Anti-establishment, grunge, blues, and beats. We have collated the 25 best ’90s songs to look back on an incredible decade of music.
There is an incredible amount of good ’90s songs. From rap to rock to metal there was groundbreaking stuff occurring across the board.
Perhaps it was the impending end of a millennium. Nobody knew what the next step would be or if the world would end. Thus we scrambled to create sounds of the highest calibre to reflect our collective angst.
Here are the 25 best songs of the ’90s.
25. Oasis – Wonderwall
The song that everybody loves to hate, Wonderwall undoubtedly imprinted our collective psyche in the ’90s. Although Liam Gallagher still continues his crusade to be the most outspoken man in rock, Oasis were a great band for their time and this song is a staple.
24. Stereolab – Miss Modular
The fusion of analog and digital that culminated in Stereolab’s 1997 magnum opus Dots and Loops. The punchy brass arrangement, buttery French vocals, and Motown style pop made for one of the most criminally underrated ’90s songs.
23. Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know
Recorded right after her departure from bubblegum pop, Alanis Morisette lets the anger fly and shows off the full range of her magnificent voice with You Oughta Know. It went on to win Grammys for Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal.
22. PJ Harvey – Rid Of Me
The title track from PJ Harvey’s sophomore album is a bitter dose of rage brimming with raw energy. It even shocked Harvey when she wrote it saying, “The sound of the words was powerful, and the rhythm felt clean and simple to roll off the tongue. I knew that this was the type of song I was trying to write.”
21. R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts
Most of this song was written by R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry. He quit the band in 1997 shortly before recording their album Up. After that album, the band almost broke up, but decided to continue as a trio. Berry became a farmer. Massive inspirations of Radiohead, Bill Berrys’ magnificent anti-suicide song was a plea to give everybody hope.
20. Nas – N.Y. State Of Mind
Nas’s 1994 album Illmatic is the quintessential depiction of racial discrimination and poverty in New York. Sampling two jazz songs to help deliver some of the best rhymes in history, this was a precursor to Kendrick’s modern collage of hip-hop and jazz.
19. Blink-182 – Dammit
In the ’90s, punk was yearning for a lighter shade and with their tongue in cheek lyricism, prankish camaraderie and well constructed hit churning abilities, Blink-182 were more than happy to take on the task.
Since the release of Dude Ranch it was clear that the Californian trio were set for big things, while 1999’s Enema Of The State launched the band to international stardom and sold 15 million copies world wide. Simply put though, nothing beats Dammit.
18. Mobb Deep – Shook Ones Pt. II
Cut from Mobb Deep’s 1995 album Infamous, they were never far away from death. That level of intimacy with violence gave their lyricism a heightened sense of danger. Lead proponents in the East Coast, West Coast feud, Mobb Deep are survivors of a decade that took a lot of good rappers with it.
17. Sinéad O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
Prince wrote and recorded this song in 1984, but didn’t release it. Instead, he gave it to The Family, a band that was signed to his Paisley Park record label. Sinéad hear it five years later and the rest was history.
This was a #1 hit in 17 countries. In the US, it was one of the biggest ’90s songs, topping the Hot 100 for four weeks. One things for sure, Sinéad had some pipes.
16. Mazzy Star – Fade Into You
The fragile yet seductive vocals of Mazzy Star made her a hit in 1994. Fade Into You revealed a tender longing and deep intimacy rarely seen throughout the ’90s. Hope Sandoval’s voice has the power to give even the thickest skin goosebumps.
15. Metallica – Enter Sandman
The king of all metal songs, Metallica’s 1991 masterpiece is fantastic piece of music. A far cry from the simplicity of grunge, Enter Sandman is a thoughtful, well-constructed piece of music and one hell of a head banger.
14. Daft Punk – Around The World
The duo that made electronic music popular, Daft Punk changed the world and still do. The steady bass line and robotic hook are as iconic as anything and is frequently cited as the best dance tune of all time.
