The 90 Best Songs of the 90s (Part 2)

No time for fancy intros today! You’ve seen the first 40. Let’s just get right to next 40! Take it away, nerds:

The 90 Best Songs of the 90s (Part 2)

50. “Around the World” – Daft Punk (1997)

Another typically fantastic Michel Gondry music video turns up on alongside a song on this list. Not that Daft Punk’s seven minute playful slice of house isn’t charming enough on its own, but the strange visuals of too-tall men in track suits endlessly ascending and descending an overcrowded soundstage makes this earworm burrow extra deep. Gondry and choreographer Bianca Li’s move to match a set of characters to each element of the song make for a funked-out techno update on Peter and the Wolf. – Jeremy

49. “Sick of Myself” – Matthew Sweet (1995)

The second verse begins “I’ll take or leave / The room to breathe” but for years I thought it was “I’ll take a leap / the moon to keep” which… doesn’t exactly make sense? But is certainly just as delightfully melodramatic as any other lyric in this song. I really enjoy the contrast between all the capital-F Feelings in the lyrics, and the disaffected pop vocal that delivers them. And then there’s the totally inexplicable fakeout ending that goes on for like 45 seconds! Ugh, it’s all so great. – Michelle

48. “Two Princes” – Spin Doctors (1991)

Like no other song before it or since, “Two Princes” endures as my best gauge for how I’ve felt about the institution of marriage during various points in my life. I was ten when this song came out and, having spent a decade immersed in Disney princess culture, believed that everyone married for love and love alone. As I get older, though, I find a relationship with the narrator of this song less and less enticing. The rich guy seems nice enough, and the lyrics of the song no longer present a compelling argument for rejecting him out of hand. – Cristin

47. “Vogue” – Madonna (1990)

Madonna’s unwillingness to age has turned her into a punchline of late and the countless imitators she’s spawned can sometimes make her innovations seem a distant memory. But the early ’90s was Madonna at the height of her powers and “Vogue” remains a striking showcase for her singular talents as an artist; one need look no further than her iconic 1990 VMA performance as proof. Beneath the glassy, arch surface and spoken-word interlude that name drops car companies is an infectious, super-charged anthem, all slinky strings and stuttering electronics, that bulldozed the rinky-dink sound of the ’80s and signaled what was to come. In many ways, pop music still hasn’t gotten over it. – Sara B

46. “November Rain” – Guns ‘n Roses (1991)

The politics of list making, part 4: obliging the epic.

Some songs have will strong enough to bend the rational order of music appreciation. Some songs have inborn knowledge that lists like this will be made. You may not love these songs, but somewhere in you, you sense this expectation. These songs think they should be on such lists like Donald Trump thinks people should pay attention to him. Like Braveheart thinks it should win Best Picture. Like Russia thinks it’s a superpower. These songs would very much like you to know they have stature and importance. They are a decree. There is the way of nature and the way of grace, according to one, and not the other, such songs belong on your list. – Chris

45. “Born Slippy” – Underworld (1996)

The politics of list making, part 5: reducing an entire movement to just one slot.

When making a list for an era you have responsibilities. You have a responsibility to map the terrain. To identify the zones of relevance, be they cultures, genres, genders, shifts, breakthroughs, areas of influence, movements. Then you must, as if making a checklist, choose a representative song, only one, from each of those zones to put on your list. It is thusly that you maintain your claim to critical responsibility and respectable cosmopolitanism. If, having completed this task, you have slots left over on your list, you may then fill them with the rest of OK Computer. – Chris

44. “Enjoy the Silence” – Depeche Mode (1990)

Here at, Depeche Mode is both loved (by me) and maligned (by, at the very least, Rob and Jesse – see this recent hateful twitter post). So I’m super psyched this made the list, if for no other reason, I feel my love for them has been vindicated. Their highest-charting single in the US, “Enjoy the Silence” sounds synth­y and poppy, while the lyrics reference a clearly doomed relationship about to fall apart (moody is something they excel at). You get to feel all of the feelings together! Depeche Mode = MAGIC! – Sabrina

