53 Best '90s Songs - Musical Hits to Add to Your 1990s Playlist - Verve times

2022-05-28 01:13:12 By : Mr. Jianyong Hu

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I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that the ‘90s was three decades ago. Hence, ‘90s songs can now be considered “throwbacks.” (Never, ever “oldies.” Thanks for your cooperation!) ‘Twas was a decade chock-full of serious ~tunage~ that went far beyond boy bands. (But still, there were obvi boy bands, don’t worry. I’m about to revive the Backstreet Boys vs. *NSYNC debate.) MTV VJs were spinning grunge, pop, R&B, hip-hop, alternative—so much variety, y’all! We’re also lookin’ at the genesis of icons we know and love, from Queen Bey to Dave Grohl to…Marky Mark, a.k.a. Mark Wahlberg in the musical hit he probably wishes you’d forget. So if you grew up during this time and are looking to relive the songs from your middle school or high school dances—like, the music was good, even if they were generally horrible experiences—I have all the classics right here. (Or, if you heard one of these songs and thought to yourself, “I’m young, but I think I might like the ’90s!” Congrats, and also, stop reminding me how old I am.)

So, here’s a hefty mix of 53 throwback songs for your ultimate ‘90s playlist. Use it for your ‘90s bar crawl, themed birthday party, road trip, a good cry…whatever! It’s your life! Grab your metaphorical Walkman and let’s go. Also, sorry/you’re welcome in advance for getting all these songs stuck in your head.

“Smells like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (1991)

Ofc, it’s Kurt Cobain with arguably the *most* ’90s song of all time (and, according to lots of ppl, one of the best songs of all time). This title can also be used as a line to describe the stench of an Axe-filled boys locker room, but I digress. With Dave Grohl writing and on drums, and the lyrics contradictory and confusing—and fascinating—you could probably listen to it a thousand times without getting bored. Trust me, bc I’m pretty sure I have.

“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers (1991)

RHCP FTW. Also, didya know it’s about getting clean from drugs? Fans loved the more serious tone from Red Hot Chili Peppers, but Anthony Kiedis (who wrote it) wasn’t even sure he was going to share it with his bandmates. Their first song released off that album, “Give It Away,” is way more uptempo and fun, but it’s this more impressive and serious song that kinda sticks with you.

“Basket Case” by Green Day (1994)

Eyeliner optional. Speaking of really-catchy-about-something-depressing songs, this is apparently about anxiety (Billie Joe Armstrong suffers from panic attacks). I mean, all you have to do is listen to those first lines, “Do you have the time to listen to me whine / About nothing and everything all at once?” to understand why a) so many ppl related to it and b) why it became such a hit. Sometimes I give myself the creeps, too!!

“Learn to Fly” by Foo Fighters (1999)

Wait, is that Jack Black in the music video (that is itself a parody of the Airplane movies)? Yes, yes it is. The thing I love about the video in hindsight is how earnestly Dave Grohl and his bandmates are absolutely throwing themselves into their characters. I remember watching this and thinking, Wow, those singers can ACTUALLY act. Apparently the lyrics aren’t as complicated as you think—Dave just wanted to be a pilot.

“Don’t Speak” by No Doubt (1995)

Further proof Gwen Stefani is a Vampiress who does not age. Like, are you kidding me?? Also, the fact that, after a long evolution, the song ended up being about a breakup between two of the actual band members (Gwen and Tony Kanal) has me absolutely dying inside. Like, do you think they thought of their relationship every time they sang it?? I have to know!! Also, this part: “I know you’re good / I know you’re good / I know you’re real good.” (Dies)

“No Diggity” by Blackstreet ft. Dr. Dre, Queen Pen (1996)

*cue the chorus* I like the way you ~werk it~. This incredibly catchy song apparently went through a bunch of potential rappers, and Teddy Riley even said, “None of the guys liked ‘No Diggity.’ None of them. They would even say it. That’s why I’m singing the first verse. You know how they say they pushed the little one out there to see if it tastes good and see if he would get egged? Well they pushed me out there—and it became a hit.”

“Mo Money Mo Problems” by The Notorious B.I.G. (1997)

Okay, but I would still like the opportunity to decide for myself if this is true, tho? The second song off of The Notorious B.I.G.’s second album was actually released after he died in 1997. Kelly Price, who (uncredited) sang the hook, said she knew it was a great song but couldn’t have possibly imagined its cultural impact. “It was the song of the year…it literally was a game changer.”

