The phrase “out with the old… in with the new” really meant something in 1992. In the previous years of the new decade, the public was still obsessed with 1980s megastars Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna. In 1992, the love affair with these artists ended, even though some of them would regain their commercial or critical success in the future.
In late March of 1992, Bruce Springsteen, attempting to copy the success of Guns N’ Roses' Lose Your Illusion I and II, released two albums: Human Touch and Lucky Town. Both albums generally received good reviews but were largely ignored by the general public. Even though both albums debuted in the top five on Billboard’s charts, they instantly slipped off the charts. Many said that Bruce Springsteen would have had much better luck had he just released one album instead of two. Others said that abandoning the E Street Band (temporarily) didn’t fare well with his fans.
Michael Jackson, who told radio stations and MTV that he must be referred to as the “King of Pop,” was taking his first step into becoming an international joke in 1992. His Dangerous album was certainly a hit, but didn’t live up to expectations. People began to speak more about his weirdness than his music.
Prince released his Symbol album to mixed reception. Even though the first single, “7,” hit the top 10, the other singles were virtually ignored.
Out of all the megastars of the 1980s, it was Madonna who proved to be the biggest loser of 1992. During the summer, she released one of the best singles of her career, “This Used To Be My Playground,” from the hit movie in which she gave her best acting performance yet, A League of Their Own. For the first time in her career, however, her ego completely overshadowed her musical output. Her album Erotica was released in October of 1992 and contained some great songs. However, she released her book of sexual fantasies, Sex, at the same time. Even though the book sold well, it created one of the biggest celebrity backlashes in history and the music from Erotica was largely ignored.
U2 did not suffer the same fate as other 1980s acts. Their latest album, Achtung Baby, was released in late 1991 to the sound of people yawning, especially since the first single, "The Fly", bombed on the music charts. But in 1992, U2 started their acclaimed Zoo TV Tour and the album started producing hit after hit. “Mysterious Ways” was the best single of 1992 and proved the band wasn’t going away for a long time, at least until 1997.
1992 will mostly be remembered as the year when the musical styles of hip hop, rap, and grunge officially found a mainstream audience. These genres were definitely brewing in previous years, but exploded this year. Nirvana’s Nevermind took off in 1991 with the release of the single “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The album hit number one on Billboard’s Top 200 in January of 1992. Pearl Jam’s Ten album also broke through this year and turned the band into a stadium act. Even though the Red Hot Chili Peppers aren’t directly considered grunge, the newfound success of this genre certainly influenced their mainstream breakthrough in the summer of 1992, when their single “Under The Bridge” charted at number two.
The most pivotal album released this year was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, which – for better or worse – mainstreamed gangsta rap. Ever since the release of this album, songs about “putting caps in yo ass” and “million dolla hos” have been released to widespread success. The album contained such notable titles as “The Day The Niggaz Took Over,” “Lil Ghetto Boy,” “A Nigga Wit A Gun,” and “Stranded on Death Row.” “Dre Day,” the first release from The Chronic, hit the top 10 in 1992.
1992 was the year that marked the debut of the TLC, possibly the greatest R&B/hip-hop group to ever emerge on the scene. Their album, Oooooooh…On The TLC Tip, didn’t have the artistic quality the group’s future albums, but spawned out such enjoyable bubble gum hits as “Aint 2 Proud 2 Bet,” “What About Your Friends,” and “Baby-Baby-Baby.”
Because of Billboard’s new Soundscan system that was able to track actual sales of singles, country music broke through to the mainstream. Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” spawned a cheesy dance routine and an addictive melody that people couldn’t stop humming during the summer of 1992. Garth Brooks' third album, Ropin’ the Wind, continued its mainstream success after being released in 1991. Country music had always been a popular genre, but with Billboard’s ability to now track actual record sales, the popularity became more noticed.
The ten best singles of 1992 are as follows:
1. “Mysterious Ways” – U2: This is just about the most memorable song that U2 has ever released. It’s rocking drums along with danceable bass line was completely unique when compared to the other early nineties songs that topped Billboard’s Rock chart.
