Best 90s singles
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The 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the ’90s: 80 – 61

The second part of our examination of the 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the ’90s includes Pavement, Suzanne Vega, Morrissey, Dinosaur Jr., and more.

70. Stone Temple Pilots – “Sex Type Thing” (1992)

Stone Temple Pilots enjoyed massive commercial success during their peak years in the ’90s, but were often dismissed by detractors as grunge bandwagon-jumpers with scant originality. Those who believed so were simply wrong. There’s an innate power and intensity to STP’s best work, and the late Scott Weiland was a dynamic rock ‘n’ roll frontman. He had the swagger, the presence, and the enormous vocal power to deliver bracing in-your-face rock at its most primal and explosive.

The motoric rocker “Sex Type Thing” was the first single from the band’s debut album Core, and it quickly torched the rock airwaves and MTV. Weiland inhabits the character of a vicious sexual predator with a feverish malevolence, even brazenly blaming the victim, “I am a man, a man I’ll give ya somethin that ya won’t forget / I said you shouldn’t have worn that dress / I said you shouldn’t have worn that dress! / Worn that dress!” “You wanna know about atrocity?!” Weiland snarls with sinister menace. “Sex Type Thing” is clearly not about sex, but an aggressive display of power and control.

The track ends with the nightmarish repetition of “here I come, I come, I come” with guitars blazing, as if the object of the narrator’s repugnant obsession is running down a darkened corridor to escape the spectre of violence closing in from behind. Stone Temple Pilots produced a number of outstanding singles in their career, but they never equaled the sheer ferocity and raw sonic force of “Sex Type Thing”.

69. Ride – “Vapour Trail” (1990)

There’s an almost Nick Drake-like furtiveness and delicacy to guitarist Andy Bell’s vocals on “Vapour Trail”, the standout track from Ride’s brilliant full-length debut Nowhere. His delicate reeding through the vaguely psychedelic jangle pop is beautifully vulnerable. It’s like his vocals were specifically made to fit Ride’s cavernous garage-rock to perfection.

The song reflects on someone who may enter your life, utterly enchant you and then fade away like the mist. You even reasonably suspect that’s what will happen in the end but the journey is so perfect it’s worth the bittersweet ache. She’s the vapour trail in the title: “First you look so strong / then you fade away / the sun will blind my eyes / I love you anyway / thirsty for your smile / I watch you for a while / you are a vapour trail / In a deep blue sky.” The brightness of the sun fades all too soon, no matter how bright it gets at noon.

The swirling guitar sound, produced by Andy Bell on two 12-strings, creates a pleasantly dreamy setting for his sadly nostalgic lyrics. The rest of the band performs admirably, creating a hazy soundscape for Bell’s lilting melody. “Vapour Trail” lingers for a long, spectacularly cinematic closing, the guitars slowly giving way to strings over a series of manic fills by drummer Laurence Colbert. At the very end it’s only the strings left, slowly fading into nothing, a whirl of smoke dissipating into the ether.

68. K’s Choice – “Not an Addict” (1996)

K’s Choice is a Belgian band formed by siblings Sarah Bettens (vocals) and Gert Bettens (guitar/keyboards). “Not an Addict” is from their second album, Paradise in Me, and became by far the band’s biggest single. The song deals with addiction from the point of view of someone who tries to throw up spurious denials that she obviously doesn’t even believe herself. It’s a portrait of a woman trapped in chains, sometimes pretending that it’s exactly where she wants to be, but knowing deep inside that she’s drowning.

The breathy, ominous refrain of “ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh” helps build the song’s searing tension. Bettens’ performance is completely compelling and absolutely convincing. She nails the vocal with a rasp of desperation — the pleasure, pain and self-delusion of addiction. The lure and the trap are laid out bare. “Not an Addict” captures dual desperations — the need for the next hit, and the aching need to be free. Bettens describes the bleak emptiness of life when the high fades away: “It’s over now, i’m cold, alone / i’m just a person on my own / nothing means a thing to me / oh, nothing means a thing to me”.

The song opens with a rumbling bass and rhythm guitars that gradually rise in pressure until finally exploding. There’s also a psychedelic, dream-tinged bridge that gives a taste of what the mind is like when not frozen in the cold, dire reality between trips. A riveting human drama, “Not an Addict” proved popular at alternative radio, reaching #5 of the Billboard Modern Rock Chart.

67. Filter – “Hey Man Nice Shot” (1995)

There’s something viscerally shocking about the sentiment “hey man, nice shot” as a response to a suicide, even if it’s meant to be sardonic. At the time of its release, many fans perhaps understandably thought “Hey Man Nice Shot” was prompted by Kurt Cobain’s suicide the year before. In fact, it’s inspired by the death of R. Budd Dwyer, a state treasurer in Pennsylvania who was found guilty of racketeering, fraud, conspiracy and bribery. At a press conference in January 1987, he stunned the assembled crowd by putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Cameras rolled, people screamed, and footage of the suicide was widely shown on television news reports.

Sensitive to criticisms that the song was callous or somehow glorified suicide, Filter felt compelled to issue the following statement: “The song ‘Hey Man Nice Shot’ is a reaction to a well-documented public suicide. It is not a celebration or glorification of taking one’s own life. The phrase ‘hey man, nice shot’ is a reference to the final act itself, an expression of guts and determination of a person standing up for what they believe is right. We are extremely sensitive and respectful to the family and friends of Mr. Dwyer. We have both lost friends to suicide and felt nothing but sympathy and loss for the victims, and those involved in such a tragedy.”

It’s an incendiary track built on dramatic shifts in dynamics, from solemn and barren to soul-wrenching blasts of colossal firepower. “Hey Man Nice Shot” reached #10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart.

66. Morrissey – “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” (1994)

The lead single from Morrissey’s fourth studio album, the outstanding Vauxhall and I, “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get” is one of the former Smiths vocalist’s most successful solo singles. It reached #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart and became his first Top 10 single in his native England in five years. Morrissey plays an obsessive stalker with just the right amount of suave creepiness. His sickly sweet crooning is chilling as he takes a song that sounds romantic and turns it on its heels.

Musically the song is a languid-mid-tempo rocker, produced by Steve Lillywhite and built on a recurring melodic electric guitar riff, acoustic rhythm guitar, a florid bassline, and Woody Taylor’s rock-solid drumming. A glistening acoustic guitar pattern descends above the fray during the song’s chorus. The music overall is rather upbeat and not evocative at all of an obsessive stalker, which undoubtedly is the point.

Morrissey’s sardonic wit and clever wordplay are on display as always, with acerbic lines like, “Beware! / I hold more grudges/ Than lonely high court judges / when you sleep I will creep into your thoughts like a bad debt that you can’t pay / take the easy way and give in / yeah, and let me in.” Perhaps it’s metaphoric — something troubling that constantly gnaws at your mind and you can’t banish? With a wordsmith as deft as Morrissey, anything is possible. But most likely it is what it sounds — a predator’s velvety supplication for the object of his sick fascination to give in to the inevitable. He actually seems supremely confident that she will.