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Ecstatic Ephemera: Nitpicking 90s
Rolling back the decades to bangers both formative and foundational.
Earlier this week, music discourse arbiters Pitchfork decided to reevaluate a series of lists for that most maligned of decades: the naughty nineties.
It seems that the third time is truly the charm for Pitchfork, considering that the publication had already served up versions of their “Best Music of the 1990s” takes in 2003 and 2010, respectively. Of course, content is king, so yet another reevaluation in the shifting sands of our inertially stunted cultural milieu isn’t surprising. For Editor-in-Chief Puja Patel, their motivation was self-evident:
“For the same reason any good music is worth revisiting: because our understanding of it changes the more we learn; because there is still a thrill in discovering something we didn’t know about (or quite get) before; because taste evolves and grows, enriched by the passing of time. Nevermind that our current cultural moment oozes ’90s influence and nostalgia.”
Rather predictably, then, there were also a series of great takes and responses to this editorial decision, including this, also this, and this. Not to mention this absolute heater (and my personal favourite) below:
So, in the interest of throwing my hat into an already crowded ring, I decided to formulate my own 90s list of sorts. None of the tracks below are what I would confidently label as the “best” or even the “top” of the decade. Instead, they’re merely songs that I consider to be formative to the foundations of my music-loving consciousness—for better and for worse. Enjoy!
Millencolin – “No Cigar”
The Verve – “Bitter Sweet Symphony”
I have vivid memories of sitting on the brown carpeted floor of our first house on early Saturday mornings and watching this clip play over and over again, week after week, on Rage. It was likely my first introduction to anything adjacent to the world of 90s alternative and Brit-pop, and it still packs a punch today. Also, real quick, that fit? Inspired, innit.
28 Days – “Kool”
Metallica – “The Memory Remains”
One of the disadvantages of being born a month after the release of …And Justice For All is existing in a reality where Metallica’s prime was already firmly in the past. Look, the Black album does have undeniable heaters, but it’s a sorry state of affairs when I have to confess that my first-ever purchased Metallica record was Reload. And sure, I was nine years old, but I only have so much forgiveness to give in this cold, dead world. Cool video concept, though; I’ll give them that.
LEN – “Steal My Sunshine”
Pras, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Mýa – “Ghetto Superstar”
Growing up as a white kid in regional Australia, the closest my childhood came to the realm of hip-hop and R’n’B was the occasional disco track my mother would throw on from one of her ‘Hits of the 70s’ compilations. So, when I heard the infectious beat and hook from “Ghetto Superstar” for the first time, not to mention taking in the track’s bewildering music video (click here for additional context surrounding that whole thing), it was like someone flicked a lightswitch in my brain. You can draw a direct connection from this song to me listening to Eminem, Dre and D12 in just a few short years. Also, Mýa? A certified babe with the voice of a goddamn angel.
Korn – “Got The Life”
Garth Brooks – “The Thunder Rolls”
Speaking of parental listening habits, my father isn’t really what you would call a ‘music guy.’ Growing up, my Dad listened almost exclusively to three things: the original Top Gun soundtrack (undeniable classic; still slaps), Charlie Pride records (who I embarrassingly called “Charlie Brown” for many years because, apparently, I was an awfully racist child), and Garth Brooks cassettes. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Really, Owen? CMC-ass country music?” And that’s totally fair. But also, look me dead in the eye and tell me that “The Thunder Rolls” or “Friends in Low Places” don’t have world-class pop hooks? You cannot.
Frenzal Rhomb – “You Are Not My Friend”
Coolio, L.V. – “Gangsta’s Paradise”
Firstly, RIP Artis Leon Ivey Jr.—a West Coast legend, gone far too soon. Much like “Ghetto Superstar” above, this song was so unlike anything else that I’d heard at the time, and, in truth, I remember this track more for its outlier characteristics than anything truly distinctive. I was also a little too young to properly parse and absorb the complex web of racism, institutional neglect, and urban politics going on in Dangerous Minds (1995), yet something about this song and its video clip stayed buried in my head for years to come. An honest-to-God hood classic.
Blink-182 – “Emo”
Cannibal Corpse – “Hammer Smashed Face”
Aside from my older sister briefly listening to Limp Bizkit in the late 90s because it was cool to do so, I am confident in saying that I am the only real metalhead in my immediate family. My progression was perhaps a little unorthodox (the “pop to pop-punk to nu-metal to metalcore to metal et al.” pipeline), but watching the fleeting Cannibal Corpse cameo in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) is without a doubt my first introduction to metal, moshpits, and guttural vocals. So, ahh yeah, thanks, Jim Carrey? I guess.
Mark Morrison – “Return of the Mack”
Chumbawamba – “Tubthumping”
I mean, do I really need to explain this one? If you know, you know. Also, fun fact: Chumbawamba started out by parodying ska and Oi! punk bands, and took political influence from anarchist outfits like Crass. Another fun fact: despite the track’s reputation as a village pisshead anthem, a “tub-thumper” in the colloquial English vernacular is a political campaigner. Which, when you think about it, gives different shades of meaning to lyrics like “pissin’ the night away.”
Stream the full playlist on Spotify below: