1990s songs
Photo: Video still of ‘Back to the 90s

Will ‘That ’90s Show’ Include These 25 Nostalgia-Inducing Songs?

That ’90s Show creator Gregg Mettler says he loves ’90s music. Will his comedy include these 25 songs that make us nostalgic for the 1990s?

The phrase “1990s music” is going to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For many in America, they’ll think of grunge and the glory days of alternative music. Others will flash to the golden era of ’90s hip-hop and R&B. Still others will think of niche scenes like the renaissance of ’90s death metal or the heyday of ’90s rave music and culture, which became so prevalent it exploded into mainstream society like Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful.

Making a definitive statement about a musical monoculture is pointless and futile. Even worse, vast communities of music obsessives will be left out, feeling marginalized, forgotten, and ignored. With Netflix’s recent launch of the nostalgia cash cow, That ’90s Show, it’s inevitable that some things considered emblematic of the ’90s will be overlooked, despite showrunner Gregg Mettler’s best intentions. Mettler has expressed a love and appreciation for all things ’90s music, as he recently told Variety. “‘I love all the music from the 90s, all the genres, and we try our best to weave them all into the show,’ says Mettler. ‘And so, there’s something for everybody inside the show.'”

It will be interesting to see how That ’90s Show works in the different genres. Too much overlap could strain the suspension of disbelief, as it’s questionable how much cross-pollination took place in a small-ish Wisconsin suburb in the ’90s. Metalheads weren’t exactly hanging out with the ravers; alt-slackers weren’t necessarily kicking it with the b-boys and fly girls – although the world would have been much better if they had.


We have the benefit of hindsight working in our favor in this case. Looking backward, we can see the beauty of Alan Moulder’s volcanic guitars and the Golden Age of Hip-Hop with masterpieces from artists like Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest. We can acknowledge the decade as a high point – several high points, really – for heavy metal, from Metallica, Megadeath, and Pantera in the mainstream to Slayer, Morbid Angel, and Sepultura in the underground. Finally, we can admit that there were plenty of radio-friendly unit shifters that are quite excellent now that we’ve gotten over ourselves and let elitist slack ennui go.

It remains to be seen if That ’90s Show will capture the spirit of the ’90s in America or if it will simply look back through some rose-colored Summer of Love Version 2.0 shades. Even if That ’90s Show is an immersive experience, the decade itself and the show’s setting in that small midwestern suburb – some things will still be missed. Even if That ’90s Show is the most thorough, exhaustive time capsule of the ’90s this side of Clueless, there’s never a bad reason to listen to ’90s songs.

We didn’t want to put together another Now That What’s I Call ’90s Music mixtape here. There’s no shortage of alt-rock retrospectives out there. That ’90s Show soundtrack is sure to have plenty of bangers, as well, if Mettler is as much of a superfan as he claims to be. We didn’t want to put together a playlist of radio hits, as that ground’s been covered so thoroughly. Instead, we tried to combine some deep cuts and under-appreciated gems along with the ’90s alt-rock you’ll still hear on corporate radio.

From TLC to Nirvana, Metallica to 2Pac, here are 25 songs to summon your ’90s nostalgia in America.

25. Smashing Pumpkins – “Cherub Rock”

We begin with the first song from, arguably, the Smashing Pumpkin’s best album, Siamese Dream (1993). It was hard not to choose “Today”, given its omnipresence, but “Cherub Rock” remains one of the all-time greatest album openers with its gymnastic drum rolls and throbbing bassline, placing it alongside such hallowed company as My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow” and the Beatles’ “Come Together”.

“Beware / All those angels with their wings glued on.”

24. Jane’s Addiction – “Stop”

Perry Ferrell doesn’t get enough credit for his influence on the ’90s. Let us not forget the incredible amount of influence the juggernaut that was Lollapalooza had on the culture, making “alternative” a marketing category more than describing a sound or approach to the music industry.

Let us not forget, also, how incredibly huge Jane’s Addiction were during the early ’90s, bridging the gap between college rock, indie, and alternative music. “Stop” is from Jane Addiction’s 1990 album, Ritual de lo Habitual.

23. Nirvana – “Heart-Shaped Box”

We know, we know, why aren’t we putting “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on this list? As much as we love that song, does anyone need to be reminded of its existence? We’ll leave that to everybody else on Earth.

Instead, we’re going with one of the breakout singles from Nirvana’s last record, 1993’s In Utero. Has there ever been a less-obvious radio hit and music video, with its drab visuals, cryptic astrological references, and squealing guitars than “Heart-Shaped Box”?

The ’90s were truly a strange time, and much of that strangeness was due to Nirvana.

22. Metallica – “Sad But True”

Since we’re skipping obvious radio hits in favor of deep cuts, we’re passing on Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, despite its popularity and obvious awesomeness. Considering 1991’s The Black Album‘s stacked playlist, yielding multiple radio hits, we could pick virtually any song from it elicit ’90s nostalgia. 

We’re going with “Sad But True” as:

  1. It rocks
  2. It’s one of the evillest and heaviest of the bunch

21. Bush – “Glycerine”

When was the last time you listened to Bush? Nearly 30 years later, Bush’s breakout single from their debut album, 1995’s Sixteen Stone, is the definition of “divisive”. “Glycerine” is truly a love-it-or-hate-it song.

From where we’re sitting, it’s an elegant, stripped-down, artful radio single with vaguely depressing lyrics and some truly lovely cello. “Glycerine” is adventurous for a radio single in a way that feels particularly ’90s. Ignore the haters and add this one to your ’90s playlist.

20. Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”

“Black Hole Sun”, from another 1994’s Superunknown, this hit radio single and music video that feels particularly ’90s. Soundgarden are one of the quintessential bands, despite not sharing the Flying-V post-metal brawn of many of their peers. The shimmering vocals, especially paired with the mind-searingly psychedelic music, are truly strange. 

At least with “Black Hole Sun”, Soundgarden were more of a psychedelic metal band than grunge and a damn good one at that. Superunknown as a whole holds up, so let this playlist entry serve as a gateway drug and a reminder.