25 Songs Every ‘90s Kid Knows By Heart
Sounds like teen spirit!
The 1990s was a blissful bygone era of frosted tips, Super Nintendo, and some seriously amazing music. Between the upbeat rap songs, the catchy pop choruses, and the angsty grunge anthems, the ’90s were a great time to be a music fan. But the decade was an even better time to become a music fan. It’s impossible to narrow down the best of the best, but what follows is a roundup of the 25 most unforgettable songs of the 1990s that anyone who grew up in the era knows by heart. Next time you’re off to karaoke, use this as your playlist. We promise you’ll have the time of your life, just as Green Day wanted for you. And for more wistful nostalgia, check out these 50 Things Only People Who Lived in the 1990s Will Remember.
“Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” — Green Day (1997)
Give a frat guy a six-string, and he’ll give you a rendition of this song. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” in all its sappy, three-chord simplicity, is etched in the brains of ’90s kids. Why? Simple! It’s been played behind every high school homecoming reel and graduation since the dawn of, well, October 17, 1997. Next up, check out these 20 Popular Songs With Secret Messages.
“…Baby One More Time” — Britney Spears (1999)
The Economist called it the “greatest debut in the history of pop music.” It went platinum in the United States, double platinum in the United Kingdom, and triple platinum in Australia. It picked up a Grammy nomination. It was played at every school dance since 1998. But, accolades aside, we really only remember “…Baby One More Time” for giving us the greatest gift of all: Britney Spears.
“I Will Always Love You” — Whitney Houston (1992)
Whether you saw The Bodyguard or not, Whitney Houston’s instant classic, “I Will Always Love You,” was inescapable in the early ’90s. Sure, it was technically written by Dolly Parton, in 1973, as a country tune. But Houston’s take, which spent a jaw-dropping 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, is far and away the definitive version. And for more covers that eclipsed their predecessors, here are 50 Cover Songs Way Better Than the Original.
“Who Let the Dogs Out?” — Baha Men (2000)
The Baha Men may have been a one-hit wonder, but their hyped-up track “Who Let the Dogs Out?” is immortalized in the brains of every kid born between 1992 and 2002 (and their chaperones, too)—not that it’s too challenging to remember the words “woof, woof, woof, woof.” (More recently, a documentary about the tune premiered at the 2019 South by Southwest Festival to wide acclaim. It currently has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.)
“Livin’ La Vida Loca” — Ricky Martin (1999)
On March 22, 1999, Ricky Martin was just a regular ole child star trying to make it big. (We see you, Menudo fans.) On March 23, 1999, when “Livin’ La Vida Loca” was released, he secured a spot in the annals of pop music history. Not only did the tune score four Grammy nominations, it also earned the valuable distinction of getting played at literally every middle schooler’s birthday party for the following decade.
“Wannabe” — Spice Girls (1996)
If you were born in the ’90s, you see the word “Wannabe” and are already lip-syncing, “If you wanna be my lover/You gotta get with my friends.” Released in 1996, the upbeat ditty introduced us to a new group of idols: Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger, and Posh. And if you can’t get enough music trivia, learn about these 30 Famous Songs Everyone Misinterprets.
“No Scrubs” — TLC (1999)
“No Scrubs” (which spent 17 weeks in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100) is the definitive song of 1999. In fact, it’s so ingrained in the minds of ’90s kids that, to this day, you can’t swipe through a dating app without seeing some variation of “No scrubs” (“Scrubs, swipe left,” “Scrubs need not apply,” etc.). If you were born in the ’90s and don’t know this song, you can’t get no love from us.
“Losing My Religion” — R.E.M (1991)
“Losing My Religion,” released in 1991, is really what rocketed R.E.M. to stratospheric fame levels (and, eventually, in their first year of eligibility, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status).
Upon release, the song stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for 21 weeks, and won Michael Stipe and company two Grammys—one for Best Short Form Music Video and another for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
“Torn” — Natalie Imbruglia (1997)
Any ’90s kid knew all the words to Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.” But what they probably don’t know is that the song is a cover. It was first played by a Danish singer, and then covered again by an American alt rock band, and then again by a Norwegian singer, before Imbruglia teamed up with Phil Thornalley—one of the original songwriters—to release her version.
According to The Sunday Telegraph, “As of 2011, ‘Torn’ holds the record for most played song on Australian radio since 1990, played more than 300,500 times since its 1997 release, an average of 75 times a day, based on data compiled by the Australian Performing Rights Association (APRA).”
“All Star” — Smash Mouth (1999)
On April 22, 2001, Shrek hit the silver screen, kicking off a stunning cinematic run that ultimately culminated in a box office haul of nearly half a billion dollars. It also cemented Smash Mouth’s smash hit, “All Star,” in the zeitgeist. Sure, before Shrek delighted kids (and aggravated parents) by the thousands, “All Star” was a fairly big hit; it even cracked the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. But now, two decades after release, the song has found a new life…as an insanely popular internet meme.
“U Can’t Touch This” — M.C. Hammer (1990)
Stop! Hammer time! If you were in your formative years in the 1990s, this song is part of who you are. Released at the very start of the decade, “U Can’t Touch This” found acclaim even though it initially wasn’t released as a single. Listeners had to purchase the album, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em, instead. As a result, 18 million copies were sold, and it quickly went diamond—the certification beyond platinum.
“Bitter Sweet Symphony” — The Verve (1997)
Both Rolling Stone and NME named “Bitter Sweet Symphony” the Single of the Year in 1997. The song picked up a Grammy nomination and went double platinum in the United Kingdom. But for kids who grew up listening to this song (over and over and over again), it was largely thanks to its inclusion in the hugely popular teen film, Cruel Intentions, in 1999.
“Semi-Charmed Life” — Third Eye Blind (1997)
“Jumper,” “How’s It Going to Be,” “Never Let You Go,” “Deep Inside of You”—yes, during the late ’90s and early 2000s, Third Eye Blind was everywhere. But, if you were in a car in 1997—getting shepherded by your parents to the movies, or maybe driving with a shiny new permit—you were definitely listening to “Semi-Charmed Life.” In addition to showing up in four feature-length films before the turn of the century, “Semi-Charmed Life” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40.
“I Want It That Way” — Backstreet Boys (1999)
You can’t talk about ubiquitous ’90s music without talking about the Backstreet Boys. And there’s no Backstreet Boys song more ubiquitous than “I Want It That Way.” Written by super-producer Max Martin—who’s also written songs for Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Ed Sheeran, Adele, Pink, Usher, Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, Shakira, The Weeknd, and Celine Dion—this BSB tune quickly hit the top spot in more than two dozen countries and nabbed three Grammy nominations.
“Tearin’ Up My Heart” — ‘N Sync (1997)
The N’Sync song that everyone and their grandmother can recite word for word, is, of course, “Bye Bye Bye.” But the one that ’90s kids hold most dear is “Tearin’ Up My Heart.” Though the song never even cracked the top 50 of Billboard‘s Hot 100—it still holds a special place in the heart of every kid who had to go to a haphazardly organized birthday party at a rollerskating rink. You can thank Max Martin for writing and producing this gem, too.
“Don’t Speak” — No Doubt (1996)
“Don’t Speak,” one of the first huge hits written by Gwen Stefani, hit the top spot on charts in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Romania, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the Billboard Mainstream Top 40. It was played on every radio station and at every high school dance in the late 1990s, even though it wasn’t ever technically released as a single (and therefore wasn’t allowed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100).
“Thong Song” — Sisqo (2000)
When Sisqo released his first solo effort—breaking temporarily from the group he fronted, Dru Hill—there was very little chance he imagined how big it would be. But “Thong Song,” in addition to becoming a de facto anthem for the MTV generation, landed at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and picked up four Grammy nominations. Billboard even ranked it among the 100 greatest choruses of the 20th century. Find a ’90s kid who can’t sing it back to you and you’ve found a person who’s lying about their birthday.
“Ice Ice Baby” — Vanilla Ice (1990)
“Ice Ice Baby” kicked off the decade, and stayed strong for the remainder of the century, ultimately going platinum in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. The fact that the song is based (pun entirely intended) on the bass line of a tried-and-true chart-shattering hit (“Under Pressure,” by Queen and David Bowie) surely didn’t hurt its rise. That said, a famous legal controversy surrounding the song certainly did hurt Vanilla Ice’s reputation.
“Kiss Me” — Sixpence None the Richer (1998)
Not only did “Kiss Me” nab the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, it also cemented itself in popular culture after being featured in 1999’s She’s All That and not one, but two episodes of Dawson’s Creek. There’s not a ’90s kid who didn’t come of age to this tune beneath the milky twilight.
“My Heart Will Go On” — Celine Dion (1997)
If you grew up in the ’90s, you saw Titanic many, many times. And every time you did, you had to control your tears as you heard “My Heart Will Go On.” But even if you somehow didn’t see James Cameron’s seafaring historical epic, you couldn’t avoid Celine Dion’s ballad, one of the best-selling singles of all time. Oh, and it also won a Grammy for Record of the Year. And an Oscar for Best Original song. No big deal.
“Men In Black” — Will Smith (1997)
The first Men in Black movie, which pulled in nearly $600 million at the worldwide box office, was instantly iconic. But the movie’s theme song by Will Smith might be even more iconic. Any kid who saw the movie in theaters knew the words to this one by heart. It also earned Will Smith—a good guy dressed in black, remember that—a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance.
“I’ll Be Missing You” — Puff Daddy ft. Faith Evans and 112 (1997)
“I’ll Be Missing You,” a tribute to Notorious B.I.G. (who died in 1997), quickly became the song of a generation. Featuring a sample of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and a chorus by Biggie’s widow, Faith Evans, this ode topped charts in more than 20 countries, and went triple platinum in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. If you grew up in the era, you knew it by heart
“The Boy Is Mine” — Brandy & Monica (1998)
You won’t find a single ’90s kid who can’t say, in all honesty, they didn’t belt out “You need to give it up/Had about enough” at least 491,590 times when “The Boy Is Mine” first came out. After the song was released in May 1998, it spent a whopping 13 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and fueled rumors of actual in-fighting between the two pop princesses. It even picked up three Grammy nominations—and one win—at the 1999 awards.
“Honey” — Mariah Carey feat. Mase & The Lox (1997)
On its own merits, Mariah Carey’s “Honey” is an unforgettable tune. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 and went platinum. But throw in all the other versions—the “Bad Boy Remix,” the “Def Rascal Anthem,” the “Mo’ Honey Dub,” or the “Morales Club Dub,” just to name a few—and you have yourself one of the decade’s most versatile dance numbers. Every kid with a Discman scratched up at least a few of these CD singles.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” — Nirvana (1991)
Is it possible to get more quintessentially ’90s than “Smells Like Teen Spirit“? The correct answer is nope! And for more blasts from the past, see the 20 Things Every “Cool Kid” Growing Up in the 1990s Owned.
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