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Summer '94: Where Were You, And What Were You Listening To?

Tuesday, July 01, 2014 - 10:00 AM

Some of us are still trying to figure out how Spike Jonze made Weezer's 'Happy Days' video for 'Buddy Holly.' Some of us are still trying to figure out how Spike Jonze made Weezer's 'Happy Days' video for "Buddy Holly."

All this month, Soundcheck is going to be looking and listening back 20 years, to the summer of 1994. It was a time that saw the release of movies like The Lion King, Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump; the steamy chart battle between All 4 One's "I Swear," and Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love To You"; and the debut of rappers Notorious B.I.G. and Nas. That summer, Weezer sang about looking like "Buddy Holly," and the Beastie Boys dressed up as '70s cops in their iconic "Sabotage" video. And Monica, Rachel, Chandler and the rest of the oversized coffee-sipping gang became Friends. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

We all have our favorite cultural touchtones of that time, and, below, members of the Soundcheck team reflect on where they were that summer, and what they were listening to. 

We also want to hear from you: Where were you in the summer of 1994, and what were you listening to? Call us up and tell us on our listener line, at 866.939.1612. Or, reach out to us on Twitter at @Soundcheck, email us -- or leave a comment below.

The summer of 1994 was a time of transition for me. I was still 12 (going on 13) and heading to middle school, with all that entails -- making new friends and losing old ones, bullying, puberty, girls. That summer was when I began to experiment, push my boundaries, and really try everything I could think of to seem unique and cool, while also sorta hiding from the spotlight. And like every other angsty, hormone-riddled aspiring skater kid (my parents wouldn’t let me skateboard because I didn’t have a helmet!), that was when I started to define myself by what bands I listened to.

And wow, what a great time for music. Nirvana may have left us, but in its wake brought us Beck’s Mellow Gold, Soundgarden's Superunknown, Green Day’s Dookie, Weezer’s Blue Album, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, Hole’s Live Through This, and on and on. Granted, I was also listening to bands like Bush and Live and Sponge, so I wasn’t doing it completely right (Don't judge me!). Still, my CD collection grew exponentially that year, before I even owned my own CD player -- thanks to a notepad I kept near the radio so that when a song came on 105.9 The Lazer -- the amazing Lawrence, Kansas station -- I’d jot it down, and then later go buy it at the mall.

I’m convinced that age is just such a f---ed up and emotionally difficult experience for everyone, so whatever music speaks to your point of view affixes itself to your DNA forever. So yeah, if I pick the right scab, or put on the right album, 1994 stirs up a lot memories that still linger. But it’s also where this crazy music obsession of mine first began. (Michael Katzif, Digital Producer)

I was 11. Most of my musical “experiences” at that age occurred at night (like the best ones always do), but obviously not at night clubs, or in theaters, but in bed. I would go to sleep with a red Walkman under my pillow, fingering the tuning wheel all night. For some reason the oldies station in Grand Rapids, Mich., had a thing for Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes Of The Broken-Hearted?” Why that would appeal to someone in fourth grade, I don’t know, but that song stuck with me, and now I’m the walking, talking answer to the question “What Becomes Of Those Who Listen To Oldies Radio At Puberty?”

A delinquent friend had gotten his hands on Dookie. It took me two years to “get” it. And even if I had caught on sooner, I knew enough at that tender age that One Does Not Listen To Power Punk And Expect To Sleep Soundly. Likewise, it was years before I found my way to Blur and Oasis and all the legitimately awesome or important things that were happening in 1994. The family took a trip to Niagara that summer and all the shops on the Canadian side had t-shirts with Kurt Cobain’s face screen printed on them. I didn’t have a clue who this guy was or why he was considered a saint.

The annals of music history tell me that “The Sign” was THE song of 1994, but for some reason I have next to no recollection of its ubiquity. Far more omnipresent was that damn Elton John song from The Lion King, which, if you stayed at the public swimming pool by my grandmother’s house in rural Minnesota for long enough, you’d hear at least three times in an afternoon. And if we (my sister and I) were sick of that by the fall, then this song (which is actually a ’93 release but just refused to go away) would just send us into paroxysms if played in any public place by the end of the summer.

Rounding out what was unquestionably a weird music season was Melissa Etheridge’s “Come To My Window.” When that came on the Walkman at night, it was time to hurl the thing under the bed, because some creepy lyrics just don’t deserve a second thought. (Dan O'Donnell, Associate Producer)

In June of 1994, my family -- comprised of two youngish children and two teachers -- made our annual post-school year journey to Cape Cod, as we did every summer when I was young. I was seven, and had just completed the second grade. Most of my memories from those yearly trips to the Cape blur together in a jumble of Rocket Pops, sand castles, seashell collections and slamming screen doors. But that summer in particular stands out to me, because my father had, at the exact moment that our vacation was supposed to begin, thrown out his back -- which, in some families, might result in the cancellation of an eight hour car trip.

Instead, Dad positioned himself facedown over a cooler in the back of the mini-van while Mom drove and played DJ, popping in cassette tapes of James Taylor's Live album and Bonnie Raitt's Luck Of The Draw, interspersed with kiddie albums and Ace of Base-filled pop radio; us kids occasionally glancing back at my dad’s grimacing face while trying to ignore his moans every time we hit a pothole. He spent most of that vacation lying prone in my parents’ queen sized bed, watching the seemingly endless coverage of the OJ Simpson car chase. (Katie Bishop, Associate Producer)

I wish I could write about how awesome that free Fugazi show was at Fort Reno, several blocks my home in Washington D.C., but alas, at that time I had just turned 1 and my parents wouldn't have taken me, especially if they knew who was playing. Honestly, I wouldn't have enjoyed it then anyway. The outdoor venue, which happens to sit on the highest point in the district, has since remained a weekly destination for music lovers of all ages, due its consistently free and local summer programming -- that certainly jived well with Ian MacKaye. (Micah Loewinger, Intern)

The summer of 1994 is when Jeff Buckley issued his only full studio album, Grace. By that point Buckley had picked up a small but ardent group of fans through his live shows and an EP, also recorded live.  I’d become a fan two years earlier, when Buckley appeared as an unplanned guest with the guitarist Gary Lucas on one of my New Sounds Live concerts at Merkin Hall. But Grace was when the wider world first had a chance to hear Buckley’s singular, evocative voice.

