OK, so Nirvana has hit and the narrative is everything has changed. I guarantee y’all if we look at the Billboard year end chart for 1992 it’s nothing but flannel! Surely there wasn’t a completely different scene the conventional narrative missed. Like wouldn’t it be horrible if there was a scene completely written out because critics are very racist even if it dominated 1992?
:checks the list:
OK let’s really admit the R&B scene gets written out as does the soon to run the culture rap scene. And that’s weird because the rise of rap and r&b isn’t a blip that will just end. It’s never going to stop in fact. I think it gets written out though because sadly, people writing these pieces didn’t listen to it. And I fear that includes me. I was being hit with two barrels of country and hard rock. That was my world and that’s my list. But that’s unfair. So as I go forward, realize there is some really great work in that field. Not you Baby Got Back. But others. Others I’m actually going to cover on this list.
I start this list by getting right to the point. My parents separated in 1992. A lot of the music I heard this year came through my mom’s boyfriend. He was a very different man from the people I knew. He was rough around the edges, loud, intense. Also kind and funny. He died last year. I hadn’t seen him in many years. But I remember him fondly. This is for you, Bob.
10 Megadeth- Symphony of Destruction. Look, I’m no great metal head. Think of how much Metallica isn’t on this list and I think they’re solid. But I’m putting this wonderfully silly song on because it gets at the things about the genre I like. It’s pure goofy over the top absurdity. It’s angry and aggressive but it’s a joke. The song is nothing but apocalyptic imagery framed by a wink. It’s fun and it conjures happy memories.
I want to really underline that 1992 was probably a weirder year than 1991. You had these two incredibly different movements going on with grunge and rap. You also had groups that shone in the 80s like U2 and Genesis figuring out who they’d be. It’s sort of hard to grasp what pop culture was in 1992. But one thing is for sure. Good bubblegum always works.
9 Shanice- I Like Your Smile. This was a massive hit in 1992 and I think it honestly might be one of the best examples of what the culture was. It’s bubbly, fun, and light in a way that feels timeless. It’s just such an old fashioned bit of bliss. It feels like that very lightness may actually be why it’s less known in the mainstream now, though if you want to see a very impressive career, look Shanice’s Wikipedia entry up. She’s a real talent who’s worked nonstop. Good. This song is immortal.
OK, time for me to get on a high horse. I’m sick of how constipated American sexuality is. Our movies ae downright sexless. We mock books that bring it up. Streaming might be the last haven. We’re scared of sexuality breaking into the mainstream. And I’m mad because there was a time it wasn’t like this. Porno theaters advertised in the newspaper! In 1992, the 6th biggest film of the year, bigger than Aladdin, was Basic Instinct. I celebrate good old fashioned horniness.
8 Sophie B. Hawkins- Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover. Like I said when I discussed Sexual Healing, I like my sex songs to make sex sound fun. This is a perfect example. This song makes sex sound like the greatest feeling on the planet. As it should since it’s about a woman wishing she could free another from an abusive relationship and instead give her a loving intimate relationship. This feels shocking now because it’s still not something you hear. But everything about it sounds so very good. This is a song to live in.
So Nirvana’s big follow up to Smells Like Teen Spirit was Come As You Are, a rather sizable hit that underlined they were not going to be one hit wonders. And…I despise it. Like I hate it so much I kind of hated SLTS a bit more for it and didn’t reassess it until later. It’s a dreary droning song that’s just unpleasant and ugly. But I’m not anti-Nirvana. I did reassess their first hit. And I love the hell out of this song,
7 Nirvana- Lithium. Yeah, religion as a drug is an old joke but it’s really important to stress Kurt Cobain was really damn good at telling jokes. Lithium is just a darkly funny joke. That Cobain of course had actual very horrifying drug issues makes him talking about switching out drugs for god a bit uncomfortable but it’s some utterly brilliant writing. To listen to this is to really get why Cobain, who I’m sad to say I only learned was their guitarist doing research for this song, and the band had a following. Credit due to Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl for doing god tier work here. They had an anthem. Songs like this gave them a career.
Why is one song a hit and the other isn’t? Just Like Heaven by The Cure is hardly unknown but it didn’t make the year end 100. The next song did. Probably just release patterns. I don’t get it. Anyway, this song is great.
6 The Cure- Friday I’m In Love. For someone known for sad, gloomy music, Robert Smith sure did make a lot of joyous songs. Yeah I said that last time. That’s the thing. This is basically the same song as Just Like Heaven. That can be a bad thing. But this is the same song like how Bruno Mars does pastiches. It’s everything the band does right. It’s a joyous song in a moment that was high on those. It doesn’t hurt that it has a relatable image at its core. Who doesn’t love time with the one they love? Pure light.
