Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Psychobabble’s 100 Favorite Songs of the 1990s!

Wow. A list of Psychobabble’s 100 Favorite Songs of the 1990s. That’s so cool. It’s totally not like everyone else in the entire universe hasn’t already listed their 100 favorite songs of the nineties. Like anyone cares. Whatever. Lists are wack, but I don’t know… music is pretty cool. I mean, not when they’re like “Oooh, look at me! I’m a big rock star! My hair is so big and I screw so many groupies!” That is so eighties. But when they…I don’t know… kind of don’t care so much, I guess I’m kinda like, “That’s pretty cool. I don’t care so much either.” It’s like sometimes I think Kurt Cobain is singing about my life, you know? I don’t know what the fuck Bob Pollard is singing about half the time, but Guided by Voices rock so hard because Bob is like a forty-year-old schoolteacher or something, so it’s so ironic that he’s a rock star. And then there’s all the “Women in Rock” (I put that in quotes to show what I really think of the mainstream media’s “labels”) like Liz Phair, Tanya Donelly, Mary Timony, Juliana Hatfield, PJ Harvey, and like, all the others. They are sincerely hella cool. Sincerely! I’m not even being ironic about how totally dope they are. Don’t think I’m not being ironic? Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind. Then here’s your mom’s 100 favorite songs of the nineties.

100. “Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox” by Guided by Voices

So we get started the way every party must get started…with a chant of “GBV! GBV! GBV!” Then Bob Pollard is all like, “Rock and Roll!” Then he’s like “This song does not rock,” which is so cool, because sincerely admitting that you rock is so lame! But the real irony is that “Over the Neptune” really does rock! It rocks like Cheap Trick (and not lame Cheap Trick, like “The Flame”). Then “Over the Neptune” morphs into “Mesh Gear Fox” like that cop in T2 morphs into water or whatever, and guess what…it stops rocking but it remains awesome as Guided by Voices get all psychedelic. It sounds like your dad’s best records… and Uncle Bob is like your dad’s only cool friend.

99. “I Wanted to Tell You” by Matthew Sweet

If you like that jangly sound from back in the day, then you will freak out over this totally retro tune from Matthew Sweet. Everyone thinks that “pop” means garbage like Ace of Base or those losers who sing the theme from Friends. Rachel’s hair is fugly and pop is Matthew Sweet.

98. “Is It Like Today” by World Party

God’s a total fugazi, but who cares? World Party’s depiction of how God must be reacting to how we are totally fucking up the environment is still really deep. And this song sounds like The Beatles, and even though Paul is goofier than Ringo, The Beatles are still “groovy.”

97. “Love Your Money” by Daisy Chainsaw

So far, the songs on this stupid list have been really retro. Get ready for the present, yo, because Daisy Chainsaw have those grungy guitars that are currently the shit. But they’re not all slow and boring like Eddie Vedder. Daisy Chainsaw’s “Love Your Money” speeds along like some speed metal song that isn’t totally about Satan or whatever. Daisy Chainsaw is all like “I love your money!” which is so ironic because no rock band this good really wants your money. That’s like something Axl Rose would be thinking. That asshole totally wants your money.

96. “Fake Fight” by Team Dresch

Team Dresch doesn’t even know what money is! They are completely real…a raging queercore band bent on bringing the truth about the Christian Right and the Patriarchy and all that stuff to the masses, but even when they get all political like on “Fake Fight”... get this…THEY STILL ROCK! Thoroughly and sincerely. Plus, Donna Dresch isn’t even the singer of the band! She’s the guitar player, but she shreds so much that they named the band after her! That is so badass.

95. “Tom Boy” by Bettie Serveert

Bettie Serveert is crazy too, because there’s no one in the band named Bettie Serveert. Bettie Serveert is Dutch for “Bettie serves” which is some sort of tennis thing. That’s so cool even though jocks are assholes. “Tom Boy” is cool too. Carol van Dijk can get away with being completely passionate without a trace of irony because she is so awesome, and she’s singing about how she gets shit for being a tomboy, which is completely righteous. Wake up, dicks! It’s the nineties and girls don’t have to be all frilly dresses and shit anymore!

