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.
Nineteen ninety-one may have been the year that punk elbowed its way into the American pop-music machine -- at least, according to the documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke, released two years later -- but 1994 was the year that alternative music went "mass culture, mainstream, hegemonic," as Robert Christgau put it in his year-end essay for the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll. That meant way more than just punk or even grunge amply represented on the airwaves and also the charts by Green Day, Hole, Soundgarden, Rancid, Pearl Jam and their peers. Alternative music's hybrid instincts kicked into high gear, with Beck introducing the slacker nation to breakbeats, Luscious Jackson reviving disco a decade before DFA, and the Beastie Boys continuing to confound expectations about the distance between rap and rock 'n' roll.
Hip-hop was in fine form in 1994, giving us classic, career-defining hits from Nas, Warren G, Snoop Dogg, The Notorious B.I.G., Gang Starr and Wu-Tang Clan, while Common and Outkast helped fill in the rap nation's map between the two coasts. Dance music was mostly an underground thing, but Crystal Waters (and even Bjork) helped ease house music's pulse into the mainstream. That's just scratching the surface: We haven't even touched upon Edwyn Collins' "A Girl Like You," Selena's "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" and Crash Test Dummies' "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," songs that left an indelible stamp on the early mid-'90s (or is that late early '90s?) and still resonate today. Check out the playlist and travel back in time -- plaid flannel shirt optional.