Top 200 Songs of the 90s


Godsmack – “Going Down” – (1997)

Why do rock bands always have stupid names? I liked Godsmack back when it was really cool to like Godsmack, but as I look back, all I think is “Man, what a stupid name for a band… way to try and be hard.” They have some pretty decent rock songs, but I don’t count this among them. So why is it here and why do I have it? Wel, 1: this week is kind of a burn until I can get to Christmas music on Friday and 2: this song was featured on the very popular Mission: Impossible II soundtrack. Originally, it was released on the band’s independent debut album All Wound Up. It would later come out on their 2000 album Awake.

George Michael – “Waiting For That Day” – (1990)

This song is sometimes subtitled “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” – and that’s because it sounds similar to the Rolling Stones song of the same name. George Michael wrote this song independently and later realized how similar it sounded, so he gave Mick Jagger and Keith Richards credit (presumably to avoid a lawsuit). Amazingly, this was George Michael’s first single to not make it into the top 10 in the U.S. – it only reached #27.

AC/DC – “Ballbreaker” – (1995)

“Ballbreaker” was the title (and final) track on AC/DC’s 1995 album. This is the only song I’ve ever heard from this album, and it was never a single (the album had three singles and only one of them charted). In any case, this is not AC/DC’s best work – but the album is still certified 2x platinum (that’s over two million sales) by the RIAA. Which is crazy. AC/DC is one of the biggest selling musical acts in history and it’s no wonder – whatever they put out people buy.

Tonic – “Open Up Your Eyes” – (1996)

“Open Up Your Eyes” was the first track on Tonic’s 1996 album Lemon Parade. It was also the first single and by no means the biggest. But I do remember hearing it on the radio back in the day (although, not nearly as much as “If You Could Only See”). This song is highly underrated today as an example of mid-90s post-grunge alternative rock. If you’re a fan of that era and kind of music (as I am), this is a must-have.

2 Unlimited – “No Limit” – (1993)

Like 90s techno-errrr… eurodance? Eurodance was a nice way of saying “techno” back in the 1990s. They were songs by European artists that had pumping, electronic beats. 2 Unlimited was from the Netherlands and this definitely has a pumping, electronic beat. I’ve always wondered where this music was playing in the U.S… presumably at rave-y clubs that you’d see on a show like Nash Bridges. Crazily enough, this was Europe’s biggest-selling song in 1993, hitting #1 in nearly every European country. Watch the video… if you thought the 90s were weird in the U.S. – Europe had it pretty bad.

Britney Spears – “From the Bottom of My Broken Heart” – (1999)

Ah Britney in the good ol’ innocent days. This was the last single from Britney’s debut album in 1999 and it peaked at #14 on the Hot 100. It had some TRL airplay but nothing compared to the three singles that preceded it nor the one that would follow it – which just shows that the TRL audience didn’t care for the emotional ballad-type songs put out by artists who were supposed to make us happy.

Shanice – “I Love Your Smile” – (1991)

You might not remember Shanice and you might not recognize this song by its title – but I can almost guarantee you’ll remember it when you hear it. The lyrics are pure 90s R&B – but it’s the light “do-do-do-do-do” of the chorus that is most memorable. This song was one of those great transitional songs of the early 90s that showed that the 90s would be a lot different from the 80s. It would be more upbeat, colorful, and fun. It’s just a really good, classic tune.

Ace of Base – “All That She Wants” – (1993)

I was at bar trivia a few weeks ago and there was a song regarding “this Swedish pop group was the first to have four major singles from one album” or something like that. Everyone guessed ABBA. I didn’t. I know my Ace of Base, apparently. Maybe it’s because this was one of the first CDs I owned. And this is one of the best songs on the album. This was the group’s first single and it was a #1 pretty much everywhere in Europe and it hit #2 on the Hot 100. It was huge – and their bigger hits were still to come. Great song.

R.E.M. – “Drive” – (1992)

Generally, I’ve noticed that the faster the R.E.M. song, the better. Here’s an exception. This was the first single from Automatic for the People and it wasn’t a huge smash like some of their then-recent singles. But it did top the Modern Rock chart and became the band’s second-biggest single they’d had in the U.K. up to that point. For whatever reason, this song has always reminded me of “Rock On” by David Essex. Not too sure what the connection is there, but this is a good song.

