Top 100 Songs From the 90s

These are the 100 best songs from the 1990s. This is admittedly a subjective list based on judgements of quality instead of sales figures or radio airplay. This list should be a great conversation starter and feel free to agree or disagree.

More great pop music:

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John Mellencamp with Me'Shell NdegeOcello - "Wild Night"

John Mellencamp with Me'Shell NdegeOcello - Wild Night
Courtesy Mercury

Mellencamp and NdegeOcello are one of the matches made in rock 'n' roll heaven. Together they took a Van Morrison chestnut and made it into something transcendent. Turn this one up and try NOT to dance.

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Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories - "Do You Sleep?"

Lisa Loeb - Tails
Courtesy Geffen

Lisa Loeb rose quickly to stardom on the heels of her hit "Stay" from the soundtrack to the film Reality Bites. "Do You Sleep?" is the first hit from her first solo album Tails.

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Billy Joel - "River of Dreams"

Billy Joel River of Dreams
Courtesy Columbia

For the centerpiece of his last pop album, Billy Joel put together this stream of consciousness, gospel-influenced recording. It spent three weeks at the top of the pop singles chart and is one of the most uplifting hits of Joel's career.

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Sugar Ray - "Every Morning"

Sugar Ray - Every Morning
Courtesy Atlantic

Sugar Ray's feel-good music is one of the pure pleasures of 90s pop music. This tale about a girlfriend who "has a halo hanging from the corner" of her four-post bed is instantly recognizable and memorable.

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Heart - "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You"

Heart - All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You
Courtesy Capitol Records

Although they are best known for a long string of rock hits, this ballad, written by Robert John "Mutt" Lange, was one of the group's biggest pop hits. The record distinguished itself by generating controversy through its tale of a long night of making love with a hitchhiker. Some feared it encouraged picking up hitchhikers and having casual sex, but at heart it is romantic fantasy straight out of a romance novel.

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Blind Melon - "No Rain"

Blind Melon - No Rain
Courtesy Capitol

The upbeat feel of Blind Melon's biggest hit "No Rain" stands in contrast to the band's own tragic history. Lead vocalist Shannon Hoon fought battles against drug addiction through much of the early 90s and would be dead by late 1995 at the age of 28. Although many remember the "dancing bee girl" fondly from the video for "No Rain," the genesis of the song is darker. It was written out of the efforts of bassist Brad Smith to cope with the struggles of his girlfriend with clinical depression.

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Celine Dion - "My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From 'Titanic')"

Celine Dion - My Heart Will Go On
Courtesy Columbia

This was certainly one of the most over-played ballads of the year. However, if you listen once again, the song is beautiful, and Celine Dion is one of the most reliable voices in the business.

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EMF - "Unbelievable"

EMF - Unbelievable
Courtesy EMI

EMF rode the British invasion wave that broke on U.S. shores in the wake of the U.K.'s infatuation with the Manchester dance scene. "Unbelievable" mixed intoxicating rhythms, sweet high vocals from lead singer James Atkin, and rousing shouts to storm the top of the pop charts.

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Whitney Houston - "It's Not Right, But It's Okay"

Whitney Houston - It's Not Right But It's Okay
Courtesy Arista

By the time the 90s headed toward a close, it had been 8 years since the last new Whitney Houston studio album. Music industry legend Clive Davis coaxed her back into the studio for a new set and the resulting album My Love Is Your Love has some of her best work. "It's Not Right, But It's Okay" is a hard-hitting anthem for women on the way out of relationships that sounded great on the radio or on the dancefloor.

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Ben Folds Five - "Brick"

Ben Folds Five - Brick
Courtesy Epic

Ben Folds and company brought the issue of abortion on to the pop charts, from a male point of view. A particularly fascinating twist is that it seems the male narrator of the song is selfish and a bit of a jerk. Lyrically, this is one of the most unique major hit songs of the 90s.

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LL Cool J - "Mama Said Knock You Out"

LL Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out
Courtesy Def Jam

LL Cool J established himself in the 80s as a top hard-edged rapper while still a teenager. By the end of the decade he had hit the pop charts and was being accused of selling out to pop audiences. "Mama Said Knock You Out" is his response to the criticisms. It's a hard hitting aggressive rap classic that brought together both rap and pop audiences and cemented LL's status as one of the top rap artists of all time.

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Arrested Development - "Tennessee"

Arrested Development - Tennessee
Courtesy Chrysalis

Arrested Development finished their banner year by being awarded the Grammy for Best New Artist of 1992 in February 1993. The spiritual quest detailed in "Tennessee" was a big part of the band's success. The uplifting, intelligent lyrics and positive tone seemed to herald a new direction for rap, but the gangsta takeover was just a year away.

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Presidents of the United States of America - "Lump"

Presidents of the United States of America - Lump
Courtesy Columbia

In the onslaught of Seattle bands after the grunge revolution, the humorous approach of Presidents Of the United States Of America is unique. "Lump" is punk in instrumental style, but it is as insanely catchy as bubblegum pop.

