13. TLC – “Waterfalls”
“Waterfalls” reputation has only grown as time progresses, even though it was a Billboard #1 single for seven weeks and voted Billboard’s #2 Single for 2005. There are not many holdouts left who would deny TLC’s 1994 standout, Crazysexycool, is anything other than a stone-cold classic. Plus, “Waterfalls” gives good advice, a favorite among girl gangs everywhere, alongside “No Scrubs” as essential dating advice and breakup mixtape fodder.
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes is another incredible talent taken from us too soon, It breaks the heart to think of all the great music we could’ve had with another 20 years of TLC.
12. 2Pac and Dr. Dre – “California Love”
Back to back with “Waterfalls”, there’s no disputing the ’90s was a peak era for hip-hop. 2Pac’s single, “California Love”, sounds even fresher and more impressive than in 1995, when it topped the Billboard at #1 for two weeks. Its boom-bap beat, and g-funk synth, paired with 2Pac’s undeniable rapping, encapsulates everything amazing about ’90s hip-hop.
Hopefully, putting this on the same playlist as Wu-Tang’s “Bring Da Ruckus” can help settle the East Coast/West Coast beef permanently. RIP 2Pac.
11. The Chemical Brothers – “Block Rockin’ Beats”
No list of ’90s music is complete without at least some electronic music. For those in the know, the ’90s were a paradise of underground dance music in the wake of the “Second Summer of Love” in the late ’80s in the UK.
As the ’90s ticked on, underground dance music gathered enough momentum to reach escape velocity, eventually dominating mainstream musical tastes and laying the groundwork for 21st century festival culture. From 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole, “Block Rockin’ Beats” is the fulcrum of ’90s electronic music. The beats utterly bang, going off like a warehouse party at peak time Saturday night while the rave sirens rage. “Block Rockin’ Beats” is guaranteed to make folks on the dancefloor lose their sweaty minds when used judiciously.
It might not be hip to admit to loving the Chemical Brothers among underground dance music heads, and that’s a shame. There never was any room for elitism in rave culture – not in 1997 and not in 2023.
10. Guns ‘N Roses – “November Rain”
Before metal splintered into a thousand factions and sub-genres, there was one moment when it reigned supreme. “November Rain”, from 1991’s Use Your Illusion I, feels like a tipping point before the ’90s would get going in earnest, when grunge nailed the coffin shut on thrash and hair metal for all time, then kicked it to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean’s Marianas Trench.
The image of Slash epically soloing as his top hat blows away is as much of an iconic image of the ’90s as Nirvana’s cheerleaders and Blind Melon’s dancing bee girls.” “November Rain” is a fine example of the metal ballad that made glam metal such a force to be reckoned with – until it wasn’t.
9. Duran Duran – “Ordinary World”
With its soaring lead guitar and chorused vocals, “Ordinary World”, from 1993’s The Wedding Album, feels more like epic metal balladry or proto-grunge/alternative/indie than the synthpop of “Rio” or “Girls on Film”.
It doesn’t seem to get as much love on ’90s nostalgia mixtapes as the grunge and alternative rock that was blowing up in 1993, despite reaching #1 on Billboard. It’s a shame, as it’s an excellent single. We’re here to set the record straight.
8. R.E.M. – “Losing My Religion”
What better representative of the weird, shifting state of underground music than R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, from 1991’s Out of Time? Darlings of “college rock” and awkwardly shoehorned into “alternative rock”, what does “Losing My Religion” have in common with the post-Pixies guitars of Nirvana or the punk-funk of Red Hot Chili Peppers?
Regardless, “Losing My Religion” remains a high-point of ’90s high culture, with its artful cherubic music video and cryptic allusions to historical events few listeners probably remembered. It’s also a fine example of tasteful folk rock, with its mandolins and keening cellos. “Losing My Religion” came at a moment in the ’90s when popularity, ambition, and good taste were equally possible.