August 21, 2011

The Top 200 Pop Songs of the ’90s: 100-81

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The first real rock concert I ever went to (pace The Beach Boys sans Brian Wilson c. 1987 … with my parents) was Perry Farrell’s third Lollapalooza at Charlestown Racetrack, West Virginia, in 1993.

Rage Against the Machine opened, followed by Front 242, Arrested Development, Fishbone, Dinosaur Jr., and Alice in Chains, with Primus as the headliner. I can’t say that any of those bands really went on to be a big part of my life (except probably Dinosaur Jr.) but the experience was more or less ecstatic. Like, the life-affirming, revelatory, kick-ass good time that I had watching bands play for 8 hours at Charlestown Racetrack on August 3, 1993, with my friends Carlos and Charlie and Peter and Alfonso was in a perfect inverse proportion to the grim, sweaty journey into hell that Alfonso’s mother had on that same day – waiting outside the venue amongst a hundred angry, ticketless alterna-punks with hairdos to make sure we were OK and didn’t do drugs or have heatstroke or just drop dead on the spot from the sheer chaos and strangeness of it all. When we found her after Primus’s set, she was in tears and inexplicably standing on the back of a pickup truck frantically waving her arms in the air.

For a couple of years after that I was obsessed with mosh pits (when you are only four feet tall, the mechanics of this are really weird). And crowd-surfing (we called it “swimming”? I’m certain this is true. Fishbone had a song about it). Here are 20 more songs from the list:


Social Distortion100: Social Distortion, “Ball and Chain”

The most upbeat, bouncy song you’ll ever hear about being down and out and drunk and sick of it all. For the longest time I assumed this was about how Mike Ness didn’t get along well with his wife, which is a much less compelling thing for a punk band to be worrying about.

Grace99: Jeff Buckley, “Last Goodbye”

There are many things about Jeff Buckley, but the things that I think the most about when I think about Jeff Buckley are his unbelievable vocal range and also how he died in a river at night which is just the most poignant but also horrible but also still poignant way to die. I’ve just googled the thing about his vocal range and it was four motherfucking octaves, which, so, I was right about that.

Become What You Are98: Juliana Hatfield Three, “My Sister”

I don’t even have a sister, but I hate her because of this song.

Porno for Pyros97: Porno for Pyros, “Pets”

My friend Brett asked his dad to get him the Porno for Pyros album for Christmas in 1993 but his mom made him take it back because it had tracks called “Bad Shit” and “Orgasm” on it. For this, and other reasons, Porno for Pyros seemed exotic and dangerous to me at the time, and the fundamental strangeness of that album notwithstanding (and despite the fact that a weirdo song like “Pets” could only have been a hit single in the ’90s), it’s still a delight to listen to.

The Bends96: Radiohead, “Black Star”

There is a moment in Black Star where the song begins to fall apart and Thom Yorke brings it back by harmonizing with himself on the line “I keep falling over, I keep passing out” and I honestly think that it is one of the best moments in any song ever.

August and Everything After95: Counting Crows, “A Murder of One”

I was probably just about at an age where I was starting to weigh up how cool I thought I was versus how much I really wanted to buy the debut Counting Crows album when August and Everything After came out, but this song (the second single from the album) pushed me over the edge, and I’m glad that the fleeting but briefly dedicated Counting Crows fan part of me won that particular battle.

The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified94: Dismemberment Plan, “Ice of Boston”

I saw Dismemberment Plan play in support of Is Terrified at Fort Reno (DC’s awesome awesome awesome Ian MacKaye-organized free summer concert series) and bought the album off them after the show. I kind of have a fierce DC pride about this particular band, and this song really drives that home: like, why would you move to Boston, Travis Morrison? That was dumb.

Californication93: Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Scar Tissue”

I was way too distracted by Nirvana to get caught up in the Blood Sugar Sex Magik mania that took over every awkward house party I went to in the 7th grade, so I’ve never been anything more than a casual fan of the Chili Peppers. But “Scar Tissue”, in addition to being a huge surprise from a band that was fraying a bit at the edges, was my clear winner for 1999′s song of the summer. It didn’t hurt that I spent that summer in California, where the Chili Peppers make a whole lot more sense.

Marvin the Album92: Frente, “Labor of Love”

It’s the accent, I think, that does it. And that jangly, jangly guitar. And the fact that anyone who heard their cover of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle” was already kind of in love with this band anyway if they knew what was good for them. The entirety of Marvin the Album is actually really fun and Australian.

