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Best '90s songs
Image: Time Out/D-Free/Shutterstock

The 50 best ’90s songs

Your Discman is about to get a workout with these unforgettable ’90s songs

Written by
Andy Kryza
Contributors
Laura Richards
,
Tristan Parker
,
Jon Cook
,
Hayley Joyes
,
Nick Levine
&
Michael Curle
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Putting this list of the best '90s songs together got us feeling nostalgic. While the '80s are fairly easy to pigeonhole, the '90s… not so much. This was the era of riot grrrls and boy bands, when grunge became gospel and hip-hop ruled the earth... or at least your Jewel case. With '90s throwback sending greying Gen Xers into an existential crisis, selecting the best of a decade that hit peaks like Nevermind and valleys like "Cotton Eye Joe" is harder than ever.

With a limit of one song per artist, our crack team of music fans have whittled the essence of the decade into 50 tracks that capture the very best songs of the '90s, creating a playlist along the way that includes gangsta rap and Britpop, wailing grunge, sultry R&B and everything in between. Except "Cotton Eye Joe." Nostalgia will never, ever make that one less obnoxious.

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Best ’90s songs, ranked

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana
© Steve Double

1. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana

All the cool kids will tell you that they were into Nirvana back in ’89 when they released Bleach on Sub Pop. All the cool kids are lying. Like everyone else, they got into Nirvana the moment they heard the first ten seconds of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the radio: Kurt Cobain’s dirty Boston-aping guitar riff exploding as Dave Grohl’s kit and Krist Novoselic’s bass smashed their way into the song and our collective consciousness.

Many words have been written about "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and we’re about to add a few more, but it’s almost impossible to overstate the sonic earthquake that this song caused around the world in 1991. This was like nothing we’d ever heard before: the sound of Seattle’s grunge scene coming out of the garage like a ravenous monster. A generation of disaffected youth had found an anthem like no other. Anger, despondency, pain and chaos ripped through a million bedrooms as we listened to Cobain wail, scream and howl lyrics that were as confusing as they were powerful: "A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido… hey." What the fuck?

There’s one more thing that makes "Smells Like Teen Spirit" the song of the decade, and that’s Samuel Bayer’s now iconic video. His lo-fi, sepia-saturated take on a school concert that descends into madness – complete with slo-mo cheerleaders, smashed up guitars and smoke and fire in a sports hall full of sweaty headbanging teens – was as disturbing and anarchic as the song itself. Everyone watched it. Everyone knew they would never forget it. Tim Arthur

What’s your favourite Nirvana song?

"Juicy" by The Notorious BIG
Image: Bad Boy

2. "Juicy" by The Notorious BIG

No-one before or since has done more to justify the gangsta rap lifestyle than Christopher Wallace, on the lead single to his immense debut album Ready to Die. "Juicy" works because Biggie balances his history of Bed-Stuy poverty so precisely against the braggadocious trappings of fame and fortune (including a Super Nintendo and a Sega Genesis – a reference that now sounds as quaint as the Sugarhill Gang’s "hotel, motel, Holiday Inn"). James Manning

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"Da Funk" by Daft Punk
Image: Soma

3. "Da Funk" by Daft Punk

It’s almost hard to believe, but years before DP started jamming with Pharrell and soundtracking catwalk shows they produced a whole album of blissful, banging house in ‘Homework’, the jewel in the crown of which was "Da Funk." It referenced generations of dance music that created it (the winding, acid synths, the stomping drums punchy enough to floor Godzilla), but also had something fresh and incredible coursing through it – it had da funk. Tristan Parker

"Common People" by Pulp
Image: Island Records

4. "Common People" by Pulp

Does it devalue this scathing Britpop anthem that its subject – the girl from Greece with a thirst for knowledge – allegedly went on to marry Marxist economist and maverick finance minister Yanis Varoufakis? Not in the slightest. "Common People" will always be more universal than that, with its sly social message delivered to a stonking disco beat and an immortal riff. It’s quite possibly the greatest sociopolitical floor-filler of all time. And wouldn’t it be brilliant if – in some small, tangential way – the economic fate of the Eurozone had been influenced two decades later by some lanky singer from Yorkshire? James Manning

Read our Jarvis Cocker interview

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"California Love" by Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre
Image: Death Row Records

