Our Favorite Albums from 1994

From the golden age of grunge to breakthrough hip hop and R&B, 1994 music had something for everyone. 14 East staff and contributors chose some of our most memorable and transformative albums from the year for our 1994: In Retrospective Issue.

Associate Editor Nikki Roberts Chose Dookie

In 2017, eager to break in to the music industry, I volunteered at Summer Camp Music Festival, a southern Illinois electronic/jam band camping fest. Surrounded by fifty-five-year-old hippies, basshead wooks shoveling white powder up their noses and seemingly lost punks who could get down to jam bands, I was strung out on confusion trying to find my niche.

I finally found my place at SCAMP (as the regulars call it), at 2 a.m. during my favorite set of the entire fest: a no-name cover band playing Dookie by Green Day in its entirety. Yes, even the hidden bonus track. Veiled by a canopy tent with our feet planted in the muddy ground, I pushed/moshed with a crowd of sweaty drunk men, most of them ten years my senior, to the anthem of our teenage years.

A self-proclaimed Green Day fanatic, many hardcore fans laugh when I tell them I was born in 1997, three years after the band’s chart-topping Reprise Records debut. But the idea that I had to be alive when Dookie climbed to the top of 13 music charts worldwide in order to appreciate its impact and timelessness has never settled well with me. If anything, shouldn’t a baby punk like myself being able to consider the 1994 phenomenon as my teenage anthem be proof of its ability to withstand the test of time?

Written by a trio of 20 year olds, Dookie is the soundtrack for suburban punks, stoners and skaters. Shamelessly catchy pop punk hooks charm listeners while simultaneously subduing angsty, vulgar lyrics about apathy, teenage rebellion, masturbation, sexual discovery and young love. By combining coming-of-age battle cries (“She” and “Coming Clean”) with songs about suicide bombers (“Havin’ A Blast”) and getting beat up by your girlfriend (“Pulling Teeth”) that would find it hard to pass in today’s political climate, Dookie offers today’s teens a laugh and sighs of relief while providing its long-term fan base with sweet hints of nostalgia.

Just three months after SCAMP on August 24, 2017, I found myself in the front row for Green Day’s debut Wrigley Field show; a career defining moment for any artist, and a natural progression for a band like Green Day who has sold out both the United Center and Allstate Arena. Unlike many artists, however, Green Day’s Wrigleyville debut was not preceded by a string of successful albums; in fact, the band’s last large-scale commercial success was 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown. Playing to a packed baseball field that seats nearly 42,000 after an only mildly successful 2016 release that was preceded by an absolute commercial flop during 2012 and 2013 can only mean one thing: Green Day’s career rests not on what they will do, but what they have done. In addition to some of the band’s earlier releases and a couple of political concept albums in the 2000’s, Dookie is one of the albums that has helped Green Day remain relevant to a new generation of teenagers.

My Track Pick: “When I Come Around”

Associate Editor Chris Silber Chose Weezer (The Blue Album) 

I’m 16 years old, and for the first time I get in a car to drive without any passengers. I start the car, turn the radio to the local alt rock station and the slow intro to “Say it Ain’t So” begins. I turn the volume all the way up, and as I pull out of my subdivision, I feel the full force of teenage angst, scream-singing the guitar anthem’s refrain alone in my old used hatchback. Weezer’s first album Weezer, known as the Blue Album, is an immortal icon of ‘90s rock. The nerdy, guitar-jamming rockers took the music world by storm in 1994, and the Blue Album has survived to be one of the most widely acclaimed albums from the decade.

The album itself has aged brilliantly. Lead singer Rivers Cuomo’s uncomfortableness with his own skin, combined with the band’s unapologetic geekiness, make for an album that resonates with any young person struggling to figure out their own identity. The album is a series of emotional ups and downs. It begins with “My Name is Jonas,” a blue collar song against “the Man” inspired by Louis Lowry’s 1993 novel The Giver. It then goes through the anger and eventually loneliness of an over-possessive boyfriend who gets dumped in “No One Else” and “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here.”

