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Best '90s songs
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The 50 best ’90s songs

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


No decade is a musical monolith, but seeing the best songs of the ‘90s listed all in one place, the era seems especially scattered. History has boiled it down to grunge and gangsta rap on one end, boy bands and Britney Spears at the other, but it’s the stuff in the middle and on the fringes that makes the period difficult to sum up. 

In England, Oasis and the rest of the Britpop lot left nearly as big a mark as Nirvana and the other Seattleites. Hip-hop took over the world, and seemed to change shape every few months. Remember when electronica looked like the future? Where do mischief makers like Pavement, Beastie Boys and A Tribe Called Quest fit in? And that’s to say nothing of the totally random ska and swing revivals…although that’s all you’ll hear about it here. 

Given the crowded field, we’ve been ultra-selective in compiling this all-bangers, no-clangers playlist and limited it to one song per artist. Whether the ‘90s was the greatest decade for music is mostly a generational debate, but as you’ll hear, one thing’s for sure: it was never boring.

📸 The best album covers of the ’90s
🎶 The best ’80s songs
🎵 The best songs of the 2000s
💃 The best Beyoncé songs
🎤 The best Kanye West songs
🎞 The best music videos of all time
🌱 The best jungle tracks

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?

‘Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang’ by Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg
Death Row Records

2. ‘Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang’ by Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg

If ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ didn’t invent the ‘90s so much as put an end to the ‘80s, then the decade didn’t really start until Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre showed up at the door. Neither was truly a stranger to the public: Dre had already shaken the rap world — and the nerves of white America — as a member of NWA, and Snoop’s actual-factual debut occurred months earlier on the soundtrack to the movie Deep Cover. But ‘“G” Thang’ still resonated as an introduction, simply because it sounded unlike anything hip-hop had heard before — a meticulously crafted gangsta symphony, built from smokey wah guitar, whistling synths and creeping bass, all flowing smoother than a river of Courvoisier. Lyrically, it contains none of Straight Outta Compton’s fury, nor the casual nihilism found elsewhere on Dre’s solo breakout, The Chronic; it just sounds like two guys trading rhymes at a backyard barbecue, a vibe underscored by the chill-as-hell video. No wonder kids all over the world aspired to live in this version of inner city Los Angeles — and for a few years, the whole world did. Matthew Singer

‘Juicy’ by The Notorious BIG
Image: Bad Boy

3. ‘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

‘Da Funk’ by Daft Punk
Image: Soma

4. ‘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

5. ‘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

‘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

‘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 world-beating 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

‘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

‘Deceptacon’ by Le Tigre
Image: Mr. Lady

13. ‘Deceptacon’ by Le Tigre

Queer feminist dance-punk trio Le Tigre dropped a cult classic debut album – also called ‘Le Tigre’ – right at the end of the decade. Driven by Kathleen Hanna’s ferocious vocal and a buzzing synth line, Deceptacon’ is its electrifying and very catchy highlight. ‘Who took the ram from the ram-a-lama-ding-dong?’ she sings, bemoaning the lack of political bite in contemporary music and our culture generally. It’s an accusation no one could ever level at Le Tigre. Nick Levine

‘Sure Shot’ by Beastie Boys
Image: Grand Royal

14. ‘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

15. ‘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

‘Closer’ by Nine Inch Nails
Image: Interscope

16. ‘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

17. ‘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

‘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

‘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 chart-topping smash in 1998, Hill’s seamless fusion of doo-wop and hip hop still sounds fresh today. It’s a dazzling testament to everything the 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 become sexual pawns. And when she rhymes ‘hair weaves like Europeans’ with ‘fake nails done by Koreans,’ it’s kind of genius. Nick Levine

‘Longview’ by Green Day

22. ‘Longview’ by Green Day

The Alternative Era had more than one voice of a generation. Kurt Cobain’s mumbled poetic fragments certainly felt meaningful, but for kids who were in junior high the year pop-punk broke, Billie Joe Armstrong whining about having nothing better to do than wank himself into oblivion proved far more relatable. Slacker ennui was de rigueur in the ‘90s, of course, but ‘Longview’, the song that brought Green Day to the world, put it in terms suburban teenagers could understand: nothing’s on the tube, no one’s calling and the only thing that feels good is starting to lose its fun. But ‘Longview’ is hardly some tortured dirge. Like his idol Paul Westerberg, Armstrong had a way of making loserdom sound like rebellion, and by the time the song transitions from Mike Dirnt’s signature rubbery bassline into its final mosh-along chorus, he’s turned compulsive self-pleasure into an act of defiance. “Some say quit or I’ll go blind/But it’s just a myth,” he sneers. And millions of 14-year-olds breathed a sigh of relief. Matthew Singer

