Did music really suck so bad in the ’90s?

Late last night, I got roped into watching the incredibly horrible and ad-infested 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s on VH1. I entered on song #42 which was Shine by Collective Soul. Ugh. That song still gives me a rash. It just sucked so hard and I remember my friends (at the time) loved it. All I knew was that at the time if you were white guy with long hair, could strum a guitar and amp up the feedback, then the image-makers would toss a flannel on you and call you ‘grunge’. More than a few people bought into it.

Considering that song was 42, you’d think the remaining 41 would actually be better than such a horrible song. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. There was probably about 10 good songs in the top 40. Many of them weren’t even the best song by that particular artist. In the same neighborhood were many other one hit wonders like the craptastic Spin Doctors, Color Me Badd (we learned that the guy with the freaky eyebrows is now a largish middle-aged guy who runs a tire business in Oklahoma and you can just “Color him Dadd”. He said it.), and Hootie & the Blowfish. What I would really like to do is go through each of these songs and dissect them. Some of them only reach their status because of their videos or a cute person singing them.

Looking through this list, reaffirmed why I gave up being a DJ, left the music industry and stopped listening to the radio. It was a culmination of gangsta rap, bands like Bush, Tool and Third Eye Blind for driving me from the radio. The uprising of the boy bands and teenybopper girls singing about sex sealed it. I had long thought rap was too gimmicky, preferring The Cure or L7 to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Suddenly, I was a DJ and introduced to rap groups I had never really been exposed too; KRS-One, Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and was force fed crap like Tupac or Snoop. I don’t car about your car, how much ass you get, how much you smoke or any of that crap. Music can transcend and impart knowledge. So Mos Def would give us a quick history lesson over a mad beat or we could have been bored to tears over the pathetic life of a banger. We got a choice of Pearl Jam singing a heartfelt songs on social ills or Sublime affecting horrible rap/reggae to talk about drugs. Yay.

I started wondering what my Top 100 songs of the 90s would be. To be sure, some songs that I would never buy or willfully listen to would be there. I can appreciate a song that introduces something new to the art. I can appreciate that someone that I detest can be influential to other artist. I can appreciate what, in the grand scheme of things, is a pretty dumb song but does in fact have a great beat and some pretty dope lyrics.

Take Dr. Dre’s Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang. The first time I heard the song, there were some serious eyerolls. Me and my rap listening friends were stunned, “Are you kidding me? They’d play this crap on the radio and ignore Low End Theory?” What the shit is that? Then we listened again. The song really doesn’t say anything, but the beats are awesome. You gotta admit that back then any rap song that could get suburban raised white girls up on tables trying to be OGs is pretty influential. That was also our introduction to Snoop Doggy Dog. Besides his laid back flow (which, despite the fact that I think he sucks lyrics-wise, is just one of the best styles in rap), you were guaranteed never to forget his name. And when that beat dropped back and you heard:

Fallin’ back on that ass, with a hellified gangsta lean
Gettin’ funky on the mic like a ol’ batch o’ collard greens
It’s the capital S, oh yes I’m fresh, N double-O P
D O double-G Y, D O double-G, ya see
Showin’ much flex when it’s time to wreck a mic
Pimpin’ hoes and clockin’ a grip like my name was Dolomite
Yeah, and it don’t quit
I think they in the mood for some muthafuckin’ G shit
(Hell yeah) So Dre… (Whattup Dogg?)
Gotta give ’em what they want (What’s that, G?)
We gotta break ’em off somethin’ (Hell yeah)
And it’s gotta be bumpin’ (City of Compton!)

You knew that gangsta rap, for better for worse (mostly worse), was on the map. And in the process, effectively killed grunge (with a little help from a heady backlash against grunge in Seattle at that the time). All of a sudden, all those rich, white boys I went to school with, who blasted their Pink Floyd, Metallica and Nirvana, started getting G’d up. They went from having to watch The Wall every other Saturday night, to watching Friday every night. Guys who got nervous going into middle-class neighborhoods after 2pm, were acting like living in the same region as South Central gave them some kind of street cred. To top it all off, this was also the same year Wu-Tang released Enter the Wu giving us hardcore rap too. (Strangely, not one song from this record made it to the the VH1 list, but Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back is #6.) As much as I love Soundgarden and Mudhoney, there was no way any grunge band could compete with the energy on Enter the Wu.

