“Hold On” by Wilson Phillips (1990)
The last remnant of ’80s pop music, “Hold On” not only topped the charts in 1990, but it was also the highest charting single of 1990. Despite the fact that their album, Wilson Phillips, went to number two on the charts, Wilson Phillips became most known for “Hold On”. It’s been featured in movies like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Bridesmaids, and Whip It!. Despite their massive success, Wilson Phillips was never able to match the popularity of their debut single.
“I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls (1990)
In their native Australia, the Divinyl’s “I Touch Myself” knocked off “Ice, Ice, Baby” for the number one spot, where it stayed for exactly one week. The band broke up after their next album, and unfortunately lead singer Chrissy Amphlett passed away in 2013 after a lengthy battle with breast cancer. Besides a brief return courtesy of Austin Powers, “I Touch Myself” has been left untouched in the halls of music history.
“Baby Baby” by Amy Grant (1991)
Labeled the “Queen of Christian Pop”, Grant was accused of selling out with this crossover hit.
“O.P.P.” by Naughty by Nature (1991)
Truer words, Treach, truer words. Naughty by Nature never became one of those classic hip-hop groups like Run D.M.C. or Public Enemy, but that didn’t stop them from giving us one of the most memorable acronyms of the ’90s. Sampling the Jackson Five’s “ABC”, “O.P.P.” proved to be one of the catchiest, and most entertaining songs of the ’90s, until everyone forgot about it a few years later. And, yes, he is holding a rusty machete on the album cover.
“Unbelievable” by EMF (1991)
EMF were pioneers of the rave-rock scene that never took off. Check out the keyboardist in the video: he’s having the time of his life. Bands like EMF and Jesus Jones were supposedly the forerunners of the next big musical fad. Rave-rock combined elements of industrial dance music, rock, and ecstasy… most importantly ecstasy. It never caught on in the U.S., or pretty much anywhere else, and by 1992 rave-rock faded away as quickly as it sprang up. Out of sight, out of mind; or, more appropriately, out of stereo, out of mind.
“Free Your Mind” by En Vogue (1992)
Despite the absurd bombardment of Europop and bubblegum pop, artists still tried to be socially conscious. “Free Your Mind” is probably the hardest rocking song with a social message about the woes of prejudice and discrimination. Taken from the wildly successful LP Funky Divas, “Free Your Mind” isn’t as timeless as “My Lovin'”, but it’s just as energetic and confident. “Free Your Mind” has just as much relevance today as it did back in 1992, when it was supposedly written in response to the race riots in Los Angeles.
“Walking on Broken Glass” by Annie Lennox (1992)
The most well-known member of the Eurhythmics, Annie Lennox embarked on a solo career with her 1992 album, appropriately titled Diva. The most popular song off the album, and of her career as a solo artist was “Walking on Broker Glass”, which helped the album sell over two million copies in the U.S. alone. See how long it takes you to notice John Malkovich and a pre-House Hugh Laurie in the music video.
“The River of Dreams” by Billy Joel (1993)
When it comes to Billy Joel, the line in the sand is drawn between ’70s Joel and ’80s Joel. People who like one generally tend to loathe the other. However, while these factions are often squabbling about the merits of depressed Joel, one thing that they do agree on is that ’90s Joel, which only consisted of The River of Dreams, is best left forgotten. I guess Billy was trying to look hip with the flannel he was sporting.
“Fields of Gold” by Sting (1993)
This is the saddest song in the world. Lyrically and thematically, “Fields of Gold” is the successor to Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer”, as it deals with the depressing effects of nostalgia and the omnipotent passing of time. It’s sad, and beautiful, and perfect. It’s a shame that “Desert Rose” has supplanted it as Sting’s most memorable solo song.
“Informer” by Snow (1993)
The only number one hit single to ever be sung in an indecipherable language. Snow is quite literally the Canadian Vanilla Ice, right down to the perfect Jim Carrey impersonation on the sketch comedy program In Living Colour.
“What Is Love?” by Haddaway (1993)
Is this supposed to be a horror movie, an exploitation film, or just a poorly directed ’90s music video? “What Is Love?” is the mother of all ’90s one-hit wonders; it was played incessantly up until 2000, when it dropped off the face of the planet. Despite that fact that it never even cracked the top ten in the U.S., it somehow became one of the most memorable songs from the ’90s. “What Is Love?” is the poster child for shitty Europop that dominated the American charts in the mid-’90s, and for that it should never be forgotten.
“Another Night” by the Real McCoy (1995)
(Speaking of crappy Europop…) For anyone who grew up in the ’90s, songs like this will forever color your childhood. Apparently, this song has the record for most total time spent at the number three spot on the Billboard Hot 100. It is also the highest selling single in the U.S. recorded by a German band or artist.
