The 50 Best Pop Singles Of 1994 (Featuring New Interviews With Ace Of Base, TLC, Lisa Loeb, Real McCoy & Haddaway)

Robbie Daw | November 20, 2014 6:39 am


The Pretenders I'll Stand By You 1994

Co-written with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg (who’d penned hits like “Like a Virgin” for Madonna” and “True Colors” for Cyndi Lauper), “I’ll Stand By You” horrified Chrissie Hynde at first. She wrote the song with the intention of getting back on the radio, but she was unprepared for how soft and commercial the final result would be. So the subsequent success of “I’ll Stand By You,” including a Grammy nomination, was bittersweet for the rocker, especially when the power ballad took on a life of its own.

Covered to great success by artists ranging from Carrie Underwood to Girls Aloud, “I’ll Stand By You” paved the way for other rock acts who found chart success with gooier-than-usual ballads. (Think Aerosmith notching their first Billboard Hot 100 #1 with “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.) Regardless of how representative of Hynde’s oeuvre with The Pretenders it really was, “I’ll Stand By You” continues to resonate decades later. Most recently, Amber Riley sang it on “The Quarterback,” the 2013 Glee episode that paid tribute to the late Corey Monteith. — JONATHAN RIGGS


Misery-pop was a huge thing in 1994. The more miserable someone sounded, the more likely they would be embraced by the era’s decidedly-disaffected youth. And no one, perhaps in the history of pop, has sounded more mournful that Adam Duritz — even when he was singing something as hopeful as “Mr. Jones.” It’s hard to pinpoint why the enduring bro-pop anthem struck such a chord, but in many ways it can be viewed as an early predecessor to emo.

Counting Crows were deep in their feelings, singing about wanting to be good-looking, famous and loved. I’m not sure about the former but “Mr. Jones” certainly helped the band achieve the latter goals. It’s seemingly non-stop airplay on college radio gave their debut LP August And Everything After enough momentum to go seven-times Platinum. Interestingly, Duritz rarely plays it live these days, and when he does he switches up the lyrics. Could it be a case of be careful of what you wish for? — MIKE WASS


By the time Snoop Dogg released “Gin & Juice,” he was already “that guy” in rap. His breakout cameo on Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” had hip hop heads salivating for the Doggy Dogg and what was to come from his career. His debut album Doggystyle delivered this gem, teaching us that it was perfectly acceptable to smoke weed and drink in public with your mind on your money and your money on your mind.

It was clear that Snoop dropped anthems — with “Gin & Juice” breaking the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot Rap Songs chart. And why not? The track was on fire just like your throat after attempting to smoke a blunt and chase it with some Seagram’s and Ocean Spray. It’s a lethal combination (at best), but after watching the video where Snoop flips a Macaulay Culkin moment (“Homeboy Alone”) into a kickass house party, you start to question whether or not your lungs and liver are really all that necessary. — KATHY IANDOLI


Beck Loser 1994

Beck has had a long — an astonishingly long — career as a purveyor of pastiche to the masses, taking a page from hip hop’s sampling culture and mixing exotic beats with bizarre rhymes and alt-rock instrumentation. He’s gone from folk-rap to tropicalia to soul to surf rock and back, but it all started here, with 1994’s homage to slackerdom, “Loser.” Even after all these years, there’s still a fresh, pubescent energy to it that schwings out of your headphones and sets your toes tapping. He was such a loser, in fact, that he had to communicate it bilingually. As legend has it, influential Los Angeles radio station KCRW immediately gave him his first live radio show after hearing “Loser” for the first time, igniting a music industry buzz and spawning a 23-year-old “it” boy — someone who, it turns out, was worth his weight in Mellow Gold.

Suddenly, self-deprecating white boys in the ’burbs had an anthem all their own, and the song took off; it was a Top 10 hit and the album went Platinum. But don’t let the everyboy act fool you — Beck, even though he dropped out of school and lived penniless for years before hitting it big, isn’t from run-of-the-mill stock. Born to avant-garde art world royalty (his mom is Warhol star Bibbe Hanson, her father a famous artist), he also has the dubious honor of being raised as a Church Of Scientology kid. — ALEXANDER CHO


M People Moving On Up 1994

M People had everything: great tunes, great remixes of said tunes, sophisticated styling (Heather Small’s afro-poof is nothing short of iconic) and very classy single art. What more could audiences want in 1994? This trio were like the second coming of an already forgotten Deee-Lite, which maybe explains why they only had one stateside hit. Oh, but what a hit it is! “Moving On Up,” their US debut single, was a confident pop-soul kiss-off that had already blown up in their native England a year earlier. Its funky sax and Small’s pissed-off vocals combined to create nothing short of a club classic, one that provided ample opportunity for gay and straight clubbers alike to bust a move on dancefloors across the nation.

