Treble’s Top 100 Singles of the ’90s

Treble staff
Our awesome '90s mixtape

They Might Be Giants – “Birdhouse In Your Soul” (Elektra, 1990)

I don’t know if this is my favorite TMBG song, but it’s at least in the top three alongside “Ana Ng” and “Don’t Let’s Start.” Yes, I like John’s vocals more than I like John’s vocals. Huh? What I mean is, Linnell’s more than Flansburgh’s. This track was the first single from the Giants’ major label debut, yet long after most devoted fans had discovered the duo. It might seem ridiculous on paper, the idea of a song about a blue canary nightlight (I use that spelling even though they sing `spelled l-i-t-e’), but the two Johns turn this innocent idea, make it not only silly and poppy, but slightly twisted (i.e. `after killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts’). Plus, some of the best rhymes in pop song history appear in this track including `infinite’ with `symphonette’ and `not to put too fine a point on it’ and `say I’m the only bee in your bonnet.’ And, apparently, nightlights have ancestors who are lighthouses. (`There’s a picture opposite me / Of my primitive ancestry / Who stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free“). Who knew? – Terrance Terich
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U2 – “One” (Island, 1992)

When it comes to U2, there are generally two songs that are considered their all-time best, “With or Without You” and “One.” Both are alike in scope. They each are love songs that can broader meanings. Each song soars with emotional energy and each song gets down the base human needs in a relationship. “One” barely edges (no pun intended) out the other song in my estimation for a few reasons. For one, (again no pun intended) the song’s lyrics are sharper. For another, the message is a little broader, or at least can be interpreted that way. It could be about a relationship on the rocks, or it could be about the state of humanity right now. It’s rumored to be about the planet dealing with the AIDS epidemic, urging us all to treat everyone as brothers and sisters. Bono utters such brilliant gems as “We’re not the same / We get to carry each other,” “You gave me nothing / Now it’s all I got,” “We hurt each other / Then we do it again,” and “Love is a temple / Love the higher law.” The song on its own is intense, but layer on no less than three different videos (one featuring Bono singing the song in drag to his father, one featuring Bono in a bar simply singing and smoking a cigarette, and finally one featuring a herd of buffaloes running toward a cliff’s edge (all puns unintended) as an homage to a photograph by David Wojnarowicz, an artist who died from AIDS, the buffaloes running off the cliff being a metaphor for the disease), and an amazing live performance with video screens displaying `one’ in different languages in rapid-fire succession and you have a song that transcends pop music. How important is the song? Well, not a U2 performance has gone by without it being included in the set list. Johnny Cash covered it brilliantly for his American series of albums. It now serves as the inspiration for the name of Bono’s pet charity project, The ONE Campaign. And finally, British voters named it to contain the best lyric of all time in “One life, with each other, sisters, brothers.” And that’s of `all time,’ not just of the ’90s. – Terrance Terich
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Suede – “Animal Nitrate” (Nude, 1993)

This song’s video got itself banned for its guy-on-guy kiss — oh the horror of it all. As dark and bewildering as its lyrics were, “Animal Nitrate” found Suede in full sight of their glam-rock influences, running their guitars through a shredder of musk and makeup and reducing sex to another form of waste. You could argue that pop was never so Brit as when Brett Anderson moaned his way through the “it turns you ooooon“s of this song’s confounded chorus. – Anthony Strain
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Snoop Doggy Dogg – “Gin and Juice” (Death Row, 1993)

Every time I hear this song, I’m brought back to a moment in my life where I had just begun middle school and had handed a rather atrocious first marking period report card to my parents, who were none to pleased. But this song was all that was playing on the radio and on MTV, so nothing else even mattered while I was grounded in my room getting down. This was the moment where Snoop Dogg showed the world that he wasn’t just some lackey riding on Dr. Dre’s coattails. Probably his only good album from beginning to end, Doggystyle is nothing but choice cuts, particularly “Gin and Juice, a track about throwing a ghetto par-tay while the folks are gone and getting what would today be known as “crunk.” Riding high on a wave of grooves, which were sampled from the song “Watching You” by ’70s disco/funk act Slave, “Gin and Juice” somehow became a pop culture staple and has even been covered rather hilariously by The Gourds. – Chris Pacifico
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Dr. Dre – “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” (Death Row, 1992)

Call it a streak of sunshine on a cracked sidewalk weed (or don’t, this is America and all), “Nuthin’ But A G Thang” takes the soul inspired production of Dr. Dre and pairs it with his familiar confines of Compton. But instead of coming at you with sirens and bullet holes, Dre and new kid in the hood Calvin Broadus slyly introduce themselves in velvet flowing verse. Sexed up bass lines and sultry samples signal that softer side of the gangster and show that life in the ghetto ain’t always an easy ride but there’s nothing short of a party always waiting for those who can survive. – Kevin Falahee
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Elastica – “Stutter” (Deceptive, 1993)