5. "California Love" by Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre

Like a '90s hip-hop superhero teamup, Dre and Tupac joined forces with this pounding, timeless crowd-pleaser that broke beyond California's borders and into clubs worldwide. True, both Pac and Dre had more influential singles to their name, but none captured their braggadocious swagger more aptly and laid it out atop one of the '90s most iconic beats. We're not taking sides in the '90s battle of east vs. west coast hip hop, but it's undeniably that Dre and Pac weaponized every ounce of their charisma for one of the era's most enduring tracks. Andy Kryza

"Glory Box" by Portishead
Image: Go! Beat

6. "Glory Box" by Portishead

It’s no exaggeration to say that in the '90s, Bristol was among the most musically important cities on the planet. At the heart of it all were Portishead, whose gloomy, brooding and often oppressive sound was a conspiracy of contradictions that defined "trip hop." Combining heavy hip hop beats and throbbing basslines with jazz and soul samples, the music was good, but the vocals of tortured songstress Beth Gibbons were outstanding. "Glory Box" is the shining example: a soul-searching love song delivered over a smoky backing track of jazz drums, tinkling pianos and wistful strings, that veers from delicate downtempo moments to ear-shredding guitar crescendos with breathtaking ease. Jonathan Cook

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"Beetlebum" by Blur
Image: Food Records

7. "Beetlebum" by Blur

Yeah, we said "Beetlebum." If you’re after a campfire singalong it’s "Tender" every time; if you just want to smash shit up then stick on "Song 2"; if you like your Britpop beery then there’s always "Parklife"; but if you want Blur doing what Blur did best – welding classic British songwriting to weirdo alt rock – then "Beetlebum" is the one. What with Damon’s heroin-chic drawling and Graham’s slumping riff and killer solo, this is Britpop’s best band at their worldbeating peak. Sorry, Phil Daniels. James Manning

"Unfinished Sympathy" by Massive Attack
© Mick Hutson

8. "Unfinished Sympathy" by Massive Attack

For better or worse Massive Attack will forever be known as trip hop pioneers, but by far their most important contribution didn’t really fall into that category. A melancholy but grooving ballad scattered with samples, "Unfinished Sympathy" was heralded as a stunning song on release and still holds its own today. Every element is flawlessly placed, from soaring strings to Shara Nelson’s effortlessly powerful vocals to the wistful percussive bells that introduce the track – still capable of sending shivers down a few spines. Tristan Parker

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"Soon" by My Bloody Valentine
Image: Sire

9. "Soon" by My Bloody Valentine

Inspired by a crop of bands who allegedly preferred staring at their guitar effects pedals to interacting with the audience, "shoegaze" was never a great term for the hazy, noisy, deafeningly loud sound pegged out in the late ’80s by My Bloody Valentine. Other bands tagged as such — Ride, Slowdive, Lush, Chapterhouse, The Telescopes — all did some wonderful things with noise and melody. But "Soon" (the climax of MBV’s one-of-a-kind album Loveless) was the glorious apex of the movement’s "sonic cathedral": a seven-minute confection of breakbeats, blushing and blooming guitar tones and vocal coos sweet enough to hurt. Whatever you want to call it, it still sounds impossibly wonderful. James Manning

"Waterfalls" by TLC
Image: LaFace

10. "Waterfalls" by TLC

Twenty years before Kanye West cottoned on to the abiding genius of Paul McCartney, badass R&B crew TLC were all over it. They took a Macca ballad from 1980 about the dangerous sport of waterfall-jumping and totally transformed it into a heartrending urban drama with a killer chorus. Drugs, murder, HIV: Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez’s verses treat life's tragedies with wisdom, patience and soul, before her rap preaches the power of hope and self-belief. And God, obvs. James Manning

"Gin & Juice" by Snoop Doggy Dogg
Image: Interscope

11. "Gin & Juice" by Snoop Doggy Dogg

Long before he was palling around with Martha Stewart, Snoop was making waves by nearly stealing Dr. Dre's The Chronic, an album that belongs at the top of any list of '90s records. But Snoop came into his own on his breakout Doggystyle, with "Gin & Juice" becoming one of the most enduring hangout songs of all time. Even today, you'll catch the song emanating from slow-riding cars around the world, often accompanied by a trail of smoke. Moreover, the song introduced the world to gangsta rap's fun side... no small feat from the man who also charted with "Murder Was the Case." Andy Kryza

