|This was when being a hipster actually meant being cool.|
Part of ck's 90s week.
I have very fond memories of the 90s. At least, pop culture in the 90s. Not necessarily my own life - having cancer really doesn't count as fond memories. But I enjoyed all the attention I got! And it catapulted me into being class president my sophomore year. I got a lot of sympathy votes for being that "cancer boy." But I knew my real calling wasn't as a leader. My calling was of a slacker-type that personified the fabulous last decade of the 20th century.
What started this nostalgia-induced rant? I watched VH1's Top 100 Song of the 90s. I must have missed it two (!) years ago. And you can tell it was from two years ago because there's a lot of shit that's happened since that brief time and I felt weirdly out of sync when they mentioned there's a film about Notorious B.I.G. in the works. Hellloooo?! And as much I enjoyed sitting down with the Magster and reminiscing, there were obvious holes in the top 100. I mean, there's no Smashing Pumpkins song at all? And Mariah Carey's best song from the 90s was Vision of Love. Puh-lease. I have a better list.
It might take a few posts because there were a ton of great songs out there. First of all, I won't count any songs that were on VH1's list, but I will definitely find a better song or more definitive song by the same artist that was on the list. Second, I really don't consider some early 90s songs to be "90s." Sometimes it takes a few years for the decades' influence and style to sink into the culture and VH1 putting Prince's "Gett Off" in the top 100? Lame, because if anyone who heard that song for the first time would peg that as an 80s song. So, these have to be not just technically 90s, but have the same vibe too!
Plus, this is my version of the 90s that I grew up with, so invariably my opinion is going to be different from everyone else's. But I'm pretty cool and my opinion matters - one day I hope to get my doctorate in the 90s. I'll be CNN's resident 90s expert. It'll happen.
But the first part of the list involves bands that didn't make the cut (for shame!) and also had sustainable careers and/or had a few top 10 hits (i.e. no one-hit wonders).
Blind Melon - "No Rain"
Who doesn't remember this song? This was pure 90s alternative rock. This song was infectious and so upbeat, it's very hard to not crack a smile when this song comes on. And that music video was so great! In fact, I'll be covering the best music videos of the 90s. Nobody cares about music videos anymore, but the 90s were the heyday of this medium. MTV seriously was music television at that point and there were some great creative voices behind the cameras during this period.
Smashing Pumpkins - "Today"
There's a lot of SP's songs that could have made the cut, but this by far, was a genre-defining song and a breakout hit. Although lacking in bombastic, self-indulgent (in a good way), moody rock-opera, like the songs that came after, "Today" was playful yet alienating. In other words, a perfect bittersweet anthem for Generation X. Corgan meshed those two tones well into the 90s, but it's never been as good as this first hit.
Foo Fighters - "Everlong"
I remember thinking that The Foo Fighters wouldn't last. I was so obsessed with Nirvana that I didn't think that the drummer, of all people, could find success with this new band. But after they released The Colour and the Shape, most everyone decided that Dave Grohl and company were slowly becoming one of the best bands of the 90s. Everlong was just a great anthem - it was somber but rocking and really showcased the band in all their glory.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - "Mary Jane's Last Dance"
It's been a while since I've heard this song, but man, it's still good and remains embedded in my mind as definitive 90s. It's classic Tom Petty, a man who made his reputation in the 80s, but found a lot of success in the 90s. He had a number of hits, but this song resonates a lot more with me than his other 90s chart toppers. And of course, who could forget Tom Petty pulling a Weekend at Bernie's with Kim Basinger's corpse? Great stuff and this song really doesn't get old.
Aerosmith - Cryin'
Some would say that including this song is just plain wrong. But Aerosmith, despite being the prime example of sellouts, left their mark on the 90s with a series of songs that seemed to not go away. That Armageddon song doesn't hold a candle to this ballad. Plus, it made Aerosmith seem cool again after they seemed to fade into 80s obscurity. No doubt, the music video had much to do with their revitalized success and it officially launched Alicia Silverstone's career, so we have them to thank for that (Okay, Clueless was great, but what else has she done?).
