In 1993, the grunge scene was hitting its tipping point, yet still producing some of its most important work. Hip-hop was exploding, creating new superstars that would help define the genre for years to come. Emerging, tough-to-categorize artists were breaking through, writing poignant and boundary-pushing music. There wasn’t a shortage of hit songs, essential albums or interesting storylines — which has now turned into plenty of nostalgia. Through anniversaries, reissues and criticism, 1993 has been thought about a lot in 2018, as the works from this pivotal year turn 25 years old, and we’re going to add to that trend by diving into the deep cuts from notable albums. In no way is this list a “best of” or any sort of ranking. Instead, it’s a breakdown — and a reminder — of some of the songs that have been overshadowed by the lead singles that dominated the airwaves and/or conversations.
1. “Silverfuck” by The Smashing Pumpkins
From the album “Siamese Dream”
It’s hard to take Billy Corgan seriously these days. In 2018, he’s more of a goofy cartoon character than a brilliant mad scientist, but two and a half decades ago, he released his masterpiece, “Siamese Dream.” The well-documented process of making the album sounds like running a marathon through the nine circles of hell while being screamed at by Gilbert Gottfried, but the results are nothing short of incredible — smart, moody, calculated and unique music that’s full of wizardry and drive. It’s best known for songs like “Cherub Rock” and “Today,” but “Silverfuck” checks all of the boxes of a great Smashing Pumpkins song: the guitar tones are simultaneously evil and ethereal, Corgan’s voice is filled with thinly-veiled anger, and there’s plenty of space for Jimmy Chamberlin to hit full god mode on the drums. The song builds and falls and twists and turns through its 8:42 runtime, holding onto a magnetic tension all the way through. It’s as ominous, violent, charismatic and powerful as anything that they’ve ever made, with intricate layers carefully woven together. Its sparse lyrics and experimental elements were never going to let it be a hit, but it also maximizes the band’s best qualities.
2. “Snake” by PJ Harvey
From the album “Rid Of Me”
In 2018, PJ Harvey is essentially exactly the opposite of Billy Corgan — she’s still as mysterious and artistically important today as she was 25 years ago. On her post-punk sophomore album from 1993, Harvey’s sub-two-minute thrasher “Snake” is an intense and poetic song that’s charm lies within its chaos. Her vocals are part brutal punk, part deranged opera singer, alternating punching and extending syllables over a fuzzed-out wall of sound. The song is biblical and personal, direct and ambiguous, and seething with wrath that’s derived from betrayal. And although “Snake” might not be the song that’s commonly pointed to when we talk about Harvey’s versatility, range or lyrical prowess, it does cover them all. My favorite part occurs not much more than 30 seconds into the song: the guitars and drums dissolve into a quiet rumble, as Harvey moves her voice into a soft, subtle, high-pitched noise that sounds like a demon is trying to escape from her body before she explodes back into a full-throated roar. It’s one of those nuanced, electrifying moments that make PJ Harvey a visceral, eccentric genius, on top of being a cutting-edge writer.
3. “Murder Was The Case (Death After Visualizing Eternity)” by Snoop Dogg
From the album “Doggystyle”
After his significant contributions to Dre. Dre’s “The Chronic”, Snoop Dogg parlayed his newfound success into his debut solo album, “Doggystyle” — an early West Coast gangster rap trailblazer that was packed with powerful beats and a lyrical style that was compelling, distinct and clever. While lead singles “Gin And Juice” and “Who Am I (What’s My Name)?” flexed with twenty-something braggadocio and wildcard antics, “Murder Was The Case (Death After Visualizing Eternity)” was an introspective, contemplative dive into dark hypotheticals. To wit: getting shot to death, followed by making a deal with the devil to come back to life among the powerful and rich, only to be eventually locked up in the penitentiary, waiting for a gang war to break out. While “Doggystyle” is more known for party anthems filled with broken-give-a-fucks and questionable perspectives, “Murder Was The Case (Death After Visualizing Eternity)” was the album’s crown jewel of storytelling and the ramifications of spiraling down the wrong path. It’s not a song that flew completely under-the-radar — an 18-minute short film was made to explore the story — but it never had the same lasting power as the hits. Still, it’s an evocative, honest and impactful gem.
4. “New Madrid” By Uncle Tupelo
From the album “Anodyne”
The final record from the revolutionary alt-country band helmed by Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy might not have been as massive as some of the others on this list, but it was as equally important as any of them since Uncle Tupelo basically achieved Velvet Underground levels of influence over modern Americana. Tweedy’s growth, from the band’s groundbreaking debut, “No Depression”, to their third release in “Anodyne”, was enormous, as he established himself as an equal songwriting partner, catching up to Farrar. And with “New Madrid” we see his full potential. “All my daydreams are disasters / She’s the one I think I love / Rivers burn and then run backwards / For her, that’s enough,” Tweedy sings on top of a breezy banjo and jangly guitars. As a poetic, melodic, oddball love song that pushed the boundaries of the band, it created an interesting and striking juxtaposition to Farrar’s searching, hard-charging and traditional-leaning country about the fracturing of society. Infighting burned out Uncle Tupelo right as they gained more range and became more adventurous. But, basically, Tweedy’s songs like “New Madrid” were the seeds of Wilco.
