May 2010

#1 – Santana feat. Rob Thomas – “Smooth” – (1999)

Here it is, number one. This song was, well, massive, and I didn’t care for it much at the time (as it was overplayed). But man, oh man, how I love it now. It was the last #1 single of the 1990s and of the 20th Century. It spent 12 weeks at the top but it considered the most popular #1 single of all time (if you take into account total sales and time spent on the chart). It won 3 Grammys and Billboard ranked it #2 on their list of all-time #1 singles (behind “The Twist”). Oh, and it’s completely kick-ass. Chorus: “And just like the ocean under the moon / Well that’s the same emotion that I get from you / You got the kind of lovin’ that can be so smooth / Gimme your heart make it real / or else forget about it.” Not only are the lyrics delivered with severe punch from Mr. Thomas but ol’ Carlos on the guitar really tears it up. This song provided a real comeback boost for Santana, as they’ve had multiple hits since (and this was their biggest hit since 1971). The other from Supernatural was “Maria Maria” (also a #1 hit featuring The Product G&B). Other awesome lyrics: “Man it’s a hot one / like seven inches from the midday sun / I hear you whisper and the words melt everyone / but you stay so cool / my muñequita, my Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa / you’re my reason for reason / the step in my groove.” This song was an excellent way to end the 90s and really the only way to end this countdown. After 6 months and 200 tracks it’s finally over, but we’ll be back in a few months with another countdown (but don’t expect it to be 200 songs).

#2 – Collective Soul – “December” – (1995)

The opening guitar here is so distinct that you have to recognize it immediately. Then the drums kick in and Ed Roland starts singing “Turn your head, now, baby just spit me out.” In fact, every time Ed Roland sings that, it should make you happy because it’s awesome. Collective Soul’s other big 90s hit that didn’t make the list was 1993’s “Shine.” It was off the album Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid – and I am immensely proud of myself for figuring out what the title of that album is referring to on my own. Originally I had “December” as #1 but it didn’t seem quite right. I felt like I needed a huge song to top the list. So, see what you think.

#3 – Deep Blue Something – “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” – (1995)

A one-hit wonder this far up on the list? Yep. This song is about a man about to break up with his girlfriend because they’ve got nothing in common – except that they both like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Chorus: “And I said, “What about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?” She said, “I think I remember the film, yes and as I recall, I think, we both kinda liked it.” And I said, “Well, that’s the one thing we’ve got.” This song hit #5 in the U.S. (and #1 in the U.K.) and is one of those songs that no one really knows who sang it (unless you know your stuff or happen to love this song as much as I do). It is great because people distinctly remember this song – it hasn’t been completely forgotten like a number of other songs on this list.

#4 – Hootie & the Blowfish – “I Go Blind” – (1995)

When I found out this song was a cover, I was heartbroken. Here I was ready to award Hootie & Co. the award for best songwriters ever and I find out my favorite song of theirs was written by a Canadian rock band called 54-40. The agony. Truth be told, I’ve never listened to that version because I don’t want it to tarnish the memories I have with this song. However good the original version may or may not be, this version is great. It was never released on a Hootie studio album (it made the greatest hits CD). It was originally released on Friends: Music from the TV Series. The guitar in this song is infectious and so is Darius Rucker singing “Every time I look at you I go blind.” Far and away my favorite Hootie track and a serious contender for the top spot on this list.

#5 – Seal – “Kiss from a Rose” – (1994)

Seal made the bewildering decision to name his second album Seal – which was also the same as his first album back in 1991. As weird as that is, he managed to crank out a huge hit from both albums. This one was the biggest of his career and his signature song (and it won him 3 Grammys and became his only #1 hit). The lyrics are smooth and with the strings in the background it has a really slick vibe – and it should, this is the man who married Heidi Klum. Oh, and that big hit from his first eponymous album was “Crazy (which is a brilliant song).” He also had a hit off the Space Jam soundtrack with a cover of “Fly like an Eagle.”

#6 – Mariah Carey feat. Boyz II Men – “One Sweet Day” – (1995)

The #1 single on the Hot 100 on January 1, 1994, was “Hero” by Mariah Carey (4 weeks total). On January 1, 1995, it was “On Bended Knee” by Boyz II Men (also for 4 weeks). And on January 1, 1996, “One Sweet Day” was #1. But it stayed at the top spot for 16 weeks. Sixteen weeks. That’s almost a third of a year. It still holds the record for the longest time at the top. It also set a few other Billboard records, like making Mariah Carey the first person to have multiple debut #1’s (she’s got 3 so far). Mariah has 18 number one hits. That’s more than Elvis and second only to The Beatles (20). And this song was the biggest of them all. There is no question that Mariah Carey can do things with her voice that most people can only dream of. And when you combine that with the talent that was Boyz II Men, you’ve got some serious vocal firepower on tap. Some of Mariah’s other big 90s hits: 1994s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” 1991s “Can’t Let Go,” and 1997s “Honey.”