‘Rosa Parks’ by Outkast
Image: Arista

23. ‘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

‘Where It’s At’ by Beck
Image: DGC

24. ‘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

25. ‘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

‘Poison’ by The Prodigy
Image: XL

26. ‘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

27. ‘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

‘Windowlicker’ by Aphex Twin
Image: Sire

28. ‘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

‘Rebel Girl’ by Bikini Kill
Image: Kill Rock Stars

29. ‘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

‘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. Michael Curle

‘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

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

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

The Spice Girls’ debut single ‘Wannabe’ is properly iconic: the sound of brilliant, bolshy bop barging its way to the top of the charts following the indie-leaning Britpop era. But this follow-up single is probably, whisper it, the stronger song. Lightly inspired by West Coast hip hop’s G-funk sound, it’s a swooning pop-R&B nugget featuring glorious candy-coated choruses and a storming, oh-so-northern rap bit from Mel B: ‘Just promise you’ll always be there!’ After this absolute banger, who could refuse? Nick Levine



‘1979’ by  Smashing Pumpkins
Image: Virgin Records

34. ‘1979’ by Smashing Pumpkins

The Pumpkins’ 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 Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’ by Missy Elliott
Image: Elektra

35. ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’ by Missy Elliott

At the 1995 Source Awards, in the midst of rap’s East-West war, Andre 3000 of Outkast stood onstage and declared, ‘The south got something to say’. Two years later, a singer-rapper from Portsmouth, Virginia, made it clear that the southeast also had something to say, and it was this: ‘Beep beep/Who got the keys to the jeep?/Vroooooooom’. In truth, Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliott spoke for no one but herself, and her debut single doesn’t sound like it’s from any particular region, or country, or planet. Much of the credit for that extraterrestrial feel goes to her visionary producer-partner Timbaland, who took Ann Peebles’ 1973 soul oddity ‘I Can’t Stand the Rain’, added fat splashes of digital bass, hiccuping drums and an incessant chirping-cricket noise, and left enough room for Elliott to slink, moan, cough, vroom and flicky-flicky all over the open space. Weird as it seemed at the time, the song heralded the arrival of a hitmaker who looked cooler rocking a Hefty bag — as she famously did in the ‘Rain’ video — than 99 percent of other rappers do with a Louis bag. Supa dupa fly indeed. Matthew Singer

‘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

‘You Oughta Know’ by Alanis Morissette
Image: Reprise

37. ‘You Oughta Know’ by Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette’s dazzling 1995 album ‘Jagged Little Pill’ became one of the decade’s best-sellers with global sales of 33 million. You can mock her not-so-ironic ‘Ironic’ lyrics all you want, but the Canadian singer-songwriter captured the zeitgeist by setting thrillingly cathartic lyrics to super-catchy music that buffed up grunge for mainstream radio. ‘You Oughta Know’, an expression of female rage so indelible its even been covered by Beyoncé, is its most seminal moment and home to the classic lyric: ‘Would she go down on you in a theatre?’ More than 25 years later, there’s still nothing quite like it. Nick Levine

‘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 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

‘Undone - The Sweater Song’ by Weezer
Image: DGC

39. ‘Undone - The Sweater Song’ by Weezer

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, The Sweater Song’ 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-calibre 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 that helped to usher in a new generation of 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. And somehow, it hits even harder now we know that Britney is finally free to live her life again, the way she wants. 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

‘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

‘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 colouring 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 hit ‘Genius of Love’ and beefs it up into a slick 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

‘Range Life’ by Pavement
Image: Big Cat Records

47. ‘Range Life’ by Pavement

Stephen Malkmus’ 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

‘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 rotation — 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

Every now and then, the internet has a freakout when people discover 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 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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