God I hate most of the socially conscious music of the 80s. Unless you were Genesis or Genesis linked. I really hated your work. I can’t hate on U2 enough on this front. I think it’s because it wasn’t fun music. Pride (In the Name of Love) is just the most self righteous bullshit. A white pop band talking about the Civil Rights movement and being vague is awful. Is there any way to make talking about prejudice awesome? Yeah.
5 En Vogue- Free Your Mind. Here we go. A song bluntly about prejudice to the point you can’t possibly miss it and it kills. This thing fires you up. It does what no other cries for tolerance do and makes it not just appealing but outright sexy. Opening your mind to new experiences sounds so good here. I love too that this song is an incredible rock song slammed into the sound En Vogue were best at. Nothing about this song is off. If you put the big trends of the year together, it’s this.
I really thought there would be more country on this specific list. I figured there would be this much grunge. But there’s only one country song. And look, the only country song I listened to was Achy Breaky Heart in 1992. That was really the one I liked. But it wasn’t the only one I’ve heard in retrospect. I’ve heard a lot. So I have a nice selection to choose from. I picked what I think was the best in the genre that year.
4 Billy Ray Cyrus- Achy Breaky Heart. I put Billy Ray Cyrus over Nirvana in 1992. Wow. But yeah I love this song. That’s not nostalgia either. I’ve been blasting it in my car recently and it’s still great. I think that’s because Billy Ray might’ve been a modern hunk but the song is old school country. It’s a great old fashioned joke about toxic masculinity and how it’s all bs. Fundamentally any amount of violence beats admitting grief. That’s a joke that works. Cyrus sells the hell out of it. The song has only gained strength simply by being silly. Awesome.
I haven’t grown up in an abusive household. My mother inspired this project. Both her and my dad are always supporting me. I love them. But I am lucky. My friends are not. I’ve come to know the language. And it’s all in this.
3 Genesis- No Son of Mine. The final visit by Genesis to this list is their best song. This hurts. This is a song about growing up with an abusive parent that can’t be forgiven. The song stares into the abyss here. Each verse is about trying to make peace and the impossibility of it. There’s no redemption. There’s no peace. Abusive people can’t be reasoned with. The song is profoundly dark sonically. And Phil Collins is so incredible here. He hurts to hear here. This is agonizing. But this song is so genius. It’s hard to listen to. Still art.
What counts as a debut? If we go by the official list, Stone Temple Pilots began with the all-time classic Sex Type Thing in January 1993. It’s a great debut for the band. It’s everything they were associated with it fits their story. But there’s an asterisk. The band had a promo single in 1992. It wasn’t an official single. It was sent to radio stations. It’s a fan favorite with airplay enough to qualify. Does it count? I think so.
2 Stone Temple Pilots- Wicked Garden. This is on the list because it’s just that good. It was the band already at full form. And it highlights what set them apart. If Nirvana was about depression, Soundgarden the soulful edge, and Pearl Jam the social consciousness of grunge then STP was a reminder horny aggressive preening didn’t die with hair metal. Scott Weiland gave any of the hair gods a challenge with this hypersexual song about kicking morality to the curb. And it rocks so damned hard. As with Free Your Mind, the idea sold just plain sounds fantastic. This is a kick ass celebration of being all in on the id that can’t help but make you grin. This is their debut and it set a tone.
Ok so obviously I vibe with Grunge. I’m not going to shock anyone with my top pick as a result. But back to that drive in October 1992. The one where Man in the Box scarred me. There was a wildly careening rock song I heard that morning that also makes this list. A sonically wild track that feels like a panic attack in audio. No question it had to make the list. No question it had to top it.
1 Pearl Jam- Even Flow. It was only ever going to be Even Flow. Go listen to it now if you’ve forgotten what an utter masterpiece of rock it is. This is a song that is perfect. Eddie Vedder’s vocals? Spot on. Mike McCready and cowriter Stone Gossard’s lightning guitar work? Fantastic. But what makes it really stand out are the lyrics. This is an ugly bleak song about homelessness that makes hollow work on the matter look horrible. Vedder means this issue. He would constantly mean what he discussed. And that makes this a short story in song form. It’s so catchy you have to blast it. But after you keep blasting it you keep thinking about it. It’s what the first half of the 90s sounds like. The best song of the Grunge era which was itself no slouch.
Next: Things stay weird in 1993