"Rid of Me" by PJ Harvey
Image: Island Records

12. "Rid of Me" by PJ Harvey

Nirvana weren’t the only ’90s act to thumb their noses at the mainstream after releasing a breakthrough album. Like the Seattle superstars on In Utero, Dorset’s very own Polly Jean Harvey turned to punk rock recording engineer Steve Albini (known for his raw, unvarnished sound) for her second album Rid of Me. It’s all there in the title track, a primal howl of electrified blues-rock that’s equal parts lovesick wail and feminist stomp. Turns out MC Hammer was wrong: actually, you can’t touch thisMichael Curle

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"Sure Shot" by Beastie Boys
Image: Grand Royal

13. "Sure Shot" by Beastie Boys

The Beasties spent the decade between 1989 and 1999 in a constant state of reinvention, but Ill Communication bridged the gap between Check Your Head's punk/jazz/hip-hop and paved the way for mainstream dominance. The opening track from Ill Communication is as much a mission statement as it was a showcase of their playful, cocky, oddball musical prowess: Here was a hip-hop track steeped in feminism and bravado in equal measure, with an iconic flute loop ready to be embraced by hip-hoppers, grunge fans, riot grrls, punks and anyone else within earshot. "Sabotage" had the more memorable video, but "Sure Shot" is the time-capsule candidate. Andy Kryza

"Paranoid Android" by Radiohead
Image: Capitol Records

14. "Paranoid Android" by Radiohead

Thom Yorke’s merry men started the ’90s as a crunchy, Americanised alt rock band called On A Friday. They ended the decade recording the ultra-moody, minimal, esoteric electronic tracks that would end up on Kid A. "Paranoid Android" represents the exact fulcrum of that shift, foreshadowing Radiohead’s future with its weird time signatures and conceptual lyrics, but also harking back to the early period when the band weren’t too cool and clever to write a killer riff. James Manning

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"Closer" by Nine Inch Nails
Image: Interscope

15. "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails

A pulsating, hyper-sexualized chunk of grime-covered industrial rock, "Closer" achieved cultural ubiquity across the board thanks to its undeniably sexy, abrasive content and its steampunk Salvador Dali video. Somehow, Trent Reznor screaming about his most animalistic urges was as much a fixture of MTV as Ace of Base and Celine Dion, announcing the arrival of the mall-goth era in the mainstream. Andy Kryza

"Big Time Sensuality" by Björk
Image: Elektra

16. "Big Time Sensuality" by Björk

Beating off stiff competition from half a dozen superb Björk tracks, "Big Time Sensuality" makes this list for its groundbreaking sonics (which did for house music what Donna Summer’s "I Feel Love" had done for disco), the iconic video (which instantly made Björk the world’s most interesting pop star) and its sheer effervescent joy in the face of life’s chaos: "I don’t know my future after this weekend, and I don’t want to." See, dance music can be clever too! James Manning

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"Deceptacon" by Le Tigre
Image: Mr. Lady

17. "Deceptacon" by Le Tigre

After changing the face of music with riot grrrl pioneers Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna ended up swapping spray-paint slogans and guitar thrash for girl-group chants and day-glo synths as frontwoman for Le Tigre. Her new-found pop smarts allowed Le Tigre to smuggle radical ideas into the mainstream, and their outspoken stance was a massive influence on noughties rock icons like Beth Ditto and Karen O, giving "Deceptacon" a surprisingly enduring afterlife for a band with lyrics like "Your disco dick is sucking my heart out of my mind." Michael Curle

"Midnight in a Perfect World’" by DJ Shadow
Image: Mo' Wax

18. "Midnight in a Perfect World’" by DJ Shadow

Yeah, "Organ Donor" is great and everything, but this supremely mellow number has stood the test of time far better. It also encapsulated breakbeat junkie DJ Shadow’s uncanny ability to construct new worlds by unearthing carefully chosen samples – in this case the piano line from jazz composer David Axelrod’s "The Human Abstract" – and layering simple but hypnotic beats and melodies over the top. The result in this case is a lazy, hazy, luscious slice of ambient hip hop – a stoner’s sonic paradise, if you will – that you could happily leave on repeat without getting bored. Which, for ambient hip hop, is really saying something. Tristan Parker

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"Killing in the Name" by Rage Against The Machine
Image: Epic

