Opinion

By Séamus Smyth

20. Spiderwebs – No Doubt

Ska, reggae, rock, it doesn’t matter what flavor you label the track, it remains delicious. But not only is it funky in all sorts of body-distorting ways, it is hilariously 90s at every level.  One actually had to wait for someone to leave a message before they could figure out who was calling, meaning No Doubt’s interpretation of screening phone calls took on a whole new level of effort than it takes for us technologically-advanced folk of 2012.

19. Enter Sandman – Metallica

Even to this day, no song has ever packed so much testosterone into a glorified lullaby. It isn’t an insomniac requesting a night of rest via the Sandman but more like a wild, ornery beast rummaging through one’s tranquil thoughts pounding away on drums the size of two Ford F-150s.

18. Clumsy – Our Lady Peace

It was the climax of OLP, a classic album filled with some of the best Canadian rock tracks of the entire decade. It’s a song that strived for higher meaning through its music video, just as many 90’s rock songs successfully did. The video was not just a filler to ensure a song was heard through both radio and television, but served as a vehicle to truly drive home the concept of a particular track. To be clumsy is something each individual experiences, but often it is the reason many don’t attempt anything for it is a reminder of previous failures and embarrassments. The track discusses an awkward quality that is impossible to escape, but maybe all one need’s is sleep or “a friend” and one’s won’t have to drown in their blunders and errors.

17. November Rain – Guns N Roses  

“November Rain” is the megalomania of Gun’s N Roses condensed into film. The word epic is constantly miss-used and butchered, but there is no better way to describe this thunderstorm of ego. It contains every element of a rock song that can define greatness and that’s even before Slash rips into one of the most electrifying solos of his legendary career. The Guns N Roses experience was a dramatic, wild night of drinking gone awry, and no track better encompasses the afterthought of what exactly happened during this short span than this sober-second thought.

16. Standing outside a broken telephone booth (with money in my hand) – The Primitive Radio Gods

Easily the winner of most convoluted band name and song title, it still managed to make a sharp impact for 90’s love birds looking for a break from the norm. Why is the author standing outside a broken telephone booth with money in his hand? By the sounds of it, there is a phone call that he so desperately wants to make, but the necessary courage has temporarily escaped him; Hallelujah for text messaging.

15. When I Come Around – Green Day

Green Day has evolved into a respectable, rock n’ roll group with political undertones, but not too long ago they were three skids producing popular punk tunes. Green Day are one of the few bands that have more than one essential, career-defining album and this tune is off one of them (Dookie.) The other is “American Idiot,” but the albums are so drastically different it is as though they were created by two completely different bands. Hence, if one is wishing to pick up a quintessential 90s collection, look no further than the cartoonish wizardry of “Dookie,” while “American Idiot” would provide some insight into the 2000’s.

14. High and Dry – Radiohead

They completely re-engineered their career the moment Y2K proved to be a farce, but that doesn’t mean Radiohead didn’t churn out some worthy tunes in the decade prior. They were a less sappy, in love with the world version of Coldplay, and have helped define not one but now two decades of music. Don’t bail, don’t ditch, call if you can’t make it, “High and dry” carries a universal message; There are few betrayals greater than being left out in the cold.

13. Hurt – Nine Inch Nails  

Trent Reznor and his sometimes conspirator Marilyn Manson were easily the darkest souls of the decade, but they had their differences. Manson was a certified circus freak, appearing as though help was too far out of reach, while Reznor managed to retain important human characteristics. No better example of this humility, or better yet, vulnerability emerged from his dimly-lit conscience than “Hurt.” Reznor yearns for his pain to relent, yet unknowing to him, he doesn’t find serenity until much later in life. It is a shame that, mostly due to Johnny Cash’s exquisite cover, this song is only now being recognized as a classic. It’s a tale that analyzes how painful it can be to pine for a second chance. Reznor isn’t merely reflecting on what may have been, he is openly acknowledging that he is becoming possessed by his desire to make one hurt, to make one feel a morsel of what at the time was shooting blades into his chest.

12. Angel – Massive Attack

It is likely the least unrecognizable track of the list, which is a crime of the highest order. It redefines intensity as it sounds like what a dangerously out of control fire must look like to the eye. Although this song had an impact before the arrival of Guy Ritchie’s film “Snatch,” it is difficult to not think of Brad Pitt foaming at the mouth with anger when his mom’s caravan is burnt to a crisp in the film’s most iconic scene.

11. Beautiful People – Marilyn Manson

Remember goths? I’m referring to the teenagers with chains running through every hole in their face like a train transporting mucus and sporting more black clothing than guests at a funeral.  Well, it seems that the peak of this shock value appeal plateaued during Marilyn Manson’s most successful run during the 90s. While Manson’s previous work was almost too dramatically unholy to be taken seriously, “Beautiful People,” was a “hard as fuck” song from start to finish. So you’re telling me that he wears mascara and proudly chains himself on stage like a raging sadomasochist? No one cared because the song made even the clean-cut GAP kids want to start a mosh pit.

10. Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Chili’s have a history of exploiting their open wounds or more accurately, their scar tissue. “Under the Bridge,” puts the Chili’s under the knife as they are sliced down the middle for the entire world to see and hear. The song of course is about lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ battle with heroin, a drug that he has turned to on multiple occasions, often finding his longtime comrade “under the bridge.”

