The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

The Top 200 Tracks of the 1990s

  1. Space – ‘Female Of The Species’ (1996) (Gut)

Long forgotten Liverpool-based indie-poppers Space were a cut above the vast majority of landfill Britpop in 1996, thanks to effervescent charmers like their signature track ‘Female Of The Species’, which came on like a cross between Frank Sinatra and Cypress Hill. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Me And You Versus The World’

  1. Garbage – ‘Stupid Girl’ (1995) (Mushroom)

Built on a sampled drum loop of The Clash and show-stealing vocals from Shirley Manson, ‘Stupid Girl’ was an admonishment of shallowness and served as the breakthrough hit for producer Butch Vig’s studio-turned-band project Garbage, receiving two Grammy nominations in 1997. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Only Happy When It Rains’

  1. Robbie Williams – ‘Angels’ (1997) (Chrysalis)

A former Take That member served as the British music industry’s fall-back after the collapse of Britpop in late 1997. ‘Angels’, a tear-jerking mass singalong par excellence, was the catalyst for his mega-stardom, its bombast underscored by its poignancy, as it was written about the death of Williams’ mother. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Millennium’

  1. Weezer – ‘El Scorcho’ (1996) (Geffen)

Following the nerd-rock brilliance Weezer’s debut, the multi-segmented indie confessional ‘El Scorcho’ was a boldly unconventional comeback single that was widely misunderstood at the time. Like its parent album Pinkerton, it has now gotten the respect it deserves. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘The Good Life’

  1. The Sabres Of Paradise – ‘Smokebelch II’ (David Holmes remix) (1993) (Warp)

English electronica group The Sabres Of Paradise, including esteemed Primal Scream producer Andrew Weatherall, were a staple of the ‘90s British dance scene, but their finest moment was re-worked by David Holmes into a cinematic masterpiece of dystopic splendour. (LISTEN) Also try: David Holmes – ‘Let’s Get Killed’

  1. Moby – ‘Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?’ (1999) (Mute)

The fourth of an incredible nine singles from Moby’s career-saving blockbuster Play, the soulful ‘Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?’ was the point at which things started to pick up. A manipulated gospel sample underscored with minor keys and chilled-out production, it was contemporary yet classic. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Porcelain’

  1. Beats International – ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ (1990) (Go! Beat)

An early post-Housemartins vehicle for a certain Norman Cook, ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ was a playful but masterful interpolation of The SOS Band’s R&B classic ‘Just Be Good To Me’, mixed up with Clash and Morricone samples and Johnny Dynell’s ‘Jam Hot’, and became a massive worldwide hit. (LISTEN) Also try: Freak Power – ‘Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out’

  1. Luniz – ‘I Got 5 On It’ (1995) (Noo Trybe)

One of the slickest, darkest and most memorable singles to come out of the West Coast scene, hip-hop duo Luniz scored a massive million-seller in the States with this ode to chilling out, spawning countless unofficial remixes and sample bases for other artists. (LISTEN) Also try: Lil’ Troy – ‘Wanna Be A Baller’

  1. Sub Sub ft. Melanie Williams – ‘Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)’ (1993) (Rob’s Records)

Although Manchester’s legendary Hacienda nightclub had stopped being the epicentre of British house by 1993, the city produced this era-defining club banger. Sub Sub never replicated its success, losing their studio to fire, but had reinvented themselves as Doves by the new millennium. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Spaceface’

  1. Britney Spears – ‘…Baby One More Time’ (1998) (Jive)

A classic pop debut defined by a rip-roaring chorus and a questionably jailbait video that screamed “manufactured”, Britney’s iconic first hit may have been divisive, but was a global chart-topper and the eighth best-selling single of the Nineties in the UK. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘(You Drive Me) Crazy’

  1. McAlmont & Butler – ‘Yes’ (1995) (Hut)

A great song about personal and professional liberation and putting the past behind you, the refreshing yet bittersweet ‘Yes’ was penned by Bernard Butler (formerly of Suede) and David McAlmost (of Thieves) and scored a Top Ten hit. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘You Do’

