This list has been the hardest to compile so far by a wide margin, for several reasons. When the 1990s began, I was seven years old, and the music I was most familiar with was the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack that my dad was always playing and the Super Mario Bros. theme song. By the time they ended, I was seventeen, had gone through about ten favorite bands, and was eagerly anticipating the release of the new Radiohead album. It’s hard to rank songs from a time period when I was so many different people.
Also, I could never really decide if I wanted this to be a list of songs that I loved at the time, or songs that I really love now. In the end, it’s a little bit of both, and sort of suffers because of that. There are songs on here that I don’t even have in my music collection anymore, and also songs that I never really listened to until five years ago.
But the real reason this was so difficult is that I’m absolutely sure that I’m forgetting things. I have a pretty good grasp on music from the 2000s, and didn’t really feel like I was leaving anything major out. This time I feel like there could possibly be a song out there that I might have put in my top ten that I didn’t even think of. Let me know if you see any glaring omissions.
So, all that said, here are my ninety favorite songs of the nineties:
90) Kris Kross – “Jump” (1992)
An appropriate song to start things off. This isn’t the oldest song on this list, but it might be the oldest song here of which I was a huge fan from day one. I spent about six months of my ninth year listening to my Totally Krossed Out cassette non-stop on my Walkman.
89) Cornershop – “Brimful of Asha” (1997)
This song, and this entire album, really, is such a weird blip on the nineties pop scene. Making this list made it clear to me that while music was much better in the 2000s, it was quirkier and seemed to take more risks in the 1990s. I was introduced to the song, and the band, when this video appeared on the short-lived MTV show 12 Angry Viewers.
88) Coolio – “Gangsta’s Paradise (feat L.V.)” (1995)
Johanna said this had to be on the list, and I suppose she’s right. I loved it at the time, obviously, but don’t have much to say about it now, so instead let me just suggest that all of you go Google the lyrics to another single off of this album “1,2,3,4 (Sumpin’ New).” Johanna and I had each other in hysterics talking about them.
87) Montell Jordan – “This Is How We Do It” (1995)
For some reason, this song brings me back to Boy Scout meetings. Also, this, and I suppose “Jump” above and a few others below, serve as the cutoff point for cheesiness in songs that made this list. While I love it, I just couldn’t include “Whoomp! (There It Is).”
86) Beck – “Jack-Ass” (1996)
This spot was originally taken by Nelly’s “Country Grammar,” but then I discovered, to my dismay, that all of that Nelly stuff is actually from the 2000s. So that opened up a spot for Beck, who shockingly makes no other appearances. Beck is a great example of someone who thrives in the album format; I have a ton of his songs in the honorable mentions, but only one song actually made the list, and even that barely happened. Also, how young do both Beck and David Letterman look in this clip?
85) Tom Petty – “You Don’t Know How It Feels” (1994)
I have very distinct memories of watching this video on the old MTV Top Twenty Countdown, or whatever it was called. This video is what I think about when I think about the fact that MTV should just play old episodes of that show. You’re telling me that if every week they played a fifteen or twenty-year-old music video countdown on MTV2 in the middle of the night you wouldn’t watch it? I totally would.
84) Ben Folds Five – “Brick” (1997)
I remember watching an incredibly awkward episode of TRL where Carson Daly and Kathy Griffin were talking about this song, and she was saying she thought the guy was a jerk, because she thought it was just a break-up song, and Carson Daly was trying to get her to shut up about it without coming out and saying it was about abortion. It’s funny how these things stick with you. I really wish I could find that clip on YouTube.
83) Tom Cochrane – “Life is a Highway” (1992)
I absolutely love this song; it’s one of my favorites to sing along to when it comes on the radio or in the background of a random movie. You might be surprised to hear, then, that until I made this list I had absolutely no idea who the artist was. Tom Cochrane? Who the hell is that? This was a one hit wonder? I seriously had no clue. I didn’t know off the top of my head who had recorded this song, but I would have at least guessed that it was someone I had heard of.
82) TLC – “Waterfalls” (1994)
I will go to my grave knowing that as soon as this album came out, I listened to it, and I told someone (probably my friend Mike Donovan, because I don’t know who else I would have talked to about it) that this song was going to be huge. It didn’t get released as a single for six months or so. But I was vindicated by history. And actually, as I listen to it right now, this song actually holds up really well.
