Nobody realized it at the time, but 1994 was a real transitionary year for popular music. Kurt Cobain‘s suicide in April effectively put an end to the grunge revolution, and new acts like Green Day and Weezer were breaking very big. A massive gig celebrating Woodstock’s 25th anniversary was held that summer, introducing artists like Sheryl Crow and Nine Inch Nails to a mass commercial audience for the first time. Some of these acts went on to have long careers, while others crapped out with stunning speed. Here’s a look at some of the artists that broke in 1994 but didn’t quite make it out of the Nineties in one piece.
Then: Crash Test Dummies broke big in the Canadian music scene in 1991 with their debut single "Superman's Song," but most Americans first heard of them two years later when "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" went into heavy rotation on MTV. The song was instantly memorable, if only for the extremely low singing voice of lead singer Brad Roberts. Plus, you don't hear a lot of bass-baritone singers fronting rock bands, and you don't hear a lot of songs with a one-word gibberish chorus.
The song (produced by Talking Heads guitarist Jerry Harrison) is also really, really weird. Sample lyric: "Once there was this kid who got into an accident and couldn't come to school/But when he finally came back his hair had turned from black into bright white." Basically, it's a song about three kids: One is in a car accident that turns his hair white, another is a girl with birthmarks all over her body who's ashamed to change in front of her friends and the last is a boy whose family is involved with a fundamentalist church that makes worshippers fall to the floor and shake. It shot to Number Four on the Hot 100.
Now: Crash Test Dummies had One-Hit Wonder written all over them. They even named themselves after something that's only good for a single use. In fairness, they scored hits in Canada until the late Nineties. But in America they were finished as soon as "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" fell off the charts. It was somewhat of a novelty song, and novelty songs are notoriously hard to follow up. The band never gave up, though. They released their most recent album in 2010, though they had to cancel a bunch of tour dates because Roberts has back problems caused by a herniated disk. Being a Crash Test Dummy isn't easy.
Then: No scene in 1995's Clueless places the movie more firmly in the mid-Nineties than when one of Alicia Silverstone's classmates raises his hand and asks to go to the quad to retrieve his Cranberries CD. The Irish rock band, fronted by the enchanting Doloroes O'Riordan, absolutely killed it between 1993 and 1995, scoring huge hits with "Linger," "Zombie," "Dreams" and "Salvation." They were a VH1 wet dream come to life and it seemed like they might be here to stay, until their 1996 album To The Faithful Departed didn't live up to expectations. It was the dawn of the Lilith Fair era, and the Cranberries were hardening their sound just as Jewel and Sarah McLachlan were enchanting America with a mellower, rootsier sound. Nobody saw that coming, but it made the Cranberries seem like yesterday's news.
Now: The Cranberries limped along into 2003, and few seemed to notice when they quietly dissolved. O'Riordan released two well-received solo albums in 2007 and 2009. She returned to the Cranberries four years ago, and this year they released Roses, their first new disc in over a decade. They wrapped a long tour last December and haven't done much of anything this year. Their website is frozen in 2012, possibly meaning things aren't going so well in Cranberries land right now.
Then: If you were a rapper in the early Nineties and wanted to make a big splash, it was a good idea to get a crazy haircut. Coolio went for the I-Just-Stuck-My-Finger-Into-An-Electrical-Outlet look when he dropped his breakthrough single "Fantastic Voyage" in 1994. The G-funk song became an enormous hit, but the follow-up – unfortunately titled "Mama I'm in Love Wit' a Gangsta" – didn't go anywhere, and it seemed like Coolio would go the way of Nate Dogg. But the following year, Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" was featured on the soundtrack to the Michelle Pfieffer-starring film Dangerous Minds. The song became one of the biggest hits of 1995 and was absolutely inescapable. Even people that didn't listen to much rap knew every single word. Coolio's hits continued for a few more years, but he's been largely off the charts since "C U When You Get There" dropped in 1997.
Now: Coolio's music career may be on the rocks, but he's been smart about staying in the spotlight. It seems like there's not a single reality show he's unwilling to appear on, and in 2008 he even tried to pull an Osbournes with the short-lived Coolio's Rules. That didn't work out, but he's been happy to appear on Celebrity Big Brother in England or Rachel vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off here in America. If there's a camera, Coolio is there.
Then: It's got to be rough for a One-Hit Wonder band that didn't even write the song that made them famous: That's the story of Urge Overkill. The Chicago alternative-rock band was largely unknown until Quentin Tarantino came across their cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon" and featured it in Pulp Fiction. The song shot up the charts (27 years after Neil Diamond's hit shelves) and put Urge Overkill in the national spotlight. They responded with the lackluster album Exit The Dragon, and it was suddenly Exit Urge Overkill. They split up in 1997, just three years after scoring big with "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon." Maybe Tarantino could have saved them by having them record "Solitary Man" for Jackie Brown that year, but it wasn't meant to be.
Now: Just a few years after they broke up, the members of Urge Overkill came to a very simple realization: the only thing worse than being a half-forgotten One-Hit Wonder is being no band at all. They reformed in 2004 and seven years later released their first album in 16 years. They were back in the spotlight in 2010 when they appeared as the house band at the roast of Quentin Tarantino.
