a couple weeks ago, the tracklisting of Rhino Records’ latest decade-spanning anthology, Whatever: The 90s Pop Culture Box was released to general disappointment, not the least of which came from this writer. The box, simply put, was an utter mess—seemingly unsure of whether they wanted the set to be the successor to the fantastic all-alternative 80s set Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the Underground or the equally thrilling entirely mainstream set Like, Omigod! The 80s Pop Culture Box (Totally), Rhino came up with a set that found a wholly unsatisfying middle ground.

Essentially viewing grunge as providing the musical core for the decade, Whatever is populated mostly with alt-rock hits and misses, from the unmistakably mainstream (Spin Doctors, Candlebox, Deep Blue Something) to the decidedly underground (My Bloody Valentine, Velocity Girl, the Melvins). If this was all the set was, that’d be fine—you didn’t see Samantha Fox or Kool & the Gang on Left of the Dial, either—but Whatever still has pretensions of being a Pop Culture Box, and thus makes occasional tokenist stops at hip-hop and dance, only finding time to hit the biggest targets (“Baby Got Back,” “Jump,” “Gonna Make You Sweat,” “O.P.P.,” “Whatta Man”) before reverting to their regularly-scheduled programming of grunge and adult alternative.

Now don’t get me wrong—as anyone who knows me will (often regrettably) attest, my love of 90s alternative and indie is virtually unparalleled. But there was just so much more to the decade than that. If you were actually to believe this box as a narrative of the timeline of 90s pop music, then dance music only experienced a few last gasps of mainstream success at the beginning of the decade before dying out entirely (and all that big beat, “electronica” shit? Never happened), country was essentially non-existent throughout the decade, and hip-hop started out as a novelty genre before peaking early in the decade and essentially fading out by the mid-90s. In fact, the whole second half of the decade is represented with a grand total of two black artists, one of whom is Des’Ree. It’s a sadly myopic, utterly misrepresentative and even (shudder) fairly rockist view of the decade, as if it was taken from the perspective of an alt-rocker who thanks his lucky stars that the 80s are finally over and now “real” music is back.

This wouldn’t be so utterly disappointing if Rhino didn’t get it wonderfully right twice before. Their 80s pop culture set was a thoroughly enjoyable, fascinating look at a decade of fabulous one-offs, novelty singles and totally forgotten trends—a real pop culture set, containing nothing but huge, charting singles, with nary an SST or 4AD group to be found. The 70s set was even better—an anthology of lost classic and near-classic AM pop singles, with virtually no current classic radio staples—stuff that you really had to live through to experience, and great education to kids like me that weren’t around for it. Now, neither of these sets were perfect—the 80s one especially relied a little too heavily on new wave, much to the exclusion of the great R&B and rap acts of the time. But at the absolute least, both sets were utterly alive with the incomparable thrill of possibly dated but still fantastically great pop music. And from the tracklisting offered, this 90s set doesn’t offer very much on that front.

So what I have done here is given the set a complete overhaul. Of the 131 tracks on the original set, I’m only keeping 22, and adding 112 song choices of my own in an effort to paint a diverse, well-rounded, and in my opinion, significantly more accurate portrait of the 90s musical landscape. Now when shaping this tracklisting, I did keep one philosophy from the Rhino set intact, which was to leave out the really huge names of the era—from rock acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Limp Bizkit, R.E.M., U2, Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins to R&B acts like Boyz II Men, TLC, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Brandy and Monica to rappers like Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg, the Notorious B.I.G., the Wu-Tang Clan, 2Pac, Salt-n-Pepa and Nas to pop acts like Madonna, Michael Jackson, the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, N’Sync and Celine Dion. These groups all helped define the 90s, sure, but they also are larger than the 90s, and their music will most likely continue to live on for decades to come, while this set is just about the songs that are the sole possession of the 90s. Because, as the ancient proverb goes, why listen to Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” when you can listen to the Rentals’ “Friends of P”?

Indeed, far more tragic than the exclusion of these legendary acts is the exclusion of countless classic one-offs, forgotten gems and perplexing artifacts that could come from nowhere else but the 90s. So, my most sincere apology to the following artists and songs that this set simply could not find the room for, in roughly chronological order:

Concrete Blonde’s “Joey,” Depeche Mode, Go West’s “King of Wishful Thinking,” Maxi Priest’s “Close to You,” Stevie B.’s “Because I Love You (The Postman Song),” A Tribe Called Quest, Nelson, C&C Music Factory, Happy Mondays’ “Step On,” Rozalla’s “Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good),” Natural Selection’s “Do Anything,” Ralph Tresvant’s “Sensitivity,” The Geto Boys, Main Source’s “Looking at the Front Door,” Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’s “Grey Cell Green,” Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Kiss Them for Me,” Gerardo’s “Rico Suave,” Hi-Five’s “I Like the Way (The Kissing Game),” Big Audio Dynamite’s “Rush,” Extreme’s “More Than Words,” Marc Cohn’s “Wakling in Memphis,” Cracker, Paul Westerberg, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You),” The Pharcyde, Shakespear’s Sister’s “Stay,” CeCe Pennison’s “Finally,” The Heights’ “How Do You Talk to an Angel,” Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” Gang Starr’s “Dwyck,” Belly’s “Feed the Tree,” Blind Mellon’s “No Rain,” Haddaway’s “What is Love?,” Captain Hollywood Project’s “More and More,” RuPaul’s “Supermodel,” Souls of Mischief’s “’93 �til Infinity,” Dino’s “Oooh Child,” the Lemonheads, Stereo MCs’ “Connected,” SWV, Zhane’s “Hey Mr. DJ,” King Missile’s “Detachable Penis,” Onyx’s “Slam,” Real McCoy’s “Another Night,” Cypress Hill, Us3’s “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia),” 69 Boyz’s “Tootsee Roll,” DRS Gangsta’s “Gangsta Lean,” Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom,” Goo Goo Dolls, Elatsica’s “Connection,” Total’s “Cant You See,” Rednex’s “Cotton Eye Joe,” 311, Luscious Jackson’s “Naked Eye,” Sublime, Dishwalla’s “Counting Blue Cars,” Toni Braxton’s “You’re Making Me High,” Quad City DJs’ “C’mon Ride It (The Train),” Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo,” Aqua’s “Barbie Girl,” Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha,” Hanson, Fatboy Slim, Mase’s “Feel So Good,” Chemical Bros., The Prodigy, Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing,” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Fuel’s “Shimmer,” Placebo’s “Pure Morning,” Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply,” Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You,” Fiona Apple, Jewel, Fastball’s “The Way,” Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” INOJ’s “Love You Down,” Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz’s “Déjà Vu,” Sarah McLachlan, Bran Van 3000’s “Drinking in LA,” The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s “Jump, Jive an’ Wail,” Orgy’s “Blue Monday,” Monifah’s “Touch It,” Santana & Rob Thomas’ “Smooth,” The Roots’ “You Got Me,” Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” Vitamin C’s “Smile,” 5ive’s “When the Lights Go Out,” Jennifer Paige’s “Crush,” and JT Money’s “Who Dat?”

I love you all beyond belief, and your excluded presence just goes to show what a hell of a decade the 90s were. And if those of you reading who can’t believe I could make a 90s set without all these great ones—just read on…

(Songs also included on the original set are bolded)



01. Vanilla Ice – “Ice, Ice Baby” (Year: 1990, Peak Chart Position: #1)
There are only two songs that could possibly be momentous enough to open this set—MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby”. Rhino chose the former, and I chose the latter—for variety’s sake, but moreso because it’s by far the better song. Really, aside from all that sampling business and his cred issues, there’s nothing wrong with this song at all, and it still makes for a hell of an opener. So stop whatever it is you’re doing at the moment, and make time for a little collaboration and listening.

