Top Five #040: Songs from the ’90s

Top Five is a show where the hosts categorize, rank, compare, and stratify everything… from cars to gadgets to people and movies. From stuff that is hot, and things that are not nearly as interesting – it’s Top Five.

The ’90s was a decade filled with music of all kinds, so it kind of makes since to try and narrow a decades worth of music to five…


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  1. Oh Lord…

    5. Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang – Dr. Dre, 1992: Definitive of that early 90s G-Funk, blending the bassy grooves of Parliament with hyper-masculine gangster rap. Any person born since 1985 can rap along to at least the first verse.

    4. Peaches – The Presidents of the United States, 1995: Hometown heroes and rare proponents of the two-string bass. This song was Every-Damn-Where on the radio growing up near Seattle. I challenge you to find a more impossibly, infectiously catchy chorus.

    3. Dumb – Nirvana, 1993: I was a few years too young to really appreciate Nirvana at the time, but I quickly scavenged my older brother’s CD collection, finding solipsistic gems like In Utero. Nirvana spoke to the immediacy of every teenage emotion ever written in self-important poetry before or after.

    2. 7th Chamber Pt. II – Wu Tang Clan, 1993: When I first heard this album, it was like I have felt before or since. Supposedly, Martin Luthor swore himself to the monastery when caught in a field during a thunder storm. This album did something similar – it tore away the softly-packaged suburban market rap I knew, and replaced it with pure, undiluted ruckus. The punk rock of hip hop music.

    1. Polar Opposites – Modest Mouse, 1997: This entire album was written while Issac Brock was strung-out on a witch’s pharmacopia of depression and rampant alcoholism. The story behind it is sad and long, but in essence it’s a narration to the spiritual extinction of the rural West Brock and I both grew up in. People may not realize, but before the 90s even twenty minutes out of Seattle and you were strictly in Mountain County. Exponentially, these places have been homogenized in the tide of suburbia spilling along the I-5 corridor out to the Pacific Crest. This is the soundtrack to basically every break-up I had. “I’m tryin’ – I’m tryin’ to drink away the part of the day I cannot sleep away.”

    • “I challenge you to find a more impossibly, infectiously catchy chorus.”

      Replace the word “peaches” with “people” and it becomes a whole new song.

      “People come in a can, they were put there by a man, in a factory downtowwwnn…”


  2. My biggest years of buying music were from about 1986 – 1999 and that was such a weirdly transitional period for music and for my life too. Music is a big part of life and so these songs all have autobiographical ties. Everything was falling apart, and strange new things were happening. It was torture for me when Stephen announced this topic well in advance, as I thought about my choices for this list almost constantly. With that, here’s my list… at least as it stands today.

