This week marks the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death. A slew of Gen-Xers will re-ignite discussions on Cobain’s place in pop culture history with owned nostalgia of the unremembered nineties. Although the death of Kurt Cobain was perhaps the key cultural event of 1994, the year had no shortages of cultural milestones. As it stands, 1994 is the greatest year in pop-culture history. Throughout the year we will be celebrating the 20th anniversaries of some of the greatest albums, films and TV shows of all time.
On the music front, the list of influential artists who debuted in 1994 is astounding: Jeff Buckley. Beck. Weezer. Green Day. Oasis. At The Drive-In. Notorious B.I.G. Nas. Outkast.
Other seminal “alternative” albums included Nine Inch Nail’s The Downward Spiral, Soundgarden’s Superunknown and Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. On the other side of the pond, Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, Blur’s Parklife, Suede’s Dog Man Star, and Pulp’s His ‘n’ Hers planted the Britpop seeds stateside like Johnny Rotten Appleseed.
New York reclaimed the hip-hop throne as East Coast rap reigned supreme. Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Craig Mack, and the first solo Wu, Method Man, were kickin’ some brand new flava in our ears.
On the mainstream side, Hootie and the Blowfish and Ace of Base went on to sell a combined google (hey! remember when that was a number?!!) units and were responsible for more herniated discs from used CD store employees since The Great Spin Doctors Purge of ‘92. Interestingly, the success of Ace of Base led first time producer, Max Martin, to go on to produce every terrible popular song for the next twenty years. (Yes, that one. That one too.) The Dave Matthews Band and Korn also had debuts in 1994, though their Bros Before Brahs Tour never came to fruition.
The old guard also fought to stay relevant in 1994. Sometimes it worked splendidly: Tom Petty’s solo album Wildflowers is perhaps his most underrated work. Johnny Cash extended his icon status indefinitely by teaming up with Rick Rubin for the first of many albums together on American Recordings. Other times, the chemistry fizzled: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant performed Led Zeppelin-lite on No Quarter: Unledded and Pink Floyd’s last gasp The Division Bell should’ve remained un-rung. Nonetheless, the live tours that ensued for these two acts provided a chance to see some legends on stage.
Undoubtedly, the biggest film to come out of 1994 was Pulp Fiction. It changed the game and re-introduced the auteur theory to a new generation. Tarantino became the first “rock star director” and he wore that badge proudly, ooookaaay. Clerks was another game changer. The charge-it-on-the-credit-card-low-budget comedy was a surprise hit and inspired a new crop of DIY filmmakers. The lewd, dialogue-heavy film was so influential that it allowed Kevin Smith to remain relevant for two decades despite continual mediocrity. These two films were instrumental to the rise of Miramax from art-house distributor to a major Hollywood player.
From the indies (Hoop Dreams, Shallow Grave, Spanking the Monkey) to the majors (Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, Lion King), 1994 was full of great films. There were plenty of cult classics as well: Reality Bites, The Crow, Natural Born Killers, PCU, Speed, The Professional and the Jim Carrey Trilogy: Ace Ventura, Dumb and Dumber, and The Mask.
Television saw the debut of Friends and ER on NBC creating the Thursday night “Must See TV” lineup. ABC took bigger risks with the debuts of My So Called Life and The Critic. On MTV, Spike Jonze was everywhere with videos for The Beastie Boys and Weezer, amongst others. Also, the 24-hour news cycle struck gold with Tonya & Nancy & Orenthal James.
Here, then, are the Top 20 Things Turning 20 This Year:
1. Kurt Cobain’s Death
Nostalgia Rating: Forever 27
2. Pulp Fiction
Nostalgia Rating: Fox Force Five/5
3. Jeff Buckley – Grace
Nostalgia Rating: 8/8 Octaves
4. Beck – Mellow Gold
Nostalgia Rating: 10/10 Non-Dairy Cheez Whiz Ingredients
Nostalgia Rating: 37/37 Dicks In A Row
6. Oasis – Definitely Maybe
Nostalgia Rating: Definitely 10. Maybe 9.
7. Weezer – (The Blue Album)
Nostalgia Rating: Wrestling Jimmy And Pinning Him For A 3-Count
8. Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die
Nostalgia Rating: C-Notes By The Layers
9. Outkast – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik
Nostalgia Rating: 10 Joints/1 Dimebag
10. Nirvana – Unplugged in New York
Nostalgia Rating: 10/10 Harp Tuning Roadies
11. NIN – The Downward Spiral
Nostalgia Rating: 10…9…8…7…6…
12. Green Day – Dookie
Nostalgia Rating: Tré/Tré Tré Cools
13. The Shawshank Redemption
Nostalgia Rating: Rita Hayworth’s 36-24-36
14. Soundgarden – Superunkown
Nostalgia Rating: 2/2 Spoons
15. Reality Bites
Nostalgia Rating: Just One Kiss/Just One Fuck
16. The Awesome Mix-Tapes That Were The Soundtracks of ’94: Reality Bites, Pulp Fiction, The Crow
Nostalgia Rating: 20/20 Vision Lisa Loeb Cat-Eye Glasses
17. My So Called Life
Nostalgia Rating: 987/1000 Claire Dane Tears
18. Johnny Cash – American Recordings
Nostalgia Rating: 2/2 Delia Bullets
19. Forrest Gump
Nostalgia Rating: 40/45 Open Bus Seats
Nostalgia Rating: 2nd Gear
Written by Fernando Martinez