Decades of music get more interesting over time. That’s partly because some of the music is carried forward and becomes something new in the hands of the next generation, but also because it’s never clear what will later seem embarrassing, what might vanish and re-emerge as an overlooked classic, and what will disappear completely. Over time, all of those things happen simultaneously, continuously shaping what a decade of music might mean. One track or album or artist can move fluidly between these categories, and people are going to disagree about what goes where. In that respect, this list was different from any we’ve put together. For the first time, the age of the writer being polled had a huge impact on how he or she understood the music of the decade at hand. Though my folks made me grow up in with 1960’s music, I didn’t get a chance to experience all of the music in the 90s until the late 90s. Since then, I’ve been trying to get back with the music that I totally missed out and find myself surprised to see good song after good song that came from this decade. This was the hardest list I’ve ever done because with so many wonderful songs that has came out in this era of music I can only pick ten that connected with me the most. I believe I heard as much as I needed to, so here are my favorite songs from the 90’s.
Number 10. – Porcelain – Moby
This is the one song that got Moby the mainstream success that he strived for many years. When I first heard this song on the radio everywhere, this was when I decided to get into music and no longer take my parent’s word on what I should listen to. While the gospel-sampled tracks off Play propelled Moby into the global music scene, it was the album’s sixth single, “Porcelain”, that ensured his staying power. It’s a melancholic, beautiful song spotlighting Moby over his borrowed spirituals and introduced many to his ambient side. The track even made an appearance on one of the later iterations of the New Age compilation powerhouse Pure Moods. Moby himself wasn’t a fan of the song, but his “really weak” vocals only serve to further humanize the potent feelings “Porcelain” evokes.
Number 9. – Plush – Stone Temple Pilots
The first song most people heard from Stone Temple Pilots remains their best. Core’s lead single “Plush” was openly mocked in its day because Weiland’s pained growl reminded people of Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder’s similar moan. But as Stone Temple Pilots relentlessly pursued their muse across different styles, the stature of the undeniably riveting “Plush” just continued to grow. No one understands the lyrics — or even why it’s called “Plush” — but as an example of STP’s skill at crafting radio-ready rock, the song has no peer.
Number 8. – Children – Robert Miles
Electronic music has came a very long way as the genre continues to grow and evolve into new directions and innovations. Though trance DJ like Robert Miles is not really revolutionary, his baby Children has put the world in awe as they were all sent back to their childhoods when listening. It’s wondrous to see how dance music could turn into an emotional, no lyrics sound. he song’s widespread success to its melodic nature, characterized by an “instantly recognizable” piano riff (which, ironically, was not found in the track’s original version). They identify this factor as making the song accessible to a broader audience beyond clubbers and fans of electronic dance music alone by means of radio airplay. Children deserved to be on number one the number 1 charts in so many countries because it a breathtaking song that brings us back to our time of wonder and adventure.
Number 7. – Black Metallic – Catherine Wheel
This is the song that I’ve searched long and hard for and thanks to the internet I was able to find what was the song called after first hearing it after all those years ago. Catherine Wheel is the closest shoegaze band that had mainstream success and quite frankly Black Metallic remains my favorite shoegaze album of all time. It’s a simple song about finding that girl that has unique characteristics that differentiates herself from all the other women we’ve met. But what makes the music so damn magical is how echoing the atmosphere in its entirety. I feel like in a huge place while the guitar riffs and vocals by Rob Dickinson (cousin of Iron Maiden’s lead singer) just filling the whole place with sound. I always love it when something feels so much bigger than it already is like Disney movie. Only Shoegaze rock is capable of doing such magic. It’s very rare to have another song that could ever bring a special feeling and if only Catherine Wheel didn’t abandon their shoegaze style, they would have contributed much more to the movement, unlike the rest who came from that musical scene.
Number 6. – Lithium – Nirvana
Everyone, on every list, has always put Smells Like Teen Spirit as their favorite song from the 1990s. Sure it is the one some that got people into the whole grunge movement and it begun a new era of music. The sad reality is that Smells Like Teens Spirit has been everywhere at the point where Kurt Cobain refused to play the song or play it correctly. However, there is one song that both the members of Nirvana and their fans agrees that is purely awesome, Lithium. If you disagree then you should see everyone in the entire concert singing along with Kurt Live at Reading (it’s purely magical!). The third single from Nevermind won by a pretty comfortable margin. “Lithium” is a song about a guy that turns to religion after his girlfriend dies which is suitable to a band named “Nirvana.” It soothes him, much like a dose of actual Lithium. “I’ve always felt that some people should have religion in their lives,” Cobain told Michael Azerrad. “That’s fine. If it’s going to save someone, it’s OK. And the person in [‘Lithium’] needed it.” It’s a song that feels like you turned into a new man and it joyful that a new feeling could do such an amazing turn around! Like all of Nirvana’s songs, Lithium is a lullaby mixed with alternative rock/grunge wave that forever keeps us singing like children memorizing a Disney singalong.