#7 – Ricky Martin – “Livin’ La Vida Loca” – (1999)

This song kicked off the Latin music boom of 1999. I remember where I was when I first heard this song and I knew right away it was going to be huge. It is catchy in a way that most songs can only hope to be. It hit #1 on the Hot 100. Everyone thought they could speak Spanish when they became able to roughly translate “la vida loca” into “the crazy life.” Congratulations multi-lingual population. Ricky had some other hits in the 90s before moving into the 00s. Also from his self-titled album was “She’s All I Ever Had.” “The Cup of Life,” from a year earlier, was named the official song of the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Some lyrics: “She’ll make you take your clothes off and go dancing in the rain. She’ll make you live her crazy life but she’ll take away your pain. Like a bullet to your brain, come on!” And the chorus: “Upside inside out, she’s livin’ la vida loca. She’ll push and pull you down, livin’ la vida loca. Her lips are devil red, and her skin’s the color mocha. She will wear you out, livin’ la vida loca.”

#8 – Barenaked Ladies – “One Week” – (1998)

Stunt is one of my all-time favorite albums. Who doesn’t (or didn’t at some point in time) love this song? It is BNL’s only Hot 100 #1 hit in the United States (for one week) and it just might be their most well known song. Ed Robertson gets to show off his ability to talk really really fast in the parts of the song that everyone thinks they can sing but ends up just making noise through. During those times when he is rapping, he is rattling off pop culture reference after pop culture reference. And is it just me or is the music video very similar to that of Smash Mouth’s “All Star?” Other singles from Stunt include “Call and Answer” and “Alcohol” (which I can’t recall every hearing on the radio). The best song from the album has to be “It’s All Been Done” (“One Week” included). Two other tracks that were apparently never singles but I swear I heard on the radio (maybe I just listened to them on the album a lot back in the day) are “I’ll Be That Girl” and “Light Up My Room.” There are some great other versions of “One Week” as well. The Bluegrass Version is classic and the Bathroom Sessions Version is great as well.

#9 – Better Than Ezra – “Desperately Wanting” – (1996)

This is such a good song. “I remember running through the wet grass, falling a step behind” is a lyric I knew by heart long before I knew what this song was. Every time I happen to catch it on the radio today two things happen: 1. The day instantly becomes better and 2. The radio gets cranked to near-deafening levels so I can scream the lyrics along with the band without actually having to hear my awful voice ruin the song. Better Than Ezra has one of my favorite stories behind a band’s name: they were performing at a battle of the bands competition and didn’t have a name and the band they followed was called Ezra. I don’t know if that’s true or not (it really doesn’t matter either way), but if it is, it’s awesome. They had another semi-big hit with the album prior to this one with “Good” (which sounds very Toad The Wet Sprocket-y).

#10 – Eagle-Eye Cherry – “Save Tonight” – (1998)

It amazes me that Eagle-Eye Cherry (yes, that’s his name) never had another hit. This is a wonderful pop/rock song with simple guitar and enthusiastically delivered lyrics. And I love it. I don’t have a ton to say about it, however, so I’ll just post some lyrics from the chorus: “Save tonight, fight the break of dawn, come tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll be gone.”

#11 – Counting Crows – “Mr. Jones” – (1993)

There are people who really don’t like the Counting Crows, but I don’t understand how you can’t like this song. I can understand not liking some of their work, but not this. The lyrics in this song are a lot of fun: “Grey is my favorite color, I felt so symbolic yesterday, if I knew Picasso, I would buy myself a grey guitar and play.” Or: “I want to be Bob Dylan, Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky.” Yeah, I still don’t really know what this song is actually about. Also from August and Everything After:Round Here,” which is okay at best. In 1994 the band released an album called DGC Rarities, Vol. 1 and it contained the never-released-as-a-single-but-still-Modern Rock #1 hit “Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)” – which is an awesome song (but I’m not sure about the video I linked to, it’s the only one I could find).

#12 – Sophie B. Hawkins – “As I Lay Me Down” – (1994)

“If felt like springtime on this February morning…” “As I Lay Me Down” wasn’t the most successful single from Sophie B. Hawkins (it hit #6, “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” hit #5) – it is definitely her best. It has a good beat and tempo but the lyrics are restraining in that, although there is an upbeat tempo in the background, they set the pace, which is smooth and relaxed. This is a good song.