43. “Flagpole Sitta” – Harvey Danger (1997)

As a born-again evangelical Christian post-homeschooler, this song was pretty much the ultimate when it came to preadolescent rebellion. I remember being thirteen and screaming this song into a mirror. I think this song was maybe made to be screamed into mirrors by people who are just starting to figure out who they are, and how messy it is, and who have decided, even if just for a second, to revel in it. – Kerry

42. “Friday I’m in Love” – The Cure (1992)

This song was #1 on my personal ’90s list. I listened to it every Friday for years, originally, cued up on a cassette tape ofsongs that I had recorded off the radio. I didn’t own “Wish” on CD until some friends chipped in to buy it for mybirthday in 1995 (yes, more than one friend; CDs were at least $18!). I mean, Robert Smith seemed happy about something, which is amazing, in and of itself. Although: he had a pretty severe drug problem at the time and was incredibly paranoid, so who honestly knows if or how he could eke out some happiness. Anyway, I still love this song and it never fails to put me in a good mood. I don’t always manage to listen to it every week, and not always on Friday, but it holds up any day of the week. – Sabrina

41. “Just a Girl” – No Doubt (1995)

Growing up in a small town in Iowa it was a bit mind blowing to lay eyes on Gwen Stefani for the first time. I’d never seen a woman so colorful, so energetic, so in-your-face. I was too young to buy Tragic Kingdom myself but I begged my parents to get it for me. It wasn’t until a few years later that I actually paid attention to the lyrics of its lead single, came to understand and recognize the righteous anger in them. As an awkward, confused girl in a conservative community where a Families First organization bought a plot of land right across from Planned Parenthood just for picketing, I knew a little bit about “having it up to here.” But Stefani put taunting, forceful words to those feelings of oppression, many of which girls today will, sadly, still find relevant. – Sara B

40. “The Distance” – Cake (1996)

Fashion Nugget, the album this song is from, came out in 1996 when I was a sophomore in high school. Something about a guy who was sort of rapping and frequently cursing, but doing so in a funny, non-threatening way hit the sweet spot for kids my age and slightly younger. The chorus from “Nugget” (filled with f-bombs) embodied this quality, but in terms of a genuinely memorable song worth repeat listens, nothing really can compare to “The Distance.” It’s the perfect song to play as you speed down a highway with your junior license, trying to make it to and from McDonalds within your 42-minute lunch period. – Bayard

39. “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” – Meat Loaf (1993)

It’s hard to figure out exactly how a duet running seven-plus minutes made it onto pop radio, but it did, a unique feat that is alone enough to justify a spot on this list. The best part of this song is how confused people get about what the “that” is; it’s pretty much the most common question I get when people find out I’m a huge Meat Loaf fan (apart from “really?”). Most people seem to assume it’s something scandalous, like a murder or some strange intimate encounter. The answer, though, is “that” changes depending on the verse. For you grammar nerds, I believe it’s called an antecedent. Before each refrain, Meat Loaf sings about something he will “never do” (i.e. “I’ll never stop dreaming of you every night of my life”). Whatever it is he says he won’t do becomes the “that.” Get your mind out of the gutter! – Bayard

38. “It Was a Good Day” – Ice Cube (1992)

Few songs as consistently bring me joy the moment I hear them, and few things disappoint me quicker than realizing it is the censored version. Nothing kills a boner (figurative and lady-like, of course) faster than hearing “and my jimmy runs deeps, so deep, so deep put her butt to sleep.”