Guns N' Roses - "Estranged"
Some might consider these guys strictly 80s, but the 90s were strangely (maybe that's the wrong adjective, but I'm too lazy to think of something else) connected with this band. They only released one double album in this decade (no, the covers-only The Spaghetti Incident? does not count), but it pretty much solidified this band as bonafide rock stars. Guns N' Roses defined early 90s rock and I don't think anyone could outdo the epic debauchery that took place on their tours after this album. And although most would consider November Rain a masterpiece, Estranged took it to another level. Not only with the nearly ten-minute length song, but the pure opulence and pompousness of the music video. And it's probably the best rock-opera song that really isn't a rock-opera song to come out of the 90s.
Blur - "Song 2"
Woo-hoo! The opening drumbeat and the quiet guitar riff is nearly universally recognized. The strange lyrics ("When I feel heavy metal!") and two minute length only made this one of the best punk songs ever. Which is highly ironic for a band that's not really known for punk rock songs. It's a blistering noise of energy and no doubt is pure 90s.
Bush - "Glycerine"
Every band around this time had their "mellow" song and no song was overplayed or was ever matched again than this song. Bush may have solidified their grunge/alternative status with Comedown and Machine Head (or as Maggie likes to call it, Mushy Head), but they couldn't escape this addictive late night swaying and peaceful song. Of course, Bush would never match the success of their first album and this was probably the highlight of their careers.
Ace of Base - "The Sign"
This was my guilty pleasure of the 90s. I don't care what people think, but these Swedish new wave pop stars made some great music. At least, their first album was good. I remember buying this album for my brother's birthday but instead, I found myself listening to it more than he did. It was just pure sweet pop and if you don't sing along to the chorus, then you just might not have a soul.
Coolio - "Gangster's Paradise"
Pretty much anyone between the ages of 25 and 35 could sing along to this whole song. It was, to say the least, epic and it was a crossover hit that even the white people could get behind it. So much that even Weird Al's version became a minor hit in and of itself. Coolio had some other hits, but nothing as spectacular or as big as this one.
Dave Matthews - "Crash Into Me"
I remember going to an away game for basketball - I was the mascot - and I had some time to kill before the game started. So I wandered the halls and there was a section devoted to student athlete profiles. And one of the bullet points was Favorite Band. Every single one (there had to be at least 15) had Dave Matthews as their favorite. This band was insanely popular, which is kind of head scratching that they didn't make it on VH1's list. Of course, Dave Matthews went on to bigger and better things (Because of Winn Dixie. No? Nobody remembers that?) but this song is inextricably tied to the 90s.
Everclear - "Santa Monica"
A lot of people wrote these guys off as one-hit wonders riding on the success of the post-Nirvana grunge bandwagon, but surprisingly, these guys were good. Santa Monica may not be their biggest hit from the 90s, but it was a prime example of their sound and perfect tune for the angst-ridden Art Alexakis. The guitar riff is classic and filled with a lot of hate and "Watch the world die" was a perfect line for this song.
Garbage - "Only Happy When It Rains"
This song was the anthem for emo kids before they even knew they were emo kids. Garbage was a supergroup - put together by mega producer Butch Vig and a few of his producing buddies. Unlike most supergroups (coughVelvetRevolvercoughAudioslavecough), Garbage had a lot of success after their first album. This song pretty much bottled up all the supposed misery that Generation X was feeling and mixed it into a catchy, but moody, alternative hit.
The Cardigans - "Lovefool"
Many will argue that this song was so overplayed that it's still makes people loathe to hear it. But I say NO! It's cool! Others would argue that this is a one-hit wonder band, but they've had a couple other minor hits and a lasting career long after Lovefool faded from the airwaves. It's still a great song and a perfect example of pop rock in the 90s.
