Full List: The 100 Best Songs of the 1990S (As Voted By Pitchfork Readers)

Another week, another list. This time it’s a list of the 100 best songs from the 1990s from the folks at Pitchfork Media. What makes this list different is that Pitchfork took a democratic approach (and eschewing responsibility) by compiling this ranking via votes from their Pitchfork readers. Not only will they get the clicks and ad revenue, but they can don’t have to take any of the vitriol or blame when butthurt Blur fans take offense that Oasis has double the songs on the list of 100 best.

Pitchfork's 100 Best Songs of the 1990s
Rank Songs Artist
100 EX-FACTOR Lauryn Hill
99 FROZEN Madonna
98 HUMAN BEHAVIOUR Björk
97 HYPNOTIZE The Notorious B.I.G.
96 ARE YOU THAT SOMEBODY? Aaliyah
95 KOOL THING Sonic Youth
94 AUTUMN SWEATER Yo La Tengo
93 BUDDY HOLLY Weezer
92 THE RAIN (SUPA DUPA FLY) Missy Elliott
91 BETWEEN THE BARS Elliott Smith
90 GROOVE IS IN THE HEART Deee-Lite
89 SOON My Bloody Valentine
88 SPOTTIEOTTIEDOPALISCIOUS OutKast
87 FRIDAY I'M IN LOVE The Cure
86 NOTHING COMPARES 2 U Sinead O'Connor
85 ALISON Slowdive
84 BASKET CASE Green Day
83 CHERUB ROCK Smashing Pumpkins
82 SCENARIO A Tribe Called Quest
81 SHOOK ONES PART II Mobb Deep
80 LADIES AND GENTLEMEN WE ARE FLOATING IN SPACE Spiritualized
79 MAYONAISE Smashing Pumpkins
78 RAY OF LIGHT Madonna
77 BORN SLIPPY (NUXX) Underworld
76 TODAY Smashing Pumpkins
75 HURT Nine Inch Nails
74 WHERE IT'S AT Beck
73 DOWN BY THE WATER PJ Harvey
72 BACHELORETTE Björk
71 GOOD MORNING, CAPTAIN Slint
70 DA FUNK Daft Punk
69 GIRLS & BOYS Blur
68 MIDNIGHT IN A PERFECT WORLD DJ Shadow
67 UNDER THE BRIDGE Red Hot Chili Peppers
66 WOULD? Alice in Chains
65 LITHIUM Nirvana
64 CHAMPAGNE SUPERNOVA Oasis
63 ROSA PARKS Outkast
62 SOUR TIMES Portishead
61 CHERRY-COLOURED FUNK Cocteau Twins
60 RID OF ME PJ Harvey
59 SOMETIMES My Bloody Valentine
58 SONG 2 Blur
57 WHEN YOU SLEEP My Bloody Valentine
56 STREET SPIRIT (FADE OUT) Radiohead
55 LIVE FOREVER Oasis
54 CARRY THE ZERO Built to Spill
53 ONE U2
52 DON'T LOOK BACK IN ANGER Oasis
51 VOGUE Madonna
50 CALIFORNIA LOVE 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman
49 SUMMER BABE Pavement
48 CREEP Radiohead
47 ARMY OF ME Björk
46 N.Y. STATE OF MIND Nas
45 CRIMINAL Fiona Apple
44 RACE FOR THE PRIZE The Flaming Lips
43 …BABY ONE MORE TIME Britney Spears
42 NIGHTSWIMMING R.E.M.
41 COME AS YOU ARE Nirvana
40 CAN I KICK IT? A Tribe Called Quest
39 ALL APOLOGIES Nirvana
38 AROUND THE WORLD Daft Punk
37 EVERLONG Foo Fighters
36 HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS Cocteau Twins
35 IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA Neutral Milk Hotel
34 YOU OUGHTA KNOW Alanis Morissette
33 WINDOWLICKER Aphex Twin
32 JÓGA Björk
31 WONDERWALL Oasis
30 HEART-SHAPED BOX Nirvana
29 KILLING IN THE NAME Rage Against the Machine
28 JUICY The Notorious B.I.G.
27 SAY IT AIN'T SO Weezer
26 DOO WOP (THAT THING) Lauryn Hill
25 UNFINISHED SYMPATHY Massive Attack
24 BITTER SWEET SYMPHONY The Verve
23 C.R.E.A.M. (CASH RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME) Wu-Tang Clan
22 NO SURPRISES Radiohead
21 TEARDROP Massive Attack
20 HOLLAND, 1945 Neutral Milk Hotel
19 ONLY SHALLOW My Bloody Valentine
18 CLOSER Nine Inch Nails
17 LOSING MY RELIGION R.E.M.
16 CANNONBALL The Breeders
15 ENJOY THE SILENCE Depeche Mode
14 GLORY BOX Portishead
13 NUTHIN' BUT A 'G' THANG Dr. Dre (ft. Snoop Doggy Dogg)
12 LET DOWN Radiohead
11 LOSER Beck
10 FAKE PLASTIC TREES Radiohead
9 FADE INTO YOU Mazzy Star
8 SABOTAGE Beastie Boys
7 KARMA POLICE Radiohead
6 HYPERBALLAD Björk
5 GOLD SOUNDZ Pavement
4 1979 Smashing Pumpkins
3 COMMON PEOPLE Pulp
2 PARANOID ANDROID Radiohead
1 SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT Nirvana

