This week’s NME steps back in time to 1994, a vintage year not just in music, but pop culture as a whole. Here’s some of the trends, TV shows and innovations that made ’94 a year to remember, beginning with the Beastie Boys’ iconic ‘Sabotage’ video – a high octane cop show pastiche that captured the trio’s humour and energy as they entered their peak.
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction hit cinemas in September 1994, proving a massive box office hit. Just as successful was its now legendary soundtrack, made up of cult cuts of surf rock and a electrifying rendition of Neil Diamond’s ‘Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon’ by Urge Overkill. By 1996, the soundtrack had sold more 2m copies.
The Britpop wars defined ’90s British alternative culture, peaking in 1994 with the release of Oasis’s ‘Definitely Maybe’ and Blur’s ‘Parklife’ – two records whose swagger captured the renewed hope of a nation emerging from a recession and entering a new political era thanks to Labour leader Tony Blair.
Recorded in late 1993 but released in ’94, ‘Unplugged in New York’ showed a hitherto unseen softer side of Nirvana – one usually obscured by guitar fuzz and throaty screams. Cover versions of The Vaselines, David Bowie and Meat Puppets tracks, as well as gentler takes on tracks like ‘Come As You Are’ made ‘Unplugged’ a stirring final release for the trio.
“Kurt Cobain’s suicide took a pivotal position in 1994, so that every other breakdown, freakout or tragedy seemed to spin darkly around it,” wrote NME’s John Mulvey at the end of that year. Found dead in his greenhouse from a shotgun blast to the head, the Nirvana man’s death was ’94 pop culture’s darkest moment.
Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys was sentenced to 200 hours of community service in 1994, for attacking a television cameraman during a funeral service for River Phoenix months earlier. The actor had collapsed and died of drug-induced heart failure on the sidewalk outside the West Hollywood nightclub The Viper Room, at the age of 23.
No legal case has quite shaken US culture like the trial of former professional football star and actor O. J. Simpson, who was arrested on two counts of murder after the June 1994 deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a waiter, Ronald Lyle Goldman. In late 1995 Simpson was declared not guilty – but the controversy surrounding the case continued to echo for years after.
The lads mag boom was kicked into touch with the launch of Loaded, edited by former NME writer James Brown, who said the mag was “dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of sex, drink, football and less serious matters”. The first issue, out in May 1994, boasted a fag-smoking Gary Oldman on the cover.
Then of course, there were all the great albums to be released in 1994. From Nas’s ‘Illmatic’ to Portishead’s ‘Dummy’, ’94 saw records that changed music forever. Read all about them in this week’s NME, out now.