19. "Killing in the Name" by Rage Against The Machine

Fuck you. I won’t do what you tell me. Not our words, but those of springy haired, eternally angry singer Zach De La Rocha, whose repeated rebellious chant in this anti-establishment rock-rap anthem started a million moshpits in the early ’90s. Sure, the moshpits were mostly full of privileged teens, but it took little away from the song’s message ("Fuck you, establishment," in case that wasn’t clear) and nothing away from the wonderfully raucous riffing. Tristan Parker

"Live Forever’" by Oasis

20. "Live Forever’" by Oasis

In today’s fragmented musical landscape, it’s hard to fathom the full-spectrum dominance Oasis enjoyed in the mid-’90s. All over the TV, all over the radio, all over the school yard. Legions of mad-fer-it teenage boys swaggered under crap sun hats. How did it happen? Because for a short period Noel Gallagher’s smash-’n’-grab raid on the ’60s pop canon yielded magnificent results. Oasis were always at their best when dreaming: of money, of drugs, of… well, living forever. Close your eyes and listen to that soaring melody, that soaring voice (Liam never sounded better) and try to forget what a dreadful load of shit they eventually became. Michael Curle

"Doo Wop (That Thing)" by Lauryn Hill
Image: Ruffhouse

21. "Doo Wop (That Thing)" by Lauryn Hill

A US chart-topper in 1998, Hill's seamless fusion of classic doo-wop and modern hip-hop still sounds fresh today. It's a dazzling testament to everything the former Fugee can do: she sings, she raps, she packs in hook after hook, and she shows her empathy by urging both men and women not to let themselves be exploited for sex. And when she rhymes "hair weaves like Europeans" with "fake nails done by Koreans," it's actual genius. Nick Levine

"Rosa Parks" by Outkast
Image: Arista

22. "Rosa Parks" by Outkast

Up until 1998, Andre 3000 and Big Boi operated in more avant garde waters: The ATliens seemed downright extraterrestrial, and that made them a favorite among true fans. "Rosa Parks" made them household names, thanks to its perfect fusion of catchy chorus and wholly original delivery, with Andre and Big Boi operating at the peak of their abilities… and somehow, they remained at that same peak for years to come. This is their coming out party to the bigger musical world, and all anybody could do in response was throw their hands in the air and wait for the duo to take over the world.  Andy Kryza

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"Where It's At" by Beck
Image: DGC

23. "Where It's At" by Beck

Beck hit the scene with "Loser," but he became the Beck we know with Odelay, a Dust Brothers-produced masterpiece of deep grooves, goofball prose and endless bleeps and blops. Lead single "Where It's At" is the collision of both Becks: Here, the folksy stoner hip-hop comes to life overtop a squealing, joyous synth keyboard groove, giving rise to one of pop music's most enduringly singular figures. Andy Kryza

"C.R.E.A.M." by the Wu-Tang Clan
Image: Loud Records

24. "C.R.E.A.M." by the Wu-Tang Clan

Long before becoming a staple of dorm-room posters, Wu-Tang was a scrappy crew rising out of the slums of Staten Island. "C.R.E.A.M." is like a thesis statement for Wu's entire philosophy, steeped in kung-fu geekery, RZA's game-changing beats, and the whiplash between Method Man's smooth flow and ODB's feral slurring. Twenty years on, it's still bracing. Andy Kryza

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"Connection" by Elastica
Image: Geffen

25. "Connection" by Elastica

Elastica's eponymous debut album became a chart-topping phenomenon in 1995, and "Connection" is the jewel in its crown. Songwriting frontwoman Justine Frischmann may have pinched the opening riff from Wire's "Three Girl Rhumba" (which later got the punk band a songwriting credit), but there's no quibbling with the way she reworks it into a sexy and kinetic Britpop gem. Oh, and let's not forget "Connection" always sounded great soundtracking Dom Joly's turn-of-the-millennium comedy show Trigger Happy TV. Nick Levine

"Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill
Image: Kill Rock Stars

26. "Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill

Without the riot grrrl movement, our culture would look very different. Lena Dunham’s Girls, Pussy Riot, Rookie magazine, Taylor Swift’s feminism: the seeds of all these things were sown by early-’90s activist punk bands like Bratmobile, Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill. Written and wailed by radical frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill’s 1993 single "Rebel Girl" was the movement’s anthem: a visceral roar about female admiration and friendship that turned rock ’n’ roll’s male gaze inside out. In other words: kickass. James Manning

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"Poison" by The Prodigy
Image: XL

