Why 1992 Was the Best Musical Year of the '90s

Dr. Dre, 1993.
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Dr. Dre at the 1993 MTV Movie Awards at Sony Studios in Culver City, California.

After focusing on 1994 last week, now, we're wondering what the best year for music was of the '90s. Monday, we made a case for 1990 and 1991. Today, it's time for 1992 and 1993.


In 1992, BMG and Columbia's music subscriptions were still in full swing, providing millions of free CDs (and subsequent, hefty bills for parents when that subscription wasn't canceled immediately...) to sonically curious children and, in some cases, setting the curve for future music obsessives. The future of music could have believably arrived at my, or your, doorstep. But it didn't (at least in my case). Instead I would bike to Down In the Valley in Richfield, Minn., a now-defunct record store that smelled like various substances, to buy cassettes and kitschy toys and wallets I didn't need with chains on them that I was too small for.

Grunge had broken and famously displaced the Aqua Net-scented glam rock of the previous decade, and while “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a song from 1991, was just beginning to take off, 1992 naturally brought the imitators and weirdos. Stone Temple Pilots' first album, Core, foretold grunge's undoing, both in attitude and sound. Bob Mould's first record with Sugar, Copper Blue, introduced the world to the sound of "alternative," a genre that would bring us Fastball, Better Than Ezra, Marcy Playground... too much. It was just too much. NOFX's White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean gave us snide pop-punk light on politics and heavy on carefree beer consumption -- hardly novel, but they totally didn't care! And we were still two years away from Green Day’s “Longview.”

Much like Nirvana's Nevermind the year before, Rage Against the Machine's self-titled debut in 1992 gave jocks a brutal soundtrack with lyrics meant to be heard that they would ignore (an angle of which "Weird Al" Yankovic mocked with his '92 record Off the Deep End). Not so much with House Of Pain's self-titled debut. Sir Mix-A-Lot let us know what he thinks about big butts, a sentiment which hasn't gone anywhere in the interim. Garth Brooks channeled Michael Jackson's "Black and White" (released the year previous) with his cover for The Chase.

It wasn't all bad though! Beastie Boys' dropped Check Your Head, an album that would be inescapable for the rest of the decade. Same for Dr. Dre and The Chronic, and R.E.M. and Automatic for the People. Less so for the not-as-good but equally notable Dead Serious from Das EFX.

We received The Jesus and Mary Chain's best record, Honey's Dead, and were introduced to their sonic and titular cousins The Stone Roses on that band's record Turns Into Stone. In fact, the year was big on introductions. We also met a young woman named PJ Harvey, who released her debut Dry. We met a ginger who called himself Aphex Twin. Across the ocean from Richard D. James was a bald-headed, punk-leaning producer named Moby, who put out his self-titled record. Heads shook to Stereo MC's still-weird, still-memorable hit single "Connected," from the album of the same name.

Nostalgia is a dirty business, often rewiring the past with false assumptions about its conditions without recognizing that interesting things are happening regardless of the year or location you're in. We get ups, we get downs, and 1992 was no different.