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Barenaked Ladies - "One Week"

Barenaked Ladies - One Week
Courtesy Reprise Records

For many, the mileage varied on Barenaked Ladies' breakthrough hit. The pure kinetic energy of "One Week" certainly invigorated pop radio playlists, but a little of the cheeky, self-indulgent humor can go a long way.

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Marc Anthony - "I Need to Know"

Marc Anthony - I Need To Know
Courtesy Columbia

The success of Ricky Martin early in 1999 opened the door for other Latin pop vocalists. One of the most talented is Marc Anthony. "I Need To Know" was the perfect vehicle to land his gorgeous voice on the radio airwaves.

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Shaggy - "Boombastic"

Shaggy - Boombastic
Courtesy Virgin

Here is where the dancehall sub-genre of reggae broke through to the American pop charts. Shaggy's personal charm shines through in the funky grooves.

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Oasis - "Wonderwall"

Oasis - Wonderwall
Courtesy Creation Records

The brothers Gallagher (Liam and Noel) and their band Oasis helped usher in a new period of glory for British guitar pop, at least in the UK. This is one of their few breakthrough American hits. It is gorgeous and irresistibly prods you into singing along.

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Dishwalla - "Counting Blue Cars"

Dishwalla - Counting Blue Cars
Courtesy A&M

I'm still not sure exactly what this hit song is about, but it definitely is catchy. The ultimate hook in the lyric is the line "Tell me all your thoughts on God / Cause I'd really like to meet her." It has something to do with asking questions like children often do.

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R.E.M. - "Man on the Moon"

R.E.M. - Man on the Moon
Courtesy Warner Bros.

R.E.M.'s album Automatic For the People is one of the top artistic achievements of the 90s in popular music. "Man On the Moon" is one of the most memorable and beautiful songs from the album. It is a moving tribute to comedian Andy Kaufman, and it is much more than that. The song is also a meditation on a wide range of elements of popular culture and memory.

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Eric Clapton - "Tears in Heaven"

Eric Clapton
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

In retrospect the song is rather treacly and certainly not a match for a number of other Eric Clapton classics, but in its historical context "Tears In Heaven" was a song that brought comfort to millions whose lives were touched by tragedy. The gentle ballad, written in response to the circumstances that took the life of Clapton's young son, Conor, was featured in the soundtrack to the film Rush. It returned in an even more popular acoustic rendition on Eric Clapton's Unplugged collection.

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Alanis Morissette - "Uninvited"

Alanis Morissette - Uninvited
Alanis Morissette - "Uninvited". Courtesy Maverick

This is one of Alanis Morissette's most memorable, and lyrically uncluttered, songs. The gothic, foreboding musical textures match well with her vocal intensity.

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Spice Girls - "Wannabe"

Spice Girls
Tim Roney/Getty Images

Even after the years of hype surrounding this all-girl group and its members, "Wannabe" is an exhilarating listening pleasure. "Girl power" from the group swept the U.K. in 1996 and then conquered America the following year.

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Cranberries - "Linger"

Cranberries - Linger
Cranberries - "Linger". Courtesy Island Records

Although later hits would more dramatically demonstrate the vocal acrobatics of the Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan, "Linger" has an almost ethereal beauty that does indeed remain long after the song ends. It was the chart debut of one of the most striking voices of the mid-90s.

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No Doubt - "Don't Speak"

No Doubt - Don't Speak
No Doubt - "Don't Speak". Courtesy Interscope

This song is somewhat of an anomaly in style from much of the rest of No Doubt's work, but it served to make No Doubt's lead vocalist Gwen Stefani a recognizable star. The song's pop hook is irresistible and kept it on the pop chart for most of the year.

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Edwyn Collins - "A Girl Like You"

Edwyn Collins - A Girl Like You
Edwyn Collins - "A Girl Like You". Courtesy Setanta

Edwyn Collins is a Scottish peformer who put together one of the most catchy and unique sounding pop hits of the air. On "A Girl Like You" he sounds like a more pop-oriented Iggy Pop. Unfortunately, Collins failed to replicate this success.

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Tag Team - "Whoomp! (There It Is)"

Tag Team - Whoomp! (There It Is)
Tag Team - "Whoomp! (There It Is)". Courtesy Life Records

Although no one would pretend that "Whoomp! (There It Is)" is art, it is possibly the most popular party single of the last 15 years. The incessant chant of "Whoomp! (There It Is)" could also be heard for many years as part of the soundtrack for breaks in sports events of all kinds. This is hip hop at its most mindlessly fun.

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Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch - "Good Vibrations"

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch - Good Vibrations
Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch - Good Vibrations. Courtesy Interscope

"Good Vibrations" introduced the world to Mark Wahlberg (aka Marky Mark), the younger brother of Donnie Wahlberg, a member of New Kids On the Block. Mark Wahlberg had a history of scrapes with the law as a teenager, but his ready-for-video buffed body and good looks combined with energetic dance beats and Loleatta Holloway's diva vocals for a smash pop hit. Mark Wahlberg never repeated this musical success, but he has moved on to be a well-respected movie actor.

