What other songs sound exactly like the 90s felt?
September 7, 2023 11:24 PM   Subscribe

The music in a trailer for a new Sofia Coppola movie immediately filled me with nostalgia even though I'd never heard the song, because it sounded like what it felt like to be young in 1992. I looked it up and it was Spectrum's "How You Satisfy Me." I'm a little obsessed. Skipping maybe the most obvious ones like say "Fade Into You", what are some other songs that just sound like the 90s?
posted by less-of-course to Media & Arts (60 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Might be obvious but for that 1991-2 feeling, for me it's always "These Are Days" by 10,000 Maniacs or "Valerie Loves Me" by Material Issue.
posted by johngoren at 12:56 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]

Sheriff Fatman by Carter USM
posted by rd45 at 1:01 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]

The 90s started when Dee-Lite dropped "Groove Is In The Heart".
posted by Harald74 at 3:25 AM on September 8 [21 favorites]

I think it depends on what you personally mean when you say "what it felt like to be young in 1992". Did you roll more with R&B, or with grunge, or the whole Lilith Fair scene, or.....?

My own "early 90s" soundtrack includes "These Are Days", but it also includes Dave Matthews' Best Of What's Around, and US3's Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia), and En Vogue My Lovin' (Never Gonna Get It); and Tori Amos' God, and REM's Ignoreland, and Collective Soul's Shine, and Blind Melon's No Rain, and the song Some Cow Fonque off Branford Marsalis' "Buckshot LeFonque" album. And even that remake of Baby I Love Your Way they used in Reality Bites.

Each of those caters to some VERY different influences that go into the mosaic of what I personally would associate with "being young in 1992". But they're all pretty different. So I'm hoping you can point to a couple of those to say "more like that".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:58 AM on September 8 [6 favorites]

I don’t have a perfect response for 1992, but every time I listen to the first Fountains of Wayne album, it feels exactly like 1996.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:22 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]

Tribe Called Quest provide the soundtrack to a lot of my early 90s memories. Some other (though not necessarily the best) songs that really evoke the feel of the decade for me:

Saint Etienne - Nothing Can Stop Us
Eric B. & Rakim - Don't Sweat the Technique
Tricky - Ponderosa
Belle & Sebastian - Lazy Line Painter Jane
Brand Nubian - Concerto in X Minor
Guided by Voices - Motor Away
Fugees - Fu-Gee-La
Morcheeba - Shoulder Holster
Stereolab - Jenny Ondioline
Superchunk - Slack Motherfucker
Throwing Muses - Not Too Soon
Montell Jordan - This Is How We Do It
The Pharcyde - Soul Flower (Remix)
Sonic Youth - Dirty Boots
Sebadoh - Rebound
Warren G feat. Nate Dogg - Regulate
Beat Happening - Bury the Hammer
Pulp - Sorted for E's & Wizz
Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
posted by theory at 4:23 AM on September 8 [12 favorites]

I have a strong sense memory association with the tone, timbre, techniques, and other qualities of Siamese Dream (1993). Smashing Pumpkins and that side of the alternative music wave were much more important to me than Nirvana and grunge, so anything on that weird side of early 90s usually makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end if I hear it out in the wild, and that includes anything that had or hinted at a queer bent, especially if it aired on MTV's Alternative Nation or 120 Minutes. Oh my god, I just tested it and the opening chords of Rocket absolutely makes my heart flutter. Tracks from from Last Splash (1993), Suede's eponymous first album (1993), Bjork's Debut (1993), Downward Spiral (1994), Veruca Salt's American Thighs (1994) all stand out in my mind as the tangible sound of a gay kid entering his teens in 1993. By the time things like Placebo's eponymous first album (1996) and Gus Gus' Polydistortion (1997) were coming out, I feel like these sounds were being perfected and honed into the next decade. So much of the frisson available to me in those isolated years came from the used CD store where my friends worked, so I feel like I could make a list a mile long to describe the sound I associate with the feeling of the 90s, but that feeling is closeted-nervous-southern-rural-longing-fascinated-lonely-angry. Your texture map may well be different than mine.

