Throwback Thursday: 25 classic albums turning 25 in 2019

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There’s an argument to be made that 1994 was one of the best years ever for music.


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Grunge and alt-rock saw some of their biggest releases. Major contributors to pop culture had their debuts, some of the best rap albums of all-time hit the streets, and industrial, techno and trip-hop all started moving into mainstream consciousness.

As we glide into 2019, I thought it was worth looking back at 25 releases celebrating 25 years this year. How good a year was it? Not included here are albums by Beck, The Cranberries, Pulp, Liz Phair, Pavement, Suede, Alice in Chains, Manic Street Preachers, Morrissey, Method Man, Digable Planets, Live, Veruca Salt, and more.

1. Weezer, Weezer (The Blue Album)

Adolescent angst mixed with pop melodies and crunchy power chords made this one of the most accessible alt-rock albums of 1994. Production from the Cars’ Ric Okasek didn’t hurt either. And then there’s ‘The Video’, that Spike Jonze-directed, Happy Days mash-up that seared itself into the consciousness of the young Gen-Xers who bought into the nostalgia trip.


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2. Beastie Boys, Ill Communication

In 1994, video was still king. So if you could get yourself onto MTV and MuchMusic with what would now be called a viral clip, well, good things would happen. The Beastie Boys were no strangers to listeners in ’94, but the video for Sabotage launched them to even wider fame. This helped bolster LP Ill Communication, which admittedly feels a touch long at nearly 60 minutes, as a great mix of the Beasties’ hip-hop and punk leanings.

3. Portishead, Dummy

The soundtrack to many a hipster makeout session back in the mid-’90s, Portishead’s Dummy is one of those rare debuts that is almost impossible for a band to top. Taking soul, hip-hop, blues, funk and wrapping it in a gift tied with a bow made from Beth Gibbons’ plaintive wail, you get a sad record that feels equally sexy and cool.


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4. Green Day, Dookie

Dookie may well have been Green Day’s third album, but for the vast majority of fans, this was their introduction to the masses. One of a pair of albums that thrust punk into the mainstream in the mid-’90s, Green Day succeeds by smoothing the edges of the sound while keeping the snotty attitude dialled way up. The legend was cemented with a memorably muddy performance at Woodstock ’94.

5. Offspring, Smash

1994 also saw the third album for so-Cal punks Offspring mark a major breakthrough. From Self Esteem to Come Out and Play and Gotta Get Away, Smash lived up to its name, literally, and gave skaters and boarders a new soundtrack.

6. Oasis, Definitely Maybe

Definitely Maybe answered the question: What does ego sound like? The Brothers Gallagher and their initial Oasis line-up broke in a big way with this confident debut (“Tonight, I’m a rock-n-roll star” indeed). Fuelled by pints, white lines and melodic guitar, Oasis helped turn attention across the pond and bring Britpop to the masses.


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7. Blur, Parklife

While Oasis was the new act on the block in ’94, Blur had been toiling for a few years. But the hard work truly paid off with third album Parklife, cementing the band’s place as one of the cornerstones of the Britpop movement.

8. Pearl Jam, Vitalogy

Grunge wasn’t quite dead by the end of 1994, but by this point stalwarts Pearl Jam were bristling against the concept. Vitalogy offers some of the sludgy rock numbers fitting of the genre (Not for You, Tremor Christ), one of their best known songs (Better Man), but also some thrash-lite hard rock (Spin the Black Circle) and more experimental numbers (Aye Davanita, Bugs). Its 877,000 copies in the first week of CD/cassette sales showed they were still one of the biggest acts in rock.


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9. Soundgarden, Superunknown

Soundgarden always operated in a corner of grunge that shared some overlap with classic metal. That sound is still there on 1994 monster Superunknown, but there is also an evolution in the band’s music, specifically on singles Spoonman, Black Hole Sun and Fell on Black Days. The band would ride the wave from the album to newfound stardom before breaking up less than three years later.

10. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York

Does a live album count in the conversation of great albums of the year? If it’s a live album featuring one of the biggest bands of the era, recorded before, but released after the lead singer took his own life, and featuring just a couple of their better-known songs but still being a memorable recording, then yes. With six of the 14 tracks coming as covers (including THREE Meat Puppets songs), Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear felt like a sombre sendoff to Cobain, who killed himself more than 6 months before it was released.


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11. Hole, Live Through This

There was already a lot of focus on Courtney Love in April 1994. Her husband, Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain had just taken his own life, following months of hospitalizations, attempts at rehab, and drama between the couple. Hole’s second album, the aptly named Live Through This, dropped one week after Cobain’s death. Bracing and raw, it’s easy to see why it was ranked by Rolling Stone and Spin as the best album that year.

