October 29, 2015 by billysparrow
I can only imagine the jolts of electricity that are shooting through your body as you await the beginning of the Top 20 of the Top 40 of the Top 40 of the 1990s. It would be cruel of me to further delay this momentous occasion, so let’s move on to numbers 20 through 11 in my assessment of the best of the mediocre in the magical decade of the 1990s. We’re getting to the point in the countdown where some of these are legitimately good songs. Honest.
20. “Misery,” Soul Asylum [Peaked at #20, 7/15/95]
“Runaway Train” gets all the love, but I’ll take this one from Soul Asylum over it any day. In fact, “Runaway Train” does so little for me that I dismissed the band entirely for a few years and had trouble separating them from Blind Melon in my mind. But this song piqued my interest in them, at which point I discovered that they’re quite an enjoyable band.
The chorus to this one is one I’ve sung out loud in the presence of no one but me many, many times, though not as often as Superdrag’s “Sucked Out,” which I had penciled into the Top 5 until I discovered it never cracked the Top 40. I guess it was just the college kids that dug that one. Glad enough non-college folks liked “Misery” enough to push it to #20, both in the Billboard charts and here.
19. “Run-Around,” Blues Traveler [Peaked at #8, 9/2/95]
Speaking of college, here’s another one that I listened to a lot while allegedly getting a $100,000 education. The “Four” album was probably the only thing I regularly listened to in college that other college students were also listening to. I never progressed much beyond “Four” in my Blues Traveler fandom (to the best of my recollection, it’s still the only one of theirs I bought), but I just about wore that cassette out. It’s signed and somewhere in my apartment as I write this.
There was a time toward the end of college when I can recall declaring that the only two bands I really wanted to see in concert that I hadn’t seen already were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Blues Traveler. I’ve since seen both, finally catching Blues Traveler earlier this year. And the first time I saw both was at Irving Plaza, which, hey, is where this video was filmed. How’s that for completely inconsequential trivia?
18. “Loser,” Beck [Peaked at #10, 4/30/94]
I think I resisted Beck for a while, for reasons I cannot quite recall. If I had to guess, it would be that people thought he was cool. I wasn’t really good at liking people who were considered cool while I was in college. And I haven’t gotten much better at that.
I’m still not a Beck superfan by any means, but I’d have to be a real 100% jerk not to give this one a spot in the Top 20. And I just got back from my jerk physical and came back as merely 61% jerk. So Beck’s in.
17. “Wild Night,” John Mellencamp & Me’Shell Ndegeocello [Peaked at #3, 9/10/94]
I would say it took about 10 listens before I realized that this was not a duet between John Mellencamp and Kenny Loggins. And there are still times when I’m not completely convinced that it isn’t. I hope Me’Shell Ndegeocello doesn’t take any offense at that. She shouldn’t. No one should take offense at being mistaken for Kenny Loggins. I’m keeping my beard solely in hopes of being mistaken for him someday.
It also took awhile before I knew this was a Van Morrison cover. So look at all the exciting discoveries I made by listening to this song repeatedly, and buying the cassingle.
16. “Sunny Came Home,” Shawn Colvin [Peaked at #7, 7/26/97]
Another song I did not know I liked so much until putting together this list. The whole song has a great feel to it, anchored by that mandolin. I bought the album back in the day, just based on this song, and I guess it never took, because I don’t recall one other song off of it, or any other Shawn Colvin song. I feel like I should like her, though. Maybe I’ll do some exploring.
And, of course, let’s remember that if Shawn Colvin had never done this song, she would not have won a Grammy for it, and if she had not won a Grammy for it, she would not have been a part of this glorious moment:
15. “I Love You Always Forever,” Donna Lewis [Peaked at #2, 10/19/96]
No, this is not a great song. I legitimately do not know why I like it. But I do, and we’re just gonna have to live with it. Always forever. Near or far, closer together. Whatever that means. It’s probably best not to look too deep into it.
14. “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” Tom Petty [Peaked at #13, 2/4/95]
OK, back to songs whose appeal to me I think I understand. First of all, “Wildflowers” is easily one of the best albums of the 1990s (though I think I gave it a lukewarm review in the college newspaper at the time, mainly because I gave everything a lukewarm review in an unsuccessful effort to appear cool), and this is one of the better songs on it (“You Wreck Me” would be the best, but no Billboard Top 40 for that one). It’s another song with a great feel to it, from the opening harmonica to the stomping beat to the catchy chorus.
In compiling this list, it was occasionally difficult to discern if songs I’ve heard several hundred times are still, in fact, good songs, or whether I’ve just become so accustomed to them that they’re more comfortable than good. But this one is most definitely good and comfortable. I feel like I’m selling furniture now.
13. “King of Wishful Thinking,” Go West [Peaked at #8, 8/11/90]
Sad Young Me used to make mix tapes that I would listen to as I went to sleep. These tapes only had songs about lost love and unrequited love and bad love and other really joyous topics to really end the day on a high note. There was a lot of Roy Orbison, a Bruce Hornsby song or two, and a couple of songs that were sad but just a touch more lively. This one, off the “Pretty Woman” soundtrack, fit into that last category. Sure, it’s about a guy deluding himself into thinking he can get over a girl, but at least it’s peppy. Or at least peppier than “Crying” and “Only the Lonely.”
Because I associated this song so strongly with one of those mix tapes and I hadn’t thought of Go West in quite some time (also a fan of their “Don’t Look Down,” which, sadly doesn’t seem likely to crack the 1980s Top 40), I figured this one might not hold up so well in 2015. Well, it does. The chorus is stronger than the verses, but that’s true of most songs, I suppose. I have no idea what’s going on in the video, though. And they should maybe not dance.
12. “Walking on Broken Glass,” Annie Lennox [Peaked at #14, 11/14/92]
As I kept shuffling songs up and down the list, this one kept climbing. I’m not sure it shouldn’t be even higher, but, look, I’ve gotta stop thinking about this at some point.
In noting certain things that seem to catch me in songs of the 1990s, or, really, any songs, I have come to realize that piano hooks and strings seem to pop up fairly frequently. And this song covers both bases within about five seconds. So I think I’ve cracked the code on why I like it so much.
And, as far as lyrics go, “I’m living in an empty room/With all the windows smashed/And I’ve got so little left to lose/That it feels just like I’m walking on broken glass” greatly appeals to my inner Sad Young Me (and Occasionally Sad Older Me).
11. “Moneytalks,” AC/DC [Peaked at #23, 2/9/91]
AC/DC is another band I didn’t take to until much later in life. And so, while I remember this song when it was out, it really only recently took up residence in my brain. But it’s been fairly securely lodged in there for quite some time now. It’s tough to put a song I’ve only listened to for a few years above songs like “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “Run-Around” that I’ve listened to hundreds of times in the last 20 years, but I’m feeling confident in my placement of this one. The guitar riff is unstoppable.
This one doesn’t come up often in the list of great AC/DC songs, but I’d put it at or near the top of mine. It’s not looking good for AC/DC’s chances of cracking the 1980s Top 40, but they’ve earned this spot in the 1990s one. I was hoping they’d do this one when I saw them in concert for this time this summer, but they didn’t. That would’ve been a bummer, except for the fact that, you know, I finally got to see the cannons. That ruled.