It's easy to be nostalgic about the 90s and a major reason is that the 90s was an incredible decade for music. Grunge became a breakout commercial success. Hip hop, now a decade old, began to undergo changes and challenges as its popular reach spread. Near the end of the decade, just as Napster and file sharing began to change how music was distributed, pop dominated the airwaves. So much good music in just ten short years.
The 90s may be long over, but the music lives on. There are so many songs that we can remember with just a few words and find ourselves singing along to when we're cruising down the highway. Think you know your 90s music? Let's see if you can name these 90s songs from just the first line!
"Load up on guns, bring your friends."
Largely considered to be not just the best song of the 90s but one of the greatest songs of all time, this song was the biggest hit for its band. Released in late 1991, this song topped the charts in 1992 and marked the moment where alternative rock entered the commercial mainstream. Dubbed an anthem of its generation, the band ultimately grew uncomfortable with all of the attention and success they began to receive following this breakthrough hit. The song remains popular among listeners and critics alike.
"Now, who's hot, who not?"
This song, released after the death of its artist, topped the charts for two weeks in 1997 and was nominated for a Grammy in 1998. Considered one of the most popular singles in hip hop history. this song frequently makes "Greatest Songs of the 90s" lists. It's accompanying video also often makes several best-of lists and features archival footage of the artist carefully slowed down to make it match the vocals on the single, giving the appearance of a performance.
"I am doll eyes, doll mouth, doll legs."
Released on November 15, 1994 the writer of this song claims to have actually written it in 1991 soon after meeting her future husband. The single is widely considered to be its band's signature song and happens to be one of its most popular. Released following the death of the band's bassist, the song's video deliberately attempted to convey a sense of decay. The song reached number four on the 'Billboard' Modern Rock chart. Makeup guru Jeffree Star named a lipstick after the song in 2016.
"Ah ha, hush that fuss."
The real person this song took its name from sued the band for misappropriation. Though the initial lawsuit was dismissed the case made its way to the Supreme Court in 2003, five years after the single's release. In 2005 the lawsuit was finally settled. Despite creating such a legal fuss, the song was only considered a minor commercial success, peaking at number 55 on the 'Billboard' Hot 100. Even with low chart position, the song still makes many "Best of the 90s" lists.
"And when the body finally starts to let go let it all go at once."
This song was one of only two singles released from its parent album, "The Hot Rock." Critically well-received, the song may not have been the commercial success that other singles from the same 1999 release year was but it made number sixteen on the 'Rolling Stone' "50 Best Songs of the Nineties." Considering that Tom Breihan of the music and pop culture site Stereogum named the band one of the greatest of the past two decades, the best-of accolades aren't a surprise to most fans.
"In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey."
Originally released independently in February 1993, this song's popularity resulted in a major-label record deal for its artist. Once signed to Geffen Records, the song was re-released and reached number ten on the 'Billboard' Hot 100. The song's lyrics sound like they were improvised and according to producer Karl Stephenson, actually were improvised during the recording session. The song, recorded spontaneously at Stephenson's house, was completed, from writing to recording to finishing, in around six hours with minimal editing later on.
"I know we're just like old friends."
Sonically similar to one of the band's previous and most critically and commercially successful singles, this song played on the similarities to its predecessor in the accompanying video by using the original cast and crew and served as a sequel to the original video. The second single from the album "Adore," this song was critically well-reviewed. the critical website Rockmusicreview.com noted the song as having a "glimmering shine." The video for the song debuted on MTV on September 16, 1998.
"Today is gonna be the day that they're gonna throw it back to you."
Released in 1995, this song's inspiration and meaning depends on when you asked the songwriter. In 1996, he claimed it was about his girlfriend while in 2001, he claimed it was about an imaginary friend. No matter the true origin, this song is one of the most covered songs in pop history. Considered one of the greatest British songs in British music history, it was also played during a tribute at the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony by the band Beady Eye.
"I had visions, I was in them I was looking into the mirror."
Taking its name from a 1920s test of endurance fad, this song was the debut single from the 1997 album "Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?" According to one of the songwriters, the song was meant to be a response to the 90s Seattle music scene's impact on mainstream culture. 'PopMatters' went even further and described the song as "a hyper-literate alt-rock dissection of the stupidity of the modern age." The song appeared on the soundtracks for the films 'Disturbing Behavior,' 'American Pie," and 'My Dead Boyfriend.'
"I've been a bad, bad girl.'
Released in 1997, this song remains the singer's biggest hit. It won the Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1998 and regularly makes it onto "Best Of" lists. However, this song is so critically well-regarded that it goes beyond just the greatest of the 90s. In 2005, 'Blender' magazine named this song number 71 on their list of "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born." In 2014, Sarah Paulson covered the song for an episode of 'American Horror Story: Freak Show.'
"What's it gonna be 'cause I can't pretend."
The popularity of this song as a single from the 'Set It Off' soundtrack prompted Sylvia Rhone of Elektra Records to have the band who sang it record a third album. The song was included on 1997's "EV3" album. It also marked the last single that featured the entire original band. Fifteen years after its original release, this song re-entered the charts in the UK following a 2011 cover performance by the girl group, Little Mix, on 'The X Factor.'
"I belong, a long way from here."
After a varied career teaching music at an elementary school, singing jingles for commercials, and touring as a backing vocalist for Michael Jackson this singer saw breakout success with the album "Tuesday Night Music Club." This song, the lead single off of her second album, ultimately became her third most successful single and won Best Female Rock Performance at the 1997 Grammy Awards. In 2009, she performed it with Miley Cyrus for the annual charity concert program 'VH1 Divas.'
"That old dog has chained you up, alright."