Too fast to sing along to. Just nod your head. Trust me. Fun fact, Rosa Parks actually sued over the use of her name (even though they don’t reference anything about her in the song itself, except for the line “Move to the back of the bus”). Even though there are more popular OutKast songs (see also “Ms. Jackson” and “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad, which both came out in 2000 so they’re not on this list), this one showcases their impressive talent and makes it look effortless.

Put your iPhone video cam on the ground and start singing at it. Dwight and Michael, A+ (an appropriate parody, since the band members are also goofy white dudes). This is Beastie Boys’ biggest hit, and basically everyone has seen the “robot destroys everything” music video—which was a riff on Japanese Kaiju monster films like Godzilla. It won for best hip-hop video at the MTV Video Music Awards, which I promise was rlly prestigious at the time.

“Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot (1992)

*Roll the Charlie’s Angels’ Cameron Diaz club scene* See that? That is all of us. It’s hard to overstate how important this objectively hilarious song was at the time. It’s literally now just a song DJs play during a dance-heavy wedding, but at the time showing literal lady butts and singing about how amazing they are was surprisingly ~controversial~. And also made for a rlly hilarrible dance scene amongst 13-year-olds, not that I would know. Also, fun fact, the song lyrics are: “So Cosmo says you’re fat, well I ain’t down with that!” (I promise, we don’t think that and we also aren’t down with that.)

“California Love” by 2Pac, Roger, and Dr. Dre (1996)

Your L.A. friends still play this on the reg, yes? (And when it comes on the radio, you have to sing along. I don’t make the rules.) After he was released from prison, Tupac Shakur proved he could still make the best songs around (and he makes a rlly strong case for West Coast vs. East Coast). After his death in 1996, the song basically became one of his most important legacies.

“Good Vibrations,” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Loleatta Holloway (1991)

Dear god, Mark Wahlberg. Forgot this was you. He actually co-wrote this with his brother Donnie along with Amir Shakir. The hilarious black-and-white vid features Marky shirtless and boxing while he raps and makes out with a random lady. He might be “embarrassed” by his music career now, but I appreciate that he can make fun of himself: “I thought I was so cool back then, but when I see the footage, I was such an a*s.” Yup!

I have a friend who memorized this for her go-to karaoke song and it is still one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen in my life. This and their follow-up single “Whatta Man” made Salt-N-Pepa household names. This is all about pursuing the guy you want (not the other way round). Ahem: “I’m not shy so I asked for the digits / A ho? No, that don’t make me / See what I want slip slide to it swifty.” Yes!!

“This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan (1995)

You can’t NOT sing along to this. Physically impossible. This banger stayed at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for seven straight weeks, and it’s been referenced and remixed basically all over the place (if you’re wondering where you heard it last, see also Pitch Perfect 2 and Step Brothers. Oh and The Masked Singer. And every dance floor you’ve ever been on).

“You Make Me Wanna…” by Usher (1997)

Usher as a wee bébé. He actually helped co-write this, which became the lead single of his album—oh, and also apparently came from his own experience of juggling literally three women at the same time. NBD. Fans loved it (I mean, who doesn’t want to be the irresistible BFF?) and critics kinda loved the same thing about it: the New York Times said it “put the spice back in the word ‘relationship,'” that’s how good it is.

“Are You That Somebody” by Aaliyah (1998)

Our sweet angel songstress, gone too soon. This is her song with the infamous baby coo that still mystifies musical historians. And there are several songs that could make this list (I myself am a fan of “Back and Forth”) but this is probably the one you know the best—it earned her a Grammy nom! You also know her from her amazing crop tops here and the random owl appearance.

“Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child (1999)

Back when the Bey Hive was a mere honeycomb. Also, the color blocking in this video! Fashion repeats itself, ppl! Both Queen Bey and Kelly Rowland were co-writers on this; Also, can we appreciate that this album, The Writing’s on the Wall, also had the insta-classic “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Bug A Boo,” and “Jumpin, Jumpin” on it?? But, ofc, this was the most successful single, because it absolutely rocks.

“Pony (Jump on It)” by Ginuwine (1996)

I can’t not think of Magic Mike when I hear this, dammit—and, obviously, Magic Mike XXL because how could you not? This very sexy song to dance to also features Timbaland as producer (his breakthrough song that established his unique sound). The music video has a lot of shirtlessness (*foreshadowing*) and hit a resurgence with the MM movies.