02. Black Box – “Everybody Everybody (1990, #8 Pop, #1 Dance)
Despite having the biggest-selling single of ’89 in the UK with the even better “Ride on Time,” Black Box didn’t really break in the states until “Everybody Everybody,” a simple but infectious dance-pop number sung by diva-house dilettante Martha Wash. The equally popular “Strike It Up” is just as good, but doesn’t quite sum up the sound of early-90s dance as well as this.

03. Lisa Stansfield – “All Around the World” (1990, #3 Pop, #1 Dance)
Better known to people of my age as That Song Puff Daddy Sampled for “Been Around the World” by That Chick Who Walks Down the Street Naked in That Video (remember that??), but it’s actually a much better song than could be expected from such evidence. A delicate but soulfully sung song about romantic devotion and penance, on top a shuffling, quintessentially early-90s dance beat. No 10-minute Raiders of the Lost Ark-style video starring Jennifer Lopez, though.

04. The Sundays – “Here’s Where the Story Ends” (1990, #1 Modern Rock)
A Smiths-inspired (not the last time we’ll hear from them on this disc) indie-pop tune with a brilliant, tender vocal from Sundays vocalist Harriet Wheeler. A benchmark college rock tune, and one that The Sundays wouldn’t be able to mach for seven years, with the almost-as-good “Summertime”.

05. DNA feat. Suzanne Vega – “Tom’s Diner (Remix)” (1990, #5 Pop, #5 Dance)
Did you ever notice how…Suzanne Vega was making questionably witty observations at Tom’s Diner before the Seinfeld crew made the art a national institution? Coupled with an utterly addictive proto-trip-hop beat (take that, Soul II Soul!), this is probably one of the ten most unmistakably (and unforgettably) 90s songs of the decade. Unsurprisingly, neither Suzanne nor remixers DNA were able to follow this one up.

06. Digital Underground – “The Humpty Dance” (1990, #11 Pop, #1 Rap)
C’mon, Rhino—as long as you’re gonna include nothing but novel pop-rap singles to represent the genre, the least you can do is include the best of the bunch! Six and a half minutes of classic line after classic line (“I get stupid / I shoot an arrow like cupid / I’ll use a word that don’t mean nothin’ / like loopeded”) and of course, that irrepressible bass groove. Doooo doooooooooo, dooo doooooooooooo, doooo doooooooo…

07. Jane Child – “Don’t Wanna Fall in Love” (1990, #2 Pop)
The winner of the greatest-disparity-between-look-and-sound award of the early 90, it’s hard to imagine pop gems like this coming out of someone with the near-goth look of Jane Child. Kelly Osbourne before Kelly Osbourne? Either way, killer song.

08. Urban Dance Squad – “Deeper Shade of Soul” (1990, #21 Pop)
I always pictured music a little more energetic coming out of a group called Urban Dance Squad, but this MTV Buzz Bin classic is quite possibly the laziest-sounding rap song of all-time (if you can even call it rap to begin with—it almost sounds like Pop Will Eat Itself trying their hand at an A Tribe Called Quest song). Rap wouldn’t sound like this for too much longer, but it was pretty cool while it did.

09. Soho – “Hippychick” (1990, #14 Pop, #1 Dance)
One of the greatest “oh, I love this song! Wait a minute…what song is this?” jokes of the 90s, Soho lifted wholesale the immortal opening riff to The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” for the intro and hook to their only hit, “Hippychick.” It’ll continue to trip up name that tune contestants for a long time to come, but apart from that it’s an unfortunately forgotten classic of sorts, infectious in that “Tom’s Diner” sort of way while making only about half as much sense than that song did.

10. Bell Biv DeVoe – “Poison” (1990, #3 Pop, #1 R&B)
Bap bap-a-dap bap-a-dap-a-dap BAM! Bap bap-a-dap bap-a-dap-a-dap BAM!. I hope I shouldn’t have to say more than that.

11. Mellow Man Ace – “Mentirosa” (1990, #14 Pop)
Gerardo may have gotten all the I Love the 90s credit (and not necessarily undeservedly so), but this song holds up far better as an example of proto-’99 Latin Pop. Riding a fantastic sample of Santana’s “Evil Ways,” MMA one-ups even Gerardo by weaving in and out of Spanish in the same verse, even the same line. Hott.

12. Deee-Lite – “Groove is in the Heart” (1990, #4 Pop, #1 Dance)
I probably didn’t even need to include this, as its easily still one of the most-loved dance records of the last 20 years or so, but a ’90 comp would still feel utterly incomplete without it. Plus, it helps make up for my not giving Q-Tip his due elsewhere.

13. Snap – “The Power” (1990, #2 Pop, #1 Dance)
Not that aren’t other classic parts of this song too—especially in Turbo B’s clumsy but undeniably forceful rap verse (“SO PEACE! STAY OFF MY BACK! OR I WILL ATTACK! AND YOU DON’T WANT THAT!”), but this son is still about that five-second breakdown. DUR-DUR-DUR-DAP DAP DAP DUR-DUR-DUR-DAP DAP DAP ”I GOT THA POWAH!!!” Will be used in commercials for as long as they exist.

14. Michael Penn – “No Myth” (1990, #14 Pop, #4 Modern Rock)
Exactly two facts about Michael Penn are public domain—first, that he’s married to That Chick from the Magnolia Soundtrack (formerly That Chick Who Got Slapped Around in That 80s Video) and second, that he somewhat inexplicably won the 1990 VMA for this song, This is enough for him to deserve recognition on the set. Song’s pretty good too.

15. Material Issue – “Valerie Loves Me” (1991, #3 Modern Rock)
As Greg Kihn would say, they don’t write �em like that anymore. A swinging and addictive rock/pop song with a great title—the exact sort of song that, for better and worse, we’d have to permanently say goodbye to in only a couple of months. Definitely refresh your memory on this one.

16. Amy Grant – “Baby, Baby” (1991, #1)
She doesn’t have an ounce of credibility, but suffice to say, if all Christian Pop was this good, The Passion of the Christ would’ve been a totally redundant exercise in preaching to the converted.

17. La Tour – “People are Still Having Sex” (1991, #35 Pop, #1 Dance)
”Hello lover!” A throbbingly hypnotic house tune able to cross over due to its provocative spoken-word vocal hook (“although you can’t see them / or hear their breathing sounds / someone in this world is having sex RIGHT NOW!!”) The insinuation the song makes about AIDS being a conspiracy to stop people from fucking is um, a little un-PC, but hey, it was the 90s or something.

18. Jesus Jones – “Right Here, Right Now” (1991, #2 Pop, #1 Modern Rock)
When it comes to bands that ruled the world for exactly one year, it doesn’t get much more exemplary than Jesus Jones in ’91—perhaps the biggest band in the world at the time, but post-Nirvana, people didn’t want anything to do with �em. Appropriately enough, the song’s attitude is about as opposing to grunge as possible, a wide-eyed and enthusiastic statement of unabashed optimism. This is one for the ages.

19. Nice & Smooth – “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow” (1992, #44 Pop, #1 Rap)
Turns out I got the year sort of wrong on this one, but the song technically came out in ’91 and Rhino messed it up once or twice themselves. Plus, this song is a perfect closer to disc 1—a brutal undercutting to “Right Here, Right Now”’s unbridled enthusiasm, with Smooth’s 2nd verse ranking among the most powerful in earl-90s rap. An always-appropriate “Fast Car” sample doesn’t hurt neither.



01. Color Me Badd – “I Wanna Sex You Up” (1991, #2 Pop, #1 R&B)
What on earth inspired Rhino to select Ice-T’s “New Jack Hustler” as the essential 90s tune from the New Jack City soundtrack instead of this? I mean yeah, good song and all, but seriously—this is about as essential 90s as it got. The lyrical faux pas have been well pored over (making love until we drown, doing it �til we both wake up, etc.) but even if the song was nothing but those oooh-ooohs and that timeless vocal sample—you know the one—it’d still be essential to this set.

02. EMF – “Unbelievable” (1991, #1)
Yeah, just try to find me a song that starts better than this one. Just two seconds in and you’re already in the crux of the song, utterly transfixed. Even a song as memorable as “I Wanna Sex You Up” is instantly forgotten about. Frankly, this whole song is fantastic—possible heresy, but give me this over just about anything by the Roses or the Mondays any day of the week.

03. Enigma – “Sadness, Pt. 1” (1991, #5 Pop, #1 Dance)
In a decade that saw an album by the Benedictine Monks (not the ska band of the same name which probably exists, either) hit the top five, it’d be criminal to leave of the hypnotic easy-listening of Enigma. And once again, it’s far more of a proto-trip-hop track than probably anyone wants to own up to—remove the Gregorian chants or whatever and you’ve basically got a Massive Attack song.

04. Naughty By Nature – “O.P.P.” (1991, #6 Pop, #1 Rap)
Some people yell “SLAYER!!!!!!!!!!!” at crowded concerts to see who in the crowd is down by noticing who responds by yelling “SLAYER!!!!!!!!!!!!” Me, I yell out “YOU DOWN WIT’ O.P.P.???”. Needless to say, it’s safe to assume that anyone who answers back “YEAH, YOU KNOW ME!!!” is pretty down.

05. Shanice – “I Love Your Smile” (1991, #2 Pop, #1 R&B)
This is the second most infectious song in history, behind the theme song to I Dream of Jeanie. And that’s a very, very good thing, but I hope for your sake that your head isn’t planning on doing anything important in the week or so after you listen to this song.

06. Queensryche – “Silent Lucidity” (1991, #9 Pop, #1 Modern Rock)
One of the great power ballads of the pre-grunge 90s (and a shockingly delicate one at that), and a favorite of vocabulary enthusiasts all over the country. By the way, I looked it up—“lucidity” actually is a real word. Yeah, I was surprised too.

07. The KLF – “3 A.M. Eternal” (1991, #5 Pop, #1 Dance)
“KAYYYY ELLLL EFFFFF!!!!!! UH-HUH, UH-HUH, UH-HUH. Bleep bloop. Bloop bleep. KLF IS GONNA ROCK YOU!!! I tried to make the set without these guys, but it just didn’t take. Plus, even if they hadn’t been the coolest human beings of ever, they made some damn fine stadium house.

08. Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch – “Good Vibrations” (1991, #1)
Yeah, Boogie Nights was great and all, but he’ll still never probably top this—the epitome of pop music in 1991. And what did Rhino Records include instead of this? Jane Siberry? Come on, come on, Rhino! FEEL IT FEEL IT!!!!!

09. PM Dawn – “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” (1991, #1)
As with Michael Penn, exactly two facts are public domain about PM Dawn (not counting that they sampled Spandau Ballet, proving the original song’s awesomeness). One, that they hit #1 on the week that Billboard put Nielsen scanning into effect, and two, that they continued to be championed by influential but hopelessly rockist music critic Jim DeRogatis, and by absolutely nobody else. And once again, this would be enough to get the song on here, but it happens to be awesome as well.

10. En Vogue – “Free Your Mind” (1992, #8 Pop)
This song continues to fucking blow me away every time I hear it. Harder rocking than “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” combined, with every line spit with the venom of a thousand California Mountain Snakes. And cowbell! If Martin Luther King had played this song instead of the “I have a dream speech”…imagine the possibilities.

11. Screaming Trees – “Nearly Lost You” (1992, #5 Rock)
Ah yes, grunge. Well, it was there too, even if it wasn’t quite as dominant as Rhino would suggest. And the best of the second-stringers of the genre were probably the Screaming Trees, with this song being a standout even on the greatest existing grunge document, the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s Singles. While there are dozens of grunge songs you probably never need to hear again, this is one you should remind yourself about.

12. Wreckx-n-Effect – “Rump Shaker” (1992, #2 Pop, #1 Rap)
The Beatles or the Stones? Blur or Oasis? Debbie or Tiffany? “Baby Got Back” or “Rump Shaker”? Well, unlike those other debates, where there are compelling arguments to each side, there is absolutely no argument here. Smooth where BGB is rough, funky where BGB is sterile, clever where BGB is dumb, compelling where BGB is alienating, there is absolutely no contest here—Wreckx-n-Effect all the goddamn way. And a big fuck you in advance to the next person who ruins my karaoke outing by thinking doing an obnoxious rendition of the most obnoxious song of the 90s is a good idea.

13. Jade – “Don’t Walk Away” (1992, #4 Pop, #2 R&B)
As if more proof was needed that I buckle to a modicum of cowbell, here comes Jade’s “Don’t Walk Away”. There’s more to the song than cowbell, but only as much as there needs to be, which really isn’t much.

14. Tom Cochrane – “Life as a Highway” (1992, #6 Pop)
Cited by Rolling Stone, I believe, as the worst song of the decade. And that’s not entirely inaccurate, I suppose, but when you’re removed far enough from the 90s as we are now, hey, it doesn’t sound half bad. Still, the fact that there’s not a radio station in this country that’d dare to play this song again is probably a good thing. HARMONICA SOLO!!!

15. Paperboy – “Ditty” (1992, #10 Pop)
A phat, phat track from the nine-deuce. The song’s title is satisfyingly accurate. Not too much else to be said about this, but I think that’s for the best.

16. Black Sheep – “The Choice is Yours” (1992, #57 Pop, #1 Rap)
All right, if I was really sequencing with my heart here, for my alternative rap track of choice I’d put something REALLY dated like the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’s “Television: The Drug of the Nation,” but unfortunately I had to go with something that was actually good. Anyway, this song still rocks, probably the best of the Native Tongues-associated singles of the early 90s.

17. LA Style – “James Brown is Dead” (1992, #59 Pop, #4 Dance)
Best known as the first rave track to bust the Billboard Hot 100, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer track—this thing just destroys, a true dance-pop juggernaut of a song. Possibly tied with the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” for the most esoteric James Brown reference in pop history, too.

18. Temple of the Dog – “Hunger Strike” (1992, #4 Mainstream Rock)
And we finish things off on this disc with the first classic grunge power ballad. Not necessarily better, but possibly more compelling then anything Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder did with their more famous groups, and a sing-along track for the ages. Here, you be Eddie, I’ll be Chris. “GOOOOIIIIIIIINNNNNNNN HUUUUUNGGGGGRYYYYYYYY-AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH



01. Mr. Big – “To Be With You” (1992, #1)
The least hairy of all the hair-metal power ballads, and a sort of death knell for the genre at large (as if it needed another). Still, as far as death knells go, it’s one of the more enjoyable ones, and a nice, low-key contrast to the gloriously overwrought melodrama of the last disc’s closer.

02. Soup Dragons – “Divine Thing” (1992, #35 Pop, #3 Modern Rock)
One of the last great indie dance tunes, the Soup Dragons added a Stones-y southern rock feel to the EMF formula (even covering their “I’m Free” for their first big hit), pre-dating the moves towards similar territory that Ride and Primal Scream would make a few years later. They’ve since become a musical punch line of sorts (and what would you expect, with a name like that) but this is still a mean fucking tune.

