Time travellers, we did it. We have picked clean the carcass of 1992.
Over the past twelve months, we’ve listened to more than 300 songs and around 50 albums. We’ve celebrated forgotten classics, discovered the stories behind the biggest hits, and endured a lot of novelty techno. There’s only one thing left to do…
Let’s make a list!
The rules of the list
Originally, I was going to run a big Twitter poll that would allow you, the people, to crown the Kings of 1992.
(And then you could all be mad at The People for picking the wrong song, instead of yelling at me.)
Unfortunately, Twitter has crashed and burned like one of Elon’s cars, so I’ve compiled my own list. Obviously, it’s very personal and you’ll probably disagree with all the choices. I’ve tried to cover a range of genres, and I’ve focused on songs that capture the exact feeling of life in 1992.
Also, I invented a few rules to it a bit easier:
Only songs that were in the UK Top 40 singles charts in 1992. This means excluding some personal favourites like “The Drowners” and “Where’s Me Jumper”.
Nobody that appears in the Best Album list. Purely for the sake of variety. You can find the album list over on The Riff.
The 25 Best Singles of 1992
Last-minute honorable mention: Just before this email went out, news came through about the tragic death of Terry Hall, former frontman of The Specials and Fun Boy Three. Terry appeared in this newsletter recently as one half of Vegas, the band he formed with Dave Stewart.
Vegas weren’t as big a supergroup as Electronic, but their album is interesting and “Possessed” is a great single. RIP Terry, and thanks for the tunes.
Now, on with the list! Get ready to start yelling at me in the comments!
And please tell me your favourite tunes from the year: here’s the full Spotify playlist of every singles and album we’ve featured in the past 12 months.
25. “It’s Only Natural”—Crowded House
Chart peak: Number 24 on October 3rd, 1992
1991’s Woodface kept popping up in the 1992 singles chart, thanks to “Weather With You” and the sublime “Four Seasons in One Day”. Great songs, both, but I have a soft spot for this catchy number with cheeky lyrics like, “falling down between your knees, please/Let me have my way with you.”
(Woodface would be high on my Best Albums of 1991 list, except we didn’t do one last year. There was a Top 10 Singles of 1991 though. This newsletter used to be much shorter.)
24. “People Everyday”—Arrested Development
Chart peak: Number 2 on November 11th, 1992
Featured in: Why we love breakup songs like 'End Of The Road' [November 1, 1992]
Arrested Development were poised to be The Next Big Thing, but it all fizzled out after the first album. Nevertheless, we got some very enjoyable jams, including this call-and-response number that borrows a chorus from Sly & The Family Stone.
23. “Fait Accompli”—Curve
Chart peak: Number 22 on March 7th, 1992
Hard to mention Curve without comparing them to Garbage, but there’s no denying that “Fait Accompli” is the template that made Shirley Manson a megastar.
Curve’s Doppelganger is a great record that also produced the excellent single “Horror Head”.
22. “Money Don’t Matter 2 Nite”—Prince
Chart peak: Number 19 on April 4th, 1992
Featured in: My Name Is Prince... for now, anyway [October 11, 1992]
Another mad year for Prince, who signed a massive record contract with Warner Brothers (I’m sure that will work out just fine for him). “My Name Is Prince” was his big hit of ‘92, but this holdover from Diamonds and Pearls is one of his finest moments as a songwriter.
21. “Crucified”—Army of Lovers
Chart peak: Number 31 on February 29th, 1992
“Eurotrash meets Eurovision” is probably the best way to describe Sweden’s delightfully bonkers Army Of Lovers. “Crucified” is a sleazy cabaret reimagining of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer”, and just one of the most fun things to grace the charts in 1992.
Chart peak: Number 32 on April 11th, 1992
Blur were in real trouble in 1992. The post-Leisure consensus was that Blur were a bunch of pretty-boy chancers destined to rot forever in the indie landfill. “Popscene” only confirmed this theory, passing through the charts with barely a squeak. Little did we realise that this was the new Blur, and that “Popscene” was a test balloon for Modern Life Is Rubbish.