  1. Blackstreet ft. Dr Dre & Queen Pen – ‘No Diggity’ (1996) (Interscope)

R&B singer and producer Teddy Riley, a key figure for much of the ‘80s scene, spectacularly reinvented himself in the ‘90s with this snake-hipped and infectious mix of classic soul, gospel groove and gangsta rap that topped the American charts and went platinum. (LISTEN) Also try: Montell Jordan – ‘This Is How We Do It’

  1. Arab Strap – ‘The First Big Weekend’ (1996) (Chemikal Underground)

Glasgow-based miserablists Arab Strap came up with the saddest soundtrack to the start of summer – sessions with your mates, chatting up girls and getting shot down, soul-piercing hangovers – and made it sound like the best time ever. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘New Birds’

  1. Pearl Jam – ‘Alive’ (1991) (Epic)

Lumped in with grunge because of geography and distortion, Pearl Jam were always more indebted to the ‘70s classic rock sound of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Their breakthrough radio hit, ‘Alive’, formed the basis for a consistently strong career that continues to this day. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Even Flow’

  1. Tindersticks – ‘City Sickness’ (1993) (This Way Up Records)

One of the most criminally underrated bands of the Nineties, Tindersticks radiated a kind of debauched elegance. On ‘City Sickness’, Stuart Staples’ baritone exudes down-trodden world-weariness, communicating the loneliness of being surrounded by people you don’t know. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Marbles’

  1. Edwyn Collins – ‘A Girl Like You’ (1994) (Setanta)

As the lead singer of Scottish indie cult heroes Orange Juice, Edwyn Collins had struggled for years to get on the radar. The revived interest in guitar music during Britpop yielded a gladdening success story when he enjoyed a Top Five smash with the earworm ‘A Girl Like You’. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘The Campaign For Real Rock’

  1. Dr Dre ft. Snoop Dogg – ‘Still D.R.E.’ (1999) (Aftermath / Interscope)

The atmospheric lead single from Dre’s long-awaited follow-up to his genre-defining album The Chronic, ‘Still D.R.E.’ was a brutal slam against his doubters and critics, announcing the triumphant return of the West Coast king to the scene he had created. (LISTEN) Also try: 2Pac – ‘California Love’

  1. A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Bonita Applebum’ (1990) (Jive)

A guaranteed party-starter from the golden age of hip-hop, ATCQ’s low-slung fusion of moody jazz and cool beats on ‘Bonita Applebum’ defined their sound. The later ‘Why remix’, featuring a heavily-sampled Carly Simon track, is great, but it’s the original, more subtle cut that is the keeper. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Can I Kick It?’

  1. Sinead O’Connor – ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ (1990) (Chrysalis)

An unused Prince song penned for his protégées The Family, it was Sinead O’Connor who propelled ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ to stratospheric commercial success with her raw, stripped-down take, encapsulated by its striking video – a close-up of its star, singing direct to camera, catching a tear rolling down her face. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’

  1. The Boo Radleys – ‘Wake Up Boo! (1995) (Creation)

Though they were one of the bolder and more experimental Britpop progenitors, The Boo Radleys scored by far the biggest hit of their career with an uncharacteristically simple indie-pop belter. Irresistibly infectious and pretty much universally known, ‘Wake Up Boo!’ remains a morning radio staple even now. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Lazarus’

  1. The Prodigy – ‘Out Of Space’ (1992) (XL)

When The Prodigy first broke into the charts with the cartoon cat-sampling ‘Charly’, they were initially dismissed as novelty ‘kiddie rave’. But a slew of singles over the next 18 months, including the Max Romeo-sampling ‘Out Of Space’, dispelled that tag and encapsulated the delirious joy of the scene. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Charly’

  1. Cocteau Twins – ‘Iceblink Luck’ (1990) (4AD)

The subtle revolution in the Cocteaus’ sound with Heaven Or Las Vegas – crisp, clear production and actual intelligible lyrics from Liz Fraser – didn’t come at a compromise to their trademark dream-pop aesthetics. ‘Iceblink Luck’ was the pick of the bunch, dedicated to Fraser and Robin Guthrie’s baby daughter who had inspired the album’s warmer aesthetics. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Heaven Or Las Vegas’