12. Bush, Sixteen Stone

Look, we all know how easy it was back then to mock Bush as grunge soundalike wannabes, but there’s no denying the strength of Sixteen Stone as a debut album, especially with the heft of singles Everything Zen, Machinehead, Comedown and Glycerine. Time has been kind to this album.


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13. Stone Temple Pilots, Purple

Like Bush’s Sixteen Stone, Stone Temple Pilots’ 1992 debut Core was also blasted as being a big grunge ripoff. But with 1994’s Purple the band came into their own by incorporating other elements into their sound, including psych, blues and even country, all bolstered by Scott Weiland’s captivating frontman persona.

14. R.E.M., Monster

After dialing down the amplifiers and distortion for Out of Time and Automatic for the People, R.E.M. cranked things up again on the suitably titled Monster. Full of guitar crunch and other sonic textures, Monster (and its major tour) helped cement R.E.M.’s place as one of the biggest bands in the U.S.

15. Tori Amos, Under the Pink

With Little Earthquakes in 1992, Tori Amos caught our attention. With Under the Pink, she held it. Amos’ music already stood out in the early ’90s for going against the grain of what was popular — gangsta rap, grunge, sexualized pop music — but it’s her talent as a singer and pianist that made her so captivating.


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16. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral

If there is any band that helped make industrial a part of the mainstream, it is undoubtedly Nine Inch Nails through The Downward Spiral. While it is jarring and dark, it offers strong songwriting and a sense of melody, and offers one of the most unlikely club hits of the decade with Closer.

17. Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die

Alternative Rock wasn’t the only genre to see some massive debuts in 1994. Hip hop had three of the best rookie appearances of all-time, including this LP from Biggie Smalls. With a laid-back flow that hid complex rhyme schemes, Notorious B.I.G. offers tales of drugs, alcohol, murder and sex, helping bridge the gap between pop and gangsta rap. The release also helped put Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Records on the map.


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18. Nas, Illmatic

Despite a career better known for a feud with Jay Z and a series of albums that failed to live up to the hype, Illmatic still stands as a hip hop classic. On his landmark debut, Nas demonstrates why he is constantly in the discussion over who’s the best rapper ever. He uses complex poetry to illustrate harrowing life experience. It will rank as one of the best rap records of the decade.

19. Outkast, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

If you’re of a certain age, you remember a time when rap was mostly a New York/L.A. thing. Southern rap wasn’t a subgenre in and of itself. This is the album that helped start changing the narrative. Long before they asked you to “Shake it like a Polaroid picture” on their genre bending magnum opus Speakerboxx/The Love Below Andre 3000 and Big Boi brought Southern soul and funk to the hip hop game, and wrote songs that reflected their own experience.


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20. TLC, CrazySexyCool

As a follow-up to their playful debut, CrazySexyCool feels like a group looking to mature their sound, incorporating more of an R&B sound. It featured a number of hit singles, including the award-winning Creep, and the mid-’90s ubiquity that is Waterfalls.

21. Madonna, Bedtime Stories

Bedtime Stories isn’t Madonna at her most powerful (Her three-album run in the ’80s that sold more than 60 million). Or controversial (1992’s Erotica). Or fun (Ray of Light would come later). But it showed that she had matured while also not backing down from criticism of her past work. And her silky voice over those smooth R&B grooves just works so well.

22. Jeff Buckley, Grace

We may never know what would have happened with Jeff Buckley’s career had he not drowned in the Mississippi River in 1997. We got a glimpse in through unpolished versions of songs from a planned second album, but that was really it. We’re left with Grace, which displays both his virtuoso guitar playing and soaring voice that were a wonderfully unique combination for the era. And the trend of covering Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah? He started that.


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23. Sloan, Twice Removed

There is no denying that the Halifax foursome known as Sloan helped shape Canadian music in the 1990s. They were different from a lot of the grunge and post-grunge that was popular at the time, and were definitely cooler than other upstart Canadian bands that made breakthroughs this same year (apologies to Our Lady Peace and Moist, both of whom debuted with big releases). There’s a reason this album has consistently been at the top of polls from music magazines asking readers for the best Canadian album ever.

24. The Tragically Hip, Day for Night

There’s no doubt the biggest album of The Hip’s career is 1992’s Fully Completely. Instead of a follow-up of more CanRock anthems, the Kingston band got darker, to great success. Heavy guitar riffs carry Gord Downie’s voice on a rocky ride through greasy jungles and out to a disaster at sea, but he lets us know in the quiet moments he’s just as scared as we are.

25. The Prodigy, Music for the Jilted Generation

In 1994, we were still a couple of years off from the ‘electronica’ boom that would be ushered in by Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy. The latter was leading the way in ’94 with Music for the Jilted Generation, which brought ‘Rave’ closer to the mainstream.



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