Although M People never managed a second foray into the Hot 100’s Top 40, they enjoyed many successful singles and albums back over the UK. Eventually — and too soon — they called it quits, with Small trying out a solo career and recording the timeless anthem “Proud,” which you’ve probably heard at a Pride festival or two. — JOHN HAMILTON


Italian Euro-dance troupe Corona really only struck mainstream gold once, but it was enough to award the act with a true staple of early ’90s club anthems: “The Rhythm Of The Night.” As soon as that almighty call to arms rings out (“This is the rhythm of the night!”), 20 years later, there’s still no choice but to become a slave to the rhythm all over again. The spacey synth-pop jam experienced an incredibly slow burn toward success: Originally released in Europe in November of ’93, the song climbed its way up the charts throughout 1994, eventually peaking at #11 in the States.

In a testament to the true greatness of the Clinton-era dance classic, the song was later covered by German Kween Of Clubs Cascada in 2012. And just last year, Bastille mashed up the song with Snap!‘s “Rhythm Is A Dancer” for their slightly creepy “Of The Night.” — BRADLEY STERN


The ’90s in hip hop were all about evolution, as rap music was really breaking off and compartmentalizing. In the midst of that categorical madness, the Beastie Boys released Ill Communication, armed with the single “Sabotage.” There were a few things that made the track so damn cool: for one, the Beasties weren’t at all concerned about what was happening in rap sonically. They didn’t care about gangster rap, “alternative” hip hop, yadda yadda. They stuck to their formula, which was infiltrating the game with solid bars and injections of their punk roots. “Sabotage” reminded us of where the Beasties came from.

And the Spike Jonze-directed video was shot like an action-packed movie, full of pornstaches and high-speed chases. What’s not to love about either of those things? “Sabotage” reached the Top 20 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart, but “rock” is the keyword. The song was easily classified as both rock and rap — still a relatively new concept to hip hop, considering previous multi-classifications only happened as mash-ups (Aerosmith/Run-DMC, Anthrax/Public Enemy). So in essence, the Beastie Boys had it all. — KATHY IANDOLI


The Notorious B.I.G. Juicy 1994

Biggie Smalls was taken from the music industry way too soon, but his succinct discography is filled with gems that people are still playing 20 years later. One of his most loved (and most popular) songs is actually his very first single, “Juicy.” Off B.I.G.’s debut album Ready To Die, the feel-good tune samples Mtume‘s 1983 song “Juicy Fruit.” This funk snippet is completely unexpected, especially in a joint by a hardcore rapper. But co-producer Sean “Puffy” Combs knew what he was doing, as “Juicy” was able to catapult Biggie into music’s mainstream arena. The Brooklyn MC’s out-of-the-gate hit peaked at #27 on the Billboard Hot 100, is certified Gold and is considered by some to be one of the greatest rap songs of all time.

What makes “Juicy” so special is that everyone could relate to it on different levels. Notorious B.I.G. maps out his “rags-to-riches” story here, as he goes from speaking about eating sardines for dinner to finally being able to afford diamond earrings for his daughter. Play “Juicy” at any barbecue or basement party, and I can bet you everyone from all races and backgrounds will join in to sing it word for word. — BIANCA GRACIE


Celine Dion The Power Of Love 1994

While “The Power Of Love” is considered by many to be Celine Dion’s signature song, it had already been a (minor) hit for three other artists by the time she got her air-grabbing hands on it. Jennifer Rush scored a global smash with the power ballad a decade earlier, but only reached #57 on the Billboard Hot 100. Air Supply couldn’t even match that peak — they stalled at #68 — but Laura Branigan had more success, reaching the Top 30 in 1987.

Why did Canadian diva Celine’s interpretation perform so much better? No doubt her flawless vocal played a role, as did David Foster’s classy arrangement. It also had a lot to do with timing; Celine was the poster child for the anti-grunge movement, the warm and fluffy equivalent for people who didn’t like flannel or depressing rock. Feel free to dismiss “The Power Of Love” as artful elevator music, but it propelled Celine Dion to superstar status by becoming her first chart-topping single in the United States, and helped her sell millions of albums. — MIKE WASS


Kylie Minogue Confide In Me 1994

The initial reaction to Kylie Minogue’s “Confide In Me” can be compared to the general shock and disbelief Miley Cyrus evoked when she relaunched last year as a molly-poppin’ urban-pop diva with “We Can’t Stop.” People just couldn’t get their heads around the reigning queen of bubblegum pop (in England and Australia, at least) turning her back on the cheerful Hi-NRG fare that made her a superstar, in favor of a menacing indie-pop soundscape. It’s one thing to try something new for the hell of it, but at the time, with “Confide In Me,” it felt like Kylie’s whole career was riding on the song. And against all odds, it became a huge critical and commercial success.

The Brothers In Rhythm-produced gem was the stepping stone that took her from the glorious pop of “Better The Devil You Know” to collaborating with Nick Cave on “Where The Wild Roses Grow.” It gave what her six years at PWL couldn’t: credibility, and a vehicle to showcase a then-hugely-underrated voice. — MIKE WASS