60 Songs That Explain The 90s – A Nostalgic Journey Into the Past

The 90s were more than just a span of ten years — it was a living, breathing entity, alive with a symphony of sounds that still echo in my heart. I grew up in this era, where every beat, every lyric, and every melody was a vibrant splash on the canvas of my youth.

It wasn’t just music. It was an electric current that powered our lives, fueled our dreams, and gave voice to a generation finding its footing in a rapidly changing world.

Here are the 60 most iconic tracks from this time.

1. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana

In the early 90s, Nirvana shattered the music scene with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’

The title was inspired by a deodorant brand, Teen Spirit, which Kurt Cobain’s friend jokingly wrote on his wall, saying Kurt smelled like it.

2. Waterfalls – TLC

TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’ was one of the first songs to address HIV/AIDS and the illegal drug trade.

Its groundbreaking music video was one of the most expensive at the time, costing over a million dollars.

3. …Baby One More Time – Britney Spears

This iconic debut single from Britney Spears almost went to TLC, but they passed on it.

It became a defining song of the late 90s and launched Spears into superstardom.

4. Enter Sandman – Metallica

Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ was a departure from their earlier thrash metal style, marking a shift to a slower tempo that helped the band reach a wider audience.

5. Wannabe – Spice Girls

The Spice Girls took the world by storm with ‘Wannabe.’

It was recorded in less than an hour, becoming the fastest-selling debut single by a girl group and a symbol of female empowerment.

6. Losing My Religion – R.E.M.

‘Losing My Religion’ by R.E.M., known for its mandolin riff, was never meant to be a single, but it became the band’s highest-charting hit in the US.

7. Gangsta’s Paradise – Coolio

Featuring in the movie ‘Dangerous Minds,’ Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ samples Stevie Wonder’s ‘Pastime Paradise’ and became one of the best-selling singles of all time.

8. Wonderwall – Oasis

Although ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis became a global hit, the term ‘Wonderwall’ is never mentioned in the lyrics.

It’s speculated to refer to an “ideal” or “imaginary” friend.

9. No Scrubs – TLC

‘No Scrubs’ by TLC, a song about men who don’t treat women right, is notable for its futuristic music video and became one of the first songs to receive a “Digital Platinum Certification.”

10. Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden

Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ became an anthem of the 90s grunge movement.

Its surreal music video, filled with bizarre and apocalyptic images, became a MTV staple.

11. Vogue – Madonna

Inspired by the dance style in the New York gay scene, Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ became a cultural phenomenon, bringing the underground “voguing” into mainstream popularity.

12. Killing Me Softly – The Fugees

The Fugees’ rendition of ‘Killing Me Softly’ was originally an accidental studio jam; Lauryn Hill sang it while the other members spontaneously joined in.

13. Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Anthony Kiedis wrote ‘Under the Bridge’ about his feelings of loneliness and his substance abuse, and initially, he was reluctant to share it with his bandmates.

14. California Love – 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre

‘California Love’ marked 2Pac’s comeback after his prison sentence.

The song’s iconic music video is a homage to the film ‘Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.’

15. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day

Ironically, Green Day’s ‘Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)’ is often used for graduations and farewells, although Billie Joe Armstrong wrote it in a moment of bitterness after a breakup.

16. Creep – Radiohead

‘Creep’ by Radiohead, known for its raw emotion, was initially a commercial failure. However, it later became a worldwide hit, ironically making the band uncomfortable with its success.

17. Vision of Love – Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey’s debut single ‘Vision of Love’ is credited with influencing a generation of vocalists. It showcased her incredible vocal range and set the stage for her stellar career.

18. Jeremy – Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam’s ‘Jeremy’ was based on the true story of a high school student who took his life in front of his classmates. Its powerful and controversial video won numerous awards.

19. Bitter Sweet Symphony – The Verve

The Verve’s most famous track, ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony,’ was embroiled in a legal battle over a sample from an orchestral version of The Rolling Stones’ song, resulting in the band losing all royalties.

20. I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston’s rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You,’ originally by Dolly Parton. It is one of those songs that can make you cry.

It became one of the best-selling singles of all time and is often considered one of the greatest love songs ever recorded.

21. Friday I’m in Love – The Cure

‘Friday I’m in Love’ by The Cure stands out for its upbeat tempo in contrast to the band’s typically gloomier tone.

It remains a beloved anthem for the end of the workweek.

22. Tearin’ Up My Heart – NSYNC

NSYNC’s ‘Tearin’ Up My Heart’ helped cement the boy band craze of the late 90s. It showcased the group’s harmonious vocals and energetic dance moves, becoming a teen favorite.

