TLC’s ‘CrazySexyCool,’ Madonna’s ‘Bedtime Stories’ and More Albums Turning 30 in 2024

1994 was a transcendent year for music, and the number of now-classic albums celebrating their 30th anniversary this year is staggering.

TLC’s CrazySexyCool ’ Madonna’s Bedtime Stories’ and More Albums Turning 30 in 2024 087

The mid-’90s saw hip-hop transform, regaining some of its edge and danger. The West Coast had already made a claim as king of the genre in the early ’90s, prompting New York to respond with two landmark albums: Nas’s Illmatic, a lyrical masterpiece that influenced East Coast hip-hop for decades to come, and Ready to Die, the album that introduced the world to The Notorious B.I.G.

R&B also had a stellar year in ’94. Usher and Brandy released their self-titled debuts, and Boyz II Men dropped their second album, (II), which contained their massive hit “I’ll Make Love to You.” In November of that year, TLC set the stage for world domination with CrazySexyCool and its lead single, “Creep.”

While some genres thrived at the beginning of the mid-’90s, 1994 marked the end of grunge, both due to changing music trends and the death of Kurt Cobain, who died by suicide on April 8, 1994. Even before Cobain’s death, the punk-inspired sound from Seattle was growing beyond its borders. Pearl Jam celebrated ’94 with the release of Vitalogy, playing with rougher and more experimental sounds. Alice in Chains reached the top of the Billboard 200 with the melodic sounds of Jar of Flies, while Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden achieved greater mainstream success with Purple and Superunknown, respectively.

As grunge subsided, music under the nebulous alternative label arose to encompass rock radio in 1994. Titans of college rock (Pavement, They Might Be Giants, Dinosaur Jr.) unveiled some of their best work, while other bands (Sponge, Sixpence None the Richer, Blues Traveler, Toadies) released music that became part of the decade’s sonic tapestry.

TLC s CrazySexyCool Madonna s Bedtime Stories and More Albums Turning 30 in 2024

Tionne T-Boz Watkins, Rozonda Chilli Thomas and Lisa Left Eye Lopes, of the American girl group TLC, 1999. Ron Davis/Getty Images

Dave Matthews Band released their debut album in 1994, as did Hootie & the Blowfish, resulting in a folk-inspired rock resurgence that happened alongside punk’s stage dive into the mainstream courtesy of Green Day’s Dookie and The Offspring’s Smash. It was a good year for the genre: NOFX released their beloved Punk in Drublic and Jawbreaker put out 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, a landmark album of the growing emo-punk scene.

1994 also laid the foundation for what was to come. A band out of Bakersfield, California, named Korn released their self-titled debut album, setting the stage for the nu-metal explosion at the turn of the century. Meanwhile, in San Diego, a group called Blink dropped their demo album, Buddha. A few years later, the band rebranded itself as Blink-182.

Keep reading for a look at the albums that best capture the vibe of 1994 — and are turning 30 this year.

Aaliyah, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number

The late Aaliyah helped make the ’90s a golden time for R&B with her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. The LP included “Back & Forth,” which topped the Billboard R&B charts in 1994 while hitting No. 5 on the Hot 100. Her cover of the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best” peaked at No. 2 on the R&B charts. Aaliyah remained an MTV and radio fixture until her deadly airplane accident in The Bahamas in 2001.

Beastie Boys, Ill Communication

Having debuted in the mid-’80s with Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys transitioned out of that decade into the next with Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head. Ill Communication revitalized the group and led the band to greater mainstream success. Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, Michael “Mike D” Diamond and the late Adam “MCA” Yauch revisited their punk origins with the blasting “Sabotage” while evolving their hip-hop sound on “Root Down” and “Sure Shot.”

TLC s CrazySexyCool Madonna s Bedtime Stories and More Albums Turning 30 in 2024

Adam Yauch, Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond of the Beastie Boys, 1994. Catherine McGann/Getty Images

Weezer, Weezer

Commonly called The Blue Album, the first self-titled Weezer LP arrived on May 10, 1994. Heralded by “Undone – The Sweater Song,” the fuzz-filled album — and a spectacled Rivers Cuomo belting lyrics about romance and alienation — resonated with nerds and misfits everywhere. Radio singles “Say It Ain’t So” and “Buddy Holly” built upon that success. Even if some Weezer fans stopped listening after 1996’s Pinkerton, this album is why the band retains a special place in the hearts of many Gen Xers and millennials.

Nas, Illmatic

Though it’s now known as one of the biggest debuts in hip-hop’s history, Nas’ Illmatic wasn’t an immediate commercial smash when it arrived on April 19, 1994. While it didn’t set fire to the charts, Illmatic’s impact was felt immediately on the hip-hop scene. “N.Y. State of Mind” showed a rawness and lyricism that inspired a generation of MCs, and the album solidified Nas as a leader of this new East Coast sound.

Beck, Mellow Gold

Mellow Gold is technically Beck‘s third album, but it’s the one that established him as a voice for disillusioned Gen Xers and millennials with the seismic “Loser.” But Beck’s sound was already far more complex than the rudimentary rap stylings of that track, and those who dug deep into Mellow Gold discovered a complex artist behind the slacker anthem. The world would learn of Beck’s many facets in ’96 with the release of Odelay (with his now-signature songs “Where It’s At,” “Devil’s Haircut” and “The New Pollution”).

The Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die

Ready to Die reestablished Brooklyn’s standing in the rap world while introducing The Notorious B.I.G. as one of hip-hop’s newest stars. Biggie Smalls’ autobiographical lyrical style on “Juicy,” unshakeable confidence on “Big Poppa” and vulnerability on “Suicidal Thoughts” showed just how great hip-hop could be. Add in Biggie’s undeniable charisma as an MC and a storyteller, and it’s clear why many consider Ready to Die to be the best hip-hop album of all time.

Albums Turning 30 in 2024

TLC, CrazySexyCool

TLC — comprised of Tionne “T-Boz” WatkinsRozonda “Chilli” Thomas and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes — were already hitmakers by ’94, having released Ooooooohhh … On the TLC Tip two years prior, but CrazySexyCool skyrocketed the group to new levels of success and fame. It took home the Best R&B Album trophy at the 38th Grammy Awards, while the lead single, “Creep,” won Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. “Waterfalls” was also a tsunami of a hit song and helped solidify TLC as a cornerstone of the ’90s musical landscape.

Hootie & the Blowfish, Cracked Rear View

One of the most defining sounds of the mid-’90s came from Columbia, South Carolina, courtesy of Hootie & the Blowfish. The band’s debut, Cracked Rear View, is one of the most commercially successful albums in history, having gone platinum 21 times since its release in July 1994. With inescapable hits like “Only Wanna Be With You,” “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry” and “Time,” the group fronted by Darius Rucker delivered amplified folk rock that appealed to millions.

TLC s CrazySexyCool Madonna s Bedtime Stories and More Albums Turning 30 in 2024

Darius Rucker, Mark Bryan, Dean Felber, Jim Sonefeld, Conrad Hotel, Brussel of the band Hootie & the Blowfish, 1996. Gie Knaeps/Getty Images

Green Day, Dookie

Though it was recorded and ready to go by the end of 1993, Green Day’s Dookie arrived on February 1, 1994 — the same day the world first heard the swinging beat and infectious bassline of “Longview.” The album’s lead single introduced the world to Billie Joe ArmstrongMike Dirnt and Tré Cool, and punk was never the same again. Though Dookie was the group’s third album, it was their first on a major label, and their melodic, pop-punk sound was an immediate hit with the masses. Follow-up singles “Basket Case” and “When I Come Around” were radio staples, prompting a gold rush for labels to sign other punk acts.

The Offspring, Smash

“You gotta keep ’em separated.” Those worlds opened up “Come Out and Play,” the lead single from The Offspring’s third studio album, Smash, and became synonymous with the 90s punk. Released two months after Green Day’s DookieSmash was also a commercial success, having since been certified platinum six times. (At the time, it was the best-selling album on an independent record label.) Subsequent hits “Gotta Get Away” and “Self Esteem” mixed the alienation of the time with a more melodic approach, a successful recipe the band replicated on the follow-up albums Ixnay on the Hombre and Americana.

Oasis, Definitely Maybe and Blur, Parklife

While America was wrapped up in R&B, hip-hop, punk and grunge 30 years ago, the U.K. spent the 1990s in the throes of the Britpop movement. Two bands that spearheaded the moment were Oasis and Blur, rivals who often went head-to-head in the British press and on the U.K. music charts. In April 1994, Blur released Parklife, the band’s critically acclaimed third studio album that contained “Girls & Boys,” “End of a Century,” “To the End” and the title track. Four months later, Oasis released Definitely Maybetheir critically acclaimed album powered by hits like “Supersonic,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Live Forever.”

The two groups famously clashed in “The Battle of Britpop” the following year, as Oasis released “Roll With It” on the same day that Blur dropped “Country House.” Blur claimed victory, selling 270,000 copies of their single to Oasis’ 216,000. Oasis, however, may have won the war, as their album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? went on to be more critically and commercially successful than Blur’s The Great Escape.

Albums Turning 30 in 2024

Michel Linssen/Redferns; Mick Hutson/Redferns

Madonna, Bedtime Stories

Madonna started the ’90s on a controversial note, releasing the Erotica album in 1992 along with Sex, her infamous coffee table book full of explicit photos. In ’94, she softened her image for the mainstream on Bedtime Stories. Though the videos for “Take a Bow” and “Human Nature” still showcased Madonna’s sexual side, she toned it down enough to still have an edge without alienating the audience. “Secret,” the lead single, was a huge hit for the Material Girl, and Bedtime Stories proved that Madonna wasn’t done telling her story.

Hole, Live Through This

If grunge had to go out on a high note, it might as well do so with Courtney Love’s signature wail. Released one week after Kurt Cobain’s death, Hole’s second album is regarded as one of the best rock albums ever. The lead single, “Miss World,” saw Hole incorporate more melodic touches to their sound to great success. In a scene dominated by male voices, Live Through This put Love on equal footing with her peers.

Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral

Long before Trent Reznor started racking up Academy Awards for his work on film scores, he rocked a mesh shirt and a dour expression while fronting Nine Inch Nails. In ’94, the band experienced its greatest critical success with The Downward Spiral, an album that took their industrial rock sound and blended it with gothic overtones and imagery. The album spawned the band’s biggest single, “Closer,” as well as “Hurt,” a song that Johnny Cash later transformed as part of his American Recordings series.

Johnny Cash, American Recordings

The late Johnny Cash partnered with Rick Rubin, a producer known for his work in the rap and metal world, to release American Recordings in 1994. The album sparked a career resurgence for the country music icon. Cash recorded songs written for him by artists like Tom Waits and Glenn Danzig and covered tracks by Leonard CohenNick Lowe and Kris Kristofferson. A complete set of the recordings was released in November 2003, two months after Cash died at 71.