Once I push past the grunge-kid identity I have meticulously cultivated over the years, nothing makes me nostalgic for the 90’s more than the vivid memory of a platinum blond white boy in a Dodge Neon singing entire Ice Cube albums word for word. While he didn’t introduce me to Ice Cube, or this song, I never listened to it more consistently (constantly?) than after I met the second boy I ever loved. Sigh Is there anything sweeter than second love? First love, I suppose, and perhaps a beep from Kim. – Shelly

37. “What I Got” – Sublime (1996)

So my older brother was way into Sublime when we were kids, which meant that my little brother and I were also way into Sublime, because the priceless currency of the cool older brother’s music taste is doomed to be forever counterfeited by the youngers. I used to steal his old burned CDs out of the trash. Half the time when I listened to Sublime, I had absolutely no idea what the lyrics meant. (And the inevitable scratches on trash-CDs made interpreting a extra-difficult.) But this one seemed pretty obvious! And it’s just such a marvelous feel-good song. I think if I ever listened to this song in the rain, I would remember it in sun anyway. – Kerry

36. “Closer” – Nine Inch Nails (1994)

This is the soft NIN song. The frantic energy of “Head like a Hole” and “Wish” is replaced with the slithering drive of a simple beat and a whispered vocal. It’s only in the chorus that the energy of this song is released. My high school girlfriend said this was “her song.” She was a strict Catholic who didn’t believe in premarital sex. The ’90s were a time filled with contradictions. – Ben

35. “Semi-Charmed Life” – Third Eye Blind (1998)

I swear to all that’s holy, I read some interview with the dude from Third Eye Blind where he talked about how the song was based on a time he did crystal meth and went to a Primus concert. The crystal meth bit is verifiable; you probably recall that the song mentions how “doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break,” and you may even recall that some radio stations ran “crystal meth” backwards to scramble it out of the song. But Primus is nowhere to be found in these lyrics, or in a cursory Google search for the time the dude from Third Eye Blind admitted his massive hit was actually about a massive hit that happened while enjoying some choice bass solos at a Primus show (this is what I assume happens at Primus shows; I can’t say for sure despite having actually seen them once, in 1996. I don’t remember much about it, but not because I was on crystal meth. I was just kind of bored. It was a thing we often did in the ’90s). That’s too bad, because I loved knowing that a song that meant something to a lot of people was really just about bumping to “Winona’s Big Brown Beaver” or whatever stupid fucking Primus song. I guess that distinction became less important to me over the years as I realized what an unabashedly great song “Semi-Charmed Life” is, the best of Third Eye Blind’s six or seven really good songs. With its superfast speak-singing, it’s the good kind of rap-rock hybrid, the kind that was eventually shoved down and kicked in the ribs by actual rap-rock, which we all know is 90% the worst thing ever. On a technical level, in terms of real-deal artistic merit, no, probably “Semi-Charmed Life” isn’t as great as like 10 or 20 R.E.M. songs from the same decade. But it picks you up and runs away with you and in that moment, whatever’s dumb or smarmy or eager-to-please about this song doesn’t matter and it’s just the fucking best. Kind of like when you’re on crystal meth! I assume. Almost certainly safer, and definitely better than going to some Primus show. – Jesse

34. “Girlfriend” – Matthew Sweet (1991)

As much as I love music from the ’80s, the signature production style of that decade almost killed Matthew Sweet’s career. His little-known first two records, Inside and Earth, sound like they’re trapped in a prison of digital reverb, cheesy synths, and 90210 guitar. But at the dawn of the ’90s, Sweet busted out of that prison and started making records that sounded like the ones he loved growing up and we were gifted with “Girlfriend,” the title track to his breakout album. With a Buddy Holly swagger that’s equal parts confidence and longing backed by a triple guitar attack featuring proto-punk legends Robert Quine of the Voidoids and Richard Lloyd of Television, Matthew Sweet redefined power pop for a new decade. – Rob

33. “El Scorcho” – Weezer (1996)

