Do you remember Aqua? How about Steps or Ace of Base? If these are ringing a bell then the bands on this list might just ping in your memory too (if not, they should).
Looking back now, through a narrow nostalgic lens, the 90s seems like a rather silly pop-fuelled time for music. Dig a little deeper though and you will find some great bands that you somehow managed to forget all about. Maybe some musicians are better off forgotten but I would argue that these acts from yesteryear will bring a smile to your face and have you reaching for your hypercolour T-shirt and baggy low-rise jeans.
The immense popularity of Baz Luhrmann's 1994 film Romeo + Juliet gave many very worthy musicians an avenue to mainstream success. At the heart of the soundtrack era, when a movie's success would often be matched or even eclipsed by the sales of the accompanying album, the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack was an Earth-shattering success. One of the most popular songs from the soundtrack was from Swedish pop-rock band The Cardigans. Their upbeat track Lovefool was a catchy runaway chart hit that won hearts all over the world. The single was from The Cardigans' third album, First Band on the Moon, and is packed with catchy tunes dripping with disco-era nostalgia.
The Black Crowes
For 90s rock nostalgia you simply can't go past The Black Crowes. Their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, came out in 1990 and featured blues-fueled hits Hard to Handle and Twice as Hard, not to mention the emotional, stripped-back ballad She Talks to Angels. The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, released in 1992, was both a critical and commercial success for the band. It is impossible to choose a favourite track from the album, but Remedy and Thorn in My Pride would be up there. The band were quite the overachievers in the 90s, releasing two more albums before the decade was out, the controversial Amorica (the album cover saw it banned in several stores in the US) in 1994 and then the more sedate Three Snakes and One Charm in 1996. From Amorica you can't go past the last track Descending, which has all the feels and some glorious blues piano. Three Snakes and One Charm was much more bluesy and didn't boast any stand out singles, but as a whole album it is well worth a listen.
Rage Against the Machine
The RATM guys still get a lot of love on NZ radio and that is a fact I am very thankful for. I am not sure I fully appreciated the beauty of their rage at the time, but now there is nothing better than screaming "f*** you I won't do what you tell me" on the way home from dropping the kids at school. There were a lot of musicians in the 90s who used their tunes to protest the status quo, but none did it like RATM. They were just so pissed off! They were also one of the few bands (I would include the Beastie Boys in this list) that manage to pull together several music genres (hip hop, funk, metal) and make it their own. Their debut self-titled album was released in 1992 and brought the world the gift that is Killing in the Name, not to mention Bullet in the Head. Then in 1996 they released Evil Empire, which includes my favourite angry song of all time, Bulls on Parade. My serving suggestion: listen loudly in the car, whenever you need to vent some frustration.
Shirley Manson was a 90s icon for women everywhere. There were very few female front women of rock bands and Manson did it her own way, with her own unique sound. Their debut self-titled album featured the huge hits Stupid Girl and Only Happy When it Rains. The follow-up album, Version 2.0, released in 1998 was just as commercially successful and featured the songs When I Grow Up and I Think I'm Paranoid. There are lots of reasons to love Garbage but the remix of their song #1 Crush, which featured on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack (yes, I know, I am obsessed) is really, really good one.
I am always amazed at the number of people who have forgotten all about Gomez. The British rock band were huge in the 90s (for me anyway) and their albums are always a bass-driven blast from the past when I indulge in a re-listen. Whippin' Piccadilly and Get Myself Arrested were two of the band's biggest hits from the 1998 album Bring it On. That album features so many bangers it is hard to know where to start, but the bass line of Love is Better than a Warm Trombone still gets me and Tijuana Lady is the perfect display of the perfect imperfection of singer Ben Ottewell. Bring it On was so good it beat both Massive Attack and The Verve to the coveted Mercury Prize that year. Then in 1999 Gomez released Liquid Skin which, in many ways, is an even better album. From the opening notes of Hangover to the epic finale that is Devil Will Ride this is an album that stays with you. I will never stop listening and loving Gomez, in fact, if you'll excuse me, I am going to crank some now.
Sure, no one has actually forgotten Radiohead, they still have a cult-like status, but do you really remember how good their 90s albums were? During that music-rich decade Radiohead released Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer. While many would put OK Computer among their top albums of all time it was The Bends that first blew me away and I think it still their most mainstream and accessible release. This was back in the day when you would still listen to CDs and I would often have it in my car and I would vow to change it but as soon as the opening title track would come on I would be sucked in once again. In addition to The Bends, the album also includes High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees, Just and Street Spirit (Fade Out). What an album!
These guys are very Aussie, so you be forgiven for not immediately thinking of them when you put together your retro playlist, but you should. Throughout the 90s, Powderfinger had some absolute belters. Double Allergic, their 1994 album, brought us Pick You Up and DAF and although more grunge than their later releases it still has their signature hooks and Bernard Fanning's distinctive vocals. Then there was Internationalist, a massive breakthrough album from the band that landed in 1998. Featuring the anthemic Day You Come and the huge hit Passenger, this is an album for the ages.
If you like your 90s rap full of fun from the West Coast then why not give good old Snoop Dog a re-listen. Snoop Dog's debut album Doggystyle landed in 1993 and smashed chart records and gender barriers, bringing his G-Funk style of rap to a mainstream audience. The first single from the album, Who Am I (What's My Name)?, was an epic hit, full of fun and funk that delights to this day. Other tracks on the album that will bring a smile to your dial include Gin and Juice and Doggy Dog World.
I literally go back in time when I listen to Regulate, the 1994 duet Warren G recorded with Nate Dogg. The track, which was the first single from Warren G's album Regulate... G Funk Era, gave music fans all over the world a peak into gritty gang life prevalent on the US West Coast at the time. The narrative is gritty and dark, while the rap is smooth, almost like a serenade. Putting my crazy love for Regulate aside there are lots of other reasons to revisit Warren G including This DJ and Do You See.
Bring some more 90s to your weekend with iHeart Radio. Crank this up and let it take you back to simpler, flannelette-shirt times.