The early ’90s was one of the best times for alternative rock and the late ’90s was one of the best times for pop singles. The ’90s were just an awesome time for music overall, so here are my 15
favorite songs of the decade.
1. The Notorious B.I.G. feat. Puff Daddy and Mase: “Mo Money, Mo Problems” (’97, Bad Boy)
With the help of Puff Daddy, Mase, a brilliant Diana Ross sample and one of the best refrains ever sung by Kelly Price, Biggie Smalls managed to create the greatest hip-hop single of all time.
2. Nirvana: “All Apologies” (’94, DGC)
People who say “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one of Nirvana’s worst songs are liars, however, I do prefer “All Apologies.”
3. New Radicals: “You Get What You Give” (’98, MCA)
Pop music’s biggest political statement in the ’90s was attached to one of its most powerful melodies.
4. Backstreet Boys: “I Want It That Way” (’99, Jive)
The problem with boy band hate is that it ignores all the great songwriting. It’s okay to hate what Backstreet Boys and N Sync represent, but to deny a masterpiece because of who sang it is ridiculous. “I Want It That Way” is one of the greatest pop songs ever written when sung by the Backstreet Boys, and it would be one of the greatest pop songs ever written if it were sung by anyone else.
5. Pulp: “Common People” (’95, Polygram)
The only band that has ever tried to write songs about class as smart as “Common People” is Vampire Weekend and although they’ve tried since 2007, they haven’t managed to top it.
6. Guided By Voices: “I Am a Scientist” (’94, Scat)
“I am a lost soul/I shoot myself with rock and roll.”
7. Cornershop: “Brimful of Asha” (’97, Wiiija)
A feel-good song that never fails to make you feel good. It also features one of the best guitar riffs ever.
8. 2Pac, feat. Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman: “California Love” (’95, Death Row)
Tupac Shakur has rarely come across as a great rapper to me. Whenever I listen to “California Love,” however, I become completely convinced that he’s one of the greatest of all time.
9. Sleater-Kinney: “One More Hour” (’97, Kill Rock Stars)
Corin Tucker is inspired to give one of the most emotional vocal performances in the history of breakup songs, partly because the girl she wrote it about is singing backup.
10. Pavement: “In the Mouth a Desert” (’92, Matador)
Pavement’s sophomore release, “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain,” was their poppiest album, housing their biggest hit, “Cut Your Hair,” and possibly their most acclaimed song, “Gold Soundz,” ranked by Pitchfork as the greatest song of the ’90s. But it was their first album, “Slanted & Enchanted,” that featured the best pop song Stephen Malkmus ever wrote. “In the Mouth a Desert” is a treat, with a catchy melody, a brilliant chorus (“So wait/To hear my words and they’re diamond sharp/I could open it up if it’s up and down”) and a great post-chorus guitar-line.
11. LL Cool J: “Around the Way Girl” (’90, Def Jam)
A more honest “I Need Love,” with better production.
12. MC Lyte: “Ruffneck” (’93, East West)
“Around the Way Girl” from a female perspective.
13. The Magnetic Fields: “Come Back from San Francisco” (’99, Merge)
The best track on what many of my friends consider the greatest album of the ’90s, “69 Love Songs.”
14. Lucinda Williams: “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten” (’98, Mercury)
My favorite song that one of my favorite songwriters, Lucinda Williams, ever wrote. I seriously wish it had been released as a single. If the title’s spelling made people mistakenly think it was a Prince song, “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten” could have even been a hit.
15. Kris Kross: “Jump” (’92, Ruffhouse/Columbia)
To not like this song is wiggity, wiggity, wiggity wack.