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R. Kelly - "Bump 'n Grind"

R. Kelly - Bump n' Grind
R. Kelly - "Bump n' Grind". Courtesy Jive Records

This song demonstrates exactly why we fell in love with the music of R. Kelly if not the man. The a capella anguish in Kelly's voice opening the song is brilliant. His music frequently is amazingly sexy. "Bump 'N Grind" connects the vocal stylings of early 90s new jack swing with the romance of classic r&b.

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Elton John - "Candle in the Wind 1997"

Elton John - Candle In the Wind 1997
Elton John - "Candle In the Wind 1997". Courtesy A&M

The summer of 1997 seemed to come to a tragic close as Princess Diana died in a horrific car accident. The attention of the world was riveted on her funeral, and Elton John reworked his song "Candle In the Wind" for the occasion. It quickly became the biggest selling single ever worldwide.

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Us3 - "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)"

Us3 - Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)
Us3 - "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)". Courtesy Blue Note

Us3 created a unique sound by placing contemporary rap rhymes on top of samples of classic jazz from the Blue Note record label. "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)" is built on a Herbie Hancock sample from "Cantaloupe Island." The fusion didn't always work well, but this time it did, and the overall effect is imminently engaging.

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Boyz II Men - "End of the Road"

Boyz II Men - End of the Road
Boyz II Men - "End of the Road". Courtesy Motown

While their swiftly growing group of adoring fans waited for a second album, Boyz II Men recorded this ballad for the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy film Boomerang. The four part crooning and gorgeous pleading fade were irresistible. Along with Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," this became the second hit of 1992 to place on the all time top 10 list of pop hits.

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Jesus Jones - "Right Here Right Now"

Jesus Jones - Doubt
Jesus Jones - Doubt. Courtesy SBK

The band Jesus Jones rode the same wave from the U.K. to American shores that carried EMF. "Right Here Right Now" is less frenetic than EMF's "Unbelievable," but it settled easily into the pop mainstream and quickly rose to the top of the pop singles chart.

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Will Smith - "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It"

Will Smith - Gettin' Jiggy Wit It
Will Smith - "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It". Courtesy Sony

Will Smith set out solo for the first time, and the results were very pleasing. His brand of clean, good-humored, party hip hop caught on instantly.

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Madonna - "Secret"

Madonna - Secret
Madonna - "Secret". Courtesy Warner Bros.

"Secret" is one of Madonna's least flamboyant major hits of the 90s, but it remains one of her most satisfying. A midtempo beat wraps itself around her warm, inviting vocals. "Secret" is one of her best although it is frequently overshadowed by more showy outings.

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Quad City DJ's - "C'mon 'n Ride It (The Train)"

Quad City DJs - C'mon Ride It (The Train)
Quad City DJs - "C'mon Ride It (The Train)". Courtesy Quadrasound

The producers behind the irresistibly catchy "Whoomp! (There It Is)" came up with another irresistible party hit. "C'mon 'N Ride It (The Train)" inspired another wave of soundalike hits and is perennially welcome on any party soundtrack.

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Bell Biv Devoe - "Poison"

Bell Biv Devoe - Poison
Bell Biv Devoe - "Poison". Courtesy MCA

In the wake of the disintegration of New Edition, three of the group's members, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, and Ronnie DeVoe, proved that Bobby Brown wasn't the only breakout talent in the group. The hard-edged funky R&B of "Poison" spearheaded the development of New Jack Swing as one of the freshest sounds in R&B in a decade.

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Faith No More - "Epic"

Faith No More - Epic
Faith No More - "Epic". Courtesy Reprise Records

While Deee-Lite started with funk and hip hop to groove on the dancefloor, San Francisco's Faith No More threw in a heavy dose of metal guitars and drums for one of the hardest rocking top 10 hits of the year. A set of absurdist lyrics merely add to one of the most exhilarating aural experiences on pop radio in 1990, and, who can forget that fish in the accompanying video?

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Martin Page - "In the House of Stone and Light"

Martin Page - In the House of Stone and Light
Martin Page - In the House of Stone and Light. Courtesy Mercury

Martin Page is a classic one hit wonder. This effortless mainstream pop nugget followed Page's success as songwriter of such mainstream pop hits as Starship's "We Built This City" and Heart's "These Dreams." "In the House Of Stone and Light" is not artistically innovative, but it nearly perfectly encapsulates the mainstream of pop circa 1995. Page faded from sight as an artist after this one hit.

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Tracy Chapman - "Give Me One Reason"

Tracy Chapman - New Beginning
Tracy Chapman - New Beginning. Courtesy Elektra

Just when most pop fans saw Tracy Chapman as a one-hit wonder based on the success of "Fast Car" from her first album, she reappeared with this deeply bluesy crowd pleaser.

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House of Pain - "Jump Around"

House Of Pain - Jump Around
House Of Pain - "Jump Around". Courtesy XL Recordings

For a brief period of time it looked like a blend of edgy rock and hip hop was workable. "Jump Around" is incredibly infectious or annoying depending on your tolerance for the incessant siren that accompanies the pounding beats. Unfortunately, House Of Pain never did recapture these moments of greatness.

