Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.
It's all too easy to reduce the early '90s to a bunch of tired references to grunge and gangsta rap, with maybe the occasional nod to Whitney Houston and Sir Mix-a-Lot. And OK, sure, all of that was there -- and all of it makes an appearance on this carefully culled, much-debated, highly subjective (but totally, TOTALLY accurate) roundup of 1992's 50 best songs. We start things off with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and end it with "I Will Always Love You" because, well, duh, and in the middle, you'll find Pearl Jam, Dre and Snoop and, yes, "Baby Got Back" (because, well, duh). But once you break through that haze of nostalgia and flannel, you might be pleasantly surprised (as we were) to recall how truly musically diverse 1992 was.
In hip-hop alone, 1992 marked the rise of the G-funk and boom-bap eras, as well as so-called "socially conscious" rap (like Arrested Development's pop-friendly politicking), jazz-hued indie-hoppers like Digable Planets, and major movements on both the East Coast (EPMD's sample-heavy flow) and West (from Cypress Hill to Seattle). And R&B was experiencing a wave of diva power: Both Sade's classic "No Ordinary Love" and Mary J. Blige's debut album (What's the 411?) dropped that year, and Whitney was in heavy rotation. But R&B was also inundated with groups, thanks to New Jack girl groups like En Vogue and SWV and boy bands like Jodeci and Boyz II Men.
The expansive world of sound that was lumped under the "alternative" label was equally diverse. Angst-ridden artsy types from Tori Amos to PJ Harvey, burgeoning riot grrrls from Bikini Kill to L7, moody shufflers from Pavement to Radiohead (whose debut single "Creep" dropped in '92) and hard-rocking hipsters from Sonic Youth to Seattle's longhaired, post-punk/metal/grunge rockers (Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Nirvana -- the list goes on) were all rocking the kids' socks off. Speaking of socks, Red Hot Chili Peppers and other major player bands (including Nirvana and Pearl Jam) were keeping the line between "alternative" and mainstream very fine indeed.
All this sonic diversity filtered into pop music that was in a state of undefined, almost schizophrenic flux. The Top 40 featured a little bit of everything: rock of the light grunge-pop (Mr. Big) and post-hair band (Guns N' Roses) varieties; angsty blue-eyed-soulful singer-songwriters (Sophie B. Hawkins); strains of house and other electronic music scenes (Snap!, Technotronic); the beginnings of country pop (Billy Ray Cyrus); and dark dance pop (Madonna's Erotica, Jon Secada). Plus there was Shabba Ranks, Kris Kross and, um, Right Said Fred (yes, "I'm Too Sexy" is here). It was, in other words, a wild and wide world. Hey, '92. Here we are now, entertain us, will ya?