Guessing which bands will last is a crapshoot at best. Bands that couldn’t sell 100,000 albums in their own day like The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Big Star, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Pavement turn out to be super influential and play reunion gigs to theaters full of hipster acolytes half their age. Bands that sold millions of albums like Boston, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, R.E.O Speedwagon and Creed are remembered mostly for their camp value and play state fairs in the Midwest.
Even then, the bands that are actually remembered aren’t all created equal. Some superstars like Metallica or Nirvana see their entire oeuvres endure. Same with certain smaller bands like The Pixies, because they’re revered by the critics that write the history. Most bands, though, find their output narrowed down, to a Greatest Hits collection (see: Simon & Garfunkel or Aerosmith of the ’70s), or to one song forever repeated on radio and novelty collections (see: Tommy Tutone or Whitesnake).
Most of the time this doesn’t matter… most bands are lucky to have produced even one song worth holding onto. Every forgotten band isn’t a lost gem… nobody need mourn the passing of Candlebox.
But this also means that a lot of great songs fall through the cracks, not getting adapted to new recording forms, not getting played on classic rock stations, hoping against hope that Quentin Tarantino, Wes Andersen or some other director smiles on them one day.
12 years after the end of the ’90s, we’ve reached the point where that era has some already clear reclamation projects. While by no means authoritative, here are 25 songs from the ’90s that need a life jacket.
Pure – The Lightening Seeds
Also performed the original version of “Three Lions”, which may be the best British soccer anthem of all time.
Very First Lie – Material Issue
Part of the second tier of ’90s Chicago bands… not great considering the first tier was Liz Phair and some dudes. But this is one of the great love songs of the era.
As We Go Up, We Go Down – Guided By Voices
The legend of this band was that it was started by an old schoolteacher. He was 26.
Galaxie – Blind Melon
Sure, No Rain will make all ’90s novelty collections forever. But that wasn’t close to their best song.
Sometimes I Rhyme Slow – Nice N’ Smooth
If Kanye released this song today, Pitchfork would have a virtual orgasm. Plus, highlights that the use of ‘N’ in band names has also been unfairly lost.
Wembley – The Candyskins
Don’t we all miss the old Wembley Stadium? No? O.K.
Welcome To The Cheap Seats – The Wonder Stuff
The band that gave me the name for my penis that I still use today.
The Concept – Teenage Fanclub
In 1991, the most relevant music magazine of the time, Spin, put Bandwagonesque ahead of Nevermind and Out Of Time on its year-end list. And it didn’t seem particularly controversial.
If I Can’t Change Your Mind – Sugar
Sugar was The New Pornographers of the ’90s, the band that music critics couldn’t believe wasn’t bigger. In a just universe, this song was a Top 5 hit.
Divine Intervention – Matthew Sweet
Not Too Soon – Throwing Muses
Overshadowed by her media-darling bandmates Kristin Hersh and Kim Deal, Tanya Donnelly was the little sister of alternative music in the ’90s. But she’d show them all with “Feed The Tree”.
Dance Song ’97 – Sleater-Kinney
Now one of them stars in Portlandia, which I guess might be something.
Black Boys On Mopeds – Sinead O’Connor
An artist whose undeniable craziness overshadows her skills. But, given that her big issue in the ’90s was child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, may not have been all that crazy after all.
Mystery Juice – Sean Lennon
Yes, he could actually play. Come to think of it, so could Julian.
Welcome To The Terrordome – Public Enemy
Public Enemy have faded away… their music is too political for compilations, and Chuck D isn’t willing to be in bad movies and TV shows (see Ice’s Cube and T). But they were The Clash of the ’90s.
My, My – Seven Mary Three
Talk about forgotten… one of only two songs on this list without the real version on YouTube.
My Drug Buddy – The Lemonheads
The second… and this one is fucking ridiculous. He brought it on himself, but Evan Dando is definitely the most underrated songwriter of the era. If only he’d died of a drug overdose in ’96…
Grey Cell Green – Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
Boy, that name eventually came back to bite them, didn’t it?
Candy Everybody Wants – 10,000 Maniacs
My wife was playing trivia with a group of 20-something Americans when a question about 10,000 Maniacs came up. None of them had ever heard of the band before. I find this unacceptable.
Cuts You Up – Peter Murphy
Overly depressive goth never sounded so commercial.
Mekong – The Refreshments
At least they made some money by doing the theme to “King Of The Hill”… they’re basically the rich man’s Rembrandts (except in real life, where The Rembrandts are undoubtedly multi-billionaires).
Backwards Dog – Soup Dragons
Somehow, I’m guessing The Dilemma isn’t jumping on this particular bandwagon.
Your Love Gets Sweeter – Finley Quaye
Tell me this song shouldn’t be a standard for stoned high school kids playing guitar on the beach, lodged between Bob Marley and Wish You Were Here.
Love Rears Its Ugly Head – Living Colour
There was a point when Living Colour was really big, and not just for being black and metal.
Bad Reputation – Freedy Johnston
Death Cab did a cover of this a couple years ago, so hopefully it’s hanging in there. Ironically, the credits song for the most unfairly forgotten ’90s movie, Kicking and Screaming.