81) Marc Cohn – “Walking In Memphis” (1991)
When I picture myself cruising around Champaign with my mom in the minivan, this is the song I hear. Hearing it will always make me happy.
80) 2pac – “California Love” (1996)
I kind of feel guilty about not having more 2Pac on this list, but I honestly was never that big of a fan. I think I might have been too young. I loved this song, but it sounds pretty dated when I listen to it. I guess I’m just an East Coast guy in this battle.
79) Paul Simon – “The Coast” (1990)
I didn’t really get into Paul Simon until well after this song came out. It strikes me as sort of ridiculous to have two songs off of Rhythm of the Saints on my list, but it’s a very underrated album. It should be getting some of the praise that Graceland gets.
78) The Roots – “Lazy Afternoon” (1995)
Listening to Do You Want More?!!!??! at the time was pretty mind-blowing. It was really the first time I had ever heard someone rap over live instruments, and made me realize that even if the instruments weren’t live, and samples were still involved, hip hop did not need to be so overproduced and sugary. And they had been doing this for like five years. The Roots were way ahead of their time. And now they’re the house band for Jimmy Fallon.
77) Soul for Real – “Candy Rain” (1995)
When I was twelve I went to visit my grandparents for a week at their house in Phoenix, and then went with them for a week to San Diego and Los Angeles. Now, my grandparents are great, but they aren’t exactly the best with young children, so I spent quite a bit of these two weeks sitting in an adjoining hotel room by myself listening to this CD on my Discman. Over and over again. Probably dreaming about whatever middle school crush I had at the time. I even have a very distinct memory of sitting on my bed at the Lawrence Welk Resort listening to this. You got me through some lonely times, Soul for Real.
76) The Prodigy – “Smack My Bitch Up” (1997)
At the time I think I preferred “Breathe” and “Firestarter,” but in retrospect, this is the best song on the album. It also has the awesome first-person perspective music video where the whole time you think it’s from the perspective of a guy, but at the end you find out it’s actually from the perspective of a girl. Thank god I could find it on YouTube. It’s really a shame that the Electronica revolution turned out to be the Ska revolution, because I was totally ready.
Edit: Considering this video featured nudity, I was surprised it had survived on YouTube long enough for me to post it. Needless to say, it’s gone. Here’s a link to it elsewhere.
75) Elliott Smith – “Say Yes” (1997)
Did you know that Elliott Smith’s real name is “Steven”? And he went by “Elliott” because he thought “Steve” sounded like a jock and “Steven” sounded too bookish? This makes me like him less. I’m fine with changing your name. I’m not fine with choosing “Elliott.”
74) Third Eye Blind – “Semi-Charmed Life” (1997)
This is a great, iconic nineties song, but the memory that leaps to mind when I think about it actually happened a few years after it came out, maybe my senior year of high school. I was driving my friend Jon Whitmer’s Saturn for some reason, and this song came on the radio, and all we wanted to do, the passengers of the car and I, was to roll down the windows and crank this up as loud as humanly and Saturn-ly possibly. Unfortunately this was a Saturn, so it was all screwed up, and the window controls were in the middle console between the two front seats. Not only could we not find them, I almost got in an accident while I was looking.
73) Fiona Apple – “Paper Bag” (1999)
I thought about putting a song from her debut album on the list. I do like a lot of them. But I really prefer When the Pawn…, which just barely scraped in at the end of the decade. The entire album is great, and this is a really beautiful song that is worth a listen if you aren’t familiar with it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the video before making this list, but I liked it quite a bit, too.
72) Ice Cube – “It Was A Good Day” (1992)
This song was definitely way over my head when it first came out, but nowadays I love it. My favorite early nineties West Coast hip hop song. Speaking of which, West Coast hip hop is odd. It’s so of its time. East Coast hip hop falls in a timeline; I understand that Biggie led to Jay-Z. But nobody really replaced 2Pac and NWA. And all of the songs are about lowriders and other early nineties things. It makes it sort of strange to revisit.
71) Oasis – “Champagne Supernova” (1995)
Johanna was lobbying for “Don’t Look Back in Anger” here instead, but I can never resist a seven-and-a-half minute long psychedelic song from the mid-nineties.
