Top 10 Decade Defining Songs: 1990s

Script written by Sean Harris. The internet was at our finger-tips, PlayStations were in our living rooms, “Friends” was on TV, and these were on the radio! For this list, we’ve looked at a combination of the 1990s’ most commercially successful songs, as well as the most influential records and the tracks that best reflect the period. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 decade defining songs of the 1990s. Special thanks to our users Andy Roehl, Greenhead, Oliver Swen, Alex Guzman, milkman0973, passwordusername115, DFCNeilChilds, Taylor Watts, Margaret Rd, jjfetz100, James Zhang, Jaime Enrique Gutierrez Pérez, awhile2, billthecat2011 and Awesome One for submitting the idea on our Suggest Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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The internet was at our finger-tips, PlayStations were in our living rooms, “Friends” was on TV, and these were on the radio! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 decade defining songs of the 1990s.

For this list, we’ve looked at a combination of the decade’s most commercially successful songs, as well as the most influential records and the tracks that best reflect the period.

#10: “Basket Case” (1994)
Green Day

Our first track needs no introduction – which is handy, because it doesn’t have one! Skipping an instrumental opening, and getting right to the lyrical point, Green Day asks for our time, and we’re more than happy to oblige. This song carried punk rock into the nineties and gave the charts something to really think about. We could’ve gone for their softer “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” approach, but instead, “Basket Case” is our brash and brilliant opening pick!

#9: “Wonderwall” (1995)
Oasis

Britpop staged a major assault on popular music throughout the nineties, and it was led into battle by this band, among others! For Oasis, “Wonderwall” was wonder-ful. A song about a life-saving make-believe friend – though there’s continued speculation that romantic interests were its influence – it became a crowd-pleasing anthem. Written by Noel Gallagher and delivered with distinction by his brother Liam, Oasis was a family business, and this song was their jingle!

#8: “Right Now” (1991)
Van Halen

Van Halen brought their big eighties hairdos into the next decade, and they laid down a song that really had us listening. “Right Now” has a simple message – live for the moment, breathe for now, because one day will be your last. It’s an uplifting, motivational statement that has often been adopted by political parties and sports teams. The video accompaniment won three awards at the 1992 MTV VMAs, and rightly so – a scrapbook of life, it’s as thought provoking as the music!

#7: “I’ll Be Missing You” (1997)
Puff Daddy feat. Faith Evans & 112

A tribute to Puff Daddy’s friend and Faith Evans’ husband The Notorious B.I.G., this record soared to the top of music charts worldwide. Real name Christopher Wallace, the rapper was killed in a drive-by shooting in L.A., and for Puff Daddy this track was all about memorializing him and gaining closure. The single heavily samples “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, and Sting has been known to perform it alongside the rapper. Extremely sentimental, it’s our number seven.

#6: “California Love” (1995)
2Pac feat. Dr. Dre & Roger Troutman

Hip-hop music really came to the forefront of popular culture during the nineties. Snoop Dog’s “Ain’t Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” and “C.R.E.A.M.” by the Wu-Tang Clan were significant, but 2Pac’s “California Love” was a real rap-game-changer! Dr. Dre’s production had innovation, and most notably, intensity. Girls, gangs and money were its subject matter – it’s a contemporary, cautionary tale! It enjoyed considerable chart success, and put the West Side rap-scene firmly on the map!

#5: “…Baby One More Time” (1998)
Britney Spears

Pop music got girly in the nineties, and to top the charts you needed the woman’s touch! The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” proved the real thing, but it’s the teenage schoolgirl who really stole the show! Britney Spears became the biggest name in all of showbiz when she debuted with “…Baby One More Time.” The song is pop perfection, and the video was instantly iconic. We just wouldn’t leave Britney alone, as she scored a number one in every single country she charted in!

#4: “Enter Sandman” (1991)
Metallica

The first single from their fifth album; with “Enter Sandman,” Metallica plays out our worst nightmares… in the best way possible! A song that deals in bad dreams, it has an eerie opening, a killer guitar solo, and some demonic vocals! It’s the heaviest of metal, and was a major influence over all of nineties rock. With an accompanying video that practically induces rapid eye movement, it’s the sound of spooky, sleepless nights.

#3: “Loser” (1993)
Beck

Fresh from living rough, Beck wrote this song with a whole world of experience upon his young shoulders. At the time, some critics cast “Loser” off as senseless ‘stoner rap’ that would never catch on – how wrong they were! A self-confessed unskilled rapper, Beck was able to combine his folk music origins with a slightly psychedelic vibe. The result was a piece of splendid self-mockery – a song that’s real and relatable.

#2: “One Sweet Day” (1995)
Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men

A further example of female dominance, Mariah Carey enjoyed huge success during the 1990s. Commercially, her collaboration with R&B act Boyz II Men was her greatest triumph – spending a staggering 16 weeks atop the U.S. Hot 100! An emotional ballad, it’s a reminder of the temporality of life, and a tribute to those that have passed. It’s a record breaker, it’s a tearjerker, and it’s proof that pop music can sometimes really strike a chord!

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- “Waterfalls” (1994) TLC
- “Killing Me Softly” (1996) Fugees
- “My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme from Titanic)” (1997) Celine Dion
- “Losing My Religion” (1991) R.E.M.
- “I Want It That Way” (1999) Backstreet Boys
- “Ice Ice Baby” (1990) Vanilla Ice
- “U Can’t Touch This” (1990) MC Hammer

#1: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)
Nirvana

If the nineties are responsible for popularizing one music genre in particular, it’s grunge! Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” and Radiohead’s “Creep” were among other moody, magnificent tracks, but “Teen Spirit” was the trailblazer. Nirvana smashed into the mainstream with awesome apathy, and a record that rings in your ears for days! Inspired by graffiti left by a girlfriend on Kurt Cobain’s bedroom wall, it’s a typically Nirvana combination of loud and quiet, subdued and severe. It didn’t hold back, and now it holds our top spot!

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite nineties song? For more triumphant Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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