Calculated91: Heavens to Betsy, “Axemen”

Sleater Kinney before they were Sleater Kinney, in case you missed it, and with even more rawness and edge to them, if that’s even possible. “Axemen” builds to a point where you’ll be fully ready to go to the pep rally and murder everyone by the time it’s finished with you.

Siamese Dream90: Smashing Pumpkins, “Cherub Rock”

I’d never really thought much about this before, but the production on Siamese Dream is just incredible. It all starts with that drum fill to open “Cherub Rock”, and then it’s just like, “Holy shit, it’s the motherfucking Smashing Pumpkins”.

Resident Alien89: Spacehog, “Meantime”

We knew some girls in high school who were Spacehog groupies. Like, they hung out with the band on their tour bus and gave them blow jobs or whatever. Which, that’s an odd choice of band to be a hardcore groupie of? Anyway. I like the part where he goes “ooh ooh ooh eee ooh ooh ooh ooh”.

Sweet Oblivion88: Screaming Trees, “Nearly Lost You”

I will remind you that this little gem was on the soundtrack to Singles back when movie soundtracks really mattered or something. Eddie Vedder was in that movie? That was pretty neat that they made a whole movie about wearing flannel.

Rid of Me87: PJ Harvey, “Rid of Me”

I think I may have been too young to fully appreciate the intense, sexually charged badassery of Rid of Me when that album came out, but I wasn’t dumb enough to miss the fact that something amazing was happening with this song. There’s a tense-and-release thing going on here that nobody really does like PJ Harvey does.

Happy Hour86: King Missile, “Detachable Penis”

I went home to DC to visit my parents a couple of months ago and my dad was humming this song. Weirdest thing. He was like, “Yeah, I guess I heard it somewhere, and it’s just a really good story.” King Missile played the HFStival in 1991 with The Violent Femmes, Gang of Four, and The La’s and I really badly wanted to go, but I was 12, which is too young to figure out how you get tickets and/or rides to music festivals.

The Soft Bulletin85: Flaming Lips, “Waitin’ for a Superman”

There was always a bit of a disconnect for me that the goofy-ass band I knew as the one-hit-wonders who made “She Don’t Use Jelly” went on to make this rich, lush, beautiful album full of soaring, inspired future music like “Waitin’ for a Superman.”

High/Low84: Nada Surf, “Popular”

It adds to this song to know that most of the lyrics are excerpts from a teen advice book called Penny’s Guide to Teen-Age Charm and Popularity, and that Nada Surf were actually secretly an awesome band and went on to do great things. And also, the music video. This is pretty much why they invented music videos.


Ritual de lo Habitual83: Jane’s Addiction, “Been Caught Stealing”

Fun fact about Perry Farrell: He is 52 years old now. If this song is biographical, he was “caught stealing” in 1964. Anyway, he makes it sound like a lot of fun.

The Great Escape82: Blur, “Best Days”

I’ve always kind of preferred ballady Blur to jaunty Blur, probably because The Great Escape was my entry point into the band. The trio of ballads on that album – “He Thought of Cars”, “The Universal”, and the fantastic “Best Days” – are enough dramatic Blur melancholia to put you in a nostalgia-induced coma if you’re not mentally prepared. Listen with caution.

His 'N' Hers81: Pulp, “Babies”

Like a lot of British teenagers, I had a big poster hanging up in my room during high school of Jarvis Cocker sneering and giving everybody the V sign, as if to say “Fuck you, guv’nor; but also, I am an incredibly insecure person”. Pulp is a band that’s all about attitude, and while the particular poses that they strike on their three major albums (His ‘N’ Hers, Different Class, and This Is Hardcore) each have unique characteristics, they’re always deeply relatable. “Babies”, the centerpiece of “His ‘N’ Hers”, is a perfect example.

Jarvis Cocker

>> Next: 80-61

7 Responses to “The Top 200 Pop Songs of the ’90s: 100-81”

  1. Dan says:

    Holy shit, it’s the motherfucking Smashing Pumpkins, indeed. Siamese Dream really deserves to be second on whatever the list is that has like five albums from the early 90′s and Nevermind as #1. “Most timeless albums from an extremely non-timeless time?” Something like that. Siamese Dream ages well and remains a sublime experience.

    • Jack says:

      5. Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
      4. Green Day – Dookie
      3. R.E.M. – Automatic for the People
      2. Pearl Jam – Ten
      1. Nirvana – Nevermind

      Hmmmm, not quite right. But I know what list you are talking about.

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Once the executive branch of a thriving government, I am now a lonely wanderer, floating rudderless on a sea of discontent. Or a swamp. A swamp of malaise. A slough of despair, bitches. Rudderless.