9. One – U2

Bono echoes Bob Marley’s hopes for a world united where we see beneath the skin and into the soul. In typical U2 fashion, this song can be deciphered in a number of different ways. Is it less of a reference to world peace and more of a revealing love letter to an old flame? “You act like you never had love, and you want me to go without,” is Bono at his best; desperate, arrogant and yearning for unending love.

8. Breathe – Prodigy

The video is the closest setting to what I would consider hell. A man who looks like a coked-out Satin, a man prancing around like a possessed leopard and a light hovering above that is flickering towards certain death. Any sane child in the 90s was properly prettified of this hellacious song. Yet, no one could refrain from listening to it. It had the energy of an all-night rave, the tenacity of a pack of hungry wolves and a sound that made it one of the 90s dominant dance/rock songs.

7. Only in Dreams – Weezer

The Seattle grunge darlings SoundGarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana are showered with recognition for carving out the defining 90’s sound, but Weezer deserves a spot on the mantle as well. They put out two almost instantaneously-classic albums in the 90s, Pinkerton and The Blue Album. Both albums were stacked to the heavens with golden material, but nothing sums it all up the way “Only in Dreams” does. Weezer may have been the G-rated version of Nirvana, but Rivers Cuomo sounds equally as tortured as Cobain in his own web of self-loathing and second-guessing. “Only in Dreams,” is a swooning ballad as much as it’s a rock scorcher. The crunchy guitar mashed with the “Sweater Song” style bass is a signature Weezer sound that for many can be captured, but only in the wettest of dreams.

6. Jeremy – Pearl Jam

The 90s was all about music of substance. Pearl Jam not only got the message, but arguably conceived the memo. “Jeremy” is an obvious and poignant discussion on suicide without ever sounding forced. Misery has many faces, but one that was rarely discussed aloud was that of the middle-class suburban family. Pearl Jam boots down the door in this affluent neighbourhood, searching for Jeremy, hopefully before it’s too late.

5. Semi-charmed life – Third Eye Blind

It’s a blatant reference to one of the dirtiest drugs around and yet was a raging success the minute it arrived on the scene. The song discusses using and abusing crystal meth, a drug that wouldn’t hit the mainstream until a solid decade later. The song was annoyingly addictive (probably similar to its subject matter,) but just as every other track on the list, could have only existed in the 1990s.

4. One Headlight – The Wallflowers

Bob Dylan is quite possibly the greatest rock n’ roll writer of our time, but could his gift possibly possess his son as well? The hype behind the WallFlowers’ must have been overwhelming for Jacob Dylan at times, yet the sense of relief when the first single “One Headlight,” was a smash, must have left him gasping for air. The song is original on so many levels, yet sounds like a complete tribute to big poppa Dylan. The bluesy organ, the raspy whisper you can almost see the dark circles under the song’s eyes. Of course, The WallFlowers could never match the success of Dylan senior, but for a brief period it seemed like they just might do it and all under the guidance of just one headlight.

 3. Tonight, Tonight – Smashing Pumpkins

Grunge music was predominantly about embracing misery and self-doubt, something that the Smashing Pumpkins accomplished with flying, black and white, gothic stars. But what separated the Pumpkins’ from the rest of the Debby Downers was that Corgan seem to embrace rather than trounce the idea of writing a mesmerizing, skin-tingling love song. Kurt Cobain seemed content on shunning out any overly lovey-dovey feelings, while Corgan at times sounded like he was walking on proverbial sunshine. The 1990s may be a long time ago for many, but for those who can remember, they will agree that “Tonight, Tonight” was inescapable. Corgan didn’t just write a song, he wrote a compassionate feature on the body’s strongest emotion. It has a short build-up, essentially an introductory to the song’s main characters, an enthralling climax and of course an unforgettable ending/conclusion. “Believe in me because I believe in you…Tonight Tonight,” is grunge music’s equivalent to Shakespeare.

2. Smells like Teen Spirit – Nirvana

If aliens ever decide to invade planet Earth and begin teaching human history, the video of “Smells like Teen Spirit” will likely be used to demonstrate what was going on in the 90s. The plaid clothing, the bleached-blonde hair, the jean shorts, Kurt Cobain and company unintentionally created a time capsule to be examined by future generations. If the video was turned to mute it would be as depressing as the film “Moon,” but thankfully Nirvana cranked up the juice for this career-defining moment. It’s rare that a band’s biggest song is also one of their best-written ones but this is the case with this tribute to the growing pains of high school. Even the title is brilliantly chosen, although still understated. It doesn’t just smell like teen spirit, it sounds and looks like a generation of neglected teenagers yearning for belonging and more importantly, authenticity.

1. Wonderwall – Oasis

It will be disputed until the end of time, but Oasis were the group to thrust the dagger into the tortured heart of grunge music and put the fun back into rock n’ roll. Oasis’ blistering rifts and unmistakable voices made the depressing sound of grunge seem dull and borderline unhealthy. Better yet, Oasis made the 90’s music snobs exist in the present rather than yearn for the days when life wasn’t so complicated.  Nirvana sounded as though they wish tomorrow never existed, while Oasis openly celebrated the idea of today. Yes, they shamelessly rip off the Beatles, but could you name a better band to replicate? The 90s was the beginning of the re-invention of everything from yesterday. The clothing, the sunglasses, the music has all come back which is why Oasis is less of a Beatle’s duplicate and more of just the Beatles of the 90s. While “Smells like Teen Spirit” might still be the most recognizable and iconic track of the 90s, no song, arguably on the planet, makes more people sing off-key in unison than “Wonderwall” by Oasis.

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