Ranking Modern Rock #1s, 1993-1994

When Nirvana broke the levee barricading the swirling waters of American alternative rock, avid Billboard readers opened a February issue and saw a fact that chilled them. Jesus Jones’ sitar-baited and FX-dependent “The Devil You Know” began a weeks-long reign at the top of the Modern Rock chart. A bulwark. To Americans who distrusted limeys already, this was as frustrating as watching Bill Clinton being reelected three years later yet still facing a Republican Congress. When I bought Jesus Jones’ Perverse out of brand loyalty, a friend said, “Why?” as if I’d announced I’d voted for George H.W. Bush. “Real Real Real” had hit the Hot 100 top five fourteen months ago. A world had changed (not quite enough, as Madchester fellow traveling third raters Ned’s Atomic Dustbin got a hit too).

The 1993 chart was like that. The big British acts on which the charts, KROQ, and modern rock-reporting stations had depended suffered no loss of verve. No one can call New Order’s almighty “Regret” or Depeche Mode’s U2-indebted “Walking in My Shoes” revanchist assaults. If there’s a person who thinks “Regret,” the #1 song of 1993 on this chart, isn’t one of New Order’s most perfect singles, then this person deserves exile. And Morrissey, selling in greater quantities than ever now that Soundscan accurately reported purchases, got his biggest American hit — very nearly a top forty! — with a coquettish and rather gay come-on. But no matter how often Kurt Cobain praised The Raincoats in his canny interviews, he wasn’t — he couldn’t be — responsible for sending female-fronted bands to scale the charts. In 1993 we contented ourselves with Belly’s “Feed the Tree” and The Juliana Hatfield Three’s “My Sister,” two singular depictions of young women dealing with newfound power: angry, rueful, and, above all, tuneful. I would rather have seen Throwing Muses and L7 get their due instead of Crash Test Dummies, among three of the decade’s most execrable drips I sent to the Hague after filing my briefs in 2017 and 2018.

So, take your hat off, boy, for an era has ended. Henceforth the chart would forego lighter, effete pleasures — that is, if you discount Toad the Wed Sprocket’s “Fall Down,” six weeks at #1 in the early summer of 1994.

And I’ll still defend Perverse.

The Hague

Crash Test Dummies – Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
Blind Melon – No Rain
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Not Sleeping Around
Porno For Pyros – Pets
The Cranberries – Zombie


The Lemonheads – Into Your Arms
R.E.M. – Bang And Blame
Jesus Jones – The Devil You Know
Counting Crows – Einstein On The Beach (For An Eggman)
Live – Selling The Drama
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Soul To Squeeze

Sound, Solid Entertainments

Depeche Mode – I Feel You
Tears for Fears – Break It Down Again
Morrissey – The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get
Pearl Jam – Daughter/Yellow Ledbetter
R.E.M. – What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?
The Juliana Hatfield Three – My Sister
Nirvana – About A Girl (Live)
The Offspring – Come Out And Play (Keep ‘Em Separated)
Toad the Wet Sprocket – Fall Down

Good to Great

New Order – Regret
Beck – Loser
Belly – Feed the Tree
Nirvana – Heart-Shaped Box
Tori Amos – God
Green Day – Basket Case
Depeche Mode – Walking in My Shoes
Nirvana – All Apologies

8 thoughts on “Ranking Modern Rock #1s, 1993-1994

  1. Jukebox

    Regret is awesome. But the one New Order single that maded me dance that year and get lost in continental decadence was World (any remix). That song is waiting for a Bryan Ferry cover.

    I don’t see “No Rain” as much heinous as you (or Carrie Brownstein, ftm). Whatwasisname singer’s voice I find high pitched, but nowhere near as annoyingly high-pitched Laura Nyro, who’s revered anywere except for my pets and me. And the poor hippydude’s lyrics you blast:
    “And all I can do is read a book to stay awake
    And it rips my life away but it’s a great escape”

    that’s early generation X apathy putting it succintly. All he can do was that? Sure. All Cobain did do is offer “we’re stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us” or “Come as you are, as you were, as an old memory” or “what else can I say? everyone is gay” Meaning these kids, I mean US (I was 20 back then) could only protest in songs or get nervous about. And our protests were vegan compared with the ones in the late 60s or 70s. We were TOO shy. We were the kid in the library, not in the streets riots: “Libraries gave us power”, Manic Street Preacher’s frontman would claim couple of years later. We were the culture who read the news with horror, say something meaningless and get back to the work we hated. The reason I’m saying this is because I think I grew up to tell it, unlike Whatwasisname and Cobain and the one from MSP that dissapeared. They couldn’t handle these banalities and escaped, forever. These were kids living on their minds, not agit props of yesteryear ready to scream “pogo” or burn tires. One was respected, the other not. Because he used a ridiculous bee in a video and had a high pitch. Stipe made a pastoral album about mortality and “hey, kids rock’n’roll, nobody tells you were to go” receives a blast, too.