The album that made me feel like the cultural imposition of the 90s had died was The Teaches of Peaches. I heard Lovertits at a houseparty (I rushed to ask the woman whose house I was in, what is this?!?!?!) and—I can remember this clear as day—I thought, oh so THIS is the direction my life is going to go now.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:48 AM on September 8 [14 favorites]

Belly - Slow Dog

And f*ing Semi-Charmed Life, but not in a good way. It was just ALWAYS on.
posted by Mchelly at 4:54 AM on September 8 [7 favorites]

It doesn't really get into anything too obscure, and there are bunch of obvious omissions (so far) but there's a podcast called "60 Songs That Explain the 90s" that is already well past 60 and will wrap up at 120, hosted by Rob Harvila at the Ringer.
posted by LionIndex at 5:34 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]

For me, it's "1979" by the Smashing Pumpkins.
posted by extramundane at 5:53 AM on September 8 [6 favorites]

Losing My Religion and/or Everybody Hurts - REM
Where It's At - Beck
Pepper - Butthole Surfers
Bitch - Meredith Brooks
Tubthumping - Chumbawumba
Torn - Natalie Imbruglia
Un-Break My Heart - Toni Braxton

It's a bit obvious but any of the big radio hits of grunge: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains. Also any hits from Smashing Pumpkins, Gin Blossoms, Jewel, and Matchbox 20.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:05 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, these look fun and I have a bunch to listen to.
posted by less-of-course at 6:11 AM on September 8

Your favorite band sucks causes dopamine release.

I was 20 in 1992, and was having amazing times. There are probably dozens of songs that would make a palimpsest of that time to me. But as someone pointed out, the "sound" of that time probably included equal measures of stuff you love and stuff you hate. (Helllllo, "Jump Around.")

This is super individual, though: "These Are Days" stops me in my tracks every time. As does "If I Can't Change Your Mind,"and "Kiss This Thing Goodbye" and "Don't Go" (saxomaphones!!). On campus I heard "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" from open dorm doors and "N17" leaking out from my roommate's Walkman, while at parties I heard...classic rock and "So What'Cha Want" and hip-hop, I guess, over the shouted conversations.

But really, shouldn't the answer just be "3AM Eternal"?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:14 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]

A lot of good answers so far. A lot of the songs that really scream 1990s to me are more on the one-hit wonder side—they seem more of their time. These are all a bit later than 1992...

- Primitive Radio Gods - Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand
- Fun Lovin' Criminals - Scooby Snacks
- Sugar Ray - Fly
posted by synecdoche at 6:17 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]

I keep music with tags by year. Highlights of "1992" with a disclaimer that they might be 91 or 93 depending on your point of view:

Toad the Wet Sprocket - All I Want
Morrissey - We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful
Pavement - Two States
Gin Blossoms - Mrs Rita
XTC - The Disappointed
Spin Doctors - Little Miss Can't Be Wrong
Digable Planets - Rebirth of Slick
Lemonheads - Mrs Robinson
L7 - Pretend We're Dead
Screaming Trees - Nearly Lost You
Blind Melon - No Rain
Sugar - If I Can't Change Your Mind
House of Pain - Jump Around
REM - Man on the Moon
Nirvana - Come As You Are
k d lang - Constant Craving
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Under the Bridge
Tribe Called Quest - Scenario
Pearl Jam - Yellow Ledbetter
The Cure - Friday I'm in Love

A couple of those might be cringey earworms, dad rock or stadium anthems, but so be it. Others are dang good by any standard.

The entire Copper Blue album by Sugar is iconic in this timeframe, and might fit what you're looking for.
posted by gimonca at 6:41 AM on September 8 [7 favorites]

Shocked to not see the Breeders' "Cannonball" yet
posted by potrzebie at 6:42 AM on September 8 [13 favorites]

a couple of years ago Spotify served up "Trampoline" by The Greenberry Woods. It came out in 1994 but I had never heard it. But like you say in the question, it felt instantly comfortable.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:02 AM on September 8

I feel like there was a solid span of time from 1990-93 where Snap's "The Power" was the go-to needle drop in dozens of TV commercials, movie trailers, and so on. It feels like a real bridge between '80s "old school" hip-hop and what would arrive later in the '90s.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:06 AM on September 8 [5 favorites]

(Someone did reference Last Splash above)

If you can track it down, there's an episode of the podcast Low Times where they select The Most 90s Song of the 90s, and it's a fantastic breakdown of what makes a song "90sish".

Being clear that this is my "what sounds like the 90s" rather than "what sounds like MY 90s":

-Dee-lite, Groove is in the Heart
-REM, Losing My Religion
-Jump Around
-Blind Melon, No Rain
-Snoop and Dre, Nothin but a G Thang

...jesus these are all from 92? I guess that is the 90s year I most feel sounded like the 90s.

