During 1992, I was full-tilt ahead with my classes in order to obtain my teaching license from Ball State. I was going in to the lab at 4:30 am, driving 30 minutes to Muncie, spending a couple of hours taking classes, then driving back to finish up my work at the hospital. It was a brutal schedule, and aside from the eventual huge financial cut my family would soon be experiencing, I was following my calling. Fortunately, I did not have to listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio during all this travel time. Instead, I was able to listen to my own dubbed music on cassette tapes. The music of 1992, 1993 and the first half of 1994 got me through all of this craziness.
To be honest, my favorite musical years of the Nineties were 1992 and 1994. 1992 was particularly exciting to walk through the Ball State campus and hearing so many sounds that used to be bubbling in the underground being appreciated by the masses. And, although I was nearly a decade older than the others in my classes, their tastes in music was the thing that crossed the age differences. In a way, it was strange to be an adult in college because suddenly you weren’t concerned with how people perceived you. I felt strangely calm and confident. Is that what maturity is? But, I did miss the adrenaline rush of my youth.
So, let’s take a look at the artists and their music which was in my car’s cassette player and home CD player in 1992.
Alice in Chains – Dirt (1992). In 1992, Alice in Chains became one of the first Seattle bands to get into heavy rotation on MTV. This band depicted the dark underbelly of the grunge scene, and Dirt is their masterpiece. The whole album details lead singer Layne Staley’s descent into heroin addiction. It is harrowing and sickening to hear his struggles with his demons, but the music makes it that more compelling as if Edgar Allan Poe had been reincarnated as a rock star in the early-Nineties. Unfortunately, Staley would later loss his battle with the dark side, as many of the grunge stars of the era did. A whole generation was lost to mental illness and drugs.
Arrested Development – 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of… (1992). By this year, rap music was becoming dominated by gangsta rap, both great and terrible. Sure, we had many fantastic diversions along the way by the likes of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, but the rap sound of the Nineties predominantly came from the thug life. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, comes this hippy-like commune of musical souls from the South, doing a whole new fresh take on hip hop. Arrested Development was the group, and they swooped in from the country with acoustic instrumentation and a different point of view and turned rap on its head. Nowadays, this album might seem quaint, but it’s impact was immediate, as rappers and the alternative nation both latched unto these guys’ sound. “Tennessee” remains a potent throw-down of a geographical gauntlet.
Beastie Boys – Check Your Head (1992). So, by 1992, the Beasties were at a crossroads in their career. Initially, they had burst onto the scene as a trio of seemingly unruly frat boys who were given the keys to their parents’ Mercedes. Then, after realizing they could not take that image any further, totally did a Bowie by creating a “serious” futuristic rap album. But, that album was still considered a commercial failure. In response, the Beasties went back to their punk rock band basics, bought some crappy vintage microphones and went to town. And, this album, the musical marriage of punk, metal, jazz, vintage recording equipment in various states of disrepair, crazy samples, funk and hip hop set the world ablaze. Now, they had earned their rap cred AND their alternative music rep back in one terrific swoop. This is the album that made the Boys Hall of Famers.
Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992). When N.W.A broke up, people figured the three M.C.s (Ice Cube, Eazy-E and M.C. Ren) would become huge solo artists (Cube and E did, Ren did not), but few were prepared for Dre’s solo album. Oh, we all knew his production ability was second to none, but we were not ready for his street poetry about gangsta life. One of my best friends recently made an argument that this album was one of the five best of all-time, and he’s an old white guy like me! Everything, I mean everything that was rapped on this album is STILL percolating today. WTF!!! This is both an artistic AND sociological statement that resonates to this very day. And that’s wrong! Dre totally invented the whole G-Funk sound that stuck around for the rest of the decade. And you know that Dre loved his P-Funk. Mmmh!
Faith No More – Angel Dust (1992). This album was a commercial flop and disappointment mainly because people thought this band was strictly a metal band. Oh, the public was simply wrong. This band was a new form of alternative rock that incorporated some metal guitar sounds but were much more versatile. This album remains FNM’s masterpiece, as they covered the music spectrum.
Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience (1992). When R.E.M. began to make inroads in popular music, a whole generation of musicians picked their Rickenbackers and started creating that sweet jangling sound. Enter the Gin Blossoms from the American Southwest bringing a commercial Flying Burrito Brothers/Byrds/R.E.M./Tom Petty jangle sound that took over the radio for a bit. Sadly, the man who wrote most of these memorable songs, Nicky Hopkins, was drinking heavily, severely depressed and was forced out of the band by their record company. In response, Hopkins took his own life. He never really got to see his music touch people, and the band never really could come up with a songwriter like their former member. Still, this album remains as a testament to just how diverse the music of the Nineties was.
Ice Cube – The Predator (1992). I get it that Cube seemed like one of the scariest MFs on the planet back in the day, but if you listened to his lyrics, you knew this man had a heart. He painted his images of ghetto life with empathy that was lost on the people who only heard his lyrics through second- and third-hand sources. Normally, this would have been the best rap of the year. The fact that Dre created a timeless classic kept this one from ascending to the throne. However, Dre never made a single like “It Was a Good Day.”
Jellyfish – Spilt Milk (1992). After creating a bonafide classic album of Badfinger-influenced power pop, Jellyfish was reduced to its two main creative visionaries drummer/singer Andy Sturmer and keyboardist/vocalist Roger Manning Jr. In response, these two musical prodigies and studio perfectionist went into full sonic OCD mode to create their greatest album of their unfairly short career. Once again, the duo mined the fertile ground of Seventies pop, arena rock and power pop. Their ode to their musical heroes Queen, “Joining a Fanclub” is a song to behold.
k.d. lang – Ingénue (1992). Oh my, did k.d. lang ever turn the world upside down. But we are all the better for her. While lang was steeped in country music, she was not making the typical Nashville crap of the day. No, lang embraced soul and alternative sounds that updated the traditional country foundation. Plus, she did all of this while challenging societal norms concerning sexual orientation by being an open lesbian. Believe it! It was less than 30 years when artists started coming out of the closet. By the way, her “Constant Craving” remains one of the sexiest songs known to man.
Cut! That’s a wrap on Day 1 of 1992. See you next time. Peace.