27. "Poison" by The Prodigy

There are a ton of tracks from the Prodge that could be included in this list, but none sum up Keith Flint and Liam Howlett’s rowdy rave punks better than "Poison." The mix of chunky breakbeats, sludgy electronics and wide-eyed carnage was the perfect rhythmical remedy to those who fancied a dab of dance music (and those who wanted to find out what the hell rave culture might have been about), but just couldn’t get to grips with the eight-minute Chicago house workouts of the time. Were The Prodigy "proper" dance music? Who cares? It was big, not-at-all clever and loads of fun. Tristan Parker

"Enter Sandman" by Metallica
Image: Elektra

28. "Enter Sandman" by Metallica

The crossover song that gave the titans the keys to the stadium. It’s accessible enough to attract the masses but it also rocks hard enough to please the head-banging hordes; at any ’Tallica show, you’ll see even hardened fans (who live and die by the band’s early thrash metal numbers) raise their fists and sing along with a shit-eating grin: "Eeee-xit LIGHT! Eeee-nter NIIIIGHT!" Tristan Parker

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"Windowlicker" by Aphex Twin
Image: Sire

29. "Windowlicker" by Aphex Twin

Ever licked a window? Richard D James (aka mind-fucking electronica genius Aphex Twin) clearly has, as this demonically twisted slo-mo banger demonstrated. It’s full of all his usual genre-mashing brilliance ± techno, acid house, breakbeats, IDM — but fuelled by an immense groove, which is probably just James showing that he can make Top 20-bothering hits whenever he bloody well feels like it. Cunning bastard. Tristan Parker

"Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden
Image: A&M

30. "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden

Certainly not the band's most aggressive or melodic song, "Black Hole Sun" remains Soundgarden's most quintessential tracks thanks to its eerily apocalyptic lyrics and the late Chris Cornell's uncanny ability to perform verbal gymnastics with his vocal cords. It's as if David Lynch wandered down from Twin Peaks to dabble in Seattle grunge: a rollickingly complex symphony of crunchy guitars, tripped-out lyrical content and rock-star bravado. Andy Kryza

"Alive" by Pearl Jam
Image: Epic Records

31. "Alive" by Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam has graduated to the ranks of classic-rock icons as sole survivors of the grunge movement, but 20 years ago the band blasted onto the scene as an arena-ready force to be reckoned with: A more polished brand of rock that seemed ultra-smooth in comparison to Nirvana’s jagged edges, especially as Eddie Vedder’s soaring yowl of "I’m still alive" drifted above sweaty crowds on the wings of Stone Gossard's iconic riff like an ethereal ghost of rock stars future. 

"Scenario" by A Tribe Called Quest
Image: Jive Records

32. "Scenario" by A Tribe Called Quest

Midnight Marauders cemented Tribe's jazz/hip-hop style, but two years prior,The Low End Theory unleashed Tribe at its most dancefloor friendly, with Q-Tip and Phife bringing the ruckus out the gate, then ceding the floor to up-and-comer Busta Rhymes, a 19-year-old wunderkind who would soon become hip-hop royalty. The opening "Bo knows this" might be pure '90s, but everything else here is lightyears ahead of the game. Andy Kryza

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"Say You’ll Be There" by Spice Girls
Image: Virgin Records

33. "Say You’ll Be There" by Spice Girls

The Spice Girls must have watched Taylor Swift’s video for "Bad Blood" and been like, "Babe, we did that thing where we all dress up as futuristic assassins and give each other laboured nicknames waaay back in 1996..." "Say You'll Be There" found the band in their pomp — the lyrics, video, haircuts, names; nothing made any sense but nothing really needed to. It was catchy, we all wanted to be one of them and we all learnt that catsuits should only be worn by Victoria Beckham. Josh Jones

"Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" by Jay-Z
Image: Roc-A-Fella

34. "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" by Jay-Z

HOVA became a household name with this genius breakout sampling a hook from children's musical Annie. In a way, "Hard Knock Life" was a changing of the tide, one that kept hip-hop's boastful ways but gave the money-obsessed genre a rougher sheen and a more experimental bent in the production booth.  Jay-Z would eventually transition to hip-hop's Daddy Warbucks, unleashing a game-changing string of hits that closed out the '90s in style, then it was on to the next one (decade, that is). Andy Kryza

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"1979" by  Smashing Pumpkins
Image: Virgin Records

