While recently reconstructing my post on early-90s music, which I managed to scrape off some Internet back-alley after thinking I’d lost the post forever, I realised how much fun I’d had putting it together. Also, since it’s fast approaching three years since I wrote that piece — I’VE BEEN BUSY — it seemed a good time to finally get round to finishing off the follow-up.
So, buckle up and off we go again!
The Fugees – ‘Ready Or Not’
Released: August 1996
Background: Along with their reinterpretation of ‘Killing Me Softly’, hip-hop trio The Fugees had the music world at their feet during the mid-90s with their wildly successful second album, The Score. Unfortunately, the members decided to part ways after this record, and pursued solo ventures to varying levels of success. After a failed reunion in the mid-00s that was tainted by soured relations, it would seem the talented threesome are unlikely to reunite any time soon.
Best Bit: The WTFery of it sampling Enya (don’t mention the near-miss lawsuit), something I had a heated argument about with some disbelieving friends many moons ago, and which I’m clearly still not over.
Donna Lewis – ‘I Love You Always Forever’
Released: May 1996
Background: This is such a lovely song. Probably the loveliest song to have ever songed. Welsh wonder Donna Lewis knocked it out the park with this track, which got the silver medal back in the summer of ’96 (held off the top spot by Los Del Rio’s ‘Macarena’, LOL), but was sadly unable to capitalise on its success, and is unsurprisingly still very protective of her one big hit. Nevertheless, she has persevered and released her fifth album just last year.
Best Bit: The video’s choreography, such as it isn’t, which finds Donna clapping whilst wearing her boots like gloves.
Brandy – ‘Baby’
Released: December 1994
Background: Back when B Rocka wasn’t even a thing yet, Brandy was already being all great and stuff when she was just 15 years old(!), managing to juggle a burgeoning music career with being Mo-to-the-esha. ‘Baby’, the second single from her eponymous debut album, only managed to limp onto the UK charts at #174, however. Slow clap for the British public.
Best Bit: I won’t belittle her inclusion with reasons, just accept her into your life and feel better for it.
Michael Jackson – ‘Scream’
Released: May 1995
Background: Your original problematic fave, Michael Jackson was rightly dubbed the King of Pop for the plethora of pop bangers he wrote over the years. His multitude of hits were inspired by numerous things, but Jackson even managed to mine his tumultuous relationship with the press to inspire such classics as this duet with his sister. Shoutout also to ‘Leave Me Alone’.
Mariah Carey – ‘Always Be My Baby’
Released: March 1996
Background: During the peak of Mariah’s imperial phase, the most elusive of chanteuses released so many great songs that it can be hard to select just one. HOWEVER, the mid-tempo joy that is ‘Always Be My Baby’ has become one of Mimsy’s most enduring hits (alongside her festive classic, obvs), and was lifted from fifth studio album Daydream, which has shifted a mere 25-million units.
Best Bit: Mariah chirruping her modern classic whilst nonchalently rocking back and forth on a tyre swing — possibly the least “Mariah” activity imaginable.
Louise – ‘Naked’
Released: June 1996
Background: Before she was cruelly overlooked for a MOBO Award back in 2000, Louise Nurding (now Redknapp) was more into the straightforward pop banger/ballad combo. ‘Naked’, her third solo single, is the former and a reminder that it’s all the more disappointing her career ended abruptly (her brilliant yet final single, ‘Pandora’s Kiss’, got to #5) and she seems to have permanently hung up her microphone in favour of… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Tina Arena – ‘Chains’
Released: September 1994
Background: Potty-mouthed pop pipes, Tina Arena stormed on to the music scene with this power ballad. It was actually her (typically tricky) second solo album, Don’t Ask, that helped launch Tina on to the international stage. While this may have been her peak, Queena Arena hasn’t slowed down since, with album number eleven popped out just last year.
Best Bit: That spine-tingling key change.
En Vogue – ‘Don’t Let Go (Love)’
Released: October 1996
Background: Over the years, En Vogue are probably the only band more ridiculous than the Sugababes on the rotating line-up front. However, when the members-of-the-week could stop what they were doing long enough to record music together, they would often come out with classics like ‘Dont’ Let Go (Love)’, taken from the Set It Off soundtrack.