19. “No Ordinary Love”—Sade
Chart peak: Number 26 on October 10th, 1992
Shares a lot of DNA with Massive Attack’s “Safe From Harm”, which is not a bad thing, especially when Sade is on vocals. A gorgeous song with a stunning video. Also, kudos to the people of 1992, who were a lot cooler about black mermaids than their 2022 counterparts.
18. “Trip II The Moon”—Acen
Chart peak: Number 38 on August 8th, 1992
An entire rave ecosystem bubbled under the charts throughout 1992, occasionally popping into the low 30s. Some of them felt like a broadcast from a parallel universe in which everyone was having a much better time, especially this breakbeat symphony from English DJ Acen Razvi.
17. “Pretend We’re Dead”—L7
Chart peak: Number 21 on April 25th, 1992
L7 caused CHAOS throughout 1992, from their unscheduled nudity on Channel 4, to Donna inviting the Reading moshpit to “eat my used tampon, fuckers.” But it wasn’t all empty antics—they also produced some kick-ass rock’n’roll.
16. “Something Good”—Utah Saints
Chart peak: Number 6 on June 27th, 1992
Featured in: Utah Saints 'Something Good': Kate Bush, Nazis, UFOs and sex cults [June 21, 1992]
Our most popular issue ever was about this song, although it was really about Wilhelm Reich and barely mentioned Utah Saints.
Let’s be clear though: Utah Saints are a very fun band and “Something Good” is a terrific song in its own right. Also, the video for the 2008 reissue is hilarious.
15. “Goodbye”—The Sundays
Chart peak: Number 27 on October 3rd, 1992
Featured in: Madonna's 'Erotica' is all about power [October 25, 1992]
Blind turned out to be slightly less stunning than The Sundays’ debut, Reading Writing, and Arithmetic. Still very good though, peaking on this gorgeous single that showcases the once-in-a-generation voice of Harriet Wheeler.
14. “My Lovin (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”—En Vogue
Chart peak: Number 4 on May 23rd, 1992
Featured in: En Vogue's 'My Lovin' is manufactured genius [May 17, 1992]
The funky divas dropped an absolute banger in the summer of ‘92, filled with swooping harmonies and proto-Girl Power. “My Lovin” defined a template that would give us SWV, Eternal, and, eventually, Destiny’s Child.
13. “It Only Takes A Minute”—Take That
Chart peak: Number 7 on June 27th, 1992
Featured in: Take That: queer icons or queer-baiters? [May 31, 1992]
A huge year for Gary, Robbie, Mark, Jason, Howard, and the many, many teenage girls who swore their lives to Take That in 1992. Barlow’s songwriting was their secret weapon, and while he tends towards soppy ballads (“A Million Love Songs”), he’s also capable of thumping dance tunes such as this, their first Top 10 hit.
Chart peak: Number 6 on July 4th, 1992
Featured in: Electronic, and the unlikely friendship of two icons [July 5, 1992]
Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner’s unlikely supergroup make a glorious return to the charts. Once again, they bring Neil Tennant in to add vocals, and the result is magic.
This is one of many incredible songs on the Cool World soundtrack, but they couldn’t save the movie from bombing hard at the box office.
11. “Ebeneezer Goode”—The Shamen
Chart peak: Number One on September 19th, 1992
Featured in: Jerry Sadowitz, the original Ebeneezer Goode [August 30, 1992]
Early 90s techno was cursed by two awful trends: gimmicky novelty songs, and weak puns about Ecstasy. “Ebeneezer Goode” is guilty on the second count, and possibly on the first. Also, it’s also nowhere near as good as The Shamen’s other 1992 singles, like “Phorever People” and the mighty “Boss Drum”.
But who cares? We’re trying to capture the spirit of 1992 here, and nothing is more quintessentially 1992 than a sepia-tinted Jerry Sadowitz running around London while Mr. C awkwardly raps about the goodness of E.
