Twenty years since 'Generation Terrorists'. A cool two decades since the first RATM album. The more the anniversaries rack up, the more I'm convinced that 1992 deserves a shout out as arguably the best year in music. Ever.
At first it sounds a crazy claim. The Beatles didn't put anything out that year, for a start. No scenes on a level with punk, flower power, acid house or, um, New Rave broke in '92. At first glance, you'd think it a cultural wasteland. C86 and The Smiths were long gone and the last crack sizzles of Madchester were fizzling out, leaving behind legions of ravey grotbags like EMF and Jesus Jones, so many hot cinders scorching the nasal hair of pop culture. Pixies were imploding, The Stone Roses absconding. 1991 saw 'Screamadalica' put a resounding full stop on rave and 'Loveless' stamp out shoegazing. UK music was winding itself up, grunge was just gathering steam, the indie chart (there used to be one of those, y'know) was stuffed full of hardy fraggle survivors – Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, Mega City Four, Kingmaker. James. The Wonder Stuff.
Put yourself back there, on the ground, though, and 1992 was a mighty time to be discovering music. ‘91’s monolithic albums were hitting the road – the Primals brought 'Screamadelica' to Glastonbury, Nirvana played their legendary Reading show and My Bloody Valentine brought their orgasmic holochords to the incredible 'Rollercoaster' tour alongside Blur, Dinosaur Jnr and a freshly evil-again The Jesus & Mary Chain. 1992's live music scene was a wonderland of nefarious noise and psychotropic boggles, the festival season a young hedonist’s paradise. Whatever eczema medication and tufts of artificial turf you might have scored off the dodgy Scallies on the bridges of Glastonbury that year, they'd sure as fuck have made Spiritualized’s 'Laser Guided Melodies' sound like Venus melting.
As the year progressed, 1992 turned out to be one of the most inventive and unpredictable feet-finding years in rock, as if music was full of excitement and possibility, laying out a vast banquet of cults. US post-grunge got sophisticated (Pavement’s 'Slanted & Enchanted', Sonic Youth’s 'Dirty', Sugar’s 'Copper Blue', Buffalo Tom’s 'Let Me Come Over', The Lemonheads’ 'It’s A Shame About Ray'). Old names turned out career landmarks (The Cure’s 'Wish', JAMC’s 'Honey’s Dead', Morrissey’s 'Your Arsenal', REM’s 'Automatic For The People'), and UK music was flooding me with fantastic new options.
You could go with the flow of such post-'Loveless' sonic scree-mongers as Spiritualized and The Boo Radleys. You could carve ‘ALIENATION FLAG SCUM SUICIDE BARCLAYS’ across your nipples with a compass and join the Manics’ self-harmy army. You could let Radiohead’s 'Creep' convince you a UK grunge explosion was coming, or abandon Albion altogether and lose yourself in the cerebral hip-hop of 'Television, The Drug Of The Nation' and 'Check Your Head'. Or you could fuck all that off for the febrile fem-punk of PJ Harvey’s 'Dry'.
Meanwhile, good old guitar-thrashing indie was taking on the legends thanks to the monthly arrival of a new single by The Wedding Present, part of their Hit Parade mission to release twelve singles in a year and match Elvis’ Top Forty chart record. The subject of much rock press sneering about indie sadboys finally understanding the pains of menstruation, for the thousands of fans snapping up every copy of their limited-run singles in minutes it actually felt like having a birthday every month. Getting hold of a copy after June usually involved country-wide dashes akin to hurricane hunting or, in the modern age, chasing a Kate Middleton sex tape around the internet trying to overtake the injunctions.
Come the spring of 1992, though, everything changed. In March Blur released a brassy blast of virile, cock-hard pop called 'Popscene', the sound of a new era trying to work out what the hell sort of era it was going to be. In May it all clicked, in the arch articulation and silvery guitars of Suede's 'The Drowners'. Then came the strip club glamour of 'Metal Mickey', Pulp’s wanking-in-the-wardrobe classic 'Babies' and The Auteurs’ stripper-marrying 'Showgirl' and indie pop had an alluring new persona; glowering, erudite, enigmatic, androgynous and not a little perverted. It was the birth of Britpop; wish you were there?
I'm a sucker for blockbuster albums – the kind that shift millions, and have documentaries made about then on VH1 decades later – and 1987 seems to have been unnaturally blessed with those kind of diamond-selling behemoths. 'Sign O The Times', 'The Joshua Tree', 'Welcome To The Jungle', 'Hysteria', 'Bad', 'Slippery When Wet'. But there was also a great flowering of alt rock - 'Strangeways, Here We Come', 'Document' and 'You're Living All Over Me' all came out that year too. Both in terms of the mainstream and the underground, to me 1987 feels like the music industry's historic maximum.
1989 was the year that Acid House took over the country. Two years after Trevor Fung and Ian St Paul introduced a handful of Brits to the music in Ibiza, it spread from small clubs to large warehouses to massive fields. After The Sun reported on a party (under the headline 'Ecstasy Airport'), its popularity peaked and each weekend thousands were dancing to tracks like Robert Owens' "Tears", 'Strings of Life' by Rhythm Is Rhythm and 'Chime' by Orbital. The music flooded the charts, people drove around in convoys looking for illegal parties, pirate stations took over the radio, everyone wore stupid clothing and for a while it seemed as though everyone loved house music. Electronic music has been synonymous with the UK ever since.
1968 begins with Johnny Cash playing a quick show down at Folsom Prison and ends with The Rolling Stones releasing my favourite record 'Beggars Banquet' and hosting their very own rock and roll circus. In between, The Beatles went to India and recorded the White Album, Led Zeppelin played their first gig together, Cream played their last gig together and Jimi Hendrix went to 'Electric Ladyland'. I wasn't around, but thank God somebody was recording it all.
Singles released in 1981:
- Soft Cell, ‘Tainted Love’
- Depeche Mode, ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’
- The Specials, ‘Ghost Town’
- Human League, ‘Don’t You Want Me?’
- Queen & David Bowie, ‘Under Pressure’
- Rolling Stones, ‘Start Me Up’
- Japan, ‘Ghosts’
- Psychedelic Furs, ‘Pretty In Pink’
- Dead Kennedys, ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’
- Grandmaster Flash, ‘Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel’
- Joan Jett, ‘I Love Rock N Roll’
- Journey, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’
- Phil Collins, ‘In The Air Tonight’
- Hall & Oates, ‘I Can’t Go For That’
- Kim Wilde, ‘Kids In America’
- Yoko Ono, ‘Walking On Thin Ice’
- Grace Jones, ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’
- Spandau Ballet, ‘Chant No 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)’
- Madness, ‘It Must Be Love’
- Heaven 17, ‘We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thing’
- Blondie, ‘Rapture’
- Kraftwerk, ‘Computer Love’
I should say a year from the best decade, the 90s. But a quick glance at the number ones of the age prove that this was the moment rock’n’roll acquiesced with the emerging brave new sounds of pop music and disco. One of the most pivotal records of all time, Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines’ had its moment in the sun, while Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ and Tubeway Army’s ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric’ topped the singles chart in the same year that Led Zep and Fleetwood Mac were still releasing chart-topping albums. It must have been awesome. I wouldn’t know, I was only a baby. For yes this was also the year I was born, which was possibly okay for music, and the best Smashing Pumpkins song was named after it.