#13 – Oasis – “Wonderwall” – (1995)

This is the Oasis song. If you don’t know it, well, I pity you, but maybe you (sadly) know it as the song Charlie used to sing all the time on LOST. This song was written by Noel Gallagher, so, naturally, Liam hates it – too bad though, because it was their biggest hit and it is hands down one of, if not the, best written song of the 1990s. The first line of this song is particularly well known: “Today is gonna be the day that they’re gonna throw it back to you.” And so is the chorus: “Because maybe you’re gonna be the one that saves me.” I don’t know anyone who knows this song and doesn’t love it.

#14 – Sarah McLachlan – “Possession” – (1993)

Sarah McLachlan has one of the best voices I can think of. This song is proof of that. The opening verse is accompanied with little instrumentation and it has a really cool sound to it. Then there’s the chorus: “And I would be the one/to hold you down/kiss you so hard/I’ll take your breath away/and after I/wipe away the tears/just close your eyes dear.” My favorite part of the song is the weird effect her voice makes when she sings: “oh you speak to me in riddles and you speak to me in rhymes.” Her voice really is incomparable and I have a rule in my car that Sarah McLachlan never gets the channel changed on her. This song probably isn’t as famous as “I Will Remember You” but it’s just as good.

#15 – Blues Traveler – “Run-Around” – (1994)

The harmonica isn’t a popular central instrument in a band… unless that band is Blues Traveler. This was their biggest hit and rightfully so. Just like “Ants Marching” (#16) the lyrics here are sung with a distinct vocal accent that makes them somewhat difficult to easily comprehend. Apparently, this song was originally sung much slower than the version everyone is used to – and that would suck. The tempo here is one of the best parts… it seems to constantly increase in speed and the chorus seems more and more frantic each time it comes by. Another great song from Four: “The Mountains Win Again.”

“Oh I like coffee and I like tea. I’d like to be able to enter a final plea. I still got this dream that you just can’t shake. I love you to the point you can no longer take. Well all right, okay. So be that way. I hope and pray that there’s still something left to say… But yooouuuu…”

#16 – Dave Matthews Band – “Ants Marching” – (1994)

This is one of those songs with lyrics that are sung in a manner that it isn’t entirely clear what is being said. It’s very clear once you know it, but getting to that point can be frustrating and/or rewarding. Like this: “Candyman tempting the thoughts of a/Sweet tooth tortured by weight loss programs/Cutting the corners, there’s a/Loose end, loose end, cut cut/On the fence, try not to offend/Cut cut, cut cut.” This is my favorite Dave Matthews song – it’s also one of those songs whose lyrics include the album title, in this case: Under the Table and Dreaming. The two other big singles from this album are the almost equally as fantastic “What Would You Say” (featuring John Popper of Blues Traveler on harmonica) and “Satellite,” a song that really doesn’t do anything for me.

#17 – Hootie & The Blowfish – “Only Wanna Be With You” – (1994)

I don’t want to call this Hootie’s biggest hit but I think it might be their signature song. I read once that Darius Rucker said that this song was just fluff – that it was just a bunch of the sappiest lyrics he could come up with coupled with a catchy tune and it happened to become a hit. I think he’s mainly right but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the defining songs of 90s popular music. “I’m such a baby yeah the Dolphin’s make me cry” is a pretty memorable lyric… the video, however… eek. It won some awards at the VMAs back in the day, but it hasn’t aged well… maybe because the “Sports Center” anchors are totally phoning it in. I should also mention the fourth and final big single from Cracked Rear View: “Let Her Cry.”

#18 – Mariah Carey – “Always Be My Baby” – (1995)

I’ve loved this song since I first heard it back in 1996. I have no idea why either. Maybe it’s the “da do dum” that opens the song, I don’t know. I do know that it’s catchy and that I’m not the only one that liked it – it hit #1 on the Hot 100. Daydream was the album and it was a big one. Three number one singles – from the same album. That is exceedingly rare. One of the other ones was “Fantasy” which is as catchy if not more than “Always Be My Baby” – plus, there’s a remix with ODB. Mariah was the queen of the 90s and remains the queen of the Billboard Hot 100. Even Madonna can’t match her success. Some other big singles: 1993’s “Dreamlover,” 1991’s “Emotions,” and 1999’s “Heartbreaker” (featuring Jay-Z). Yes, there’s one I’m not mentioning. Just wait.