03. K.W.S. – “Please Don’t Go” (1992, #6 Pop)
A definitive 90s one-off, a song good enough to be totally satisfying in itself without making you want to hear a second more from the band (and considering that their only album got the dreaded one-and-a-half star rating on the AMG, probably for the best). Also, a word to the wise for SoulSeekers—most people have this labeled as being by The KLF.

04. Arrested Development – “People Everyday” (1992, #8 Pop, #1 Rap)
Is there any rap artist more stuck in the 90s than Arrested Development? Stuck in a radio no-man’s-land between modern rap and adult-alternative and permanently uncool after g-funk’s breakthrough, it’s unlikely that you’ve heard any of their three big singles since the decade ended. This is my personal favorite—Speech (preaching? bragging?) about “taking out [a] brother for being rude” and “disrespecting [his] black queen” while ripping the chorus from Sly’s “Everyday People,” and ending with that old dude doing his old dude shit. Good times.

05. Sophie B. Hawkins – “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover” (1992, #5 Pop)
An impossibly sexy musical seduction, caused a stir at the time for being one of the first obvious lesbian pop songs. Then came t.A.t.U., and suddenly Sophie was looking pretty McLachlanish by comparison. I learned recently that the debate over which is better, this or her other hit, “As I Lay Me Down,” is a much hotter one than I realized. Which do you think? Leave it in the comments section or something.

06. The Breeders – “Cannonball” (1993, #44 Pop, #2 Modern Rock)
Despite the disproportional amount of it on Rhino’s box, indie rock still did see its greatest mainstream influence in the 90s, none greater than with Beck’s “Loser” and this song, one of the best loved tunes of the decade. I mean seriously, does anyone not like this song? I can’t imagine why people like that would choose to exist.

07. Positive K – “I Got a Man” (1993, #14 Pop, #1 Rap)
A lyrical tango of operatic proportions. The back-and-forth in this song is psychologically complex enough to create college study courses around, I could spend weeks analyzing this thing. Plus, you could count the unclassic lines in this song on one hand. The luck we had to get both this and B-Rock and the Biz’s “My Baby’s Daddy” (sadly not included here) in the same decade is truly fantastic.

08. Silk – “Freak Me” (1993, #1)
Ten Reasons Why Silk’s “Freak Me” is 100000x Better Than “Sexual Healing”

I can say no more on this front.

09. Inner Circle – “Bad Boys” (1993, #8 Pop)
One of those songs that for years I figured had no actual artist behind it, just sorta existing in public domain. Turns out these guys actually had another hit, “Sweat (A la la la la Long),” but that wasn’t in COPS so I’ve never heard it. While I’m at it, apologies to Shaggy, Snow and Ini Kamoze for their exclusion on this set, hopefully this song’ll be enough to cover.

10. Jordy – “Dur Dur d’Etre Bebe!” (1993, #58 Pop, #11 Latin Pop)
Yeah, Latin Pop, huh? Anyway, Jordy—European megastar, and the youngest performer (at five) to ever hit the top 100 in the U.S.. The novelty-only appeal of this song may or may not be higher than the Jackson Five, Jordy one-ups the Jackson Five in credibility by actually singing what he knows (the title translates to “It’s tough to be a baby”). Twice as catchy as Another Bad Creation’s “Playground,” too.

11. The Proclaimers – “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” (1993, #3 Pop)
This one’s certainly stood the test of time. Not much else to say, you know how great it is.

12. Toad the Wet Sprocket – “Walk on the Ocean” (1993, #18 Pop, #10 Top 40)
Yeah, like I’m not gonna include a song on a decade box set by a band called Toad the Wet Sprocket. Is there some sort of strategy involved in giving your band the lamest, wussiest name humanly possible? Well, maybe so, since these guys actually had a whole handful of hits, of which this is easily the best. Still, the next person to compare these guys to the Gin Blossoms is gonna get socked in the eye.

13. K7 – “Come Baby Come” (1993, #19 Pop, #5 Dance)
Possibly the best pop-rap tune of the first-half of the decade not done by Naughty By Nature. Nobody integrates sports into their rap hits like this anymore. Suh-wing batta BATTA BATTA SUH-WING!!!!!

14. Robin S. – “Show Me Love” (1993, #5 Pop, #1 Dance)
Not many people remember this song, but just about everyone who does absolutely loves it, and for good reason. That minimal, spooky hook is ridiculously compelling, and Robin (no, not the “Do You Know (What it Takes)” Robyn, though she’s cool too) glides over the beat with unbelievable grace. This is definitely one worth a download.

15. Digable Planets – “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” (1993, #15 Pop, #1 Dance)
Ways in which the Digable Planets are like that: Cool, chill, peace, grooving, smooth, jive, rolling, thick, stacking, down, black, funking, phat, in, swinging, jazzing, freaking, out. Y’know, just for reference’s sake.

16. Gin Blossoms – “Hey Jealousy” (1993, #25 Pop, #4 Modern Rock)
Single of the decade.

17. Ice Cube – “It Was a Good Day” (1993, #15 Pop, #1 Rap)
As concluded in a recent webboard discussion, if you don’t know all the words to this, “Nuthin’ But a “G” Thing” and “Regulate,” you weren’t alive in the 90s. Sounds about right. The first thing I’m going to do when I make my first million is bribe a Goodyear employee to spell out “ICE CUBE’S A PIMP” in a blimp over Compton. I think Cube would see the humor in it, don’t you?

18. 4 Non-Blondes – “What’s Up?” (1993, #14 Pop)
The unbelievable hatred that 90s survivors continue to harbor for this song absolutely astounds me. This is a song that absolutely no one will try to offend, a truly rare case in this day and age. Perhaps I just wasn’t paying enough attention in ’93 to truly comprehend this song’s reign of terror, but honestly, the thing still sounds damn good to me. Sorry, guys—trust me, the next song’ll make up for it.

19. Bizarre Inc. – “I’m Gonna Get You” (1993, #47 Pop, #1 Dance)
Utterly ecstatic, and as good as 90s dance got, underground or mainstream. If you take one thing out of this article, the need to hear this song again should be it.



01. The Offspring – “Come Out and Play (Keep �em Separated)” (1994, #1 Modern Rock)
Green Day are a bit too timeless to be included on this set, but The Offspring always manage to hover at exactly one rung below them, with every hit single they have making you go “OK, this must be their last one”. Technically, “Self Esteem” might be the better song, but this is more TOPICAL and they’re both great anyway.

02. Lucas – “Lucas with the Lid Off” (1994, #29 Pop, #22 Modern Rock)
Wow, modern rock? Not on my station, anyway. Lucas’s sole hit has been given new life recently due to being included on the fantastic Michel Gondry DVD (the video being one of Gondry’s best—no small feat). But the song is still surprisingly great even without it, on par with Us3 and the Digable Planets for the best jazz-rap one-off. Plus, how much fun is that chorus? Spread the vibes, kid.

03. 20 Fingers feat. Gilette – “Short Dick Man” (1994, #14 Pop, #3 Dance)
The most emasculating song humanly impossible? This song probably terrorized dudes on the dance-floor for much of ’94, I can only imagine. As such, perfect fodder for a dance-pop crossover smash. Never heard the radio edit of this one (“Short Short Man”), but it sounds, uh, less effective.