    5. 1997 – The Impression that I Get by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones from the album Let’s Face It
    This is one of those songs that epitomizes the 90s for me. I honestly thought it came out much earlier than ’97. The Bosstones were a great example of the weirdness of 90s music where disparate genres were slamming into each other, and old things were becoming new things. Ska’s 3rd wave ran headlong into a punk/metal sensibility with some of the big band influence that was also happening to give us this catchy and brilliant song. Love it.
    4. 1999 – ‘Midnattens Widunde’r by Finntroll from the album Midnattens Widunder. In the early 90s Heavy Metal exploded into what seemed like a million subgenres and by 1999 we saw the emergence of Scandinavian Folk Metal. This bizarre metal sub-genre incorporates Black Metal guitars and vocal stylings with traditional Finnish folk melodies and Humppa (Polka/Oompa) music incorporating folk instruments including accordion! Fintroll is one of my favorite bands of the 2000s but this song came out in 1999, and really embodies the Finntroll experience. ‘Midnattens Widunder’ translates as the Beasts of Midnight and when you hit the 2:30 mark in this song you wonder if those Beasts haven’t indeed been conjured. Awesome.
    3. 1991 – ‘Good Enough’ by Mudhoney from the album Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. I heard this song and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ for the first time within MINUTES of each other. I like this one better. Mudhoney was considered a second tier grunge act by many, but man did I LOVE this band. Mudhoney was less polished and more punk than Nirvana. Very raw, 60s garage influenced rock with smart-assed, darkly humorous lyrics, sounds like it was made in somebodies basement, which is actually high praise from me. The iconic grunge song to me, a personal game changer.
    2. 1996 – ‘Rusty Cage’ by Johnny Cash from the album Unchained. I loved Soundgarden, loved, loved, loved them. When I heard this song, I was blown away. I had never heard a remake of a song I truly loved, and liked the cover version more, until I heard this. Johnny Cash took ownership of this song. Even now, when I hear the original I always think of the cover. This song was another great example of the strange musical collisions that happened in the 90s. Classic country artist covering grunge superstars? Why the hell not.
    1. 1996 – ‘Sweet Thistle Pie’ by Cracker from the album The Golden Age. I’m so glad Rodrigo chose ‘Low’ so I didn’t have to pick it as my #1, because I was truly torn. Cracker is THE band that epitomizes the 90s for me, and they are criminally under rated. Post punk, alt country, and roots rock all in one package, Cracker has it all. One of the few 90s bands whose new records I still buy, and actually look forward to. Every time I get a new Cracker album I’m always disappointed in it right up to the moment it becomes my new favorite album. The Golden Age was very much that way. Disappointed in it following their self- titled debut and Kerosene Hat (the one with ‘Low’) albums I almost threw it against a wall. Now I think it is their best record. No hit singles, just a fantastic, emotional, funny, brilliant album. ‘Sweet Thistle Pie’ was the track that finally got me immersed in The Golden Age, and the Golden Age immersed me in Cracker. It is my favorite song by one of my favorite bands.
    Matthew made me hate the band Pearl Jam. To this day I do not like them. He was not kidding when he said ‘Ten’ did not leave his cassette deck for a year. ‘Black’ is a rage inducing song for me, I kid you not.
    Also rans include tracks from the Offspring, Tori Amos, Fugazi, Gamma Ray, Social Distortion, The Dwarves, Rancid, and many, many others.

  3. Mike/IceWarm on

    # 5-1993, Linger by The Cranberries. This is a very good song with great instrumentation and lyrics, probably their best song in my opinion.

    # 4-1995, Hand In My Pocket by Alanis Morissette. You Oughta Know was the first music video I saw from her but it was Hand In My pocket that made me get the album.

    # 3-1996, Where Do You(Ocean Drive Mix) Go by No Mercy. This is a very catchy club song and this remix is great. One of the best tracks off the Night At The Roxbury Soundtrack

    # 2-1991, In Bloom by Nirvana. My favorite track off Nevermind and produced by Garbage rummer Butch Vig before forming Garbage.

    # 1-1998, You Look So Fine by Garbage. It is hard to choose just one song from this band. I’d include the entire Version 2.0 album if I could. My favorite track from the album and the last track off the album. They usually end with a ballad like song and this is one of their best.

  4. As you didn’t specify a century,

    1. 1897: Paul Dukas – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This song was made insanely famous by Micky Mouse in Fantasia. It is very sweeping powerful music that tells a story of an Apprentice trying to exploit power he didn’t really understood or respected.

    2. 1896: Richard Strauss – Also sprach Zarathustra — A.K.A The opening theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is simply great music.

    3. 1893: Antonin Dvorak – New World Symphony. A relative new favorite of mine, I was introduced to this by a classical radio station. Neil Armstrong took a recording of the New World Symphony to the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission, the first Moon landing, in 1969. How cool is that!

    4. 1999: Battle of the Fates – The only really good thing that came from Phantom Menace. Excellent choral music similar to Carmina Burana combined with Star Wars type music.

    5. 1992: Smells Like Nirvana. One of Wierd Al’s greats. Probably the first time I got to make the joke “so that’s what the real lyrics sound like”, if the actual Nirvana song played.

  5. Okay, for all you hipsters out there, this song was angsty and depressing before everybody was doing it. It’s as smooth, smoky, and bitter as a double espresso, and the lyrics are sharp enough to cut yourself with.

