November 5, 2015 by billysparrow
The day has finally arrived! No more sleepless nights wondering which 10 songs from a decade with really bad songs will be deemed the best by a guy with no real credentials and a tenuous grasp on why he likes the things he likes. Finally, your life has reached its pinnacle. I wish I could be you so I could experience the high you’re on right now.
Alas, i am me, so all I can do is present the Top 10 of my Top 40 songs of the Top 40 songs of the 1990s.
10. “No Myth,” Michael Penn [Peaked at #13, 3/24/90]
I’ve realized as I’ve been writing these little summations that the 1990s, for all its many, many musical faults, had some really great one-hit wonder songs. There are a few more to come in the rest of this Top 10, but this one is probably the prettiest of the bunch. It’s so good that I’m ashamed that I’ve never checked out any other Michael Penn songs to see if any of them are at the level of this one. Maybe when my life stops being consumed by listening to 1980s songs for that Top 40, I’ll do some digging.
But, really, if all he did was this song and marry Aimee Mann, I’d have no choice but to conclude that Michael Penn’s pretty great. And if not for “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” he’d be my favorite Penn brother.
9. “Steal My Sunshine,” Len [Peaked at #9, 11/13/99]
Things started to get particularly bad toward the end of the 1990s, which is why I’m surprised that two songs from 1999 cracked the top 10. This is one of those songs that I tried to convince myself didn’t belong in this batch, because, well, I don’t know why. It just doesn’t seem like a song that should be in the top 10 of something. But it held strong throughout the process. So here it remains.
It’s definitely one that sticks in your head. Or it sticks in my head. I don’t know what’s going on in your head. You’re reading this, so clearly something’s amiss up there. But I’m glad that’s the case
8. “The River of Dreams,” Billy Joel [Peaked at #3, 10/16/93]
As someone who owns multiple Billy Joel CDs/LPs/cassettes and grew up listening to him, I have done a fair amount of cringing as people I thought were pretty likable have expressed their utter contempt for Mr. Joel and his work. I understand their arguments and might even concede certain points as being true, but I cannot bring myself to join the Billy Joel Hater Brigade. I just spent too much of my youth listening to Greatest Hits, Vol. I and II.
But that is not to say that I only like Billy Joel because I have put the time in and feel the need to justify those hours spent listening to him. There are still quite a few of his songs that sound just fine to me in 2015, and this one is among my favorites, and I was glad to hear him play when I finally saw him in concert earlier this year (especially after my choices lost out in all the “Audience Chooses” battles).
7. “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Sinead O’Connor [Peaked at #1, 5/12/90]
That Prince kid writes some good songs. But as much as I enjoy hearing him sing this one and I give him props for writing it, it’s hard not to call this a Sinead O’Connor song. It’s the best Top 40 vocal performance of the 1990s (unless, I guess, you like hearing Mariah Carey flutter around), and up there in the all-time list, too.
6. “I Know,” Dionne Farris [Peaked at #4, 5/13/95]
This gets my vote for Underappreciated Top 40 Song of the 1990s, which I’m guessing you didn’t even know was a title that was up for a vote. Well, I’m sorry you didn’t get your ballot, but there was probably some technical snafu. Rest assured, if I find the jerk who screwed you out of a vote, I will give that person a tongue lashing like none he or she has ever seen. But that won’t change the election results, so you’re just going to have to accept that my choice is the correct one, which works out perfectly because it happens to be true.
Anyway, I liked this song from the first time I heard it and my fondness hasn’t lessened since. Another great one-hit wonder from the 1990s.
5. “2 Legit 2 Quit,” Hammer [Peaked at #5, 1/11/92]
This song is very repetitive and could be a lot shorter. But that does not stop it on the Road to Incredible. Easily the best of the post-MC period of Hammer’s career (not really that much of a compliment once you take a look at that segment of his musical life), this one never fails to bring me great joy when I hear it. And, of course, I spend most of the song doing the hand moves, which is probably fun to watch for the people who pass my desk when I listen to this at work.
And if you think the song is long, try watching the long version of the video. And I do mean long.