    I’m starting to think you find these hyper-sensitive songs nerve-wrecking because you might want younger Elvis Costello or Johnny Rotten or pissed off Lennon kick them in the ass. But I have bad news: They don’t belong in that mold. Not beven Cobain. Funnily enough, Tori Amos, L7, Polly Harvey, Bjork, they do belong. Womer were stronger, it seems. Same generation, different chromosomes. Call it generation Y.

    1. humanizingthevacuum Post author

      The Perfecto remix of “World” I heard at many a gay club in ’93 into ’94.

      The thing is, L7, Bjork, PJ Harvey, and Amos wouldn’t have written those hyper-sensitive songs, or at least not in the same way.

      1. Jukebox

        because women were really pissed and more mature in that generation. None of the Vedders of that time would call an “Army of Me” or say they were no “Cornflake Boys”. They would write about “Better Men” and “Daughters” and “Jeremy” finally has spoken. Meaning they were different “men”. Accept them as such.
        These women dated older men, (the ones who didn’t want to rape them in the first place) listened old Hard Rock, Blues, and uderstood it better. Angry young men were replaced by Angry Young Woman.
        Although that’s a generalisation, of course. The kid in Blind Melon was probably son of baby boomers, just as Wilson Phillips. So he didn’t need to make ends meet or appear snotty. I think, in a way, he was as bored and insecure as Kurt without that easieness to make gutural sounds to create some “gravitas” All I’m sayin is that they were talking about the same shit That doesn’t mean their songs are dishonest. Neither is “Rain”. On the contrary, in a strange way, I think it encapsulates the ealy 90s indie “commercial” sensibilities pretty well. As well as rocking men went, sure… Isn’t Thom Yorke, according to Alicia Silverston, made a career out of whining and emoting? Another X genner,

        Blasting Blind Melon is the easier thing. But it’s like blasting all those X genners for being such “prissies”.
        I’ve never heard any fair objection to the song taking this context, that is not being the “nasal” thing. (Carrie Brownstein, whom I love, said that on NPR but she probably wouldn’t have said such thing about mid 70s Dylan, no?). That’s it.

        That remix od “World” was a hit here, too. And that video dirrrty. We danced to the video in the disco every time, summer 94 here.

  2. stue1967

    I grew up in the Black Country in England, once the industrial epicentre of Britain but now sadly a Detroitian shell. I went to the same clubs that Pop Will Eat Itself, the Wonder Stuff and Ned’s frequented. A couple of members of Neds grew up in the same town as me and drank in the same pub as me.
    And I therefore have to take exception to your comment that they were “third rate Madchester travellers”. They weren’t – they were second rate Grebo travellers, a genre that never had a first rate band (possibly early Wonder Stuff). But roughly 80 miles separates the Black Country and Manchester which in British geographic terms is equivalent to the distance between New York and New Orleans.
    I still think the Neds were crap, mind you but they certainly weren’t a third rate Madchester band – they title would go to the Stone Roses.

    1. humanizingthevacuum Post author

      I apologize for the geographical mistake, unintended: I meant “Manchester” as an umbrella term for “baggy.”

      1. stue1967

        No need to apologise. It does show the redundant battle of sub-genres Manchester=baggy versus The Black Country=grebo. The bands ended up being constrained by the generic tropes of their scenes.
        All the more extraordinary then that Clint Mansell established his alternative soundtrack career.

  3. februarycallendar

    “Real Real Real” may have made the Hot 100’s Top 5, but in the final weeks pre-Nielsen data when Hot 100 Airplay and Hot 100 Singles Sales both were being compiled more accurately, and on both those charts it registered much, much lower peaks. It would never have got anywhere near as high on the Hot 100 under the new methods.

    Since someone has raised the issue of Britain’s Rust Belts (all of which except one – Central Scotland – voted heavily for Brexit) I must mention that these were the UK’s mainstream hard rock heartlands, very much including Bon Jovi, whose roots were of course similar (and in that respect different from most of their contemporaries). The depressed post-industrial West Midlands of England have also been affected by white flight – much of it to the part of England I live in.

    1. humanizingthevacuum Post author

      Two even bigger hits (Roxette’s “Fading Like a Flower” and Paula Abdul’s “Promise of a New Day”) hit #2 and #1, respectively, despite scoring poorly on either the sales or airplay chart. It shows the decadence of the era before Soundscan.


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