This is the first in a series of 1994 releases, now celebrating their 25th Anniversary. For even more 1994, check out my now defunct podcast
The 1990s was the last great decade for the movie soundtrack. File sharing affected the manner in which people consumed music, but it was particularly disruptive when an album’s unifying thread wasn’t the artist you were listening to, but the series of images that these songs were backing. Before Sean Fanning brought down the music industry they managed to squeeze out some pretty solid soundtracks. One of the ones that had a big impact on me was Reality Bites. At the time and today I had a greater affinity for Singles, both the movie and soundtrack, but Reality Bites also had its place. As it related to the soundtracks both managed to capture aspects of Generation X. Singles was a snapshot of what was happening then. The movie took place in Seattle and focused on highlighting the bands that made that part of the country the center of rock in 1992.
Reality Bites took a different path. It both celebrated and criticized the self-centered nostalgia of Gen-Xers, featuring set pieces with group sing alongs to Schoolhouse Rock songs and earnest discussions of the Brady Bunch. The soundtrack followed this lead by mixing in 1970s nostalgia tracks with the contemporary artists who were featured. As a 14-year-old hearing some of these older tracks for the first time, it served the purpose of introducing the next generation to something completely new to them through the veil of nostalgia.
What follows is a look at the soundtrack divided into those two general chunks: the contemporary tracks and the nostalgia picks.
When diving into the Reality Bites soundtrack there’s only one song that’s acceptable to start with, “Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb. Stay is one of the top ten earworm songs of the last 30 years. It was everywhere in 1994, and there isn’t a suburban 30-year-old alive who doesn’t know most of the words. “Stay…” made Lisa Loeb one of the forerunners of the acoustic female singer-songwriter movement of the mid-1990s leading up to Lilith Fair. It’s catchy and fun, and I still genuinely love the song.
“Spin the Bottle” by the Juliana Hatfield Three is another catchy female lead song on the soundtrack. If I’d had the vocabulary for it at the time, I would have described the sound as “twee.” It’s in a similar vein to what Cub was doing at the time. Mostly what I knew about Juliana Hatfield in 1994 was that she was cool, and if I wasn’t 14 and absorbing whatever MTV threw at me maybe I could have been the source for indie rock at Firelands High School, extolling the virtues of Camper Van Beethoven and the Juliana Hatfield Three. Very solid song that holds up today.
Outside of those standouts, the rest of the contemporary songs followed a similar pattern to most soundtracks of that era. There were fairly forgettable entries from Dinosaur Jr. and the Posies, a new Crowded House song that was a hit for them at the time but it was no “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” and a big in the 1980s U2 number for the closing credits. For some godforsaken reason somebody thought it was a good idea to include an Ethan Hawke song on the official soundtrack, and it wasn’t even his cover of “Add it Up” by the Violent Femmes.
That was pretty much it for contemporary songs. A couple of gems, a handful of filler, some clunkers, and a can’t miss U2 standard.
I want to preface this section by stating for the record that there was a time in my life where I enjoyed songs like “My Sharona” very much. It’s a dark period in my past, but I believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, so it is important to acknowledge that. I also loved Dave Matthews Band until 1998 ohgodivesaidtoomuch….so anyway. With that off my chest, we might as well start with “My Sharona” by The Knack. I don’t know if “My Sharona” was ever considered a good song, but it was certainly a popular one when it came out, and Reality Bites gave it new life by exposing it to a new audience in the mid 1990s. I hope it wasn’t considered a good song, especially now that I know it’s a song about a 17-year-old written by a guy in his mid-20s at the time.
“Tempted” by Squeeze is a suitable companion song to “My Sharona” and I’m sure I’d find out that it also has a creepy origin story if I were to look it up. Ok I’m back. I think we are in the clear. From what I can tell it’s a general song about love and loss, and in no way inspired by lust for an underage girl. Sorry for associating you with “My Sharona,” “Tempted.” “Tempted” is from 1981, so the same general time frame as the Knack entry, but unlike “My Sharona” it was not a big hit at the time. It was really through its reintroduction that “Tempted” gained life, appearing in commercials and video games like GTA: Vice City and Rock Band in addition to its placement in Reality Bites.
The last big nostalgia track I want to mention is “Baby, I Love Your Way” by Big Mountain. I don’t have any strong feelings for or against this song, apart from agreeing with the guys in High Fidelity that a lot of value is added when Lisa Bonet is covering it (High Fidelity is definitely something that will have to be tackled eventually, and boy did the bloom come off the rose for the “selfish manchild blames his exes for his inability to evolve” genre). It was the mid-1990s and including something with a touch of reggae was required by law, so its inclusion makes perfect sense.
That’s going to be it for Reality Bites. My apologies if you were on the edge of your seat waiting for me to mention the Lenny Kravitz song I don’t remember that was apparently on the soundtrack, or the song by a band called The Indians who actually dressed up like Old West stereotypes when they performed. You’ll just have to wait for the 10,000 words on them later when I run out of ideas.
Were you into Reality Bites? What soundtracks were instrumental in your childhood? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.