Number 5. – If I Can’t Change Your Mind – Sugar
Bob Mould has always been my favorite song writer. From his days with Hüsker Dü, Sugar, and his solo career, he always delivered though provoking and meaningful songs that mixes so well with alternative rock. But I will always have a special place for “If I Can’t Chang Your Mind. Mould exorcised (and exercised) those bad Hüsker vibes on 1989’s sparse, acoustic Workbook and 1990’s lacerating Black Sheets of Rain, but the poppier new songs he had aired out during solo shows in 1991 begged for a little backup. This track is directly to any loved one, from sibling, offspring, parent, friend, lover, etc., it can be directly to anyone you care about. It sure shows you that a love song doesn’t really have to directly go to a boyfriend or girlfriend or make love. Nobody wants to see any negativity with the ones we care about that leads to depression, alienation, and separation so we need song like this one to remind ourselves why we are together. Sure we always make mistakes or do wrong but it should be in everyone’s heart to learn to forgive and that’s what this song does well for us, listeners. With it’s message of care and trying to change someone to be a better person, the song just brings so much hope and joy as we hear Bob Mould’s comforting vocals and crazy guitar riffs, it makes it one some to forever remember.
Number 4. – Mayonnaise – Smashing Pumpkins
A longtime fan favorite that’s often brushed aside for more bombastic examples in discussions of the band’s greatest feats. But in drawing together all the many shards of the band’s sound, “Mayonaise,” from Siamese Dream, accomplishes something that has so far eluded every other Pumpkins track: Holding up a mirror grand enough to reflect all the pieces of the group’s tortured, sensitive, and wonderfully fractured soul. The image it reflects is both polished and visceral, loud and soft, angst-ridden and sublime. In short, all the qualities that make the band’s work significant. Sure, the original track on the Siamese Dream album is pure brilliance, but the version I still hold deer in my heart is the acoustic live one that you can get on the Earphoria album. Each time I hear that version of Mayonnaise it mades me very sad that the original Pumpkins are not together and the life we all had when we were younger is no longer here with us…
Number 3. – Bloodstain – UNKLE
If there’s a song that reminds you of cowboy bebop, the short-lived jazz movement happening in the 1990s, the early days of trip-hop, or the any dark & comforting moment of your life, Bloodstain is the embodiment of it all. UNKLE’s debut album is one of the best trip hop albums of all time, but they took a backseat in the spotlight and gave special guest vocalist, Alice Temple to sing her soul out. Bloodstain is everything that is so appealing in this musical genre and it’s a shamed that not that many people out there knows how good this song really is. Hell, you can even put it in a movie soundtrack and it will fulfill the atmosphere. It shows the struggles of keeping love but willing to do anything, even take a bullet and bleed to death. The “bloodstains” described in the song is a metaphor of sacrifices that we make on a daily basis to keep going and keep the things we cherish most. Bloodstain’s purity, moody soul has an allure that always beckons the listener for one more lonely walk beneath its flickering streetlights.
Number 2. – Allison/Machine Gun – Slowdive
Most of the material that Slowdive provides in the shoegaze genre is so beautiful that it’s depressing. For all those who witness the magical Souvlaki know exactly why it captured our hearts. However there are only two songs from the album that truly sticks out equally to make it to the number 2 spot. The moment you listen to Allison, you’re completely grasped into the stratosphere of the off the wall sound that shoegaze is most known. It uplifts the listener like they’re floating up in the air but feel so deprived with the sad reality that all that you’re thinking of can’t be real but the song allows you be imaginative of the things you treasure. But as soon as Allison is over, along comes Machine Gun that will instantly leave you speechless. It makes you think of things you treasure burn before your eyes or dandelions dying because life is so short. Machine Gun is always the best pick of a song to cry to because it is the most emotional song writing and effective musical effects that came out of the whole 1990s. But the saddest part of it all is that these two songs that represents how beautiful and short life really is, is a metaphor of the lifespan of the band.
Number 1. – Bitter Sweet Symphony – The Verve
Really, could any of us pick any other track for No. 1? In less than a decade, the Verve went from scruffy shoegazers playing small clubs to bona fide international rock stars, and this is the song that made it happen. An epic track pairing lush orchestration with powerful lyrics and a strong melodic hook, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ is an anthem to end all anthems, a timeless tune that’s rooted in the blues tradition but towers over most modern rock classics. The Verve never saw a dime from the single version of ‘Symphony’ — the sample of an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones song ‘The Last Time’ that serves as the song’s foundation led to a high-profile lawsuit that the Verve couldn’t win — but it’s nonetheless their magnum opus, with an unforgettable video to match. Think of all the things that you own and possess, such as wealth, property, jobs, loved ones, ownership, money, and the rest, once you’re gone it’s never coming with you. So in the time being while you’re still in this world, Bitter Sweet Symphony makes you recognize the purity of life itself and how precious it is to you, no matter how bad things can get. “Would any other rock band in the world make a track like this?” Ashcroft once asked of ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony.’ “We want to stand head and shoulders with the giants.” And for one track, at least, they certainly did. It left a huge impact on the whole world and still to this day everyone keeps asking The Verve to play Bitter Sweet Symphony one more time! Very rarely do we ever encounter music as art, but I can say that Bitter Sweet Symphony can be categorized as such mastery.
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