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Digital Underground - "The Humpty Dance"

Digital Underground - Sex Packets
Digital Underground - Sex Packets. Courtesy Tommy Boy

Some might dismiss this song as simply a novelty hit, but it deserves closer listening. As hip hop was climbing further into the mainstream, this group from Oakland distinguished itself backing goofy raps with hot Parliament-Funkadelic inspired funk. Rarely has a pop classic made sex sound so fun and funny.

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Michael Jackson - "Black or White"

Michael Jackson - "Black Or White"
Michael Jackson - "Black Or White". Courtesy Epic Records

This is the last great Michael Jackson single. It features Guns 'n Roses guitarist Slash ushering in an uplifting message about racial unity. As was the norm for Michael Jackson releases at the time, the song was accompanied by a big budget video. This one was directed by John Landis and featured actors Macaulay Culkin, George Wendt and Peggy Lipton.

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DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - "Summertime"

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - Summertime
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - "Summertime". Courtesy Jive Records

D.J. Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith (aka the Fresh Prince) took a big step forward in the maturity of their sound with the 1991 album Homebase. "Summertime," their biggest hit, is the centerpiece of the album. Its laid back grooves settled in as THE summer song of 1991.

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Sarah McLachlan - "Adia"

Sarah McLachlan - Adia
Sarah McLachlan - "Adia". Courtesy Arista

Sarah McLachlan's voice is almost other-worldly in its beauty. This single came out as the Lilith Fair all-female concert tour, organized by McLachlan, was kicking into gear.

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Backstreet Boys - "I Want It That Way"

Backstreet Boys - I Want It That Way
Backstreet Boys - "I Want It That Way". Courtesy Jive Records

"I Want It That Way" is simply one of the great ballads in pop music history. It gave the Backstreet Boys the perfect opportunity to let their polished voices shine and became one of their biggest hits.

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Los Del Rio - "Macarena"

Los Del Rio - Macarena
Los Del Rio - "Macarena". Courtesy RCA

Today most people seem to simply think of "Macarena" as being ridiculously overplayed and forever identified as a quirky relic for wedding reception dances. The truth is it was one of the most instantly entertaining and catchy hits of the decade...the first 50 times you heard it.

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Janet Jackson - "Escapade"

Janet Jackson - Escapade
Janet Jackson - "Escapade". Courtesy A&M Records

Taken from Janet Jackson's hit-filled concept album Rhythm Nation: 1814, "Escapade" at first seems like simple a light piece of pop fluff. After listening to it multiple times, however, it's escapist charm sinks in. This was one of the most joy-filled hits of 1990, an atmosphere further enhanced by the accompanying video.

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Wreckz N Effect - "Rump Shaker"

Wreckz-N-Effect - Rump Shaker
Wreckz -N-Effect - "Rump Shaker". Courtesy MCA

"All I wanna do...zooma zoom zoom zoom..." Hip hop began to walk the fine line between pop radio acceptability and unacceptably explicit sexual content. "Rump Shaker" is innocent by today's standards, but it pushed boundaries in its day.

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Collective Soul - "The World I Know"

Collective Soul - The World I Know
Collective Soul - "The World I Know". Courtesy Atlantic

"So I walk up on high / And I step to the edge / To see my world below." Rock band Collective Soul pulled out all of the stops musically, including soaring strings, to support their beautiful ballad of self-awareness? absurdity? resignation? An outstanding music video added even more resonance to this powerful song.

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Melissa Etheridge - "Come To My Window"

Melissa Etheridge - Come To My Window
Melissa Etheridge - "Come To My Window". Courtesy Island

Although she is often accused of being overly earnest in her style of rock, "Come To My Window" conjures up a powerful picture of romantic angst and erotic tension that can be felt through Etheridge's raspy words. The lightly rocking background is nearly irrelevant as the words are what grabs the listener's attention.

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TLC - "No Scrubs"

TLC - No Scrubs
TLC - "No Scrubs". Courtesy LaFace

The r&b trio TLC electrified the pop music world with their phenomenal album Crazysexycool released in 1994. Then it was a long 5 year wait for the next installment. Fortunately, Fan Mail was nearly as good as its predecessor. "No Scrubs," the leadoff single, is picture perfect late 90s R&B.

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Wallflowers - "One Headlight"

Wallflowers - Bringing Down the Horse
Wallflowers - Bringing Down the Horse. Courtesy Interscope

This band, led by Bob Dylan's son Jakob, spent over a year on the pop singles chart with this quiet masterpiece. Jakob Dylan's vocals have an alluring world weariness that could at times be a dead ringer for Tom Petty.

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Stereo MC's - "Connected"

Stereo MC's - Connected
Stereo MC's - "Connected". Courtesy Island

Stereo MC's became one of the most successful of British hip-hop acts. "Connected" is propelled along by a catchy, but downbeat, atmospheric brand of hip hop. 

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Amy Grant - "Baby Baby"

Amy Grant - Baby Baby
Amy Grant - Baby Baby. Courtesy A&M

Amy Grant spent the 80s as one of the most successful of Christian pop singers, but it was not until 1991 that she enjoyed a major crossover into the pop mainstream. "Baby Baby" is a delightful celebration of love between life partners.