23. My Name Is – Eminem

‘My Name Is’ introduced Eminem to a wider audience.

Produced by Dr. Dre, it was noted for its controversial lyrics and humorous style, setting the tone for Eminem’s career.

24. Ray of Light – Madonna

Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’ marked a significant shift in her career, blending electronic music with spiritual themes.

It won three Grammys and is considered one of her best works.

25. Zombie – The Cranberries

The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ is a protest song about the Northern Ireland conflict. Its gritty sound and powerful lyrics were a departure from the band’s earlier style.

26. Don’t Speak – No Doubt

No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak’ was a raw expression of Gwen Stefani’s feelings about her breakup with bandmate Tony Kanal.

One of the band’s most successful and iconic songs.

27. November Rain – Guns N’ Roses

‘November Rain’ by Guns N’ Roses, featuring a grandiose music video with a cinematic feel.

One of the longest songs to enter the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100.

28. U Can’t Touch This – MC Hammer

MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This,’ famous for its catchy hook and Hammer’s signature dance moves.

He sampled Rick James’ ‘Super Freak’ and became a pop culture phenomenon.

29. All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow’s ‘All I Wanna Do,’ based on a poem by Wyn Cooper, was a feel-good anthem of the 90s, capturing the essence of carefree living with its upbeat lyrics and melody.

30. Basket Case – Green Day

‘Basket Case’ by Green Day, an anthem for teen angst, was penned by Billie Joe Armstrong about his struggles with anxiety. It became one of the band’s most enduring hits.

31. No Diggity – Blackstreet ft. Dr. Dre

‘No Diggity’ by Blackstreet featured Dr. Dre and marked a shift in R&B music.

Its use of a piano riff from Bill Withers’ ‘Grandma’s Hands’ and a memorable music video made it a 90s classic.

32. Loser – Beck

Beck’s ‘Loser’ started as a parody of a rap song, but its catchy chorus and blend of folk and hip-hop elements turned it into an anthem for Generation X’s disillusionment.

33. Livin’ la Vida Loca – Ricky Martin

Ricky Martin’s ‘Livin’ la Vida Loca’ ignited the Latin pop explosion of the late 90s. Its energetic beat and Martin’s charismatic performance made it a global hit.

34. Sabotage – Beastie Boys

The Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage,’ known for its aggressive style and iconic, parody-filled music video, was a departure from their earlier rap work, showing their versatility as artists.

35. You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette’s raw and emotional ‘You Oughta Know’ was a stark contrast to her earlier pop work. Its candid lyrics and Morissette’s powerful delivery resonated with many.

36. Tubthumping – Chumbawamba

Chumbawamba’s ‘Tubthumping,’ often remembered for its “I get knocked down, but I get up again” chorus, became an unlikely anthem of resilience and perseverance.

37. Shoop – Salt-N-Pepa

‘Shoop’ by Salt-N-Pepa was a playful, flirty rap song that stood out in a genre dominated by male voices.

Its catchy beat and empowering lyrics made it a long-lasting hit, popular to this day.

38. Buddy Holly – Weezer

Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly,’ with its memorable music video set in the ‘Happy Days’ diner, was a tribute to the iconic rock and roll star and became one of the band’s signature songs.

39. Scar Tissue – Red Hot Chili Peppers

‘Scar Tissue’ by Red Hot Chili Peppers, known for its melodic guitar work and introspective lyrics, signaled a new era for the band following turbulent times.

40. I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys

The Backstreet Boys’ ‘I Want It That Way’ became a defining song of the boy band era. Its catchy chorus and harmonious vocals cemented it as a pop classic.

41. Doo Wop (That Thing) – Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ from her solo album ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,’ showcased her versatility as a singer and rapper and offered a message about respect and self-worth.

42. Kiss from a Rose – Seal

Seal’s ‘Kiss from a Rose’ gained renewed popularity after being featured in the film ‘Batman Forever.’

Its haunting melody and enigmatic lyrics have made it a timeless ballad.

43. All Star – Smash Mouth

‘All Star’ by Smash Mouth became synonymous with the late 90s and early 2000s pop culture, featuring in several movies and becoming a meme in later years.

44. Virtual Insanity – Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai’s ‘Virtual Insanity’ is remembered not only for its funky sound but also for its innovative music video featuring a moving floor, which won several awards.

45. Criminal – Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple’s ‘Criminal’ stood out for its sultry tone and controversial music video. The song’s candid lyrics and Apple’s unique voice garnered critical acclaim.

