IF I HAD TO BLAME ONE PERSON, it would be Cameron Crowe.
In the August, 1991, I entered my first year of law school, eagerly committed to devoting myself to a rigorous course of study. My goal: bagging one of those fat summer internships with one of the big firms who paid law students $1,500 a week while wining and dining them at Cubs games, thousand-dollar steak dinners and sunset cruises on Lake Michigan.
In the weeks leading up to my first day, I enrolled in the Columbia Record Club to take advantage of its famous “12 Albums for a Penny” deal. I had only recently upgraded from tapes and I was building out my CD collection with a clutch of albums that included Extreme’s Pornograffiti, Megadeth’s Rust in Peace, Squeeze’s Singles—45s and Under and a mind-blowing debut record from a band called Pearl Jam.
One spin of the Pearl Jam’s Ten pushed the other twelve albums straight off of my playlist. These new cats from Seattle mixed arena-sized classic rock grooves with brooding melodies and the captivating baritone vocals of the lead singer. Most people have volume knobs that allow them to experience their passions in small, savory doses, but instead of a volume knob, I came with a simple ON/OFF switch. When I get stuck in something, good or bad, I’m all in. Consequently, as my first year of law school began, when I should have been mastering the thorny Rule Against Perpetuities, I was obsessed with Ten.
A year later, my academic resolve sustained irreparable damage in the wake of Cameron Crowe’s exquisite love letter to Seattle, Singles, and its epic soundtrack. Convinced that Seattle was full of girls who all looked like Bridget Fonda and that bands like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam played in tiny clubs there every night of the week, I abandoned my suits in favor of cargo shorts and thrift store flannels, wondering what value my Chicago law school degree might bear in the great State of Washington. [1. I would eventually pass the Illinois State Bar Examination on the first try and practice law in Chicago for two years before unceremoniously resigning from my law career from a hotel room in Ohio, while traveling on tour with a rock band from San Diego. Another day, another story…]
By the time 1993 stomped in and shook the slush off of its shoes, I was a goner, spending several hours each night hunched over my boxy Mac LC while pumping torrents of new music into my head and blathering away on AOL’s music message boards. I devoted most of my time to spewing pompous, long-winded rants on the Pearl Jam boards; gradually I branched out into other online communities dedicated to acts like the Replacements, Uncle Tupelo and Pantera.
Only the rear view mirror of history reveals that 1993 would preside over some of modern music’s greatest triumphs as well as its most embarrassing lows.
In the pop world, slick, overproduced dance tracks from groups like Ace of Base, Roxette and Madonna enjoyed breathtaking mainstream success, while old dogs like Boy George, Duran Duran and Tina Turner navigated respectable turns at staying current while avoiding the unseemly appearance of pandering.
Conversely, mainstay rock acts like Aerosmith and Bon Jovi sawed off any lingering attachments to their old school rock ethos, gleefully cashing in with saccharine power ballads, big budget videos and a Machiavellian urge to stay relevant with teenagers, even as their original fan bases trudged into middle age.
UB40 continued to attract critical derision with a jaunty Elvis reggae cover (“Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”) that nonetheless sold millions of copies worldwide, while Meatloaf conquered Britain with modern music’s most maddening non sequitur, “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” which grabbed the UK’s Number One song of 1993—no small feat considering that the song’s radio edit was nearly eight minutes long.
It was also the year that grunge sounded its magnificent swan song with two iconic releases from Nirvana (In Utero and Nirvana Unplugged in New York), Pearl Jam’s Vs. and Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream. Within a year, Kurt Cobain would be dead, the Pumpkins reeled from internal and external tensions, and Eddie Vedder would be off fighting the windmills of Ticketmaster and his own teetering celebrity.
In hip hop, the Wu-Tang Clan dropped their ferocious debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), while other hip hop legends fought to simply stay out of jail. Snoop Dog copped a murder charge (that he eventually beat), and not to be outdone, Tupac Shakur beat his own rap after being arrested for shooting a pair of off-duty cops.
Across the pond, Norway’s black metal scene, in the midst of an expansive renaissance, commandeered international headlines stemming from a rash of historical church burnings, capped off with the grisly slaying of Mayhem’s mercurial founder Euronymous at the hands of his bandmate, Varg Vikernes.
Whitney Houston beat the charts raw with the theme from The Bodyguard, “I Will Always Love You,” while Oasis landed their first record contract, ensuring a steady stream of revenue to finance their drinking, drugging and fighting, along with their occasional flashes of Lennon-inspired brilliance.
Liz Phair, Björk and Slowdive would earn the effusive praise of critics, while Bryan Adams chuckled all the way to the bank with yet another flaccid love song (“Please Forgive Me”).
In a year of wild highs and soul-flaying lows, no artist endured the fickle winds of fortune as dramatically as Michael Jackson, who began the year with a legendary halftime performance at Super Bowl XXVII and a ratings grabbing appearance on Oprah, but who stumbled through the final weeks of 1993 fending off allegations of child molestation and enduring a well-publicized strip search.
All told, 1993 left us with a trove of killer albums, annoying singles, racy music videos, band break ups, band reunions and a colorful parade of juicy, jaw-dropping scandals.
In short, it was a great year for music.
I asked my fellow editors to contribute some of their favorite songs from that year. Without any further ado, we present you this week’s Music Saturday Spotify Playlist: