240. N.O.R.E. – “Superthug” (1998)
The Neptunes and Pharrell had been producing throughout most of the decade, but the brilliant work on “Superthug” truly catapulted them onto everyone’s radar. No offense to N.O.R.E., but if they could take him to the top of the rap charts, who else could they help?
239. A Tribe Called Quest – “Buggin’ Out” (1991)
Maybe the most iconic image of ATCQ is Phife with the fake eyes in the “Buggin’ Out” video combined with one of his best verses (“you want to diss the Phifer, but you still don’t know the half”) and the simple bass line beat running through.
238. Michael Jackson – “Remember the Time” (1991)
M.J.’s discography in the ’90s is spotty but also practically nonexistent beyond 1991’s Dangerous. The album is probably better than you remember, and “Remember the Time” is the closest that Jackson gets to his ’80s heights.
237. Massive Attack – “Safe from Harm” (1991)
Grand Theft Auto radio stations are the six degrees of separation of the music world nowadays. “Safe From Harm” heavily samples “Stratus” from the jazz fusion classic Spectrum by Billy Cobham. That song was later featured in “Fusion FM” on Grand Theft Auto IV.
236. Archers of Loaf – “Web in Front” (1993)
The Icky Mettle opener has taken on a life bigger than the band by becoming a representation of what frill-free, anti-pop indie rock sounds like.
235. Public Enemy – “Welcome to the Terrordome” (1990)
’90s rap starts here: “This is a journey, journey through sound…” Even with more acclaim and mainstream recognition, Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad got more aggressive and less apologetic.
234. Daft Punk – “Around the World” (1997)
This song is maniacally repetitive; that tends to happen when the lyrics amount to “Around the World” 144 times. In a 2017 study by Colin Morris, “Around the World” was found to be the most repetitive out of 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 hits. 2nd was “The Rockafeller Skank” (not on this list).
233. Green Day – “Longview” (1994)
There are two Green Days: Kerplunk! and Dookie Green Day and then everything after Green Day. Here, on singles like “Longview,” Green Day could actually be the voice of the American youth without breaking a sweat.
232. Oasis – “Don’t Look Back in Anger” (1995)
To understate it, the Gallagher brothers have some issues. Noel wrote or co-wrote every song and Liam got to sing it and represent the band. By the second album, Noel had to prove he could sing and pulled off “Don’t Look Back in Anger” for himself. I’m sure Liam took it like a champ.
231. Moby – “Go” (1991)
Moby’s a miserable son of a bitch. When you tattoo “Vegan for Life” on your neck, you just have to be. Most of his music’s pretty lifeless, but this early single with those unmistakable Twin Peaks strings being sampled lives up to its title.
230. The Flaming Lips – “Waiting for a Superman” (1999)
It’s easy to not take The Flaming Lips seriously due to their antics and consider their ’90s acclaim as a sign of the times, but then you revisit The Soft Bulletin, and specifically this highlight, and find that their earnestness and plea for a better world will sadly remain timeless.
229. Aphex Twin – “Come to Daddy” (1997)
Aphex Twin was many things, but being a worldclass self-brand mastermind is often overlooked. The magnificent music video for his most-industrial single features many Richard D. James’ coming after you, being reborn, evolving, and sucking grandma’s face off. You dig into his work, and he’ll let you know who he is in his own twisted way.
228. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Red Right Hand” (1994)
This is second only to “The Mercy Seat” among songs that Nick Cave keeps on his setlist. It’s become a soundtrack staple for crime shows and horror movies with its playful, mysterious vibes.
227. Digable Planets – “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” (1992)
Early alternative hip hop existed outside of the Native Tongues groups and Digable Planets led that path towards something a little less mainstream, but before that, they had a typical hit on their hands with the horn sample on their first single.
226. Beck – “Where It’s At” (1996)
Beck’s complacency over the years hasn’t done a service to his truly unique work on Odelay, and one of its biggest songs “Where It’s At.” The song almost goes to a complete stop multiple times only to come back to a completely different instrumental take on the chorus and new samples and instruments thrown in for good measure.
225. Lauryn Hill – “Ex-Factor” (1998)
When Drake needed a R&B classic to run through “Nice for What,” he went to Lauryn Hill. “Doo-Wop” is the go-to, all-time hit off of Miseducation, but “Ex-Factor” is the underrated epic, with vocals layering over each other and a slick guitar solo to top it off.
224. Dead Prez – “Hip-Hop” (1999)
Dead Prez never sold out, but that doesn’t mean they never made a party record. The back-and-forth “Hip” & “Hop” chorus can get any crowd going after just one listen. They snuck in some socially-conscious lyrics along the way.
223. Jane’s Addiction – “Stop!” (1990)
Jane’s Addiction only released two albums during their first time together, and they were both maybe the best hard rock albums of their respective years. Perry Farrell had a punk-y voice while the backing band hued closer to thrash metal; it was a good combo.
222. The House Crew – “Euphoria (Nino’s Dream)” (1993)
You can’t readily find information about the House Crew; Discogs has some information on who the group is linked to (the Production House label) but exact credits from track-to-track are vague. What is known is this damn tour de force of a rave banger. No long intros or pretentious declarations — just arena-ready keyboard riffs and breakbeat catharsis.
221. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – “I See a Darkness” (1999)
Oldham’s signature song was made with such care and personality that it was able to withstand a Johnny Cash cover near his death and remain the definitive version.