46. Mr. Jones – Counting Crows

‘Mr. Jones’ by Counting Crows became an instant hit with its storytelling lyrics and catchy melody.

The song was named after a friend of lead singer Adam Duritz, symbolizing the quest for fame and success.

47. Mo Money Mo Problems – The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Puff Daddy & Mase

‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ by The Notorious B.I.G., featuring Puff Daddy and Mase, sampled Diana Ross’s ‘I’m Coming Out.’

Its posthumous release and flashy music video made it a staple of 90s hip-hop.

48. Smooth – Santana ft. Rob Thomas

‘Smooth’ by Santana, featuring Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, blended rock and Latin influences.

It won three Grammys and is one of the most successful collaborations in music history.

49. Only Happy When It Rains – Garbage

Garbage’s ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ parodied the gloom and self-deprecation often found in alternative rock, yet ironically became an anthem for the genre’s fans.

50. MMMBop – Hanson

Hanson’s ‘MMMBop,’ performed by the three young Hanson brothers, captured the essence of youthful optimism.

Its infectious chorus made it a pop phenomenon.

51. Iris – Goo Goo Dolls

‘Iris’ by Goo Goo Dolls, written for the movie ‘City of Angels,’ perfectly captured the film’s themes of love and sacrifice. Its emotional depth resonated with a wide audience.

52. What’s My Age Again? – Blink-182

Blink-182’s ‘What’s My Age Again?’ became an anthem for youthful rebellion and immaturity. Its humorous and iconic music video helped propel the band to mainstream success.

53. Karma Police – Radiohead

‘Karma Police’ from Radiohead’s critically acclaimed album ‘OK Computer’ showcased the band’s evolving sound, blending experimental rock with philosophical lyrics.

54. Man! I Feel Like a Woman! – Shania Twain

Shania Twain’s ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman!’ became an empowering song for women everywhere.

Its catchy tune and Twain’s charismatic presence made it a country-pop classic.

55. Tha Crossroads – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s ‘Tha Crossroads,’ a tribute to their late mentor Eazy-E, stood out for its melodic flow and heartfelt lyrics, becoming a major hit in the hip-hop community.

56. Glycerine – Bush

Bush’s ‘Glycerine,’ one of their most notable songs, was unique for its simplicity and emotional depth.

Gavin Rossdale performed it solo with just a guitar, making it a standout track.

57. Return of the Mack – Mark Morrison

Mark Morrison’s ‘Return of the Mack’ mixed elements of R&B and hip-hop. Its catchy hook and Morrison’s distinct vocals made it a dance floor favorite.

58. Closer – Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’ was known for its industrial sound and controversial lyrics. Its provocative music video, directed by Mark Romanek, is often considered a masterpiece.

59. I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing – Aerosmith

Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,’ written for the film ‘Armageddon,’ was the band’s first single to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, showcasing their enduring appeal.

60. Say My Name – Destiny’s Child

‘Say My Name’ marked a turning point for Destiny’s Child, showcasing their vocal harmonies and the songwriting prowess of Beyoncé. Its colorful and innovative music video was praised for its creativity.


What genre is Nirvana?

Nirvana was a band that played mainly grunge music, which is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in Seattle in the late 1980s. Grunge music is characterized by distorted guitars, heavy drums, and lyrics that express alienation and dissatisfaction.

What changed 90s music?

The 90s music scene was influenced by various factors, such as the rise of the internet, the popularity of hip-hop and electronica, the emergence of new subcultures, and the social and political changes of the decade. Some of the genres that defined the 90s music were grunge, rap, R&B, pop, and Britpop.

What is the best music era?

There is no definitive answer to what is the best music era, as different people may have different preferences and opinions. However, some of the factors that may affect one’s choice are the quality, diversity, innovation, and impact of the music produced in a certain period of time.

What makes the 90s iconic?

The 90s were iconic because they were a decade of cultural and technological shifts that shaped the modern world. The 90s saw the rise of feminism, the internet, and globalization, as well as the creation of some of the most memorable music, movies, TV shows, and fashion trends of all time.

Final Thoughts

Reflecting on these 60 songs, each a vivid snapshot of the 90s, we see how the decade was much more than its music.

It was about the narratives, the cultural shifts, and the voices that these tunes either echoed or helped shape.

The 90s didn’t adhere to a singular style but presented a rich mix of sounds and genres.

From the raw energy of grunge in the Pacific Northwest to the glossy pop anthems dominating MTV, from the introspective musings of singer-songwriters to the groundbreaking beats of hip-hop and R&B, this era was a melting pot of musical innovation.