In some ways, it’s kind of a remake of “Undone.” Quiet verses, big sing-along chorus. Similar rhythm in said sing-along chorus, and similar mix of odd cultural touchstones (“Superman skivvies”; “Green Day concert”) with teenage-sounding angst (“angst” is a word that will appear many times on this list). Yet I prefer “El Scorcho” to “Undone” and, in fact, to pretty much all Weezer songs, many of which I truly love. The oddness of the verses can feel strangely, almost uncomfortably personal, with Rivers Cuomo confessing his love for “half-Japanese girls,” and the chorus taking on an awkward, pleading quality that’s nonetheless anthemic in its argument: “I think I’d be good for you, and you, you’d be good for me.” It’s not as polished or adorable as the big songs on the Blue Album – nor, really, as heartfelt-sounding as the most brokenhearted Pinkerton songs. “El Scorcho” is unruly. It might even be, as Rob wondered when we discussed this list, “problematic.” It captures a certain spazzy emotional neediness that I think plenty of us would have to admit we felt at different times during the ’90s, and it’s got that killer meta bit where the bridge switches to double-time while complaining about the inadequacy of addressing problems through the making of records. Maybe that’s why we can power through the awkwardness and potential creepiness of this song: the song itself reaches a breaking point, disgusted with itself before blasting back into singalong bliss. – Jesse

32. “Tonight, Tonight” – Smashing Pumpkins (1995)

“Bullet with Butterfly Wings” seems at first like the more obvious Mellon Collie choice for this list, except that this song, with its lush Georges Méliès-inspired video, showcases the best Smashing Pumpkins had to offer. Corgan & Co. offered up a big rock sound married to a theatricality that could go, yes, dark, but also wonderfully inspiring and energizing on the same double album. Plus, a hat tip for the inspired 90s casting choice of their leads in husband and wife comedy team and Mr. Show regulars Tom Kenny and Jill Talley. – Jeremy

31. “Silent All These Years” – Tori Amos (1991)

You feel like you’re suffocating in quiet, then you hear the voice of Tori Amos, poetic as Sylvia Plath, raw as Edith Piaf, and you feel like she’s singing all your thoughts. Who hasn’t thought, “excuse me, but can I be you for a while?” You feel like Tori Amos can read your soul: part telepath, part favorite Women’s Studies professor. – Lorraina

30. “Country Feedback” – R.E.M. (1991)

The politics of list making, part 6: fuck it, just plug your favorite song.

Some songs are your songs. They weren’t released as singles. They’re over-shadowed by half a dozen more popular songs by that band, or on that album. You keep putting them on mixes, maybe hoping they’ll land with someone else, maybe just hoping. You listen to them when you’re alone. You know the words. You learn them on the guitar. You hope they play them. They speak to you. You cry. Then, you’re asked to collaborate on a list, and you sorta feel like you’re throwing your vote away, but you feel like you owe the song, and yourself something. And maybe you’re still hoping it’ll land with someone else. – Chris

29. “Paper Bag” – Fiona Apple (1999)

This is one of my favorite songs of all time, though unfortunately, I didn’t hear it in the ’90s myself; I first heard it in the Zach Braff remake of The Last Kiss (which was and remains an extremely important movie to me because Rachel Bilson in pajama pants, dang). Anyway, I love this song. The way that Fiona Apple’s voice swings and husks, growls and lilts; it’s pure perfection. And to me, the mismatch of bouncy rhythm and deep, knowing voice captures perfectly the way that this kind of relationship feels: the hunger, the starving, the knowing better all along. And in the end, just this acrobat voice dancing in circles, falling into and out of the same kind of stories, singing to itself because it feels like it, and that’s okay because in the end, it has itself. – Kerry

28. “Come As You Are” – Nirvana (1993)

I can’t hear this song without thinking of night drives and dark skies packed with stars, of the feeling of uselessness and angst that just permeated everything in the teenage years and was somehow intoxicating — maybe for its weird purity, or maybe for the sense that you would never really escape it, but, at least this one song in the universe understands. This song is rain-slicked streets, the steam rising from them on sweltering nights. It’s hanging out in endless parking lots and waiting for something, anything to happen. My friends and I all read Perks of Being A Wallflower in high school, so we were always near killing ourselves hanging out of sunroofs and windows, and this was one of the most perfect songs to hear faintly, muted by the wind while you fell through the sky. – Kerry

