9 Quintessential ’90s Songs You Should Be Listening to Again Right Now

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Ah, the 1990s.

They were so good, weren’t they? Take us back.

It was a decade that came in with “gangsta rap” and grunge and departed with boy bands and pop starlets. And in between, music fans had animated Disney soundtracks and even a few jam bands or three.

Here, we wanted to take a trip down memory lane and share with you 9 quintessential ’90s songs that you should be listening to all over again.

But before we get to our main list, let’s remember a few honorable mentions, shall we?

Acts like:

Everclear with “Santa Monica,” Sublime with “What I Got,” Soundgarden with “Black Hole Sun,” Natalie Imbruglia with “Torn,” Ace of Base with “The Sign,” The Spice Girls with “Wanna Be,” Brandy & Monica with “The Boy Is Mine,” No Doubt with “Don’t Speak,” Radiohead with “Creep,” Oasis with “Wonderwall,” Green Day with “Basket Case,” R.E.M. with “Losing My Religion,” Missy Elliott with “The Rain,” Busta Rhymes with “Woo-HAH!!,” Wu-Tang Clan with “Triumph,” All-4-One with “I Swear,” Bone Thugs N Harmony with “Crossroads,” Jamiroquai with “Virtual Insanity,” The Wallflowers with “One Headlight,” Spin Doctors with “Two Princes,” DMX with “Get At Me Dog,” Alanis Morissette with “Ironic,” Blues Traveler with “Run-Around,” Eminem with “My Name Is,” Christina Aguilera with “Genie In A Bottle,” Mandy Moore with “Candy,” Snoop Dogg with “Gin and Juice,” The Notorious B.I.G. with “Juicy” and *NSYNC with “I Want You Back.”

Woo! That’s a ton—29 to be exact. In fact, we hear that after you die, the songs above play on a loop in heaven. We can only hope. Okay, now, let’s get to the meat of the playlist.

1. “MMMBop” by Hanson

Was there anything more ’90s than these three towhead boys singing gibberish? Pleasant guitar strumming mixed with simple, catchy rhythms and pop vocals. It’s the perfect combination. It was so good it literally didn’t matter what they sang. What does MMMBop mean? We still don’t know. But we love it.

2. “I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys

In the days of Total Request Live, this song was everywhere. TELL ME WHYYYEEEEEEE?! was on everyone’s lips. The boy band was ubiquitous and pleasantly so. After the tough days from grunge and the tragic deaths that often ensured, this was the music the populous wanted. That’s WHYYYEEEE!!

3. “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears

The voice. The look. The hairdo. The dance. The school letting out. Britney became the crush of just about everyone on the planet—especially young men in high school, pining for her video to come back on MTV. Yes, her loneliness was killing her. This video set the stage for a life of ups and downs. But in 10,000 years, people will remember Britney for this.

4. “Criminal” by Fiona Apple

Another music video that played seemingly endlessly on MTV, when the music television channel was as important as any outlet in popular culture. Here, a jaded Apple tells us to look away. But we can’t. She’s been a “bad, bad girl.” But we don’t care, do we? She’s impossible not to listen to. We love her. What a voice.

5. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

That opening electric guitar riff! This song, perhaps more than any other, was the soundtrack to the decade. Angry and disaffected. Handsome and brilliant. Guns and guitars. What else could a hungry pop culture lover want to digest?

6. “California Love” by Tupac

Want to know if someone has a pulse? Put this song on and see if they move. If they don’t, they’re officially deceased. If they do, turn up the volume. This song is the most riveting track perhaps in the history of popular music. Tupac was a genius. A flame that burned out too soon. But this song will live forever.

7. “No Scrubs” by TLC

The word “scrub” has never been the same. Thanks to this trio of hip-hop stars. To wit, anyone in the passenger side of their best friend’s ride is also at risk of not getting a date. “No Scrubs” defined the ’90s and was everywhere on party speakers, car radios, and TRL (Total Request Live). What a track from these lovely gals.

8. “Stay” by Lisa Loeb

Another absolute classic. Say these two words—”You say!”—to anyone in the ’90s and they’ll sing the entirety of the track to you in minutes. Lisa Loeb has gone on to have a great career since, with eyewear and children’s songs. But this song will be her defining moment forever.

9. “Crash” by Dave Matthews Band

Maybe the strangest love song of all time, this track has lasted ever since its release in the mid-’90s. Matthews is an all-timer, grossing more in concert tickets than some countries’ gross domestic product. He’s a jam band hero and a stalwart songwriter. “Crash” is his high-water mark.

(Photo by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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