2. “I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston: Okay, put your guns away! You may have valid arguments if you believe this song was ridiculously overplayed and overrated. But you have to hand it to Whitney Houston for taking an average song and cranking it up with her beautiful voice. Whitney Houston’s voice can turn a devil into an angel and this is well demonstrated on this wonderfully produced David Foster song that was originally sung by Dolly Parton.
3. “This Used To Be My Playground” – Madonna: This ballad is probably one of Madonna’s best written songs to date. Taken from the movie A League of Their Own, people easily identified with a song about having such strong memories of a deceased loved one that, in a way, the person still actually exists. Some of the lyrics include, “I can see your face in a secret place, you’re not just a memory/Say goodbye to yesterday, those are words I'll never say.”
4. “Tears In Heaven” – Eric Clapton: Dedicated to his son who died tragically, Eric Clapton released the most heartfelt song of his career. This musical masterpiece won three Grammy awards the following year for Song of The Year, Record of The Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance
5. “Under The Bridge” – Red Hot Chili Peppers: The biggest hit of the band’s career and rightfully so. The song, about vocalist Anthony Kiedis’ drug addiction, includes the lyrics, “Under the bridge downtown is where I drew some blood/Under the bridge downtown I could not get enough.” On the surface level, the song could be read about someone’s love affair, through good times and bad, with Los Angeles.
6. “November Rain” – Guns N’ Roses: The last big hit of Guns N’ Roses’ career was an adventurous, symphonic classic that proves why Slash is one of the best guitarists in history. This is one of the rare rock songs that found its way onto radio stations that played mostly urban music.
7. “Why” – Annie Lennox: This song showcases why Annie Lennox is the best female vocalist of all time. This song was released during the summer of 1992 and was one that can be applied to almost any situation. The best part of the song is the climactic ending, where she whispers, “You don’t know what I fear” over and over.
8. “Rhythm Is A Dancer” – Snap: While house music had its peak a year or two before, Snap still showed the world how it was done with this fast, exciting track that moved everyone to the dance floor. The lyrics were campy but it only made the song more appealing.
9. “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” – Sophie B. Hawkins: This rollercoaster rock ballad put Sophie B. Hawkins on the musical map and rightfully so. The sexy lyrics, the swinging beats, and Sophie’s throaty, juvenile voice turned this song into a huge hit during the summer of 1992.
10. “Free Your Mind” – En Vogue: The message of this song: don’t judge me because of my color! But this song wasn’t your everyday politically correct garbage; the lyrics take aim at people of color who misjudge people in their own race. The thoughtful lyrics, combined with heavy rock guitars and classic R&B grooves, is the group's best record out of their entire catalogue.
1992 also had its memorable duds, whether they topped the charts or not. Here are the worst singles of 1992:
1. “I’m Too Sexy” – Right Said Fred: Perhaps when Don McLean sang about the day the music died, he could have been talking about the day this song was released. This number one single sounds like an advertisement for a gay bathhouse (as Jerry Seinfeld would say, “Not that there's anything wrong with that.”). If the song wasn’t bad enough, MTV had to punish us by playing the video over and over and over.
2. “Can’t Let Go” – Mariah Carey: Unlike pop rival Whitney Houston, who could turn a bad song into a good one with her beautiful voice, Mariah had the talent of turning a well written song into a dud with her constant dog whistles and pig calls. “Can’t Let Go” was a well written and produced hit from Mariah’s Emotions album, but it was completely destroyed by Mariah’s vocal acrobatics.
3. “Erotica” – Madonna: Many people consider this the worst song of Madonna’s career. Besides lyrics such as, “Only the one that hurts you can make you feel better,” the beats were recycled from Hell.
4. “Remember The Time” – Michael Jackson: Lame lyrics, lame music, and for the first time in twenty five years, lame singer.
5. “Baby Got Back” – Sir Mix-A-Lot: Perhaps this song should go right in the Rock & Roll Hall of Shame along with “I’m Too Sexy.” Not only did this song make it fashionable to make fun of rich white girls, but also negatively stereotyped black women. We all know that Sir Mix-A-Lot liked big butts and it’s something he couldn’t deny, but his affair with big hits definitely ended after this piece of garbage.