94. “9 Fingers on You” by Shudder to Think

Things are getting pretty political and heavy, so let’s pull it back for a little palate-cleansing nonsense from the kings of nonsense. “Girl you gotta hustle for your muscle machine” Craig Wedren sings over a jackhammer riff worthy of Led Zeppelin. He can get away with those cock rock poses, though, because he sings like the ghost of Tiny Tim.

93. “Lounge Act” by Nirvana

Alright, kids, here’s the band you’ve been waiting for. Nirvana is the band of the nineties, but if you’re expecting “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, you’ve got another thing coming. Like, that’s the Nirvana song your grandma likes. “Lounge Act” is way better. Krist Novoselic’s bassline is the bomb.

92. “Sunday” by The Spinanes

Listening to Nirvana is like being thrown into a wind tunnel wearing nothing but your flannel and ripped Toughskins. The Spinanes are like gusts of fresh, honeysuckle-scented April breezes. Rebecca Gates is at her breeziest on “Sunday”. Drummer Scott Plouf plays drums like a master melodist… and he barely ever even uses his tom toms!

91. “Thera” by Versus

Now we’re going down to NYC, because Versus is rocking The Academy tonight. Their debut album, The Stars Are Insane, is a killer indie rock album that gets started with the moody “Thera”. Richard Baluyut and Fontaine Toups’s vocal chemistry is as awesome as their names. Best use of augmented fourth chords ever.

90. “Shadowtime” by Siouxsie and the Banshees

OK, so Siouxsie and the Banshees is a band from the eighties, but thanks to the recent invention of instant nostalgia, we can now all agree that the eighties were “totally tubular to the max.” And Siouxsie Sioux is pretty much a goddess and “Shadowtime” is pop perfection.

89. “Number One Blind” by Veruca Salt

Oh wow. The Spice Girls are sooo feminist because they say “Girl Power!” while flashing the peace sign in hot pants. For some real woman power, check out Louise Post and Nina Gordon. They crank their Les Pauls to well above 11 on “Number One Blind” and blow back Baby Spice’s pigtails like she’s that guy in the Maxell ads.

88. “Black Letter Day” by The Cardigans

Now we’re going to bring down the energy a bit for a cocktail lounge vibe with those saucy Swedes, The Cardigans. However, it’s not all winky irony with Nina Persson and the gang, as “Black Letter Day” explores depression to a smooth rhythm for weeping into your martini. And the rest is silence.

87. “King” by Belly

Time to stop weeping, fart knockers, and time to catch a buzz with the exhilarating title tune off of Belly’s sophomore CD. When Tanya Donelly starts wailing “I want to see you naked!” it is full-bore excitement and not for the reason you think it would be, perv.

86. “Shimmer” by Throwing Muses

Before becoming a Belly, Tanya Donelly was a Muse, but this entry on our list is from the era after Kristin Hersh’s slightly older sister departed Throwing Muses. “Shimmer” is no less exciting than “King”, but it’s more of an “I’m going to bite your jugular” brand of excitement than “King”’s romantic elation.

85. “Stars N’ Stripes” by Grant Lee Buffalo

Sounding like you don’t give a shit is the way of the nineties, but Grant Lee Phillips couldn’t sound like he doesn’t give a shit if he tried. “Stars N’ Stripes” is Exhibit A. He starts the song sounding as disaffected as Lou Reed. But once he breaks into that angelic falsetto, the passion pours in and transcendence is right around the corner.

84. “My My Metrocard” by Le Tigre

The biggest technological development of the 1990s is not up for debate. It was a little yellow and blue card that replaced those old timey tokens prehistoric people used to ride the subway under NYC. No one knew this better than Le Tigre, who sings the praises of tooling through Giuliani-era (“He sucks!”) New York to a beat fit for frugging at the Vincent Van Go Go.

