The nineties were a transitional time for most of the world. As we watched the cold war of the eighties fade away, we ushered in more uncertainty in the middle east. Films began taking on historical subjects like the Holocaust in ways not done before. A generation of musicians made their mark on the industry with advances in hip-hop and country music, and the birth of alternative and grunge-rock.
1994 music influenced many future music makers. Songs written for movie soundtracks won Academy Awards, and MTV influenced the popularity of many songs even more than traditional radio. Some of the most distinct and new music ever made was heard that year. Here is some of the best songs from 1994.
1. “The Sign” by Ace of Base
The mid-nineties were a special time for upbeat songs about sad things. “The Sign” was a single from the Swedish group Ace of Base. The song was about the end of a relationship when the couple could see things that were wrong with each other.
The song had a reggae beat mixed with the pop ballad sound popular in Europe and the US. It was the number-one song on the Billboard chart in 1994. Many trivia enthusiasts may remind you that it was the song Stephanie Tanner’s band learned to play on Full House.
2. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John
By 1994, Elton John was music royalty. He had written most of the music he would ever be known for. He only occasionally took a break from earning a living doing concerts to record something new.
Disney experienced a resurgence in the 90s, and nearly every film they put out turned to gold. They filled many of their movies with star power, including The Lion King, which was released that year. Elton John wrote a few songs for that film, including this one that made it to number four on the Billboard Hot 100.
3. “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)?” by Meat Loaf
Meat Loaf had been a successful performer for many years when he released his 1994 album “Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell”. However, the success of that album made him a household name among an entirely new generation of fans. The fantasy imagery of the album art and the unusual structure of his music made him popular among metal enthusiasts.
“I’d Do Anything For Love” was a power ballad that became the first single to be released from that album. It was the only single that went to number one on the charts in the US. Meat Loaf earned a Grammy Award for the song in the category of Best Rock Vocal Performance.
4. “Don’t Take the Girl” by Tim McGraw
This country ballad was recorded by Tim McGraw for his album “Not a Moment Too Soon”. It is one of the most-played songs on country radio. The song's longevity can be attributed to the story-telling nature and the ambiguous ending.
“Don’t Take the Girl” is the story of a boy and his romance at various stages of life. It begins with his begging his father not to let her go fishing with them and progresses to an altercation with a robber on a dark street. At the end, her life is on the line during childbirth as he prays to God not to take the girl.
5. “Crazy” by Aerosmith
Aerosmith has been making music a the top of the charts since the 1970s. However, in the nineties, they got a boost and introduced themselves to a whole new generation of music lovers when they released their album “Get a Grip”. On that playlist were several songs that became hit singles including this one as well as “Livin’ on the Edge”, “Cryin’”, and “Amazing”.
One factor in the song’s success was the successful marketing toward the MTV generation. A series of music videos came out that year starring Alicia Silverstone. The video for “Crazy” also features Liv Tyler, who is the daughter of the band’s frontman, Steven Tyler.
6. “Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen was reluctant to write this song to be featured on the “Philadelphia” film soundtrack. He claimed he did not do well-writing film scores. This somber tune accompanied the Tom Hanks film and won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Springsteen still performs it regularly, and it has been covered by artists like Melissa Etheridge and Tori Amos.
7. “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by Crash Test Dummies
One of the most remembered songs from 1994 was this hit single from the band’s “God Shuffled His Feet” album. The song's unusual structure was loved by the music video generation. The song has three versus telling three stories of teenagers and their struggles in life. The chorus is simply hummed by the lead singer.
8. “I Swear” by All-4-One
This song was originally sung by country artist John Michael Montgomery for his album “Kickin’ It Up”. However, the male R&B group All-4-One recorded a cover of it the following year that made it to number 1 on the Billboard top 100 charts. Although the original song was country, All-4-One transformed it into a slow ballad that is played more often.
In 2015 the song was re-recorded for its 20th anniversary. This time, All-4-One and John Michael Montgomery sang it together as a duet.
9. “Zombie” by The Cranberries
The Cranberries were an alternative rock band from Ireland. Their second studio album was titled “No Need to Argue”, and it served as the introduction to singles like “Ode to My Family” and “Linger”. “Zombie” was a protest song about the IRA bombing in Warrington, England. The bombing claimed the lives of two children, Jonathan Ball who was 3 years old, and Tim Parry who was 12.
10. “What is Love” by Haddaway
Haddaway is a German singer born in Trinidad and known for his Eurodance and techno sound. This song was released in 1993 in Europe and became a hit single. After it was released later in the US, it became one of the most recognizable songs from his career. Haddaway’s mixing of melody with a thumping beat made it popular on the radio, as well as in dance clubs.