70) The Notorious B.I.G. — “Mo Money Mo Problems (feat. Puff Daddy and Ma$e)” (1997)
“Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” knocked the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” off of the top of the Billboard charts on March 22, 1997 and started an epic six-month period for Bad Boy Records. “Hypnotize,” “I’ll Be Missing You,” and this song all reached number one as well; only three strong early-summer weeks by Hanson’s “MMMBop” broke up the streak. Most of the criticisms of Diddy are true. These songs don’t so much sample other songs as steal their entire structure. But you have to admire the empire he’s built on the back on one great summer.
69) Seal – “Kiss From a Rose” (1994)
My dad went on and on about how great Seal’s lyrics were, which always cracked me up. Also funny is the fact that Joel Schumacher seemingly decided how to film portions of Batman’s origin story based on this song.
68) Blind Melon – “No Rain” (1992)
The song holds up much better than the iconic but completely annoying video, in my opinion. My sister once dated a guy who had a brother that was married to Shannon Hoon’s widow, or something like that.
67) Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – “Tha Crossroads” (1995)
I had completely forgotten that this song was dedicated to Eazy-E until I just watched the video. Actually, I should clarify. I had completely forgotten about Eazy-E until I just watched this video.
66) Boyz II Men – “Water Runs Dry” (1994)
I chose this as the mandatory representative song off of the classic album II, but if you had asked sixth grade Jared to choose a song, I think he probably would have gone with “On Bended Knee.” Neither of us would have chosen “I’ll Make Love to You,” though. Even at age twelve I knew that song was crass.
Also, as much as sixth grade Jared loved Boyz II Men, he once skipped a Boyz II Men concert to go to a middle school dance. Sixth grade Jared lived for middle school dances.
65) The Cure – “Friday I’m In Love”(1992)
Believe it or not, I was not a Cure fan at age nine. All my older sister was passing down to me were the MTV Party to Go CDs (which are awesome, BTW). I was actually pretty surprised, as I scrolled through my iTunes library, to discover that this song wasn’t from the Eighties. I’d always assumed that Bono sacrificed the members of The Cure to the gods on New Year’s Eve, 1989.
64) D’Angelo – “Brown Sugar” (1995)
Remember when people were talking about the neo soul movement? Why did everything in the nineties have to be about trends and movements? Ska, electronica, latin; what an over-marketed decade.
I always had a soft spot for this song because it was produced by Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest.
63) Elliott Smith – “Sweet Adeline” (1998)
I absolutely love this entire album, although I haven’t sat down and listened to it in a long time. One time in high school I completely bombed a math test, and I was playing XO in the car as I gave my friend Mike a ride home. I was obviously in a very bad mood, and when he heard the line “You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good” in “Waltz #2 (XO)” he looked at me with real concern and said “Maybe we should turn this off.” No one is better to listen to when you’re in a bad mood and want to stay that way for a while than Elliott Smith.
62) Jeff Buckley – “Last Goodbye” (1994)
What would have become of Jeff Buckley if he hadn’t drowned in the Mississippi? Grace is a great album, but the man is no Dylan, so let’s not over-sell things. He has a great voice, definitely, and he was a talented songwriter. But his music and his singing and playing style are so of their time. I’m a little bit skeptical that he would have grown very much musically as the years went by. It’s a difficult thing to do. Rather than tease ourselves with (probably overblown) thoughts of what might have been, let’s just enjoy the one great album he managed to make (and ignore Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk while we’re at it).
61) Dave Matthews Band – “Two Step” (1996)
Don’t get me wrong; I’m as done with Dave Matthews Band as everyone else is. That said, the first three tracks on Crash are outstanding. I will not back down from this claim. This song in particular is just ridiculously atmospheric, which I think is why it worked so well for me at the time. The thoughts and emotions of young people don’t really amount to much, but when a song like this is playing in the background, they sure seem important.
60) Dr. Dre – “Still D.R.E.” (1999)
This song almost directly refutes a statement I made above about West Coast hip hop. It’s true that no one replaced 2Pac and NWA; that’s because Dr. Dre and Snoop are still representing.
59) Common – “Chapter 13 (Rich Man vs. Poor Man)” (1994)
OK, so this isn’t exactly the most sophisticated exploration of the issue of race in America that I’ve ever heard. But Common was on fire lyrically for this entire album, and Ynot turns in both great lyrics and great production.