Anyway also,
-TLC, Creep
-Soundgarden, Black Hole Sun
-Blur, Song 2
-Verve, Bittersweet Symphony
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:06 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]

Nope you know what that Blur track doesn't sound like the 90s to me, it sounds like the early 2000s even though it's from like 97-98
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:07 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]

The first Portishead album, especially Sour Times and Glory Box.
posted by virve at 7:32 AM on September 8 [8 favorites]

Came here to post KLF.
Also "Steal My Sunshine" by Len
posted by sundrop at 7:48 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]

Return to Innocence - Enigma
Daughter - Pearl Jam
18 and Life - Skid Row
posted by Sassyfras at 7:50 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]

I've found there's a division between those who were adults in the 90s and those who were kids in the 90s. If you're an adult, 92-94 probably sounds the most 90s. If you were a kid, probably 98-99 sounds more 90s. Of course that means the mid90s Ska and swing revivals are left out as is nü metal, which no one will miss anyway.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:02 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]

(I thought we weren't going to mention ska!)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:05 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]

(I thought we weren't going to mention ska!)

I didn't put this in the list above, because it was technically released in 1989, but as a teenager in high school in the first half of the 1990s, this was pretty much everywhere.
posted by thivaia at 8:30 AM on September 8

No mention of the Cranberries' "Dreams"?
posted by praemunire at 8:35 AM on September 8 [5 favorites]

18 and Life - Skid Row

That was late 80s. They toured with Aerosmith (on Aerosmith's Pump tour) and I caught that show in December 1989.

Nobody's mentioned Counting Crows. Their album August & Everything After is what says 1990s to me.
posted by emelenjr at 8:45 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]

Let's see.. Stone Temple Pilots, 4 Non Blondes, Hootie and the Blowfish, Counting Crows, Spin Doctors, a little later The Wallflowers, Tom Petty, Toad The Wet Sprocket, Collective Soul, Alice in Chains, Faith No More, Rage Against The Machine, Weird Al's Allapalooza, oh, and Pink Floyd's The Division Bell.

Pretty sure all of those artists released albums in the first half of the 90s.

Incidentally, answering questions like this is one of the things YouTube Music does very well. I was thinking about your question, opened up the app and look here, there's a playlist full of 90s Rock sitting right there.
posted by wierdo at 9:10 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]

This is fun. I think of the Pixies' Trompe Le Monde and the Beastie Boys' Check Your Head when I think back to this time. They were early, though.
posted by theredpen at 9:14 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]

Fuck me, I can't believe I failed to include Soul Coughing. Ruby Vroom is a masterpiece.

Also Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane is pretty definitively a 90s rock sound.
posted by wierdo at 9:16 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]

"Hip Hop Hooray" by Naughty by Nature
"So Whatcha Want" by Beastie Boys
"Insane in the Brain" by Cypress Hill
"Mama Said Knock You Out" by LL Cool J
"Fuck wit Dre Day" by Dr. Dre
"What's My Name?" by Snoop Doggy Dogg
"Today" by Smashing Pumpkins
"Hey Jealousy" by Gin Blossoms
"He Thinks He'll Keep Her" by Mary Chapin Carpenter
posted by kensington314 at 10:31 AM on September 8

My Bloody Valentine and the shoe gazer thing in general is very 1990s.
posted by MonsieurPEB at 10:57 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]

I have a lot of faves from the 90's that I still listen to (Fastbacks, Lush, Blatz, etc.), but these definitely induce 90's nostalgia for me:

Messiah: Temple of Dreams
House of Love: Feel
Tiger Trap: Supreme Nothing
Tattle Tale: Take 10
Harvey Danger: Flagpole Sitta
Ned's Atomic Dustbin: Cut Up (Tartan Mix)
XTC: Frivolous Tonight (not released until near the end of the decade, but still)
The opening theme to My So-Called Life

As always, your mileage may vary.
posted by gtrwolf at 12:05 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]

I have a lot of faves from the 90's that I still listen to (Fastbacks, Lush, Blatz, etc.)

Didn't expect BLATZ to make it into this thread but it's true that they were the greatest band of the 90s.
posted by kensington314 at 12:14 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]

A complication is that folks who are Into Music will still be listening to stuff from previous years, and so their "Soundtrack Of $Year" isn't limited to recent tracks, or it might include weird things from other countries that took longer to arrive, etc.