10. “Finally”—Ce Ce Peniston
Chart peak: Number 2 on March 28th, 1992
We could fill this whole list with dancefloor bangers that had epic female vocals. Bizarre Inc’s “I’m Gonna Get You”, Felix’s “Don’t You Want Me”, and obviously “Rhythm Is A Dancer” all deserve a mention.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s just pick one song to represent Now That’s What I Call Dance Anthems 92. I nominate CeCe’s joyous love song—comment below if you think it should be something else.
9. “Friday I’m In Love”—The Cure
Chart peak: Number 6 on June 6th, 1992
The Cure occasionally turn out a pop classic just to prove that they could write mainstream hits if they wanted to, but they don’t.
“Friday In The Love” is cast-iron proof that they can write a pop hit. The whole song is basically one massive sing-along chorus, filled with delightful lyrics about the fickleness of teenage love.
8. “Jump Around”—House of Pain
Chart peak: Number 32 on October 10th, 1992
Featured in: Jump Around leads to rap's weirdest beef [October 4, 1992]
You should see the commotion when this song gets played at an Irish wedding. Or an Irish funeral. Or any setting involving Irish people and alcohol.
And Irish people hate Americans who slap on a shamrock and do the “yeah, I’m like totally a Patty, erin gu braw” thing. The fact that we ignore House of Pain’s paddywhackery must mean that we must really, really love this song.
7. “I Will Always Love You”—Whitney Houston
Chart peak: Number One on December 5th, 1992
Featured in: The Complete History of 'I Will Always Love You' [November 29, 1992]
A song that’s been murdered by overexposure and memed to death for 30 years. What’s Whitney Houston’s favourite type of co-ordination? “Haaandd-Eeyyyyee.”
But, just try to pretend that you’re hearing this for the first time. Follow it all the way through, from the soft a capella opening, to the falls and lifts of the middle part, and the massive fireworks of the finale. It’s a hell of a thing, and possibly the greatest vocal performance of all time.
6. “Hit”—The Sugarcubes
Chart peak: Number 17 on January 25th, 1992
Featured in: The Sugarcubes 'Hit' helps Bjork escape from the island [January 12, 1992]
Bjork tried to live a quiet life in Iceland with her weirdo pals, but some people are just destined to be stars. Before she started her solo career, she gifted her old band with this immaculate indie-pop song.
There are shades here of the Bjork we’ll meet on Debut in 1993, although I’m not sure she’s ever been this much fun.
5. “Come As You Are”—Nirvana
Chart peak: Number 9 on March 14th, 1992
Nevermind gave us a lot of quiet-part/loud-part anthems, which inspired many of the grunge bands that came after. “Come As You Are” breaks away from that template, offering a more textured slow build.
When we look at In Utero next year, we’ll probably talk about Kurt’s complicated relationship with Nevermind and the grunge label. “Come As You Are” feels more removed from all that stuff than “Lithium” or “Teen Sprit”. It’s more authentically Nirvana.
Amusing footnote: Nirvana were about the only Seattle band not to appear in Cameron Crowe’s grunge movie Singles. Crowe ended up in a row with the studio because they wanted to give the film a grunge-ier name. Their preferred title? Come As You Are.
Chart Peak: Number 37 on September 26th, 1992
Featured in: Opus III 'It's A Fine Day' and the weird world of Edward Barton [March 1, 1992]
Opus III had a very good hit with “It’s A Fine Day”, based on the lo-fi indie song by Jane & Barton. But the song became something wonderous when brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll weaved a sample into the trance classic “Halcyon”.
The song is a sad, beautiful elegy for their mother, who struggled with addiction and mental illness during her life. Opus III’s Kirsty Hawkshaw plays Mrs Hartnoll in the video, making the whole thing even more mindbendingy postmodern.
