Wednesday, April 24, 2013

10 '90s Hits That Sound Even Better Today

Since we were on the subject yesterday, why let a great decade go now? So here's yet another '90s list and possibly my most random one ever.

1. "No Scrubs" TLC (1994) My favorite girl group of the '90s (followed by En Vogue, SWV, Brownstone, Total, Zhane and Xscape, with Destiny's Child bringing up the rear by the end of the decade) was always more consistent than its fellow '90s sisters with voices, who were, for the most part, better on the singles scene than they were in long-term relationships. In other words, their hits were a lot better than their hit albums, which wasn't the case with TLC, whose entire Fanmail opus (1999) was an R&B highlight of the '90s that still sounds current today. Unfortunately, the type of guy TLC was singing about on the third of its four No. 1 singles hasn't gone out of style either. (Honorable mention: TLC's first No. 1, 1994's "Creep," was nearly as good, but despite the implication of its title, which used the word as a verb and not as a noun, it wasn't another guy-basher.)

2. "Mockingbirds" Grant Lee Buffalo (1994) My two favorite Grant Lee Buffalo moments of the '90s: 1) Seeing the band live in 1994 upstairs from the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center on a triple bill with Saint Etienne and American Music Club. 2) Going to the apartment of a guy I met in Copenhagen in 2002 and having him try to seduce me to the strains of "Mockingbirds," an obscure GLB "hit" that reached No. 36 in 1994 on Billboard's Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart. Like Grant Lee Phillips' simmering, then soaring, "Mockingbirds" vocal, great taste in music is as sexy today as it was back then!

3. "Sex and Candy" Marcy Playground (1997) Speaking of sex(y)... A true one-hit wonder ("Sex and Candy," a No. 8 hit, was the band's only single to chart on Billboard's Hot 100) and a one-hit-album wonder, too. (Though I never put the two together at the time, now it sounds to me like a slightly peppier distant relation to "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," as in Crash Test Dummies' own lone U.S. hit, from 1993.) After its platinum parent album -- MP's eponymous 1997 debut -- not one of the group's five studio follow-ups between 1999 and 2012 charted in the U.S., Canada, or the UK. Not one. To quote the title of an '80s TV show that's as long forgotten as the still-active Marcy's Playground, that's incredible!

4. "Twisterella" Ride (1992) A No. 36 hit on the UK singles chart that also reached No. 12 on Billboard's Hot Modern Rock Tracks list, "Twisterella" today remains better than sex, to quote the description that a colleague back then applied to its still-in-heavy-rotation-on-my-iPod parent album (and one of the best-titled ones of the decade) Going Blank Again.

5. "Too Funky" George Michael (1992) When people think of George Michael in the '90s, this is probably the last of his solo Top 10 hits (No. 10 on the Hot 100) that comes to mind, possibly because it came not from one of his three studio albums that decade but from the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Dance. Alas, I never realized my early '90s fantasy of sashaying down a catwalk while this song was playing, certain that George Michael only had eyes for me.

6. "Ain't Nobody Like You" Miki Howard (1992) I was so certain that Howard's second No. 1 R&B hit (and her highest charting Hot 100 single, peaking at No. 68) would finally change the course of her crossover fortunes. (Of her six Top 10 R&B singles between 1986 and 1990, only 1989's "Love Under New Management" managed to graze the Hot 100.) How wrong could I be? Howard would hit the R&B chart only three more times through 1996, never rising above No. 43.

7. "Mary Jane's Last Dance" Tom  Petty and the Heartbreakers (1993) Someone in Bangkok or Melbourne recently brought up Petty's penultimate Top 20 hit (No. 14), and all I could think was where the hell is Kim Basinger anyway?

8. "Bones" Radiohead (1994) Ok, so it wasn't a "hit." It wasn't even a single. But no discussion of '90s music would be complete without at least a mention of Radiohead, my magnificent mid-decade obsession, and The Bends, one of my Top 10 favorite albums of the '90s, so highly regarded mostly for its Three B's: "The Bends," "Bones," and "Black Star." At some point in the last 19 years, one B ("Bones") replaced another ("Black Star") as the album's song most likely to get me to press repeat over and over on my iPod.

9. "You Don't Seem to Miss Me" Patty Loveless (1997) Loveless's Top 20 country hit really hit home the day I returned home after a business trip to Chicago and was greeted with the most lukewarm reception ever. Although the guy I was dating at the time said all the right things over the phone, I sensed that he wasn't really so thrilled that I was once again in the same area code. "What? Tuesday night? You don't want to see me today?" It was Sunday, and I was feeling as loveless as Loveless and even more so when he later revealed that his reluctance to see me that night, or the next, was due to the fact that his ex was back in town for the weekend and not leaving until the following evening. My instincts about loveless guys haven't failed me since.

10. "Fools Gold" The Stone Roses (1989) There are three things I love about Revolver Upstairs in Melbourne: 1) The excellent company (thank you, Dov!), 2) The great Thai food, half-price on Thursdays, so nearly as cheap as it would be in Bangkok, 3) The soundtrack, which is usually chock full of '90s gems. When The Stone Roses greatest hit (an end-of'-'89 release that hit No. 8 during the first of three chart stints in the UK, but didn't impact in the U.S. until the beginning of 1990) came on during my most recent dinner there, I nearly spit up an extra-spicy mouthful. Along with Happy Monday's "Bob's Yer Uncle" (a 1990 single from Pill 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches that was equally unexpectedly heard last year during a first date at Sukhumvit's Bar 23 in Bangkok), "Fools Gold" was the best thing to come out of the UK's late-'80s/early '90s Madchester musical movement. I'm still a total, utter fool for its luster.

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