58) Sublime – “What I Got” (1996)
For a brief period, if you had asked me what my favorite band was, I would have answered “Sublime” without hesitation. If I remember correctly, they were preceded by Stone Temple Pilots and followed by Led Zeppelin.
57) The Verve – “Lucky Man” (1997)
I’ve owned and loved the album this song comes from, Urban Hymns, since it came out, but it really took on special meaning for me when it became a staple of my Discman during my time in London in 2003-2004 (hard to believe I was still using a Discman only six years ago). This track in particular was my favorite to play on the jukebox at my favorite pub, the Golden Lion, because I knew that Rob the bartender would always sing along.
56) They Might Be Giants – “Birdhouse in your Soul” (1990)
This song just barely makes the cut for the decade, since Flood was released on January 5th, 1990 (I use album release date when I’m dating the songs for these lists). I think my sister won this album in a radio contest or something, and I stole it because I recognized the songs “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and “Particle Man” from Tiny Toon Adventures. This song was new to me, though, and was an immediate favorite. I remember standing by my light switch, flicking my bedroom’s overhead light on and off to the beat. I was a little bit odd as a child.
55) Belle & Sebastian – “Simple Things” (1998)
A great little song. I saw Belle & Sebastian play in Chicago during my first year of college. I remember that the trip to the concert involved two buses and the train. At the time I thought the theater was in the middle of nowhere. Now, having spent a lot more time in Chicago, I realize that it’s the University of Chicago that is in the middle of nowhere. More on this concert below.
54) BLACKstreet – “No Diggity” (1996)
This is a great song on its own merits, but it would have made the list if only because of the great video. I was a big fan of marionettes during the mid-nineties. I even had a poster of Lil’ Penny on my wall. Also, I had completely forgotten that Dr. Dre was involved in this.
Listening to this song reminded me of the fact that every time MTV would advertise that the next song was “Brand Spankin’ New”, well into the early 2000s, my friend Andy would yell out “No Diggity!” and then feign disappointment when it was something else.
53) Buena Vista Social Club – “Chan Chan” (1997)
The album that this song comes from is sort of like the highbrow “Macarena.” It came out of nowhere, and its massive success is sort of inexplicable. Also, both are in Spanish. I know there was a movie involved here. Was this NPR driven? I didn’t listen to NPR at the time. To be honest, I still don’t really listen to NPR.
52) Soul Coughing – “Circles” (1998)
I know absolutely nothing about this band. I refuse to even go check their Wikipedia page. But this song is so strong that I will still occasionally throw it in a playlist.
51) Spacehog – “In The Meantime” (1995)
You know, I think I’m just going to copy and paste what I wrote for the above song here, because it still applies:
I know absolutely nothing about this band. I refuse to even go check their Wikipedia page. But this song is so strong that I will still occasionally throw it in a playlist.
50) The Fugees – “Zealots” (1996)
I loved the doo-wop sample even though I probably didn’t even know what doo-wop was at the time. A great album that holds up really well, even though it suffers from the plague of so many nineties hip hop albums, too much talking and lame skits between tracks.
49) Radiohead – “Fake Plastic Trees” (1995)
I think this might have been the second Radiohead song I ever heard, after “Creep,” and I probably only heard this because of the inclusion of a live version of it on the outstanding Tibetan Freedom Concert album. It piqued my interest enough to get me to do some research, and I read somewhere that the then new album OK Computer was the Dark Side of the Moon of the nineties. I told my dad this and he went out and bought it. He completely hated it, so I took it off his hands, and thus began my relationship with Radiohead. That also makes this the second consecutive song off an album that I did not buy myself; I’m pretty sure I stole my friend Mitch’s copy of The Score.
48) The Smashing Pumpkins – “Once Upon A Time” (1998)
I used to love The Smashing Pumpkins, and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is a great album, but I wasn’t feeling any of their big hits when I was making this list. Instead, they’re represented by this, a quiet little song off of Adore that I’ve loved since the first time I heard it. It was a staple of the CDs I burned on my dad’s standalone CD burner, back when the burning speed was one to one. That’s right, it took as long to burn the song on to another CD as it did to listen to it. I spent entire evenings making those mix CDs.
