The Best Songs of 1990

And I’m back! I took a break and moved sites. But now it’s time to begin a 20 year journey. From here on out, I’m going in chronology and I’m going to make this a lot more personal. At around 1993, these lists stop being secondhand and become things I loved on my own. In doing so I’m really underlining the art that matters to me. Some songs I loved then and love now. Some songs I loved then and don’t now. Some songs I hated and love now.

Let’s begin with a question: Was music dead before Nirvana? After all, Nirvana did change everything. This isn’t a myth. The charts in 1992 look wildly different. I have so much genius alternative rock to look at coming. But that change isn’t here yet. So is music dead?

No. Yeah not at all. In fact the next two years are some of the most exciting music I’ll ever talk about. Were they a lot of short lived trends? Damn right. But so? Also there were still hitmakers whose names endured and actually dominate this list. But the blips here are great. They deserve celebration.

As for who I was in 1990? I was obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (I bought the whole series this year and rewatch the movie repeatedly) and DuckTales (reviewing the reboot). Oh how life changes. Let’s get to it.

I always research the songs I put on these lists. I do so because I want to be sure to understand them. I don’t want to be left with a bad interpretation. And I especially like figuring out why something works. That’s what happened here.

10 Rod Stewart- Downtown Train. Here’s why I think Stewart shines. He’s a musical actor. He isn’t a songwriter and we’re actually going to see a lot of these performers this decade. Stewart delivers these songs as characters with his rich voice. And that he’s able to make this song full of wild despair and bizarre images sound almost poetic and accessible is a gift. This song lyrically reads like some Tom Waits sad bastard poem which it actually is. Waits originally recorded and wrote it. And look I love Waits like any good fan of this age does. But it’s funny how the gloss of Stewart works for his work. It underlines what a great work of gothic poetry this is through the contrast.

I hate Love Shack. That was a song that was big this year and I hate it so much. I hate how loud and shrill it is. There’s nothing fun about it. It’s a party I want to run away from. But they weren’t all bad. I play fair.

9 The B-52s- Roam. It’s funny because I could easily hate this song too. Fundamentally it’s just a lot of sexual innuendo that they’re sneaking by under the guise of travel imagery. But it’s really brilliant innuendo under some genius imagery. This is a song of pure energy and it kills at making you feel the ecstasy it’s trying to evoke. Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson deserve so much credit for making their delivery this damned good. The song is trying to be sexy and it really is the kind of experience you want to have. That it’s so teasing and coy is life. This is the party song by this band I love. Also gotta say that this being produced by Nile Rodgers makes sense. There’s a dude who knows fun.

It’s weird how Taylor Dayne feels erased. She was huge in the 80s and had an insane year this year and then vanished. Admittedly I’m not going too hard to bat for someone claiming to support the LGBT fanbase but who also performed for Donald Trump. But I ponder how someone can just hit a wall. At least we have the hits.

8 Taylor Dayne- I’ll Be Your Shelter. Her big hit this year was the Diane Warren penned Love Will Lead You Back and I would use this moment to rant about how much I hate Warren and how rancid and insipid she is. But I can’t because Warren wrote this song which is weird because this is very much the opposite of what I hate. It’s a forceful declaration by a woman of her willingness to help a man. It’s strong but it isn’t saccharine. Perhaps it’s all in the production. It’s strongly on Dayne for sure. She crushes these vocals. This is a pump you up song done perfect. This thing soars.

There are two comedies I really love that both use the biggest song of this year as a grand climactic anthem. One of them, it’s a film that was heavy on female bonding and felt right even if Bridesmaids is hard R and quite raunchy. Harold and Kumar used it by contrast as an ironic counterpoint to two masculine stoners seeking food. But the song rules either way.

7 Wilson Phillips- Hold On. The 90s were so irony poisoned that I’m so happy a song this bright and cheery took us in. This song is pure light and sunshine. It feels like a song to scream along to to push you to do something great. It’s very much the apex of what Wind Beneath My Wings was trying to be and I think it goes so hard at that empowering energy that songs like Fight Song are fated to die next to it. Here’s the real deal.

I want to talk about how important directors were in the 90s. They crafted the imagery of music indelibly a lot of the time. That’s the case with the next song. You don’t forget this video. And it makes sense that Billy Idol found his ultimate video director in the rock god of music videos, a bold vulgarian who collaborated with and even briefly dated Madonna. Too bad his first film was a mess. Good thing his next film was Seven.

