SONGS of the 90s

Ah, the Nineties. A decade in which it literally didn't matter what genre a song might belong to or how strange that song might be, it had a chance of being a hit. Angsty, sludgy songs sung in flannel shirts by heroin-aided dudes who haven't washed in weeks? Yep, there were lots of hits there. Gritty street-crime dramas? Sure, why not! Neo-hippie Deadheads (who haven't washed in months) playing radio-ready jamband nonsense? Covered. Weird ass pop songs about letting the dogs out, mambo #5s, sexing you up, thongs, the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, tub thumping, being too sexy for your car too sexy by far, peaches, and rap-rock covers of George Michael songs? Oh my God there were so many! (This is just a random selection of some of the decade's most memorable and forgettable hits. Don't get me started about the Macarena.)

But still, like any other decade I've covered so far, there was a lot of capitol G Grrrrreat music in the 90s. Let's start with Nirvana. The 80s saw the rise of bands who wrote big ballads to match their big hair (NO BIG HAIR!). When "Smells Like Teen Spirit" dropped, it took a blow torch to the safe, lifeless, soulless junk that passed for popular rock music. Goodbye Warrant, Poison, Winger, Cinderella, Stryper, and whoever the hell else. And hello Stone Temple Pilots, Creed, Our Lady Peace, Everclear, Live, and Sponge! Well, Kurt Cobain inspired his share of safe, lifeless, soulless junk too. But Nirvana's popularity also allowed a lot of great bands who might've lingered in obscurity to sign major labor deals and grab a shot at the big time. And a lot of those bands' songs appear throughout this list.

There was a lot of other greatness too. The East Coast vs. West Coast rap battles led to some unfortunate violence but also to a lot of the decade's most exciting music. Oblivious, sheltered suburban kids like me heard tales of an oppressive inner city life for the first time. It was the beginning of the process of opening my eyes and mind to the struggle for equity and equality that so many face in this country. (And to be clear - I'll take the gritty street poetry of Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, Nas, and Jay-Z over the west coast any day FYI.)  

Bjork did her best to be the David Bowie of the 90s. The combination of her brilliant, progressive songs and a constant evolution of image and visuals led her to become one of the decade's greatest artists. U2 also spent the 90s embracing their inner-Bowie, retreating to Berlin to produce Achtung, Baby, and its even more "out-there" follow-up Zooropa, which turned their late-80s earnestness on its head. Amazingly, both albums were huge hits despite them abandoning the sounds that broke them in the first place. R.E.M. pulled off the near impossible task of going from one of America's great underground bands during the 80s to one of the best mainstream bands of the 1990s. They stormed Top 40 radio with their mandolins and strange Southern imagery before plugging back in and creating some of the decade's best radio rock.

And the tradition of great American bands and artists continued with Pavement, Built to Spill, The Breeders, Modest Mouse, The Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr., Sleater-Kinney, Guided by Voices, Uncle Tupelo, Mercury Rev, Liz Phair, Yo La Tengo, Superchunk, and so many more. And then there was Radiohead, whose three album progression from Pablo Honey to The Bends to OK Computer is one of the most startlingly great leaps a band has ever made over three albums (and that's not even getting into the next leap to Kid A, which is a story for another decade). I was old enough in 1990 to be aware of what was happening in music and I have lived with much of this music for the past 20-30 years. This is the music of my formative years.   

1. Let Down // Radiohead
2. Get Me // Dinosaur Jr. 
3. New York State of Mind // Nas
4. Frontwards // Pavement
5. 5 Years // Bjork
6. Losing My Religion // R.E.M.