47) Radiohead – “Creep” (1993)
Doesn’t this almost seem like a one-hit wonder at this point? I don’t associate this with the rest of their career at all. It’s like “Loser” by Beck, except even more so.
46) New Radicals – “You Get What You Give” (1998)
An upbeat, mainstream pop song in which the singer threatens to physically harm Beck and Marilyn Manson. You’re the one with the ridiculous hat, sir.
45) Jeff Buckley – “Lover, Your Should’ve Come Over” (1994)
A great song that has an unnecessary forty-second organ piece tacked on to the beginning, because that’s what you did in the nineties.
44) Naughty by Nature – “O.P.P.” (1991)
This song is pretty basic. I don’t really have much to say about it. Naughty by Nature songs were staples in the MTV Party to Go series, with this, “Hip Hop Hooray,” and “Feel Me Flow” all making an appearance.
43) Aesop Rock – “1,000 Deaths” (1999)
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is both my favorite early Aesop Rock song and also the first song of his that was produced by Blockhead.
42) Belle & Sebastian – “The State I Am In” (1996)
As I mentioned above, I saw this band play in Chicago during my first year of college. Two final thoughts on this concert: 1) During the show Stuart Murdoch, who is Scottish, ripped off his shirt to reveal a Chicago Cubs jersey. I hate the Cubs, but I just thought that was the coolest thing ever for some reason. 2) I later learned that the first year version of my fiancée, Johanna, was also at that show, unbeknownst to me.
41) Ben Folds Five – “Mess” (1999)
I completely understand why the first two Ben Folds Five albums might not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, they aren’t even my cup of tea. Piano pop can be a little too cute. But The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner is a truly great album. They made it and then they broke up, which is, to me, a minor tragedy. Ben Fold’s solo stuff is entirely too cute. This was also one of the CDs that I lost when I left a CD case with my twenty favorite albums in it on an American Airlines flight from London to Chicago. Another minor tragedy.
40) Dr. Dre – “The Next Episode” (1999)
Dr. Dre took seven years to release his second album, and his third album is slated to come out next year, after a twelve-year break. The wait was worth it last time, hopefully that will be true this time, too.
39) Eagle-Eye Cherry – “Save Tonight” (1997)
I had to check the rest of the list to be sure, but I think this might be my favorite one-hit wonder of the decade. And the nineties might be the quintessential decade for one-hit wonders. The Cherry family is full of flash in the pan musicians.
38) Eels – “Novocaine For The Soul” (1996)
The video for this song was one of the most memorable of the decade; I would have been extremely disappointed if embedding of the YouTube video were disabled. Enjoy:
37) Mos Def – “Umi Says” (1999)
Black on Both Sides isn’t my favorite hip hop album of all time, but it does sort of represent the peak of my favorite era of hip hop. Mos Def doesn’t even really rap on this song, which would generally annoy me, but I love it nonetheless. This was used in a great Nike (or Jordan, more specifically) commercial, although I think the short version made sure to cut out all the references to “black people.”
36) Elliott Smith – “Miss Misery” (1997)
The man basically spent a decade advertising his suicidal thoughts, but still managed to shock us when he finally did it by choosing to stab himself in the chest. Twice. Such a tragedy. I’m happy to be able to remember him playing this song in a white suit at the Oscars, seemingly as surprised to be there as we were to be watching him.
35) Lauryn Hill – “Doo Wop (That Thing)” (1998)
Although Johanna suggested “Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)” by Pras for this list, and I love both “Guantanamera” and “Gone Till November” by Wyclef Jean, they aren’t quite good enough to make the list. So this stands alone as the only post-Fugees solo career song to make the list. Congratulations, Lauryn! It’s too bad that you seem to be a crazy person now.
34) Nas – “Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park)” (1994)
I like a lot of the stuff Nas has done since his first album, but it does not measure up to Illmatic even remotely. What happened? Jay-Z sums up the situation pretty well in “Takeover” off of The Blueprint.
33) Beastie Boys – “Sabotage” (1994)
I might, at some point, get around to making a list of my favorite music videos of all time. If so, this will be in the running to be number one. I think Ill Communication might have been the first Beastie Boys album I ever heard in its entirety. It’s a good thing I didn’t start with Licensed to Ill, because I absolutely hate that album.
