Best approximation of listening to 90s radio?
December 12, 2014 6:50 AM   Subscribe

I was a child in the early/mid 90s and loved listening to the radio. I'd like to find the best free option of replicating that experience. I don't just want a "best of the 90s" playlist with the very biggest hits. Details inside.

OK, so right now I use Spotify, and I've found some good lists, but here are the general problems:

-They tend to be clumped by genre, so I can get 90s R&B, or alternative, or teen-pop, but rarely one list that will mix them all. I understand that even radio stations in the 90s were somewhat genre-divided but I clearly remember listening to "today's hits" stations that would play Spin Doctors and Googoo Dolls, and Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men. Maybe they didn't play the "purer" alternative or R&B (I don't remember hearing Mary J Blige or Pearl Jam on these stations), but they at least played some crossover stuff.

-Sometimes they only include the biggest hits - so OK, any "hits of the 90s list" will include My Heart Will Go On, but if you really want to recapture the 90s, Celine Dion had a lot of other songs on the radio. I don't want a list that only includes the top 1-2 hits of the biggest artists. I want the "texture" of the fact that the radio was playing smaller hits by these people too.

-similarly, I'd like it to be very broad across artists, which kind of ties into the genre thing, but a lot of the lists are either "one hit wonder" type lists, or they're lists that ONLY have the huge hitters (Whitney, Celine, Boyz II Men, etc). I would like a list that can capture both the songs/artists that had lasting popularity and the ones that didn't last long but were on the radio a lot (remember Kiss the Rain? Or I Love You Always Forever?)

Maybe it just needs to be my life work to recreate this experience! But if you've found something, let me know!
posted by nakedmolerats to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Well Not sure what exact radio station you mean but Rick Dees weekly top 40 does some sort of 90s throwback. So still pop hits but at least the weekly top 40 for a given week rather than a "best of the decade" hit list.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:05 AM on December 12, 2014

Have you tried searching for radio airchecks from the 1990s?
posted by JanetLand at 7:06 AM on December 12, 2014

(oh my god, Kiss the Rain ...)

If you do end up compiling your own Spotify station, maybe it'd help to look at soundtracks from movies that were popular at the time? Once you get beyond the obvious 'Heart Will Go On'/'I Will Always Love You'-level songs, that might help winkle out some less-remembered songs from big names, along with less-remembered bands - off the top of my head, the soundtrack to Singles comes to mind (though I suspect you're probably looking for less grungey stuff) ...
posted by DingoMutt at 7:24 AM on December 12, 2014

You need Absolute Radio 90s!

I think they played Kiss the Rain when I was doing the washing up one evening last week
posted by el_presidente at 7:24 AM on December 12, 2014

Have you tried live365? They've got a number of 90's themed stations.
posted by grimtheelder at 7:27 AM on December 12, 2014

I've done this on Pandora over 9 years time by just making a station based on 3-4 of those great 90s songs, and customizing it from there. It really is just like listening to the radio back then ... finally. I split off the pop/rap songs from the alternative/rock so I have the perfect station for my mood.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:29 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've really been enjoying this Spotify playlist for that sort of feeling.
posted by hobgadling at 8:14 AM on December 12, 2014

Response by poster: I'm still trying to figure out how to compile them- but check it out - on Billboard chart rewind now you can play the "old" top 100 charts as a playlist!

(For example)
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you tried making your own radio station on Spotify?

I'd start with listening to the pre-programmed radio station called simply "90's" during a time when you can actively pay attention to each song. Be very good about up or down voting each song - I've found that if I downvote a lot of songs, it starts giving me more obscure options.

If this isn't broad enough, try doing it with several stations (if you want more things like Mary J. Blige, create an MJB station and like some songs) --> Songs you've liked will go to a "Liked from Radio" playlist. You can use that list as your source material for creating your ultimate playlist.

For late 90s, try the "Now That's What I Call Music!" albums (they're actually listed as playlists in Spotify, not albums) - Vol. 1 was released in 1998. For one-hit-wonders, there's an album called Best One-Hit Wonders of the 90's.

And THEN, when you have a decent enough playlist (copy the Liked from Radio and the various compilation albums to a master playlist), you can create a radio station from that list. On desktop, go to the playlist, click the "..." next to the green play button, then "Start Playlist Radio."
posted by melissasaurus at 10:03 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also just realized I'm following this Best of the 90s - US Radio Top 40 playlist, which is 23 hours of amazing 90s music.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:09 AM on December 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

My suggestion is along the same lines as Melissa's, but rather that starting with the existing 90s station, I'd start by specifically searching out about 20-25 of the kinds of songs you want to hear -- pick something other than the biggest hit for a couple of dozen different artists -- and put them all in a playlist. Then, rather than playing the playlist, start playlist based radio.

From there, you should be closer to what you're looking for and you can like and unlike songs to adjust the playlist. Anytime you feel 'oh, this is an area I would have heard in the 90s that I'm not hearing now' search out an artist or two and add it to the original playlist, as well, to adjust the mix.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:20 AM on December 12, 2014

Have you tried Sirius XM radio's 90s station? It does tend to focus on the hits of the era, but it cuts across all genres. You can get a month for free without a credit card. See if you like it, because then you can get it for a dirt-cheap subscription if you haggle. I don't know how many songs they have in rotation because I do hear repeats when I drive, but I also take advantage of the 80s and the 2000s station to keep things varied.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:01 AM on December 12, 2014

Expanding on a suggestion above as I have done Exactly.what you are talkong about.

Create a spotify playlist of songs you havent even heard since the 90s (kiss the rain, where have all the cowboys gone, how bizarre). Then Start Radio by right clicking on that playlist.

Creating the playlist is a fun game with friends.
posted by jander03 at 8:22 AM on December 13, 2014

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