Elastica’s eponymous debut is a 15-track rollercoaster of spiky, darkly polished, punctual genius. “Stutter” is a perfect parting salvo, and fittingly also a standalone early single. Speed Wire up and add commercial teeth. Elastica still sounds cooler, sharper, and better than description. Like several bona fide celebrities sprung by Britpop, Justine Frischmann married an interesting persona to quality lyrics, and her band mates provided serrated hit worthy accompaniment. Some reviews treat the song’s indictment of an insecure boyfriend quite seriously. I can hear a lot of humour too. Either way, “Am I on the wrong train love, and will I have to tie you to the tracks?” is up there with anything served by Morrissey or Jarvis in my eyes. The underlying fact is that when I listen to “Stutter,” I’m impressed, awake, a little intimidated, and I want to meet people like that. – Tom Lee
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Flaming Lips – “She Don’t Use Jelly” (Warner Bros., 1993)

Like a fine wine, The Flaming Lips are an acquired taste. A taste which, in all my years, has thus far eluded me. As anyone vaguely familiar with the band can attest, “She Don’t Use Jelly” signifies their most broadly recognizable single. Anyone with an acute love for music knows that such widely popular songs can have adverse affects on fans and bands alike. So with my small-scale understanding of The Flaming Lips phenomenon, I turned to a friend of mine who is a professor and devout Lips fan for a point of reference on the bizarre anthem: “Generally, fans do hate it, not because it isn’t representative of the band (at that time), but because it’s popular and folks try to claim that `true’ fans like their more obscure stuff (it’s an elitist argument common to allart). But the band plays it every time. In fact, it’s one of the few songs from their back catalogue they play at shows because it’s the song everybody knows.” Although I’m not in tune with the intricacies of the entire Flaming Lips catalogue I do have fond memories of singing “She Don’t Use Jelly” over the phone to my best friend back in 4th grade (along with a heavy dose of Candlebox and Cracker) as we gabbed over the latest music of the time. In time I’ve fallen out of love for the song but as this list was compiled it became apparent that the distinctly dirty feeling I was left with each time I heard this song is a perfect representation of what the `90s were to me. Over time, songs such as The Eels’ “Novocaine For The Soul” would emerge and try to recapture the alt-rock zaniness of “She Don’t Use Jelly,” but none could ever surpass the benchmark track, even if most Lips fans are over it. – Tyler Weir
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Afghan Whigs – “Debonair” (Elektra, 1993)

During the grunge era, The Afghan Whigs emerged an alt-rock anomaly, one part post-punk to one part blue-eyed soul. Cincinnati’s sleaze-rock sons never quite had a major hit, but “Debonair” was something of a breakthrough, making its way onto alternative radio playlists with a ragged, harrowing sexiness. The opening claps, stomps and climbing bassline approximate both the tender act of love and an ironclad fist to the face, mirroring Greg Dulli’s narration of his own sinful deeds. As he sings “tonight I go to hell/ for what I’ve done to you/ this ain’t about regret/ it’s when I tell the truth,” the music provides an intensely rocking staircase down into the depths of the darkest corners of the soul. It’s not even necessarily the darkest song on Gentlemen…and you thought Seasons in the Abyss was scary. – Jeff Terich
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Blind Melon – “No Rain” (Capitol, 1993)

Much can be said about the sorry plight of one-hit wonders, and if you’ve enough time to waste watching reruns of “Behind The Music” on VH-1, you probably know how failing to follow up on brief commercial success implodes most lesser bands. Blind Melon’s front man Shannon Hoon knew that pain well, and whether or not that had anything to do with his eventual drug overdose and death may never be known, but he penned what is arguably the best song of a decade. You couldn’t escape the watery guitar riff of “No Rain” in the mid ’90s if you tried. As far as catchy summer time tunes go, complete with snapping fingers and the musings of a disaffected poet, you’d be hard pressed to find another as perfectly suited to the time of its release, when terms like “Generation X” and “apathetic” floated freely among new concerns about holes in the ozone layer. “All I can say is that my life is pretty plain, I like watching the puddles gather rain,” Hoon laments in the guise of an easy to swallow pill of pop ecstasy, but which lyrically reflects an urgent desire for escapism. It’s not surprising then, that Hoon was supposedly high on LSD for the filming of the video, or so the legend goes. At any rate, he characterized the sentiment of the decade and it took just one song to do it: “All I can do is read a book to stay awake, it rips my life away, but it’s a great escape…escape…escape.” – Mars Simpson
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Underworld – “Born Slippy” (Junior Boy’s Own, 1995)

Most of the dance club attending public only know a few lyrics from this track, those being the repeated `boy’ at the end of each line, and the shouts of `lager, lager, lager’ when the track really kicks in. But really, that’s all you need to know. “Born Slippy” is the ultimate dance track. Forget the rest of the club anthems; Underworld brought the goods for this soundtrack gem. Whenever Trainspotting is parodied, one usually hears Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” the other half of the bookending soundtrack songs, but for my money, “Born Slippy” is far more dramatic, pulse pounding and memorable. By the way, there are nearly 700 versions of this song out there, but the one to get is the over nine minute long “Nuxx” version. You’ll feel as energized and giddy as a former drug abuser and punter who just robbed his friends of thousands of dollars in cash. – Terrance Terich
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