32) Moby – “Porcelain” (1999)
It’s definitely embarrassing to like a Moby song as much as I like this one. What can I say, though? It’s a great song. One year on the Fourth of July in Chicago Johanna and I walked past Moby exiting the Chicago Diner, a vegan restaurant on Halsted Street. We thought about saying something, but I was smoking, Johanna had a Smirnoff shirt on, and we were carrying bags of meat for the barbeque we were attending. This was at the height of his sanctimoniousness, so we decided to keep moving.
31) The Roots – “The Next Movement” (1999)
I think I read somewhere when this came out that it was a big deal that a rap song was switching time signatures throughout. I’m no expert on that. I remember loving the video, though.
30) Pete Rock & CL Smooth – “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” (1992)
I remember exactly when I bought this album. It was on a trip to Disney World that my friends and I took after our high school graduation. So that would have been the summer of 2001. I was almost a decade late on this. It’s definitely dated, but it holds up a lot better than most songs from 1992. For the most part I’ve only been including YouTube clips when the official video is available, but I couldn’t resist this live performance, introduced by Arsenio Hall.
29) No Doubt – “Don’t Speak” (1995)
This song is about Gwen Stefani’s breakup with bassist Tony Kanal. She then went on to date, and then marry, Gavin Rossdale, lead singer of Bush, my second least favorite band of the nineties. In case you were wondering, Garbage is my least favorite band of the nineties.
28) Weezer – “Say It Ain’t So” (1994)
Ah, the glory days, back before Rivers Cuomo was trying to write hit songs using mathematical formulas. This is maybe the best road trip album of all time. I’ve driven from St. Louis to Champaign just listening to it over and over, and loving every second. This has always been my favorite song on the album for some reason; the part starting at 2:09, in particular, always jumps out at me.
27) Neutral Milk Hotel – “Holland, 1945” (1998)
I wasn’t cool enough to know about Neutral Milk Hotel when this album first came out. I don’t think anyone in my high school was. This is one of the many bands that I was somehow introduced to in the first few weeks of college. Between the new friends and the rampant illegal downloading it was a very fruitful period of musical discovery for me.
26) Q-Tip – “Let’s Ride” (1999)
I appreciate Q-Tip’s first solo album now more than I did when he first released it. At the time I was still bitter about the A Tribe Called Quest break-up, and it just sounded too commercial and like he was trying too hard to distance himself from his past. This track, though, stood out to me even at the time.
25) R.E.M. – “Nightswimming” (1992)
This song seems to be one of my generation’s favorite R.E.M. songs. I don’t hear it mentioned much by older people that have been fans of the band since the beginning. What is it about it that appeals specifically to us?
24) The Roots – “You Got Me (feat. Erykah Badu)” (1999)
My favorite song by The Roots off of my favorite album by The Roots. I’ve always loved the drum and bass breakdown near the end.
23) Seal – “Crazy” (1991)
I won’t deny the fact that I love Seal more than I should. This is a ridiculously high ranking for this song. I will deny that I love the outfit he’s wearing on the cover of this album.
22) Counting Crows – “Mr. Jones” (1993)
Whenever I hear either this song or “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” by En Vogue, I have flashbacks to a Halloween party I attended in sixth grade wearing a thrown together Jedi costume. Considering they’re sort of cheesy and the lead singer wears fake dreadlocks, I have to imagine that a lot of people expected them to be one-hit wonders, but they’ve put together a nice career for themselves.
21) Dave Matthews Band – “Crash Into Me” (1996)
Track three of the opening three songs of Crash that I mentioned loving above. This was my go-to album for road trips where I was a passenger. I would put it on and take a nap, and almost always wake up as “Proudest Monkey” was playing.
20) Sublime – “Santeria” (1996)
This is a much better song than “What I Got.” One of the first songs I learned how to play on the guitar; I couldn’t play it to save my life today. All of the videos for these Sublime songs are weird to watch because they were all filmed after Bradley Nowell’s death.
19) Belle & Sebastian – “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” (1996)
I was having a hard time coming up with something to say about this song, so I asked Johanna for her thoughts. She said, “That’s a great song to mope to in college.” So there you go.
18) Oasis – “She’s Electric” (1995)
Sometimes when I listen to Oasis lyrics it sounds like they just come up with the title, and then think of all the words that rhyme with a word in the title, and then fill in the rest with half-sense. That’s definitely the case here, but this song still has a lot of charm. A sentimental favorite of mine from album that I did not stop listening to for a year or so of my life.