83. “Ballad of Big Nothing” by Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith could make music as wispy as a whisper, but with “Ballad of Big Nothing”, he really locates the “big.” His drums go boom while his acoustic guitar licks never sounded so muscular. He almost sounds happy. Being happy is totally lame, but since it’s Elliott Smith (and since he only sounds happy; the lyrics are totally unhappy), it’s all good.

82. “Turn on the Water” by Afghan Whigs

Afghan Whigs don’t sound very happy on “Turn on the Water”. Greg Dulli wants to be drowned or something, which must mean he wants to fuck and hate himself because that’s pretty much what he always means. The rhythm is a maelstrom. The piano is pouring rain.

81. “X-French T Shirt” by Shudder to Think

Dulli is scary on “Turn on the Water” because he’s clearly out of control. Craig Wedren is scary on “X-French T Shirt” because he’s in such total control. You can feel the intensity of his creepy gaze as he repeats “Hold back the road that goes so that the others may do what that you let me in just to pour me down their mouths” for pretty much forever. And he does it all while sitting in a dumbwaiter. That’s awesome.

80. “Late in the Day” by Supergrass

Supergrass track down some Beatles outtake that didn’t make it onto Anthology 3 and pass it off as their own song. That’s OK because they nail the Abbey Road vibe so perfectly and because none of The Beatles can sound as metallic-voiced as Gaz. Plus he sings it while bouncing on a pogo stick, which is almost as cool as singing in a dumbwaiter.

79. “Karma Police” by Radiohead

Man, what’s with these bands? Wake up, everyone! It’s the nineties and The Beatles were a bunch of old hippies from the sixties! Nevertheless, Radiohead make the most awesomely futuristic music of 1997 while also channeling the band your mom calls “The Fab Four.” “Karma Police” is pretty Magical Mystery Tour-esque. That means it’s awesome.

78. “Lay It Down” by Magnapop

Finally. A band that sounds like they don’t even know The Beatles existed. Magnapop don’t get psychedelic or whatever. With “Lay It Down”, they just fucking rock out. The way Linda Hopper pours out the lyrics on the chorus is utterly cool and completely effortless. The way Ruthie Morris slams out the chords that lead into the chorus is like a cinderblock swinging into your face.

77. “Step on Me” by The Cardigans

The Cardigans are known for their cool and lightness, but on “Step on Me”, they rock as hard as they ever had. The palm-muted chords sound like something from one of those Black Sabbath songs The Cardigans love so much. However, the harmonic changes and little psychedelic touches like the leslied guitar lines are—once again—totally Beatles.

76. “No Outlet” by Juliana Hatfield

Juliana Hatfield’s first solo album would be one of the nineties’ great pop albums if it didn’t rock so much. And Hey Babe does some of its hardest rocking on “No Outlet”. I love it when an artist drops the album title in a song that isn’t named after the album, and I get chills every time Juliana breaks that lulling, droney guitar break by sneering “Hey babe, there’s something I can keep.”

75. “Sing Along” by Grant Lee Buffalo

Grant Lee Phillips plugs in his acoustic guitar and lets the feedback wail, building a firewall of sound that overwhelms “Sing Along”. His rundown of how fucked up the development of American industry and culture was will shake you out of your Clinton-era complacency.

74. “Johnny Sunshine” by Liz Phair

Liz Phair’s debut album/masterpiece is full of great conventional pop songs full of filthy language, but it also has some pretty out-there song structures too. “Johnny Sunshine” is the best of both worlds; stitching together a pounding hard rock onslaught and a dream pop freefall that each would have been more conventional if presented as separate tracks.

73. “Blood Makes Noise” by Suzanne Vega

No longer living under the second floor, Suzanne Vega built an industrial building complex with her fourth and finest album. “Blood Makes Noise” was the second and most commercially successful single off of 99.9F°, possibly because of its better-than-NIN clatter and its HIV-era lyric captured the zeitgeist in a Zima bottle.

72. “Dog with Sharper Teeth” by Daisy Chainsaw

Time to rev that chainsaw up again with an even toothier track from KatieJane Garside and her psycho-pixie compadres. The stop-start structure makes me rabid and the riffing is so metal that it would make Dave Mustaine cower behind his mega-cheesy BC Rich.