#19 – The Wallflowers – “One Headlight” – (1996)

Due to the idiotic rules for the Hot 100 at the time of this song’s release, it was ineligible to chart – and it would have charted fairly high if it were allowed to because it was a substantial hit – probably the biggest hit The Wallflowers had. Now, when it comes to song-writing ability I don’t know if Jakob Dylan had it hard or easy or whatever because of, well, you know, his dad and all, but the lyrics in this song are astounding and their performance is equally excellent and original. This song has such a steady beat that when it meets that sad, soulful guitar, it brings it all to life. This also has one of those great sing-along choruses: “Heeey, come on try a little/Nothing is forever/There’s got to be something better than/In the middle/But me and Cinderella/We put it all together/We can drive it home/With one headlight.” Great stuff.

There were two much lesser hits from Bringing Down the Horse: “6th Avenue Heartache” (which isn’t so bad) and “Three Marlenas” (which is). The Wallflowers’ best non-“One Headlight” tune has to be 1998s cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” It was done for the Godzilla soundtrack and it is better than the original (probably because it doesn’t sound all that dissimilar from “One Headlight”).

#20 – Goo Goo Dolls – “Name” – (1995)

The Goo Goo Dolls’ first hit ended up at #5 on the Hot 100. There are probably 10 songs that I really wish I’d stuck in the top 5 of this list and this is one of those songs. 1995 stands as a pivotal year in music (for me) and a good portion of that has to do with this – so yeah, it’s got more to do with nostalgia than anything else. But you can’t tell me that it’s not any good.

#21 – The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony” – (1997)

This song is glorious – it’s just a shame that it turned into a lesson about the dark side of the music industry. It reminds me of a Hunter S. Thompson quote: “The music industry is a cruel and shallow money-trench. A long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There is also a negative side.” So The Rolling Stones wrote a song called “The Last Time” in 1965. The Andrew Oldham Orchestra did an instrumental version of that song. The Verve “stole” that orchestral version and used it as the background strings in this song. The Rolling Stones (or whoever owns their catalog) sued The Verve and somehow arranged a 50/50 split of the royalties. Then, the song became a giant hit and they called back and said they were taking 100% of the royalties or they were going to pull the record from stores. So the band pretty much lost the rights to their own song and every cent they made from it went to people already super-rich, like Mick Jagger. Then the song was shopped out to commercials against the will of the band. Then, to top it off, Andrew Loog Oldham sued the band as well.

All of this is a shame, of course, because it is an absolutely beautiful song. The album is called Urban Hymns and I find it appropriate because this song is quite hymn-like. It also appears at the end of the movie Cruel Intentions, which was one of the biggest “young people” movies at the end of the decade. And no, this is not the same band that sang “The Freshmen.”

#22 – Semisonic – “Closing Time” – (1998)

Holy $@#! I love this song. I know someone who generally listens to metal and old-school punk – and he loves this song. “I know I want to take me home” is a classic lyric and after that first visit to the chorus, the song picks up in intensity and never lets up. It’s wonderful. I can’t recall the video from days gone by, but within the last year or so I flipped on Fuse and they have/had (I don’t know if it’s still on) this brilliant show called Video Yearbook. The episode I caught (and have caught multiple times since) was “1998” and they played this video. I watched it because I love the song, but the video turned out to be amazing. There are two continuous shots played side by side that somewhat interact with each other… if you don’t know the timing trick being played it might give you a headache trying to make sense of it. There are big-budget Hollywood movies that are far less technically interesting.

#23 – The Tony Rich Project – “Nobody Knows” – (1995)

Here is one smooth song. I really don’t know why it’s credited under “The Tony Rich Project” and not just “Tony Rich,” but maybe nobody knows? Mr. Rich was nominated for a Grammy for best Male Vocal Performance – and rightfully so (he lost to Eric Clapton). It’s kind of a shame that modern R&B isn’t this good (and that Tony Rich didn’t have any other hits to speak of). If you look at the YouTube comments for this video, you see people talking about how they lost their virginity to this song in the 90s – yeah, I said it was smooth.

#24 – Matchbox Twenty – “Push” – (1996)

Yourself or Someone like You launched five (5!) big singles onto the pop charts (okay, I didn’t research to see if they all charted, but I have heard them all on the radio). I generally consider “Real World” to be the definitive song of the five, but I think this is the best. There were a lot of pop songs dealing with heavy issues like abuse in the 90s and they all still maintained an element of cheerfulness… weird. “3 A.M.” is the other great one.

#25 – Third Eye Blind – “Never Let You Go” – (1999)

This is my favorite Third Eye Blind song – no it isn’t as good as “Jumper” and nowhere near the level of “Semi-Charmed Life” – but the way in which it is sung is very catchy. Blue was released in 1999, after the band’s popularity had peaked but it still managed another hit single: the slower “Deep Inside of You.”

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