Released in 1992, the original video for this song was banned by MTV. Featuring scenes of the singer dancing in skimpy clothing, the network deemed the video to contain excessive erotic content. A second video was then filmed featuring the artist in a flannel shirt and jeans. The song, the first from the "Tongues and Tails" album, featured drums sampled from a Led Zeppelin song, "When the Levee Breaks." The song reached number five on the charts in the United States.
"I, I got a new life, you would hardly recognize me, I'm so glad."
Coming in at number one on the 'Billboard' end of the year chart for 1994, this song was a massive success for a Swedish band whose follow up single, "Don't Turn Around" would also prove to be successful. Nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance By a Group or Duo at the 1995 Grammy's, this song has been widely used in television and movies, such as 'Pitch Perfect' and 'Fuller House,' as well as a 2016 commercial for Uncle Ben's rice.
"You tell me you're in love with me like you can't take your pretty eyes away from me."
When a new artist's debut single is a monster hit sometimes the follow up isn't quite as successful. This song did not follow that pattern and helped establish its young female singer as a megastar following its release on April 30, 1999. Like many teen pop songs of the 90s, it was recorded at Cheiron Studios with producers Per Magnusson and David Kreuger in Stockholm Sweden, the same studio and producers frequently used by the Backstreet Boys and N'SYNC early in their careers.
"I want you to know, that I'm happy for you."
This single, the alternative rock breakthrough for a previously bubblegum pop Canadian singer, featured Flea and Dave Navarro of the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass and guitar. The identity of the ex-boyfriend who is the subject of the song has never been revealed, though actor Dave Coulier has claimed (and denied) on multiple occasions that he's the inspiration. The iconic song has been covered by a number of artists, including Britney Spears and Beyoncé, who performed the song at the 2010 Grammy Awards.
"In my eyes, indisposed in disguises no one knows."
Released in May of 1994, this song's B-side "Like Suicide" became even more poignant following the death of its songwriter earlier this year. The lyrics to this well-known song from the grunge genre are a little difficult to take lyrically, something that the songwriter even admitted in interviews, saying that it's a "weird, play-with-the-title-kind of song." Despite the smooth, pretty melody, the lyrical content makes this hit a sad song with somber lines like "times are gone for honest men."
"I'm packed and I'm holding, I'm smiling, she's living, she's golden."
With lyrics about drug use, specifically crystal meth abuse, this song was released to radio stations with a "clean edit." The "clean edit" removed the reference to crystal meth using a backmasking. Radio stations also received a "radio edit" of the song that is just under a minute shorter than the album version. Even with the omission of drug references and bright, poppy music the song is dark, its songwriter explaining that "it's a dirty, filthy song about snorting speed and getting blow jobs."
"People living their lives for you on TV"
The singer of this song openly talked about her experiences as a struggling musician and explained the origins of this song in an interview. She explained that during her travels at age sixteen she ended up in Tijuana and "hitchhiked around Mexico. It seemed like everyone else was looking for somebody to save them." The song, released in June of 1996, was her first hit single and was supported by a video of the singer singing along shots of people in a restroom.
"Yeah, Spiderman and Freeze in full effect."
The most successful single from a New Edition spinoff group, this song released in 1990 is an example of new jack swing. New jack swing was a late 1980s and early 1990s hip hop and R&B hybrid genre. Later songs, such as Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" and Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up" would both feature in this genre. After selling over one million copies, this groundbreaking song was certified platinum by the RIAA on June 1, 1990.
"It's easier not to be wise and measure these things by your brains."
Featured on the MTV television show 'Beavis and Butt-head,' this post-grunge, alternative rock song from the album "Throwing Copper" is often mistaken for a love song. According to the band's lead singer, the song's lyrics came from lessons he learned while studying spiritual teachings. Though released to radio stations in both Canada and the United States, the song was only released as a commercial single overseas. VH1 ranks this song as the 62nd best song of the 1990s. It reached number six on the 'Billboard" Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1994.
"They made up their minds and they started packing."
This 1998 song was inspired by the disappearance of Lela and Raymond Howard. The elderly couple left their home in June of 1997, but never arrived at their destination of nearby Temple Texas. They were later found dead near Hot Springs, Arkansas. The couple, one suffering from Alzheimer’s and the other recovering from a recent brain surgery, had been missing for two weeks. The band says the song is a "romanticized take" on what happened, imagining them in a happy light.
"If you, if you could return, don't let it burn."
Released first in 1993 and then again in 1994, this song was completely re-written when the band replaced Niall Quinn, their original lead singer. The song peaked at number three in the Republic of Ireland and number eight in the United States and was the first major hit for the band. From the album "Everybody Else is Doing it, So Why Can't We?" the song is about a first serious kiss and regret. It later appeared acoustically on the 2017 "Something Else" album.
"I don't drink or smoke ain't into dope."
Technically the first line of this song is in Spanish ("seguro que han oído que yo soy educado,") so "I don't drink or smoke ain't into dope" is the fifth line, but may be more recognizable. Released in December of 1990, this song often makes lists of one hit wonders and was ranked by "Blender" number 37 on their "50 Worst Songs Ever" list. Released by an Ecuadorian rapper, the catchy song peaked at number 7 on the 'Billboard' Hot 100 chart on April 13, 1991.
"I was born long ago I am the chosen I'm the one"
Before he rocked gold eyeliner as Cinna in "The Hunger Games," this was the artist's big breakthrough. The song, released in 1993, has been covered by a number of artists, including Metallica, Robbie Williams, and Melanie Brown as part of the Spice Girls Reunion Tour. This funk rock song has also been featured on an episode of "The Simpsons" and is featured in the video game 'Guitar Hero World Tour.' Despite its staying power, the song failed to make the 'Billboard' Hot 100 chart in the United States.