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.
As Chandler Bing would say, could the introduction of US sitcom Friends to TV screens be any more important? The show captured the optimism and aspirations of twentysomething urbanites everywhere, changing the TV landscape forever.
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.
After three centuries of white rule, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president on May 10, 1994. “Never, never again will this beautiful land experience the oppression of one by another,” said Mandela upon his inauguration.
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.
Frank Darabont’s 1994 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption gave the ’90s arguably its most enduring film. Starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, the tale of a banker wrongly incarcerated for murder struck a chord with moviegoers, winning multiple awards.
On March 31, 1994, Madonna was invited onto the Late Show with David Letterman. Fourteen uses of the word “fuck” and several attempts to make the host smell her underwear later, the pop star left the show’s Manhattan set to uproar from censors and watchdogs.
Those notorious rock trailblazers Aerosmith became the first major band to give away a song for free online, via CompuServe. Over 10,000 subscribers downloaded the song ‘Head First’, which originally featured as the b-side to ‘Cryin’.
An estimated 350,000 showed up at Woodstock ’94 in upstate New York, held to celebrate 25 years since the original festival. Nine Inch Nails, Bob Dylan and Red Hot Chili Peppers all played and Green Day notoriously started an out of control mud fight with the crowd.
The Lion King hit cinema screens in 1994. With songs from Elton John, a hyena voiced by Whoopi Goldberg and the tear-jerking death of Mufasa, it was understandably one of the most successful Disney films of all-time. Hakuna matata, right?
Wet Wet Wet and their equally drippy cover of The Troggs’ 1967 track ‘Love Is All Around’ topped the UK singles chart for a whopping 15 weeks, after it was featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Marti Pellow has been a marked man ever since.
In one of the weirdest weddings of the decade, Michael Jackson got hitched to Elvis’ only child, Lisa Marie Presley. They divorced in 1996 and sadly didn’t have any kids together, thus depriving the world of the ultimate pop star.
Forrest Gump was released in 1994, turning Tom Hanks into one of the biggest names in the movies and making everyone else quote the ‘life is like a box of chocolates line’ until you were ready to hit them over the head with a box of Milk Tray.
1994 has the dubious honour of heralding the advent of nu-metal, being the year in which its stately fathers, Korn, released their self-titled debut LP. Blame them for every angry man with shit hair and a screechy voice from this moment onwards.
In the same year that TLC released the seminal ‘CrazySexyCool’, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes of the band set fire to her boyfriend Andre Rison’s tennis shoes. The fire spread throughout the mansion they shared, burning it to the ground. Oops.
The internet got real in 1994, with the founding of both Yahoo and Amazon. Not only could you chat to strangers thousands of miles way, but buying books would never be the same again.
Bernard Butler left Suede in July, following the fractious album sessions for ‘Dog Man Star’, which was one of the year’s best. He later confessed that the move was a “stupid mistake”.
The Playstation was launched at the tail end of 1994, thus giving people the world over an excuse to stay in on a Saturday night working on their repetitive strain injury.
Less successful was the Sega Saturn, the early favourite for next generation console superiority following the popular Mega Drive. Despite popularity in Japan, Sega’s machine couldn’t compete with Sony’s Playstation and eventually dropped out of production.
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.