I’m planning a little soiree for next month that has nothing to do with Christmas. It’s adjacent to my birthday, but I’m not letting anyone know that. Several of my best mates from the 90s era are making the trip in so I’m giving the party a 90s theme. Doc Martens on the feet, Clearly Canadian in the glasses (I wish – those little blue bottles are tough to track down). The biggest challenge, aside from finding unexpired Zima, is whittling down the playlist to a rocking, solid five or six hours.  Right now, I’ve got an iTunes playlist that is roughly twice that.

This decade, while somewhat underrated, was SOLID.  It signaled the beginning (or at least the mass appeal) of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Dave Matthews Band, and Dr. Dre. It had Achtung Baby, Nevermind, and the second-best Duran Duran album to date.

It also had a solid slew of one-hit wonders. It took quite a lot of soul-searching to get this list down to 12, let alone trim the entire decade to just 90 or so songs. Ain’t no party like a 90s party because a 90s-party playlist never stops.

Honorable Mentions: Cannonball, The Breeders; Got You Where I Want You, The Eels; Save Yourself, Stabbing Westward; The One and Only, Chesney Hawkes.

12. Cantaloop, US3. Funky and catchy. The horn section and the crisp, staccato rap made this one a unique song for the early 90s.  Perhaps the most soulful of all earworms.  It’s the song Tony Toni Tone only wishes they’d recorded first. Bitty bitty bop.

11. Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, Crash Test Dummies. From the first note out of Baritone Brad Roberts’ mouth, one knew this song was going to be different.  The vaguely creepy verses crest into a senseless chorus.  Their follow-up single, “Afternoon and Coffeespoons,” was much livelier, if not outright better, but it never charted.

10. Life is a Highway, Tom Cochrane. Ruined by too much airplay on “The hits of yesterday and today!” format stations and a woefully nasal Rascal Flatts cover, this peppy rock and roll tune used to be good, even if the metaphor was always dog-tired.

9. Lovefool, The Cardigans. I used to hate this song. Then I loved it. Then I was tired of it. Then I hated it again. Then I saw Andy and Jim sing it on The Office.  Then I liked it again. Then I realized the genius of the changing theme to major from minor in the final chorus. And throughout my entire journey, I never lost sight of the fact that lead singer Nina Persson sounds SO darn earnest the entire time. Also, I like cardigans.

8. Feed It, The Candyskins. It’s repetitiveness is trumped by its ethereal-poppy nature. Fine family fun.

7. Possum Kingdom, The Toadies. What’s this song about?  Don’t think about it too much or you’ll have nightmares. Boathouse, Jesus, dark secret, etc. Either he’s a child molester or a serial killer.  But what a rockin’ tune!

6. No Rain, Blind Melon. Oh, Shannon Hoon.  One of several cautionary tales of the 90s. Before succumbing to a life of excess, this tenor sang sweetly about … well, I’m not sure what this song was about, really, but it seemed happy at the time.  We all only remember the bee girl anyway, right?

5. Hippychick, Soho. A new spin on a familiar Smiths’ riff, great for nights when you just want to trance-dance. As I did so often at age 13.

4. House of Stone and Light, Martin Page. Fun fact: Martin Page, the singer of this ballad about searching one’s soul for enlightenment, used to be the lead singer of Q-Feel, known for their pop-dance hit “Dancing in Heaven (Orbital Bee-Bop),” from the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun soundtrack. Apparently said spiritual journey worked.

3. Dizz Knee Land, Dada. Impassioned, cynical rock. Never has flipping off a President felt so liberating.  

2. The Freshmen, The Verve Pipe. The first line of this song is almost unforgivable: “When I was young, I knew everything.” The “plot,” as it were, is wrist-slashing in its tragedy. Guy dates girl. Guy dumps girl.  Guy’s best friend does the same thing. Girl ODs on prescription meds and sleeps forever.  Yet the Verve Pipe (whatever that means) makes this work. By the time it swells to the final chorus, earlier crimes are forgiven. 

1. No Myth, Michael Penn. Michael Penn is clearly undeserving of the “One-Hit Wonder” title.  After all, he has scored movie soundtracks and wedded Aimee Mann. And yet, this perfect little ditty about imperfect love was Sean Penn’s older bro’s only charted single.  Good, good stuff. 

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