17) Paul Simon – “The Obvious Child” (1990)
This seems like it’s from the Eighties, and I didn’t start listening to it until the 2000s, but according to the rules I’ve set for myself here, this is the list it belongs on. This song is a holdover from a relatively long-lasting Paul Simon period I went through in college.
16) A Tribe Called Quest – “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)” (1993)
Some sacrifices were made for the sake of variety on this list. There should probably be more from A Tribe Called Quest; “Electric Relaxation,” in particular, is a glaring omission. But this song will have to serve as the lone representative of Midnight Marauders, one of my favorite albums of all time.
There’s no official video for this song, so I’m going to use the video for “Electric Relaxation” instead to make myself feel better about leaving it off.
15) Ben Folds Five – “Army” (1999)
I actually had this song at number eight or something, but Johanna said that was way too high, and she’s right. I love this song, though. I can remember hearing it for the first time while listening to 107.1 The Planet on my big old stereo in my dank basement room in Champaign. The piano bit in the transition from the verse to the chorus is one of my favorite parts of any song of the decade.
14) Stone Temple Pilots – “Interstate Love Song” (1994)
As I said above, Stone Temple Pilots were, for a time, my favorite band. This song was the main reason why, so it had to make the list. I’m a little bit surprised by how high I ended up ranking it, but I think it holds up pretty well.
13) The Notorious B.I.G. – “Hypnotize” (1997)
I’m sure I have the timeline wrong, but this song seems like the first really popular rap song that was actually really good. In my head, at least, this was the death knell of the novelty rap one-hit wonder and led to Jay-Z’s career.
12) R.E.M. – “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (1994)
Monster was another of the albums that my dad bought on a whim that I ended up stealing. I love that they named a song after a question posed to Dan Rather by a crazy person that was attacking him. Judging by the video below, Rather had a sense of humor about it.
11) Radiohead – “Karma Police” (1997)
I mentioned above how I happened to end up with a copy of OK Computer. This song, and its accompanying video (which, unfortunately, is not available for embedding, because Parlophone somehow thinks that would be bad for business), really got me to listen to it over and over.
10) Green Day – “When I Come Around” (1995)
This song meant a lot to me back in sixth grade, even though I had no idea (and still don’t, really) what it was about. I would never have predicted that they would still be even slightly relevant fifteen years later.
9) Jay-Z – “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” (1998)
This is sort of like a Puff Daddy song, in that it doesn’t sample a song as much as it just lays a heavier beat on it and has someone rapping over it. Somehow, Jay-Z manages to pull it off much more convincingly, though, and it feels like a real classic and not just a fun, catchy throwaway. God bless him.
8 ) Eric B. and Rakim – “Don’t Sweat the Technique” (1992)
I’d heard this song, obviously, but I didn’t really come to love it, and start putting it on all of my playlists, until a few years ago. The song is a classic and as fresh today as ever, but the same cannot be said of the video. Do yourself a favor and watch it. At least the first thirty seconds or so.
7) A Tribe Called Quest – “Excursions” (1991)
A perfect thirty seconds opens this song, which itself opens The Low End Theory, one of the best hip hop albums of all time. I remember, somewhat embarrassingly, trading lines from this song with a young Evan Williamson sometime in high school. Good times.
6) Jamiroquai – “Virtual Insanity” (1997)
“Virtual Insanity” got a lot better with the radio edit, which cut about a minute and a half of boring pointlessness out of the middle of the song. It also led to the famous video, which isn’t quite as awesome as it was when it first came out, but is still worth a viewing. Jay Kay’s hat, however, is still the exact same amount of awesome.
5) Common – “Resurrection” (1994)
Common was on fire in the mid- to late-nineties, releasing two of my absolute favorite albums of any genre of all time, Resurrection and One Day It’ll All Make Sense, and becoming my favorite MC in the process. He followed up with Like Water for Chocolate, which is a consistently good album, and then Electric Circus, which I did my best to convince myself I liked at the time. Then came the mediocre Be and the completely forgettable, overproduced Finding Forever. Even Common himself seemed embarrassed by Universal Mind Control in 2008, and it became the first Common album that I didn’t bother to buy. Please, Common, spend some time on your verses as opposed to your choruses, and go back to working with No I.D.