35. "1979" by Smashing Pumpkins

The Pumpkin's epic two-disc followup to their breakout Siamese Dream included several chart-bothering singles, but "1979" is Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness at its most endearing and enduring. It's a beautiful, bittersweet slice of teenage Americana (all sweet rides, 7/11s and gentle ennui), perfectly matched in mood and tone by its cracking videoMichael Curle

"The Private Psychedelic Reel" by The Chemical Brothers
Image: Virgin Records

36. "The Private Psychedelic Reel" by The Chemical Brothers

We could have picked a whole crop of Chems tracks: the club-dominating "Hey Boy Hey Girl," or their Britpop moment "Let Forever Be," or the endlessly funky "Block Rockin’ Beats." But this epic trip best shows the confidence and eclecticism that allowed Ed ’n’ Tom to lead the Big Beat pack. Assisted by Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donohue and borrowing from ’60s rock, world music and jazz as well as house,"The Private Psychedelic Reel" is an incredible surge of energy that hardly lets up for almost ten minutes. James Manning

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"You Oughta Know" by  Alanis Morrisette
Image: Reprise

37. "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morrisette

A sarcastic missive to an ex in the key of grunge-lite: it doesn’t sound too promising on paper, but in 1995 "You Oughta Know" became an anthem for the jilted generation, catapulting its young Canadian singer to international stardom. Morissette’s debut album Jagged Little Pill went on to sell an eye-popping 33 million copies and spawn several more hits, but "You Oughta Know" with its cathartic, provocative lyrics (‘Would she go down on you in a theatre?’) and amped-up chorus is the best of the lot — especially after a good cry and a vat of red wine. Michael Curle

"Pony" by Ginuwine
Image: 550

38. "Pony" by Ginuwine

How long can you talk about sex without mentioning anything explicitly filthy? If you’re Ginuwine, a hefty five-and-a-half minutes. "Pony" is a lesson in the art of the euphemism. But there’s more to "Pony" than winks: it was one of the defining releases by R&B powerhouse Timberland, and its belching bassline has influenced producers and musicians from Rihanna to French beat-smasher Debruit, not to mention the makers of Magic Mike. Hayley Joyes

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"Undone, The Sweater Song"
Image: DGC

39. "Undone, The Sweater Song"

Painfully earnest and impossibly dorky, Weezer would spend the decades following its debut album chasing hits and losing its shoegazey identity in the process. But when "Undone" hit the airwaves in 1994, it wasn't just some oddball proto-hipster basement rock. It was the antithesis of the biting, gnarled grunge movement: A fuzz-rock anthem that would come to define a new era of youth that seemed perfectly content to be wallflowers… angsty, awkward, disaffected and restless ones, sure, but wallflowers nonetheless. Andy Kryza

"Motownphilly" by Boyz II Men
Image: Motown Records

40. "Motownphilly" by Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men is the cultural phenomenon that somehow nobody talks about anymore: A Motown-backed, vocally driven boy band with swagger to spare. The frantic, smoother-than-Cheez-Wiz "Motownphilly" was the band’s breakout, a shot in the arm for pop charts long starved for Temptations-caliber voices updated for a new era. It paved the way for the group’s bigger ballads to overtake the radio. More crucially — and tragically — it also paved the way for acts like NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys to rip off their style wholesale like some sort of frosted-tip Elvis Presleys. But they never topped "Motownphilly." Nobody did. Andy Kryza

"…Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears
Image: Jive

41. "…Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears

Britney's debut single was a game-changer, helping to usher in a new generation of brilliantly bombastic teen-pop, often crafted by Swedish songwriting genius Max Martin. The video featuring La Spears in school uniform is iconic, obviously, but let's not overlook the fact that the song itself remains pure pop perfection. Even if its key lyric, "hit me baby one more time," doesn't completely make sense. Nick Levine

"Killing Me Softly" by The Fugees
Image: RUffhouse

42. "Killing Me Softly" by The Fugees

This was the song that set The Fugees on their path to world domination: a hip hop hit built for chart supremacy. Like Roberta Flack’s heartbreaking original in the ’70s, "Killing Me Softly" sat at Number One in the UK charts for five weeks. But Lauryn Hill’s rework of the vocals – plus twanging sitar samples cut from A Tribe Called Quest’s hit "Bonita Applebum" – gave the track an ear-catching contemporary edge. By the time it had finished its chart run, Wyclef, Lauryn and Pras were part of the furniture. Hayley Joyes

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"Loaded" by Primal Scream
Image: Creation

