It’s 1993, and Alternative Rock is in full bloom; unfortunately, so is the horror of the AIDS epidemic. Producers Paul Heck, Jessica Kowal and Rolling Stone Senior Writer Chris Mundy have corralled 21 of the biggest names in the alternative universe and asked each to contribute a song to a benefit album to be done under the aegis of the Red Hot Organization and the AIDS Music Project, with proceeds going to AIDS organizations worldwide. The result is No Alternative, a jaw-dropping compilation of musical gems.
Among the artists who contributed original material to No Alternative are Urge Overkill, Soundgarden, Matthew Sweet, the Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth, Bob Mould, Buffalo Tom, Straitjacket Fits, Smashing Pumpkins and American Music Club. And don’t turn off your CD player after the last listed track, because Nirvana make a surprise, uncredited appearance with “Verse Chorus Verse.” While not all the material on No Alternative is thematically related to AIDS, it’s obvious that the nature of the project has influenced each artist.
The cover songs, too, are top-shelf: Soul Asylum contribute a version of Marvin Gaye‘s “Sexual Healing”; Uncle Tupelo dissect Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Effigy”; and the Goo Goo Dolls come down heavy on the Rolling Stones‘ “Bitch.” There are even appearances by two of yesteryear’s underground heroes extending a hand across the generations: Jonathan Richman offers a live rendition of “Hot Nights”; while Patti Smith, the godmother of punk, officially closes things with a spoken-word meditation and a brief song-poem dedicated to photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS and who was a friend of Smith’s.
No Alternative is a corker: good music, good cause. So what are you waiting for?
This story is from the November 11th, 1993 issue of Rolling Stone.