Guys! We don’t want no scrubs! Literally none! No time! Seriously, though, of the amazing TLC songs—yes, “Waterfalls” is incredible, we don’t have to fight about it—this lead single has the coolest music video style of all time (along with some terrrrrible CGI). Some ppl (probably scrubs) were irritated about the new word to describe an unambitious, broke male, and it inspired several not as good answer songs.

“The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica (1998)

Smooth as buttah vocals. And a music video themed around the Jerry Springer show (and inspired by “The Girl Is Mine” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson!). *chef’s kiss* It also features a young Mekhi Phifer as the two-timing guy in question, which, fair, because he is wonderful-looking. This won a Grammy for best R&B song by a duo—as it should have.

“Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey (1995)

Do do do, OH! This was probs your cool older sister and her bf’s “song.” Ew. One of many songs that came back in a big way, including in the recent rom-com Always Be My Maybe (yes, it’s a direct reference), but hands up if you bought this original CD and coveted Mariah’s glorious hair. IYKYK. This is also one of the songs where Mariah used ~her own voice~ as a backup singer—iconic.

“Doo-Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill (1998)

A warning song about male (and female) ~players~. You guessed it; That thing = sex! Lauryn Hill’s debut solo single showed she wasn’t messing around—like, it was the first solo hip hop song to debut at number one on the Hot 100 list. Lauryn also wrote and produced the song, which was mostly aimed at ppl who aren’t prioritizing the non-sex things in their lives.

“I Swear” by All-4-One (1994)

You just can’t sing along to this without your hand over your heart—yes, there is an appropriate choreography for this song. This OTT classic ballad features a bunch of harmonies and is best played for your S.O. when you’re feeling especially romantic. Listen, if it’s good enough for the whole cast of Pose to sing at the top of their lungs, it’s good enough for me.

“Kiss From a Rose” by Seal (1994)

A maj ‘90s moment. Which started life by Seal feeling embarrassed by it and ended with his producer (Trevor Horn) making it into the banger we know today. Also, did everyone know this was included on the Batman Forever soundtrack (and it’s part of the reason the song’s so popular)? I definitely did not. Also also, can someone please tell me what the lyrics mean? (Seal says he’ll never explain it, not ever.)

Ah, yes. Now we get into beloved boy-band territory. This one? A work of art—inspired by Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the haunted house aesthetic is now a total classic even though the record label haaated it at the time. TBH, it’s my favorite ’90s music video, because it was Just. That. Cool at the time. (BSB continues to come back into the 2010s and 2020s. Thank God.)

“Tearin’ Up My Heart” by *NSYNC (1997)

One of the OGs! The debate between Team BSB and Team *NSYNC rages on (Literally, my husband knows about this important cultural discussion because of Tokyo Vice). I flip-flopped more often than I’d like to admit and have yet to decide. This one doesn’t have the visuals of the BSB video, but the sweet sweet vocal stylings of Mr. Justin Timberlake and Mr. JC Chasez really take it up a notch—also, interestingly, this was pitched to BSB before making it to *NSYNC—drama!!

“Livin’ la Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin (1999)

So. Much. Energy. One of the catchiest songs of the decade, Ricky Martin’s biggest hit broke records all over the place and won five awards at the VMAs (and also helped usher in a “Latin explosion” of musical artists). Ricky’s still makin’ music, performing, and touring and shows no sign of slowing down, so apparently all that energy is still there.

The Queen of Pop has to be on here, right? And even though a lot of her big hits happened in the ’80s (and then she came roaring back in ’98 with “Frozen” and “Nothing Really Matters”), “Vogue” snuck into the decade with a 1990 release. Fun fact: her inspo for the video came from the Harlem “House Ball” community, and she helped bring it mainstream (and also, this song and its moves have been incredibly influential on music in general). Also, go watch her live performance of the song at the VMAs.

“…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears (1998)

The song of a generation. The Halloween costume inspiration of a lifetime. It’s kinda hard to believe this was Britney Spears’ debut single, especially since it basically helped define late ’90s music (and gave every person who watched it the compulsive desire to wear a pink crop top and white pants. Just me? Cool.). Actually the school concept (and “schoolgirl but make it sexy”) was also Britney’s idea!

“Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera (1999)

Sweet, innocent X-tina! This was also a “battle” between the girl pop stars, both of whom starred in The New Mickey Mouse Club (with Mandy Moore, among others, hopping into the “who is the best ’90s female artist” debate later) but I say there’s enough room on the stage for both ladies. This video might not have had the wild cultural impact of Britney’s, but it established Christina as a legit artist with the *most* impressive pipes.

Never forget. I hate to even mention this, because you will be singing it at 2 a.m. tonight and super-mad about it, but some songs are just that catchy. Like, this might be gibberish, but it was destined to be a hit. Actually, to be fair, the lyric started out as a background lyric for one of their other songs, but once they got it stuck in their head—#relatable—they never stopped thinking about it.

Amazing song, concerning message. To clarify: No. I do not want my lover to get with my friends. I understand how the girls mean it (like, a BFF can spot a red flag a mile away, so they’d better like you), but I also think about the other meaning every time I listen. The Spice Girls’ debut single basically helped define their whole “girl power” vibe, and brought the word “zigazig ah” to the world (yes, it is a euphemism for sex).

“All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow (1993)

If sunshine were a song. Sheryl Crow had a bit of a different vibe than, say, Madonna, but that was kinda the point—her laidback, Western, natural curly hair look was part of her whole aesthetic. This was her big breakthrough hit after she’d been making music and being a background singer for a while, so she was ready when it took her from zero to 100 in the span of about five minutes (she won two Grammys off of the record!).

“The Sign” by Ace of Base (1993)

Still don’t know what the actual “sign” is, but let me live! I can attest, since this was one of the first CDs that I bought, to the fact that this Swedish band made a bunch of v catchy songs—even if you only remember this one. So go ahead and pull up “Don’t Turn Around,” “All That She Wants,” and “Living in Danger,” if you please.

“Nothing Compares 2U” by Sinéad O’Connor (1990)

Fun fact: Prince wrote this! Also, does anyone have a tissue? Asking for a friend. This stripped-down, raw performance that was mostly filmed in extreme closeup was a nice change from OTT music videos (and has been emulated and spoofed a lot). Sinéad, who basically takes us through all the stages of grief in a single song, says that the tears she cries at the end are 100 percent genuine. Iconic.

“I’m cold and I am shamed lying naked on the floor!” I scream, fully clothed, warm and outside. Like, if you’ve even gone through a breakup, this song (with its fun, khaki-filled video) is the antidote. Also, did you know it was originally performed by a Danish singer and that this is a cover? Watch the original music video if you don’t believe me!!

“Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve (1997)

*raises pinky* A British bop! Interestingly, this has gone through a bunch of copywriting issues, and until recently Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were listed among the songwriters (the cool strings sound is a sample of an instrumental version of The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time”). Also, the music video was inspired by a Massive Attack music video but became beloved in its own right (stay for all the pedestrians reacting to this strange, strange man.)

“Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band (1996)

Truly, one of the greatest. Did you know that technically it’s about a voyeur who’s stalking a woman and peeping at her through her bedroom window? (I don’t know how to feel about that information, but I’m positive I still love the song.) In a more general way, the song’s about unrequited love, which we can all get behind. Also, the closest I’ve ever come to rioting was when DMB did not play this at a concert. I KNOW.

“Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” by C+C Music Factory ft. Freedom Williams (1990)

You heard the woman! Get to it! The middle school dance of my dreams—srsly, that first line made everyone *race* to the dance floor—has an interesting history. The singing vocals are Martha Wash, but they’re lip-synced in this video by Zelma Davis. Martha had to sue for credit and royalties (they settled in 1994), and Sony had to request that a disclaimer be put on the song that gives her credit. What a badass.

“Waiting For Tonight” by Jennifer Lopez (1999)

All hail Jenny from the Block. This cover of a 3rd Party song helped make J. Lo the household name we still worship today, and it was a huuuuge Y2K bop for the big 1999 New Year’s celebration. The music video is a literal Y2K dance party, with a countdown and all, so if you’re trying to channel that aesthetic, look no further. Lasers and body crystals RTFN.

“Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” by Selena (1994)

Another important moment in J. Lo’s history? Her work honoring Selena’s precious soul in her biopic. But let’s pay tribute to the original songstress here, another artist we lost too soon under tragic circumstances, who was destined for mega-mega-stardom. Selena actually co-wrote this, and apparently it’s supposed to be the sound of your heart thumping when you fall in love (cue all the tears).

