As We Remember: In the Year 1995

Justin Spicer / October 2, 2012
Photo Courtesy of John Chiasson.

In the midst of the alternative revolution, 1995 has largely been relegated to secondary status as people salivate over the 90s first few years and the death rattle of the industry ushered in by manufactured pop and rock acts.

Truth is, 1995 had all of it. It was the crux of the so-called second coming of the British Invasion. Hip-Hop was firmly planted in mainstream culture, suffering no shortage of hits (and arguably the year’s biggest hit was a heavy dose of rap and pop that coalesced years of chart dalliances into mainstream credibility that continues today) with an odd mixture of torch song sincerity and real world lessons. Alternative music was still enjoying its moment in the sun, jam packing all hours of MTV’s schedule as the channel enjoyed its own renaissance.

(Coolio – “Gangsta’s Paradise”)

(Bone Thugs N Harmony – “Crossroads”)
Music Television wasn’t the only outdated motif enjoying a new life thanks to changes in consumer habits. Droves of young adults were introduced to entrenched names of an elder generation thanks to a media connecting the reverberations of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to those of Woodstock a quarter-century earlier. In fact, 1995 was fat on the carcass of the festival’s 25th Anniversary celebration (five years before the horrendous end of counter-counter-culture that was Woodstock ’99) and the wave of Yuppie nostalgia gave rise to deity status of stalwarts such as Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, who cemented their permanent ascension as cross-generational stars with surprisingly sharp, quixotic albums (Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad and Young’s Mirror Ball, recorded with the help of Pearl Jam and part of a great string of albums from Shakey during the early 90s). The Beatles received the network and major label bump of a comprehensive documentary and anthology, and Zeppelin was (re)introduced to a generation weaned on Nirvana and STP with Encomium.

(4 Non Blondes – “Misty Mountain Hop”)
Underneath it all, the industry was swallowing up any grunge castoff in an effort to strengthen their hold on the rock charts even as they began to mass produce a fashion and attitude to accompany the sea change. Yet the supposed new industry forged at the beginning of the decade found itself needing refueling in 1995, a feat that happened thanks to a long string of releases—most well within the public eye thanks to radio stations playing a heap of music in an effort to be noticed and music television original programming that needed a steady stream of music both recognizable and buzzworthy.

(Clips from MTV prank show “Buzzkill”)
Using recognizable music as product/image placement was nothing new to television but its re-emergence in the 90s came unnoticed by Generation X. Anything that got their message and their brand out in the public eye seemed like one more moral victory over mom and pop, even as corporations were integrating style and selling back to teens and parents alike. This was merely a further fueling of the transition that was looming as genre was further mangled and homogenized. Though simple to apply a cynical view of the music and entertainment world as it was presented in 1995 (and how it has shaped current trends and their mass delivery), it recreated a new and unique vehicle to discover music via commercialism that was aimed at a different audience.

(Clip from “The Real World: London” featuring MTV’s distinct original programming soundtracking habits)
1995 (as could be argued of many years) is dissectible into two distinct definitions: the albums, songs and artists that have carried on the grand tradition of selling image over substance, and the albums, songs and artists who have maintained a lasting presence on music be it through continued recording and touring or the impression left on those that now work to forge their own path in the fragmented music industry. Most years are lean on lasting impact but ignoring the lingering influence of 1995 is a mistake, even if an obvious one. All that pop culture influence should not go to waste.

Cult albums from Mike Watt (Ball-Hog or Tugboat), Hum (You’d Prefer an Astronaut) and Teenage Fanclub (Grand Prix) have just as much social cache today as albums from Better Than Ezra (Deluxe), Silverchair (Frogstomp) and the Goo Goo Dolls (A Boy Named Goo) enjoyed in the immediacy of their release. People turn to the latter albums for nostalgia while turning to the likes of Watt, Hum and Teenage Fanclub for continued inspiration.

Breakups and deaths also defined the year. Now considered an equal to the likes of My Bloody Valentine, the dissolution of Slowdive was but a mere whimper in 1995. The end of Kyuss seemed innocuous if not for the fact that its death led to the eventual formation of Queens of the Stone Age, considered by many to be one of the few “real” rock bands with any relevance. The death of Shannon Hoon produced a distinctly different effect, as his overdose was ballyhooed as a major blow to an industry still reeling from Kurt Cobain’s suicide. People were eager to find a face for the “movement” and Hoon, much like Cobain, was not eager to accept such an unnecessary burden when dealing with his own addictions and demons.

What’s evident is 17 years removed, there’s a lot from 1995 that continues to mold 2012. Radiohead and Foo Fighters cemented themselves with classic alternative albums and continue to be mastheads of their respective genres. Archers of Loaf are finding more success and acclaim in reunification than they did during the initial release of Vee Vee. Garbage, Blur and Ben Folds Five have re-emerged after lengthy hiatuses, garnering the same amount of attention and praise for being stalwarts of their sound. On an individual level, whatever feelings we have for any of those bands or their 1995 albums is irrelevant because there’s still enough excitement generated at their mention and on the strength of those albums. It’s why 1995 is such an intriguing musical year.

For the rest of the month, we’ll explore 1995 as it was and as it is, going about it without rose-tinted glasses as often as possible and usurping boring ethnomusicology lessons. We’ll explore some of the biggest hit albuma and songs, discuss the highs and lows of the year and indulge in a little nostalgia. Not everything worth discussion can fit inside a month’s worth of columns but AWR isn’t about complete dissection, it’s about rekindling particular trends and events. 1995 wasn’t a perfect year — the sulfur from Cobain’s rifle still heavy in the air — but it did leave a lasting impression worth one more reminisce.

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