Looking back at 1992, popular music wasn’t exactly at its peak. Top worldwide hits included Whitney Houston’s Bodyguard ballad ‘I Will Always Love You’, Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, and the rather objectifying ‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir Mix-A-Lot. In the UK, single sales were distinctively low. We had 12 new singles hit number one, with Queen’s 1975 hit ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ also running over from its top spot in December the year prior/ Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Goodnight Girl’ and ‘Deeply Dippy’ by Right Said Fred topped the UK charts, and Simply Red’s fourth album Stars gained massive commercial success.
There was even an ABBA revival in 1992, which saw Erasure release an EP entitled Abba-esque and gain a number one spot for five weeks straight. Subsequently, ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits was released in September and spent a week at number one. It seems that the early 1990s revelled in cheesy tunes and one-hit-wonders… much of mainstream music wasn’t exactly groundbreaking.
Luckily, genres such as grunge, shoegaze, riot grrrl, and the emergence of hip-hop were either just beginning or in their prime during 1992. Nirvana’s Nevermind, which was released the previous year, went to number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, establishing grunge as an increasingly popular genre. Alice in Chain’s Dirt was released in 1992, further establishing the genre’s success. Similarly, the feminist punk movement ‘Riot Grrrl’ was picking up popularity in the underground scene, with bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Heavens to Betsy performing and releasing heavily at this time.
Major shoegaze bands such as Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and Lush were doing well during this period, and Britpop was in its early stages, with the formation of Oasis in 1992 and Blur having just one album (Leisure) to their name. Radiohead released their debut single and, to this day, their most recognisable – ‘Creep’. In the electronic and ambient realm, 1992 saw the release of Aphex Twin’s first full release, Selected Ambient Works 85–92, marking the start of a hugely influential career for Richard D. James. Björk’s alternative rock band, The Sugarcubes, disbanded this year, leading to the start of her impressive solo career in 1993.
Compared to much of the synth and drum-machine-driven sounds of the 1980s, the 1990s took a distinctively darker turn. People were disillusioned with the state of the world, and much of the ’80s optimism apparent in its music was fading away. The advent of the grunge movement, paired with the anger of riot grrrls and the melancholic sounds of shoegaze, suggested this clearly. In the UK, Factory Records went bankrupt due to spending an overwhelmingly large amount on Happy Monday’s financial failure Yes, Please, with the fact that “interest had shifted from Manchester to Seattle [the birthplace of grunge]” that Factory ended up in dire straits.
When compiling this list, it must be taken into consideration that in terms of the greatest rap and hip hop albums, most happened to be released before or after 1992, although the Dr. Dre debut The Chronic, cited as arguably the most important record in the history of the genre, has to be mentioned. Furthermore, despite Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ becoming a huge hit in 1992, it was technically released the year before, so will not make this list. Finally, a lot of huge hits from this year, such as Shakespears Sister’s ‘Stay,’ or anything by Bon Jovi, are not included on this list, simply because they’re not very good.
Sadly, no artist will appear twice either, meaning only one song could be chosen from stellar albums such as Dry by PJ Harvey and Dirty by Sonic Youth. Check out the top 30 below.
30 best songs released in 1992:
- ‘100%’ – Sonic Youth
- ‘Sheela-na-gig’ – PJ Harvey
- ‘Friday I’m in Love’ – The Cure
- ‘Creep’ – Radiohead
- ‘The Future’ – Leonard Cohen
- ‘No Ordinary Love’ – Sade
- ‘Killing in the Name’ – Rage Against the Machine
- ‘Mars’ – Television
- ‘Only Shallow’ – My Bloody Valentine
- ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ – L7
- ‘Out of Space’ – The Prodigy
- ‘Boilermaker’ – The Jesus Lizard
- ‘Xtal’ – Aphex Twin
- ‘Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry’ – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- ‘Carnival’ – Bikini Kill
- ‘Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang’ – Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg)
- ‘Popscene’ – Blur
- ‘Aneurysm’ – Nirvana
- ‘Bruise Violet’ – Babes in Toyland
- ‘Jump Around’ – House of Pain
- ‘Hit’ – The Sugarcubes
- ‘Would?’ – Alice in Chains
- ‘Kiss and Ride’ – Bratmobile
- ‘Free Range’ – The Fall
- ‘Son of a Gun’ – The Vaselines
- ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ – SNAP!
- ‘Super Falling Star’ – Stereolab
- ‘Love of Life’ – Swans
- ‘I Am One’ – The Smashing Pumpkins
- Slowdive – ‘Albatross’
Stream the playlist below.