6 Billy Idol- Cradle of Love. Seriously, that video is everything. It’s a short film masterfully crafted by David Fincher on his a game. However I’m talking about the song. And it really needs to be stressed that it’s even better. Billy Idol ruled at being swaggering rock god like few others. He’s on fire here. Rock was about to get a lot grungier but this was a good reminder that it was awesome being glamorous. This song is pure sexual fire. Tight as it gets.

Like I said, this was an interesting set of songs. There’s some great one hit wonders this year. Like I’m really fond of Tic Tac Toe by Kyper. The big artists were great this year too. Vogue by Madonna missing the list is proof it was good. Blaze of Glory by Jon Bon Jovi was this year. So was Poison by Bel Biv Devoe. I couldn’t put Nothing Compares 2 U on this list! 1990 rocked. And I love that my top 5 starts with this song.

5 Depeche Mode- Enjoy the Silence. This was a hit. When people trash early 90s music, remind them Enjoy The Silence was a monster hit. And that just rules. As I’ve explained to people after Hawkeye used the band, they kick so much ass. Never more so than here. This song is intensely cool. It’s dark, moody, sexual, and amazing. Every line crackles. Every dark synth note hits. This is something that feels more like 84-85 but it was needed in 1990.

For all that I’ve said about liking the blips, you’ll notice this list kind of lacks those. The artists I’ve talked about are at least thought of now. That’s just how the cards fell. But there’s one that baffles me. One that didn’t happen but deserved to do more. One that looks like the rest of the decade. And one hell of a great song.

4 Jane Child- Don’t Wanna Fall in Love. The reason I say she looks like the rest of the decade is Child was a woman in firm control of her work, writing, producing, and playing almost every instrument. I can’t stress enough how great this song is. I’m a sucker for anti-love songs and this is the best. Someone resistant to love arguing hard against it. The song sounds fantastic in every way and Child has a solid voice with a potent manic energy. One hit but one hell of a hit.

I really hate songs that try to have a social conscience and ring hollow. They feel like they’re being done for a pat on the back. Yeah homeless people exist. I see them daily. If you’re going to talk about them, sound angry. Sound like you care and you aren’t just seeking credibility for talking about them. :pause: Phil Collins, I’m not talking about you.

3 Phil Collins- Another Day in Paradise. As always, someone connected to Genesis kills. This song I discovered is quite hated as being what I talked about. I disagree. This is an angry, angry song The thing is, it’s an angry song that cloaks itself in a lot of sarcasm. It’s a light sounding song. The chorus is the greatest call to relaxation Jimmy Buffett never wrote. And when you hear lines like “Oh, Lord, is there nothing more anybody can do?” delivered in a disaffected tone, you can’t miss that Collins isn’t saying this is good enough. He’s yelling at people who say this is enough. And for the record Collins raised a lot of money for the homeless on this tour, personally matching every donation. He meant it.

My next song wasn’t a hit. There was no universe it would be actually. We’re into the farthest out there edge of pop music. Eh so what. I think this song is perfect. The album was recommended to me on a stressful night and ever since this has been my go to destress song.

2 Cocteau Twins- Cherry Coloured Funk. This is such a weird song to discuss because it’s pure mood. I mean the lyrics are literal nonsense after all. But that mood is addicting. You just get swept in the percussion being constant along with everything else. It’s like slipping into a warm bath. And the lyrics are utter gibberish but they sound like they’re about a pure calm, sensual feeling. This is music at its most purely felt. You want to live in the song. While I’m on Heaven or Las Vegas, Pitch The Baby and Iceblink Luck are the same thing. Mood music.

So I noted at the top, my mission was to get to my music. Things that I found for me. We’re at a big one now. My mom was into country music but I was old enough to find artists I loved for me in the 1990s. Clint Black’s a big one. I liked Tracy Byrd. Big Sammy Kershaw fan. I’ll get to the great Mary Chapin Carpenter. Same for Brooks and Dunn and yes Billy Ray Cyrus. But one guy looms larger for me than anyone else. Country music had one megastar in this age. And it kicks ass he tops my 1990 list with an iconic song.

1 Garth Brooks- Friends in Low Places. I can’t express enough how much I love this song. Brooks has an undeserved reputation for being too pop for country but this is as vintage a country song as it gets. Hell it’s one of the greatest. A guy mocking his ex-girlfriend and celebrating his outsider status. To get why this version is so great, listen to the Mark Chesnutt version which hit at the same time. It’s sappy and sad and defeatist. Brooks is the opposite. He’s defiant, even saying kiss my ass in the live version. Brooks gave the world the ultimate drinking anthem. This was made to be sung in a large crowd happily. It’s a bold celebration and it never loses its power.

Next: The 90s move on and hit a wall in 1991.

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