10 Best albums that shaped music in 1994

10 Best albums that shaped music in 1994

4 min read

1994 was a huge year for music, with the release of seminal records in a variety of genres, from grunge and punk rock to hip-hop and dance. Here are some of the albums that shaped music 30 years ago

1. Green Day, Dookie

green day
Three young misfits from Northern California unleashed an album that ignited the mid-Nineties pop punk explosion in 1994, with a mix of buzzsaw guitars, infectious choruses and songs about boredom and anxiety.
"Having sold over 20 million copies worldwide, Dookie is the best-selling punk album ever"
The band’s third album (and major label debut) was powered by energetic hits like “Basket Case”, “Welcome to Paradise” and “Longview”—songs that stand the test of time and sound as exhilarating and downright fun today as 30 years ago. Green Day have had other massive albums since (such as 2004’s American Idiot), but Dookie is still their definitive record, having sold well over 20 million copies worldwide and making it the most successful punk album ever.

2. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York

Released nearly seven months after the tragic death of frontman Kurt Cobain earlier in 1994, this live album made a fitting and moving tribute to the much-missed icon.
"Released after the tragic death of Kurt Cobain, this live album made a fitting, moving tribute"
The candle-lit and mostly acoustic performance was recorded in November 1993 and included passionate renditions of “All Apologies” and “Something in the Way”, as well as covers like Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World”. A majestic and, at times, eerie live album that debuted at No.1 in the UK Albums Chart and marked the end of a life, band and (some would argue) genre.

3. Oasis, Definitely Maybe

The debut studio album from Manchester’s Gallagher brothers and co, Definitely Maybe shot straight to No.1 in the UK Albums Chart, off the back of swaggering singles like “Supersonic” and “Live Forever”. It quickly became the fastest-selling debut album in British music history at the time. Their songs were everywhere.
A landmark album both for the band and a cornerstone of the Britpop sound, it also saw Liam and Noel living up to their “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” opening song. It would lead to the “Battle of Britpop” against southerners Blur the following year, before the fight became between the brothers themselves.

4. Weezer, Weezer (aka The Blue Album)

Nerdier than the pop punk, grunge and Britpop bands who enjoyed success in 1994, the catchy power pop and quirky lyrics of frontman Rivers Cuomo (not to mention the production of Ric Ocasek of The Cars) made Weezer’s debut Blue Album a hit.
Songs such as “Say It Ain’t So” and “Undone—The Sweater Song” were (and still are) huge sing-alongs, while the upbeat “Buddy Holly” even had its music video included as a bonus media file in Microsoft’s successful release of the operating system Windows 95 (how I discovered them!), leading to massive exposure. Pop rock at its best.

5. Soundgarden, Superunknown

The best grunge band except for Nirvana (don’t come for me, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains fans!), Soundgarden’s fourth full-length was a songwriting masterclass and a strong follow-up to 1991’s arguably equally impressive Badmotorfinger.
Showing some more diversity, the album peaked at No.4 in the UK Albums Chart thanks to Chris Cornell’s impressive vocals and soaring anthems like “Black Hole Sun” (the perfect soundtrack to the recent solar eclipse!), “Spoonman” and “Fell on Black Days”. A definitive grunge album released only a month before Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s death.

6. Nas, Illmatic

Arguably one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time, this debut soundtracks both the mid-Nineties urban decay of New York and the energy of the hip-hop scene, Nas was on top of his game in 1994, even if that success wasn’t as worldwide initially as it should have been.
"Illmatic re-established East Coast hip-hop's dominance, alongside the Notorious B.I.G's Ready to Die"
The fast flow and incredible samples of stand outs such as “N.Y. State of Mind”, “Life’s a B***h” and “The World is Yours” are vibrant and nuanced, re-establishing the dominance of East Coast hip-hop, alongside the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die (also released in 1994). Truly the kings of New York.

7. The Offspring, Smash

Not as vocal a rivalry as Oasis and Blur in Britpop, Californian pop punks The Offspring and Green Day both had huge success in 1994. The Offspring’s third full-length Smash lived up to its name and would go on to become the best-selling album released by an independent record label (Epitaph Records) of all-time.
Hit singles such as “Come Out and Play”, “Self Esteem” and “Gotta Get Away” rocketed The Offspring to global success and, alongside Green Day, helped usher in the popularity of a new wave of energetic punk rock in the mid-Nineties.

8. The Prodigy, Music for a Jilted Generation

Rave culture was huge in the UK back in the Eighties, but the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 made them illegal, leading to The Prodigy’s response in this second album (especially the song “Their Law”).
"Defiant and relentless, it laid the groundwork for them to get even bigger with 1997's The Fat of the Land"
With elements of rave, breakbeat, techno and hardcore, this was a dance album that broke through to the mainstream (topping the UK Albums Chart), with massive singles like “One Love”, “No Good (Start the Dance)”, “Voodoo People” and “Poison”. Defiant and relentless, it laid the groundwork for The Prodigy to get even bigger with 1997’s The Fat of the Land, after Keith Flint went from dancer to vocalist in 1996.

9. Blur, Parklife

Helped by four hit singles—“Girls & Boys”, “End of a Century”, “Parklife” and “To the End”, Blur became Britpop titans with this hugely successful album, alongside their future rivals Oasis.
Damon Albarn and co showed more songwriting prowess and a sense of fun throughout, these songs are still etched into the collective memory of mid-Nineties UK music for good reason. Infectious and witty pop songs that are big sing-alongs, 30 years on.

10. Hole, Live Through This

Frontwoman Courtney Love lost her husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, just a week before this sophomore studio album from her band Hole, and its title took on a strange new meaning. However, with its themes of beauty, motherhood and violence against women, there was already a lot of weight to this record.
Love and co balance raw power and shimmering melody perfectly on the likes of opener “Violet” and “Doll Parts”. A collision of alt-rock, grunge and punk rock, the album’s success reflected the triumph and tragedy in the stunning, seminal year of music that was 1994. 

Honourable mentions

The Beastie Boys, Ill Communication
Manic Street Preachers, The Holy Bible
Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral
R.E.M., Monster
Jeff Buckley, Grace
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter