It’s hard to imagine a time before iPhones and Spotify, but in the 90s, we had MTV-style Top 40 music stations. The 90s gold rush for musical hits – every kind of song you could think of from Grunge to Gangsta Rap – was blasting through everyone’s speakers. These 25 songs are all part of this glorious era when there wasn’t just one type or genre on top; everything was booming!
‘Juicy’ – The Notorious BIG
Christopher Wallace made it clear that he was not the first and will be far from being the last rapper who had “rap’d say about a Super Nintendo.” In fact – in one of Juicy’s verses – Biggy balances his history of Bed-Stuy poverty so precisely against the braggadocious trappings of fame and fortune (including two video games: a Sega Genesis & Game Gear).
‘Poison’ – The Prodigy
The Prodigy was never a straightforward band, and this list reflects that. None of the band’s 90s musical hits sum up Keith Flint and Liam Howlett’s rowdy rave punks better than ‘Poison.’ The mix of chunky breakbeats.’ sludgy electronics, wide-eyed carnage was the perfect rhythmical remedy to those who fancied a dab of dance music.
‘Inner City Life’ – Goldie
Goldie epitomized the British movement of jungle music in the 1990s. His 1995 album Timeless was a landmark for this genre. His clear standout track Inner City Life fused breakbeats with heart-aching vocals to create an intense piece of art.
‘The Boy With the Arab Strap’ – Belle And Sebastian
Belle & Sebastian’s song”The Boy With The Arab Strap” is a secret, and you will not believe what it is. This X-rated gimmick, used by impotent men to maintain an erection, seems ironic when considering how successful B&S purged their music of rock’s traditional priapic thrust. Bandleader Stuart Murdoch protests his innocence, claiming the song was just a shoutout to fellow indie Scots and tourmates at Belle.
‘Bittersweet Symphony’ – The Verve
The classic existential Britpop banger, ‘Bittersweet Symphony,’ transcended the 1990s and became an essential piece of British music. It was Moby’s go-to end-of-the-night floor filler for his rave parties in the late ’90s. Moreover, it also showcases what The Verve was capable of when they created musical hits with orchestral elements.
‘Killing in the Name’ – Rage Against The Machine
Zach De La Rocha’s “Rebel Without a Pause” is one of the most iconic anti-establishment rock raps that have ever been made. It started moshpits across America in the early 1990s. It still has power to this day, even though people are not moshing anymore due to how society has evolved.
‘Sure Shot’ – Beastie Boys
When The Beastie Boys came out with their breakthrough album’ Ill Communication’, they did more than produce a fantastic song. “Sure Shot” is impossible to resist. It features some of these iconic characteristics, such as funky flute loops or stone-cold rap lyrics, making it one hard track to forget about.
‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ – Sinéad O’Connor
Sinéad O’Connor’s rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” in the 90s is regarded as one of the most moving musical hits ever. This powerful music video and her raw vocals delivered a strong message that was all too easy to relate to at the time. Sinéad wrestled Prince himself during their first meeting following this anthem they shared on stage.
‘Born Slippy. Nuxx’ – Underworld
‘It’s Been A Long Time Since I Could Call You Mine. ‘The closing scene of Trainspotting, Danny Boyle’s film about heroin addiction and the high life in Edinburgh-based crime films set around 1990. It was played over a hauntingly beautiful tune that builds up to pumping techno drums with Mark Ronson on guitar: “Born Slippy (NUXX)” by Underworld. The song is still a certified banger today after opening itself up for many new listeners when it served as this iconic movie soundtrack closer back then.
‘Midnight in a Perfect World’ – DJ Shadow
When it comes to the best album of all time, you can’t beat DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing…” which came out in 1996. The first disc, ‘Midnight in a Perfect World,’ is a perfect mix of jazz and hip hop that has stood the test time for 19 years.
‘Loser’ – Beck
Kanye West was just a 15-year-old in 1993 when he first messed around with his 1st sampler, and Beck Hansen had already failed at being folk. In 1992, before Kanye made “Loser” for rap producer Carl Stephenson as an experiment to put out on the market, which became a huge success and anthem of the slacker generation.
‘Deceptacon’ – Le Tigre
Kathleen Hanna changed the face of music with her pioneering riot grrrl group Bikini Kill. She found a new way by going into girl groups and Day-Glo synths as frontwoman for Le Tigre. They were outspoken about their radical ideas, which allowed them to smuggle these themes into mainstream culture in what would become one of the most successful musical hits from the 90s, such as ‘Deceptacon.’