Rage Against the Machine - "Bulls on Parade"
This song was the tipping point for RATM. After putting out a solid self-titled album, they blew up as soon a Evil Empire came out. This was the spark that ignited my love affair for these guys and this song mixed up a lot of genres - punk, metal, hip-hop - to extreme measures and did it so well. They have better songs out there, but this one solidified their status as rock superstars.
Smash Mouth - "Walking on the Sun"
Destined to be a one hit wonders for this song, Smash Mouth rallied and put out a better second album. A moderate success which then catapulted them into the mainstream conscious again with the Shrek soundtrack and their version of "I'm a Believer," a great cover song. Their first hit, Walking on the Sun was a blend of the new wave, ska, hip-hop and punk that the 90s relished in.
Social Distortion - "Ball and Chain"
A seminal punk band that was oft imitated in the 90s, Social D had some minor success, but nothing as big as this bopping diddy. They blended that rockabilly sound with punk and it was no more evident in this song. It may not be remembered as well as others, but it has legs! You'll always find it in movie trailers dealing with romantic comedies that involve ex-boyfriends and girlfriends.
The Offspring - Self-Esteem
I love, love this album. It was a present for Christmas during sixth grade and I don't think I put it down for a couple of months. It's just a good punk album and this song was everything that embodied The Offspring - edgy and fun - they never took themselves too seriously. They may have had bigger hits like "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" but nothing captured the essence of being a teenager in the 90s like this song.
Ben Folds Five - "Brick"
This song put Ben Folds Five on the map and brought them to the mainstream. I normally don't think of BFF as a 90s band, but they were indie darlings that MTV2 (remember that channel? This is where I first heard of them. Who knew MTV could be enlightening for music?) played constantly. They had some other great hits - namely "Song for the Dumped" - but Brick was a moment of clarity for the band.
Blink-182 - "Dammit"
Pop punk at its best! This song was phenomenal and the album was a classic. Blink-182 are best known for the antics and absurdness and this song pretty much solidified their status as goofy punk rockers. It's catchy and clocks in under three minutes - perfect for our ADD riddled 90s.
Cake - "The Distance"
Cake has way better songs than this, but "The Distance" was their introduction to the world. It's a classic Cake song - plenty of weird instruments, lot of Yah!-ing, and totally bomb-ass lyrics: "Bowel-shaking earthquakes of doubt and remorse." How can you not love it? Plus that great guitar riff is so fantastic - it's truly a great PUMP UP song.
Fatboy Slim - "Rockafeller Skank"
This one needs no explanation. You just have to thank She's All That for creating some great choreography to go along with it. Seriously, I remember the 90s fondly, especially prom night where my whole school got together spontaneously to do a dance in unison to a song we never heard before.
The Chemical Brothers - "Block Rockin' Beats"
Speaking of techno, The Chemical Brothers put this genre on the map. Not my favorite Chemical Bros. song, but Block Rockin' Beats was their biggest hit and cemented them as the king of the hill of the techno landscape.
The Prodigy - "Smack My Bitch Up"
That is, until The Prodigy showed up just a few months later in 1997 with the same enthusiasm and hard rock edge as The Chemical Brothers (Both were coming off critically acclaimed albums). This song was both insanely catchy and extremely edgy - plus the video, with all its nudity was not so surprisingly banned from MTV.
Dinosaur, Jr. - "Feel the Pain"
The slacker generation from the 90s had their champion with Dinosaur, Jr. These guys rocked, but ever so casually in the 90s. There's just a great, distinct sound and Feel the Pain is one of their best - it highlighted J. Mascis' crooning voice and great solo guitar work. Plus the video was super cool - driving around a golf cart in New York City? Just a typical day for rock bands in the 90s.
Duran Duran - "Ordinary World"
Duran Duran may have been a staple of the eighties, but they had quite a huge hit with this song. I immediately think of the 90s when this song comes on. It's a slow, very emotional song that seemed very epic at the time. I don't think it's aged very well, but that's probably a good thing for this list. It's a strictly 90s affair with this song.