13. The Cranberries – Zombie
The hit Irish band, The Cranberries, had already achieved success before their left-turn, supercharged protest song, Zombie. The furious track is about the bombings of North Ireland and came as a storming hit that reflects the grunge that was bubbling up to the surface.
12. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under The Bridge
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers blew up the world in 1991 with their alternative funk masterpiece Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Kiedis’ vocals finally take flight, Frusciante’s soulful slides are effortless and Flea is still Flea without being too Flea. A modern masterpiece.
11. Lauryn Hill – Doo Wop (That Thing)
Top of the US Charts in 1998, Lauryn Hill’s classic fusion of doo wop and modern hip-hop is as fresh today as it was 20 years ago. Hill packs in hook after hook, a far cry for her fellow sisters in the hustle.
10. Beastie Boys – Sabotage
Few songs can match the sheer velocity of Beastie Boys outrageous head-banger, Sabotage. A defining song of the decade, there has been a lot of speculation about the songs message, however, 24 years after its release the band revealed it’s just about an “annoying sound engineer.”
9. Beck – Loser
Beck was the poet of his generation. Yet he shared none of the elegance or romanticism of his previous counterparts. The tongue in cheek, witty lyricism perfectly reflects the outcast, angsty teens of the ’90s. Nothing really matters.
8. Smashing Pumpkins – 1979
The shimmering vocals, jangly chords, and pangs of a past Summertime make this the most irresistible Smashing Pumpkins songs ever. ‘Faster than the speed of sound/ faster than we thought we’d go/ beneath the sound of hope.’
7. The Notorious B.I.G. – Who Shot Ya?
Christopher Wallace, a.k.a Biggie Smalls, a.k.a The Notorious B.I.G., is the most famous rapper of all time. Juicy was a hit. Mo Money Mo Problems is catchy as hell.
But when Biggie dropped of Jay-Z a demo tape he said, “You’re just as good as your competition around you. You know when someone else pushes you to really step your game up? That song, it was so crazy. It just had an effect on everybody. The world stopped when he dropped “Who Shot Ya?”
6. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Into My Arms
The simple yet poignant melody and crafty lyricism reveal an oft times hidden tender side to gothic nightmare that is Nick Cave. Yet the soulful, longing and religious themes make for what is arguably the greatest love song of all time. Prepare for tears.
5. Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name
The message of this eternally angry funk-rap anthem is simple. “Fuck you, establishment.” Providing a whole generation with iridescent, white hot anger, Rage Against The Machine are certainly woven into the tapestry of the ’90s torn t-shirts and moshpits.
4. Radiohead – Paranoid Android
Radiohead went from one hit wonders to rulers of the world when they released the lush, dense masterpiece that is OK Computer in 1997. Its creative progressions and orchestration were matched only by the incredible eunuch vocals of Thom Yorke and his normalisation of modern alienation.
3. Björk – It’s Oh So Quiet
Björk so creatively reflected the angsty ping pong swings between whispering lows and banshee highs. What’s more is It’s Oh So Quiet pulls it off. Her sheer sonic power and general effervescence instantly made Björk the most interesting pop star on the planet.
2. Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
The song that changed be world brought to you by the unofficial spokesmen of grunge, Nirvana. If you didn’t wear flannel and mosh to this where you ever really in the ’90s? Cobain’s rasping vocals and general drudgery set the standard for grunge that legions of imitators soon would follow.
1. Jeff Buckley – Grace
The stunning vocal elasticity, unmatched passion, and progressive song-craft Jeff Buckley displayed on his debut, and only, album is unsurpassed. When everyone was rapping or bashing out grunge chords, Jeff embraced the femininity of his bright tenor range to create something untouchable, and completely original.
Imperceptibly complex, painfully pulsing, and expertly sung, Jeff Buckley’s Grace is a sleeper masterpiece, and one of the best ’90s songs there is.
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