Best Songs of the Nineties?

It’s midnight and I’m exhausted. I’d originally planned to write something meaningful and compelling tonight. Instead I spent the past four hours eating dinner with my brother and sister in law (who are in town visiting) and discussing, then listening to, our favorite songs of the nineties. It was an amazing conversation, full of such beauties as “Rhythm is a Dancer” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” So good.

That, of course, eventually led into about an hour and of half of watching Will Ferrell videos on YouTube. It’s the curse of our generation. We can’t stop ourselves.

So, I will now go to sleep and leave you with this question (which you’d better answer): What are your top three  favorite songs from the nineties? And why? (I expect some tales of slow dances and earnest moments of epiphany.) Come on. This could probably be the best Mama:Monk discussion ever.


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16 Responses to Best Songs of the Nineties?

  1. Lex

    Picking a favorite album is fairly easy, like picking a favorite movie or a favorite book. But, songs are more like food. There are too many variables, like: what time of day? what time of year? is it a special event/holiday (I wouldn’t want turkey at a baseball game, and I wouldn’t want a hot dog on Thanksgiving)? at a restaurant, at home, visiting family? happy, sad, neutral? Etc. I feel the same about songs.

    With that said, I want to play, so instead of my 3 favorite songs from the ’90s, I’m going to list my 3 favorite ’90s songs. I hope that’s not too obnoxious. Anyway:

    1. Obviously (obviously), “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the “song of the decade,” even though it’s not necessarily the best (or my favorite) song of the decade (or even from that album). There’s never, ever been a more anthemic, definitive song to a generation in the popular music era, “My Generation” notwithstanding (pretty cheap/prosaic to sing it that explicitly, anyway). It’s the song they’ll be playing on commercials targeting near-retirees in about 30 years, and resistance will be futile (cf., Baby Boomers with The Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin”).

    2. Since the corporate takeover of radio, ca. ’71, few songs have had as much credibility in so many circles of music snobdom while enjoying as much commercial success and mainstream popularity as “Big P.O.P.P.A.” There’s also never been as good a song to namedrop “Welch’s Grape.” It also makes a really nice ringtone!

    3. “Where It’s At” is a signifier of “postmodern” as something to do with pop culture instead of just a school of criticism/philosophy. Plus, the video established “slacker-chic” as a legitimate fashion choice. And it’s a really cool song, which I never get tired of hearing.

  2. 1) No Rain_Blind Melon

    2)Babylon_David Gray

    3)Sugarcane_Cry of Love

  3. Sam

    Oh man. Three songs? I could never choose! I get so sentimental when old songs come on the radio. Nothing comes right to mind but I’ll ponder upon it…

  4. Janna

    “Return of the Mac” by Mark Morrison.

    End. of. discussion.


  5. 1. The Sign, Ace of Base
    2. Waterfalls, TLC
    The above are favorites because I made up about 2.2 million dances to these songs with friends and cousins.
    3. Dookie, Green Day. Only because I still get excited when it comes on the radio!

  6. 1. “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand,” by the Primitive Radio Gods (one-hit wonder!)

    2. “Nightswimming,” by REM

    3. “Right Here, Right Now,” by Jesus Jones (also a one-hit wonder, at least here in the U.S.)

  7. Brooks

    Since I was a part of the original discussion that sparked all this, here is the correct answer:

    1. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana. Because it changed everything.

    2. Worlds Apart, Jars of Clay. Christian Music proved it didn’t have to suck.

    3. Light Crashes, Live. The only song of the 90s that mentions placenta.

  8. Brooks

    I meant Lightning Crashes, obviously.

  9. Saskia

    I turned 13 the year the 90s ended, so my albums would be of the kids varieties. No epiphanies or slow dancing stories, here.

  10. Sunny

    Choosing just 3 is really difficult for me too. I’m not sure that I have 3 favorite, but these are 3 of my favorites…
    1. R.E.M., Night Swimming-Brings back great memories of me and some of my best friends swimming at night.
    2. Green Day, When I Come Around-Just one of those albums that I listened to all the time and this was one of my faves.
    3. Madonna, Ray of Light-I love Madonna. Really. Material Girl, Like a Virgin, Vogue…and many more. But this one reminds me of college and driving around with my windows down and music up. Good times.
    I love the 90′s!

  11. Lex

    I just remembered that at my first high school dance (“Howdy Dance”), they played Radiohead’s “Creep.” That was a pretty weird experience, because it’s not really much of a dance song, especially with the soft/loud/soft thing going on. So people would kind of sway and sing along, and then “mosh” or whatever. I think the weirdest part is that it was mostly jocks and popular dudes participating in this lamentation of inadequacy.

    The only slow dance song I can remember is “The Dance” (by Garth Brooks). I can probably remember it because I’m thinking about dances/dancing, and it’s called “The Dance.”

    I can’t remember a single high school dance that didn’t involve “C’mon Ride It (The Train)” (, “Tootsie Roll,” or “Whoomp! There It Is.”

    High school dances sucked. “C’mon! It’s a choo-choo!”

  12. Can y’all believe I haven’t even commented yet?

    Lex, I agree. I’m sure it’s because we grew up in Texas (my husband has probably never even heard “The Dance”) but it was absolutely the last song at every high school dance, especially prom. But I refuse to make it one of my top three of the 90s.

    1. TLC, “Waterfalls.” Andrea, I’m so glad you listed it as one of yours. I remember being pumped in 9th grade at gymnastics practice when “Waterfalls” came on during our tumbling warm up.

    2. I can’t have grown up evangelical without listing Jars of Clay’s album that came out in summer ’95. That album just sounds like my the summer before my sophomore year of high school. Hanging out with my friends in the parking lot of the church. (Yes, that’s how cool I was in high school.) Favorite song? Probably “Liquid,” just because I love the opening of the song. It would have been the opening music for my TV show if I’d had one (as I dreamed) in high school.

    3. Lisa Loeb, “Stay.” Do I really have to explain?

    Honorable Mentions: Natalie Merchant’s entire first album. Ahhhhh. So good. Joan Osborne. “What if God Was One of Us?” I loved this song junior year. I felt so deep about it, as I’m sure you can imagine.

  13. Pingback: Preemptive Love « mama:monk

  14. Jamie

    Naturally, this is going to be my first comment on momma monk. I am going to agree with Lex’s post re: “smells like teen spirit” because it WAS the song of the decade. “One” by U2 totally rocked my 7th grade world. The third would have to be “Jeremy” by pearl jam. PJ made me obsessive about music.

    Of course, I am excluding the “popular” music. Some hilarious songs worth mentioning: the Dawson’s Creek theme song “I don’t want to wait…” (sing it with me Micha) and “If you want to be my lover” (Spice Girls) - I remember being in my uber-outwardly-evangelical stage and trying to pretend like I knew the words but at the same time feeling guilty about singing the lyrics during cheerleading practice. But, I have to say “Baby Got Back” is missing from this list. We all know all the lyrics and it is still a jam.

    “You can do sidebends or situps, but please don’t lose that butt.”

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