7. Misunderstood // Wilco
8. Common People // Pulp
9. I Know // Fiona Apple
10. Iceblink Luck // Cocteau Twins

Smells Like Teen Spirit // Nirvana
Carry the Zero // Built to Spill
Paranoid Android // Radiohead
Game of Pricks // Guided by Voices
The Fly // U2
Holland, 1945 // Neutral Milk Hotel
Web In Front // Archers of Loaf
Fake Plastic Trees // Radiohead
Don't Sweat the Technique // Eric B. & Rakim
New Partner // Palace Music

Trains Across the Sea // Silver Jews
Blue Line Swinger // Yo La Tengo
Bittersweet Symphony // The Verve
Spottieottiedopalicious // Outkast
Only Shallow // My Bloody Valentine
Way Down Now // World Party
4th Chamber // GZA (ft. RZA, Ghostface Killah, & Killah Priest)
Teardrop // Massive Attack
Cherub Rock // Smashing Pumpkins
Little Bones // The Tragically Hip

Gold Soundz // Pavement
Trailer Trash // Modest Mouse
One More Hour // Sleater-Kinney
Above the Clouds // Gang Starr
Don't Stop Now // Guided By Voices
Sabotage // Beastie Boys 
Fade Into You // Mazzy Star
Holes // Mercury Rev
Rid of Me // PJ Harvey
Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta // Geto Boys

Holy Ghost // Scud Mountain Boys 
I Heard You Looking // Yo La Tengo
Timebomb // Old 97s 
Never Said // Liz Phair
So Watcha Want // Beastie Boys
Random Rules // Silver Jews
Cannonball // The Breeders
Head On // Pixies
Summer Babe (Winter Version) // Pavement
Lost Ones // Lauryn Hill

The Bends // Radiohead
Xtal // Aphex Twin
To Find A Friend // Tom Petty
ATLiens // Outkast 
California Stars // Wilco & Billy Bragg
Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight // Whiskeytown
All My Little Words // The Magnetic Fields
Cast Iron // Superchunk
Criminology // Raekwon (ft. Ghostface Killah)
Enjoy The Silence // Depeche Mode

Reprovisional // Fugazi
The Concept // Teenage Fanclub
I See A Darkness // Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space // Spiritualized
Box Full of Letters // Wilco
Waiting For A Superman // The Flaming Lips
Zooropa // U2
They Reminisce Over You (TROY) // Pete Rock & CL Smooth
Windfall // Son Volt
Let The Mystery Be // Iris Dement
Lake Marie // John Prine

Picture In A Frame // Tom Waits
Protect Ya Neck // Wu-Tang Clan
The Last Day of Our Acquaintance // Sinead O'Connor
All Apologies // Nirvana
There She Goes // The La's
Ascension Day // Talk Talk
New Madrid // Uncle Tupelo
Sugarcube // Yo La Tengo
Know The Ledge // Eric B. & Rakim
Soldiers // You Am I 
Groove Is In The Heart // Dee-Lite

Somebody To Shove // Soul Asylum
Regret // New Order
What's The Frequency Kenneth // R.E.M.
Feed The Tree // Belly
Fight The Power // Public Enemy
Slack Motherfucker // Superchunk
Grace, Too // The Tragically Hip
Here // Pavement
Eye For An Eye (Your Beef Is Mines) // Mobb Deep (ft. Nas & Raekwon)
Settled Down Like Rain // The Jayhawks
I Feel Alright // Steve Earle

Midnight In A Perfect World // A Tribe Called Quest
Walls // Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Jump Around // House of Pain
I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone // Sleater-Kinney
Scenario // A Tribe Called Quest
Big Day Coming // Yo La Tengo
Corduroy // Pearl Jam
Triumph // Wu-Tang Clan
Where Did You Sleep Last Night? // Nirvana
Slide Away // Oasis

The Next Movement // The Roots
Country Feedback // R.E.M. 
Grounded // Pavement
Sometimes Always // The Jesus & Mary Chain
Start Choppin' // Dinosaur Jr. 
No Surprises // Radiohead
Divorce Song // Liz Phair
Kicked It In The Sun // Built to Spill
Broke // Modest Mouse
Bill Is Dead // The Fall
Soon // My Bloody Valentine

Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying // Belle & Sebastian
Angel Dream #4 // Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Headache // Frank Black
Untied // Superchunk 
Bird Dream of Olympus Moons // Pixies
Why I Didn't Like August '93 // Elevator to Hell
The Plan // Built to Spill
Get Up // Sleater-Kinney
Girlfriend // Matthew Sweet
Two-Headed Boy // Neutral Milk Hotel

Dry The Rain // The Beta Band
Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt // DJ Shadow
Heaven Or Las Vegas // Cocteau Twins
Ain't That Enough // Teenage Fanclub
Shook Ones, pt. 2 // Mobb Deep
Halftime // Nas
Timeless Melody // The La's 
Gold Star For Robot Boy // Guided By Voices
Ball and Chain // Social Distortion
Today // Smashing Pumpkins

Pass The Mic // Beastie Boys
My Drug Buddy // The Lemonheads
Sunken Treasure // Wilco
Meth of A Rockette's Kick // Mercury Rev
Silence Kit // Pavement 
Hyper-ballad (Family Tree Version) // Bjork
Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em // Eric B. & Rakim
I've Made Enough Friends // The Wrens
Barrier Reef // Old 97s
Not Dark Yet // Bob Dylan
John Cage Bubblegum // Stereolab

Into Your Arms // The Lemonheads
Joey // Concrete Blonde
Seagull // Ride
Sour Times // Portishead
Please Don't Ask Me To Smile // You Am I 
After The Flood // Talk Talk
The Universal // Pulp
Harry Hood // Phish
Just To Get A Rep // Gang Starr
Alcoholiday // Teenage Fanclub
Thunderstruck // ACDC

Sometimes // James
Talking Shit About A Pretty Sunset // Modest Mouse
Crowded In The Wings // The Jayhawks
Far Far Away // Wilco
Knuckleheadz // Raekwon
When You Sleep // My Bloody Valentine
Helpless // Sugar
The Living Bubba // Drive-by Truckers
Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth... //Primitive Radio Gods
Larry // Buffalo Tom
Mama Said Knock You Out // LL Cool J

E-Bow The Letter // R.E.M.
Lucky Man // The Verve 
Motor Away // Guided By Voices
In Spite of Ourselves // John Prine (ft. Iris Dement)
King Herod // Mogwai 
Range Life // Pavement 
Dead Flag Blues // Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Where I'm From // Jay-Z
North Country Boy // The Charlatans
Tom Courtenay // Yo La Tengo
Buggin' Out // A Tribe Called Quest

Shadowboxin' // GZA (ft. Method Man)
1979 // Smashing Pumpkins
Breadcrumb Trail // Slint
Rugged Roses // The Gourds
Supersonic // Oasis
The Wagon // Dinosaur Jr. 
At The Hundredth Meridian // The Tragically Hip
Metal Detektor // Spoon
Race For The Prize // The Flaming Lips
Hold On // Tom Waits

Black Boys On Mopeds // Sinead O'Connor
Hail Mary // Tupac Shakur
To Bring You My Love // PJ Harvey
Concrete Schoolyard // Jurassic 5
Mathematics // Mos Def
Joad Out // Barbara Manning
Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now) // Cracker
Can't Even Tell // Soul Asylum
Gin n' Juice // Snoop Dogg
Sometimes Salvation // The Black Crowes
Your Fucking Sunny Day // Lambchop

The Sky Is Crying // Stevie Ray Vaughn
Metal Heart // Cat Power
Gamera // Tortoise
Electric Relaxation // A Tribe Called Quest
The Ghost of Tom Joad // Bruce Springsteen
Sugar Kane // Sonic Youth
Rhymes Like Dimes // MF Doom
Watch Me Jumpstart // Guided By Voices
American Music // Violent Femmes
Definition // Black Starr
Poison Girl // Chris Whitley
Gun // Uncle Tupelo

Doll Parts // Hole
Skew It On The Bar-B // Outkast 
Formula, Cola, Dollar Draft // Marah
Me In Honey // R.E.M.
No Distance Left To Run // Blur
Seed Toss // Superchunk
Fast As You Can // Fiona Apple
It Was A Good Day // Ice Cube
All My Friends // Pavement
Nautical Disaster // The Tragically Hip

Quality of Armor // Guided By Voices
(nice dream) // Radiohead
Mind Playing Tricks On Me // Geto Boys
Tear Stained Eye // Son Volt
D. Boon Free (9th Grade Crime) // Centro-matic
Water In The Fuel // Fred Eaglesmith
Velvet Waltz // Built to Spill
Ex-Factor // Lauryn Hill
Columbia // Oasis
Unknown Legend // Neil Young
Bronx Cheer // Mercury Rev
The Book of Love // The Magnetic Fields

Summer of Drugs // Soul Asylum
Check the Rhime // A Tribe Called Quest
C.R.E.A.M. // Wu-Tang Clan
Aneurysm // Nirvana
French Disko // Stereolab
Feeling Yourself Disintegrate // The Flaming Lips
In The Airplane Over The Sea // Neutral Milk Hotel
Nightswimming // R.E.M.
The State That I'm In // Belle & Sebastian
Now She's Gone // Steve Earle

Bobcaygeon // The Tragically Hip
I Used To Love H.E.R. // Common
Dry // PJ Harvey
She's A Jar // Wilco
$1000 Wedding // Evan Dando 
The Abandoned Hospital Ship // The Flaming Lips
Djed // Tortoise
If I Ruled The World // Nas
The Drowners // The London Suede
Low // Cracker

Car // Built to Spill
The Light That Will Cease To Fail // Stereolab
Doomsday // MF Doom
Smile // Pearl Jam
Reunited // Wu-Tang Clan
Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It // DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
Sleep Well Tonight // Gene
Do You Feel Loved // U2
From The Curve // Superchunk
The Diamond Sea // Sonic Youth
Youngstown // Bruce Springsteen

Chickamauga // Uncle Tupelo
Cross Bones Style // Cat Power
Between The Bars // Elliott Smith
Strange Currencies // R.E.M.
Work For Food // Dramarama
Starseed // Our Lady Peace
Angelyne // PJ Harvey
Can't Stand It // Wilco 
The Choice Is Yours // Black Sheep
Hotwax // Beck
Dirty Boots // Sonic Youth

Rebound // Sebadoh
Alison // Slowdive
Kiss Them For Me // Siouxie & The Banshees
Respiration // Black Star (ft. Common)
What They Do // The Roots
Halah // Mazzy Star
Tonite It Shows // Mercury Rev
It's A Shame About Ray // The Lemonheads
Mountains of Your Head // Buffalo Tom
A Salty Salute // Guided By Voices

Friday Night (Is Killing Me) // Bash n' Pop 
Knockin' On Mine // Paul Westerberg
Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam // Nirvana
Narcotic Prayer // Chris Whitley 
Raining In Darling // Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Goodbye // Steve Earle 
On And On // Erykah Badu
Moonshiner // Uncle Tupelo
Human Behavior // Bjork
How To Rent A Room // Silver Jews
Parade of Choosers // Centro-metic

Cowboy Dan // Modest Mouse
Boil My Strings // The Gourds
Long Time A-Comin' // Bap Kennedy
Doo Wop (That Thing) // Lauryn Hill
I Don't Wanna Grow Up // Tom Waits
When It's Raining // The Samples
If I Had A Hammer // American Music Club
Opus 40 // Mercury Rev
Divine Thing // Soup Dragons
Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat) // Digable Planets
Bring The Pain // Method Man

Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem) // Jay-Z
Daytona 500 // Ghostface Killah
Elevators (You & Me) // Outkast
Brooklyn Zoo // Ol' Dirty Bastard
6'1" // Liz Phair 
Investigative Reports // GZA (ft. Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, U-God)
Love Would Never Do (Without You) // Janet Jackson
Acquiesce // Oasis
Hunger Strike // Temple of the Dog
The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) // Missy Elliot

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