20 Best Pop Songs of the 1990s

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Ah the ’90s, the ’90s were, well, a blur for my part because I didn’t exist for the first half and I was a toddler for the second. What I can say is that it was pretty awful for pop music. Overblown, terribly produced dance songs dominated the charts in the UK during this era, but thankfully most of that has been forgotten. The songs which appear here, however, shouldn’t be forgotten, they’re the gems of the decade, and even if you don’t instantly recognise them by name, you’ll know them from the first note.


Honourable Mentions:

Blur – Girls & Boys

Run DMC vs Jason Nevins – It’s Like That

Spice Girls – Wannabe

Elton John – Candle In The Wind

Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger


20. Alright – Supergrass

1995 Year End List – 49

Peak on Chart – 2

This is the best ’60s song to be released in the ’90s. It could be considered Britpop, but it’s much more of a ’60s song than anything else. Like ‘Happy’ by Pharrell, it treads a fine line between fun and annoying, but it’s so bright and sunny that you can’t not want it to exist, it’s a high point in a decade which was flooded by banging dance anthems.


19. It’s Oh So Quiet – Bjork

1995 Year End List – 26

Peak on Chart – 4

Bjork has one of the strongest discographies in music, so strong in fact that this didn’t make her greatest hits album in 2002, even though it was a huge hit. This cover of Betty Hutton’s 1951 song certainly has a different vibe to much of her usual experimental sound, but her charm and cute personality shine through. This remains her only gold selling single in the UK.


18. A Design For Life – Manic Street Preachers

1996 Year End List – 50

Peak on Chart – 2

A passionate song about middle class perceptions of working class life. The song demonstrates that you shouldn’t be ashamed of where you come from, and the working class doesn’t deserve to be ignored. Bradfield soars on the chorus with “We don’t talk about love, we only want to get drunk”, beating the media-driven stereotype of the heavy drinking, emotionally stunted working class.

17. Da Funk – Daft Punk


Peak on Chart – 7

This track is mostly remembered for the bizarre Spike Jonze-directed video  in which a man dressed as a dog wanders around with a boom box. The completely instrumental song features Daft Punk’s signature house sound with a very memorable bass line incorporated into the mix.


16. Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) – Backstreet Boys

1997 Year End List – 38

Peak on Chart – 3

A lot of people get mad about too many boy bands around today, but the 90s were flooded with them. In hindsight, some of them weren’t as bad as people thought they were at the time, and I’m sure people will say the same about One Direction (I’ll still concede that ‘Glad You Came’ by The Wanted is damn great). There’s something about this song that’s simultaneously cool and uncool, I think it’s those “yeah’s” in the chorus that keep you hooked. After that it’s only a matter of time until you realise that’s there no reason to be a snob, it’s cooler to dance along to the greatness that is playing.


15. Coffee & TV – Blur


Peak on Chart – 11

Like with ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ on the Best Pop Songs of the 2000s list, this one is a big nostalgia one for me. This time it’s for the brilliant, multiple award winning video. I never thought I’d find a video starring a milk carton to be touching, but it somehow was.


14. Unfinished Sympathy – Massive Attack


Peak on Chart – 13

Progressive production that influenced an entire decade of sound. The ‘tinny’ beat across this track proved to be a unique sound for a dance song, no one else at the time was doing them like this. This song proved to be massively influential on the then young trip-hop genre.


13. No Diggity – Blackstreet (Feat. Dr Dre)


Peak on Chart – 9

When you look back at some of the most acclaimed music of the ’90s, hip hop frequently gets brought up, but if you take a glance at the UK’s biggest songs, you wouldn’t even think anyone cared about Nas, Wu Tang Clan or anyone else in that pantheon. One hip-hop song that you can guarantee people dancing to at parties now is No Diggity. The excellent piano sample and the soulful sound is what makes this track so loveable. It doesn’t define the sound of ’90s hip hop, but it’s remembered because of the happier side of hip-hop that it represents.

12. Killing Me Softly – The Fugees

1996 Year End List – 1

Peak on Chart – 1

Another great cover song from the ’90s that trumps the original, mostly for Lauryn Hill’s amazing vocal performance. The familiarity of the song is what I believe resonated with so many people, it’s the kind of song that you know but you’re not entirely sure where from. The Fugees mastered this cover.


11. Firestarter – The Prodigy

1996 Year End List – 15

Peak on Chart – 1

Big beat dance music really came into its own during the ’90s. No one could do them like The Prodigy, though. Pendulum tried in the mid 2000s, but did not succeed. This was what music needed, a game changing sound and a new way to rave. The Prodigy are very different to house, this is loud, it’s heart pounding, it’s pulse destroying. More importantly, this bangs harder than anything that gets released today (except for Death Grips, maybe).