Oasis – “Don’t Go Away” – (1997)

Oasis is one of the best bands that Britain has ever produced (this week kind of has a British theme). Britpop tracks like this is what they did best. It’s not quite an “epic weepy” like some of their other songs, but it’s still a song about loss – a break-up song. Liam’s vocals are really good and it really encapsulates Oasis’ 90s sound and is my favorite track from 1997’s Be Here Now – their final album of the 1990s. This song was a big hit in the U.S. – hitting #5 on the Modern Rock chart.

Toad the Wet Sprocket – “All I Want” – (1991)

Mmm, early-90s alternative rock. At the height of grunge, there were still bands out there performing less angst-y, more pop-y rock n roll. There was a wonderful type of music produced in a short-lived era of about 1991-1997 that songs like this exemplify. I miss it dearly. This was the first successful single from Toad the Wet Sprocket, peaking at #15 on the Hot 100. It is also one of two tracks by the band that still pops up on radio airwaves every now and then. It’s a 1990s pop rock classic.

20 Fingers feat. Gillette – “Mr. Personality” – (1995)

God, Gillette is so obnoxious. It’s really hard to think of another artist who can be so nerve-grating. The main vocals aren’t so bad – but when she raps – or even worse, when she laughs, it just makes me want to throw something at my speakers. That said, this song certainly has a certain catchiness to it. And that’s all this song really is – a catchy chorus and then Gillette yelling “yo mama” jokes at you. It’s like an insult song. But that was kind of 20 Fingers’ shtick: catchy pop/dance tunes (they were Dutch) accented by “humorous” lyrics. Things are open to interpretation almost 20 years later.

Eve 6 – “Tongue Tied” – (1998)

As Monday’s song was sappy, this song is awesome. Eve 6 was known for “Inside Out” which got all the airplay off their self-titled debut album. But “Tongue Tied” is more alternative rock – or, at least, the late-90s version of alternative rock. It kicks-ass in the same way those Third Eye Blind hits kick ass. The video stars a young Katie Holmes and is mega-1998: the clothes, the hairstyles, the VCR in the classroom. Gah, the good old days.

Taylor Dane – “Love Will Lead You Back” – (1989)

This #1 hit from Taylor Dane (her only #1, she had multiple top fives) was the biggest hit of her career. It’s definitely her best song. The song was written by Diane Warren – which should come as little surprise, as Diane Warren seems to have written every major pop hit between the mid-to-late-1980s and mid-1990s. This is also one of those songs that defines “Adult Contemporary” music in my mind. It’s a staple of “The Best Mix of the 80s, 90s, and Today” radio. And it should be a guilty pleasure. But it isn’t.

Nirvana – “About a Girl” – (1989/1994)

This song was originally released on Bleach in 1989 but was recorded for the band’s live Unplugged set for MTV. It was the first single released from the Unplugged album after Kurt Cobain’s death. I’ve linked to the live version because it was a #1 Modern Rock single in the U.S. Cobain didn’t even want to include this track on Bleach because he found it might alienate the grunge fan base. He wrote it after listening to early Beatles records on repeat. He thought it was too “poppy.” I find it kind of funny, 20 years removed, that this was too pop for grunge. It’s very grunge. But I would have very much liked to see what Kurt Cobain could’ve written if he were uninhibited by his perceived grunge-God-ness and free to experiment with his Beatles obsession all he wanted.

Toni Braxton – “Let It Flow” – (1995)

Waiting to Exhale was a 1995 movie starring Whitney Houston and Angela Bassett. The soundtrack, written in large part by Babyface, featured two #1 hits and a number of top ten hits. This was one of those #1s. It was a huge soundtrack and the movie went pretty big as well. This is not my favorite Toni Braxton song by any stretch but it isn’t horrible. Babyface could certainly write songs – and hits – in the mid-1990s. But this one seems slow and fairly dated. It was also released on Toni’s 1996 album Secrets.

Bonnie Raitt – “I Can’t Make You Love Me” – (1991)

Bonnie Raitt’s 1991 album Luck of the Draw was her best in terms of popular singles. And this song is great – reaching #18 on the Hot 100 and #6 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The lyrics are mellow and the music – especially the piano (played by Bruce Hornsby) – with its stunted tempo, is just motivated enough to get the feeling across of loss. The song appears of multiple “best songs of all time” lists – including Rolling Stone‘s and Mojo‘s – who ranked it #8. Which might be a bit high, even if it is a great song.