Then: It takes a special kind of band to work the word "placenta" into a pop song, but that's exactly what Live did on their 1994 hit "Lightning Crashes." It's a song about a woman dying at the same time as a baby is born. (Like "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," it was produced by Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads.) The group also scored hits with "I Alone" and "The Dolpin's Cry." The mass culture lost interest in Live pretty quickly, but they had a huge global fanbase and played to pretty large audiences until they broke up in 2009.
Now: Live had a very nasty break-up. Simply put, the band claimed that lead singer Ed Kowalczyk demanded a far larger piece of the group's total money than he deserved. They responded by splitting up, but earlier this year they returned with a new singer, Chris Shinn. Relations between Kowalczyk and the rest of the band remain highly strained, so it's hard to imagine a reunion at any point in the near future. Kowalczyk and the new incarnation of Live are both regulars on the current Nineties-nostalgia circuit, sort of like how Dennis DeYoung and Styx now compete for the same bookings.
Then: Hootie and the Blowfish are a great cautionary tale for what happens to a band when it gets too big too fast. A backlash is just inevitable. They started off at the University of South Carolina as a bar band, back in 1986, and slowly built up a loyal following. In 1994 Atlantic released their debut LP Cracked Rear View. Nobody expected what happened next: Hootie-mania broke out all over America. Their songs "Hold My Hand," "Let Her Cry" and "Only Wanna Be With You" were everywhere. They were a band equally loved by children and their parents. The label couldn't print the record fast enough. It's sold over 10 million copies. By the time their follow-up Fairweather Johnson hit in 1996, people had had enough.
Now: The crowds got smaller and smaller over the years, but Hootie kept plugging away until 2008. At that point frontman Darius Rucker released his solo country album Learn To Live. Once again, he surprised skeptics by scoring huge hits. The success didn't mean the end of the Blowfish, but Rucker only played with them from time to time as his focus was firmly on his solo career. Rucker has pledged to make another Hootie album at some point soon, but it's unclear when that's going to happen.
Then: Anybody that attended a school dance in 1994 is well aware of the pop quartet All-4-One. That was they year they released their cover of John Michael Montgomery's "I Swear." The song went absolutely nuclear. America was between boy bands at that moment: The New Kids On The Block had crapped out, and meeting the Backstreet Boys was a few years away. There was only Boyz II Men, and All-4-One were like a cheap knock-off. That's not meant to take anything away from All-4-One; it's just that Boyz II Men ruled the world at the time, and All-4-One just couldn't compete. In 1995 they scored again with "I Can Love You Like That," but soon enough Hanson and the Spice Girls entered our world. It was the beginning of a new teen-pop era, and All-4-One seemed like dinosaurs.
Now: You've got to give it up to All-4-One. They never broke up. They never even lost any of their original members. They have fewer than 1,500 Twitter followers, but they still tell their fanbase things like "Election night in America is looking like a tight race!" Who knew they were political? You can catch them November 1st in Yonsei University Amphitheater in Seoul, South Korea.
Then: With the possible exception of Singles, no movie is more 1990s than Reality Bites. The soundtrack featured the song "(Stay) I Missed You" by then-unsigned act Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories. Loeb lived near Ethan Hawke in New York, and they become friends around the time he was filming Reality Bites. He put the song on the soundtrack and it shot to Number One on the Hot 100, a first for an unsigned artist in the history of the chart. Hawke filmed a video for the song in a single take. Vh1 showed it more than a few times, turning Loeb's cat eye glasses into a huge fashion statement.
Now: Contrary to popular belief, Loeb isn't a One-Hit Wonder. She had a Top 20 hit in 1995 with "Do You Sleep," and two years later "I Do" reached Number 17. Her career hit a slump after that, but Loeb remained in the spotlight. She dated Dweezil Zappa, and even starred with him in the Food Network reality show Dweezil and Lisa. When the two split up, Lisa got her own reality show Number One Single in which she looked for love on her own. She released a new album earlier this year, and she continues to stay busy with voice-over work. She also had a hysterical cameo on the series finale of Gossip Girl where she wound up marrying (fictional) Nineties rocker Rufus Humphrey.
Then: There was a time when Ace of Base seemed poised to become the next Abba. The parallels were striking: Both were Swedish foursomes made up of two guys and two women (a blonde and a brunette). They both made instantly catchy pop songs that seemed to transcend all cultural boundaries. Near the height of grunge in America, Ace of Base's songs "The Sign," "All That She Wants," "Don't Turn Around" and "Living In Danger" were absolutely everywhere. When Full House's Stephanie Tanner formed a band with her friend Gia it was a no-brainer they'd cover "The Sign" during their set at the Smash Club. Ace of Base's debut LP The Sign sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
Now: Ace of Base never lived up to the huge success of The Sign, but later in the Nineties they returned to the charts with "Beautiful Life" and a cover of Bananarama's "Cruel Summer." Linn Berggren left the band in 2002, and her sister Jenny left about seven years later. Original members Jonas Berggren and Ulf Ekberg have recruited two new female singers in an effort to carry on. Their website currently lists a series of 2011 gigs as "upcoming," so things don't seem to be going so well at the moment.