220. Pavement – “Here” (1992)
Pavement’s best non-single might be the closest Pavement got to a soft rock classic. Put it in Springsteen’s or Paul Simon’s hands, and they could’ve ran up the charts.
219. Madonna – “Ray of Light” (1998)
Madonna had a while to think over how to come back from the underwhelming Bedtime Stories. She took a full dive into becoming Evita Perón, had a daughter, and then returned an enlightened electronica-embracing diva. Madonna was past her peak, but she reveled in the comedown.
218. Björk – “Big Time Sensuality” (1993)
She was never truly “accessible,” but looking back, a lofty, goofy dance-hit like “Big Time Sensuality” tells you why she has mainstream recognition beyond a goose dress.
217. Sonic Youth – “The Diamond Sea” (1995)
In all of Sonic Youth’s discography, no song is as long as the closer to Washing Machine. It features a 10-minute+ outro that turns the pleasant melodic beginnings to intense noise rock. It towers not only over the album, but also their ’90s output.
216. Wilco – “Misunderstood” (1996)
The leap from A.M. to Being There in one year is one of the most impressive feats of the ’90s, and “Misunderstood” establishes the band as way more than an alt-country act and capable of the most expansive American rock of my lifetime.
215. The KLF – “Wichita Lineman Was a Song I Once Heard” (1990)
The KLF’s story is absolutely bonkers and show this duo as rich pranksters just fucking around with the British press, but somewhere in the middle of it, they made an ambient house classic called Chill Out. The album is a 1-take 45-minute exploration around the world incorporating samples and faint elements of their previous work.
214. Mos Def – “Ms. Fat Booty” (1999)
Ayatollah spotlighted a rare Aretha Franklin song (“One Step Ahead”) for his fantastic beat of Mos Def’s first solo single. The Aretha song would later be used in Moonlight.
213. TLC – “Creep” (1994)
Spoiler: This is the only “Creep” on this list. Over a two-year span, three artists were very enamored with this as a song title, but in my eyes, TLC are the only ones who succeeded. The song’s content revolves around a woman threatening to cheat on her man who isn’t giving her enough attention; Left Eye was supposedly so put off by that she threatened to wear black tape over her mouth in the music video.
212. Mariah Carey – “Emotions” (1991)
Carey recruited the biggest names in dance music — C+C Music Factory — to craft her next massive #1 hit, and its probably the best display of her vocal range and insane whistle register.
211. Beck – “Mized Bizness” (1999)
Beck has been classified nowadays as “serious” and “comical;” “Mixed Bizness” is the go-to comical side of Beck with weird lines like “Make all the lesbians scream” and “I’m mixing fitness with leather.”
210. Sleater-Kinney – “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” (1996)
Dismantling the patriarchy is made pretty explicit here: women in rock ought to be idolized the way men are. The choices of men stand out — Joey Ramone and Thurston Moore. The problems exist in indie and punk, as well.
209. Aphex Twin – “Analogue Bubblebath” (1991)
Narratives of epochal shifts in music have to always be taken with a grain of salt, but when you talk about the first-ever release from Aphex Twin, ears better perk up. The song is absolutely stunning and was an unheard-of mix of typical House trends, acid dub, and IDM processing. It was new and hasn’t dated one bit.
208. Massive Attack – “Angel” (1998)
The Mezzanine opener sought a new way to envision rock music. It updated that typical slow, early-goth guitar with Reggae vocals from Horace Andy, and some sinister industrial elements. It’s awe-inducing if you’re invested in the trip rather than the payoff.
207. Boards of Canada – “Happy Cycling” (1998)
In the US, you got a treat to cap off your listen of the revolutionary Music Has the Right to Children in the form of this eight-minute closer that is a direct descendant of Kraftwerk’s famous train rides. This time though, you’re maybe on a stationary bike in front of a hallucinatory green screen.
206. Lambchop – “Your Fucking Sunny Day” (1997)
The single release was titled “Your Sucking Funny Day.” Its simple lyrics is reflective of late-’90s indie rock’s obsession with suburban malaise and the peppy instrumentation provides some necessary irony.
205. A Tribe Called Quest – “Bonita Applebum” (1990)
This is the most-referenced ATCQ song for its invention of the titular term. This song existed back in 1985 as an early demo, and was finally finished when Q-Tip found its conversational space-jazz groove.
204. Fugazi – “Bed for the Scraping” (1995)
To some, Red Medicine is the best Fugazi album as their sound truly started to expand beyond their post-hardcore beginnings. “Bed for the Scraping” is the most furious rager of the bunch.
203. The Olivia Tremor Control – “Hideaway” (1998)
The Olivia Tremor Control only made two albums, but they’re both experimental pop classics sounding like collections of Smile session outtakes with stunning straight-forward gems like “Hideaway” sprinkled in.
202. Dr. Dre (ft. Snoop Dogg) – “Still D.R.E.” (1999)
2001 has aged well with its biggest hits arguably more beloved than The Chronic‘s material. The piano-led beat announced the long-awaited return of rap’s premier double threat.
201. Huggy Bear – “Her Jazz” (1993)
“Her Jazz” came at the apex of the riot grrl movement and was the rallying call for one of the scene’s leading acts. The English band demand a girl-boy revolution in its lyrics and display it through the egalitarian makeup of the band.