  1. Missy Elliott – ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’ (1997) (The Goldmind / Elektra)

Sampling a classic Ann Peebles hit for its hook, ‘The Rain’ was a slick hybrid of R&B and hip-hop that introduced the world at large to Missy ‘Misdemeanour’ Elliott, still one of the most underappreciated presences in contemporary black music two decades later. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Beep Me 911’

  1. New Order – ‘Regret’ (1993) (London)

A suitable title for New Order’s comeback single after they had extricated themselves from the glorious mess of Factory Records, the back-to-basics ‘Regret’ was sunshine perfection tinged with sadness, like Joy Division lounging by a swimming pool. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘World In Motion’

  1. Armand Van Helden – ‘U Don’t Know Me’ (1999) (Armed / FFRR)

Combining a drum loop from Jaydee, a Carrie Lucas string sample and a soulful vocal from newcomer Duane Harden, New York record producer Armand Van Helden scored a huge hit with ‘U Don’t Know Me’, a seemingly simple track which typified the late-‘90s house scene but which few emulated. (LISTEN) Also try: Jaydee – ‘Plastic Dreams’

  1. The Cardigans – ‘Lovefool’ (1996) (Stockholm / Mercury)

Having toiled in obscurity for their first two albums, melodic Swedish indie-rockers The Cardigans (possibly the indiest band name ever!) found themselves catapulted to worldwide stardom with ‘Lovefool’. A spectacularly unrepresentative lounge-pop gem with bittersweet lyrics, Baz Luhrmann used it in his tacky film update of Romeo + Juliet, and the resulting 1997 re-issue became a storming success. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘My Favourite Game’

  1. Sigur Rós – ‘Svefn-g-englar’ (1999) (Fat Cat / Smekkleysa / P.I.A.S.)

A feeling of total weightlessness, of being suspended in mid-air over yawning chasms, characterised the Icelandic post-rockers’ breakthrough track. It took a relative eternity to really get noticed – it was a minor hit in the U.S. when re-issued over two years later – but the root of Sigur Rós’ success is ‘Svefn-g-englar’, and its widespread use in media. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Olsen Olsen’

  1. Blur – ‘Beetlebum’ (1997) (Food)

Having lost the Britpop wars, Damon Albarn virtually disappeared from public life in late 1996 and decamped to Iceland to find inspiration. ‘Beetlebum’ was the disconsolate but striking lead single from Blur’s self-titled fifth album, itself a wise repositioning for the future that realised the Britpop party was almost over. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Song 2’

  1. Mercury Rev – ‘Goddess On A Hiway’ (1998) (V2)

Resurrected from a tape demo that lead singer Jonathan Donohue had made when he was still a member of The Flaming Lips nearly a decade previously, the sheer, eyes-wide-open wanderlust of ‘Goddess On A Hiway’ was the most immediately winsome and accessible moment on Mercury Rev’s gorgeous breakthrough album Deserter’s Songs. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Holes’

  1. Pavement – ‘Carrot Rope’ (1999) (Domino)

One of the final singles from the hugely influential Pavement and their swansong album Terror Twilight, the curious ‘Carrot Rope’ is how The Kinks might have sounded if the Davies brothers lived in California and smoked a lot of pot. A joyous jumble of Anglophile imagery referring to “wicket keepers”, it’s the perfect introduction to an ingenious band. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Major Leagues’

  1. Primal Scream – ‘Swastika Eyes’ (1999) (Creation)

An excoriating piece of techno-noise terrorism reminiscent of Atari Teenage Riot and D.A.F. from a fired-up, confrontational Bobby Gillespie, ‘Swastika Eyes’ was a nightmarish vision of untrammelled corporate power to chill the blood. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Kowalski’