In the early 90s, I was also stuck on trance-infused British bands like The Happy Mondays, Blur, Stone Roses, Jesus Jone and Pop Will Eat Itself. The lyrics, once again were sometimes drug-riddled and often didn’t make sense, but the music was brilliant. Take the Stereo MCs song Connected. British hip-hop, infused with a danceable beats…I can still listen to this song everyday and never get tired of it:

Then the mid-90s arrived and not only did we get the awesome jazz-heavy Blowout Comb album from Digable Planets, and who can forget the first time they heard The Fugees drop Vocab or Nappy Heads? The Score is still a mind-blowingly awesome record too. Baduizm from Erykah Badu was released in ’97. I still listen to songs off that record every day. The Roots put out back-to-back records in ’96 and ’97 and won a Grammy. Neither artist was on the VH1 list.

Obviously, the mid-90s was very good for non-mainstream music. We spent a lot of that time hitting clubs in LA just to see Jurassic 5 or Ozomatli as often as possible…Lots of bands from the 80s released some pretty good records, but then ’98 hit and all hell broke loose. While the rest of America was steeping themselves in what I call Frathouse Rock those of us desperate for good music were rewarded artistically brilliant albums from groups like Black Star, Morcheeba (Big Calm), Massive Attack (Mezzanine). Mos Def dropped Black on Both Sides in ’99. That was also the same year half of Wu-Tang Clan dropped solo projects. Sadly, that was also the year we were inflicted with the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and N’Sync.

Ricky Martin also released his (second) self-titled album, though I believe it was his first English-language record. I must admit, I found it hilarious to watch people acting as if they discovered Martin just because they liked a song that was in English. To me, that showed the sad state of the ghettoization of music in America. La Copa de la Vida was a great song when it was in Spanish the year the before. My kids both love it and sing it all the time.

When you look at that VH1 list, and just think about all the songs that came out in the 90s, it’s hard to understand what exactly was the criteria. Yes, my choices above are heavy on hip-hop, but can you seriously tell me that Snow’s Informer was a much better song than Mos Def’s Ms. Fat Booty? Are one hit wonders like Meredith Brooks, Fiona Apple or Joan Osbourne better artists than Erykah Badu? And where the hell is all the Country music? Country came into it’s own in the 90s and crossed over in a big way. Let me tell ya, when I’m going line dancing before a Tribe Called Quest show, that’s some serious cross-overness and I hate Country music. Am I seriously to believe that Billy Ray Cyrus and Shania Twain are the best Country could offer to the list? Why is what seems like 85% of the list dedicated to one hit wonders?

I know that lists like these are always debatable. I get that. But how am I supposed to take this list seriously when George Michael’s Freedom only gets to 102? Come on! Not only are the lyrics inspiring and the music great, but that video…Lip-syncing supermodels. To that song. That’s some devastating brilliance right there.

So I just looked up the forum board on Vh1’s site regarding this. Seems to me that other people are mentioning the same thing; there are a lot of good solid artists missing from the list. I just went on a minirant at my husband about how Boyz II Men was inexplicably not on the list. Others on the forum board had the same thought.

Here’s a list of some of the other bartists people were asking about:
Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony’s The Crossroads
Guns N Roses’ November Rain
Smashing Pumpkins
Coolio’s Gangsta Paradise
Stone Temple Pilots
Rage Against the Machine
Faith No More’s Epic
No Doubt’s Don’t Speak

As one poster put it:

I don’t know who voted, but it certainly wasn’t music fans.

That’s for damn sure.

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6 thoughts on “Did music really suck so bad in the ’90s?

  1. hooverphonic, portishead, lush, and my god, who can forget john forte’s poly sci.

    the gem of the period is still massive attack’s mezzanine which is still getting as much play on my ipod today as it did on the cd player back then.

    oh yeah…and prodigy…..

    all in all, i’d rather we were still in the 90’s–there’s no denying that there was far more diversity in musical genres back then than there is now.

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  2. yes 90’s music sucked and still does, and worse yet 2000’s music is worse. its a tragedy that hip hop, rap and grunge will not fade away like disco did. very sad indeed

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  3. oh and by the way i forgot to mention,grunge and hip hop no whats the difference between the two? nothing,zip!! they all look and sound alike, imitate each other. the two evils who started this were,rap-[sugar hill gang]-grunge-[nirvana]. i wish this crap would fade away like disco and new wave did. LONG LIVE CLASSIC ROCK AND ITS STILL HERE!!!! ZEP,PINK FLOYD , STONES ETC.

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  4. Wos sundebris1, you’re like a complete moron, eh? There’s no difference between grunge and hip-hop? Smoke more pot, loser. I guess we now know who pays $300 to watch 60 year old “rock”. Party on, dude.

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