In 1994, alternative music was at its height in popularity and produced some classic albums, some great rap albums emerged that changed the face of hip-hop, and punk rock was emerging as a mainstream sound. It was an interesting year in rock history; we had a second British Invasion, Pink Floyd called it quits, the Eagles got back together, Kurt Cobain committed suicide, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez burned down Andre Risen’s house, and Woodstock was held to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original festival. It was a year of ups and down for music, but it was a year that produced some truly great albums. Here are our top 20 favorite albums from 1994, in order from 20-1.
20) The Toadies: Rubberneck – While “Possum Kingdom” is still one of the greatest songs ever written, this album is also chalk full of creepy, gothic, tracks that combine every kind of rock you can think of; punk, pop, metal, it’s all in there and it’s glorious.
19) Blues Traveler: Four – With all the hard rock and alternative albums emerging, Blues Traveler was able to stand out with this gem of an album. A perfect combination of jam band, bluegrass, folk, and country, this album produced their 3 biggest hits in “Run-Around”, “Hook” and “Crash and Burn”. Gotta love a well played harmonica.
18) Bush: Sixteen Stone – Bush’s debut album produced 3 Top 40 hits, the same amount that Nirvana had throughout their entire career, and proved that grunge-pop was a winning formula.
17) TLC : Crazy Sexy Cool – Is “Red Light Special” one of the sexiest songs ever written? Yes, the answer is yes. This is the way R&B is supposed to be and this type of album was needed in 1994 to calm everyone down from all of the angst-ridden albums out there.
16) Dave Matthews Band: Under The Table and Dreaming – The debut album that lifted DMB into the rock and roll elite and made the violin a regular instrument in rock bands. No one had ever heard this sound before and it was perfect timing for the band. “Ants Marching” is probably one of the most popular songs ever written.
15) Beck: Mellow Gold – Beck threw everyone for a loop with this album. Who was this scrubby dude with a strange voice who was rapping, playing coffeehouse folk rock mixed with 80’s hip hop and making fun of himself? Oh, he’s only one of the biggest rock stars today, and it started with this album.
14) Korn – Korn’s self-titled debut album combined heavy metal industrial rock with hardcore rap and, for the first time, it was successful (although not until a few years later). Angry, violent, abusive, pissed off, just a really hardcore album that started the rap/metal combination that would dominate the late 90’s. Also one of the greatest album covers ever.
13) Oasis: Definitely Maybe – The Beatles are back! But with much more distorted guitars! What’s better than that?
12) Stone Temple Pilots: Purple – STP’s sophomore album is their best album ever. It’s heavy, it’s creative, and Scott Weiland’s vocals are ridiculous.
11) Notorious B.I.G.: Ready to Die – Biggie’s and Bad Boy’s debut album introduced one of the best rappers ever. The album made a strong statement that East Coast rap was back and ready to challenge the West Coast’s commercial dominance. Nevermind rap, this is one of the greatest albums ever.
10) Pearl Jam : Vitalogy – Pearl Jam was HUGE in 1994 and they seemed to hate that. So they made this album to say “Fuck You” to all the mainstreamers. But the problem was the album was great and gave us hits like “Better Man”, “Corduroy” and “Nothing Man”. Nothing will ever compare to “Ten”, but this is close. A great mix of songs that showed us that Pearl Jam was a real rock band in it for the long haul.
9) Nirvana – Unplugged – This album showcased a different side of Cobain and Nirvana, proving that he was more than just a pissed off kid who could scream and smash his guitar. We got an inside look at some of their biggest influences including David Bowie and the Meat Puppets. A chilling performance that almost foreshadowed what was to come. Cobain’s screams at the end of “Where Did You Sleep” will raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
8) Live – Throwing Copper – This album is just packed with hits and 4 of them reached the Top 10 on the Modern Rock Tracks. Heavy bass lines, lots of tempo changes, and some truly unique vocals combine for one of the best albums from the 90’s.
7) Beastie Boys: Ill Communication – The best and most pure Beastie Boys album ever, period. No bullshit party songs, no fucking around with rinky-dink instruments, just pure hardcore Beastie Boys.
6) Jeff Buckley: Grace – Buckley only got to make one studio album before his untimely death, and he certainly made the most of it. It’s a haunting, jazzy, soulful album that showcases one of the greatest voices of that generation. Imitators can try all they want, but his version of “Hallelujah” on this album will never be touched.
5) The Offspring: Smash – A straightforward punk rock album that appealed to the masses because of 2 major hits (‘Come out and Play’ and ‘Self-Esteem’), this was the best selling indie album of all time. Surf rock guitars, super fast snare filled drum tracks, and lyrics that said “Hey kids, it’s ok to be fucked up, you’re gonna be alright”.
4) Weezer – Dungeons, dragons, and rock and roll. Weezer was one of the strongest debut albums of all time. Is it punk rock? Is it heavy metal? Is it 80’s glam rock? It’s just Weezer and it’s awesome.
3) Soundgarden: Superunknown – This was a different kind of grunge. It seemed more mature, more professional, like these guys knew what they were doing. Loaded with some of the best grunge songs ever written, this album has truly stood the test of time.
2) Green Day: Dookie – 15 songs, 15 hits. Green Day were not Nirvana, they weren’t Pearl Jam. They weren’t depressed and they didn’t hate the world. They were goofy kids with purple hair and they made an album about it. And there were kids out there who were just like them. And those kids bought the album. And it propelled punk rock music into mainstream popularity.
1) Nine Inch Nails: The Downward Spiral – Trent Reznor brought a sound that people were just afraid to like on The Downward Spiral. It was louder, angrier, heavier, more vulgar, more abrasive and just plain better than anything that was out at that time. One of the most uniquely sounding albums you’ll ever hear. Also, if you can’t tell, this album was recorded in the house where the Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate. Whoa.
Hopefully this will give you some incentive to dig deep into your archives and listen to some of these classics. Did we miss your favorite? Sorry. Let us know yours in the comments section.