IN THIS PHOTO: Oasis captured in 1994/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Was Music At Its Happiest in 1994?
THERE might be some debate regarding...
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/RexUSA
the most optimistic year in music but there can be no doubt the last really glorious time; when people were together and spirited was a very long time ago. I think the only way for modern music to last and make an impact years from now is to bring some joy to the party. At the moment, music is largely the sullen teenager who sits in the corner with a beer and nurses that all night. They might slink off to the bathroom and sit in the rub as the sound the festivities comes through the floorboards. That actually sounds like something I’d do but we need to think why music has become so negative and lacking in spark. That is not to say every artist and song is lacklustre: there is ample energy and excitement but, in a lot of cases, how often are those songs sticking and coming back to mind? It will take a long time before music can regain its energy, happiness and unity – look back at 1994 and there was definitely something in the air then. There was a Tory government in the form of John Major and there was a definite need for some change and improvement. We did not have anything as manic and annoying as Brexit but the U.K. especially was not in a particularly strong state. I was only ten when the year started and had already seen the death of Grunge. Its leader, Kurt Cobain, died in 1994 and it was a rather bleak time of things.
IN THIS PHOTO: Björk in 1994/PHOTO CREDIT: Joseph Cultice
Many would have assumed music would descend into misery and bleakness but there was a definite revival and optimism. Grunge still continued and would see bands like Soundgarden create masterful works; there were other genres coming to the fore. The song that I have used at the top of the article, Live Forever, seemed to define what was needed at the time: youthfulness and no concern with small talk and mortality. Although 1993 was a stunning year for music, there was not quite the same epic offerings as we got the following year. Nirvana gave us their final album, In Utero, and Björk came onto the scene with the incredible Debut. Whilst there was some darker music and moodier artists; we were seeing seeds planted that would burst into life by 1994. Some could say the 1990s was always cheery and we have only reached a doom-laden sulk now. It is clear 1997, too, was optimistic and transformative but I feel 1994 is the year when everything peaked. Britpop players were starting to come through in 1993. Suede and Blur were releasing stunning material that showed what was to come. I think as 1993 as a year when scenes like Grunge were slowing and music was looking for fresh inspiration. By the time 1994 came along; there were a lot of changes and developments that called for artists to come together and provide sounds to lift the world.
PHOTO CREDIT: @jeremymcknight/Unsplash
That might sound a bit grand and exaggerated but look at the best albums, singles and T.V. shows at the time and you cannot argue against the spirit, positivity and happiness. If Cobain’s death did not entirely lead to an explosion of rebellious happiness – Superunknown by Soundgarden counts as one of the bleakest and one of the most impressive albums of the year – there was an effort to come up with a movement that offered hope and did not retreat into itself. There was a split between Britain and America. It is not to say the U.S. was depressed whilst Britain was happy – different scenes dictated the music mood. Britpop, in many ways, signalled something hopeful and wonderful in this country. Oasis’ debut, Definitely Maybe, was a bold and brilliant record that matches big riffs and huge choruses with messages of living for the moment and all having a good time. Blur’s Parklife had some down moments but its infectiousness and sheer vitality cannot be understated – defined by songs such as Parklife and Girls and Boys. Britpop offered musicians the chance to drive optimism and use music as a way of joining people. If there were some more arty and less joyous bands in the Britpop movement; we had a brilliant moment in music that gave us reason to smile! Beastie Boys released Ill Communication and Beck gave us Mellow Gold. Even albums like Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (Pavement) and Jeff Buckley’s Grace, in their own way, lifted us and stayed in the heart.
The romance of Buckley’s music introduced a genuine star who, although he would only live another few years, was unlike anyone around. Alongside Britpop and Grunge was an invasion of great Dance and Electronic music. Our very own Prodigy released Music for the Jilted Generation and, again, there was plenty of raw energy and positivity. The generation might have been jilted but The Prodigy were bringing this fierce and spectacular brew to the youth of Britain. It might sound weird but there was plenty of validity and pleasure to be found in music that was slightly less happy. Tori Amos’ Under the Pink and Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible were not exactly cheery…but there was something to hold onto; music that could ease our pain or identify with us at the very least. Bands like Pulp, The Cranberries and Underworld were all adding their colours to the mix and it was such a heady time. I have alluded to some rather unhappy records but compare them to albums of today and I still find a lot more relevance, optimism and longevity in the best of 1994. I like the fact there was a genuine need for improvement and a need to connect with people; albums that were big, bold and unforgettable! Pop was very much at the forefront and the best of the mainstream were adding their voices to an incredible year. Madonna was entering a new creative phase with Bedtime Stories and a more mature and accomplished artists was showing her strengths.