In “Buddy Holly,” Cuomo dismisses other people’s opinions, singing, “I don’t care what they say about us anyway/ I don’t care about that,” but in “Undone- The Sweater Song” he unravels and his emotional vulnerability is exposed. He then attempts to “stay afloat” through delusions of being a relaxed surfer in “Surf Wax America” only to succumb to the heaviness of childhood trauma in the album’s climactic “Say it Ain’t So.” Cuomo then retreats into his garage where he feels safe and no one can hear him, and he dreams up running away to a distant land in “Holiday.” The album culminates with Cuomo dismissing his hopes and illusions in the 8 minute guitar solo infused finale “Only in Dreams.”

The Blue Album launched Weezer into a music career that’s still going strong. They released their eleventh album Pacific Daydream in 2017, and earlier this year they dropped Weezer  — recently the Teal Album  — which covers famous songs such as “Africa” by Toto and “No Scrubs” by TLC. With another album set to release in March, it’s safe to say fans have plenty of old and new material to sing their hearts out to.

My Track Pick: “Say It Ain’t So”

Managing Editor Cody Corrall Chose No Need To Argue 

Dolores O’Riordan was not afraid to say what was on her mind, no matter how emotional, angry or petty it would make her seem. As an artist, O’Riordan was interested in examining the inner workings of her psyche on her own terms, whether that be through wailing desperately to an old flame or stripping down to her vocals and getting sentimental. In their second studio album No Need to Argue, The Cranberries let the festering, fleeting and all-consuming emotions out to play, perfectly encapsulating the many manifestations of being a living, breathing thing holding a heavy heart.

With the album, The Cranberries departed from the soft and melodic Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We? to a heavy, edgy interpretation of their music — both in the albums’ instrumentation and themes. The songs on No Need to Argue are noticeably louder — incorporating electric guitar and heavy distortion. Thematically the album digs deep into tragedy in all of its forms — O’Riordan’s childhood and her relationship with her family, Ireland’s complicated identity in the 20th century, saying goodbye to someone you love and losing one’s sense of identity.

“Zombie,” by far the loudest, angriest track on the album is about the 1993 Warrington IRA bombings which led to the death of two children. The song carves out a space for O’Riordan’s rage, but it isn’t the only track to take her anger seriously. In “I Can’t Be With You,” O’Riordan is able to channel her frustration towards herself and an ending relationship — wailing the same line over and over until her lungs just might give out. Even though the track is packaged like an desperate break-up song, her feelings are treated with the same seriousness and emotional weight as everything else on the album.

While No Need to Argue is The Cranberries’ best-selling album, many of the tracks have faded in relevancy over time, which is a shame. No Need to Argue has aged into a collection of works that touches on the full breadth of emotion and the power of letting things go — and it encourages you to scream it all out alongside them.

Track pick: “I Can’t Be With You”

Staff Illustrator Jenni Holtz Chose CrazySexyCool 

TLC’s sophomore album CrazySexyCool earned them the first-ever diamond status for a group of all women  — comprised of Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. It was a departure from their first album, Oooooooohhh on the TLC Tip, which was more rap-heavy and less overtly sexual. CrazySexyCool expresses raw sexuality and female empowerment with chart-topping singles like “Red Light Special,” “Creep” and “Waterfalls.”

In their power ballad “Red Light Special,” TLC takes an empowering approach to sexuality, singing “I need someone who understands / I’m a woman a real woman / I know just what I want / I know just who I am.”

“Creep,” TLC’s first number one hit, is about cheating woman. It’s written from the perspective of the cheating woman, something the women, especially Lopes, were critical of throughout the production. She felt it conflicted with the group’s support of safe sex and even threatened to wear tape over her mouth in the music video as a protest. Lopes initially refused to rap on the track, but in a later remix, “Creep (Cx Rap Version),” she raps about the consequences of cheating in a new verse.

“Waterfalls,” one of TLC’s most popular songs, is an R&B classic about AIDS, drug-related violence and unsafe sex. The song begins with a story about a mother and her son who’s a drug dealer. In the second verse, it refers directly to AIDS: “three letters took him to his final resting place.” The third verse takes a more inspirational tone, referring to God and urging people to do better: “Dreams are hopeless aspirations / In hopes of comin’ true / Believe in yourself / The rest is up to me and you.” The well-known refrain “Don’t go chasing waterfalls / Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to” is essential in the cultural zeitgeist to this day, but many today are unaware of the intended meaning of the song.