    “Everybody Knows” by Concrete Blonde (1990)

    • That was on the ‘Pump Up the Volume’ Soundtrack. A bunch of great songs on that one. Early Soundgarden, Bad Brains, Pixies, loved it!

    • Totally agree on this one, and listening to that song, I also discovered a lifelong love for Leonard Cohen who originally wrote this song, and at the same time for Concrete Blonde. Cohen’s deep gravelly voice makes this song a different one altogether, and Concrete blonde’s spin on it is just fantastic.

  6. How could Haddaway’s “What is Love?” not be on your list? Quintessentially early 90’s, and irresistible! Try turning this one on and not have your shoulders start to bounce, and your lungs begin to belt out the chorus!

    Also, a wonderfully singable yet reflective and cathartic song to watch the candle burn out by (surrounded by friends of course) “Closing Time” by Semisonic.

    Another favorite is Jars of Clay’s haunting, driving, also very singable “Flood”

    Fastball’s “The Way” is a neat song with a neat story, and it makes you feel good.

    Lastly, Smashing Pumpkins’ haunting “1979” will always flood me with wonderful and not so wonderful memories. I hardly know any of the lyrics, but the sound of it is indescribable. 1979 sounds so different from any other song I know of.

  7. The thing I’ve always thought interesting about music is the way that it can instantly transport you back to where you were when it was most significant in your life. There was a teacher who helped me through some rough times in High School, & he always had Blondie playing in his room over lunch breaks when we would talk about life. So when I hear those songs it brings me back to there, & reminding myself that things would be OK.

    The 90’s was a significant time for me hitting my last teens through late twenties, so songs like Black (sorry Otter, gotta side with Matthew), & No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” usually bring me back to relationships that went down in flames.

    The one artist that hasn’t been brought up that I’ve been waiting to see is Live. 1994’s Throwing Copper was one of those albums that felt like it kept getting better & better. Not to compare them to Pearl Jam, but it had a similar effect on me as Ten. “I Alone”, “Lightning Crashes”, & “All Over You” are songs that were with me through some good times & bad. And still live on in my iPod today.

  8. Oh man, guys, just caught this one and in my opinion, one of your best Top 5’s to date! I’ve been waxing nostalgically about my formative teenage years during the nineties as of late and listening to this could not have come at a better time. As for my T5 in no real particular order:

    5: Welcome to this World – Primus 1993: I still remember picking this album up at a mall and my grandma wondering what the hell I was gonna be listening to with this crazy looking pig on the cover. It was in heavy rotation in my discman on bus rides to school. This song sticks out because it gave me this feeling that I was heading into a much larger (and more mature) world with my musical tastes. I love the hectic warbling of Les and the staccato picking of his bass.

    4: Shoots and Ladders – Korn 1994: BAGPIPES! The teeth-clenched growl of nursery rhymes froze me. Thanks for scaring away my childhood, Jon…

    3: All Apologies – Nirvana 1993: A happy sounding song on the outside, an underlying feeling that something else is being said. It also reminds me of a happy and sad time with my first love.

    2: The Meaning of Life – The Offspring 1997: Song wasn’t ringing any bells via the airwaves for long, but man, did this album rock. This was the last time I took The Offspring seriously before…pretty fly.

    1. Rearviewmirror – Pearl Jam 1993: The second album I bought on my own and have loved it ever since. I think the lyrics are pretty straightforward but it always picks me up whenever I let another person get me down. Seriously, it’s emotes a feeling of driving away and when Eddie belts out” oooohhh once you…were in my…REARVIEWMIRROR!! just gets me jumping .

    My also-rans: No Excuses – Alice in Chains, Dead Eye Dick – New Age Girl, Cemetary Gates – Pantera, Down Rodeo – Rage Against the Machine, Cannonball – The Breeders, Waiting for a Ride – Dandelion, No Rain – Blind Melon, I’ll Stick Around – The Foo Fighters, etc…

  9. I’m far too indecisive to weigh in on a complete list, the only song that I know would top my list is “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. Like Rodrigo said about the song by Radiohead, this song I can listen to on repeat for all time and never get tired of it.