Red Wanting Blue – “Audition” – (2012)

Tell me this doesn’t sound like it came out in the mid-to-late-1990s. Well, I guess it kind of did. Originally released on the band’s 2000 album Model Citizen, “Audition” was re-recorded (but still sounding pretty much the same) for their 2012 release “From the Vanishing Point.” It sounds like a Counting Crows song or something similar. I don’t remember hearing it on the radio, but it very well could’ve been on it back in 2000/2001. And, yeah, on Monday I said we were done with 90s songs that sounded older. Well this is a 2000s/2010s song that sounds like it was from the 1990s.

Dan Fogelberg – “Rhythm of the Rain” – (1990)

The late, great Dan Fogelberg had a big hit in 1990 with his partial-cover of The Cascades’ 1962 song “Rhythm of the Rain.” I say “partial-cover” because he took their song and blended it in part with the Beatles’ song “Rain” to make a really, really good Adult Contemporary hit. It was a #3 song on that chart, and the last charting single of Fogelberg’s career. The vocals and the medley on this track are a near-perfect blend. It really is amazing and a song I’ve always loved. This is also the final song for our “1990s songs that sound like they’re from the 1980s” list.

George Michael – “Freedom! 90” – (1990)

Here is one of George Michael’s best songs – and he’s had some awesome songs. This is one of those songs that has that “anthem” type feel to it. It’s upbeat but it builds and builds to the chorus in which George Michael is sort of yelling “Freedom!” behind George Michael who is also singing the chorus. The music video was directed by David Fincher… who also directed the music video for “Cradle of Love,” which we featured a few weeks ago. Fun fact, the “90” in the title is only there to differentiate it from the Wham! song that was called “Freedom.” It was a top ten hit in the U.S. and remains one of his most popular songs, even if it sounds a little older than it is (and even though the title clearly states what decade it came out in).

The Four Seasons – “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night) (Ben Liebrand Remix)” – (1993)

Yeah, I don’t have a link to purchase this song because it is really hard to find. If you’re creative, you can get it from the link to the YouTube video above. “December 1963″ was a big hit for the Four Seasons when it was originally released in 1975, hitting #1 on the Hot 100 in March of 1976. In 1988 it was remixed by Dutch DJ Ben Liebrand and remixed again in 1993. This 1993 remix was a huge radio smash, reaching #14 on the Hot 100 and extending the songs all-time weeks on the Hot 100 to 27 weeks, a then record. This remix is the version you most often hear on Adult Contemporary radio stations today. So yeah, decade confusion all over the place here. The remix has some added beats in the background but there are some people who, without hearing them back to back, couldn’t tell you which one was the original.

 AC/DC – “Moneytalks” – (1990)

This is easily one of AC/DC’s best songs and it comes off one of their better albums. It’s also one of their biggest hits. AC/DC made a lot of good, hard rock n’ roll music, but some of those songs were able to cross into the mainstream. This is one of those songs that has more of a pop rock feel to it. Brian Johnson’s fantastic vocal delivery as well as the multiple people singing on the chorus really adds to it. It came out in 1990 but it sounds just like – and just as good as – the songs AC/DC did in the 80s. It’s awesome.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Into the Great Wide Open” – (1991)

Well crap. I was going to do “You Wreck Me” here but I’ve already done that song. This one doesn’t sound quite as 80s as that one, but it’ll work. The music video features Johnny Depp and Matt LeBlanc, among others – and Tom Petty, still in his “Dressing-Like-A-Character-From-Alice in Wonderland” phase. This is the title track to the Heartbreakers’ 1991 album and it hit #4 on the Mainstream Rock chart.

Jimmy Buffett – “Another Saturday Night” – (1993)

Why must some songs be so hard to find (bear with that video, it gets there)? This cover of Sam Cooke’s classic was released on the 1993 album Margaritaville Café: Late Night Menu. No, it was not a Jimmy Buffett studio album. It was a compilation album – actually the first of three – that Buffett released that included recordings by a number of artists that regularly performed at his Margaritaville restaurants. He, Buffett, also included a few new recordings of his own on each. So what’s the deal here? Well it has the same sound and feel as the rest of his songs from the 1980s.

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