27. “You Oughta Know” – Alanis Morrissette (1996)

Do we really need to explain this one? Bust this out at karaoke and every single one of your muthafuckin’ friends will be belting alongside you asking whether she would go down on you in a theater. Maybe not all of us would show up at an ex’s house during dinner to out him as the two-timing low-life he is, but all of us know someone who deserves just such a revenge visit. Oh god, that cretinous asshole. You’re getting amped up thinking about it right now, aren’t you? It’s okay… calm down… inhale, exhale, give a deep moan… now let the moan build because dammit, you can’t calm down! You can’t even take this anymore! Aaaand you’ve basically just sung the bridge to “You Oughta Know” and are onto the final chorus, screaming louder than ever, your throat aching nearly as much as your battered heart, and what song since, my friends, has given us such release? Such a satisfying revenge fantasy? – Jen

26. “The Sign” – Ace of Base (1993)

Clocking in at three minutes and eleven seconds, sung by four gorgeous Sweedes (NOT Abba) and only one with a Neo-Nazi past, I believe “The Sign” by Ace of Base is the not only the best song of the ’90s (I ranked it number one on my ballot) but the single best pop song ever recorded. While I’m apparently the only contributor to hold it in quite such high esteem I’m glad others voted for it, narrowly avoiding my boycotting of this process entirely. It’s an endlessly fun, jaunty, catchy pop song that makes you feel good whenever you hear it: the radio, movies, TV shows, weddings, and the many artists who have covered it. Those include other Best of the ’90s acts like The Mountain Goats and They Might Be Giants, who played it at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute on December 13, 1997 attended by multiple future contributors. Throughout it all, a message of self-reliance: no one’s going to drag you up to get in the light where you belong! – Jason

25. “Don’t Look Back in Anger” – Oasis (1995)

Everybody loves the Brothers Gallagher for their antics: the coked-up guitar solos, the on-air arguments, the badmouthing they do in the press about basically every other band except the Beatles. It’s a kind of rock and roll stardom that throws back to earlier, swaggering bands known for busting their instruments and trashing hotel rooms—an archetype had all but disappeared in the ‘90s in favor of retreating frontmen who were embarrassed by their own fame and afraid of selling out. But, really, Oasis is at its best when the band drops the rock-star veneer and allows itself to be vulnerable. Both of the Oasis songs that made it into the top of our list are slower, more heartfelt tracks.

For me, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” is the superior of the two, trading Liam’s just-shy-of-nasal vocal for Noel’s softer tone. When Noel sings that “you ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out,” it’s probably the most an Oasis song can ever tug at the heartstrings. But “Don’t Look Back in Anger” doesn’t make us wallow in it; catharsis comes immediately, launching into a chorus that NME called the No. 1 most explosive chorus of all time. My favorite lyric in the song tells us not to “put your life in the hands of a rock and roll band,” and in general that’s probably particularly good advice, what with the Gallaghers’ quarrelsome demeanor and likely inability to keep you safe. But during “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” I feel pretty well cared for. – Marisa

24. “Fade Into You” – Mazzy Star (1993)

Staying too long at the beach, a lot of sangria. This is what comes to my mind when singing along with Mazzy Star, though I only listened to it on a Discman, while walking around a freezing Midwestern college campus or alone in my room heating up ramen noodles in a hot pot. “Fade into You,” their most lasting song, is the dream world: lush, brilliant, and light-filled. – Lorraina

23. “Where It’s At” – Beck (1996)

The uneasy symbiosis of rock and rap may have began with the Run DMC/Aerosmith collab “Walk This Way,” but we all accepted it in our hearts with “Where It’s At,” which also pulls in blues, country and dashes of techno before it’s done. Beck’s lasting appeal has always been his astonishing ability to slide between genres without ruffling any feathers (see late-’90s album Midnite Vultures for endless examples), but “Where’s It At” is the pinnacle of his ’90s pastiche style. The music video similarly jumps between old-school tributes to Captain Beefheart (1:27) and parodying Shatner’s notorious Rocket Man cover (2:25). All in all, a pretty fancy juggling act for a loser. – Jeremy

