Treble’s Top 100 Singles of the ’90s

Treble staff
Our awesome '90s mixtape

UNKLE – “Rabbit In Your Headlights” (Mo’ Wax, 1998)

Jonathan Glazer’s iconic video. voted best ever by Stylus last year, further illustrated the wretched wooze of paranoia that Thom Yorke’s vocal could have covered all by itself, thank you. If it’s one of those cases of a song being outstripped tele-visually it’s not for lack of content. Blotches of cymbal and spooky chord sequences rappel up and down the song’s length, bottling the scream of an upside-down soul. – Anthony Strain
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Weezer – “The Good Life” (Geffen, 1997)

It’s well known that Rivers practically disavows any recollection of writing, releasing and performing Pinkerton like a bad high school beating. But it’s also well known that his is the more preferred Weezer album among his more sensitive fans. I couldn’t avoid Weezer if I wanted to back in ’94, but after a few years I’d not heard a peep from them or saw any of their latest videos on MTV. It turns out Rivers had some problems after the Blue Album exploded into the hearts and ears of the post-Cobain audience. He fell in love, had writer’s block, went to Harvard and decided to make an album out of that. It turns out that ’90s Weezer fans were still interested in the indie nerd-cum-rock star Rivers, not the confessional musical diarist Rivers. The album sold poorly and the band went on hold, but it hardly sucks. Their second single “The Good Life” is one of the core songs that embody Rivers’ many dilemmas while structured within a light-hearted pop song. Rivers’ voice tenses and almost rambles as he wishes to youthfully start anew, partying and fucking instead of turning into a twentysomething curmudgeon. – Chris Morgan
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De La Soul – “A Rollerskating Jam Named `Saturdays'” (Tommy Boy, 1991)

It’s easy to understand the humor behind Michael Bolton blasting The Geto Boys on the way to Initech—hip-hop is not music for the suburban commute to corporate America. Sometimes it’s dark, sometimes it’s abstract, but mostly, it’s party music. Hip-hop was made for the weekend, for having fun, chilling and getting the fuck down. De La Soul understood this, and even on their infamous De La Soul Is Dead album, a much darker, but no less incredible, counterpart to 3 Feet High and Rising, they found time to celebrate Saturday night. Riding a wave of nostalgia and giddiness, Trugoy, Posdnuos, Mase and Prince Paul, with the aid of Q-Tip, crafted a jam custom fit for a good time roll around the rink. Built upon a multi-layered bed of samples, the most prominent being the raw funk of The Mighty Ryeders’ “Evil Vibrations,” “Rollerskating Jam” is a nugget of joy no pair of hips or skates could resist. Even corporate America’s bean counters are welcome at this party, as Posdnuos eloquently flows, “Slip your butt to the fix of this mix/ toss that briefcase, it’s time to get loose/ `cause you’ve worked like heck to get the week in check/ so unfasten that noose from around your neck.” – Jeff Terich

Sonic Youth – “The Diamond Sea” (Geffen, 1995)

At the risk of sounding unhip, “The Diamond Sea” was the first Sonic Youth song I ever heard. And I’m speaking of the single version/radio edit, not the 19-minute version that appeared on Washing Machine or the 25-minute version that also appears on the single. Still, I may have been late to the party, but I’m glad I finally got there. A meditative song (at least until the glorious, noisy freakout towards the end), the lyrics in “The Diamond Sea” are more prominent than anything else. It helps that Thurston Moore’s sedate delivery is impeccable. References to diamonds and lines such as “ Look into his eyes and you can see / Why all the little kids are dressed in dreams” and “You reflect into his looking glass soul / And now the mirror is your only friend” hint at the songs possible meaning: a marriage that’s turned loveless and the sudden realization of that. For anyone who’s carried on in a relationship gone vanilla, those pangs of loneliness are all too familiar. Yet it helps, if even just a bit, that a song as good as “The Diamond Sea” can communicate these feelings in such a compelling way. – Hubert Vigilla
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The Dismemberment Plan – “The Ice of Boston” (Interscope, 1997)

For those who haven’t had the fortune of seeing The Dismemberment Plan while they were still together, it goes something like this: Travis Morrison begins talking about how Gladys Knight’s Pips were just four dudes who danced behind her, and that The Plan needed their own Pips, so anyone who wanted to dance onstage during “The Ice of Boston” was more than welcome. At early shows, only a handful of people would oblige, but successively people began to catch on, and soon enough half the damn crowd was up there. Such is the power of the Dismemberment Plan. But why Pips? Well, in “The Ice of Boston,” Morrison sings of being alone, naked and drenched in champagne while his mother calls him on new year’s eve, while also mentioning “that Gladys Knight and the Pips song came on where she says she’d rather live in his world than live in her own world alone…oh, Gladys girl I love you, but OH! Get a life!” So yeah, Pips. Man, I miss these guys. – Jeff Terich
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Smashing Pumpkins – “Today” (Hut, 1993)

