Where Were You in ’92?

Boxers or briefs, Governor Clinton?

As Hurricane Sandy rages on, I look back to twenty years ago, when I was 17. 1992 was roughly when I crossed that fine line from casual music listener to obsessive. I’ve written repeatedly about how Automatic For the People and Abbey Road more or less changed my life that autumn, but one really can’t sum up a whole year in two albums (especially when one of ’em came out in 1969); hence, a new Spotify playlist I’ve put together:

1. Saint Etienne, “Join Our Club”
2. Deee-Lite, “Runaway”
3. Suzanne Vega, “In Liverpool”
4. Toad the Wet Sprocket, “All I Want”
5. PJ Harvey, “Sheela-Na-Gig”
6. Soho, “Into the Void”
7. k.d. lang, “Constant Craving”
8. They Might Be Giants, “I Palindrome I”
9. The Cure, “High”
10. The B-52’s, “Revolution Earth”
11. R.E.M., “Man On The Moon”
12. 10,000 Maniacs, “Noah’s Dove”
13. Sugar, “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”
14. Meryn Cadell, “The Sweater”
15. Steve Wynn, “Tuesday”
16. Morrissey, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”
17. XTC, “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead”
18. INXS, “Not Enough Time”
19. Tori Amos, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

As you can see, a lot of jangle pop (this was modern rock’s golden age, after all) but a complete lack of grunge (almost). While I appreciated Nirvana (and barely tolerated Pearl Jam), I was never a big fan of anything related to this rock subgenre most people probably recall when they think of 1992. In fact, at 17 I hadn’t heard at least half of these songs; if I were to make a mix solely containing songs that meant something to me in 1992, well, it would be far poppier (and let’s face it, a little embarrassing).

In addition to R.E.M.’s gorgeous, gliding Andy Kaufman tribute (it was still a standout track when I listened to Automatic last week), other songs here that I actually knew and loved in ’92 include Deee-Lite’s ultra catchy ode to escapism, a great Kate Pierson showcase from The B-52’s somewhat maligned Good Stuff, perhaps my current favorite single by The Cure (not as overplayed as “Friday I’m In Love” or  “Just Like Heaven”) and definitely INXS’ best, most underrated single.

Many of the selections here happen to be hits (if only on alternative radio for most), but they’re good hits. The Soho song is an exception: a track from their album Thug, a big flop but far more ambitious and cohesive than Goddess (which gave the world their only hit, “Hippychick”). Another exception is the Steve Wynn song, which I don’t think was a single although when you hear it you wonder how in the world was it not one.

I’ve concluded this mix with a piano-and-voice version of perhaps the definitive grunge song (which came out in ’91). At the time, it was startling to hear Amos’ radically different, stripped down take on Kurt Cobain’s generational anti-anthem (and not surprising to hear played in a record store two years later on the day after Cobain’s death); here, it just serves as a somber closer, the tonal opposite of Saint Etienne’s ever-jubilant opener which optimistically exclaims, “Teen spirit is the ’90s scene!” Ah, such a simpler time.

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