Anthems from 1994 such as Oasis’ Live Forever and Blur’s Parklife were sitting alongside Beck’s Loser and Ini Kamoze’s Here Comes the Hotstepper. The Dance and Pop scene was strong and, if anything, that is the biggest change we have seen now. I can’t think of the last year Dance music was a big part of the mainstream but throughout the 1990s, a mix of British and European pioneers were giving us this instant and fantastic songs that put you in a better frame of mind. Some of the songs that topped the charts in 1994 were The Sign (Ace of Base), I’ll Make Love to You (Boyz II Men) and The Most Beautiful Girl in the World (Prince). Sheryl Crow was singing All I Wanna Do whilst Crystal Waters gave us 100% Pure Love. Culture Beat gave us Mr. Vain and Madonna had a Secret; Haddaway asked What Is Love whilst Aerosmith were Crazy. These Billboard-topping songs were not a minority. There was so much ebullience and mood-lifting music mixing alongside songs that were a little less happy. Even the more introverted songs seemed, in their own way, lifted you with their beauty and made you genuinely feel something. U.S. Pop-Punk (Green Day) was nestling alongside darker Alternative-Rock (Nine Inch Nails) and the great Pop and Rock of Britain. The music world was as open and vital as any other time in history.
This summer has been hot in terms of temperature but can we say the music reflected that warmth?! If anything, it has been a rather downcast year for sounds. Look at 1994 and summer hits included M People’s Moving on Up and Salt-N-Pepa’s Whatta Man (with En Vogue). The fabulously goofy Crash Test Dummies scored big with a song whose chorus was, essentially, mumbling whilst Lisa Loeb gave us the exceptional Stay (I Missed You). All-4-One brought us the luscious I Swear and Janet Jackson’s Any Time was a huge smash. Maybe the popularity and prominence of music television helped elevate and define the colour and optimism in the air. We got to see the biggest acts of the day producing these equally vivid and eye-opening videos and the giddiness of 1994 was pure and immense. A great Hip-Hop scene easily slotted in with the big Alternative and Rock scene and, as Billboard state in this article; the longevity and sustainability of the music is evident:
“What separates '94 from the rest of the '90s is that there was perfect balance in the system: hip-hop (Nas' Illmatic, Biggie's Ready to Die, Outkast's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik) and alternative rock (Alice in Chains, Weezer, Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana) began to appeal to the masses through FM radio and MTV without selling out. And much like a school dance chaperone who turned off Boyz II Men's II, before anyone could make out, they kept pop music in check...
But proof of 1994's musical power lies in its longevity. Twenty years after the fact, Warren G's "Regulate" is eternal in its excellence. R. Kelly's "Bump N’ Grind" feels wonderfully timeless. Hootie & the Blowfish are forever tied with the heyday of David Letterman. To the extent that there's rock music on the radio, it's most likely tributes to Soundgarden, Nirvana, or Green Day. Even “Cotton-Eyed Joe” by Rednex, our good ol' fashioned American Macarena, has played in more Yankees home games than Derek Jeter. And when it comes to making out? There was only one choice”.
There was this spirit in the air that urged listeners to hope for the best – music was much less insular and guarded than it is today. D:Ream chanted that things could only get better whilst Pop gems like Saturday Night by Whigfield (guess it is not to everyone’s tastes!) were getting us all singing along! Articles such as this present songs that show 1994’s muscles and strengths and there were other reasons why the year was so pivotal. This article from LA Weekly talked about women having a bigger say; tremendous debut albums coming through and popular culture bleeding into the music.
IN THIS PHOTO: The cast of Friends in 1994/PHOTO CREDIT: NBC/Getty Images
There are some great comedies and films around now but 1994 was a year when two of T.V.’s biggest and most-loved comedies enjoyed great success. Friends began life in 1994 and would go on to become one of the greatest sitcoms ever. Even that first season in 1994 was getting people talking and providing us with six New York residents who easily won our hearts. Frasier was in its second year and hitting its stride whilst The Simpsons’ had its fifth and sixth seasons on the air during 1994. Some say those seasons are the very funniest periods from one of the best comedies ever. Iconic 1994 films like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction and Clerks were inspiring and cheering us all whilst there was the introduction of big shows like Party of Five. It is inevitable music and popular culture intertwined and there was this reciprocal sense of hope. It was an exciting and hugely important time that we have not really seen since. The reason I am arguing the case of 1994 is how different music is now. We do not have the same Dance scene and there have been few Pop bangers that you can match with 1994’s best. I think the country was more stable back then but we have more at our disposable in terms of sounds and technology.
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I do wonder whether we can ever return to such a heady day; a time when music and popular culture were providing legends and pure genius. I think, in many ways, music is at its lowest ebb. Certainty, we are hearing too many downbeat and depressed songs. I can understand why artists want to be true to themselves and honest but I think so much fun, optimism and togetherness has been lost. We need music to be alive and vibrant right now and, instead, there are so few tracks that have a genuinely positive grin and will stay in the mind for years. Any time period is capable of shining and 1994 was not in any sort of privileged position. Maybe it was this rare period we will never see again. In many ways, it is quite sad looking back and wondering why this has been this real downturn. I feel musicians of today can learn a lot from 1994 and a time in music where there was so much invention, progress and optimism. I know it is dangerous to look back and want things to be as they were but there is a definite gulf and vacuum that needs to be filled. I feel the only way music from today can endure for years and decades is if there is more joy and positivity. One can say the gloomier records of 1994 have endured too but, as I said, I feel even they had something about them that got under the skin and stayed with us. I think a resolution for next year should be injecting something happier into music and, if artists of today need guidance then they should look back at the epic, blissful and...