22. “Stay (I Missed You)” – Lisa Loeb (1994)

I love this song in part because it, at its release, compelled my then-18-year-old older brother to have an actual conversation with me, which was not something we were fond of doing at the time. I was watching the video on MTV {{insert obligatory jab at MTV for not playing any actual music anymore}} when he walked into our living room and told me “this is the first song to ever hit #1 without a record deal.” I nodded sagely, like I understood what a big deal that was (I didn’t). “And Ethan Hawke directed this video,” he continued. “Wow,” I said, like that proved that Ethan Hawke has talents beyond acting (he doesn’t. I read his first novel). Hawke was friendly with Loeb, which helped get her unsigned single out there, so we do have him to thank for this singalong classic. – Cristin

21. “Loser” – Beck (1994)

Even all these years later, watching the music video for Beck’s first major-label single is like stumbling on an alien transmission. From the gangly-limbed singer jumping around the California dunes to the wooden coffin stuttering across the frame to the aerobicizing twins who could’ve been ported over from The Shining it’s an abrasive clash of high and low culture, just like Beck’s breakthrough song. Announcing itself with the sort of nonsense lyrics that would become a staple of indie rock, it sources both hip-hop and folk to create a sound and energy all its own that remains refreshing to this day. Though Beck has mellowed a bit in his old age one could imagine “Loser” being released now pretty much as is and still causing a stir, while many of his ’90s alternative rock peers can sound like relics. So go the spoils of having the mainstream bow to you rather than you compromising for it. – Sara B

20. “Going to Georgia” – The Mountain Goats (1994)

I’m not one of those Mountain Goats fans that pine for the early days. In fact, one of the things I learned putting together this list is how much John Darnielle seems to have hit his stride (for me at least) in the early 2000s, particularly in his double-masterpiece year of 2002. But still, there’s definitely something to be said for those earlier, scruffy recordings, and “Going to Georgia” says it pretty clearly. It starts off as one kind of song, as JD quietly sing-talks “the most remarkable thing about coming home to you is the feeling of being in motion again; it’s the most extraordinary thing in the world.” When he gets to the end of that line it sounds like he’s in the middle of the thought, like he’s taking a breath before he finishes. But instead the song takes a sudden turn, as he takes a full-throated personal inventory (two big hands, a heart pumping blood, and a 1967 colt .45 with a busted safety catch). From there, we’re off to the races, and the last part of the song, everything after “the most remarkable thing about you standing in the doorway is that it’s you, and that you’re standing in the doorway,” sounds like it’s all being sung in a single breath. As much as JD would polish his style over the coming years, everything there is to love about the Mountain Goats is already here: the naked emotion of the vocals, the melody that’s simple enough to get out of the way, and the lyrics that tell such a specific story that it seems as though the song must be autobiographical, even though it probably isn’t. – Craig

19. “My Name Is Jonas” – Weezer (1994)

An excerpt from my recently rejected 33 1/3 pitch for a book about Weezer’s Blue Album (this is not a joke):

It is the best song on the album because it tells you everything: quiet, loud, quiet, loud, an inciting of fist-pumping along with a sense of angsty triumph. “My Name is Jonas” is not remotely the first song to juxtapose guitar that sounds like finger-picking with guitar that sounds like all of your enemies being pummeled by rock and roll, but it is remarkably concise in communicating this juxtaposition and establishing that it will be a driving principle of the Blue Album.