43. "Loaded" by Primal Scream

The first time I heard this song was when I stole my sister’s "Rave Hits" tape, back in late 1991. I was expecting a torrent of terrifying electro, but then this came out of the speakers and entranced me. If this was raving, then I wanted more. The legendary opening sample – taken from 1966 flick, 'The Wild Angels' – kickstarted countless nights out and spoke for an entire generation. I mean, who doesn’t wanna be free to do what we wanna do. And who doesn’t wanna get loaded and have a good time? I didn’t ever give that tape back to my sister. Josh Jones

"Cannonball" by The Breeders
Image: Elektra

44. "Cannonball" by The Breeders

"Awoooo-a! Awoooo-a!" Twenty years on, the peculiar distorted chant that opens this infectious slice of bubblegum rock is still a prime invitation for indie kids everywhere to hotfoot it to the nearest dancefloor and jump up and down arhythmically. The biggest single from Kim Deal’s post-Pixies rockers, "Cannonball" is a bona fide indie anthem complete with seesaw verses, etch-a-sketch guitars and headbanging chorus. Take that, Frank Black! Michael Curle

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"Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind
Image: Elektra

45. "Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind

3EB has been memed into oblivion thanks to a hilarious recent Twitter spree coloring lead singer Stephen Jenkins every shade of dickhead by Eve 6’s frontman, but no amount of hindsight can change the fact that the band’s debut is an underrated monster. "Semi-Charmed Life" is their biggest, most enduring hit, a song whose ear-worm bubblegum licks sugarcoat the fact that it’s a lurid tale of druggy malaise. Andy Kryza

"Fantasy" by Mariah Carey
Image: Columbia

46. "Fantasy" by Mariah Carey

One of MC's sweetest pop confections, "Fantasy" takes the musical skeleton from Tom Tom Club's cult 80s hit "Genius of Love" and beefs it up into a slick 90s summer jam. Early in her career, Carey was known for her grandstanding diva vocals, but "Fantasy" proves she can be just as compelling when she plays it a little more restrained. Whack on "Fantasy" next time your bus is stuck in a traffic jam and for a second, you might just think you're cruising down a California highway with the top down. Nick Levine

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"Range Life" by Pavement
Image: Big Cat Records

47. "Range Life" by Pavement

Stephen Malkmus's navel-gaze stream-of-consciousness diatribe pissed Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan off to no end thanks to a pithy back-handed reference, but "Range Life" is more than a stoned-out diss track. It’s the perfect picture of the mid-‘90s kid sense of aimless malaise set to music. At once dismissive and sad, it’s a road song that doesn’t have anywhere to go and an airing of grievances that don’t seem to have any point beyond getting a rise out of the popular kids. Andy Kryza

"The Sign" by Ace of Base
Image: Arista

48. "The Sign" by Ace of Base

Like the second coming of ABBA, Sweden’s Ace of Base exploded onto the global scene with the weirdly specific "All That She Wants," but it’s the ultra-catchy, enduring "The Sign" that opened up the world’s eyes to the country’s pop prowess and dominated the US charts for 1994.  Twenty years later, Swedes are still lurking in the shadows of pop music’s biggest hits, making this often-forgotten group one of the decade's most overlooked musical prophets. Andy Kryza

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"Groove is in the Heart" by Dee-Lite
Image: Elektra

49. "Groove is in the Heart" by Dee-Lite

When the '80s rolled over to the '90s, nobody really knew what would stick around. The beauty of "Groove is in the Heart" — and the reason it’s still in heavy roatation — is that it foresaw the 1990 identity crisis and fortified its place on the dance floor by inventing a musical time machine. With a Herbie Hancock sample at its core, Lady Miss Kier going full mod, Bootsy Collins providing some soul and that epic slide whistle, the song is of a piece with the Beastie Boys' mashup masterpiece Paul’s Boutique. The coup de gras is a verse from A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip, who drops in to bridge the gap between hip hop’s rise in the ‘80s and its dominance of the ‘90s. Andy Kryza

"Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia

50. "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia

A few years back, significant chunks of the internet had a freakout when they discovered that Imbruglia's signature hit is - gasp! — a cover. It was actually recorded by several artists including alt-rock band Ednaswap before the Neighbours alum turned it into a global smash in 1998. No matter, though, because Imbruglia's version remains strangely ingratiating 20 years later: the melodramatic lyrics are karaoke gold, and its cheesy slide guitar solo still hits the spot. Nick Levine

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