5. “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” by Nirvana
From the album “In Utero”
After reflecting on the commercial juggernaut “Nevermind” as too narrow in scope and overly polished, Kurt Cobain wanted to move Nirvana’s next album into territory that was rawer and messier. And, while songs like “All Apologies” and “Heart-Shaped Box” were radio-ready, the band’s final album was leaner, meaner and weirder than its relatively clean grunge-pop predecessor. There was more irreverence and rage on “In Utero”, marked by songs like “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” which starts with an off-putting feedback screech before developing into a turbulent piece of garage-punk, hitting that goal of dirtying things up. It was sarcastic and basically the anti-“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but it wasn’t done in an eggheaded contrarian sort of way. It was a statement song, without begging the arty narcissists in the gatekeeping ‘cool’ crowd to hold the band in good graces again. Nirvana was better because they made accessible, hook-heavy hits that still had depth — but they were also better because they could flip a switch into something much more emotionally charged and unstable. It was that Jekyll-and-Hyde, push-and-pull identity conflict that made them special.
6. “Invisible Man” by The Breeders
From the album “Last Splash”
The Breeders have an uncanny ability to build highly melodic, yet rough-around-the-edges alt-rock songs that float with a shimmering, otherworldly swagger. There’s plenty of examples of that on “Last Splash”, their most famous record, with “Cannonball” being the most notable and lasting. But, sonically speaking, “Invisible Man” is right there with it, as it strikes a careful balance of distortion-fueled toughness and sugary hooks. Band leader Kim Deal’s graceful, distant vocals make her sound like a grunge version of Bowie, over choppy waves of guitars, and slices of her twin sister Kelley’s jagged lead work. A shiny synth only adds to The Breeder’s expert ability to balance warm, inviting tones and a scuzzy, moody atmosphere. It’s calculated punk. It’s messy noise-pop. It’s idiosyncratic rock. It’s not overly complicated, but it does a lot in a little amount of time. It’s big, but its brevity defines it. It’s expertly layered, but it sounds like they don’t care. It’s everything that makes The Breeders one of the best bands of their generation.
7. “Midnight” by A Tribe Called Quest
From the album “Midnight Marauders”
Between Q-Tip’s eclectic, innovative beats that veer all over the road map of music, and dense, stylistic lyrics that bob and weave with crystal fluidity, “Midnight Marauders” was a landmark album in hip-hop exploration. On the song “Midnight,” Q-Tip walks the listener through a neighborhood in this incredibly vivid and interesting way: there are dice games, late night food stops, kids trying to hook up, blunts being passed around and cops prowling. There’s no major plot twist or action point, but it’s a thick and poetic song that’s one part reflection of a time and place and another part puzzle for the listener. The beat pops with an inviting bounce, and while it’s not as rangy or jazz-inflicted as some of the other work on the record, it does have a punchy, ominous undertone, and its use of muffled voices that replicates found sounds is the sort of thing that makes Q-Tip a virtuoso.
8. “Crying” by Björk
From the album “Debut”
After the dissolution of The Sugarcubes, Björk’s post-punk-leaning pop-rock band, the Icelandic singer-songwriter ventured into a solo career, leaning into avant-garde dance-hall electronica on her first record, “Debut”. The lead singles, like the vibrant, but trippy “Big Time Sensuality,” were rich and arty songs — part inviting melodies and warmth, part curveball concepts and sadness. With its paranoid beat and vulnerable lyrics, “Crying” might be a bit shakier and more unstable than its counterparts, but the song moves with charged desperation, forming an evil-sounding, acid house-inspired swan dive into heartbreak. “It’s a hot day / And I’m dressed lightly / I move carefully / Through the crowd,” Björk sings in the second verse, pulling and extending the words with her signature style that allows her to circumvent traditional writing mechanics. The much more straightforward chorus, lyrically speaking, crescendos into a volcano of emotion. If you could create the coolest nightclub in the world, a place that was the anti-Vegas, where innovation and surging dopamine weighed equally in the song selection, this would be on the playlist.
9. “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” by Wu-Tang Clan
From the album “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)”
While Dr. Dre and Snoop were creating funky, lowriding gangster rap on the West Coast, the Wu-Tang Clan were masterminding its scrappy and stone-cold aggressive sibling in New York City. “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” flipped the script on hip-hop groups, with a nine-deep crew and an eccentric, captivating method that was both genius and bat-shit crazy. While the album is rightfully best known for classics like “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Protect Ya Neck,” another quintessential example of the record’s prowess is “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”. A dynamic track, it featured six quick-hitting verses from six different members, as well as a creative chorus from Method Man and slick production from RZA, who samples Otis Redding and pulls dialog from “Five Deadly Venoms” and “Shaolin and Wu-Tang,” both martial arts movies from Hong Kong. It has the feel of a street-corner rap battle, and a talent pool that’s so deep it seems impossible. Like the album as a whole, “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” is a zoned-in master’s class in exceeding the sum of its heavy-hitting parts, which, as the album aptly points out, is nothing to fuck with.
10. “Help Me Mary” by Liz Phair
From the album “Exile In Guyville”
Phair’s celebrated “Exile In Guyville” is a song-by-song response to the Rolling Stones’ scuzz-rock classic “Exile On Main Street”. Meaning “Help Me Mary” — a scathing, frustrated song — paralleled Jagger and company’s “Rip This Joint,” a carefree party anthem. “[Their song] was all about sort of the attitude of these rock guys that would just kind of roll into town, create trouble, sleep with other people’s girlfriends and leave a big mess behind. I was writing about my own experiences hosting [laughs] these spontaneous gatherings of rock dudes and how just hidden my real self was in that male scene,” Phair told journalist Brittany Spanos in Rolling Stone magazine’s recent track-by-track breakdown of “Exile In Guyville”. “Help Me Mary” is a well-crafted and compelling song, to begin with, but when you look at it through that lens, it accelerates even further down the line of great songwriting. It’s a sharp teardown, and it’s one of the many reasons that Phair is such a venerable artist.