4. “Baby Got Back,” Sir Mix-A-Lot [Peaked at #1, 8/1/92]
This is another song that I’d have to question your sanity if you left it off a list of the Top 40 songs of the 1990s. The writing in this one is amazing. First of all, you’ve got the fact that he says “Rump-o-Smooth-Skin.” I think that’s enough to get Sir Mix-A-Lot into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. But he’s only getting started. He then moves on to the stellar couplet “I’m long and I’m strong/And I’m down to get the friction on.” But all that is a lead up to the winner of the Two Greatest Lines in a Top 40 Song of the 1990s Award (you didn’t miss the vote for this one; there was no point in there even being a contest):
“My anaconda don’t want none
Unless you’ve got buns, hon”
I don’t like to throw the word “genius” around, but I’m tossing it right at Sir Mix-A-Lot’s feet for those lines. The flow of it, those internal rhymes…brilliant. And I am not even being the least bit facetious.
3. “You Get What You Give ,” New Radicals [Peaked at #36, 1/30/99]
The most important thing about this song, of course, is that the video was filmed in the Staten Island Mall. That’s the very mall that served as the Happiest Place on Earth for certain segments of my childhood (we never did the Disney thing, so we found our paragons of joy elsewhere). I ate at that food court so many times! I ordered fries from the South Philly Steaks and Fries where they’re harassing the blond-haired woman! I’ve been on that elevator!
OK, I first paid attention to the song because of the video. But as I kept listening to the song, I eventually realized that it’s a damn good one. It’s got positive lyrics that aren’t treacly, an eminently singable chorus, and a threat to beat up Hanson. What more do you want?
This song sounds as good to me today as it did in 1999. The mall hasn’t held up as well, though.
2. “I Love You Period,” Dan Baird [Peaked at #26, 1/30/93]
I was legitimately stunned that this song hit the Top 40. Dan Baird’s “Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired” is one of my all-time favorite albums (I’m not sure there’s a bad song on it), but I didn’t get into it until sometime toward the end of college (1997 or 1998, in case you don’t have the years of my educational career committed to memory). So, while I knew that this song got some radio play, I had no idea that it got enough to make it up to #26 in the winter of 1993. It should’ve gone higher, but the fact that it charted at all is a rare mark in the plus column for the 1990s.
This song rocks, it teaches you about good punctuation, and it’s got Dan By God Baird singing and playing guitar. A winner all around. And I enjoy Terry Anderson’s story about the song’s origins, too.
1. “Let Me Clear My Throat,” DJ Kool [Peaked at #30, 4/12/97]
There are definitely better-written songs on this list. This really isn’t even much of a song. At best, it is half a song (with its most memorable hooks borrowing from Kool and the Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging” and Marva Whitney’s “Unwind Yourself”), a quarter of hyping up the crowd, and a quarter shoutouts to people. So how is this the Best Top 40 Song of the 1990s?
It is not possible for me to describe the elation that shoots through my body when I hear the first few seconds of this song. I can listen to this nonstop for probably a half hour before moving on to something else. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve done that. And I’ll probably do it again tomorrow. It is most definitely a stop-right-there-and-turn-it-up song if it shows up on the radio, and it is guaranteed to make me smile.
So that’s why it’s tops on the list. And if you don’t like it, you can grab on these.
And because I know 40 is just not enough for you, here are the Top 100 Top 40 Songs of the 1990s, so you know who was under heavy consideration and almost made the cut. I think there were about 130 or songs that made the initial cut, and then the whittling began.
(A note of clarification: I considered a song a Top 40 hit in the decade by the week of its highest chart position. So if a song hit the charts in 1989 but didn’t reach its peak position until 1990, I counted it as a 1990s song, and if it hit the charts in 1999 but didn’t hit its peak position until 2000, it didn’t make the cut for the 1990s [ODB’s “Got Your Money” was shut out because of this rule; sorry, buddy].)