10. Common People – Pulp

1995 Year End List – 36

Peak on Chart – 2

Your average working class Sheffielder encountering a rich, cultured lady and manages to grab her interest. ‘Common People’ put an interesting spin on a love interest story that doesn’t seem likely, but it certainly strikes a chord.

9. Setting Sun – The Chemical Brothers (Feat. Noel Gallagher)


Peak on Chart – 1

This is the flip side of the big beat ’90s sound. Sure, it’s not as loud as The Prodigy, but still very intoxicating. The driving drum beat and the somewhat warped vocals of Noel Gallagher make this track well worth revisiting even 21 years later.


8. Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Connor

1990 Year End List – 2

Peak on Chart – 1

A heartbreaking ballad which was originally sung by Prince. The song perfectly depicts the confusion people go through when they experience a break up; “Since u been gone I can do whatever I want, I can see whomever I choose” but yet, it’s still that person that you want, despite the pain they may have caused. The loneliness, the bad advice from doctors, those constant reminders of that person, it’s a brutally honest song which many people can relate to. It doesn’t go over the top, everything is done perfectly. It’s the break up song of all break up songs, and I doubt it will ever be topped.


7. Live Forever – Oasis


Peak on Chart – 10

I’m not sure I’ll ever be convinced that this isn’t the best Oasis song. It’s certainly their most underrated, only just making the top 10, it shocks me that this wasn’t bigger for them. Of course, a hipster like me would always consider one of the least well known songs by them to be the best, ha, who needs ‘Wonderwall’?


6. Enjoy The Silence – Depeche Mode


Peak on Chart – 6

So it turns out that there are 3 different interpretations of this song, that’s the beauty of art. There’s the relationship one; “all I ever wanted, all I ever needed is here, in my arms” referring to his loved one, the drug interpretation; the thing he’s referring to being in his arms are in fact, drugs, which somewhat more sadistic (sort of reminding me of the 2 different perceptions of ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ by The Weeknd). Then there’s the music video interpretation; where we see the character (King) enjoying the silence of his own kingdom. What’s great about this track is that each of these versions fit perfectly with the sinister synth line running through the song, it’s dark, mysterious, it all keeps you locked in.


5. No Scrubs – TLC

1999 Year End List – 16

Peak on Chart – 3

We still talk a lot about Spice Girls, but let’s shine some light on TLC. This girl group had a lot of great hits in the ’90s, and this one is their best. It’s still being covered and referenced in pop culture to this day. ‘No Scrubs’ is brilliant track about how no, what we call “fuckboys” today, aren’t worthy of any of TLC’s attention. It’s what Meghan Trainor wishes ‘No’ sounded like.

4. Groove Is In The Heart – Deee-Lite

1990 Year End List – 26

Peak on Chart – 2

This is the most ’90s sounding song on the list, but my god it’s fun. Funky, jazzy (courtesy of the Herbie Hancock sample), and laden with a guest verse from Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest. Everything about the sound reminds of something De La Soul would’ve done on their debut album. Then after all that, there’s the great vocal work, there’s no way you can to finish listening to this without getting “I couldn’t ask for another” stuck in your head.


3. Bittersweet Symphony – The Verve

1997 Year End List – 43

Peak on Chart – 2

In the UK this is now most notable for being used before England football team’s matches, as well as the lawsuit case with The Rolling Stones. Putting those 2 things aside, this is brilliance. The orchestral strings throughout will never not sound wonderful, Ashcroft’s vocals are unmatchable, and everything comes together beautifully. It’s a special moment in pop music history.


2. Red Alert – Basement Jaxx


Peak on Chart – 5

Another banging track from the 90s, this time with an excellent vocal performance from Blue James. The bouncy sample that reoccurs throughout the song is serious earworm, a trend whihc Basement Jaxx managed to continue right through to the 2000s. They know how to make the greatest dance bangers.

1.Doo Wop (That Thing) – Lauryn Hill


Peak on Chart – 3

The legendary Lauryn Hill had to be number 1 on this list. Sadly she’s only ever released one solo album, but what an album it is. The lead single from The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, is unsurprisingly about sex, like most pop songs. This one puts a different spin on the topic though. In the first verse, Lauryn rips apart the female gender and pointing out the hypocrisies in what women do to get men. The second verse id dedicated to all the men, in which Lauryn goes even harder on the attack and questions all the ridiculous and awful things men do to women, with the hilarious line of “Quick to shoot the semen, stop acting like boys and be men”. The song is brutally honest, and Lauryn Hill does not hold back at all, and with the incredible chorus, it makes it even more loveable. What we often see with relationships from the outside is like the sheen on laminated paper, but Lauryn is here to rip that away and reveal the truths for us all. It’s a refreshing take on how men and women act and Lauryn’s perspective has never been, and never will be matched. This is easily the best pop song of the 90s.

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