04. Candlebox – “Far Behind” (1994, #18 Pop, #4 Mainstream Rock)
In music crit talk, saying “Candlebox” is actually shorthand for “fucking awful 90s alternative, so shitty that it proves that Nirvana actually did more harm than good” I continue to not comprehend why this is, though—kinda bland I guess, but I always liked the riff on this one, and damn, what a chorus. C’mon, give it a chance. It won’t bite.

05. Craig Mack – “Flava in Ya Ear” (1994, #9 Pop, #1 Rap)
No, not the remix that the song was really popular for, because that guest-laden revision really short-changed Mack’s abilities, which I think are still fairly underrated. Honestly, I’d put this up with any of Bad Boy’s other finest moments, including any of Biggie’s hits. Plus, that beat even makes Ja Rule sounds good.

06. Sagat – “Funk Dat” (1994, #63 Pop, #3 Dance)
Question. Why is it that Rhino finds time for both Bad Religion and Soul Coughing on their ’94 disc, yet doesn’t include this decidedly non-timeless classic? Maaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnn, FUNK DAT!!!!!!!!!!!! Get a new compiler!!

07. Rappin’ 4-Tay feat. The Spinners – “I’ll Be Around” (1994, #39 Pop, #6 Rap)
Man, talk about an inspired sample choice. There simply couldn’t be a more perfect backing for 4-Tay than The Spinners’ 70s soul classic, and he manages the near-impossible by actually doing the sample justice with his absolutely brilliant verses. One of the set’s biggest lost classics.

08. Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories – “Stay (I Missed You)” (1994, #1)
I think of all the inexplicable exclusions on Rhino’s set, this one angered me the most. I hope for their sake it was due to licensing issues, because otherwise, man have they lost their touch. Joni Mitchell never had a song that was half this good, and the 90s in general didn’t get much better than this.

09. Ahmad – “Back in the Day” (Remix) (1994, #26 Pop, #3 Rap)
Ahmad got accused of being sort of G-funk lite, which isn’t entirely inaccurate but also isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ahmad’s whiny, Pharcyde-style flow perfectly fits the wistfulness of the beat and the song’s tone, and the whole thing sounds appropriately un-intimidating.. Naturally, Ahmad didn’t have a shot in hell at following this one up.

10. Crystal Waters – “100% Pure Love” (1994, #11 Pop, #1 Dance)
Good title, good song. Not as, uh, socially conscious as her “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” (no more or less effective than Phil Collins’s “Another Day in Paradise,” I suppose), but probably the better dance song.

11. James – “Laid” (1994, #64 Pop, #3 Rock)
Basically, the main case for the 90s being as good as a karaoke decade as the 80s. Provided you can manage at least a competent yodel, anyway.

12. Gabrielle – “Dreams” (1994, #26 Pop, #1 Dance)
Known primarily by new audiences (including myself) as That Song on the Magnolia Soundtrack That Isn’t Supertramp or Aimee Mann. I hated it on that album (though to be fair, Supertramp is always a tough act to follow) but it sounds much better here. I don’t understand why it topped the dance charts, though—is there a remix that I’m missing or something?

13. Doop – “Doop” (1994, #2 Dance)
I suppose we’re due for a Charleston revival every 50 years or so. Here’s looking forward to 2044.

14. Warren G. feat. Nate Dogg – “Regulate” (1994, #2 Pop, #1 Rap)
The song that cemented the reputations of the two coolest human beings in history—Nate Dogg and Kiefer Sutherland. Warren G. is like a distant, distant third--though he still acquits himself relatively admirably, he just can’t compare to “but you can’t be just any GEEK off the streets” and “I laid all them busters down / I let my gat explode / now I’m switching my mind back into freak mode.” Who could? No one, that’s who.

15. Stone Temple Pilots – “Interstate Love Song” (1994, #1 Mainstream Rock)
The one post-grunge song that even most haters can seem to agree on, and for good reason. The video is still kind of ridiculous (though Scott Weiland looks damn good in a feather boa) but the song is a gem.

16. Edwyn Collins – “A Girl Like You” (1995, #32 Pop, #7 Modern Rock)
If a mix exists that can’t be improved with the addition of this song, I haven’t heard it (and I certainly haven’t made it). Sorry to all you OJ obsessives out there, but Edwyn’s prior career is absolutely shit compared to this song. Also, not like I even need to say it, but EMPIRE RECORDS 4EVA BITCHEZ

17. Everything But the Girl – “Missing (Club Remix)” (1995, #2 Pop, #1 Dance)
These guys always seemed a little bit too cool for the mainstream, so it seems logical enough that this song is more or less their entire pop culture legacy. Good song for sole representation, though. And by the way, it’s “and I miss you / Like the deserts miss the rain,” not “like the desert’s mystery”. It’s a simile, you see.

18. The Rentals – “Friends of P.” (1995, #82 Pop, #7 Modern Rock)
Absolutely, 100% as good as any of Weezer’s mid-90s classics. Well, maybe 98%. Classic in either event. Great video, too.

19. Take That – “Back for Good” (1995, #7 Pop, #1 Top 40)
They may have besot the UK like a plague of sorts (eight number ones in three years—sounds about right) but us USers had the luxury of them only being around for one fantastic ballad and then not bothering us until Robbie Williams had a similarly limited solo career half a decade later. For this, lord, we are thankful.

20. Deep Blue Something – “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1995, #5 Pop, #1 Top 40)
The most positively uncommitted song of the 90s, one of the most hotly debated tunes of the last 25 years or so, and a personal choice for MOR tune of the decade. “It’s plain to see we’re over / and I hate when things are over”—testify on, DBS!!!



01. Skee-Lo – “I Wish” (1995, #13 Pop, #8 Rap)
Emo-rap at least a half decade before Atmosphere. This song was probably big enough to get Skee-Lo exactly one ’64 Impala, one rabbit in a hat, one bat and one girl who looked good (that he could call). I doubt the song had much of an effect on his height or baller status, unfortunately.

02. Del Amitri – “Roll to Me” (1995, #10 Pop, #1 Top 40)
I spent the great majority of my life hating this song until giving in to it completely just a week or so ago. Yeah, I know, it’s great, it’s great. Plus, at an innocuous 2:12, it’s a great mixtape inclusion.

03. Dionne Farris – “I Know” (1995, #4 Pop, #1 Top 40)
Apparently Dionne Farris was understandably discontent with her sole contribution to pop culture being providing the “A game of horseshoes? A GAME OF HORSESHOES??!??!!??!!” part in Arrested Development’s “Tennessee,” so she decided to show up again for long enough to have exactly one crossover pop/rock hit before going back under. Kicks the shit out of Des’Ree, for certain.

04. Soul Asylum – “Misery” (1995, #20 Pop, #1 Modern Rock)
You didn’t honestly think you were going to get out of this box set without some SOUL ASYLUM, did you? My personal choice would have been “Somebody to Shove,” but that wasn’t quite popular enough, and the most logical choice would’ve been “Runaway Train,” but everybody hates that song (for some reason), so I split the difference and chose the fairly popular but only slightly despised “Misery”. Not like the song isn’t great too, though. FRUSTRATED INCORPORATED!!!!!!!!!!

05. The Folk Implosion – “Natural One” (1995, #29 Pop, #4 Modern Rock)
One of the coolest songs top 40 hits in history, and one that simply couldn’t have happened in any other decade. However in Rhino’s opinion, this song is clearly no match for Stereolab. Fuck �em.