It’s times like these that I remember why I was so into the Smashing Pumpkins. After all the reunion nonsense, Billy Corgan’s poetry book, bald chic and battles with Sharon Osbourne, it becomes rather easy to dismiss the Chicago band that was once so great. But when the opening guitar notes for “Today” play like some kind of electric jack-in-the-box, ready to unleash a combination of rock assault and intensely personal feelings, it all comes back. The best pop songs are born out of misery and “Today” is a shining example. It was tough to be the Smashing Pumpkins in the early ’90s. Gish wasn’t exactly a huge album, but press were calling them the `next Jane’s Addiction.’ Then they were dubbed the `next Nirvana’ and `next Pearl Jam.’ They couldn’t find their own identity as far as critics were concerned. Guitarist James Iha and bassist D’Arcy Wretzky broke up on the Gish tour. Jimmy Chamberlain succumbed to a recurring drug habit. Everything was falling to pieces and Corgan was suffering from paralyzing depression. Luckily, he was able to turn suicidal thoughts into musical gold. Lyrics about self-mutilation and references to suicide litter the landscape of the guitar heavy song. The song was so personal to Corgan, and he felt so much pressure from the label to make it right, that he performed all guitar and bass tracks for the song. Of course, this gave Corgan a reputation for being a studio tyrant, but the proof is in the pudding. And despite all of the depression, the song is somewhat upbeat, with Corgan rejoicing that “today is the greatest day I’ve ever known.” – Terrance Terich
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Wu Tang Clan – “C.R.E.A.M” (Loud, 1993)

I enjoy Wu-Tang like I appreciate Efes Pilsner and The Designer’s Republic. They’re simply top of the range mainstream in their chosen sphere. There’s no point in me writing a wordy, empty indie essay on social or circumstantial factors behind the track’s struggle with poverty and propulsion of capitalism. I don’t care about any wider context when I’m nodding like a tool into my earphones or at a PC. All that matters is that “C.R.E.A.M” has brilliant samples (The Charmel’s “As Long As I’ve Got You”- after checking), witty lyrics that keep on the right side of abrasion, and glides along in a fashion that screams immediacy. There’s enough universal truth in there that even I can appreciate. The world feels like a cell for most people sometimes. “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” is like Disneyland for grown-ups. – Thomas Lee
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The Dismemberment Plan – “What Do You Want Me To Say?” (deSoto, 1998)

Hearing “What Do You Want Me To Say?” for the first time, I was left on the defensive. Joe Easley’s drums struck the first blow, heavy and distinct, clobbering steadily like a post-punk Bonham. Then comes the guitar, slicing with staccato jabs, juxtaposed against Eric Axelson’s meandering, zig-zagging bass, turning the song from Zep to Wire, and soon enough Travis Morrison jumps in with his quick-tongued delivery, witty and unique, quipping “I lost my membership card to the human race/ so don’t forget the face/ because I know I do belong here.” It’s all a bit sideways and confusing, until the final, merciless kick to the head comes in the form of its huge, anthemic, emotional chorus. Oh, and best of all, this sinewy, muscular beast is a love song, Travis Morrison pleading, “what do you want me to say, what do you want me to do/ to let you know that I do mean it.” For a track to go in this many directions and still be accessible is an impressive, albeit nigh impossible feat. It may be the best song in the world. – Jeff Terich
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Yo La Tengo – “Autumn Sweater” (Matador, 1997)

The most notable thing about “Autumn Sweater” is probably how closely the song evokes the very feeling of the words that make up its title. Warmth contained, withheld from a surrounding iciness. Ira Kaplan, unable to shake off whatever is giving him the chills, leans in close to his companion, the one clad in autumn sweater, to shield him from a milieu that leaves him with nothing to say, hiding in crowded rooms. He seems sweetly ambivalent toward seeking solace in another person, driven to escape with an accomplice yet not innocent or naïve enough to believe that anyone else can give him the peace of mind that he seeks. – Tyler Parks
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Blur – “Coffee & TV” (Food, 1999)

“Coffee & TV” is one of those special songs that has come up in the pages of Treble several times, to be honest, mostly referenced by me. If ever there were a piece of evidence for Graham Coxon’s ability to succeed on his own, this is it. Damon Albarn wrote the `song,’ whatever that means, but Coxon wrote the lyrics, as well as contributing more than he ever had previously to other songs on the album, 13, including the album’s painted cover. Thanks to an adorable anthropomorphic milk container, the song became a huge hit in America, but there is much more to it than just `Milky.’

Coxon captures urban malaise and an entire new `lost generation’ as well as Hemingway and Fitzgerald did the first time around. One can’t help in this day and age, and maybe I’m just speaking for myself, to identify with the socially awkward Coxon, desperate for any kind of chemical or technological comfort. His soporifics of choice may be coffee and television, but they represent a problem that is much bigger, the inability to connect with fellow human beings in modern society. However, Coxon ends each chorus and the song in its entirety with the refrain, “we could start over again,” giving us all a little bit of hope for love with at least one special person. – Terrance Terich
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