    On a side note, regarding Steven’s BNL rant, I was a young fellow in 1991, a couple of years younger than Steven & Matthew, going to university In Calgary, when a friend invited me to go see a cool group we were familiar with called The Shuffle Demons. Look them up, you might get a kick out of them. Anyways, opening up for them was a young band out of Toronto called The Barenaked Ladies. I had heard their cover of Bruce Cockburns “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”, but that was all I knew of them. I’ll tell you, they took the small university hall we saw them in and blew the roof off it that night. They were touring on their album “Gordon” and I was instantly a fan. I remember their performance to this day, and as for The Shuffle Demons, I just felt bad for them having to follow BNL as the opener.

  10. Aaron Wagner on

    5.) My number five came out in March of 1990, but this was not the time I heard this song. I was unaware of this band’s existence until I heard the song they made for the show Malcolm in the Middle ‘Boss of Me’ and when I went down the rabbit hole I found out I heard two of their songs (‘Particle Man’ and ‘Istanbul’) on the show Tiny Toon Adventures and was clueless these came from a band, let alone the same band. The song I have as my number five was introduced to me sometime in the mid 2000’s by a friend who left it as a voicemail for an old roommate of mine.
    “I’m your only friend, I’m not your only friend, but I’m a little glowing friend, but really I’m not actually your friend, but I am,”
    ‘Birdhouse in your Soul’ by They Might Be Giants off the album Flood is my number five. My roommate and I had fun singing the beginning of this song all the time, and I love to this day how the song lyrics are crafted. Not from the perspective of the song writer(s) but that of a night light. Brilliant.
    4.) My number four, I believe, is the only hit song by this band. In 1997, I was unaware of ska and still would be until sometime in the 2000’s I think, but this song was what brought into this genre, into the album really because I love the album this song comes on, “Let’s Face It”. I would recommend every other song on that album more than this or the whole album, but I’m not the moderator and can’t get away with that. My number four is ‘The Impression That I get’, by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. It’s a okay song, I’m mainly putting it on for sentimental value, introducing me to ska and for being a door introducing me to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who I’m a big fan of some of their late 90’s/early 2000 albums.
    3.) My number three was released in 1997, by a band that is fronted by a guy who used to play drums for Nirvana. The song is basically the disintegration of the singer/song writer 4 year marriage to someone, but at time it came out and up to five minutes ago when I was checking Wikipedia, thank you so much, I didn’t know what the song was about. It’s just a fun song to sing; I could’ve picked a number of songs by this group but basically went with Foo Fighters Monkey Wrench.
    2.) My number two I don’t know I can have on my list, I didn’t know if I had to use 90’s songs that have been on the radio which I think it might be, or just songs that came out on albums in the 90’s. I’m going with the latter on this, is by a band that was on Stephen’s list, the band Counting Crows, but I’m not going with Mr. Jones, or any other song on that album. I could, I really wanted to put Rain King or Murder of One right here. Or a couple songs from Recovering the Satellites in here, but the song I’m having as my number two comes of Counting Crows This Desert Life and is actually their number two song on there, their song Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby. A fun song, I love the music arrangement, and singing along with the lyrics. It was a staple in songs I listened to back in high school down in rural Nebraska when driving up to Lincoln, on a thirty minute drive this song takes a good chunk and just a good song to boot. Out of many Counting Crows I could’ve gone with, Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby is my number two. This band was ONE of band’s I listened to a lot in the late 90’s/early 2000’s between moving to Nebraska and graduating Highschool.
    1.) My number one is a song from an artist I don’t listen to a lot, but I should. It’s mainly on here for nostalgia and for the mere fact I love quoting the main line from this at people when they’re asking questions out loud to themselves, “What else do I need?” Or sometimes when someone is asking me a particular question, “Need help finding anything else?” I would respond with part of the chorus, ‘two turntables and a microphone!’
    Beck’s where it’s at, is my number one; I really enjoy this song a lot, hopefully since it’s my number one from the 90’s. It’s a great song and I enjoy it a lot.

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