1994: The year pop punk took over the world

Remembering the moment when Green Day, The Offspring, Weezer and more changed music forever

Which year had the best run of albums in it? 

Older fans might plump for 1969, when Led Zeppelin dropped both Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II, The Beatles brought out Abbey Road and The Rolling Stones offered up Let It Bleed as well as all-time classics from Dusty Springfield and Santana.

Others might go to bat for 1977, which has The Clash’s self-titled LP, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours; Sex Pistols’ era-defining Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Television’s Marquee Moon and David Bowie’s incredible double of Low and Heroes.

Maybe you might look at 1991, with Nirvana’s Nevermind, R.E.M’s Out Of Time, Pearl Jam’s Ten and U2’s Achtung Baby. They’re all worthy contenders. Trouble is, there’s a year that tops them, and it’s 1994. 

The list of seminal LPs that year is astonishing. Firstly, you’ve got Nine Inch Nails’ dark masterpiece The Downward Spiral, Nas’s pioneering Illmatic, Jeff Buckley’s extraordinary album Grace, Portishead’s delicate classic Dummy, and, of course, Oasis’ Definitely Maybe and Blur’s Parklife. Those are the records that dominate the conversation about that year, and with good reason. They span genres and generations, and will demand endless repeat plays. 

But something else happened in that year too: the real birth of a genre that has lasted far longer than either britpop and trip-hop, a genre that continues to be beloved and spawn new bands every single day. It’s pop punk and 1994 was, in so many ways, it’s defining year. Here are seven era and genre-defining records that came out that year and truly shaped the genre we know and love. 

Green DayDookie

Green Day - Basket Case [Official Music Video] (4K Upgrade)

It seems difficult to imagine a world where Green Day aren’t one of the biggest bands in it, but, before 1994 and before Dookie, they were a middling punk rock band on a tiny label who played a deeply unfashionable brand of music. Then this album came out. 

The tracklisting is ridiculous – it’s practically a greatest hits – with ‘Basket Case’, ‘Welcome To Paradise’ and ‘When I Come Around’ just half of its hit singles. It also perfectly captures everything that would make pop punk great; undeniable melodies, huge choruses, lyrics that blend the serious and the silly, and a production that is both slick and raw. It’s no wonder it has sold over 20 million copies. 

Green Day are touring stadiums later this year, where they are not only celebrating their new album Saviors, but also 30 years of this album. It remains their most beloved record and probably their most important. A true classic. 

The OffspringSmash

The Offspring - "Self Esteem"

The Offspring’s first two albums had made them minor players, but with Smash they became superstars. A searing blast of energy and power, it melded together the scrappy skate punk of the band’s earlier work with gigantic choruses. There are so many bangers – ‘Self Esteem’, ‘Gotta Get Away’, ‘Come Out And Play’ – and there’s a good reason why it’s the only album the band have celebrated with a tour where they played it in full. 


Weezer - Say It Ain't So (Official Video)

Weezer’s Blue Album (as it’s most commonly known) is not a pop-punk record in any easy sense of the word, it’s too slow, too lo-fi in its production and lacking that unmistakeable energy. It is, however, a defining record for the genre. Frontman Rivers Cuomo’s lyrical stylings and the band’s blend of slacker rock and 60s pop is a key touchstone for Fall Out Boy, New Found Glory and Brand New. Without it, those bands would simply not exist. 

Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy

Jawbreaker - Boxcar (Official Music Video)

Jawbreaker are not a household name, certainly not compared to many of the names on this list, but they are just as important to the rise of pop-punk as Green Day, Weezer or anybody else. This album, their third, is the best distillation of what made the band so special and why they earned the moniker of the “poets of hardcore”. It’s intense, it’s fiery, it’s jagged and so alive (and also catchy and full of great riffs).

Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary

Sunny Day Real Estate - In Circles [OFFICIAL VIDEO]

Before emo went mainstream in the early 2000s with Jimmy Eat World and Taking Back Sunday, its first steps were taken in 1994 by Sunny Day Real Estate. It doesn’t have the energy and bounce of most of these other 94 records, but the band’s confessional lyrical approach, which at times strays into something so visceral it’s uncomfortable, makes it a formative record for so many and way, way ahead of its time. 

Bad Religion – Stranger Than Fiction

Bad Religion (Music Video's) [1994]. Infected

California punk collective Bad Religion had been slowly but surely toiling away for more than a decade before the release of Stranger Than Fiction, but this album, the band’s eighth, was the moment it all came together. More melodic than anything they’d done before, Stranger Than Fiction is a collection of power-pop tracks recorded with a furious punk energy. It remains a fantastic listen. 

NOFXPunk In Drublic

NOFX- Leave It Alone

The scrappy kings of skate punk, NOFX have always been larger than life characters with short attention spans and even shorter song lengths. Their finest effort, Punk In Drublic, which they’re now celebrating 30 years of on their farewell tour this year, also dropped in 1994. It is a scattergun slapshot weird bit of awesomeness, and, despite being a whopping 17 songs, it’s all done in under 40 minutes. 

Green Day, The Offspring, Weezer and NOFX are all touring the UK in 2024. Party like it’s 1994 and find tickets here.

Photo credit: Ken Schles/Getty Images