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Various Artists - "ESPN Presents the Jock Jam"

Various Artists - ESPN Presents Jock Jams Vol. 1
Various Artists - ESPN Presents Jock Jams Vol. 1. Courtesy Tommy Boy

This medley will win no prizes for art, but it welds together some of the most popular songs used at sporting events and was nearly inescapable in 1997. Kicking off with the immortal "Are you ready to rumble..." this pop culture artifact is sure to get your blood pumping with snippets from such tracks as "Whoomp! There It Is," "It Takes Two," "YMCA" and "Pump Up the Jam."

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TLC - "Waterfalls"

TLC - Waterfalls
TLC - "Waterfalls". Courtesy LaFace

Slinky, gently insistent backing horns and guitar combine with smooth, languid vocals to create an instant r&b classic on TLC's "Waterfalls." Beyond its audio appeal, the song is a disturbing commentary on street violence and its impact on the lives of young black men.

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Beck - "Loser"

Beck - Loser
Beck - "Loser". Courtesy DGC

If any major pop hit from 1994 could be described as coming from left field, it would be Beck's "Loser." It's a bit like welding a killer self-deprecating chorus to Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." In the years to come Beck would prove "Loser" was just a tiny peek at his well of creativity.

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Seal - "Kiss From a Rose"

Seal - Kiss From a Rose
Seal - "Kiss From a Rose". Courtesy Warner Bros.

This was another single saved from obscurity by its inclusion on a movie soundtrack. "A Kiss From a Rose" was featured as the love them in the Batman Forever film. Seal's perfectly balanced, acrobatic, romantic vocals make this otherwise simply pleasant song a work of art.

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Deborah Cox - "Nobody's Supposed to Be Here"

Deborah Cox - Nobody's Supposed To Be Here
Deborah Cox - "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here". Courtesy Arista

This song is a gorgeous R&B ballad, but revved up with a club mix, it is one of the top dance hits of the decade. Record industry execs intended Deborah Cox to be the next Whitney Houston. That didn't quite work, but she did contribute this timeless smash.

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Counting Crows - "Mr. Jones"

Counting Crows - Mr. Jones
Counting Crows - "Mr. Jones". Courtesy Geffen

The voice of Counting Crows' lead vocalist Adam Duritz is a magnificent instrument. "Mr. Jones" introduced music fans to Duritz' amazing facility at storytelling within the context of a song. Just try to sing along on "Mr. Jones" and after you finish gasping for breath, you realize just how phenomenal this performance is.

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Dr. Dre - "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang"

Dr. Dre - Nothin' But a G Thang
Dr. Dre - "Nothin' But a G Thang". Courtesy Death Row

This single and the album it came from, Dr. Dre's "Chronic," took hip hop down an entirely new road that would eventually be called Gangsta Rap. "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" features Dre's protege Snoop Doggy Dogg who would soon become a star on his own. Fat, Parliament-style funky beats, laidback rap vocals, words reflecting the violence of life on the street, and pop hooks combined for a tremendously successful new sound.

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Backstreet Boys - "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)"

Backstreet Boys - Everybody (Backstreet's Back)
Backstreet Boys - "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)". Courtesy Jive Records

With the backlash against boy bands, too few remember that some great pop songs were recorded by these all male vocal groups. This is a pop masterpiece that helped the Backstreet Boys conquer the hearts of millions.

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C & C Music Factory - "Gonna Make You Sweat"

C and C Music Factory - Gonna Make You Sweat
C and C Music Factory - Gonna Make You Sweat. Courtesy Columbia

Inspired by the powerful beats of house, hit after hit crossed over from the dance chart to the pop top 10 in 1990, but it took producers Robert Clivilles and David Cole (aka C&C Music Factory) to climb all the way to #1. "Gonna Make You Sweat" featured the powerful diva vocals of Martha Wash and a rap from Freedom Williams along with state of the art house rhythms to make up one of the most exhilarating sounds of the year.

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Bruce Springsteen - "Streets of Philadelphia"

Bruce Springsteen - Streets Of Philadelphia
Bruce Springsteen - "Streets Of Philadelphia". Courtesy Columbia

Jonathan Demme's film Philadelphia was the first big budget, mainstream motion picture to deal directly with the AIDS epidemic. Bruce Springsteen's "Streets Of Philadelphia" is the perfect theme for the film. Springsteen creates an atmosphere of darkness and loneliness that still manages to maintain a sense of dignity as well. The song won a much deserved Academy Award for Best Song from a Motion Picture.

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Dave Matthews Band - "Crash Into Me"

Dave Matthews Band - Crash Into Me
Dave Matthews Band - "Crash Into Me". Courtesy RCA

Although the lyrics invite ambiguous interpretation, for many this is one of the most unabashedly erotic songs of the decade. Listen and enjoy Matthews' intimate vocals over intricately arranged bluegrass-tinged pop.