06. Adina Howard – “Freak Like Me” (1995, #2 Pop)
A smooth, velvet 90s R&B classic on par with TLC’s “Creep” and Toni Braxton’s “You’re Making Me High,” but less remembered due to Adina’s career quickly fizzling out afterwards. The song was given new life by Richard X and The Sugababes’ much fawned over cover over the music to Gary Numan’s “Are �Friends’ Electric?,” but for my money, this is still the better version.

07. Better Than Ezra – “Good” (1995, #30 Pop, #1 Modern Rock)
Better Than Ezra were one of the best of the post-grunge groups in the mid-90s, with a near-inimitable string of great rock/pop singles ending with �98’s “At the Stars”. My personal favorite is “In the Blood,” but this is the one that started it all. The Deal-esque bass line is the key, but the song’s real highlight is the “yeah, that’s right!!” screech that ends the song. I bet Beck is pissed off he didn’t think of that first.

08. Republica – “Ready to Go” (1996, #56 Pop, #7 Modern Rock)
Encapsulating about a decade’s worth of British dance music (former bands of the members include N-Joi, The Shamen and Flowered Up), Republica’s alt-dance sound found them all-too-briefly catapulted them into the spotlight. The Republica revival is coming around again soon, though, and if I were you, I’d decide about now which side I was on so I wouldn’t get left behind.

09. Blackstreet feat. Dr. Dre & Queen Pen – “No Diggity” (1996, #1)
Winner of the “rest of their catalogue sorta sucks, but MAN is that one song awesome” award of the 90s. There really isn’t any argument to support this NOT being one of the best singles of the 90s, but Blackstreet were never able to even come close to equaling it, before or afterwards. They owe Dre a big thank you note for this one. And god, what a video. Bring back Lil’ Penny!!!!!

10. The Cardigans – “Lovefool” (1996, #1 Top 40)
“Disco’s not dead” supporters should use this song as an example more—total disco tune, despite the modern rock play. Incidentally it’s fantastic, the kind of song that no band could ever hope to equal in terms of pure pop perfection (obviously, they didn’t even come close).

11. Bush – “Glycerine” (1996, #28 Pop, #4 Modern Rock)
Glycerine, n : a sweet syrupy trihydroxy alcohol obtained by saponification of fats and oils [syn: glycerol, glycerin].

Awwwwwwwww, GLYCERINE!!!!!!!!! GLYCERINE!!!!!!!!!!!!

12. Spacehog – “In the Meantime” (1996, #32 Pop, #1 Modern Rock)
Supposedly there was a whole glam-rock revival going on in the mid-90s, but this was the only part of it that I noticed. That said, I’d still take this over T. Rex any day.

13. Garbage – “Stupid Girl” (1996, #24 Pop, #2 Modern Rock)
Lyrics are utter nonsense, but all the better for Butch Vig to weave his nifty, sparkly production around. Guitar stabs, piano tickling, shoegaze sheen and a “Train in Vain”-gone disco beat complement the still-hott-at-the-time Manson’s sultry vocals about absolutely nothing to utterly fucking brilliant results. Seriously, what a great song.

14. Robert Miles – “Children” (1996, #21 Pop, #1 Dance)
Take that, the Future Sound of London!! Quite possibly the last instrumental track that will ever hit the top 40, Miles’ pop-trance hokum briefly had the whole nation hypnotized (including my summer camp’s magic teacher, who always used the song during exhibitions). If Hanson and the Spice Girls never happened, we’d still have chart-crashers like this. I leave whether or not that is a good thing to your discretion.

15. Primitive Radio Gods – “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hands” (1996, #1 Modern Rock)
I may be the only person in the world who has this association, but when I think 90s, the first thing that comes to mind is Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hands”. A #1 Modern Rock hit despite that the song has no easily discernable rock qualities (dance beat, blues vocals, no guitars), the song to me defines that brief moment in time after the death of grunge and before the rise of nu-metal where nobody had any idea what to do and so people did everything. That moment is the 90s, for me.

16. Gina G. – “Oooh Ahh…Just a Little Bit” (1996, #12 Pop, #5 Top 40)
Hi-NRG is sadly underrepresented on this box, lacking tracks from La Bouche, Amber, Real McCoy, Culture Beat and others, but I try to make up for it with the inclusion of this 90s dance gem. Just a little bit! A little bit more! classic.

17. Nada Surf – “Popular” (1996, #11 Modern Rock)
“Being attractive is the most important thing there is. If you want to catch the biggest fish in your pond, you have to be as attractive as popular. Make sure to keep your hair spotless and clean. Wash it at least every two weeks. Once every two weeks!! And if you see Johnny Football hero in the hall, TELL HIM HE PLAYED A GREAT GAME!!!!!! TELL HIM YOU LIKED HIS ARTICLE IN THE NEWSPAPER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

18. Jars of Clay – “Flood” (1996, #37 Pop, #12 Modern Rock)
It takes a special band to get a song about Noah’s Ark into the top 40 and onto modern rock stations, and in the 90s, Jars of Clay were that band. Not that I realized it at the time, of course—it sounds just like Collective Soul’s “The World I Know” and Live’s “Lightning Crashes” to my ears, though I guess those were fairly Christian songs as well. Whtaever, I still love this song. Lift me up!

19. Bone Thugs n Harmony – “Tha Crossroads” (1996, #1)
I once heard this song when I was dreaming, and I burst out crying within my dream. Just utterly sobbing. It was kinda cool, actually. Just that kind of song, I guess.

20. Donna Lewis – “I Love You Always Forever” (1996, #2 Pop, #1 Top 40)
What I wouldn’t give to cavort with Donna Lewis under pure white sheets in a dimly lit room while she cooed this song into my right ear. I get shivers thinking about it.



01. Blink-182 – “Dammit” (1997, #11 Modern Rock)
The “Blitzkrieg Bop” of the 90s? If you told me in ’97 that Blink were going to top this song about a half-dozen times since, I would never have believed you (although they’d do it with their next single, no less). Tom, Mark and Travis, we miss you already.

02. Blur – “Song 2” (1997, #6 Modern Rock)
I’d love to talk to someone American that pays no mind to the UK music scene about Blur vs. Oasis sometime. “What, you mean those drunk brothers that are always fighting with each other and that “WOOHOO!!!!!” band? They were fighting over something?” And yes, I’m aware how hopelessly lame it is of me to put this as the second track on the disc. Get over it.

03. OMC – “How Bizarre” (1997, #1 Top 40)
OMC were the most pimped-out band in the world for exactly one and a half months. How does one apply to the Otaro Millionaires Club anyway? How strictly do they enforce the millionaire thing, exactly? I guess that’s the part of the song that you have to buy the rights to hear. “Every time I look around…

04. Mark Morrison – “Return of the Mack” (1997, #2 Pop, #1 Top 40)
I was able to resist this song for a surprisingly long time, but no more. The ILM crowd still loves this song a little too much to be considered healthy, though. Oh while I’m at it, I may as well mention here that I forgot to include White Town’s “Your Woman” on this disc. Sorry, but you know that song’s overrated anyway.

05. Freaknasty – “Da Dip” (1997, #15 Pop, #4 Rap)
It was instantly forgotten about afterwards (except by ex-Stylus writer Scott Plagenhoef, who continues to insist that it’s one of the best things ever) but in 1997, if you weren’t dippin’, you must’ve been trippin’. And according to my RealPlayer info on Freaknasty, “if Eyes Wide Shut had been a hip-hop production, the orgy scenes would have been scored with Freak’s pornographic bass.” Um, if you say so, RealPlayer.