  1. Ride – ‘Vapour Trail’ (1990) (Creation)

The epic, closing highlight from Ride’s debut album Nowhere, one of the finest albums associated with the short-lived but much-storied shoegaze genre, Mark Gardener and Andy Bell attempted to paint a mental picture of a “vapour trail in a clear blue sky” with their mesmeric guitar assaults. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Leave Them All Behind’

  1. Superchunk – ‘Slack Motherfucker’ (1990) (Matador)

The signature song from the sadly underappreciated Superchunk, ‘Slack Motherfucker’ is the ultimate anthem for half-assing your underpaid service-industry McJob. “I’m workin’ / but I’m not workin’ for you!” future Merge Records founder Mac McCaughan hollered over coiled, razor-sharp guitars. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Sick To Move’

  1. The Verve – ‘History’ (1995) (Hut)

It’s strange to think that ‘History’ could have been the end of The Verve’s career before they discovered global success just two years later. Released after the band had announced their split and with artwork bearing the words ‘All Farewells Should Be Sudden’, it loaded ‘History’ with even more meaning and bitter sentiment than the song’s grandiose arrangement already contained. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘This Is Music’

  1. Beth Orton – ‘She Cries Your Name’ (1996) (Heavenly)

An artist like Beth Orton could only have broken through in the mid-‘90s – her debut album Trailer Park was a beautiful compound indebted to old British folk but also to contemporary electronica. ‘She Cries Your Name’ perfectly exemplified her fresh, easy-going approach. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Tangent’

  1. PJ Harvey – ‘Down By The Water’ (1995) (Island)

Having made her name dealing in scabrous, sharp alternative rock, the lead single from PJ Harvey’s third album To Bring You My Love was a surprising change in tone. A chilling, spine-tingling tale of infanticide and madness characterised by synthesised organs and based on a Lead Belly traditional, ‘Down By The Water’ was PJ’s breakthrough in America. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Send His Love To Me’

  1. Destiny’s Child – ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’ (1999) (Columbia)

The lead single from Destiny’s Child’s global star-making album The Writing’s On The Wall, ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’ was about kicking a no-good mooching man to the kerb and moving on, set to slick, glittering R&B. One of the ten biggest-selling singles of 1999 in America, it proved that the success of ‘No No No’ wasn’t a fluke and established the platform for the band’s superstardom. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Say My Name’

  1. Robert Miles – ‘Children’ (1996) (Deconstruction)

Italian producer Robert Miles composed arguably the most instantly recognisable dance anthem of the 1990s. An instrumental written partly to save the lives of clubbers who got themselves into serious accidents driving on the roads, still hyped up by pounding techno, ‘Children’ was an altogether softer take on club music, lower in bpm and with a layer of melancholy that made an ideal last track of the night. It became a global megahit for the trance sub-genre by the new millennium. (LISTEN) Also try: Chicane – ‘Saltwater’

  1. Idlewild – ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’ (1998) (Food)

Idlewild’s early career was characterised by scruffy, lo-fi indie punk that sounded like pissed students playing a house party, but their seventh single ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’ saw them explore the melodic, American college-rock tendencies that would characterise their biggest successes in the new millennium, and it broke the band into the UK Top 20 for the first time. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Little Discourage’

  1. Daniel Johnston – ‘Some Things Last A Long Time’ (1990) (Shimmy Disc)

Pegged simplistically as an ‘outsider’ artist because of his well-documented struggles with mental illness, his amateurish home recordings and quavering voice, Daniel Johnston deals with matters of the heart and expressed them through the pure, childlike soul of his music. ‘Some Things Last A Long Time’, penned with long-time collaborator Jad Fair, is one of his loneliest and most heartbreaking pieces ever. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Love Will See You Through’

  1. Prince – ‘Gett Off’ (1991) (Paisley Park / Warner Bros.)

Almost all of Prince’s cultural power is associated with the 1980s, but his golden age lasted a few years into the following decade. ‘Gett Off’, a funky and hard-hitting powerhouse from the slick Diamonds & Pearls album, demonstrated that he could still churn out the megahits. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Thieves In The Temple’