“What is Love” is likely most famous for its use in sketches on Saturday Night Live. Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan play two men in a nightclub who consistently fail at talking to women. “What is Love” always plays when they come on screen. The sketch later became a theatrical film titled “A Night at the Roxbury”, released in 1998.
11. “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Doggy Dogg
Snoop Dog has been around for a long time, and in 1994 he was at the top of his recording game. He released many songs that turned into iconic music he would be known for later. “Gin and Juice” was one of those songs.
Released as the second single from his “Doggystyle” album, “Gin and Juice” is the ultimate party anthem. The singer talks about his desire to cruise around town, showing off his money and drinking. Eleven years after it premiered, the video was voted one of MTV’s 25 greatest west coast rap videos.
12. “Stay” by Lisa Loeb
Lisa Loeb wrote her most iconic song as part of the “Reality Bites” soundtrack. It is a pop song with a folksy twist. As with the movie, the theme of the song is the regret you feel after a relationship has ended.
13. “Whatta Man” by Salt-n-Pepa
This song is an interpretation of the classic from 1968 by Linda Lyndell. They changed the mood of the piece by turning the soul song into an upbeat rap. Salt-n-Pepa performed it with En Vogue, who was another powerful girl-fronted group.
The song was released on Salt-n-Pepa’s album titled “Very Necessary. It also came out on En Vogue’s album called “Runaway Love”. In contrast to what a lot of songs at the time were known for, the song praises hard-working and family-oriented men.
14. “Breathe Again” by Toni Braxton
R&B singer Toni Braxton has made a name for herself with her soulful love songs full of longing and regret. “Breathe Again” from her self-titled album is no different. She is full of memories of a relationship that has come to an end. It performed well on the music charts and has been covered by many performers.
15. “Here Comes the Hotstepper” by Ini Kamoze
Ini Kamoze released this single in 1994 for his album by the same name which would not release until the following year. The song came out much earlier because it appeared on the soundtrack to the film “Ready to Wear” (“Prêt-à-Porter”). The song is a mixture of hip-hop and reggae with a beat most people can’t resist.
This song is an early example of sampling. Kamoze samples a lot of pieces of music to create his iconic sound. Within the song, you can hear hints of music from The Mohawks, Doug E. Fresh, and Chuck Berry.
16. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Tom Petty recorded this song while working on a solo album. However, he released it as a single on the Greatest Hits album with the band. While they have all maintained that the song's meaning is up for interpretation, many people have speculated that it was about drug use, marijuana in particular. As a result, the music video shows a morgue assistant dressing up a corpse, played by Kim Basinger, to have a final dance.
17. “Tootsee Roll” by 69 Boyz
“Tootsee Roll” is a hip-hop dance song that became popular because of its versatility. It performed well on the radio, but was often requested in dance clubs. 69 Boyz released it on their “199Quad” album, making it to number 8 on the Billboard charts. The song has proven to have longevity and is still a popular pick for dance gatherings.
18. “Loser” by Beck
“Loser” was released as an independent single in 1993. However, its success led to its re-release on Beck’s “Mellow Gold” album in 1994. Beck was able to fuse folk with hip-hop to find a sound embraced by the alternative rock culture. Its self-deprecating lyrics are mostly nonsense, but “slacker culture” use the chorus as an anthem.
19. “Endless Love” by Luther Vandross and Mariah Carey
One of the biggest fads of the nineties was bringing back the old and making it new again. It was happening on TV, in film, and in music. “Endless Love” was a famous duet by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross in 1981. Over a decade later, Vandross and Carey re-recorded it to much acclaim. It became the second biggest-selling single of the year behind “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes.
20. “Come to My Window” by Melissa Etheridge
Melissa Etheridge took a risk with her career by coming out as a lesbian. However, it did not stop her next single from making it to number 25 on the Billboard charts. Released as a single from the album “Yes I Am.”
21. “I’ll Remember” by Madonna
Madonna was a safe bet throughout the eighties and nineties. This song was no different, as it peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. It was released as the lead single on the soundtrack for the movie “With Honors”, which starred Joe Pesci and Brendan Fraser.
Good Music From 1994, Final Thoughts
1994 was an important year for music. While a number of long-term artists continued to create, there were plenty of new singers, bands, and performers. Some of them have withstood the test of time and are still with us. However, some experienced their peak early, leaving us with the work they left us to enjoy.
There are hundreds of great songs from the nineties. Use this list of the best songs from 1994 as a springboard. Take a deep dive and discover some of the true treasures that came out that year.