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Fugees - "Killing Me Softly"

Fugees - Killing Me Softly
Fugees - "Killing Me Softly". Courtesy Ruff House

On their second album The Score, the Fugees proved that hip hop could be about much more than gangstas. Lauryn Hill's stunning voice was at the heart of this major hit remake of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song."

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MC Hammer - "U Can't Touch This"

MC Hammer - U Can't Touch This
MC Hammer - "U Can't Touch This". Courtesy Warner Bros.

The importance of M.C. Hammer to pop music history is that he proved without a doubt that rap could be as effortlessly entertaining as any other musical genre. "U Can't Touch This" is little more than Hammer's simple rap in place of Rick James' "Super Freak" vocals, but the image of Hammer working the crowd in his oversized parachute pants is one of the most memorable entertainment images of 1990.

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Ini Kamoze - "Here Comes the Hotstepper"

Ini Kamoze - Here Comes the Hotstepper
Ini Kamoze - "Here Comes the Hotstepper". Courtesy Columbia

Selected to play a key role on the soundtrack for Robert Altman's exploration of the fashion world in the movie Pret-a-Porter, "Here Comes the Hotstepper" brought dancehall, a sug-genre of reggae, into the mainstream. It remains one of the most catchy songs of the mid-90s. "Hotstepper" is a Jamaican term for a man on the run from the law.

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Lauryn Hill - "Doo Wop (That Thing)"

Lauryn Hill - Doo Wop (That Thing)
Lauryn Hill - "Doo Wop (That Thing)". Courtesy Columbia

After the far too early breakup of the Fugees, the music world waited impatiently for Lauryn Hill's first solo effort. The wait was worth it. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill is one of the top albums of the decade and "Doo Wop (That Thing)" is a brilliantly tuneful dissection of sexual politics from the point of view of both genders.

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Ricky Martin - "Livin' La Vida Loca"

Ricky Martin - Livin' La Vida Loca
Ricky Martin - "Livin' La Vida Loca". Courtesy Columbia

Among Latin audiences, Ricky Martin was a household name by 1999 having begun his career many years before as a lead singer with the legendary teen group Menudo. With "Livin' La Vida Loca" the English-speaking world found out what they had been missing. It's irresistibly sexy and nearly impossible to listen to without moving the body.

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Puff Daddy and Faith Evans featuring 112 - "I'll Be Missing You"

Puff Daddy and Faith Evans feat. 112 - I'll Be Missing You
Puff Daddy and Faith Evans feat. 112 - "I'll Be Missing You". Courtesy Bad Boy Entertainment

Rap star the Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls) was tragically gunned down in March of 1997. His recording partner Puff Daddy (now known as Diddy) put together this moving memorial with Smalls' widow Faith Evans and the vocal group 112. It memorably samples the Police classic "Every Breath You Take" and became a favored memorial track of the late 90s.

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Gloria Estefan - "Coming Out of the Dark"

Gloria Estefan - Coming Out of the Dark
Gloria Estefan - Coming Out of the Dark. Courtesy Epic

In March 1990 Gloria Estefan, her husband, and her son were all injured when a truck struck their tour bus. Gloria suffered a fractured vertebra and was unable to tour for a year. The accident and long recovery inspired this gorgeous hit ballad. "Coming Out Of the Dark" swiftly became one of the top inspirational pop hits of all time.

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Mariah Carey - "Vision of Love"

Mariah Carey - Vision Of Love
Mariah Carey - "Vision Of Love". Courtesy Columbia

Although 17 #1 hits have followed in its wake, this was the world's first introduction to the voice of Mariah Carey. Echoes of the influence of Whitney Houston are evident, but the sheer power and swooping highs are Mariah's own. This debut still ranks as one of her very best recordings.

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Shawn Colvin - "Sunny Came Home"

Shawn Colvin - A Few Small Repairs
Shawn Colvin - A Few Small Repairs. Courtesy Columbia

Sunny, the protagonist of this folkie story song, comes home with some matters to settle. Parts of this song can send chills up your spine while Colvin's voice gently lulls you back into the story.

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Smashing Pumpkins - "1979"

Smashing Pumpkins - 1979
Smashing Pumpkins - "1979". Courtesy Virgin

In Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, an expansive double album dedicated to down emotion, "1979" is almost perky. However, it's gentle sense of nostalgic reverie works well with the year's mood of inward contemplation.

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Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Under the Bridge"

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Under the Bridge
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Under the Bridge". Courtesy Warner Bros.

It's ironic that a gentle ballad became the breakthrough hit for a band best known for blending classic uptempo funk with alternative rock. The song emerged out of lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis' struggles to overcome heroin addiction. After the addiction destroyed a number of his personal relationships, Kiedis' reflected on his relationship with the city of Los Angeles itself. "Under the Bridge" made it all the way to #2 on the pop singles chart."

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Hanson - "MMMMBop"

Hanson - MmmBop
Hanson - "MmmBop". Courtesy Mercury Records

The Hanson brothers brought back bubblegum pop in all of its glory. "MMMBop" is catchy, sugary sweet, and irresistible. Just try to avoid singing along.