06. Sneaker Pimps – “6 Underground” (1997, #45 Pop, #7 Modern Rock)
Uh one two, uh one two…” Portishead may have created the trip-hop template, but it’s the Sneaker Pimps that had the real slam dunk with it. Soundtracking a million movies from The Saint to Cruel Intentions, “6 Underground” gradually creeped into the pop culture of the 90s, and even though it was never a real smash hit, I couldn’t imagine the decade without it.

07. Various Artists – “ESPN Jock Jams Megamix” (1997, #31 Pop)
So at this point, you’re probably wondering how I managed to make a 90s box set without 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This,” Tag Team’s “Whoomp! There it Is,” Real 2 Reel’s “I Like ta Move It,” the Outhere Brothers’ “Boom Boom Boom,” 69 Boyz’s “Tootsee Roll,” The Bucketheads’ “The Bomb (These Sounds Swirl Into My Mind)” and C&C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)”? Well, there answer is that ESPN did me the humongous favor of combining all of them for this godsend of a megamix! A sadly overlooked precursor to the mash-up craze that has permeated so much of this decade (take that, Osymyso!!!), this song is simply an essential part of 90s culture, pop or otherwise. Simply enfuego.

08. Reel Big Fish – “Sell Out” (1997, #10 Modern Rock)
Tough, tough choice between this and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get” for the slot of obligatory ska-punk revival track on this set, but I eventually went with RBF because the song never gets played anywhere despite the fact that it’s probably held up much better than the MMBs tune. How long do we have to wait for ska to come back around again, anyway? I can’t take its absence too much longer.

09. Sugar Ray feat. Supercat – “Fly” (1997, #1 Modern Rock, #1 Top 40)
In which the world was introduced to the blonde beauty and pop genius that is Mark McGrath, and everyone’s favorite skat cat got a briefly extended lease of life. They made dancing on the ceiling look twice as fun as Fred Astaire and Lionel Ritchie and had everyone diving for the nearest So-Cal swimming pool. “All around the world, statues crumble for me…

10. The Verve Pipe – “The Freshmen” (1997, #5 Pop, #1 Modern Rock)
Rhino made some pretty WTF decisions with this tracklisting, but none moreso than the inclusion of The Verve Pipe’s “Photograph” (a respectable #6 Modern Rock hit) instead of their smash crossover, “The Freshmen”. Don’t get me wrong—“Photograph” is a nice song and all, but it’s nothing compared to this one, an absolutely devastating portrait of youthful irresponsibility. They played this song at my first college orientation, and I was enthralled to see that just about everyone still knew the words.

11. Puff Daddy feat. The LOX, Lil’ Kim & the Notorious B.I.G. – “It’s All About the Benjamins” (1997, #1 Rap)
Not much of what Puff Daddy did held up very well past the first listen, but this song is great—probably because he does the smart thing and leaves all but the first verse to his far more talented compatriots, including the world’s first taste of Jadakiss and one of Biggie’s all-time best guest verses. And that sample—simple, relentless, unmistakable—provides fantastic support.

12. Third Eye Blind – “Semi-Charmed Life” (1997, #4 Pop, #1 Modern Rock)
At the time, Third Eye Blind got unfortunately lumped in with Matchbox 20 as a third-wave post-grunge bad seemingly set on blanding and hollowing the genre out for good, presumably because both groups had numbers in their names. Hopefully we can see now that that’s not the case, and in fact Stephen Jenkins and co. were head and shoulders above M20 in terms of pop songcraft and writing lyrics that actually have meaning past the way the words sound. This, their first and finest moment, is surely one of the best rock singles of the second half of the decade.

13. Jimmy Ray – “Are You Jimmy Ray?” (1998, #13 Pop, #10 Top 40)
Oh now this is one for the time capsule. An Elvis-by-way-of-Chris-Isaak disciple with an obsessive fear of identity theft, Jimmy Ray’s window of opportunity was just wide enough to briefly sashay his way onto MTV for about a month or so before surrendering to extreme one-hit wonderdom and utterly vanishing—never charting a single or album again. Still, at the very least, it is unlikely that anyone will confuse him with Slim Ray or Link Wray again.

14. K.P. & Envyi – “Swing My Way” (1998, #6 Pop, #5 R&B)
One of a number of R&B/dance hybrids (along with INOJ’s “Love You Down” and the Ghost Town DJs’ “My Boo”) to hit big in the late-90s, with bizarre, juddering electro-inspired beats underneath their sultry, thick voices. It’s fucking cool stuff, and it’s a shame there weren’t more of their kind. I guess this is what we have Crunk-n-B for today (speaking of which—this song mentions the word “crunk” about a half-decade before it became public fare).

15. Natalie Imbruglia – “Torn” (1998, #42 Pop, #1 Top 40)
I don’t think anyone could have expected that this was the last we’d hear from Natalie Imbruglia—when she landed in ’98, she sounded like a megastar (lyrics about lying naked on the floor helping more than a little bit). Stylus editor Todd Burns swears that she’s still got it, and I’ve yet to listen to the evidence to determine whether or not it’s true, but if not, this song definitely suffices for a legacy.

16. Aaliyah feat. Timbaland – “Are You That Somebody?” (1998, #21 Pop, #1 R&B)
Timbaland had other hit singles before this—Ginuwine’s “Pony” and Missy’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” among the biggest—but it was with this single that he truly landed in his public consciousness, his deadpan mutterings and stuttering beats transfixing the nation. The song only hit #21 but I swear it was much, much bigger than that suggests—those baby and cradle-shaking sounds were EVERYWHERE in ’98, and it continues to possibly be Aaliyah’s best-known and most well-loved song, for absolutely good reason.

17. DMX – “How It’s Going Down” (1998, #70 Pop, #19 R&B)
DMX was a truly unique phenomenon of the late-90s (no, Ja Rule doesn’t count)—no other rapper past or present has ever so straddled the line between artistic integrity and utter ridiculousness, deathly serious and utterly laughable at the same time. This one falls more in the former category—still plenty of laughable moments, but coupled with the melancholy beat and the song’s nostalgic video, DMX’s flow has never sounded more…well, credible than it does here. In a perfect world, I would’ve had room for both this and “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem”

18. The Crystal Method – “Busy Child” (1998, #34 Dance)
Another song with a misleading chart peak—despite the greater chart success of Big Beat acts The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, this is the song that got (and still gets) the most radio play, as well as being in countless video games, movies, etc. And not unjustly so—though the accusations of being America’s answer to The Chemical Bros. hung over the boys their whole career, they more than lived up to such expectations, and this song is still a 90s dance classic.

19. Rammstein – “Du Hast” (1998, AMG says this didn’t chart but that could not possibly be the case)
Nu-metal’s greatest second-stringers and all around scary ass dudes with a badass sound. If a song exists that’s more fun to sing along to than this, well, it’s certainly not on this box set.

20. All Saints – “Never Ever” (1998, #4 Pop, #3 Top 40)
Sort of the female Take That—humongous in the UK, one-hit wonders over here. I’d stack this up with the Spice Girls’ best, easy—mostly because of that great spoken word intro, just a fucking brilliant move that immediately grabs your attention, while the rest of the song is more than good enough to not lose it afterwards. A great closer, as well as a necessary respite to the bitter taste of Rammstein.



01. Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy” (1998, #8 Pop, #1 Modern Rock)
Easily one of the strangest top ten hits in history (Pavement sounds like Sister Hazel by comparison) and as much of a death knell for grunge as “To Be With You” was for hair metal. Still, a very cool song with a much, much cooler video, and further proof that all you need is a sex-and-food related title and hook to sell singles in America.