DJs committed some heinous musical crimes in 1992 (looking at you, “Sesame’s Treet” by Smart-Es.) But Orbital’s pioneering work showed that electronica could be beautiful—even profound.
3. “House Of Love”—East 17
Chart Peak: Number 10 on September 19th, 1992
We are now entering the Peak Boyband era. Soon, the charts will be filled with armies of singing, dancing, unthreatening guys, all of them trading on the sterotype of The Boy Next Door.
When East 17 first appeared, they seemed like genuine boys next door. They dressed and acted like ordinary working-class lads: scruffy, naive, cheeky, earnest, and occasionally a bit threatening. Like Take That, they wrote their own songs. But while Gary Barlow was a cabaret artist raised on a diet of Barry Manilow, Tony Mortimer had a feel for what was cool right now: rave, R’n’B, hip-hop.
“House Of Love” feels like music by teenagers, for teenagers. Nothing in the Peak Boyband era will ever feel so authentically alive.
2. “Weekender”—Flowered Up
Chart peak: Number 20 on May 9th, 1992
Featured in: The party doesn't stop until you're dead [April 26, 1992]
The problem with life under capitalism is that for many people—especially young adults—there’s not much to do outside of work besides getting fucked up. You get trapped in a cycle of work-work-party-party-hangover that’s slowly killing you, one weekend at a time.
“Weekender” documents this nihilistic culture in a sprawling 18-minute track that takes in multiple genres: baggy, Madchester, rave, prog, funk, rock, and jazz. The full track feels like being trapped in a labyrinth, as each section teases you with the idea of escape, only to find yourself back where you started, back with Liam Maher yelling at you to “go out, have a good time”. It’s a claustrophobic anxiety dream from which you can’t awaken.
Happy Mondays also recorded music in 1992 that sounded like a party anthem but ended up a bleak cry for help. Yes Please! ended up a mess, but “Weekender” is a breathtaking success, especially when accompanied by its knockout video.
… which means that…
…our best song of the year…
1. “Stay”—Shakespears Sister
Chart peak: Number One on February 22th, 1992
Featured in: Shakespears Sister bring B-movie melodrama with 'Stay' [February 2, 1992]
“Stay” is bananas.
Marcella Detroit and Siobhan Fahey were obsessed with an obscure 50s B-Movie called Cat Women On The Moon, about evil women in leotards who kidnap a team of astronauts. Their plan was to turn Cat Women into a multimedia extravaganza, mixing new songs with old footage. Cat Women fell through, but not before they had written the love anthem, in which a Cat Woman begs Cat Hitler to spare her astronaut lover.
The resulting single is an absolute oddity, with Marcella going full Mariah—including whistle register—while Siobhan treats it all like panto. It shouldn’t work. And yet, somehow, it does.
“Stay” was Number One for eight weeks and became the UK’s best-selling single of the year. It’s the most 1992 song, a song that could only exist in one precise cultural moment, and therefore the perfect way to end this list.
And that’s it! Here’s a playlist of all the songs:
Best Albums of 1992
You’ll find the albums over on The Riff, a digital music magazine co-run by the excellent:
💿 💿 💿 The 20 Best Albums of 1992💿 💿 💿
It’s been really fun to rediscover the sounds of 1992. Thanks to everyone who’s read the emails over the past year.
Next year, we’ll be exploring 1993, which means breakthrough albums from the likes of Radiohead, Suede, Bjork, Smashing Pumpkins, The Pharcyde, and Rage Against The Machine. PLUS we’ll answer pop’s greatest riddle…
What won’t Meat Loaf do for love?
Hope you join us! If you’re not already subscribed, you can get onboard here:
Great list Bernard! Lots of reminders of good tunes & top pick for number 1! Thoroughly enjoyed it and your newsletters this year, thank you - looking forward to the memories and timely insights 1993 will bring :)
Ps. re-seeing the fabulous Army of Lovers sent me down a rabbit hole - one of them started/was a founding member of a new religion! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Bard
Awesome & really well done! Many thx & appreciated! Yours phb