Anybody who has read any of my other posts knows that the 90’s were my decade. I came of age in the last decade of the 20th century so the music of that time holds a special place for me. When I first started cultivating this playlist I started out with a general concept of 90’s songs that refuse to age (much like my 90s Albums that Refuse to Age series) but once all of the songs I wanted to include were added the playlist ended up being a staggering 150+ songs totaling over 11 hours of music. Not wanting to subject my readership to that extensive of a listening experience and, personally, not wanting to write that much for a single post I decided to break this up over time.
This time I’m starting with a list of 25 90’s pop songs that refuse to age. While you will notice that the list does manager to span over some different categories of music, the uniting factor of the list is that almost all of the songs on the list were pretty popular for their time. I’ve tried to mix up the tempo’s of the songs enough so that you don’t get stuck in a boring mix of songs. I hope you enjoy!
Republica- “Ready to Go” (Remix): Released in 1997 the remix of the original song is
a little more upbeat and a good opening to any 90’s playlist that wants to start out up beat and pumping.
Prodigy- “Breathe”: Also released in 1997, this song was one of the few immensely popular singles released off of the UK Punk band’s electronic album Fat of the Land. Another great upbeat tempo song for any 90’s playlist.
Billy Joel-“The River of Dreams”: Billy Joel had been around the music scene for a number of years by the time the 1990’s came, but “The River of Dreams” stands as his most popular song of the decade. I remember reading or hearing once that he recorded this song’s vocals while having a head cold, I think he still crushed it which tells you how much talent this guy has.
Everything but the Girl-“Missing” (Todd Terry Remix): I’m not sure what it is about this song but it never ages for me. I remember listening on my Walkman radio to a dance/remix show that would air on Friday and Saturday nights on one of the pop stations where I lived and this was one of the two songs that I loved.
Annie Lennox-“Walking on Broken Glass”: Annie Lennox was already a star from her first act the Eurythmics, but her early 90’s album Diva pushed her talents into the popular mainstream. This song was one of her first solo hits of the 90’s and the video featured a very early appearance of John Malkovich.
Aerosmith-“Livin’ on the Edge”: Aerosmith’s post drug revival in the late 80’s and early 90’s produced a number of great songs as well as pop culture phenomena of the 90’s with the staring of both Liv Tyler (singer Steven Tyler’s daughter) and Alicia Silverstone in a few of their videos of the 90s. Not only did they bring their brand of rock back for the decade but they also cornered the sex appeal market by featuring the two actresses in their videos.
The Black Crowes-“She Talks to Angels”: The Black Crowes’ debut album stands as essentially a greatest hits package for the band. Although they did release a number of albums and had hits subsequently, none of their later work will stand up to the strength of the bands first release. “She Talks to Angels” is an emotional ballad that builds throughout.
Blues Traveler-“Hook”: Blues Traveler seemingly came into the public consciousness out of nowhere. They managed to have a few hits prior to “Hook” but the song stands the test of time in regard to listenability. Somehow the band made having a blues band and playing harmonica cool again for a few years, something not seen since the days of Huey Lewis a decade earlier.
Dave Matthews Band-“Crash”: The Dave Matthews Band was a cultural phenomenon in the 90’s. Becoming popular at the same time as other singer/songwriters and jam bands of the era, they stood out as one that had crossover appeal with both upbeat fun songs and great slower ballads. “Crash” may be a song about a peeping tom, but a lot of people have made it their relationship song with their significant others.
INXS- “Devil Inside”: Unfortunately, INXS were only a huge band for a short period of time. The unexpected death of singer Michael Huchence cut the band’s time in the spotlight short, however, they made the most of their time there by releasing some of the best pop songs of the 90’s and this song is no exception.
Jamiroquai- “Canned Heat”: Jamiroquai are an odd bunch from the UK that put out great pop/electronic albums. My first introduction was from the video for their song “Virtual Insanity” on MTV. “Canned Heat” has great production and is fun. You can’t really have a bad day if you listen to Jamiroquai in the morning.
Duran Duran- “Ordinary World”: MTV darlings in the 80’s with songs like “Rio” and “Hungry Like the Wolf”, the 90’s brought a more sober adult version of the band. “Ordinary World” is a great slower tempo song that doesn’t every really get old. Another great song I remember from the radio show of my childhood.
