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The 50

The 50 Best Rock Songs of 1992

The 50 Best Rock Songs of 1992

Playlist

About this playlist

The commercial explosion of grunge in 1992 was the most important rock event of my youth, no doubt about it. I was in high school at the time, and I belonged to an increasing number of kids who had grown tired of the dominant hair-metal trend. Sure, Guns N’ Roses -- who were significantly more talented than the bulk of their Sunset Strip peers -- still managed to move units and score hits. After all, MTV aired the nine-minute “November Rain” video incessantly in 1992. Ultimately, though, the stench of death clung to the Use Your Illusion-era GnR. They made decadent, bloated music while turning themselves into tabloid headlines.

In hindsight, it was obvious that more and more of us were tuning out a rock 'n' roll status quo that had gone largely unchanged since the mid-’80s. We were craving something novel and exciting -- and that’s exactly what we got. Over the course of 1992, mainstream youth culture renewed itself with exciting songs (“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Even Flow,” “Would?”, “Nearly Lost You”), rousing bands (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees), cool fashions (flannel, military-surplus shorts, Vans) and liberal politics (Southern democrat Bill Clinton emerging as a credible threat to 12 years of Republican domination).

At the same time, it wasn’t just grunge that seemingly bubbled up from oblivion. Even veteran acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Helmet, The Lemonheads and a new-look Beastie Boys felt fresh and hip when their music began zooming up Billboard’s myriad pop charts. Beastie Boys in particular were an interesting case study. Though the New York City trio experienced pop success in the late ’80s with the rap novelty Licensed to Ill, 1992’s Check Your Head found them re-embracing their punk rock roots in a bid to attach themselves to the swiftly rising “alternative nation.” It was a neat trick, and it worked.

Yet another emergent rock movement that helped to make 1992 feel so exhilarating was the neo-hippie/jam band scene. Granted, it didn’t blow up with the ferocity of grunge, bit its progenitors -- Phish, Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, The Samples and the pop-savvy Spin Doctors -- inspired many a high school and college student to purge his or her inner Alex P. Keaton. The young were once again growing out their hair, partaking in psychedelics and thinking about the environment.

In the summer of 1992, I attended both Lollapalooza II and the first H.O.R.D.E. tour, and I must admit the latter actually felt more exotic. Where Lollapalooza was a classic rock festival culture gone alternative (still awesome, nonetheless), H.O.R.D.E. was an extension of the Deadhead underground: popping up around the concert stage was a thoroughly unregulated community. Packed with crunchy hippies from Vermont, California, Colorado and numerous points in between, it boasted an assortment of DIY businesses offering a veritable buffet of far-out goodies: trinkets, mushrooms, vegan baked goods, pot brownies, handmade incense, nitrous oxide and, of course, LSD.

The early neo-hippie scene -- before turning corporate in the late ’90s -- really was wild. It left a profound impression of those of us who were new to it. In fact, over the course of that summer, I’m pretty sure my friends and I cranked Spin Doctors’ Pocket Full of Kryptonite as much as we did Nevermind, Ten and the Singles soundtrack (which arrived just in time for the beginning of our senior year). But enough with the misty reminiscences. If you want to hear some of the very best rock of 1992, please check out my playlist.

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