Best Bit: This track is a prime example of R&B music really hitting its stride (and just prior to its late-90s brilliance — PART THREE SPOILERS) and what the current Top 40 could really do with more of.
Cher – ‘Walking in Memphis’
Released: October 1995
Background: A few years before she changed the world by introducing it to Auto-Tune with her mega-banger ‘Believe’, timeless pop goddess Cher was in the final throes of her rock/pop phase when she covered ‘Walking in Memphis’, Marc Cohn’s signature hit from a few years earlier, and made it her own. While maybe not one of her biggest hits, the gospel-lite song has a pleasing air of nostalgia that’s brought to life by Cher’s iconic voice. Bonus points as well for appearing across the closing moments of a classic episode of The X Files.
Janet Jackson – ‘Runaway’
Released: August 1995
Background: Ms Jackson making two appearances on this rundown clearly shows how brilliant she is/biased I am. Recorded to coincide with her first greatest hits album, Design of a Decade: 1986-1996, ‘Runaway’ was originally created as a duet for her to sing with her brother, but Michael went with the aforementioned ‘Scream’ instead. Nevertheless, Janet did alright with it. To add to the pile of other awards she had already earned, ‘Runaway’ made her the first female artist to debut inside the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100; none too shabby.
Best Bit: Janet dancing on the back of an elephant.
No Doubt – ‘Don’t Speak’
Released: April 1996
Background: Gwen Stefani’s Backing Band, also occasionally known as No Doubt, have had several big singles in the years since their formation all the way back in 1986. Their breakout hit was ‘Don’t Speak’, the third single from their (also third) album Tragic Kingdom. Penned by Gwen, with a little help from older brother Eric, about her failed relationship with No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal, it still sounds just as good today.
Best Bit: The band’s self-mocking video that highlights the media’s preoccupation with Gwen at the expense of the rest of the band, even back then. Although, hashtag real talk, it’s always been about Gwen.
Whitney Houston – ‘I Believe in You and Me’
Released: December 1996
Background: Squeezing in at the 11th hour for this mid-90s celebration is our Nippy’s rendition of the early 80s single from The Four Tops. Released during Whitney’s movie star period, where she neglected her studio album output in favour of soundtrack albums such as The Preacher’s Wife which this track is from, it possesses the early stages of the gruffer textures that would eventually dominate The Voice’s later output. Often overshadowed by that other cover she recorded which did quite well, ‘I Believe in You and Me’ is a nice back-up belter for those weary of hearing Dolly Parton’s song given the Whitney treatment.
Best Bit: Seamlessly switching between softer, angelic sounds and richer, deeper notes, all the while beaming like a total babe throughout the video.
Alanis Morissette – ‘Ironic’
Released: February 1996
Background: Possibly the most meta song ever, ‘Ironic’ was the third single from Ms Morissette’s third studio album, the international phenomenom that was Jagged Little Pill, and remains one of her biggest hits to date. Even allowing for her specious claims of irony — how many people know what it really means, anyway? — ‘Ironic’ is a bonafide classic. It even got revamped for the Instagram generation back in November, when Alanis appeared on The Late Late Show and performed an updated version as a duet with host James “I’m actually a frustrated singer” Corden.
Best Bit: ‘It’s meeting the man of my dreams…and then meeting his beautiful wife’ – Word.
Luniz – ‘I Got 5 On It’
Released: May 1995
Background: Like a couple of other artists on this rundown, great success came to hip-hop duo Luniz with their debut single, ‘I Got 5 On It’. Unfortunately, and again just like a few other names here, this was a flash-in-the-pan event for the pair, and continued success anywhere near this magnitude eluded them. Still, Yukmouth and Numskull — not villains from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, promise — have sporadically released further Luniz albums together, with their fourth, High Timez, dropping just last year.
Best Bit: Posturing in the fountain with just the one trackie-leg rolled up.
Neneh Cherry – ‘7 Seconds’
Released: June 1994
Background: One of the more serious songs on this rundown, the Grammy-nominated ‘7 Seconds’ was the lead single from Neneh Cherry’s third album, Man, and was a duet with Senegalese artist Youssou N’Dour. The title references the initial moments in a baby’s life where it’s unaware of the total shitshow it’s just been born into — it’s no ‘Macarena’. Topping the French charts for a whopping 16 weeks (mon dieu!), the trilingual single also conquered charts around the world. Sadly for Ms Cherry, it was all a bit downhill from here, and she didn’t get round to following up Man until 2014’s Blank Project.
Best Bit: ‘And there’s a…mi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-llion voices’
Jamiroquai – ‘Virtual Insanity’
Released: August 1996
Background: With their infectious brand of acid jazz and funk, Jamiroquai — the band fronted by prat-in-a-hat Jay Kay — were enduringly popular throughout the 90s and into the early 00s, particularly making a mark with tracks like ‘Little L’, ‘Cosmic Girl’, ‘Canned Heat’, and this track, the lead single from their third studio album, Travelling Without Moving. With their eighth record expected later this year, now seems a perfect moment to remember one of their hits that helped define the 90s.
Best Bit: The optical illusion filled video.
Kylie Minogue – ‘Confide In Me’
Released: August 1994
Background: After she parted ways with pop maestros PWL, Kylie aimed to reinvent herself with self-titled album number five. The lead single from the Kylie Minogue album, ‘Confide in Me’ is one of the singer’s most widely-lauded songs. While the following years and subsequent album, the divisive Impossible Princess, saw the pint-sized popstar fall into greater obscurity until her triumphant hotpants-based return, most critics and fans alike agree that ‘Confide in Me’ is a striking and wonderfully grandiose piece of pop perfection.
Best Bit: The dramatic and goosebump inducing, string based intro.
Warren G – ‘Regulate’
Released: April 1994
Background: What a jam. Sampling Michael McDonald’s ‘I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)’, Warren G’s collaboration with the late Nate Dogg still sounds incredibly smooth today, and helped launch the careers of both artists. Featuring on the soundtrack for the Tupac-featuring movie Above the Rim, the song became one of the biggest songs of 1994 and remains an iconic slice of 90s hip-hop.
Best Bit: The fact Nate Dogg manages to soulfully croon about a motel hook-up, and somehow make it sound less skeezy than it clearly would be.
Alisha’s Attic – ‘I Am, I Feel’
Released: August 1996
Background: Karen and Shelley Poole initially hit the music world with their sisterly brand of slightly kookie pop. Debut album Alisha Rules the World remains a brilliant collection of pop songs and included this single, the title track, ‘Air We Breathe’ and ‘Indestructible’. Sadly, their early success wasn’t replicated with their second and third albums, Illumina and The House We Built respectively. Nevertheless, Karen went on to find success writing for other acts like Kylie Minogue, Janet Jackson, and Lily Allen, while Shelley pursued a solo career and is currently part of alternative-country band Red Sky July.
Best Bit: ‘I am, I feel like…I wanna bite his head off, yeah, that’d be fun!’
TLC – ‘Waterfalls’
Released: August 1995
Background: Ryan Murphy’s recent hot mess Scream Queens may have much to be criticised for, but it did at least remind the general public who watched the show that ‘Waterfalls’ is a top tune. Lifted from TLC’s second album, CrazySexyCool, it’s a song full of socially conscious lyrics set against some timeless R&B styling. It’s probably best if we don’t talk about the recent reworking by Stooshe as it’ll only upset the fans.
Best Bit: ‘Don’t go, Jason Waterfalls!’
Spice Girls – ‘Say You’ll Be There’
Released: October 1996
Background: I’ve never been a massive fan of ‘Wannabe’ (don’t @ me), as it always smacked of one-hit-wonder novelty act material; kitsch and fun, but ultimately a bit too disposable. Thankfully, when Baby, Sporty, Ginger, Scary, and Posh released their follow-up single, the clearly far superior ‘Say You’ll Be There’, I leapt aboard the Spice Girls train in my platform shoes, clutching my first class ticket, and I never looked back.
Best Bit: Every second of the iconic video.
So, there’s the mid-90s categorically and empirically shown to be amazing. The late-90s will be getting the same treatment [insert vague timeframe here]. For now, here’s another Spotify playlist of all these mid-90s tracks for you to enjoy: