2015's pop culture-versaries: The films and albums celebrating milestones this year

From Whitney Houston's debut to "Back to the Future," there are some major cultural anniversaries in 2015


Erin Keane
January 6, 2015 12:20AM (UTC)

According to my social media feeds, 2014 was a terrible year—unless you’re Taylor Swift, Taylor Swift’s cats, or one of the lucky recipients of gifts and attention from Taylor’s Swiftmas list. The new year is prime time for reflection to propel us forward, and along with the requisite positive thinking there’s the creeping realization that we’re not getting any younger, so we might as well get to work. Here's a look back at some enduring works of music and film that are turning 20, 25 and 30 years old this year.

It's been 20 years since...

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IN MUSIC:

  • We met Foo Fighters

On one hand, 1995 was sort of a terrible year for music—R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry suffered the brain aneurysm that would prompt him to leave the band, Eazy-E died of complications from AIDS, Selena was murdered, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened. But Tupac Shakur also became the first male solo artist to score a number one album while in prison (“Me Against the World”) and Dave Grohl emerged from the heartbreak of Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide with the eponymous debut of Foo Fighters, which should motivate you to at least start applying for the jobs you want this year.

Along with the ubiquitous terror of the year’s worst earworm factories—Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It,” Everclear’s “Santa Monica,” Hootie & the damn Blowfish—1995 also delivered these memorable albums.

  • “Jagged Little Pill,” Alanis Morissette

“You Oughta Know” became the breakout break-up anthem of pissed-off young women everywhere. We never looked at Uncle Joey or irony the same way again. Downside: “Head Over Feet” became a Nice Guy™ secret heartbreak anthem.

  • “Sleater-Kinney,” Sleater-Kinney

Before the incomparable threesome’s reunion album, “No Cities to Love” comes out later this month, re-immerse yourself in their genius by revisiting their debut eponymous album.

  • “Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness,” Smashing Pumpkins

This two-disc (Discs! Nostalgia!) set still delivers with some of the most memorable vintage Smashing Pumpkins tracks. “Siamese Dream” and “Gish” might have been leaner and meaner, but when you think of Smashing Pumpkins, you think “Tonight, Tonight,” “Thirty Three,” the sublime “1979” and, of course, how the world really is kind of like a vampire sometimes if you think about it.

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  • “(What's The Story) Morning Glory?,” Oasis

“Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova” are going to wind up soundtracking particularly poignant future coming-of-age nostalgia films about 1995, for good reason.

  • “Daydream,” Mariah Carey

If you didn’t couples-skate or re-stock the sweater racks to “Fantasy,” you at least appreciated its heavy Tom Tom Club sample and the Ol’ Dirty Bastard verses on her remix.

IN FILM:

  • We met Nomi Malone

Lots of standout performances dot this year, from Anthony Hopkins in “Nixon” and Susan Sarandon in “Dead Man Walking” to vintage Nicolas Cage in “Leaving Los Vegas.” 1995 was also the year that brought us “Showgirls” and “Waterworld,” so maybe it was a draw.

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  • “Braveheart”

Remember when Mel Gibson could play beloved characters like William Wallace? What a difference two decades makes. Though it played fast and loose with historical details, the epic battle scenes of “Braveheart” nevertheless struck a freedom-loving chord and garnered Gibson Best Picture and Best Director wins at the 1996 Academy Awards.

  • “The Usual Suspects”

That Verbal Kint! So crafty! Kevin Spacey won a best supporting actor Oscar for his turn as Keyzer Soze, the crime boss disguised as a two-bit con artist, in this many-layered twist-o-rama of lies, feints and unforgettable lines.

  • “Clueless”

Before they inspired Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” video, the fashion stylings of Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash and the gone-too-soon Brittany Murphy flipped the early-Nineties grunge script in this Amy Heckerling adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma.” Notable for memorable slang (“as if!”) and Paul Rudd as the surprisingly non-creepy ex-stepbrother love interest. “Sense and Sensibility” might have racked up the Oscar nods, but “Clueless” is timeless.

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  • “Se7en”

David Fincher solidified his film directing chops with this (in retrospect, kinda campy in its super-high concept) psychological crime thriller starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman about a serial killer whose murders follow the rubric of the seven deadly sins, culminating with the unboxing of Gwyneth Paltrow’s head. More career-defining sinister work from Spacey, who’s now plying that trade in the Oval Office on “House of Cards.”

  • “Toy Story”

Woody and Buzz Lightyear’s first appearance in the funny and often tear-jerking franchise that the original target audience now plays for their own kids is still the best. But let’s be real, nobody actually grows out of their action figures anymore, do they?

It's been 25 years since...

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IN MUSIC:

  • We met The Black Crowes

Transition years are never easy, but it’s hard not to be fond of psychedelic throwbacks like The B-52’s “Roam” and Dee-Lite’s “Groove Is In the Heart” or The Black Crowes’ Seventies blues-rock revivalist “Hard to Handle.”

That liminal year also proved to be fertile creative ground for works that stand the test of time.

  • “I’m Breathless,” Madonna

This otherwise-forgettable “Dick Tracy” soundtrack (Madonna played nightclub singer Breathless Mahoney in the film) also contains “Vogue,” one of Madge’s most memorable singles and videos (directed by David Fincher). It remains a gold standard of early-Nineties dance-pop and provided a mass-entertainment entry point to the New York drag ball scene, immortalized in the 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning.”

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  • “I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got,” Sinéad O'Connor

That voice. That video. All of the raw emotion and pure tonal beauty of O’Connor’s cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” O’Connor won a Best Alternative Album Grammy for “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” and, in one of her least controversial public acts of cultural defiance, refused to accept it.

  • “Fear of a Black Planet,” Public Enemy

The Bomb Squad production team used an estimated 200 samples to make Public Enemy’s “Sgt. Pepper,” a seminal treatise on race relations and institutional power that indicted the entertainment industry (“Burn, Hollywood, Burn” and “Who Stole the Soul?”) and sexism in hip hop culture.

  • “Violator,” Depeche Mode

The album even non-Depeche Mode fans know thanks to the blockbuster success of “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence.” A curious cross of spiritual and sinister, the record, their seventh, was the first to sell a million copies in the U.S.

  • “Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1,” George Michael

Because in 1990 a single could still be defined by its video, that’s how we remember “Freedom ’90,” with its bevy of supermodels, themselves a time capsule of cover girl beauty—Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista—and the burning of the trappings of Michael’s earlier “Faith” success. Of course, it became an anthem for freedom of sexual expression, too.

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IN FILM:

  • We met Christina Ricci

A handful of forgettable sequels squeaked through the pipeline, including parts three for “The Godfather” and the “Back to the Future” franchises, but 1990 also released Mike Nichols’ “Postcards from the Edge,” the scariest film nurse since Ratched in “Misery” and Christina Ricci’s debut in “Mermaids.”

  • “Home Alone”

You know what, this movie still holds up. Not necessarily for the slapstick burglar-busting shenanigans of a fresh-faced moppet (amazingly, Macauley Culkin now fronts the Pizza Underground, the world’s first pizza-themed Velvet Underground tribute band), but for Kevin’s touching redemption arc with the scary old man next door, who’s just sad and estranged from his family. No, you’re tearing up.

  • “Pretty Woman”

As fantasy fiction goes, this updated Pygmalion romance between a Hollywood heart-of-gold hooker and a tycoon lies somewhere between dragon slaying and “The Bachelor,” but after a slate of A-list actresses turned down the role, Julia Roberts stepped into the thigh-high boots and became a star.

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  • “Edward Scissorhands”

Winona Forever! Johnny Depp broke out of “21 Jump Street” heartthrob hell with the one-two punch of John Waters’ underrated “Cry-Baby” and this title role in one of Tim Burton’s signature films about a lovable misfit and the cruel normcore society that persecutes him for being different.

  • “Goodfellas”

Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the story of mob informant Henry Hill is a classic of the American organized crime sub-genre, from Ray Liotta’s narration to Joe Pesci’s explosive turn as Tommy DeVito. From Lufthansa heist to cooking in prison to the final game of living like “an average nobody” in the witness protection program, this mafia movie has it all.

  •  “Total Recall”

Before he was the Governator and the father of Miley Cyrus’ boyfriend, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a badass action star. Based sort of on Philip K. Dick’s story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” this sci-fi satire still resonates in reality and virtual reality.

It's been 30 years since...

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IN MUSIC:

  • We met L.L. Cool J

1985 was a banner year for memorable albums, even with the schlock-aid hit of “We Are the World,” from the lip-curling irony of Dire Straits’ hit single “Money for Nothing” to Prince’s unforgettable upbeat “Raspberry Beret.” And before he was an NCIS Special Agent, L.L. Cool J was a rapper, and Def Jam released his debut album, "Radio," that year.

  • “Fables of the Reconstruction,” R.E.M.

Often criminally underrated, if only perhaps because it dropped in the middle of a six-year streak of classic, canon-defining albums, “Fables of the Reconstruction” is worth a fresh listen. It’s full of the mythos of the creepy-crawly South, burning with gothic energy and eccentricities, as vital today as it was 30 years ago.

  • “Meat Is Murder,” The Smiths

An instant classic. “How Soon Is Now?” wasn’t even supposed to be on this record, but it’s hard to imagine The Smiths’ sophomore effort without it now. Along with “I Want the One I Can’t Have,” it fueled the love life angst of a million frustrated romantics.

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  • “Rain Dogs,” Tom Waits

With its masterful genre-mix and unforgettable compact stories, “Rain Dogs” remains one of the best albums of its decade and will likely retain a berth on the all-time best list for decades to come. It’s New York underground by way of New Orleans,

  • “Rum Sodomy & The Lash,” The Pogues

Producer Elvis Costello says he sought to capture The Pogues “in their dilapidated glory before some more professional producer fucked them up,” on their second album, and so he did. It’s a genius blend of blistering punk and Irish folk and storytelling tradition filtered through the demented mind of Shane MacGowan.

  • “Whitney Houston,” Whitney Houston

Whitney’s glorious debut included showcased her powerhouse voice through some of her most iconic songs—the palpable yearning of the deceptively upbeat “How Will I Know,” the slow burn of “Saving All My Love for You” and the anthemic, if easily lampooned, “Greatest Love of All.”

IN FILM:

  • We met the Brat Pack

Of course there were movies made about adults in 1985. Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” is a brilliant dystopian satire. “The Color Purple,” “Out of Africa” and “Cocoon” are all memorable stories for and about grown-ups. But for the scholar of teen films, 1985 was a banner year. “Weird Science” and “Real Genius” surfed the nerd-revenge wave, and the offbeat gender-bending comedy “Just One of the Guys” later became a staple of cable reruns. These five films stand the tests of both time and maturity.

  • “The Goonies”

Goonies never say die. Simultaneously sweet and adventuresome, “The Goonies” is, at its heart, a film about class. The impending displacement of the working class families of the “Goon Docks” neighborhood, slated for demolition to make way for a ritzy development, leads a band of young misfits on a hunt for the treasure of a legendary pirate.

  • “St. Elmo’s Fire”

So they weren’t technically teenagers, but if 1983’s “The Big Chill” was era-defining for Baby Boomers, “St. Elmo’s Fire” could be its Generation X young-adult coming-of-age counterpart. These days, the chronicles of a bunch of pretty Georgetown grads would be a series on the CW. Largely significant for its soon-to-be powerhouse cast, dubbed the Brat Pack, the film stars all of your favorite mid-Eighties dreamboats: Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy … and Mare Winningham, who was basically never heard from again.

  • “The Breakfast Club”

Slightly less probable from an age-timeline perspective is “The Breakfast Club,” but the John Hughes-directed Brat Pack goes to high school remains one of the best up-close examinations of a stratified high school culture on film. This one added Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald, both alums of Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles,” to the Brat Pack canon. Infinitely quotable, the film about a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal serving all-day detention together closes on a wonderfully defiant note—Nelson’s fist in the air, Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me,” the rejection of the convenient and simple terms of their social statuses, defined.

  • “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”

Kids now have their share of weird entertainments—try to reconcile the physics in “Bubble Guppies” sometime—but Paul Reubens did weird-kid, young-at-heart entertainment best. Tim Burton’s feature directorial debut is a heightened, non-sequitur-laden delight of color and escapade, using the deceptively simple framework of a stolen bike to lead Pee-wee to San Antonio and back in search of his lost love.

  • “Back to the Future”

You’re already sick of hearing what its sequel predicted we’d be doing and wearing in 2015, but the original film about a slacker teen who accidentally travels back to his parents’ teenage years is still a gem. Light on the science fiction and heavy on the relationships, “Back to the Future” is a conventional coming-of-age film about accepting responsibility and forging your own destiny with the manic weirdness of Crispin Glover and Christopher Lloyd to balance Fox’s lightweight charm.


Erin Keane

Erin Keane is Salon's deputy editor in chief.

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2015 Anniversary Film Music




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