But I love the notion that all of pop can be boiled down to a sound! The by-year tracks from The Hood Internet almost get there, and are both fun and evocative to listen to.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:15 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]

Check this post on the Blue. If you go no further than the first few minutes, it's a wild tour of what early 90s alternative rock sounded like. And if you want to go deeper on "Cannonball" and Last Splash, it's worth it to watch the rest. And the thread gets into "this is what '93 sounded like to me" as well.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:32 PM on September 8

Army of Me - Björk
Girl U Want - Devo*
Mockingbird Girl - The Magnificent Bastards (aka Scott Weiland)
Shove - L7
Drown Soda - Hole
Bomb - Bush
Roads - Portishead
Let's Do It - Joan Jett & Paul Westerberg
Thief - Belly
Aurora - Veruca Salt
Big Gun - Ice T

Oops, did I just accidentally copy & paste the Tank Girl soundtrack? hehe

*also, yes I know that the Devo song was released in the 80s but Devo transcends time
posted by mhum at 12:34 PM on September 8

You all had a cooler 1990s than me:

Roxette & Ace of Bass
bad Michael Jackson songs
lazy Prince songs
Mariah Carey singing in an impossible register
Color Me Badd - and other boy bands so bad you get how NSNYC et al raised the bar in the 2000s.
Whitney Houston
Celine Dion oversinging every note, leading to American Idol singing style
Boys II Men alternating between terrible and awesome songs
Puff Daddy's entourage, ripping off really popular songs and throwing lazy rap verses over it
Rage Against the Machine
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:18 PM on September 8

Also Adam Sandler comedy CDs, and they were often pretty good.

Comedy skit CDs were a thing then.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:21 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]

Bloody hell, those were the days. I was listening to:

Stereo MCs
Primal Scream

and one of the all-time greats:

Weekender by Flowered Up.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 1:34 PM on September 8

You all had a cooler 1990s than me:

Honestly, when answering this question, I didn't so much look back at my personal music consumption of those days (much heavier on conscious rap and still digging back through older New Wave), or even what is most typical or most distinctive of music from that time, than at what specifically evokes the era automatically when I hear it, and that favors two modes: the wistful/melancholic/nostalgic and the supercheesy/overplayed. So..."Dreams" and Ace of Bass (or, in the neighborhood I grew up in, "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" and "Gangsta's Paradise"). A lot of good music listed here, a lot of popular music, but I don't know that all of them make you think, "whew, the nineties!" when they come on the Target muzak system, you know?
posted by praemunire at 1:45 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]

I was wrapping up uni in Toronto in 92 and if I was to choose one act that reminds me of that year and that location in particular that hasn't already been mentioned is Barenaked Ladies (Gordon came out that year).
posted by misozaki at 3:08 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]

Somewhat inspired by Rob Gordon from High Fidelity organizing his record collection autobiographically, I did a thing on Twitter a while back where I chose one song to represent each year of my life. So for me being young in the nineties was represented by “Oasis - Whatever” - the song I played on the last day of school each year - and “Ocean Colour Scene - The Day We Caught The Train
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:18 PM on September 8

This is from 1994 instead of 92, but - Seal's second album, the one that has "Kiss From A Rose" on it, was in heavy rotation for me back then. Yeah, I know you're sick of "Kiss From A Rose" - so was I after a while, it got way overplayed - but the whole rest of that album slaps, and was a great comfort to me during the times that were part of the flip side of the "I'm young in the 90s" - because sometimes being young means "yay the world is my oyster" and sometimes it means "oh fuck I have no idea what the fuck to do with my life help".

And when you're in that mood, Prayer For The Dying or Don't Cry are tremendously comforting.

...oh, and I just remembered a really REALLY deep cut from my past: the title cut from Laurie Anderson's Strange Angels. It's from 1989, but it didn't land on my radar until it got used in this early 90s movie with William Hurt; it's probably the most "conventional" Laurie Anderson song you're gonna hear, and it's gorgeous.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:19 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]

WHFS's Top 500 Songs of the 1990s
HFS was a legendary Baltimore/Washington "free-form" then "progressive" then "alternative" station.
posted by jocelmeow at 4:00 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]

And following on that for me personally: I graduated in 1993. Multiple friends have said they associate Achtung Baby and its cassingle b-sides with being in my car that school year, undoubtedly true and occasionally interspersed with the indigo girls and The La's and Deee-Lite and NIN and The Black Crowes and EMF (I will tell you explicitly if you can't tell implicitly that I *hated* grunge), but what I did most mornings by myself on the way to school, taking the long, hilly, wooded back way, was crank Primal Scream's Moving on Up.
posted by jocelmeow at 4:20 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]

When I saw the Spin Doctors on Saturday Night Live I realized I was finally watching the manifestation of an echo of the late-60s/early-70s done by the children of that generation, discovered the Horde festival, and jumped into Phish and much of the jamband scene. I listened to a lot of other stuff, did a lot of road trips without a tape deck until '96 (to see those horde bands of course), so I heard what was on the radio and other stuff, and saw a lot of local music until kids came along. But my 90s isn't like most peoples 90s.

