1994: A Pretty Good Year

Yesterday was one of those days where I felt like I did next to nothing but grade.  Freshmen midterms, upper-class midterms.  Midterms galore, and avalanches of blue books.  I also proofed a senior thesis.

Enough, Birzer!  Don’t bore the readers into madness. . . .

As I was calling it a day, a song from Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy came into my mind.  I have no idea why.  Sometimes, these things just happen.  And, the thought of the song led me to ask, when did that album come out.  As I looked it up, I realized how quickly 20 years had gone by.  I’m a historian, and I study memory, time, eternity.  But, this hit me.  “Last Exit” was 20 years old.  So, I did a quick search.  What else came out that year.  And, I came up quickly with this list of music that meant something to me (and still does) that came out that year.

Under the pink

Tori Amos, Under the Pink.  One of my favorite albums of all time.  So deadly in its perceptiveness of life.  So gloomy, so bouncy, so Tori.  “A pretty good year. . . .


Phish, Hoist.  I had the great privilege of meeting all of the guys of Phish in the spring of 1990.  They were the featured band at a campus event.  Amazingly, only about 20 of us came to watch them.  I was mesmerized.  These guys are a lot like Dave Matthews in terms of genre, but Phish is Monty Python to Matthew’s John Hughes.  Even after two decades, the lyrics of Hoist crack me up.  The music hasn’t stood up all that well.  But, still good.  The best song is the concluding “Demand.”


Dead Can Dance, Toward the Within.  Seriously weird and gorgeous all at once.  In particular, “I Can See Now” and “American Dreaming” are two fantastic songs.


Dave Matthews Band, Under the Table and Dreaming.  When this album first appeared, I was rather blown away.  This struck me as a proper pop album.  Matthews has a good voice, and his lyrics can be quite infectious.  It doesn’t mean that much to me anymore, and I’m not sure I would do much to seek the album out.  But, still, “typical situation” remains a fine song.  Indeed, it’s one of the best of that decade.


Marillion, Brave.  Another mind boggler.  I’ve written quite a bit about Brave elsewhere, and I plan to do so again.  But, sheesh, nothing captured the zeitgeist of the post-Cold War world more than this album did.  It could also be counted as one of the two of three albums that ushered in the third wave of prog.  Those bastards will find us another one!


Love Spit Love, self titled.   I always liked the P-Furs, and this band was a worthy successor.  Sadly, I think almost everyone in the music business forgot this album even existed.  But, I’ve never stopped listening to it–even after two decades.  Butler has a voice that one either loves or hates.  I, for one, love it.  Though I risk a tongue lashing from Eric Perry, I regard this as one of the great rock-pop albums of the last fifty years.  Hooks, pauses, pounding drums, pauses, plaintive lyrics, wacky psychedelic keyboards, pauses, carnival-esque sound scapes, and still more pauses.  Phew. . . this is a masterful pop album.  Every single song is a wonder, but none more so than “Green” and  “St. Mary’s Gate.”  If these songs doesn’t bring a tear to your eye. . . nothing will.  If I had to compare this album to Amos’s Under the Pink and choose one over the other, I’m not sure I could.  When I feel imaginative and want to walk over grassy hills, I listen to Love Spit Love.  When I’m angry and feeling a bit like forcing some social justice down someone’s throat, I listen to Tori Amos.  In the end, though, I’d pick this one over Under the Pink.

So, in sum: 1994 was, as Tori Amos proclaimed, a pretty good year.

But, then, I thought of 1984.  Holy Schnikees.  More than pretty good, it was given to us on a silver salver.  But, that’s for another post.