71. “Velouria” by The Pixies

But as far as psycho-pixies go, no one is more psycho or more pixies than The Pixies. They are the four collegiate kids who are responsible for 90% of what makes nineties music boss. Granted, their very, very best days ended with the eighties, but they still managed to make some magnificent music on their final two albums, the first of which included this popsterpiece about a velveteen dream girl. And not even Black Francis knows what a shastasheen is.

70. “Lazy Flies” by Beck

We all knew Beck was an era-defining wiseass and ironist when he had a hit with the somewhat annoying “Loser”. When he slipped out Mutations sans fanfare, a dedicated few discovered something else: the guy is a flat-out great songwriter. Everything on the album is spectacular, but “Lazy Flies” with its surreal apocalyptic imagery, waltzing sea shanty melody, and thunderous arrangement is particularly special.

69. “Pendulum” by Guided by Voices

By far the finest song on this list that references a band called Cat Butt is “Pendulum”. The most upbeat song on Guided by Voices’ doom-laden concept album Same Place the Fly Got Smashed should have been a massive pop hit. If you can resist its chorus, you deserve to get smashed.

68. “Baby Britain” by Elliott Smith

While most artists who mine life’s darkest, most miserable stuff compliment their lyrics with abrasive or depressive music, Elliott Smith matched his tales of substance abuse and sadness to rainbow pop worthy of Revolver, the album he name drops on the divine “Baby Britain”. I still haven’t gotten used to that unique sweet and sour mix, and it makes XO sound both fresh and disturbing even after 98 spins of the disc.

67. “Pony St.” by Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello also deals with substance abuse on “Pony St.”, but his lyric is tongue-in-cheek enough that his use of clear pop isn’t quite as unsettling as Elliott Smith’s. The opening track of Brutal Youth, a semi-reunion with The Attractions, is also a rocking testament to a band that Declan can never replace (although he does replace the seemingly irreplaceable Bruce Thomas with Nick Lowe on “Pony St.” and the bass work is still the shiznit).

66. “Kiss Them for Me” by Siouxsie and the Banshees

The once terrifying Siouxsie and The Banshees went full top-40 ready pop on Superstition. As a whole, the album is their least interesting, but its two main singles are slamming enough to both make this list. Siouxsie Sioux and the guys nailed the dark pop on “Shadowtime”, and with the big hit “Kiss Them for Me”, they made a dance floor smash with a wildly funky Bollywood vibe.

65. “Come As You Are” by Nirvana

Nirvana was so awesome that they could take a riff that had already been used to perfect effect by both The Damned and Killing Joke and make it perfect one more time. Cobain made the creepily climbing riff all his own by soaking it in chorus effects and overlaying it with the catchiest tune on Nevermind.

64. “Parklife” by Blur

Those nineties kids have the brooding down pat, but man, sometimes they need to lighten up! Good thing there’s Blur cracking wise about all those zeroes going zombie-style through life, and it’s a good thing Damon Albarn had the good sense and great taste to get Quadrophenia’s Phil Daniel’s to deliver the cheeky, cheeky monologue that draws guffaws between Albarn’s triumphant choruses. ‘Ava cuppa tea, ya wanka!

63. “She’s Crushing My Mind” by Team Dresch

If any questions remain regarding Donna Dresch’s way with six strings, the intricate arpeggios of “She’s Crushing My Mind” put them in the grave. But this is not all technical prowess. The chorus’s bone-powderizing power chords fulfill all the mightiness Rock & Roll promises.

62. “Sensational Gravity Boy” by Guided by Voices

Before GBV went full hi-fi at the end of the nineties, they made some tentative gestures toward it after hitting their lo-fi peak with Alien Lanes. However, a number of circumstances led them to shelve the relatively high fidelity recordings they’d been making with Kim Deal in the producer’s seat. One of these tracks was “Sensational Gravity Boy”, which sneaked out as inauspiciously as possible on the Briefcase compilation. What the fuck, Bob? Such ignominious treatment for such an instant pop classic! You can totally hear Kim Deal singing along on the chorus, and Kim Deal is all that and a bag of smokes.

