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1994: The 40 Best Records From Mainstream Alternative’s Greatest Year

Green Day, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and 35 other bands who made the word “alternative” lose all meaning

At no point between “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Nookie” was the alternative bubble more booming than 1994. A record breaking eight alt-rock albums topped Billboard that year, and Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” let alternative nation plant a rare flag atop the singles charts. The Offspring sold more of their indie label record than Pink Floyd did on their major label record. Green Day stole Woodstock ’94 from Bob Dylan. New Kids on the Block broke up and Earl Sweatshirt was born. Here’s the 40 best albums from the year where the losers finally won.

Stone Temple Pilots Purple
22

Stone Temple Pilots, ‘Purple’

Spawning three big rock hits and a couple smaller ones, topping the Billboard 200, and selling six million or so, Purple served as sweet vindication for fake grunge's most archetypal ensemble. Seeing how their 1992 debut had sounded suspiciously similar to a certain yaaarghling band who'll remain nameless here (plus STP were clearly phonies because Long Beach isn't really San Diego), cool kids hoped they'd whiff bigtime like the Seattle Pilots they weren't. But they foiled haters by upping the glam-hook quotient — especially in sticky masturbation ode "Unglued," which bops along approximately like the Ramones covering Pete Shelley's "Homosapien," and carefully misspelled fly-in-ointment smash "Vasoline." "Interstate Love Song" and "Big Empty" are (purple)-hazy, dusky, rustic road-trippers — unabashed inspirations for Hootie and the Blowfish, who covered the former live. At album's end, hidden saloon croon "My Second Album" even shouts out to Johnny Mathis. Who needs Eddie Vedder? Chuck Eddy

Veruca Salt American Thighs
21

Veruca Salt, ‘American Thighs’

Two Chicago women harmonizing on voice and guitar in front of two guys smart enough to stay in their place, Veruca Salt had been together for barely a year before they hit with "Seether," a song that churned like a less self-conscious Breeders and bombarded you with neither/nor constructions either about a cat, a female body part, just plain seething or none of the above. Years later, the single's title would inspire a perplexingly popular corporate post-post-post-grunge band who no more resemble "Seether" than American Thighs resembled AC/DC. But the album's juxtaposition of chunky crunching, wallflower whispering, and intermittently violent young adult literature (Veruca Salt being a Roald Dahl character) held undeniable charms, chasing Spiderman with spider monkeys and shambling toward two diary entries about being set in one's ways — though the fuzz-riffed "25" repeatedly quotes the American Breed's 1968 soul-rock nugget "Bend Me, Shape Me" in search of free alterations. Chuck Eddy

Helmet Betty
20

Helmet, ‘Betty’

Helmet made rhythmically complex, steely-riffed alterna-metal that punished your body from odd angles (when forming, they placed an ad in The Village Voice searching for an "asexual bass player"). Touted as the "next Nirvana," their 1992's Interscope debut Meantime made the New Yorkers the most successful band to come out of the thuggy, noise-cretin Amphetamine Reptile scene; and while Betty wasn't as immediately exciting as its predecessor, it spun their sound into jazz, blues and improv, challenging their art-jock fanbase ("Beautiful Love" begins as a Brazilian guitar piece then explodes into abstract free-rock jamming). They still managed to score a minor modern rock hit with "Milquetoast" and deliver one of the year's truly crushing major label rock albums. Jon Dolan