CrazySexyCool is the best-selling album of all time by a girl group in the United States. It solidified TLC’s place in music history — “Waterfalls” and “Creep” still play on the radio today. Their sound is smooth, heartfelt and boppy — the essentials of 90s R&B coupled with feminist lyrics.

My Track Pick: “Creep”

Contributor Hector Cervantes Chose Jimmy Eat World 

It has been 25 years since the pop-punk band Jimmy Eat World released their self-titled debut album  Jimmy Eat World on January 23, 1994. Over the years, Jimmy Eat World influenced the pop-punk scene of music. Their most recognized song “The Middle” was released in 2001.

Jimmy Eat World began as a grunge band but shifted to a more pop-rock style. Their 1994 album reflect more on the grunge era that has shaped in the 90’s. The album is characterized with heavy drumming, and guitar riffs which are elements of grunge music, as heard with songs like “Chachi” and “Patches.” Even audiences can tell the differences between the change in music with “The Middle” characterized more of a pop-rock song, and is not grunge.

While the band is continuing to tour and make music, there has been some changes that is worth noting from their first album in 1994 to modern times. One change to look at is with the members in the band.

Jim Adkins, leading vocals, rhythm guitarist Tom Linton, and drummer Zach Lind has been around since the formation of the band; however, bass guitarist Mitch Porter left the band in 1995 who left since he wanted to serve as a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.The band found Porter’s replacement with Rick Burch.

Integrity Blues, the most recent album Jimmy Eat World released in 2016 features more of  mellow sounding music. The song “You With Me” reflects this change from their first album in 1994.  One change to note is that the lyrics to “You With Me” are more sung in a spoken way while “Chachi” in 1994 used more of an aggressive style of singing. This past summer of 2018, Jimmy Eat World did an international tour for their album Integrity Blues.

My Track Pick “Patches”

Contributor Patsy Newitt Chose Definitely Maybe 

Oasis has become a meme, recognizable in America almost exclusively for their chart-topper “Wonderwall.” These memes mock the song’s shallow lyricism that regularly appeals to drunk individuals poorly executing karaoke or a boy who brings an acoustic guitar to a party. I urge you, however, not to overlook Oasis on the basis of “Wonderwall.” On August 29, 1994, Oasis released their debut album Definitely Maybe as the antithesis to grunge sentiments of the past years. Though similar to grunge in the album’s heavy and brash sound, the songs are thematically distinct. Oasis’s confidence and optimism in songs like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Live Forever” provide a stark contrast to the sullen attitude in songs like Nirvana’s “Sappy” and “I Hate Myself and Want to Die.”

Definitely Maybe was wildly successful in the UK, shooting to the top charts on its release and eventually being certified eight times platinum. Though less commercially successful in the US, the album did establish a foundation for later success. Throughout the album, Oasis croons about making a lot of money and being unbelievably famous with a delusional confidence characteristic to the Gallagher brothers. The lyrics are pedestrian and almost gibberish at some points. “I’m feeling supersonic/ someone give me a gin and tonic,” they sing in “Supersonic.” Despite these almost comically banal lyrics, there’s something about their earnestness that makes you root for frontmen Liam and Noel Gallagher, two weird working class guys from Manchester who really just want to be famous.

The album lays the groundwork to Oasis’s future work. This arrogance and thirst for fame is addressed throughout their discography. Definitely Maybe exists as Oasis: uncut. What’s the Story Morning Glory, though a more successful album commercially (i.e. “Wonderwall”), is merely a watered-down recycled version of Definitely Maybe. Though Oasis broke up in 2009 due to a longstanding and almost mythological pride-and-alcohol-fueled feud between the Gallagher siblings, their legacy remains. The album is a pinnacle representation of a band that is worth far more than popular perception of “Wonderwall.” People love to hate Oasis, but who hasn’t yelled the lyrics to “Wonderwall” at some point.

My Track Pick:  “Rock ‘n” Roll Star”

Header image by Cody Corrall