Interestingly, that first seven seconds or so – the quietest part of the sound’s quiet-loud dynamics, swiftly overtaken by the launch of awesome guitar power – wasn’t written by anyone who is actually credited as a band member on any Weezer albums. Guitarist Jason Cropper left the band before the release of the Blue Album, replaced by Brian Bell in the general lineup and by Rivers Cuomo himself on the recorded album. But Cropper receives a co-writing credit on “Jonas” because he came up with the little riff that opens and closes the song. This allows for the perfect opportunity to one-up anyone who says Weezer was never the same after bassist Matt Sharp left in 1997, or after the band returned to the rock world in 2001, or after Rivers let other band members contribute their own songs in the late ’00s. Forget all of those lines in the sand, drawn by total amateurs. You can draw one after the very first track on the Blue Album: Weezer was never the same since Jason Cropper left. He was the heart and soul of the band and nothing they did after that partnership was severed could reach those same heights ever again. This would be a ridiculous and untrue thing to say, but maybe not completely untrue. – Jesse

18. “Sabotage” – Beastie Boys (1994)

In my mind, it is pretty much impossible to separate this song and the accompanying Spike Jonze music video. A three-minute rush of pure adrenaline, the clip casts the Beasties as a group of mustachioed, ridiculously-wigged cops busting down doors and sprinting down hallways in a gleeful send-up of ’70s crime drama credits. “Sabotage” surely would have been a hit regardless but the video helped mine the nugget of humor and irony nestled in the aggressive guitar riffs and caustic vocals, the composition a tip to the Beastie Boys’ origins as a hardcore punk band. Building from the bratty personas of their early days to the more mature sound that began to emerge on Paul’s Boutique, “Sabotage” leans toward the group’s political side with lyrics that name check Watergate and rage against shadowy government control. A band that once fought for its right to party was starting to have bigger things on its mind, without quite removing its tongue from its cheek. Though the song charted fairly well on first release it’s also the sort of hostile, aggressive work that only gets its full due far after the moment has passed. Case in point: after getting shut out at the 1994 VMAs, “Sabotage” won a Best Video (That Should Have Won a Moonman) make-up statue, fifteen years later, in 2009. – Sara B

17. “Shoop” – Salt-N-Pepa (1993)

Suggestions for your “Shoop”-focused thinkpieces and/or clickbait:
• Hitting Skins for the Hell of It: Modern-Day Hookup Culture on our College Campuses
• I Banned Shoop From My Karaoke Bachelorette Party and Here’s What Happened
• Who Coined That Word, Dr Seuss or Salt n Pepa? A Quiz
• Glass Slippers and Glass Ceilings: What Spinderella Taught Us About DJing While Female
• A Comprehensive List of Clothing Items, including Tight Jeans and 3 Piece Suits, That Make Me Wanna Shoop
• A Rebuttal, in Salt-N-Pepa lyrics, to the Defunding of Planned Parenthood
• Staring, Shooping, and Other Actions Your Niece Actually Should Not Witness
• Girls, What’s My Weakness? Your attentions seem split between online shopping and eating oreos, actually
– Cristin

16. “One” – U2 (1991)

When the girl I took to homecoming broke up with me, I listened to this track on repeat for an hour. This was before it was released as a single off of Achtung Baby. When the radio was still playing that she moved in mysterious ways, my girlfriend was giving me nothing, and it was all I got. That was my bittersweet memory of “One” that I kept as the band released it as a single and cycled through three different videos. Three different videos for one song, which is fitting for a song about disunity and unity, a song written by a band that was breaking apart, but stayed together. As for the girlfriend, I believe she is married to a dentist now. – Ben

15. “The Ice of Boston” – The Dismemberment Plan (1997)

How was this song not a massive novelty hit? Did people just sense that the Dismemberment Plan, despite their crazy experiments and innovative instrumentation, had a stronger beating heart underneath than a true novelty act? That seems unlikely, but whatever happened, this very song seemed to put the kibosh on the possibility of the D-Plan hitting a major label (its EP was the band’s sole Interscope release). I guess I’m partly to blame; I’m certain that “The Ice of Boston” didn’t arrive on my radar until the band that wrote and performed it was on the verge of a break-up. A break-up, by the way, is also the genesis of this song, as Travis Morrison’s presumably autobiographical narrator speak-sings his way through a story about stewing in a Boston apartment on New Year’s Eve and accompanying warnings about New England’s perilous black ice, following what sounds an awful lot like a non-girlfriend to a new city, and, in the song’s greatest moment of cathartic triumph, bad advice from “Midnight Train to Georgia.” It takes some manner of rock-and-roll balls to have your song’s climax depend on running down Gladys Knight, but that’s just how vintage D-Plan rolls. Actually, they continue to roll that way; the song is so universally beloved among a small, likely dysfunctional cult of indie-rock nerds that it’s become a stage-packing group-singing event for most of their live shows, even today. – Jesse