One thing is for sure, every article that approaches the topic of the best music that came out of that decade is going to include some of the bands that released the most-critically acclaimed albums that also had crossover appeal between 1990 and 1999. Who comes to mind for you? You would get a bonus 25 if you guessed Radiohead who had the most-representation on this list with seven songs. Tied for second place are Björk and Nirvana each clocking in with five songs each. The diehard fans of Oasis, The Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine came out to the polls; giving those three groups four songs each in the top 100.

The 1990s Saw Hip Hop Cross Into Mainstream

The 1990s can be argued as the decade when music became much more varied with Grunge/Alternative, R&B, and Rap crossed over into the mainstream. If you listened to a mainstream top-40 radio station in the early 1990’s you could hear songs from Dr. Dre, Britney Spears, Notorious B.I.G., Weezer, Outkast, Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, Lauryn Hill, Rage Against the Machine, and Alanis Morissette all within the same hour.

The best-selling artists of the decade also illustrates the variety of music that had mass appeal. According to Chart Masters, these were the 25 most-successful artists in the 1990s using the CPSC Method.

Rank Artist
1  Céline Dion
2  Mariah Carey
3  Garth Brooks
4  Whitney Houston
5  Nirvana
6  Michael Jackson
7  Metallica
8  Backstreet Boys
9  Madonna
10  Shania Twain
11  Guns N’ Roses
12  Red Hot Chili Peppers
13  Alanis Morissette
14  Oasis
15  Spice Girls
16  Green Day
17  The Cranberries
18  U2
19  TLC
20  Sting
21  Bon Jovi
22  Bryan Adams
23  Aerosmith
24  Santana
25  Enya

And the above artists don’t even include some of the more popular artists from different genres that were at the forefront when talking about the 1990s including the top grunge artists and most-popular hip hop hit makers like Nirvana, Dr. Dre, N’Sync, Boyz II Men, Britney Spears, Pearl Jam, Puff Daddy, and Janet Jackson.

And that brings up an interesting contrast. Critics love to heap praise on the links of Radiohead, Outkast, Fiona Apple, Nirvana, Lauryn Hill and Dr. Dre, but when it came to the mainstream it was all about Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, The Backstreet Boys, Guns ‘N Roses and Whitney Houston.

It’s also fun to compare the 71 songs from the 1990s that made Rolling Stones’ top 500 songs list released earlier this year (that’s 14%!!). U2’s “One,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thing” had overlap on both lists but even though Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was #5 ALL-TIME on Rolling Stone’s list, it doesn’t make Pitchfork’s Readers list.

It goes to prove there’s a lot of subjectivity and bias when it comes to the word “best.” There are only a few rare artists that made Pitchfork’s list and were considered popular by CPSC (true crossover appeal) and they were all white artists: Nirvana, Madonna, U2, Green Day and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. CPSC’s list trended away from Hip Hop (A.K.A. Black artists).

There’s a lot of reasons for that divide, but that’s a topic for another day.

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