Strangely, his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” now the most famous track on the album, didn’t leap out at me; It was the two Gary Lucas songs, “Mojo Pin” and the brilliant title track, that made the first strong impressions. Of course the album took on a kind of mythic importance when, less than three years later, Buckley drowned at the age of 30 without having finished his planned follow-up album. But in the summer of ’94, Grace seemed like a bright beginning for a new star. (John Schaefer, host)


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Comments [11]

Semi from NYC

Can we all agree that the music that came out of the mainstream radio in the 90s was sub-par. Personally, I never found my footing in the mainstream music...From Spears to the Grunge to the Boy/Girl bands and so on.
I don't see how that music can hold up.
Sounds so very very commercialized.

Jul. 14 2014 12:29 PM
clayton fry from NYC


Jul. 10 2014 09:05 PM
mr nyc

I actually wrote a whole blog post about this six years ago.

Jul. 10 2014 01:03 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

I was going into my senior year of high school in the summer of 94. So much of the music that defines my teen music life comes out of that year and summer. I would just be repeating all your other listeners if I listed what was on my "Summer '94" mix tape. Donal Logue's Jimmy the Cab Driver promo spots on MTV are a fond memory. His confusion over the Beastie Boys Sabotage video is a classic.

I'm loving this series. Keep it up.

Jul. 08 2014 10:27 AM
andrew from chinatown - sunset park, usa

greetings SOUNDCHECK -

twenty years ago, i had just graduated from college + was playing in a rather noisy + obscure indie rock three-piece. the band migrated that summer from western massachusetts to the south-eastern, music-centric town of athens, ga..

as a band, we shared similar interests in highly-idiosyncratic underground music. i can recall the summer of 1994 as the summer of listening to a lot of UNWOUND, POLVO, PITCHBLENDE, TORTOISE, THE GIRFTERS, SMOG, NEW RADIANT STORM KING, CANDY MACHINE, FRANCES GUMM + CODEINE.

even though we took our soundtrack w/ us (dozens + dozens of cds, records + cassettes) the context changed as we discovered regionalisms of all sorts. mostly, i remember the white light of new england + the background landscape of blue, grey + brown giving way to a yellower sun + the soft, green undulant kudzu-covered hills, baptist churches + a proliferation of hand-painted signs.



Jul. 07 2014 09:47 PM
bill from brooklyn

We fancied ourselves "too cool" to listen to the mediocre mainstream punk and grunge that hit the radio airwaves that year (pearl jam, soundgarden, green day, etc) My favorite records were from bands I went and saw at CBGB's, Come (Don't Ask, Don't Tell), Drive Like Jehu (Yank Crime), Mule (If I Don't Six) and one band that did make it to MTV, Jawbox (For Your Own Special Sweetheart).

Jul. 06 2014 11:37 AM
tom LI

33 yo, out on my first real self-employment adventure, head over heels in love, running marathons, listening to Soundgarden, Pearl jam, Nirvana, STP, Alice in Chains, NIN, Metallica, my old buds Aerosmith were making a come back! etc. Concerts, concerts and more concerts, but missed Woodstock '94, remember it was really hot here on Long Island that weekend and going in and out of the AC'd house to watch some of it on TV.

Good times, good times. Can I go back? At least Rock music was still good. and IMO would jump the shark by 95-96 and never come back. Once macys began selling frayed flannel shirts with no sleeves the end was neigh.

Jul. 04 2014 03:14 PM
Kim W. from New York, NY

I was 24, and kicked off the summer by breaking up with someone I'd been involved with for 5 years (and probably should not have been dating at ALL). So that was The Summer Of Breakup Recovery.

Which meant I had Alanis Morrisette's "You Oughta Know" and Tori Amos' "God" on heavy repeat, as well as digging out my two-year-old copy of Peter Gabriel's "Us" - an album which I think should just be ISSUED to everyone going through a breakup.

Jul. 03 2014 09:00 AM
Sean from miami

Broward county, Florida. Summer before Junior year in High School.

That summer I went to Lollapalooza in Miami and i specifically remember "All Apologies" being played on the PA system between bands. and it sounded like everyone was singing along as a lament to Kurt. as Nirvana was supposed to possibly headline the tour that summer,

That year i listened to a lot of the Breeders' Last Splash, In Utero, Siamese Dream, Sonic youth's Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star, Beastie's Ill Communication, NIN's Downward Spiral

Seems like summer '94 is right before commercial radio went "bad" again with the likes of bands like Bush., Live getting too much airplay and ruining the underground /alternative scene, if you can call it that.

Jul. 01 2014 04:02 PM
T from Vancouver

Sonic Youth, Portishead, Hole, Nine Inch Nails, Tori Amos, Massive Attack, Kristen Hersh, Ben Harper, to name a few. There were also a lot of great shows by Vancouver bands. Oh, and Michah, it's jibed - not jived.

Jul. 01 2014 02:29 PM
geb Zurburg from fair lawn, nj

Sophomore year in high school:

heavy rotation of pearl jam, 311, bad religion, tribe called quest, phish, nirvana,

Jul. 01 2014 01:34 PM

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