Mary J. Blige "Real Love"
This is when Mary J. Blige wasn't so down on the world. It's an upbeat song that really epitomized the early 90s R&B scene. You can't help but bob along to the beat. I just remember watching The Grind on MTV (yes, I watched The Grind. It was probably the worst show ever - just a bunch of people dancing to dance music. But I watched it. A lot) and seeing this come on. I think this is where I first heard it and it's been stuck in my heart since.
Michael Jackson - "Black or White"
This song was epic. It was so epic, in fact, that the music video debuted after TGIF, possibly the 90s greatest contribution to society. And that face morphing sequence was just creepy, but something you couldn't tear your eyes away from. I think I went out and bought this album the next day at K-Mart. Now Michael Jackson is an artist that has transcended time - he's had hits in almost every decade he was alive. But this song is special because it was his last great record and it signaled the beginning of the end for his career. But it's so infused with 90s pop, hip-hop and rock that it's hard to think of the 90s without it.
Moby - "Southside"
At the end of the nineties - Moby burst into the mainstream with a little help from Gwen Stefani. It's not his best song, nor is it the best on the album. But this song made Moby a household name and made him an artist to watch throughout the next decade. Plus, it took what the Prodigy and Chemical Brothers were doing and laid a smoother, more mellow sound to all that techno.
No Doubt - "Don't Speak"
Whether you like this song or not, you cannot argue this wasn't overplayed. But that doesn't make it a bad song, it's still great. A classic ballad that was probably on every broken-hearted girls' (and guys, too!) playlist. And if you grew up watching MTV in the 90s, this was one of the top five most overplayed songs. It's instantly recognizable and the story surrounding the song is just as famous as the group behind it. Why the hell wasn't this song, let alone No Doubt, not on VH1's list?
Nine Inch Nails - "Closer"
Who can forget those obscene lyrics? Nine Inch Nails brought industrial music to the mainstream and made it cool. This was another head scratcher, because NIN defined a lot of the nineties. So they were completely off the list, what a bummer. This song may not have been a classic NIN song, but it probably helped Trent Reznor pay the bills.
Rancid - "Time Bomb"
Rancid hit the top with this song. Mixing reggae and punk rock, this song was classic Rancid. Tim Armstrong's voice is a perfect droll and ragged at times. The song is catchy and some of the best stuff to come out of the 90s. Unfortunately, Rancid wouldn't see any more mainstream success, but they're holding up pretty well, pumping out albums every couple of years to critical success.
Snoop Dogg - "Who Am I (What's My Name)?
Although Gin and Juice is more recognizable, this song is just a pure dance floor hit! It's still great and when that bass hits, it's gonna get sweaty. And that video - seriously, Snoop turns into a dog and murders his girlfriend's dad! Holy shit I can't believe that happened! It's was insane and it's too bad he's lost his edge. There's no way he could ever make a song or video that's as crazy or as catchy as this one.
Sonic Youth - "Kool Thing"
Seriously, you cannot mention 90s rock without Sonic Youth coming up. And athough they never found mainstream success, Sonic Youth still remains the cool kids' band. Hell, they're so cool they got Chuck D to be in this song. This was probably one of their bigger songs, but not their best. They are a band you kind of have to listen to the whole album in order to "get." And if you don't, then I don't blame you, they are an acquired taste. But nonetheless, they had a lasting impact on the 90s.
Sublime - "What I Got"
Every time I stumble across a gem like this one, I really have to question if anybody actually grew up in the 90s when making that VH1 special. This was one of the songs from the 90s that is a must! It was made even more impactful because of its posthumous release. Brad Nowell was a great musician and his death was a sad day for the 90s. Sublime could have been huge, hell they were huge after this album, but Nowell was the heart of the band. Who can't help but sing along to this song? Everyone knows the lyrics!
More songs tomorrow - it's one-hit wonders! And there's a lot of them that VH1 missed that made the 90s so special.