You all made your minds up about Blur and Oasis a couple of decades ago, but even if we steer away from the age-old argument, 1994 was fantastic for music. When it comes to picking some of the best tunes, it’s actually quite difficult to avoid a few of the year’s biggest hits, as they are simply too good to leave out (especially if we don't count Celine Dion and Boyz II Men. And we don't.) (Also fun fact: until a couple of years ago I always thought the band name was Boyz Il (IL) Men, I'd just never heard anyone mention them.)
Pavement: Gold Soundz
Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was released in 1994 and offers an albumful of brilliant options to include in this list. Still, it's difficult to ignore a track that has been branded as the number 1 song of the 90s by Pitchfork. ‘Gold Soundz’, as all of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, shows Pavement at their most accessible, consisting of simple, clever riffs and slightly off-pitch vocals. The track revels in these features, coupled with Stephen Malkmus's engaging, downbeat repetition of “we need secrets / we need secret-cret-cret-cret-crets back right now”, combining simplicity with melancholy and surprise.
And if you think ‘Gold Soundz’ is a boring choice, try ‘Range Life’, ‘Stop Breathin’, ‘Cut Your Hair’, ‘Hit the Plane Down’ or ‘Fillmore Jive’. Or, you know, anything.
Suede: The Asphalt World
Arguably the best album by one of the Britpop greats, Suede released Dog Man Star in October of 1994 on Nude Records. 'The Asphalt World' is one of the more experimental tracks on the album, but it manages to keep your attention and still not deviate from Suede's trademark sounds, despite its staggering duration of over 9 minutes. It is poetic in its exploration of some of the band's dearest themes; urban life, drugs, sex and sexuality: “When you're there in her arms / when you're there in her legs / well I'll be in her head // 'Cause that's where I go / and that's what I do / and that's how it feels when the sex turns cruel. // Yes both of us need her / this is the asphalt world.”
Sonic Youth: Androgynous Mind
The first Sonic Youth album I ever owned, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star was released in the spring of 1994. It's political, it's bold, it's dissonant. Check out 'Androgynous Mind' for an enticing symbiosis of all of the album's positives.
Sebadoh: Not a Friend
Despite being labelled as Sebadoh's most accessible album, Bakesale is still multi-layered and exciting, with curious changes in intensity. 'Not a Friend' somehow maintains its carefully mellow, even soft, foggy atmosphere throughout. It may not be their best work, it may be less underground-y and lo-fi than their previous releases, but it is still a must-listen (many, many times).
Another Britpop classic, and a leap from the year's grungy hits following Cobain's death only a couple of weeks earlier, the danceable 'Babies' combines a simple beat with electronic buzzes and Jarvis Cocker's storytelling of teenage fantasies. Daring and provocative like Pulp wanted to present themselves, their entire album His 'n' Hers defined what they would become best known and admired for. ‘Babies’ shows Jarvis’ forlorn-yet-arrogant demeanour at its best on both the video and the song itself.
Jeff Buckley: Lover, You Should've Come Over
Ok, Jeff Buckley's Grace did also include 'Hallelujah', but there is a lot more on offer – even if it has grown to outshadow other tracks (read: hits) from the album. 'Lover, You Should've Come Over' is desiring to a near-painful extent and simply beautiful.
Portishead's 'Numb' is a fantastic example of the exceptional sound of the era. Similar to contemporaries like Björk, it's a brave, experimental mix of genres. You can immediately place it in the mid-90s, but it doesn't sound “old”. It was, and still is, an innovative mix of irritating, yet enchanting sounds.
Beastie Boys: Sabotage
'Sabotage' off 1994's Ill Communication featured an iconic, fun video by Spike Jonze and an energy that just makes you want to do something. Anything. Jump. Cook. Run. Kick. Mildly vandalise public property.