If I had to name one song I'd remember hearing all the time in bars & restaurants in the 90s, it would end up being the B-52's, Love Shack. Sure, it was released in '89, but was a safe play all through the 90s.
posted by morspin at 5:00 PM on September 8

I'm just here because nobody has posted Ebeneezer Goode which is just the absolute peak of 1992-ness.
posted by automatronic at 5:34 PM on September 8 [2 favorites]

I'm right there with late afternoon dreaming hotel, The Smashing Pumpkins were everything to me back then. I can still sing the lyrics to all of the songs on Siamese Dream (1993) even if I haven't played the album for years. It had a lot of singles, so lots of airplay, and good videos on heavy rotation on MTV's 120 minutes.

Chicago in the 90s was an amazing time for local music. Besides The Pumpkins, you had Urge Overkill (Saturation - 1993) bonus JBTV episode for extra Chicago flavor, Material Issue (International Pop Overthrow - 1991; Freak City Soundtrack - 1994), Liz Phair (Exile in Guyville - 1993), Veruca Salt (American Thighs - 1994), Eleventh Dream Day (Lived to Tell - 1991), Jesus Lizard, Tortoise, Shellac.

There was also lots of micro music scenes, like in the Northwest suburbs with The Smoking Popes (Get Fired - 1991, Born to Quit - 1994) who made it on MTV, as well as smaller bands in the suburban punk scene like Screeching Weasel and Sidekick Kato. This video is so the 90s to me, when you were free to get a concussion at a show.

Looking these up I just found out that Blackie O from Urge Overkill died this summer. RIP.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:11 PM on September 8

An underplayed one that takes me back is REM's Try Not to Breathe. (I'm not even a huge REM fan but it brings back a very specific 90s languid angst.) It would go well with Gray Cell Green (mentioned above) and Cut Your Hair (pavement, 1994).
posted by slidell at 9:27 PM on September 8 [3 favorites]

Trying to figure out what responses this question elicited for me. Like wenestvedt said, people who are into music will all have their own take on a certain era based on what they were discovering at that time, and like many other people said, your age and location and peer group will also determine a lot of what evokes a particular time period musically to you.

That said, I’m honestly shocked that nobody has referenced Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album or any of the many tracks from it that got tons of airplay. Those songs were all over the place throughout the early 90s and really seemed to function as a bridge to the burgeoning 70s revival (unabashed power pop) and indie pop scenes.

For my part I had just finished college and was newly arrived in Boston — the omnipresent album that defined the early 90s there was Buffalo Tom’s Let Me Come Over. Not sure that made as much of a dent elsewhere.
posted by sesquipedalia at 5:18 AM on September 9 [3 favorites]

I listened to Girlfriend ONE MILLION FUCKING TIMES in like 1993-95, on my Diskman. The guitar in the song "Evangeline," played at maximum volume, still brings me joy.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:58 AM on September 9 [3 favorites]

And following on that for me personally: I graduated in 1993. Multiple friends have said they associate Achtung Baby and its cassingle b-sides with being in my car that school year, undoubtedly true and occasionally interspersed with the indigo girls and The La's and Deee-Lite and NIN and The Black Crowes and EMF (I will tell you explicitly if you can't tell implicitly that I *hated* grunge),

The La's! Yes. "Son of a Gun" absolutely transports me to riding to high school with friends (I didn't have a car until later). We also listened to an overhelming amount of Cocteau Twins and Ride, which somehow got heavily interspersed with Fugazi and Sinead O'Connor (it was a weird time). Also, I did not listen to a lot of "grunge" either. Some of us were snoots about it and it became jock rock so early on in my high school career that it felt like it stopped belonging to us before it ever could.

That said, I’m honestly shocked that nobody has referenced Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend

This is absolutely one of my favorite records period. And I'm frankly shocked that it took me getting to college before I ever heard it.
posted by thivaia at 10:27 AM on September 9 [2 favorites]

I would add The Lemonheads to the Matthew Sweet mention. It's a Shame About Ray came out in 1992 and Come on Feel the Lemonheads in 1993.
posted by Bunglegirl at 12:27 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]

dada - Dizz Knee Land
Toy Matinee - Last Plane Out & The Ballad Jenny Ledge
And I actually owned Donald Fagen's 1993 album Kamakiriad before discovering The Nighfly
posted by emelenjr at 8:52 AM on September 10

WHFS's Top 500 Songs of the 1990s
HFS was a legendary Baltimore/Washington "free-form" then "progressive" then "alternative" station.

The top 100 is like musical punishment to me and the '90s' list that continues to this day. Yikes. '60-80s for boomers was so much more musically broad. Oldies for Gen-X sucks.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:33 AM on September 11

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