14. “Wonderwall” – Oasis (1995)

This is it: the beachhead in the second British Invasion. Blur and Oasis had been duking it out on the British indie scene for years, and Oasis made the move to win the States. And by God if this wasn’t the song to do it. We never knew what precisely was going to be thrown back to us, but damn it if we didn’t believe that we were gonna be the one that saves Liam. I’ve played music in front of an audience only a handful of times, but let me tell you this: we covered “Wonderwall” for a show last month, and people GO. FUCKING. APESHIT. for this song. If you hated this song, the nineties must’ve been rough, because it was inescapable after 1995. Even if you do like Oasis, I urge you to watch this highlight video of Noel’s DVD commentary tracks, shitting on all of their videos. Maybe it’s Noel’s foulmouthed lack of sentimentality that makes it easy for us to recall his biggest triumphs so fondly. -Jeremy

13. Doo Wop (That Thing) – Lauryn Hill (1998)

Lauryn Hill starts out by reminiscing about doo-wop music: a wonderfully sneaky, savvy move to fit a Motown-worthy chorus into her hip-hop warning about acting right. In verse one, Ms. Hill’s advice for women urges them to stay true to themselves and god, while in the second verse, she tells the men of the world to stop fronting when your life is really a mess. You can’t deny the advice is sound, and there’s absolutely no denying the sound of a classic retro groove and flawless flow from Lauryn Hill. Men, women; they should both know how to behave, because Lauryn put it as clearly as anyone did in the ’90s: “How you gonna win when you ain’t right within?” – Jeremy

12. “Hey Jealousy” – Gin Blossoms (1992)

I was reading Entertainment Weekly in my high school library when I found out about the death of Doug Hopkins in 1993. I knew the name because he was listed as songwriter and musician on New Miserable Experience, but wasn’t part of the band. The article let me know why: The anxiety on this song is all Hopkins, and somehow, in listening to the lyrics you can feel that he isn’t going to make it. Suffering from alcoholism, he wrote lyrics that sound like the bargaining of an addict. This song is a plea for a place to stay that turns into the halfway hope that something might be found to replace the memories of the times passed—those better times that he blew. The simple vows he could make (not to think, not to sleep around, not to let you down if you don’t expect much) are the lyrics I wish I could have used as portions of my wedding vows.

I have two different versions of the CD New Miserable Experience—the original release that looks like it was pasted together, and the more commercial release. The difference between those two versions show a band on the rise to becoming multi-platinum. And although a few songs might chart slightly higher, those later songs have a feeling of manufactured discontent that never again approaches the purity of that first voice who knows the past is gone, but something better might be found to take its place. – Ben

11. “Losing My Religion” – R.E.M. (1991)

You’d think it be impossible to make a memorable riff on the mandolin, an instrument that seems closer to the fusty minstrels of the Renaissance than alternative rock radio, but damned if Michael Stipe and company don’t manage to pull it off. What could have been too twee in the wrong hands instead builds sonically on the mystery of the lyrics. Despite the plentiful religious iconography in the video (which also showcases Stipe’s equally iconic Gumby dance moves), this is not a song about faith, or lack thereof. Instead, “losing my religion” is a Southern term for losing one’s temper, and there’s a palpable distress to the instrumentation that simmers without ever entirely boiling over, the perfect choice for a single that Stipe has called a “classic obsession pop song.” Whether or not you agree with his interpretation, it’s hard to deny that it’s become a classic, period. – Sara B

And here is the final part featuring the top ten songs of the 90s!