loser” but Mellow Gold is a solid album from start to finish. This is Beck’s second album out of three in 1994. The other two, Stereopathic Soulmanure and One Foot in the Grave were indie releases that were recorded before Beck recorded Mellow Gold. They are some awesome noisy lo-fi masterpieces but did not have the impact on me since I did not hear them until way later in life. Mellow Gold marks the first time I didn’t freak out about a song having a swear word in the title when looking at the track listing. What can I say? I figured my parents would get mad if I even saw a swear word. That track rocks.

6. The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails

Trent Reznor is God. We hopefully all know of my love of NiN and Reznor. Hearing this album, even in 1999, when I finally bought it, impacted me the same way as it impacted teenagers who bought it in 1994 . The alienation and feelings of being alone resonate with teenagers. Being a transperson who was not out yet, the lyrics spoke to me. It seems cheesy to say, but I really did understand The Downward Spiral. I have never faced addiction like Reznor, but my mental health issues have caused me to replay this album over the years to make me feel better. Very few records have gotten under my skin as well as this one. Also, the video features David Bowie!

7. Smash by The Offspring

This album, along with Dookie and The Blue Album, made up the bulk of my listens at Mike’s house. We were teenagers raging against the machine, so it makes sense we would break out this album to feel hardcore. It seems so harmless now, but “Come Out and Play” and “Self-Esteem” were considered edgy at the time.

8. Illmatic by Nas

Between Nas and Notorious BIG on this list, apparently I am taking the East Coast side in the upcoming East  Coast vs. West Coast rap wars of the mid-’90s. The debut album from Nas has influenced pretty much every hip hop artist that dropped an album after 1995. Nas’s lyrics are a masterpiece that have actually been studied in academic circles. I think Nas is a better lyricist than most hip-hop artists out there.

9. Parklife by Blur

Blur is an underrated rock band. Between Radiohead and Oasis, Blur seems to have been the forgotten third in America of the early ’90s British rock bands. “Girls and Boys” is actually the highest charting Blur song in America. This surprised me given that when most Americans think of Blur, they think of their grunge homage/parody song, “Song 2” which appeared on their self-titled album in 1997. I am a big fan of “To The End” from this album.

10. Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate

As the grunge sound was dominating the airwaves in 1994, the nascent second-wave emo scene was gaining ground. Post-hardcore bands like Fugazi and Shellac were inspiring bands like the aforementioned Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate to make music. Sunny Day Real Estate took the punk rock aesthetic and applied sweet sweet melody to it. Second-wave emo is probably one of my top three favorite genres, given all the bands that fall under its umbrella that I listen to. Diary is a perfect album. I find it hard to not listen to the whole album when I listen. “In Circles” is in my top twenty favorite songs of all time.

I hope a lot of you are feeling nostalgic now or updating your Spotify playlists to be nostalgic. I have a second list of ten albums that will come out next week as a follow-up. I am fiercely searching discogs to find an original vinyl release of Diary.

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Alyson

Queer Pop Culture Junkie in the Northwest. Addicted to Coffee, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fantasy Sports, The Mountain Goats, and Tottenham Hotspur.

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