  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Straight To You’ (1992) (Mute)

Nick Cave’s best Nineties songs could probably take up 10% of this list alone, so it’s agonising to have to restrict them. ‘Straight To You’, a beautiful and expansive devotional that personified the great leap forwards of 1992’s Henry’s Dream album, is one of the most accessible moments in Cave’s huge discography and contains the elements of religious imagery that were creeping into his songwriting. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘The Ship Song’

  1. Suede – ‘The Wild Ones’ (1994) (Nude)

The only unguarded and emotionally bare moment on the gnarled, dystopian Dog Man Star album, lead singer Brett Anderson has frequently declared the windswept, sentimental epic ‘The Wild Ones’ to be his favourite Suede song ever. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘We Are The Pigs’

  1. Deee-Lite – ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ (1990) (Elektra)

A Technicolour explosion that showed the world how pop would evolve in the Nineties, ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ assembled disco, jazz and funk inspirations into a ridiculously catchy house anthem with smatterings of hip-hop (namely Q-Tip’s guest rap) and some classic soul diva vocals from Lady Miss Kier to boot. (LISTEN) Also try: Crystal Waters – ‘Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)’

  1. Manic Street Preachers – ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ (1998) (Epic)

Completing the Manics’ journey from punk outsiders to mainstream superstars, ‘If You Tolerate This…’ encapsulated all of the band’s intelligence, wit and anti-authoritarian soul. Only they could record a song concerning the idealism of young Welsh volunteers who fought against Franco’s fascist rebels in the Spanish Civil War and take it to the top of the charts. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘The Everlasting’

  1. Basement Jaxx – ‘Red Alert’ (1999) (XL)

Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton smashed their way to chart success with this gloriously madcap single ‘Red Alert’, which comes across like a Prince song trapped inside a malfunctioning pinball machine. Festooned with whistles, sirens and electronic burbles on top of a rock-solid rhythm and bassline, it was a shorthand for Basement Jaxx’s rootsy aesthetics. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Rendez-Vu’

  1. Cypress Hill – ‘How I Could Just Kill A Man’ (1991) (Ruffhouse / Columbia)

One of the earliest songs to embody what would become the Nineties template for West Coast hip-hop, and with a menacing lyric (actually about self-defence) that frightened white radio, ‘How I Could Just Kill A Man’ was a funky firecracker of a track that nudged gangsta-rap toward the mainstream, even before Dr. Dre’s The Chronic dropped. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Insane In The Brain’

  1. Placebo – ‘Nancy Boy’ (1996) (Hut)

A track that instantly became Placebo’s calling card, the genre-blurring ‘Nancy Boy’ was seemingly a naïve celebration of sex, drugs and cross-dressing, but Brian Molko’s acerbic sentiments had actually been aimed at posers and dilettantes. It ended up pigeonholing them for years, with the band disowned it from their live sets for years, but it was a refreshing tilt away from the machismo of Britpop. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Pure Morning’

  1. D’Angelo – ‘Brown Sugar’ (1995) (Cooltempo)

A smoothly-executed soul track that seemed to sync perfectly with the contemporary boom in hip-hop, and indebted to the funk and jazz musician Roy Ayers, this was the highlight of D’Angelo’s debut album. Widely misinterpreted as a ‘femme fatale’ track, ‘Brown Sugar’ is a disguised ode to marijuana, a thematic technique that would become widely used in a great deal of West Coast hip-hop. (LISTEN) Also try: GZA ft. D’Angelo – ‘Cold World’

  1. Spiritualized – ‘Come Together’ (1997) (Dedicated)

A widescreen epic of self-loathing and misery set off against an ambitious production, ‘Come Together’ was the supernova explosion heralding the cosmic heartbreak of Jason Pierce’s masterpiece Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. An undulating, staggering and unsteady bassline underpinned a beautifully conceived mix of brass, gospel choir, strings and wailing guitars, it teetered on ridiculousness but just about held together. (LISTEN) Also try: ‘Electricity’

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