Ten or fifteen years from now, you'll be watching a daytime TV show for some reason. Maybe you're home sick, maybe you've got the day off, maybe you're just killing time in a waiting room somewhere. During the commercial breaks, an ad will come on for a 90's music collection - it'll be called "Remember The 90's" or "This Is The 90's" or something explanatory. It won't be the 2-minute infomercial for the Time-Warner 100-song collection; no, it'll be the 30-second spot for the one-disc collection, available at Wal-Mart's everywhere. They'll play you clips of four or five of the music videos, and all of the songs will scroll from the bottom of the screen to the top.
And here's the thing: where ever you are, whether in the privacy of your own house or an extremely public place, you will find yourself singing quietly along with the songs. You won't be able to help yourself. It'll strike something primeval in you, and that'll just be it. And then, without even fully realizing what you're doing, you'll buy the CD (or whatever form of music collection we have then). You'll be at Wal-Mart, or on iTunes, or where ever it is that we go then, and you'll see it, and even though you have no need to buy what amounts to a poorly-assembled mixtape, you will purchase it anyway. The power of nostalgia is that strong.
Jonathan and I had a long phone call today to hash out what, exactly, the track listing of that album would be. Here's what we came up with:
- Semi-Charmed Life, Third Eye Blind (1997)
- Only Wanna Be With You - Hootie & The Blowfish (1995)
- Truly Madly Deeply, Savage Garden (1998)
- Mmmbop, Hanson (1996)
- Iris, Goo Goo Dolls (1998)
- Don't Speak, No Doubt (1996)
- Wannabe, Spice Girls (1997)
- 3 AM, Matchbox Twenty (1996)
- All-Star, Smashmouth (1999)
- Ironic, Alanis Morissette (1996)
- I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing, Aerosmith (1998)
- Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana (1992)
- Baby One More Time, Britney Spears (1998)
- Mr. Jones, Counting Crows (1994)
- Torn, Natalie Imbruglia (1998)
- Under The Bridge, Red Hot Chili Peppers (1992)
- My Heart Will Go On, Celine Dion (1998)
- You Were Meant For Me - Jewel (1997)
- One, U2 (1992)
We used a lot of different criteria to judge each of these songs - is the song big enough that we'll remember it 20 years later? Was the band big enough that we'll still remember who they were? Is the song indicative of the 90's or did it simply happen to have been made during that period? And would anyone look at the song and ask themselves "why is this on here and not...?"
I learned a couple things:
1. The late 90's (1998 in particular) was - in addition to being a great stretch for films - also a period that turned out a number of gigantic hits. It turns out I was in middle school at exactly the right time (literally the only thing about middle school that went exactly right).
2. There are a number of artists that were huge during the 90's without having any one song to point to as their definitive hit. Both Mariah Carey and Boys II Men are great examples.
3. Pop music during the 90's has a very specific narrative to it. 80's music continued until about 1992 and ended upon the release of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Grunge held sway for two years until a more poppy, musically diverse, bar band sound took over in about 1994 - Hootie and The Blowfish led the way, followed by artists like The Gin Blossoms, Toad The Wet Sprocket, etc. That R.E.M. had a resurgence during this period is not surprising. That stretch held until 1996, when pop singers wrestled Top 40 back from alternative rock, and we saw a short stretch where girl groups like the Spice Girls and Hanson (oh, they count) conquered the world. Then, acoustic-based artists surged back to the forefront - Jewel, Dave Matthews, Alanis Morissette and so on. By 1998, though, we had our first wave of the ingenues - Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, plus artists like 'NSync, The Backstreet Boys - a lot of bright, bubblegum pop. That sound took us into the 2000s, and didn't really disappear until the rise of Eminem and rap-rock usurped it.
4. I had to leave a lot of songs out. Maybe too many. And there's a distinct possibility I picked some of the wrong ones. Which one of these would you say should not have been left out? And what would you pull out to replace it?
Kiss From A Rose, Seal
The Sign, Ace Of Base
Hero, Mariah Carey
Smooth, Santana featuring Rob Thomas
I Will Always Love You, Whitney Houston
One Week, Barenaked Ladies
Walkin’ On The Sun, Smash Mouth
When I Come Around, Green Day
Gettin' Jiggy Wit It, Will Smith
Breakfast At Tiffany's, Deep Blue Something
Walking In Memphis, Marc Cohen
Quit Playing Games, Backstreet Boys