“What Is Love?” by Haddaway (1992)

The Night at the Roxbury one. (Neck brace not included). The actual music video is a lot artsier—with vampires!—and the song was deservedly a worldwide hit. This is another one of those “but what do the lyrics even mean?” songs, and singer Nestor Alexander Haddaway says it’s open to interpretation. Just put it on after “Torn” for your breakup playlist.

…anyway, here’s Wonderwall. Another candidate for “best song ever” that also makes singer Liam Gallagher want to “gag,” lol, the song is apparently about an imaginary friend who’ll do the hard work of saving you from yourself. A dream! The song went sextuple platinum, which is something I didn’t know was even a thing.

*Bows down forever* It’s kind of amazing that, in Cher’s very long career, this might be the thing everyone knows her best for (that and the terrible movie Burlesque, starring fellow icon Christina Aguilera). Literally everyone tried to copy that beautiful headpiece. Cher later said that a little boy was weaving some filaments outside her trailer and she asked if he could weave a big one she could put on her head. So the look was random and spontaneous and classic Cher.

Alanis was mad online before mad online was a thing. Also, none of these situations are examples of irony! They’re just a smol annoying happenings! But my angsty curly haired icon will live forever in my brain because of this video. Like Sheryl, she had a more laid-back look and a totally signature sound that basically spoke to every angsty teen on the planet (and, predictably, was parodied a bunch).

“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” by Shania Twain (1997)

‘nuf said. Before “Run the World (Girls)” there was this absolute gem. A men’s shirt and short skirt is now my going-out uniform, so thanks, Shania!! Seriously, though, the ballad about female empowerment (which honors the “Addicted to Love” video) was so popular because of how much it ignores the “going out to meet someone” trope and focuses on how good you feel. 10/10, no notes.

“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (1992)

*takes giant sip of air* “AND IIIIIIIIEEIIIIIIII” Never deny the power of Whitney’s voice (and Dolly Parton’s song-writing capabilities) with this ballad to end all ballads. Also, hot take, I didn’t mind The Bodyguard, in which Whitney stars and sings (okay, yes, she won a Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress, but I still love her!!). This song has been recorded by many, many artists, but nothing beats the classic. Ever.

An ode to the ‘50s rock and roll legend and a bop that later earned its own right as a ~classic~ (it was released on Buddy Holly’s bday, too!). Any song that pays homage to Mary Tyler Moore can’t be anything but incredible. Also, if you watch Barry and only know Henry Winkler as Cousineau, prepare to have your mind blown with this music video.

Fiona was that b*tch of the ‘90s. This song was introduced to a new audience thanks to the ~sultriest~ J. Lo scene in Hustlers, but you and I both remember it from the first time ’round. Fiona was underrated, both because she pushed the boundaries of “acceptable” behavior (see also: her cradling a guy’s feet in a bathtub) and also because this song is actually about the complexities of using your sexuality to get something from someone (mind blown). Fun fact: Someone once said I look like her, and it’s the best compliment I’ve ever gotten.

“I’ll Be There for You (The F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Theme Song)” by The Rembrandts (1995)

If I could put one thing in a ‘90s time capsule this would pretty much cover it. Maybe also add a photo of “the Rachel” haircut? This song was written for the TV show, and since it aired from 1994 to 2004 you basically heard it every week for a decade. And the fact we still like the song is a testament to how good it is. Fun fact: R.E.M. turned down the opp to write the theme song!

“Slide” by Goo Goo Dolls (1998)

This is my favorite song of all time; I will fight you. Also, did you know (according to John Rzeznik, lead guitarist) it’s about a girl in a strict Catholic upbringing who gets pregnant, and discusses with her (supportive) boyfriend whether they should get married or have an abortion? Depressingly timely! Also, now I have to go listen to it a thousand more times.

“Steal My Sunshine” by Len (1999)

Pairs well with: rosé by the pool (or basically anything done near water, in the sun, or during summertime). So it’s fitting that co-writer and singer Marc Costanzo had the idea for the song after he went to a rave and just felt so damn happy. Also fitting that it became the quintessential Y2K summer hit (and summer hit every year after).

Let’s pretend we’ve never had this song stuck in our heads, and turn our attentions to the hilarity that is the music video. You’re welcome. Also, did you know that the inspo for this song was a kitsch Barbie exhibit in Denmark? (Actually, that makes sense, because their take on Barbie is…kinda wild, tbh.) I also disagree with the notion that Aqua is a one-hit wonder—go listen to “Dr. Jones” and “Candyman” RTFN. Also: They’re going on tour!!

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