Top 200 Songs of the 90s

Donna Lewis & Richard Marx – “At the Beginning” – (1997)

I will admit – I really liked this song when it came out and I haven’t heard it in a while. And I will also admit that as soon as it started I remember why I liked it so much the first time around. This song did okay on the Adult Contemporary chart and showed that Disney didn’t have a stranglehold on original songs in animated films (this one came from Anastasia and most of what I remember from the movie is that Hank Azaria did a voice and it was awesome). Good song – I don’t care if you mock me.

Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, & Sting – “All For Love” – (1993)

The movie was The Three Musketeers and I guess Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting were supposed to be the musical equivalent of the Three Musketeers? Maybe in 1993. Now it seems a little absurd. Let’s look at where they are now: Bryan Adams has all but disappeared off the face of the Earth after a fairly decent and long career. Sting is still a fairly well-liked and well-respected public figure, but he doesn’t put out a lot of new radio-friendly music these days. And Rod Stewart stopped singing original songs over a decade ago – releasing CD after CD of standards. This was a #1 hit on the Hot 100. The title is inspired by the Three Musketeers motto “All for one, and one for all” and was transposed into this romantic soft rock song. Ooookay.

Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson – “Scream” – (1995)

This is a brother and sister duet. Many people think Michael Jackson peaked in the 80s and while that might be true, his stuff from the 90s was awesome. At the time, this was the highest debuting single on the Hot 100 ever – jumping in at #5 (where it peaked). It’s about the tabloids that were all over Michael after his alleged child abuse among other things. It was nominated from a Grammy and one of the best remembered things about this song was the video. It was considered the most expensive music video ever made – costing over $7 million in 1995. Which is insane. In all reality, it’s probably more memorable than the song itself.

Brian Setzer Orchestra – “Hey, Louis Prima” – (1996)

Guitar Slinger was Brian Setzer’s 1996 album – his second studio album and the one released right before they hit it big in the swing revival craze of the late-1990s. As most of his albums have been, it was a mix of original and covered material. “Hey, Louis Prima” was an original song written by Setzer that shows off his impressive guitar skills. It’s also a bit of foreshadowing as his cover of Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive An’ Wail” would take him to the stratosphere of pop music two years later.

Pearl Jam – “Black” – (1991)

Pearl Jam was one of the most important bands of the 1990s and one of the biggest in the grunge scene – even if Nirvana gets so much of the credit. “Black” was the fifth track on Ten – one of the best/most-important albums of the decade. This reached #3 on the Mainstream Rock chart and if you want an example of classic grunge music – it doesn’t come much better than this. It remains one of their best-known and most well-received songs despite the fact that it was never released as a single.

The Real McCoy – “Run Away” – (1995)

Sigh. 90’s Eurodance, how I miss you. This style of music is proof that the 90s were a happier time than now (even if the lyrics here are “Run away if you want to survive”). In a day when house music is pretty much the norm on mainstream radio, I can’t imagine how this ever became so popular in the mid-90s. I mean, it reached #3 on the Hot 100. For that brief period between summer of 1994 and the end of 1996, Eurodance became one of the 90s brief flashes of a very specific genre that would burn out really quick (I’m looking at you, Swing Revival).

Ozzy Osbourne – “Mama, I’m Coming Home” – (1991)

How about a little more hard rock this week? Ozzy’s style from the 1980s bled over seamlessly into the 1990s. This is from one of Ozzy’s two best-selling albums. The song is about his as-famous-as-he-is-now wife Sharon. Interestingly, this is Ozzy’s only solo Top 40 single on the Hot 100 – it peaked at #28. The song was written by the lead singer of Motorhead and Zakk Wylde, Ozzy’s former guitarist.

Celine Dion & Andrea Bocelli – “The Prayer” – (1998)

Here’s a Christmas song that really isn’t a Christmas song. It’s religious – but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily about Christmas – even if it was on Celine Dion’s 1998 Christmas album (it was on a standard non-Holiday Andrea Bocelli album). It was featured in the movie Quest for Camelot and won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar and a Grammy. The vocals here, as you can probably guess, are amazing. Celine re-recorded this with Josh Groban in 2008, but the original is better. It was a minor hit in the U.S. and a slightly bigger one in Canada.

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.

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