‘Big Time Sensuality’ – Björk
The big-time sensuality of this song is enough to make it worthy for a spot on the list. Its sound groundbreaking, and its video iconic — both have made Björk an instant pop star in the process. The lyrics are catchy, too: “I don’t know my future after this weekend,” says Bjork as she has fun with life’s chaos around her.
‘Paranoid Android’ – Radiohead
Thom Yorke’s merry men started the ’90s as an Americanized alt-rock band called On A Friday. The band ended the decade recording moody, minimal electronic tracks on Kid A before being too cool and clever to write a killer riff in “Paranoid Android.”
‘Live Forever’ – Oasis
The mighty Oasis of the ’90s had a penchant for plunging themselves headfirst into their idols’ iconic sound. The band never sounded better than in those soaring melodies that seemed to reach forever, with Liam singing them so beautifully.
‘Beetlebum’ – Blur
It’s a song for sharing the good times with your friends by singing along around a campfire. This is Blur at their peak during the Britpop era. They were welding classic British songwriting onto weirdo alt-rock, making it one of the most memorable musical hits from the 90s.
‘Soon’ – My Bloody Valentine
In 1989 MBV released Loveless featuring “Soon,” which was considered by many as the apex of ‘shoegazer’ music. Its seven-minute confection consisted of breakbeats, blushing, and blooming guitar tones that would propel themselves into the mainstream culture within years after its release.
‘Common People’ – Pulp
In defense of this scathing Britpop anthem, the girl from Greece who thirsts for knowledge went on to marry Marxist economist and maverick finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. This may seem like a slight against “Common People,” but it’s not in any way whatsoever. Its sly social message delivered with an immortal disco beat is possibly one of the greatest sociopolitical floor-fillers ever written. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if, in some small tangential way, the economic fate of Europe was influenced by that lanky, skinny kid?
‘Never Forget’ – Take That
When Take That released their last single before splitting in 1997, it was a nostalgic bomb that foreshadowed what the boy band landscape would soon become. “Never Forget” is an ode to those who support them and features Howard Donald as a lead vocalist, which had been rare for the group up until this point. Not only does lyrics highlight self-awareness, but it also predicts something else oncoming: Westlife waiting in the wings after they split.
‘Glory Box’ – Portishead
Portishead had a hand in defining the ’90s’ trip-hop sound. One of their most famous tracks, “Glory Box,” is an excellent example of this genre. It combines heavy hip-hop beats with jazz and soul samples for a tortured yet ethereal take on love songs.
‘Da Funk’ – Daft Punk
It’s hard to believe, but Daft Punk first made a name for themselves in the 90s with their album’ Homework.’ This crown jewel is one song that references generations past and present – ‘Da Funk.’ This track was so good it earned them Grammy Awards.
‘Unfinished Sympathy’ – Massive Attack
Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy” is a song that musically brings listeners on an emotional journey. The music gradually builds up, with various instruments and vocals layered over the top of each other. It leads to sounds like waves crashing against rocks in the distance. Shara Nelson’s voice soars above all else as she belts out lyrics about heartbreak and pain before coming back down at just enough time for them to end peacefully.
‘Rid of Me’ – PJ Harvey
Nirvana and Polly Jean Harvey both thumbed their noses at the mainstream after releasing breakthrough albums. Nirvana released ‘In Utero’, which was rawer than anything they had done before – even more so when Steve Albini recorded it for them. Meanwhile, Dorset’s very own PJH turned to punk rock recording engineer with her second album ‘Rid of Me.’ The title track is a primal howl that’s equal parts lovesick wail and feminist stomp; it turns out MC Hammer might have been wrong about you can’t touch this.
‘Waterfalls’ – TLC
In the song “Waterfalls,” TLC took a ballad about waterfall jumping and transformed it into an urban drama with a killer chorus. With lyrics like “let’s just get high until we feel better,” Left Eye is speaking to those who are struggling through life-altering moments or depression without considering suicide as an option. She also sings of how she believes in God before her rap preaches that hope can be found within oneself; not drugs, alcohol, violence – but self-belief.
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
“Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit ‘was an instantaneously momentous and influential song. It revolutionized the grunge rock genre, which emerged a few years before Nirvana rose to fame with this iconic anthem of teenage angst and rebellion. Kurt Cobain’s guitar riffs are catchy but dirty-sounding. At the same time, drummer Dave Grohl drives the rhythm until it explodes into Krist Novoselic’s bass playing and his own fuzzed-out lead guitars.
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