4) Radiohead – “Airbag” (1997)
Somehow, over a decade of listens, this emerged as my favorite song on OK Computer. That’s enough to earn it a spot this high on the list. The opening bit is one of the few things I remember how to play on the guitar, which isn’t saying much for my guitar abilities.
3) Oasis – “Wonderwall” (1995)
As evidenced by its ranking here at number three, this is not my favorite song of the nineties. It might be the song that I most closely associate with the decade, though. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is probably still in my top five most listened to albums, and I haven’t listened to it in years.
2) Common – “Invocation” (1997)
What would the Common who wrote the lyric “Not for the money, I could have sampled Diana Ross a long time ago” in 1997 have thought of the Common that released the song “Go (feat. John Mayer)” in 2005? Sigh.
1) The Verve – “Bitter Sweet Symphony” (1997)
This won’t surprise anyone who knows me well. I loved this song when it came out, and it had a big renaissance with me when I was in London in 2003 and 2004. When I started using iTunes, I played it so often that Johanna joked when I made my “Best of the 2000s” playlist for this New Year’s Eve that it was the first time I had made a playlist and left it off. I like the Rolling Stones less because they sued about the sample. I like the Nike commercial this is in even though it was used without their permission. I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say it here publicly: this is the song I want played at my funeral.
Breakdown by year:
1990 – 3 songs
1991 – 4 songs
1992 – 8 songs
1993 – 3 songs
1994 – 13 songs
1995 – 13 songs
1996 – 11 songs
1997 – 16 songs
1998 – 8 songs
1999 – 11 songs
Honorable Mentions: Aesop Rock – “Shere Khan”, Alice in Chains – “Rooster”, Beastie Boys – “Root Down”, Beck – “Devils Haircut”, Beck – “Debra”, Beck – “Tropicalia”, Ben Harper – “Another Lonely Day”, The Beta Band – “Dry the Rain”, Billy Bragg and Wilco – “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”, Blur – “Song 2”, Boyz II Men – “On Bended Knee”, The Chemical Brothers – “Where Do I Begin”, The Chemical Brothers – “Let Forever Be”, DJ Shadow – “Midnight In A Perfect World”, Duncan Sheik – “Barely Breathing”, Everlast – “What It’s Like”, The Fugees – “No Woman, No Cry”, The Fugees – “Fu-Gee-La”, Janet Jackson – “Got Til It’s Gone”, Jurassic 5 – “Jayou”, Mad Season – “River of Deceit”, Madonna – “Ray of Light”, Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy”, Matthew Sweet – “Sick of Myself”, Michael Jackson – “Scream”, Michael Jackson – “Black or White”, Mos Def – “May-December”, Neutral Milk Hotel – “In The Aeroplane Over the Sea”, Oasis – “Supersonic”, Oasis – “Don’t Look Back In Anger”, P.M. Dawn – “My Own Personal Gravity”, Pearl Jam – “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”, People Under the Stairs – “Mid-City Fiesta”, People Under the Stairs – “San Francisco Knights”, The Pharcyde – “Passin’ Me By”, P.M. Dawn – “Downtown Venus”, Puff Daddy & The Family – “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down (feat. Mase)”, Q-Tip – “Vivrant Thing”, Rage Against the Machine – “Bulls on Parade,” R.E.M. – “Daysleeper”, Radiohead – “High and Dry”, Shaggy – “Boombastic”, The Smashing Pumpkins – “Tonight, Tonight”, The Smashing Pumpkins – “Landslide”, Sneaker Pimps – “Six Underground”, Sponge – “Plowed”, Sublime – “40oz to Freedom”, Sublime – “Summertime”, Temple of the Dog – “Hunger Strike”, Tom Petty – “Wildflowers”, Tori Amos – “Cornflake Girl”, A Tribe Called Quest – “Electric Relaxation”, Uncle Tupelo – “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, Uncle Tupelo – “Gun”, The Verve – “Sonnet”, The Verve – “The Drugs Don’t Work”, The Wallflowers – “One Headlight”, Weezer – “Buddy Holly”, Wilco – “Monday”, Wilco – “Outta Mind (Outta Sight)”, Wyclef Jean – “Gone Till November”