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something (1995)
Wikipedia is apt when it says that “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is “the band’s biggest and only hit”. A comment like this seems like a backhanded compliment at best, and the negativity doesn’t stop there for Deep Blue Something’s only hit single, as Blender Magazine listed it as the sixth “most awesomely bad song ever”. There are definitely more than five worse songs out there; “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” isn’t even one of the top 100 worst songs of the ’90s. People are probably too embarrassed to admit how much of an insultingly catchy song this is.
“Kiss From a Rose” by Seal (1995)
Although Seal had another hit with “Crazy”, it was “Kiss From a Rose” that made kids across the country realize that if an actual seal could be named “Andre”, a human could be called “Seal”. Chosen as the companion song to the underrated Batman Forever, “Kiss From a Rose” was played out everywhere during the summer of 1995, despite sitting at the top of the charts for only one week in August (two months after the film was released). First Seal writes and records one of the most iconic and sappiest songs from the ’90s, then he marries Heidi Klum. How can one man have so much?
“Lovefool” by the Cardigans (1996)
Does this song remind anyone else of William Shakespeare? It should, as “Lovefool” was featured in Romeo + Juliet, the most spastic version of the Bard’s play, which has also likely induced the most seizures. Not only were Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrman’s modern retelling, but so too was John Leguizamo, in his standard “What-the-fuck-is-John-Leguizamo-doing-here” role. “Lovefool” has gone on to be featured in other shows and movies such as Nip/Tuck, The Office, and Cruel Intentions. The Cardigans proved that in the ’90s, to have a major hit in the US, all you needed was to call Europe home — and a mildly danceable beat.
“Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger (1997)
This is what passed for rock music in the ’90s. The lyrics are quirky and raunchy, belaying a lazily self-reflective boredom. Based solely on one song, and one song along, Harvey Danger seemed like a Green Day that wasn’t nearly as self-serious or narcissistic. And no, the lead singer is not Seth Rogen.
“Bitch” by Meredith Brooks (1997)
Remember how controversial this song was when it first came out? Is it even possible for pop songs to be controversial anymore? Meredith Brooks was already 39 when she released her only hit single, “Bitch”, which was banned in Singapore because of the controversial title. Rumor has it that when the single was first released, radio DJs misattributed the song to Alanis Morissette. After all, if anyone in 1997 was going to write a song called “Bitch”, it was (seemingly) going to be Alanis.
“The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica (1998)
This song got so big that people started to think it was autobiographical. It didn’t help that Brandy and Monica only performed this song together live one time. As it turns out, they just didn’t like each other. Billboard ranked “The Boy Is Mine” as the 54th greatest single of all time back in 2008. Neither Brandy nor Monica were ever able to match the success they had with “The Boy Is Mine”. Just as a reminder of how huge this song was back in the summer of 1998: it held the number one spot on the Billboard top 100 from 6 June to 29 August, for a streak of 12 weeks. What really made the song so successful is that the venom and animosity is truly sincere.
“The Way” by Fastball (1998)
This was one of those songs that people liked for 20 minutes, and then forgot it even existed — kinda like Velcro sneakers. Although Fastball gave us “The Way”, a song that seems more like a narration to Unsolved Mysteries, they still own the title of “How the hell did these guys ever get famous?”, a title they share with Jimmy Ray, someone who’s way too obscure to put on this list. Maybe it’s just the way he sings this song, but front man Tony Scalzo sounds completely disinterested on “The Way”. For all we know, he could have been trying to capture the Gen X zeitgeist.
“Steal My Sunshine” by Len (1999)
The video becomes a little weirder once you realize they are brother and sister. Inspired by both “More, More, More” by porn star-turned-singer Andrea True and the call-and-respond lyrics of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”, Len wrote the feel-good hit of the summer of 1999 with “Steal My Sunshine”. And just as quickly as summer fades into the fall, so too did “Steal My Sunshine” from everyone’s memories.
Every decade has its slew of songs that, while memorable at the time, are quickly forgotten once the next decade once its new trends and styles come around. For every timeless classic like “Let It Be” or “Stairway to Heaven”, there’s a “More, More, More” or “96 Tears”. For some reason, it just seems like the ’90s were home to the most memorable songs that time forgot. Here’s a salute to the songs that stop mattering once the calendar flipped to the year 2000, and some that were forgotten much, much sooner.
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The ’90s were great because it was an entire decade that had absolutely no rules. Everything from the music to the films to the fashion was so objectively arbitrary that in retrospect they seem completely absurd. This was a time where music videos still mattered, unflattering clothing was in style, Ben Stiller was given his own TV show, and people still considered “cool” to be synonymous with “yes”. The ’90s are missed because of both its simplicity and absurdity. Just to prove that last point, here’s Jimmy Ray’s “Are You Jimmy Ray”.
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This article originally published on 15 July 2015.