Janet Jackson- “Together Again”: Janet Jackson has always put out great pop albums. 1989’s Rhythm Nation stands as one of the best produced albums of the era and her output during the 90’s was on par with that album. “Together Again” is an upbeat pop song that is just as easy to shake a booty to today as it was when it was release in 1997.
Madonna- “Frozen”: No 90’s pop playlist would be complete without Madonna. She managed to produce, what I consider, her best album with 1998’s Ray of Light and this song is one of the many highlights of the album. Stripped of the sexual content and speaking to more mature themes and having higher production value than her earlier work, the album still stands up.
Tom Cochrane-“Life is a Highway”: Long before Rascal Flatts made the song popular the original artist Tom Cochrane had a sizable hit with the song. More rocking than the countrified version that almost everybody knows, the song is great for 90’s as well as road song playlists.
Traveling Wilbury’s- “Handle With Care”: A rock supergroup like the ‘Willbury’s wasn’t seen and has not been seen since. The combination of songwriters in the group alone is enough for any wanna-be to pack up and go home. George Harrison, Jeff Lyne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. Really enough said. The song is a great mid tempo rocker and Roy’s vocals are as hauntingly beautiful as anything ever recorded.
Sarah McLauchlan- “Building a Mystery”: If you lived through the 90’s you had to live through the folk/singer/songwriter revival. At one of the forefronts of both the movement as well as the Neo-feminist movement was Sarah MacLachlan. While a force for women’s rights in the 90’s she was also a pretty good songwriter.
Tom Petty- “You Don’t Know How it Feels”: Taken from Tom’s solo album Wildflowers, the song was one of the first in MTv rotation that I noticed the lyrics were changed from the original version instead of bleeped out by censors. Although, now two decades removed and the more socially acceptable status of marijuana it may not have been the case if the song was released today.
U2- “One”: Much like with Madonna, no 90’s pop playlist would be complete without at least one song from U2. The biggest rock band in the world for over a decade at that point the band managed to both alienate their core audience and re-find their sound within the same decade. “One” is a great slow song and a good representation of the band in the 90’s as well.
The Proclaimers- “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles): Anybody who lived in the 90’s has heard this song and mentally attaches it to the movie Benny and Joon which was one of Johnny Depp’s biggest movies of the decade in regard to popularity. Although released 5 years earlier the song did not become a huge hit until it was included in the soundtrack for the film.
The Verve Pipe- “The Freshman”: Released in the midst of the post-grunge “Alternative” deluge of acts the Verve Pipe’s “The Freshman” stands out as one of the best songs of the time. Something bout this song just keeps it fresh and I have a great drunken memory of singing the song drunkenly on a new years eve with my friend’s the Pat’s.
Primitive Radio Gods- “Standing outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand”: This is a largely forgotten song from 1996 but it still stands up for me. It wasn’t until about a year later that I realized that the song sampled B.B. King’s “How Blue Can You Get”. The song was featured in the Jim Carrey movie The Cable Guy, this is another one of those songs that just sticks with me through the years for absolutely no known reason.
The Wallflowers- “One Headlight”: While they didn’t do much afterward that was as popular, The Wallflower’s “One Headlight” is one of the great songs of the era. The band, led by Bob Dylan’s son Jacob, manages a brooding well written song. Good thing Dylan’s son Jacob has a better sounding voice than him or else this band would have been a non-starter for the popular music scene.
Semisonic- “Closing Time”: This song really belongs in my list of great building songs because it starts out simply and just builds throughout the entire track to a more and more dynamic thing. The build of this song straight to the simple guitar solo always gets me in a good mood.
P.M. Dawn- “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”: P.M. Dawn had this one really popular song in the 90’s and it is a good closing song for this 2 hour playlist. Mellow and laid back it provides a good ending to the trip down memory lane. Sparse in music with a solid beat and simple guitar chords making most of the track allows the vocals wind through their stream of consciousness feel.
Enigma- “Return to Innocence”: As a thank you to the people who make it this far I like to include a bonus song that some people may not know. A mellow electronic song from the early 90’s, this track utilizes a Native American style vocal line throughout. This is a good mellow song that was another standout from the radio show I listened to as a kid.
Like these songs or want to see what the fuss is about? Check out the playlist on Spotify.