How can I tell I’m getting old? My go-to music choices don’t even come close to popular music currently topping the charts. When I drive my son to preschool, I proudly blast the classic rock station — which now plays music from the 1990s. If listening to the likes of Pearl Jam and U2 makes me an old fogey? I can deal with that.
Perhaps this is something my parents would have argued a few decades ago, but I firmly believe that there is a good amount of music from the ’90s that was so solid it will never be outdated. And I can’t say that for much of what I hear on popular radio stations today.
If not for anything but a bit of nostalgia, let’s take a look at the top songs from the ’90s that still hold their own, shall we?
10. “Stay (I Missed You)” — Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories
Ok, ok, I might get some pushback here. As a teenage girl in the ’90s, this song spoke to me. Plus, everyone fell in love with Lisa Loeb’s cat eye glasses. But beyond that, this was on the Reality Bites soundtrack — a film that encompassed the grunge era, and introduced Ben Stiller to the world. I will argue that this song is important for that reason alone.
9. “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” — Bryan Adams
Cheesy? Perhaps. But this song was a HIT when it came out. And it was on the Robin Hood soundtrack, which made it that much cooler. You couldn’t hear it without falling in love with shaggy-haired Kevin Costner. Or maybe that was just me. But damn, it’s good to hear this today. Far better than whatever Katy Perry has to offer.
8. “Losing My Religion” — R.E.M.
Maybe “Shiny Happy People” was a little more fun, but “Losing My Religion” was a more important song for R.E.M., since it was the first single released on the Out of Time album. The song defined the early ’90s like only a few songs could, and it ended up topping the charts.
7. “Black or White” — Michael Jackson
Remember when this video was revolutionary? We watched in awe as one person transformed into another to the beat of the song. Plus it’s catchy. It might not be Michael Jackson’s best, but it is solid and it makes you want to dance.
6. “Nothing Compares 2 U” — Sinéad O’Connor
As far as timeless ballads go, this has to be close to the top. You can’t even hear this song without picturing O’Connor’s pretty bald head in the video, with that lone tear streaming down her face. We all had a moment in our angst-ridden teenage lives when this song spoke to us. And you definitely don’t need to be a teen to appreciate its brilliance.
5. “Rhythm Nation” – Janet Jackson
Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album was edgy and fun, with dance beats and ballads alike. It is also “the only album in the history of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart to have seven commercial singles peak within the top five positions.” The song itself just makes you move when you hear it, and it whisks you back to the early ’90s, when the Hubble Telescope and the Internet were new.
4. “Under the Bridge” — Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Chili Peppers brought such an edge to the decade, and their music could totally back up their image. This song, with its distinct guitar solo in the beginning, is simultaneously beautiful and raw. Plus, Anthony Kiedis had a head of hair that every girl coveted. But that’s neither here nor there.
3. “Hold On” — Wilson Phillips
Can’t you just picture the three ladies of Wilson Phillips sitting on a rock, singing this song with everything they’ve got? And don’t you just want to put your fist in the air and pull it back to your body as you belt it out yourself? The movie Bridesmaids reminded us just how much we love this song. It’s too good.
2. “Black Hole Sun” — Soundgarden
While this song is generally more tame than a lot of what Soundgarden produced, it is certainly superior. It showcases Chris Cornell’s beautiful voice, and has that classic grunge-rock sound that was typical of the day. The video is also totally odd, and we love it.
1. “Jeremy” — Pearl Jam
Eddie Vedder had the voice of the decade. If you weren’t wearing flannel and listening to Ten on repeat, then I probably didn’t know you in the ’90s. “Jeremy” takes us in slowly with the guitar tab, and then builds as the song progresses. We can picture the troubled boy Vedder describes, and get lost in the music behind it. It’s as close to perfect as you can get.