This is a big landmark! We’re officially at the halfway mark of this entire project, plus or minus two postlude columns to cover 2010-2022. And with that big landmark, I think it’s time to make a change. From here on out I’m putting 5 honorable mentions per list. They won’t get full entries. A few lines. But they’re great songs. Why am I doing this now? Because 1995 marks an impossible to ignore point where my taste became mine. I had my own radio. I had MTV and VH-1. (ZIP IT!) The songs on this list belong fully to my taste.
So what was 1995 musically? It was basically 1993/1994 again. Seriously it’s almost fascinating how static the trends were. And frankly how static they still are. Rap and R&B took dominance and still do. I actually looked at last year for comparison and it’s really the same stuff. Now it’ll definitely change quite a bit in the next few years. 1996 is a year I remember being frankly absurd. But yeah that’s what people liked.
Here’s what’s interesting to me about 1995. It’s the year I liked a lot of popular music but didn’t love it. Hootie and the Blowfish were big this year. I like them. TLC was huge. They’re not here. A lot of this stuff is very good. Just not on my list.
This is probably the hardest list I’ve had to make cuts on yet. Because I can honestly argue quality and nostalgia for every one of the songs that didn’t make the list. If I can’t argue both, I snip the song. I have overwhelming nostalgia for In The House of Stone and Light by Martin Page but even though I love it, it’s a horrible song. This was really hard to cut and that makes me happy. Because there isn’t one song on this list, even in the honorable mentions, that isn’t the best of the best of the year.
1995 is a go. Which is good because 1996 is going to be a violent case of whiplash.
Edwyn Collins- A Girl Like You. More songs need to just be cool. This song isn’t deep. But it’s cool.
Seven Mary Three- Cumbersome. Literally only cut to here because I realized I don’t have as much to say as I thought. It’s good but in the final analysis not great.
Oasis- Live Forever. This and Wonderwall are immortal. Oasis was short lived but goddamn were they great. Oh and Todd’s wrong about D’Ya Know What I Mean. Great song too.
Del Amitri- Roll To Me. Only 2 minutes but what a fun 2 minutes. Again if there was more depth, might’ve made it on because it’s pure nostalgia.
Elastica- Connection. Brit pop and rock in the 90s was obscene good. This song still wakes me up.
Let’s start with an underrated group. The 90s are indisputably when country got slicker and prettier. And 1995 was a year where the bland started to deep in. 1996 will be fantastic but 1995 was a test run at the weakening. Thankfully, we had The Mavericks.
10 The Mavericks- Here Comes The Rain. Raul Malo is the greatest country vocalist of the 1990s as well as a genius guitarist. He deserves so much more attention. What a Crying Shame is the hardest cut I’ve made yet. But this is even better. This is a basic song about heartbreak but what sets it apart is it’s not a sad ballad. It kind of rocks actually. It’s a fast tempo, hard driving song with an almost sarcastic note in Malo’s voice. It captures the frustration of the moment that’s often missing from songs like this. This also feels very classic, very 50s. Look these guys up.
The Bends by Radiohead is a classic album. Boring opinion. I know. But yeah it is. And yes that’s how Radiohead gets on the board. We’re coming back to them. But how they’re getting here is a bit of a jump. Fake Plastic Trees was this year with its appearance in Clueless, a masterpiece of a comedy. It’s not here. See my brother had this album. And I’m going with a track there.
9 Radiohead- Bones. There will be a lot of anxiety music on this list, and this is an all timer. This is like a lot of Radiohead down to interpretation, but it feels like it’s about being crushed by depression. The way you can’t function. But this isn’t a slow minor song. This is a rock song that kicks ass. This is a very different Radiohead. And it’s my favorite one. I love this CD.
I told y’all last time we were coming back here. Let’s go. The Gin Blossoms had a short run. Actually a pretty dark one. A lot of their big hits were by a member who killed himself just as they were taking off. The drug and depression issues of the 90s weren’t just with the dark bands. But there’s none of that here. 1995 gave us a work of pure craft.
8 Gin Blossoms- Til I Hear It From You. This is a great song largely because it’s so well written. Marshall Crenshaw cowrote the song and given that he’s sort of a songwriter’s writer, someone more known in the business, I love that this is his big hit. The song couldn’t be simpler. A guy is hearing rumors his girlfriend is unfaithful and he’s choosing to trust her but it’s eating at him. The song has such a constant tempo that captures racing paranoia. You feel for this guy. The song just couldn’t work better. And it sounds so good. This is top tier production.
A theme for this list is going to be songs off albums I love. Throwing Copper by Live is a huge album for me. Most of it is really air tight stuff. When it comes to this album, there are four all time great singles. Selling The Drama is incredible. All Over You is one of a kind. I Alone is fantastic. But I first met Live through the fourth single. And that’s my pick.
7 Live- Lightning Crashes. This is another widely misinterpreted song and it’s damned important I clear this up because this is why this is great. The song has such a heartbreaking feel that it’s easy to miss it’s actually a beautiful song about rebirth. An old woman dies at the same time a child is born. Life is eternal and flowing and powerful. A lot of music in the 90s tried to get at this mystical energy in pop culture but none nail it like this. I get why it’s seen as dark. The video isn’t helpful but it’s really Ed Kowalczyk sounding horribly bleak. Still this is a powerfully moving song.
I feel like I could just type Tom Petty and that’s enough of an intro for the next song. I noted in 1980 I was getting to Wildflowers. That’s another album of wall to wall great songs. There’s the melancholy of You Don’t Know How It Feels and It’s Good To Be King. There’s the great roadhouse funk of Cabin Down Below. The title track is ethereal. But my favorite song is just a good old school rock track from a god.
6 Tom Petty- You Wreck Me. I need to stress this is not in any way a pick that I’m putting on the list because I’m better versed in classic rock now. I actually knew Petty for this first then realized how great his history is. This thing rocks. To be clear, while this was technically a solo album, he actually used the Heartbreakers for most of it and you can tell. Co-writer Mike Campbell’s guitar is almost as essential to his sound as Petty’s voice and he’s shredding here. In a year where young men killed, men with two decades of experience showed them how it was done. This is still electric.
Ok it’s going to get weird for a moment. Bear with me because I’m going to admit I’m kinda sad I don’t love this song as much as I did in 1995. It would’ve run away with the list. In 2022, it’s still good enough for top 5. But it’s not top spot. Let me explain why.
5 Blues Traveler- Hook. Relistening to this song for the project really exposes that its grand genius strength is its weakness. Namely that the song is very proud to be very cynical. It’s a pop song about how bad pop music is complete with another use of Canon in D which Green Day didn’t use cynically! So why is it still on the list? Because it succeeds despite itself. It’s a fantastic pop song. The hooks are perfect. John Popper has that incredible blues voice. Can’t beat his harmonica work. It’s a great song even as it flips you off. I’ll take it.
Ok. Gangster rap is really not represented enough on my list. There’s a good reason. I don’t know enough. I actually have huge respect for the genre but I’m not the guy who will tell you what’s good. I think it’s great what it did for voices that deserved respect. But there’s one very big song that I have a lot to say about. Like the biggest song of the year.
4 Coolio- Gangsta’s Paradise. That there are three songs I like more than this song is a judgment on me not the song because this song is a masterpiece of lines. Like if there’s a song that should be the biggest song in the genre it’s this. A fantastic study of the hell of the inner city. This song is pure imagery. Every word cuts to the quick and is brutal. That the song is actually profanity free is something you probably never noticed because it’s so utterly lacerating. Coolio sounds so incredible on it, angry yet laconic about things. This is rap so great I can’t say anything more about it. It won every award and it earned it. But I’m not done.
Ok so that was number one. Next were Waterfalls and Creep by TLC. Those are great songs. They should probably be here. What was number 4? Oh I already know. I’m just stalling because it’s a team I’ve already made clear I love. Oh and it’s a mega popular song. Like I can say more.
3 Seal- Kiss From a Rose. Seal and Horn. Seriously not a team you can beat. What the hell do I say here? As soon as you saw the title you heard the song in your head. But that’s great. Kiss From a Rose is that damn good. It’s a lush, seductive, cryptic love song. What is it about? Nothing. But it sounds so great who cares. Joel Schumacher directed the video of course and it’s so perfectly of that man’s canon. This is hollow, sure. But it’s so pretty and so soaring we are so much worse if it never happens. Loved it then. Love it now.
Ok so we have a logjam at the top. My mom had Collective Soul’s self titled album. I had their next four. So I definitely know this album by heart. And it’s not just nostalgia. I put it on tonight. Yup. Not a bad song. Very few non great songs too. Gel ALMOST made the honorable mentions and probably should be on the list proper. Let’s get to the first of the two songs.
2 Collective Soul- The World I Know. Look I hate a lot of saying goodbye songs. I despise anything directly about high school graduation which I DID NOT attend. But I also love a lot. And this is a big one for me. I think what helps is this is such an honest song about how hard it is. It’s not sentimental. It admits that it’s painful even if you’re moving on to something better. The image of walking on high is so important. This is almost a cliche song but it’s still so perfect. It hasn’t lost any power. I love it. But not as much as another song on the disc.
Collective Soul stops mattering for me the second guitarist Ross Childress leaves. That’s very important to know going forward. I love Precious Declaration and Dosage but he was obviously checked out on Blender and got out after and the band lost me. :stares: yes I saw them live after. I’m speaking in general. I bring this up because he’s a god on my favorite song of the year.
1 Collective Soul- Smashing Young Man. This project hasn’t felt fully mine until this moment. It’s always been faintly someone else exposing me. Smashing Young Man I heard when I played the CD and it became my song. And it still is. I’ve played it 5 times this week writing this article. And it’s just such a delicious takedown of a very specific kind of person. Is it actually the person known to despise the band vocally who the title blatantly refers to? Writer/singer Ed Roland says no. I say obviously it is. But at the same time the song is better not being about one specific person because we all have one in our lives. The song is just a pure rant against them. We all want to say this. We just don’t get to. And with this Collective Soul gave us the perfect song to throw on to feel it. Again not one bad line. The guitar work is next level. I love that in the bridge you can hear Roland singing along with it. It just still sounds impeccable. And like I said, it’s a very personal choice. I love putting it here.