Why 1994 was the best year for music

From Sugar's "Gee Angel" to Suede's "We Are the Pigs," proof that '94 gave us some of our greatest songs ever


Annie Zaleski
October 4, 2014 7:00PM (UTC)

1994 was a very good year for music, especially in the annals of Alternative Nation. Grunge hadn't yet grown tired, while bands such as R.E.M., Pavement, Hole, Beck, Tori Amos and Green Day released landmark records. In fact, there was so much good music released in 1994, some of it slipped through the cracks in the ensuing years. Here are a few such tunes that deserve to be rediscovered:

Kristin Hersh, "Your Ghost"

On this cut from the "Hips and Makers" LP, the Throwing Muses frontwoman strips her music down to stark acoustic guitar and shivering cello. Bonus: Michael Stipe contributes see-sawing background countermelodies.

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The Grays, "Very Best Years"

The Jason Falkner-penned slice of grungy power-pop lurches through the verses, before blooming into a lovely, Beatles-like chorus full of doe-eyed harmonies.

Therapy?, "Screamager"

File next to Helmet and Jesus Lizard: The Irish band Therapy? paired its ennui ("I've got nothing to do / But hang around and get screwed up on you") with corrosive music borrowing liberally from punk, metal and hard rock.

Indigo Girls, "Least Complicated"

The duo left the campfire jams behind with this nostalgic song, an amplified, electric folk tune adorned with mandolin, bongos and accordion that takes a bittersweet look at difficult life lessons.

Sugar, "Gee Angel"

Sugar's second album, "File Under: Easy Listening," doesn't receive as much critical love as debut "Copper Blue," which is a shame. Ferocious songs such as this one cloak their yearning melodies in jagged punk-pop riffs, the aural equivalent of a ringing in the ears.

Grant Lee Buffalo, "Lone Star Song"

Grant Lee Buffalo always had deep reverence for (and was in awe of) the historical characters and events of which they sang. On the lead-off track from the underrated "Mighty Joe Moon," the band's electrified Americana has never sounded more desolate – or the trio more in thrall with the ghosts of the past.

Luscious Jackson, "City Song"

These Beastie Boys pals and NYC homers crafted a loving, laid-back hip-hop ode to their gritty, colorful city.

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Veruca Salt, "All Hail Me"

The heavier parts of Veruca Salt's catalog—case in point: "All Hail Me"—don't receive the attention they perhaps deserve. This single marries coquettish vocal harmonies with a devious-sounding, sludgy metallic underbelly.

Soul Coughing, "Bus to Beelzebub"

In the '90s, nobody else sounded like Soul Coughing—and nobody could compare with the group's playful, theatrical jazz/hip-hop/rock hybrids. "Bus to Beelzebub" absolutely sounds like a road trip to hell, complete with alarmed ostinatos and Mike Doughty's evil-conductor slam poetry.

Echobelly, "Insomniac"

The Smiths- and Blondie-worshipping Britpop act produced one of the era's indelible anthems, on the strength of vocalist Sonya Madan's majestic vibrato and a burbling bass line.

The Auteurs, "Lenny Valentino"

Speaking of Britpop shoulda-beens: Erudite act the Auteurs married the artsy angst of Suede with Psychedelic Furs' post-punk darkness on this superstar single from the year.

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L7, "Andres"

Bratty, taunting and full of distortion, this tune summed up why the grungepunk Los Angeles group was beloved by so many.

Underworld, "Dark And Long (Dark Train)"

Later used to great effect in the iconic Britpop movie "Trainspotting," this motorik techno dirge hums along on a track of ominous skittering rhythms and zombie-like background harmonies.

Fatima Mansions, "Belong Nowhere"

The defiantly uncommercial Irish post-rock group codified their malcontent into a rambunctious alienation anthem that subverted the mainstream even as it embraced massive hooks.

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Sam Phillips, "I Need Love"

Sam Phillips' T. Bone Burnett-produced "Martinis and Bikinis" album produced this lovely song, a trembling alt-folk anthem that alludes to disillusionment with organized religion.

Suede, "We Are the Pigs"

How did Suede (aka London Suede) follow up their crunchy, glammy debut LP? By pulling a Bowie and reinventing themselves as shadowy, debauched post-glam New Romantics.

Failure, "Moth"

The return of grungy space rockers Failure is a victory lap of sorts—a way for the band to finally get the attention and acclaim it deserved for influential songs such as the metallic fuzzbomb "Moth."

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Love Spit Love, "Change in the Weather"

Richard Butler's post-Psychedelic Furs project (which he founded with current Guns 'n' Roses guitarist Richard Fortus) produced two LPs. This jagged post-punk single is all sharp edges and stormy angst.


Annie Zaleski

Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.

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