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Listed: Songs from the 90’s, part one

November 9, 2009


The ’90s spawned the terms Generation X and Pepsi Generation. The revolutionary, plugged-in expanse between 1990 and 1999 symbolized the crystallization of youth culture—when technology, creativity and limitless possibility reached an amalgamated zenith. It was when rap and MTV became mainstream, Kurt and Big lived and died, and everything became inextricably linked with corporatism.

This list of definitive ’90s songs is by no means actually definitive. Instead, we wanted to take a moment to revel in our youth and explore the pop culture moments that make up our collective psyche. Regardless of whether you get with, smile at, or treat these moments with familiar scorn, chances are they fit seamlessly into your retrospective scope like Pizza Hut and slap bracelets. And don’t forget to share your favourites with us in the comments.


1991: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Give It Away

This song epitomizes everything that is the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in style, substance and even in the way they would record every song thereafter. To Chili Pepper purists, never has the band been as good as when the album Blood, Sugar, Sex Magic, in which this was the lead single, was released. Following this record guitarist John Frusciante would go AWOL and the Chilis would enter a dark period that included stints with Dave Navarro and a spot on the Beavis and Butthead soundtrack. Not until Frusciante rejoined the band seven years later would the Chilis even be a shadow of what they were when they cooped themselves up in a haunted LA mansion with Rick Rubin and recorded the perfect alternative rock album.—Jesse


1991: A Tribe Called Quest – Check the Rhime

There is a reason that whenever Q-Tip tours (for his solo stuff, not as A Tribe Called Quest, sadly) he invites an audience member up on stage to help perform this popular Tribe classic. After all, besides serving as the group’s biggest hit single, it was the first to solidify the back and forth style of rapping that Tip and Phife Dawg would be known for throughout most of the ’90s. It’s almost sad to see this actually, because as much as Tip clearly loves this song, it just isn’t there without Phife, and nowhere is this more obvious than when you see it live.—Jesse


1992: Nirvana – Come As You Are

I would love to know how many people first learned to play guitar with this song. It was so simple to play, but it still managed to sound so good. Yeah, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was Nirvana’s big smash hit, but it was Cobain’s ability to follow it up with the puzzling and haunting melody and lyrics of “Come As You Are” that made Nirvana legendary. For every heavily distorted, almost out of control screaming fit of a song, everyone still knew he could create beautiful music like this (and “Heart Shaped Box”, “All Apologies”, a gorgeous unplugged album, etc…).—Jesse


1993: Stone Temple Pilots – Plush

Stone Temple Pilots (pre-1990, “Shirley Temple’s Pussy”) got a lot of flack for sounding like Pearl Jam — but as if I knew about that kind of shit back then and as if I really care now. “Plush” is a mealy-mouthed, choreographed pleasure, something about dogs and eyes of disarray (I think). I still don’t know the lyrics and I think I like it better that way — but I can sure as hell sing along and you better believe I feel, I feel something when I do. Like shit, I just listened to it five times while typing this. Someone, make out with me!—Jef


1994: Lisa Loeb – Stay (I Missed You)

Okay, I know I was like nine years old when this song came out but that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel the same Reality Bites-esque generational angst that Lisa Loeb was singing about. Incidentally, this song was featured on the soundtrack for that generationally seminal film. Wikipedia notes that Ethan Hawke basically discovered Loeb and passed this song onto a pre-slapstick Ben Stiller (who directed Reality Bites). She’s a total one hit wonder, I know. But aren’t those tracks the power anthems of your youth? Plus the success of “Stay” is a crucial music moment—it was the first time an unsigned artist reached the top of the Billboard 100. And, oh yeah, seriously, Winona Forever.—Anupa


1994: Boyz II Men – On Bended Knee

Did you know Boyz II Men are still touring? A friend of mine saw them at Casino Rama (!?) recently and said it was the best show she’d ever seen. “On Bended Knee” is the musical manifestation of many a grade school dance — hands on hips, awkwardly closing space in the dark, shuffling around in circles not knowing what else to do. Some tunes bring about nostalgia, but almost everyone my age would probably agree the most visceral and vivid memories are sound tracked by this song. I won’t even get into “I’ll Make Love To You”. —Simon

6 Comments leave one →
  1. h_tothe_t permalink
    November 9, 2009 10:53 am

    Yes! This literally made my morning. THANK YOU.

  2. November 11, 2009 12:55 pm

    RHCP is, was, and has always been my life. Have u ever seen the VH1 “Behind The Music” piece on them? If I didn’t love them before that, I adore them now. Their “Higher Ground” cover is poss one of my favourite covers of all time. BSSM is hands-down one of the best rock albums of the 90’s. Glad to see you guys put it right up there.

  3. Anupa permalink*
    November 12, 2009 10:33 am

    I seriously love that you chose Boyz II Men for this Simon.

    Also, we know this list is seriously lacking in Mariah–a seminal 90s artist.
    Remember “Fantasy”? The ultimate, perfect, collision of dirty rap and 90s r&b. It was so commercial but so fucking awesome. And the blurring out of the tshirt logos was awesome.

  4. November 13, 2009 3:17 pm

    Blood Sugar Sex Magic is my running music today. Hopefully I won’t scare the other joggers with my being all amped and shit.


  1. Listed: Songs from the 90’s, part two « The Ashcan
  2. Stone Temple Pilots: Half the band they used to be? « The Ashcan

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