Nick Levin Editors: James Manning, Laura Richards, Tristan Parker, John Cook, Haley Joyce, Michael Kerl, Andy Kraiza and Matthew Singer
Top 100 Songs Of The 90s
No single decade is a musical monolith, but when you see the best songs of the ’90s all listed in one place, the era seems especially scattered. History has boiled it down to grunge and gangsta rap on the one hand, and boy bands and Britney Spears on the other, but it’s the stuff in the middle and the fringes that make this period difficult to sum up.
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In England, Oasis and the rest of Britpop made a big mark, as did Nirvana and other Seattleites. Hip-hop took the world by storm and seemed to change shape every few months. Remember when electronics looked like the future? Where do thugs like Pavement, Beastie Boys and A Tribe Called Quest fit in? And that’s to say nothing of the totally random ska and swing revivals…although you’ll hear about that here.
With a packed field in mind, we’ve been very selective in curating this best playlist and limited it to one song per artist. Whether the ’90s was the greatest decade for music is largely a generational debate, but as you’ll hear, one thing’s for sure: it never got boring.
FEATURED: 📸 Best Album Covers of the 90s 🎶 Best Songs of the 80s 🎵 Best Songs of the 2000s 💃 Best Beyoncé Songs 🎤 Best Kanye West Songs 🎞 Best Music Videos of All Time 🌱 Best Jungle Tracks
All the cool kids will tell you they got into Nirvana in ’89 when Bleachon released Sub Pop. All pretty boys lie. Like everyone else, they were into Nirvana the moment they heard the first ten seconds of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio: Kurt Cobain’s dirty Boston-aping guitar riff, Dave Grohl’s set, and Krist Novoselic’s head bursting into the song. and our collective consciousness.
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Many words have been written about “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and we’d like to add a few more, but the sonic earthquake this song caused around the world in 1991 cannot be overstated. never heard before: the sound of Seattle’s grunge scene coming out of the garage like a hungry monster. A generation of young people who did not adapt to the National Anthem like no other was found. Anger, frustration, pain, and chaos permeated a million bedrooms as we listened to Cobain’s cries, screams, and screams that were as confusing as they were powerful: “Mulatto, albino, mosquito, my libido … hey.” What happened?
There’s one more thing that makes “Smells Like Teen Spirit” the song of the decade, and that’s Samuel Bayer’s current video. His demented school concert—with slo-mo cheerleaders, guitar-smashing, and sweaty teenagers in a gym full of smoke and fire—was as unsettling and anarchic as the song. self. Everyone watched it. Everyone knew he would never be forgotten. Tim Arthur
If ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ didn’t invent the ’90s like it ended the ’80s, then the decade didn’t really start until Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre came through the door. Neither was a stranger to the crowd: Dre shook the rap world and white America’s nerves as a member of NWA, and Snoop’s actual debut was on a movie soundtrack a few months ago.
. But ‘G’ Thang’ still resonates as an intro because it’s unlike anything hip-hop has heard before – a neatly crafted gangsta symphony of smoky guitars, hissing synths and pounding bass, all flowing smoother than a river. Courvoisier. Lyrically, he’s having none of it
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; It just sounds like two dudes trading rhymes at a backyard barbeque, a vibe that’s highlighted in a cool video. It is no wonder that children all over the world strive for survival
No one, before or since, has done more to justify the gangsta rap lifestyle than Christopher Wallace on the lead single from his massive debut album, “Ready to Die.” “Juicy” works because Biggie weaves his Bed-Stuy story of poverty into the glories of fame and fortune (including the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis – now the Sugarhill Gang’s hotel, motel, Holiday Inn).
It’s hard to believe, but a few years before DP started messing with Pharrell and the catwalk shows with the soundtrack, they released a Happy Home album that featured the gem “Da Funk” in the movie “Homework.” It referenced generations of dance music (swirling, acid synths, Godzilla-smashing drums), but at the same time there was something new and amazing about it – it was so exciting.
Will this Britpop anthem be undermined by its subject – the marriage of an educated girl from Greece to Yanis Varoufakis, a Marxist economist and finance minister? Not even a little. “Ordinary People” will always be more universal, with its social message delivered on hard disco and an immortal riff. This may be the greatest socio-political filler of all time. Wouldn’t it be great if the economic fortunes of the Eurozone were influenced two decades later by a dapper singer from Yorkshire?
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It’s no exaggeration to say that in the 90s, Bristol was one of the most important music cities on the planet. At the heart of it all was Portishead, whose dark, brooding and often oppressive sound was a conspiracy of contradictions that defined ‘trip-hop’. Mixing heavy hip-hop beats and throbbing basslines with jazz and soul samples, the music was good, but tortured singer Beth Gibbons’ vocals were outstanding. “Glory Box” is a case in point: a soul-searching love song that moves from tender downtempo moments to ear-splitting guitar crescendoes with stunning ease, set against a smoky backing track of jazzy drums, tinkling pianos and sultry strings. Jonathan Cook
Yes, we said “beetle.” If you stay after the fire, it’s “Tender” every time; if you just want to trash, stick with “Song 2”; if you like Britpop beer, there’s always Parklife; but if you want Blur to do what Blur do best – weld classic British songwriting to weird alt-rock – then ‘Beetlebum’ is it. With Damon’s heroin-like drawl and Graham’s tumbling riffs and killer solos, this is Britpop’s best band on top of the world. Sorry, Phil Daniels.
For better or worse, Massive Attack will forever be known as trip-hop pioneers, but their most important contribution doesn’t really fall into that category. A somber yet brooding ballad sprinkled with samples, Unfinished Sympathy was heralded as a standout song on the release and still holds its place today. Every element is perfectly placed, from the fluttering strings to Shara Nelson’s effortlessly powerful vocals, to the mournful percussive chimes that introduce the track – still capable of sending shivers down a few spines.
Inspired by a group of bands that preferred to stare at their guitar effects pedals rather than engage with the audience, “eyesore” has never been a better term for the murky, noisy, deafening loudness that My Bloody Valentine produced in the late ’80s. Other bands tagged as Ride, Slowdive, Lush, Chapterhouse, The Telescopes have done great things with noise and melody. But “Soon” (the climax of the unique album “Without Love”) was the magnificent peak of the “sonic cathedral” of the movement: seven minutes of breakbeats, red and blooming guitar tones and sweet vocals. enough to hurt. Whatever you want to call it, it still sounds great.
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20 years before Kanye West hailed the genius of Paul McCartney, R&B co-founded TLC. They took Mecca’s 1980 ballad about the dangerous sport of skydiving and turned it into a heart-wrenching urban drama with a killer chorus. Drugs, murder, HIV: Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez’s lyrics handle life’s tragedies with wisdom, patience and soul, while her raps preach the power of hope and self-belief. And God, of course.
Before hooking up with Martha Stewart, Snoop nearly stole Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic,” an album that topped any list of ’90s records. But Snoop came into his own with “Doggystyle,” making Gin and Juice one of the longest-running songs of all time. Even today, you hear the song emanating from slow-moving cars around the world, often accompanied by a trail of smoke. Moreover, this song introduced the world to the fun side of gangsta rap… No small feat for a man on the “Murder Happened” chart. Andy Kryza
There was no nirvana