- Let Me Clear My Throat –•– DJ Kool
- I Love You Period –•– Dan Baird
- You Get What You Give –•– New Radicals
- Baby Got Back –•– Sir Mix-A-Lot
- 2 Legit 2 Quit –•– Hammer
- I Know –•– Dionne Farris
- Nothing Compares 2 U –•– Sinead O’Connor
- The River of Dreams –•– Billy Joel
- Steal My Sunshine –•– Len
- No Myth –•– Michael Penn
- Moneytalks –•– AC/DC
- Walking On Broken Glass –•– Annie Lennox
- King Of Wishful Thinking –•– Go West
- You Don’t Know How It Feels –•– Tom Petty
- I Love You Always Forever –•– Donna Lewis
- Sunny Came Home –•– Shawn Colvin
- Wild Night –•– John Mellencamp & Me’Shell Ndegeocello
- Loser –•– Beck
- Run-Around –•– Blues Traveler
- Misery –•– Soul Asylum
- Stay –•– Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories
- Gone Till November –•– Wyclef Jean
- Just A Friend –•– Biz Markie
- I’ll Be Your Shelter –•– Taylor Dayne
- Everyday Is A Winding Road –•– Sheryl Crow
- Mary Jane’s Last Dance –•– Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
- U Can’t Touch This –•– M.C. Hammer
- Couple Days Off –•– Huey Lewis & The News
- Hard To Handle –•– Black Crowes
- Black Or White –•– Michael Jackson
- Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong –•– Spin Doctors
- Foolish Games –•– Jewel
- Here Comes The Hotstepper –•– Ini Kamoze
- Cream –•– Prince & The N.P.G.
- Tubthumping –•– Chumbawamba
- Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia) –•– US3
- 1,2,3,4 (Sumpin’ New) –•– Coolio
- Ghetto Supastar –•– Pras Michel Featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard & Introducing Mya
- The Humpty Dance –•– Digital Underground
- Deja Vu (Uptown Baby) –•– Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz
- Jump Around –•– House Of Pain
- Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit –•– Gina G
- Hook –•– Blues Traveler
- I Wanna Be Rich –•– Calloway
- Check Yo Self –•– Ice Cube Featuring Das EFX
- Return Of The Mack –•– Mark Morrison
- Back In The Day –•– Ahmad!
- Who Will Save Your Soul –•– Jewel
- I’ll Remember –•– Madonna
- Whoomp! (There It Is) –•– Tag Team
- Free Fallin’ –•– Tom Petty
- Keep Their Heads Ringin’ –•– Dr. Dre
- Now That We Found Love –•– Heavy D & The Boyz
- Smells Like Teen Spirit –•– Nirvana
- Fantastic Voyage –•– Coolio
- The Motown Song –•– Rod Stewart
- This Is How We Do It –•– Montell Jordan
- Life Is A Highway –•– Tom Cochrane
- Jump –•– Kris Kross
- I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) –•– Proclaimers
- Insane in the Brain –•– Cypress Hill
- Hippychick –•– Soho
- This Used To Be My Playground –•– Madonna
- Tom’s Diner –•– D.N.A. Featuring Suzanne Vega
- Save Tonight –•– Eagle-Eye Cherry
- Hold On –•– Wilson Phillips
- Mama Said Knock You Out –•– LL Cool J
- Poison –•– Bell Biv Devoe
- Waterfalls –•– TLC
- Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? –•– Paula Cole
- Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of …) –•– Lou Bega
- Streets of Philadelphia –•– Bruce Springsteen
- Unbelievable –•– E.M.F.
- Groove Is in the Heart –•– Deee-Lite
- C’mon ‘N Ride It (The Train) –•– Quad City DJ’s
- Regulate –•– Warren G & Nate Dogg
- I Do –•– Lisa Loeb
- You Were Meant For Me –•– Jewel
- 7 –•– Prince & The New Power Generation
- Two Princes –•– Spin Doctors
- Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm –•– Crash Test Dummies
- Carnival –•– Natalie Merchant
- Give Me One Reason –•– Tracy Chapman
- Doo Wop (That Thing) –•– Lauryn Hill
- The Memory Remains –•– Metallica
- Hip Hop Hooray –•– Naughty By Nature
- Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough –•– Patty Smyth
- Rhythm of my Heart –•– Rod Stewart
- All I Wanna Do –•– Sheryl Crow
- Mmmbop –•– Hanson
- Tennessee –•– Arrested Development
- Gangsta’s Paradise –•– Coolio Featuring L.V.
- You Gotta Be –•– Des’ree
- Enter Sandman –•– Metallica
- Pray –•– M.C. Hammer
- Playground –•– Another Bad Creation
- One of Us –•– Joan Osborne
- This Old Heart Of Mine –•– Rod Stewart & Ronald Isley
- Live and Let Die –•– Guns N’ Roses
- When I’m Back On My Feet Again –•– Michael Bolton
For your convenience, here’s a YouTube playlist of 99 of the 100 songs.
And now on to the 1980s…