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Blackstreet - "No Diggity"

Blackstreet - No Diggity
Blackstreet - "No Diggity". Courtesy Interscope

This is the peak of work created by producer, songwriter, performer Teddy Riley, leader of the group Blackstreet. He is one of the top R&B masters of the 1990s and a key architect of new jack swing. "No Diggity" is new jack swing fully refined.

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U2 - "Mysterious Ways"

U2 - Mysterious Ways
U2 - "Mysterious Ways". Courtesy Island

After their dramatic success with The Joshua Tree and an epic concert tour of the U.S., U2 completely reinvented their musical style on the album Achtung Baby. Glorious pretensions gave way to some of the sexiest funky rock of the decade. "Mysterious Ways" features sinuous guitar work from The Edge and gospel-influenced vocals from Bono that drive home one of U2's most uninhibited pop-rock songs on record.

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Soul Asylum - "Runaway Train"

Soul Asylum - Runaway Train
Soul Asylum - "Runaway Train". Courtesy Columbia

Soul Asylum shot to the top of the ranks of alt-rock bands with this folkish classic. The video for "Runaway Train" was accompanied by advertisements about missing children serving a powerful public service. Many alt-rock fans abandoned Soul Asylum as having sold out to the mainstream, but pop fans pushed "Runaway Train" to #5 on the chart, and it became a well-deserved classic.

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Whitney Houston - "I Will Always Love You"

Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You
Whitney Houston - "I Will Always Love You". Courtesy Arista

The original version of this song was written and recorded in stunning fashion by Dolly Parton. Whitney Houston's version was included on the soundtrack to her film The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner. This recording of "I Will Always Love You" became the biggest pop hit of all time. One of pop music's most beautiful voices met one of the most stunning ballads ever written, and it made history.

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Deee-Lite - "Groove Is In the Heart"

Deee-Lite - Groove Is In the Heart
Deee-Lite - "Groove Is In the Heart". Courtesy Elektra

In a dance-happy pop environment, this trio swept in with a classic that still sounds half-retro, half-contemporary and completely groovy. "Groove Is In the Heart" effortlessly glides across genres from hip-hop to house and funk. Guest musicians including Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, and A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip boost the party atmosphere. This was THE song of summer 1990.

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4 Non Blondes - "What's Up?"

4 Non Blondes - What's Up
4 Non Blondes - "What's Up". Courtesy Interscope

"What's Up?" seemingly appeared out of nowhere becoming a neo-folkie, hippie hit first on modern rock radio stations and then crossing over to pop. Although it only reached #11 on the pop chart, it has been a fixture on pop radio stations ever since. The group 4 Non Blondes never duplicated the success of this hit, but lead vocalist Linda Perry has become a successful songwriter and producer.

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Madonna - "Vogue"

Madonna - Vogue
Madonna - "Vogue". Courtesy Warner Bros.

It was not really part of any album project. It was added on to the I'm Breathless album of Dick Tracy - related material. "Vogue" was also significantly late in spotlighting the underground world of "voguing" (Malcolm McClaren made it there earlier), but this song is possibly the most perfect dance song Madonna, the most successful dance artist of all time, has ever recorded. The acclaimed David Fincher video wraps up a stunning pop-dance package.

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Mariah Carey - "Fantasy"

Mariah Carey - Fantasy
Mariah Carey - "Fantasy". Courtesy Columbia

Using Tom Tom Club's instrumental track from "Genius Of Love" as backdrop to Mariah Carey's effortlessly soaring vocals was a stroke of genius. This romantic gem remains the best single recording of Carey's phenomenal career.

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Cher - "Believe"

Cher - Believe
Cher - "Believe". Courtesy Warner Bros.

No one really doubted Cher would eventually make another comeback, but this time it was with the biggest hit of her entire career. "Believe" is a perfect piece of dance-pop, and it took the entire world by storm. More dance hits followed in its wake and a farewell concert tour that lasted more than 3 years. Cher is certainly someone who believes in "life after love."

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Proclaimers - "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"

Proclaimers - I"m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
Proclaimers - "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)". Courtesy Chrysalis

"I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" was originally released in 1988, but upon its inclusion in the Benny and Joon movie soundtrack, the energetic pop-rock tune became a hit and is now a classic. The Proclaimers are the Scottish duo of Craig and Charlie Reid. Their music is an energetic, infectious brand of pop-rock with influences from their Scottish background.

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Boyz II Men - "Motownphilly"

Boyz II Men - Motownphilly
Boyz II Men - "Motownphilly". Courtesy Motown

This remains one of the best ever autobiographical songs by a pop recording artist. "Motownphilly" details the group's discovery by Michael Bivins, of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe fame, and their first taste of stardom. The a capella break is simply gorgeous.

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Coolio - "Gangsta's Paradise"

Coolio - Gangsta's Paradise
Coolio - "Gangsta's Paradise". Courtesy Tommy Boy

Prior to 1995, Coolio was mostly known for lighter, more humorous rap that provided an alternative to West Coast gangsta rap. The rivetingly atmospheric "Gangsta's Paradise" was such a shift in focus that Coolio's record label decided to leave it off his own solo album and instead put it on the soundtrack to the film Dangerous Minds. When released as a single, "Gangsta's Paradise" became one of the biggest hits of the year spreading its social commentary on ghetto life from coast to coast.

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Sheryl Crow - "All I Wanna Do"

Sheryl Crow - All I Wanna Do
Sheryl Crow - "All I Wanna Do". Courtesy A&M

With the words "This ain't no disco. It ain't no country club either. This is L.A.," the world was introduced to the neo-folkie, irresistible pop of Sheryl Crow. "All I Wanna Do" unfolds lyrically like a mini-movie. Thanks to Crow's artful word paintings, the listener receives a luminous picture of the adventures of Sheryl and "Billy" "until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard."

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Santana featuring Rob Thomas - "Smooth"

Santana featuring Rob Thomas - Smooth
Santana featuring Rob Thomas - "Smooth". Courtesy Arista Records

"Smooth" genuinely appeared out of left field. Who would have thought legendary Latin guitarist Carlos Santana would record one of the biggest pop hit singles of all time? Add to that - who would have thought the vocalist would be the lead singer for post-grunge band Matchbox 20? It did happen and "Smooth" deserved the sales and acclaim. In 2005 Rob Thomas, the lead vocalist with Matchbox 20, proved his performance on "Smooth" was no fluke with a stellar solo album ...Something To Be.

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R.E.M. - "Losing My Religion"

R.E.M. - Losing My Religion
R.E.M. - Losing My Religion. Courtesy Warner Bros.

With the grunge revolution lurking just over the horizon, R.E.M., pioneers of alt rock, burst into the mainstream. Sparking dozens of conversations about its meaning, "Losing My Religion" is, in its most basic sense, a gorgeous folk-influenced pop tune about the feeling of going crazy. It is understated and unforgettable.

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Sinead O'Connor - "Nothing Compares to You"

Sinead O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U
Sinead O'Connor - "Nothing Compares 2 U". Courtesy Chrysalis

It's difficult to remember now the image of Sinead O'Connor prior to the controversial television appearances that nearly brought down her career, but few pop performers have put together more powerful heart-stopping performances than this. The song itself, written by Prince, is outstanding, but Sinead's emotional, gutsy performance made it a classic. Painful loss meets stunning vocal beauty with a perfectly understated instrumental arrangement.

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Jay-Z - "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)"

Jay-Z - Hard Knock Life
Jay-Z - Hard Knock Life. Courtesy Roc-a-Fella

Jay-Z consolidated his status as the best of East Coast rappers with this brilliant single that weaves a showstopping number from the Broadway musical Annie into a stunning hip hop opus. Pop audiences were made aware that the range of experimentation in hip hop were limitless.

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Alanis Morissette - "You Oughta Know"

Alanis Morissette - You Oughta Know
Alanis Morissette - "You Oughta Know". Courtesy Maverick

Alanis Morissette's debut sent shock waves through the music industry. No pop singer had ever laid bare the anger and pain of a relationship gone bad quite so explicitly. "You Oughta Know" clearly touched a nerve and led audiences into the complex, intricate songcraft of the phenomenally successful Jagged Little Pill album.

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Madonna - "Ray of Light"

Madonna - Ray Of Light
Madonna - Ray Of Light. Courtesy Warner Bros.

With her first completely new studio album in 4 years, Madonna brought electronica to the top of the pop charts. Working with collaborator William Orbit, the music sounded fresh, new, and invigorating.

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Smash Mouth - "Walkin' On the Sun"

Smash Mouth - Fush Yu Mang
Smash Mouth - Fush Yu Mang. Courtesy Interscope

The ska-punk bound Smash Mouth burst into the spotlight with this catchy slab of 60s-ish psychedelic soul. Unfortunately, the band never quite returned to the glory of this single, but it is one of the greatest tracks of the decade.

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Everything But the Girl - "Missing"

Everything But the Girl - Missing
Everything But the Girl - "Missing". Courtesy Atlantic

"Like the deserts miss the rain..." Remixed in countless ways over the years, there has never been a more powerful expression of emotional and sexual longing in pop music than that at the core of "Missing." In a year marked by wistfulness and longing in pop songs, this is the peak.

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Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Courtesy DGC Records

The emergence of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as a top 10 pop hit remains one of the most dramatic events in pop music of the 1990s. Kurt Cobain's sardonic view of teenagers set amongst a pop melody pounded out by drums and guitars bathed in fuzzed up distortion rattled the pop music establishment. It was all accompanied by a music video that presented a memorable and unrelentingly dark view of the classic school pep rally. Grunge had arrived.

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Britney Spears - "...Baby One More Time"

Britney Spears ... baby one more time. Courtesy Jive Records

She first gained national notice as a member of The New Mickey Mouse Club on Disney's cable network, but it was as a pop singer that Britney Spears became the most watched celebrity in the world. Her first single "...Baby One More Time" is a brilliant piece of pop music. It's catchy, sexy, and it sports a mildly controversial video certain to keep people talking.

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