The second part of our look back at The Real World: San Francisco to commemorate its 25th anniversary is a mega playlist of many of the songs played during the season. I say many, not all, because it was simply impossible to capture and identify each one. Often brief instrumental snatches of songs that may or may not have been MTV staples back when the show aired in 1994 would play under dialogue. And then another would play, and then another. Within its first four minutes, the 19th episode of the season featured selections as wide ranging as General Public’s cover of “I’ll Take You There,” Dr. John’s traditionalist R&B “Television,” the heavy metal of Pantera’s “Planet Caravan,” and Tracy Chapman’s coffee-house activism in “Bang Bang Bang.” And there were still some 16 minutes left in the show.
A lot of the music cues were super on the nose—Pedro overhears Puck and Rachel making gay jokes (Rachel: “What do you call a bouncer at a gay bar? A flamethrower”) and sits in his room looking sad while R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” plays. Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories’s “Stay” sounds while the roommates conspire to kick Puck out of the house. Babyface’s “When Can I See You” as the roommates pack up and start to move out.
Music was a crucial part of the show, but it has also affected its contemporary accessibility—licensing deals (which MTV clearly exploited by using the music it had rights to, which was virtually everything back in the day, willy nilly) did not include DVD or streaming provisions, since those things weren’t invented when the deals were signed. This has made it hard to watch old Real World seasons, and impossible to see them (officially, that is) in their fully intact form—the first season was released on DVD with all of the pop music taken out and replaced with an anonymous, generic score.
All told, these 250+ songs represent a fine cross section of MTV’s musical values in 1994, leaning heavily on alternative but also working in some R&B, dance, new-agey electronica (hello, Deep Forest and Enigma), and even some Latin-inflected stuff (Gipsy Kings, Luna Negra) that otherwise had virtually no presence on the network. It’s funny to think that having all of this music readily accessible when the show aired, via CD or cassette, would have cost thousands of dollars, and now we get to listen to it for pennies (if that). Human progress or art-value regression? You be the judge.