Songs of the 1990’s: Top 20 Picks

After the chaos and glamor of the eighties, nobody could predict where the music industry was headed. But, as it turned out, the nineties was a treasure trove of hit song after hit song, each of which we still crank up on the radio whenever they come on.

If you aren’t feeling nostalgic yet, you will soon. From the birth of grunge and gangster rap to the explosion of dance-pop and teen pop, the nineties was a major period of growth in the music industry. To help jog your memory, our music experts put together a list of the best songs released between the 1980s and the 2000s.

Relive the best parts of the 1990s with this custom tracklist featuring the biggest pop, rap, and rock hits of the decade. We made sure to include a wide variety of musical artists, genres, and niches so no matter where your preferences lie you can find a host of your favorite songs below.

The Best Nineties Pop Songs

Popular music, especially British pop music (“Britpop”) verged in a direction during the nineties.

This decade saw the birth of electronic dance music (EDM) and the rise of Eurodance, trance, house, and techno to international fame. Although it was difficult for us, we listed our favorite pop songs from the 1990s below.

…Baby One More Time, Britney Spears (1998)

Released as the lead single off her 1999 debut album of the same name, “…Baby One More Time” was one of the biggest pop tunes of the decade. Helping launch her career as a pop icon and international sex symbol, Britney Spears would go on to reinvent the sound of radio-friendly pop music in the late 1990s thanks to the success of this single.

Black or White, Michael Jackson (1991)

Although Michael Jackson was already a household name by the time he released “Black or White,” the song helped solidify his place among the ranks of pop music’s greats. The song soon became an anthem for racial harmony for the decade ahead.

Waterfalls, TLC (1995)

The hit song “Waterfalls” helped propel the girl group TLC to international fame in 1995. As one of the top songs of 1990s, this R&B ballad topped the charts in many countries around the world and ranked number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven straight weeks.

Loser, Beck (1993)

As a homeless musician in the early 90s, Beck thought he had failed in his attempts to launch a music career. However, when he wrote “Loser” in 1993, his fate changed as it ended up coining the American anti-folk sound of the nineties.

You Oughta Know, Alanis Morissette (1995)

If you lived through the mid-1990s, chances are you remember hearing Alanis Morissette’s 1995 hit “You Oughta Know” on the radio on a daily basis. The following year, this hit song was nominated for three Grammy Awards and won two.

The Best Nineties Rap Songs

The nineties was a great decade for rap music. From the birth of “gangsta rap” and the Mafia- themed music led by artists like Notorious B.I.G. and the Wu-Tang Clan to the rise of Eminem and his breakthrough into the mainstream, rap music reached new heights in these years. Here is our list of the top songs of 1990s within the rap and hip-hop genres.

C.R.E.A.M, Wu-Tang Clan (1994)

With the release of the 1993 album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)”, the New York City rap scene was put back on the map. Led by their hit single “C.R.E.A.M” short for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” this song became the group’s most popular song and helped establish the hardcore hip-hop sound of the 1990s.

Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang, Dr. Dre (1992)

The lead singles off West Coast rapper Dr. Dre’s album “The Chronic,” the G-funk-inspired “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” song cemented the legacy of the Los Angeles rap scene in the 1990s.

Featuring a young Snoop Doggy Dogg, this rap song became one of the most well-known of the genre.

Hypnotize, The Notorious B.I.G. (1997)

The Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, had been dead for three weeks when his chart-topping hit “Hypnotize” rocked radio stations around the world. The first posthumous single after his death, “Hypnotize” often ranks among the best hip-hop songs of 1990s and all time.

California Love, 2Pac (1995)

One of the hottest songs in the summer of 1996, 2Pac’s “California Love” was the pinnacle achievement of West Coast hip-hop in the nineties. One of Tupac Shakur’s most well-known songs, the single reached number one on most radio charts around the world upon its release.

Sabotage, Beastie Boys (1994)

In the late 1980s, New York’s Beastie Boys became a major influence in the world of hip-hop.

Their legacy in the music industry was cemented forever with the release of “Sabotage” in 1994, which is now considered a rap-rock masterpiece. Today, the song is featured in numerous blockbuster movies and TV shows.

The World is Yours, Nas (1994)

No highlight reel of 1990s hip-hop would be complete without a discussion of Nas, the self- proclaimed King of New York. One of the lead singles off his debut album, “The World is Yours” is an inspirational tune about human potential and an homage to the cult classic film “Scarface.”

The Best Nineties Rock Songs

In both North America and Europe, rock music changed its tune in the 1990s. Diverging from the glam rock of the decade prior, the rock of the 90s featured heavier, darker, and sometimes more jazz and funk-inspired sound. The sound of this era was defined by major acts such as Oasis, Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as many others we’ve listed below.

Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana (1991)

If there were one song that represented the 1990s, it would be Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The crown achievement of Kurt Cobain short career, this song changed the sound of rock music forever and marked a major departure from the softer sound of rock music that dominated the 1980s.

Live Forever, Oasis (1994)

The biggest hit off the debut album by Britpop titan Oasis, “Live Forever” is an optimistic tune that sharply contrasted from the darker sound of their American counterparts. After receiving extensive global radio play, the song became a mainstay in the canon of Britpop and the Manchester rock scene.

Buddy Holly, Weezer (1994)

The Weezer song “Buddy Holly” was among the several tracks off the group’s debut “Blue Album” to launch them to international stardom. Praised for its authenticity, the song represented the nerdy and low-brow nature of the rock band.

Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton (1991)

Dedicated to his recently deceased four-year-old son, Eric Clapton wrote “Tears in Heaven” with a heavy heart. Within a few years, the song became Clapton’s best-selling single in the United States and earned him many prestigious accolades including Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the 1992 Grammy Awards.

Killing In The Name, Rage Against the Machine (1992)

The rambunctious “Killing In The Name” was Rage Against the Machine’s first major hit. One of the first rap-metal songs to achieve major success, the song spoke out against police brutality and institutional racism after the controversial Rodney King slaying by the Los Angeles Police Department.

1979, Smashing Pumpkins (1995)

Alternative rock boomed in the 1990s, largely thanks to hits such as “1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins. The song was a surprising hit since neither the band members or their record company expected it to chart well among adolescent audiences. However, it quickly became an anthem for those who came of age in the mid-90s.

Basket Case, Green Day (1994)

No discussion of the top 1990s songs would be complete without mentioning Green Day. The American punk rock band’s major breakout single “Basket Case” helped launch their careers into multi-decade stardom.

Losing My Religion, R.E.M (1991)

Featuring an addictive mandolin riff, the alternative rock song “Losing My Religion” became one of the most popular tunes of the 1990s. Receiving extensive coverage on VH1 and MTV music video stations, this song was among the most played songs of the first half of the decade.

Bitter Sweet Symphony, The Verve (1997)

There is perhaps no other song that defines the 1990s like The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” Released in June 1997, the song became an overnight hit among British and North American audiences. However, a major lawsuit and controversy ensued regarding its sampling of The Rolling Stones’ song “The Last Time,” which features a similar tune.

Due to the ensuing controversy, the band members of The Rolling Stones were added to the songwriting credits, and both now receive full royalties for the song. Nonetheless, the track is still regarded highly by critics and general audiences alike. The single received a nomination for the 1999 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.


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