60(ish) Songs that Explain the 90s

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Wednesday, March 13th, 2024

60 Songs that Explain the 90s

60(ish) Songs that Explain the 90s

My favorite podcast over the last few years, 60 Songs that Explain the 90s, sadly came to an end this week. There were so many great episodes chronicling so many great songs. There were, of course, a lot of songs that didn’t get included that I thought should have, and there were a pretty good number of real head-scratchers. So I thought I’d make my own list!

The podcast did 120 songs for, um, their 60 songs. So I took a little bit of license myself and my list ended up with 75. Not too bad.

The beauty of the 90s is that it was an explosion of diversity in music and, more broadly, popular culture. Some have said that the 90s was the last true “decade” in the sense that there was a cohesive cultural narrative and it was the last stand for monoculture. I tend to agree with that, but what I think was great about the 90s is that things really began to splinter in interesting ways while still adhering to some shared 90s concepts.

One of the interesting things about the 90s, also, is that there was some very distinctive phases and evolutions, so I’ve grouped my list by these phases (some more broad than others). Here’s my groupings:

Changing of the Guard: Songs/Artists that shed light on the transition from the 80s to the 90s, but were still able to tap into a very 90s-ness.

The Mainstreaming of Rap: Rap was a smaller subgenre in the 80s, but in the 90s, it became Top 40 radio.

R&B: I really believe that the first half of the 90s was the greatest period of all-time for R&B.

Bubblegum Pop: Boy bands and cheesy pop blasted off in the 90s.

Rock’s Pop Culture Evolution: What began with heavy, darker rock (Nirvana, grunge, Metallica, etc) ended with Top 40 pop-rock and was essentially the last stand for “true” rock music.

Women: Yeah, I get it — women have been around in music for a long time, but in the 90s, women took over the charts and launched several legendary careers.

Something for Everybody (AKA Things Got Weird): This is a grab bag and in some ways, I think this explains the 90s the best of all these groupings. The 90s is the last true era of one-hit wonders and those hits were increasingly odd. It’s what made the 90s in the 90s in a lot of ways.

Alright, here’s my list (in order by groups as well as when they were released, chronologically):

Changing of the Guard

    1. Madonna: Vogue (March 90)
    2. George Michael: Freedom ’90 (October 90)
    3. Michael Jackson: Black or White (November 91)
    4. Guns n’ Roses: November Rain (Februaryruary 92)
    5. Janet Jackson: That’s the Way Love Goes (March 93)
    6. Aerosmith: Cryin’ (June 93)

The Mainstreaming of Rap

    7. MC Hammer: U Can’t Touch This (February 90)
    8. Vanilla Ice: Ice Ice Baby (July 90)
    9. Sir Mixalot: Baby Got Back (May 92)
    10. Dre: Nuthin’ But a G Thang (November 92)
    11. Ice Cube: It Was a Good Day (February 93)
    12. Tag Team: Whoomp! There it Is (May 93)
    13. Snoop: Gin and Juice (January 94)
    14. Biggie: Juicy (August 94)
    15. Tupac: California Love (December 95)
    16. Bone: Tha Crossroads (March 96)
    17. Missy Elliot: The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly) (May 97)
    18. Puff Daddy: Been Around the World (November 97)
    19. Master P: Make ‘Em Say Ugh (January 98)
    20. Eminem: My Name Is (January 99)


    21. Bell Biv Devoe: Poison (February 90)
    22. Boyz II Men: End of the Road (June 92)
    23. SWV: Weak (March 93)
    24. TLC: Waterfalls (May 95)
    25. The Fugees: Killing Me Softly (May 96)
    26. Next: Too Close (January 98)
    27. Brandy & Monica: The Boy is Mine (May 98)
    28. Aaliyah: Are You That Somebody? (May 98)

Bubblegum Pop

    29. Spice Girls: Wannabe (June 96)
    30. N’Sync: Tearin’ Up My Heart (February 97)
    31. Hanson: MMMBop (March 97)
    32. Britney Spears: …Baby One More Time (September 98)
    33. Backstreet Boys: I Want it That Way (March 99)
    34. Christina Aguilera: Genie in a Bottle (May 99)

Rock’s Pop Culture Evolution

    35. Metallica: Enter Sandman (July 91)
    36. Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit (September 91)
    37. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Under the Bridge (March 92)
    38. Pearl Jam: Jeremy (September 92)
    39. Beck: Loser (February 94)
    40. Soundgarden: Black Hole Sun (May 94)
    41. Green Day: Basket Case (August 94)
    42. Weezer: Buddy Holly (September 94)
    43. Hootie & the Blowfish: Only Wanna Be With You (July 95)
    44. Oasis: Wonderwall (October 95)
    45. No Doubt: Don’t Speak (March 96)
    46. Smashing Pumpkins: Tonight, Tonight (May 96)
    47. Counting Crows: A Long December (December 96)
    48. Third Eye Blind: Semi-Charmed Life (February 97)
    49. Matchbox Twenty: Push (June 97)
    50. Marcy Playground: Sex and Candy (September 97)
    51. Goo Goo Dolls: Iris (March 98)
    52. Santana: Smooth (June 99)


    53. Sinead O’Connor: Nothing Compares 2 U (January 90)
    54. Whitney Houston: I Will Always Love You (November 92)
    55. Lisa Loeb: Stay (May 94)
    56. Alanis Morissette: You Oughtta Know (July 95)
    57. Mariah Carey: Fantasy (August 95)
    58. Sheryl Crow: If It Makes You Happy (September 96)
    59. Jewel: You Were Meant for Me (November 96)
    60. Celine Dion: My Heart Will Go On (November 97)
    61. Fiona Apple: Criminal (September 97)
    62. Shania Twain: You’re Still the One (January 98)
    63. Lauryn Hill: Doo Wop (That Thing) (August 98)

Something for Everybody (AKA Things Got Weird)

    64. Garth Brooks: Friends in Low Places (August 90)
    65. Right Said Fred: I’m Too Sexy (July 91)
    66. Billy Ray Cyrus: Achy Breaky Heart (March 92)
    67. Ace of Base: The Sign (November 93)
    68. Los del Rio: Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix) (August 95)
    69. OMC: How Bizarre (December 95)
    70. Chumbawamba: Tubthumping (August 97)
    71. Ricky Martin: Livin’ La Vida Loca (March 99)
    72. Lou Bega: Mambo No. 5 (March 99)
    73. Smash Mouth: All Star (May 99)
    74. Limp Bizkit: Nookie (June 99)
    75. LFO: Summer Girls (June 99)

You can find it on Apple Music and Spotify.

Apple Music