02. Tatyana Ali feat. Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz – “Daydreaming” (1998, #6 Pop, #2 Top 40)
Choosing between this and Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz’s “Déjà Vu” (both of which share the same brilliant “Black Cow” sample) was utter torture, but ultimately I went with this one because it’s got Tariq & Peter on it anyway. It’s probably the better song, too, one of the most deliciously narcotic R&B singles of the decade, even better than fellow Fresh Prince alumni Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It.”

03. Master P. feat. Silkk the Shocker, Mia X., Mystikal & Fiend – “Make �em Say Uggh” (#16 Pop, #11 Rap)
Master P and his crew of No Limit Soldiers were easily among the most despicable figures in late-90s pop, and were responsible for unleashing a dozen or so of the worst, most impossibly unappealing singles of the decade, of which this song is no exception. However, to be honest, this song does pack a certain juggernaut appeal, and is probably more influential on the consequent Southern rap breakthrough than anyone (including me) is willing to admit. I bet David Banner is a big fan.

04. Shania Twain – “You’re Still the One” (1998, #2 Pop, #1 Adult Contemporary)
I probably should’ve gone with something kitschier like “Man! I Feel Like a Woman,” but I still got a soft spot for this song, the one that broke Shania on a mainstream level unparalleled for a 90s country-pop star. And does anyone remember the video? Jesus, that was hott.

05. Barenaked Ladies – “One Week” (1998, #1)
The last uptempo rock song to go to #1, as well as most likely the only one to mention both Sailor Moon and Chickety China, the Chinese Chicken. I’d like to say something cute like “and that’s exactly Barenaked Ladies conquered the world for,” but in reality it was more like two or three weeks.

06. Next – “Too Close” (1998, #1)
All right, raise your hand if you didn’t realize what this song was about until fairly recently. No one? Just me, then? Oh come on, it wasn’t that obvious—they left out the “I wonder if she can tell I’m hard right now” part out of the radio edit, after all. OK, so it was that obvious. Still, that didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment then, and it certainly doesn’t now—an obscene and obscenely great tune.

07. Filter – “Take a Picture” (1999, #12 Pop, #1 Dance)
Probably not as definitively 90s as their “Hey Man, Nice Shot” (ooh, or the great Fatboy Slim remix), but probably the better song and a personal indulgence of sorts. “Could you take my picture? / �coz I won’t remember”—just a fantastic sentiment, in such a glorious, sunkissed song. Yeah, sorry, I’m a sucker for this one. Why the dance chart-topper, though? Crazy kids.

08. Marc Anthony – “I Need To Know” (1999, #3 Pop)
Back before he was Mr. Jennifer Lopez, Marc was one of the better second-tier Latin Poppers, a personal preference over the narcissistic Enrique Iglesias. The way he pronounces “baby girl” on the chorus still cuts to the bone.

09. Jordan Knight – “Give It To You” (1999, #10 Pop)
Of the crop of ex-boy band stars to re-emerge in ’99 (also including former NKotB brother Joey McEntire, Menudo’s Ricky Martin and Take That’s Robbie Williams) Jordan Knight was probably the best and definitely the creepiest. A neat foreshadowing of both JT’s Timbo collaborations and Knight’s skin-crawling stint on The Surreal Life last year.

10. Ol’ Dirty Bastard feat. Kelis – “Got Your Money” (1999, #26 Pop, #6 Rap)
The last gasp of commercial viability in the Wu-Tang camp, and the world’s introduction to the loco-haired temperamental vixen known as Kelis. Also includes quite possibly ODB’s finest moment (over which I’m sure there is much dispute): “I don’t have no trouble with you fucking me / But I have a little problem with you not fucking me”. Well put, BBJ.

11. Sixpence None the Richer – “Kiss Me” (1999, #2 Pop, #1 Top 40)
To me in �99, Sixpence None the Richer were like the second coming of The Sundays—I had no idea of their CCM leanings or anything, I just fell in love with the doey-eyed lead singer and her naively sweet songs. Being used in She’s All That was just the nail in the coffin—this song definitely played a large part in drying out what little claims to macho masculinity I had left by the end of the decade.

12. The New Radicals – “You Get What You Give” (1999, #36 Pop, #8 Modern Rock)
Whether Gregg Alexander was a wack-ass poser or the second coming of Todd Rundgren is still yet to be seen (and most likely never will be), but god knows he left us with a gem to rival “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light” with this one. Poptimist embracing of this song continues to shock me, but I certainly see it as a step in the right direction. Next stop: Vertical Horizon.

13. Kid Rock – “Bawitdaba” (1999, #10 Modern Rock)
Kid Rock is forever a mixed bag, but if this song doesn’t have you chanting along with the chorus like an utter madman (“BAH-WIT-DA-BAH-DA-BANG-DA-BANG- DIGGY-DIGGY-DIGGY-SAID-THE-BOOGIE-SAID-UP-JUMPS-THE-BOOGIE”), you need a real lesson in Family Values.

14. Len – “Steal My Sunshine” (1999, #9 Pop, #2 Top 40)
“Hey Matt?” “Yeah, Jim?” “Have you talked to Mark lately?” “Uh, I haven’t really talked to him, but he, uh, looks pretty down.” “Hahhahahah…uh, looks pretty down!!!: “Yeah, well…maybe we should cheer him up then.” “What do you, uh, suppose we should do?” “Well…does he like Butter Tarts?”

15. The Vengaboys – “We Like to Party” (1999, #26 Pop, #3 Dance)
Before being ruined by Six Flags and their creepy-ass old dude, The Vengaboys’ mission statement was one of the most sickeningly addictive songs of the decade (in a good way, but only sort of). I’d like to think that the Vengabus is still out there somewhere, blaring its horn and spreading its message of Love and Physical Exertion.

16. Lou Bega – “Mambo No. 5” (1999, #3 Pop, #1 Top 40)
The swing movement of the late 90s was felt (the trumpet!) a lot more heavily in pop culture (wwwwwWWWWWWWWWAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) than it was on the pop charts, where Lou Bega (the trumpet!!) was the only one to find much success. Still, it couldn’t have happened to (MAMBO NUMBAH FIVE!!!) a (MAMBO NUMBAH FIVE!!!) nicer retro-futuristic tune (wwwwwWWWWWWWWWAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

17. Mandy Moore – “Candy” (1999, #41 Pop, #27 Top 40)
Mandy’s “...Baby One More Time” and, in my opinion, by far the superior track. Seriously, this thing is awesome—phat bass, warped guitar, and that great spoken-word bridge (yeah, I got a thing for sexy spoken word segments, what of it)—“You know who you are. Your love’s as sweet as candy. I’ll be forever yours. Love always, Mandy.” You had me at “[whatever the first line to this song was],” Mandy.

18. LFO – “Summer Girls” (1999, #28 Top 40)
No song puts a smile on my face like this one. None. The click-click, ring-ring percussion, the ridiculously gratuitous scratching sounds, the string sweep that introduces the chorus, and of course, classic line after classic line after classic line. I can’t even start to quote them, this article would be twice as long as it is already if I did. If you haven’t heard this song before, bang your head on your desk once or twice, regain consciousness and then listen to this song by whatever means necessary.

19. Baz Luhrmann – “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” (1999, #45 Pop, #10 Top 40)
Yeah, I can hear you groaning all the way back there. Sorry, but there’s just no other way to end a 90s box set than with this song—the song that was sent as a million e-mail forwards, in a thousand car commercials and a hundred movies (some of which Luhrman’s own). In a way, the song is sort of the Graduation Speech for the 90s itself. I’m not sure what I actually mean by that, but it sure sounds good, doesn’t it?


By: Andrew Unterberger
Published on: 2005-06-20
Comments (35)
 

 
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