61. “Texarkana” by R.E.M.

In the nineties, R.E.M. went from college rock darlings to pop megastars, which led to Michael Stipe getting permanently drunk on the spotlight. That thing with the T-shirts at the MTV Video Awards was goofy, but let’s not be too hard on the guy. Plus, R.E.M. had another Mike who always seemed pretty cool even when he looked like a science nerd who’d just raided Elvis Presley’s closet. Mills sings lead on the two R.E.M. jangle monsters that made it onto this list, and the brooding “Texarkana” also supplies Mills’s sweetest bass line.

60. “Graffiti” by Throwing Muses

Though their level of success obviously doesn’t compare to that of R.E.M., Throwing Muses were another eighties college band who finally started getting some wider play in the nineties. A few years before Throwing Muses broke through with University, they released their very best album, The Real Ramona, which contained their very best guitar riff. It holds “Graffiti” together like a supernatural magnet. The song’s only flaw is that it’s riff deserves to go on a lot longer than two and a half minutes. But I guess that’s why the Baby Jesus installed a “repeat” button in your CD player.

59. “Sick & Tired” by The Cardigans

Here’s an early indication that the sunshine spewing Cardigans were capable of the moodiness they’d later puke on Grand Turismo. Grumbling at the starting line of their very first album, “Sick & Tired” manages to take twee things like Nina Persson’s voice and a flute and make them depressants. Bengt Lagerberg’s drumming is the crispest thing this side of a cornflake.

58. “The Garden” by PJ Harvey

OK, “Sick & Tired” is moody for The Cardigans. But I’d never imply that that crew could do moody like PJ Harvey does moody. She creates one of the moodiest tracks of a very moody decade with this slow burn from the underrated To Bring You My Love. Polly Jean doesn’t break out the vocal pyrotechnics like she does on a track a little further up this list, but she is just as intense when holding steady as she does on “The Garden”. Steadiest of all is one of the most phenomenally mesmerizing rhythm tracks on disc.

57. “Pat’s Trick” by Helium

 “Pat’s Trick” begins the sadly short-lived career of one of the nineties’ very best bands. Everything about this track is just so damn dirty: from the lyrics (“…it’s dirty and I’m so dirty too”), to guitars and bass that sound like they just stepped out of a mud bath, to Mary Timony’s super-sexy delivery which one might mistake for a come on if she didn’t clearly want to slash your face with a broken bottle.

56. “Kid’s Allright” by Bettie Serveert

Hey you, latch-key kids! Don’t worry! Sure you have to contend with a lack of proper adult supervision and roving bands of baseball bat-wielding bullies. But according to Bettie Serveert, everything will be completely satisfactory. Any young person who couldn’t quite decode how Kurt Cobain was voicing her generation could head bang along with “Kid’s Allright” without a lick of confusion.

55. “Deeper Into Movies” by Yo La Tengo

A big, black wave envelopes you and drags you into a netherworld where the only light beams from a Pauline Kael-approved movie screen. For sense-stuffing, body-transcending, power murk, Yo La Tengo’s “Deeper Into Movies” has no contemporary peer.

54. “Lies About the Sky” by Shudder to Think

Before he completely committed to writing songs that make less sense than Twin Peaks, Craig Wedren whipped off this crystal clear and stunningly stinging repudiation of Biblical myths. The lie is the existence of heaven. The truth is the fury, poetry, and dizzying harmony tapestries of “Lies About the Sky”.

53. “Thru and Thru” by The Rolling Stones

Here’s one for your fucking dad. He probably heard “Love Is Strong” then went right to Tower Records and bought the Voodoo Lounge CD and was all like, “Hey, kids! Have you heard the new record by The Rolling Stones? It completely rocks! You should listen to it with ‘the old man’!” And you were like, “Whatever, dad. Mick Jagger is an ancient mummy and hearing him sing about his mummy cock in ‘Love Is Strong’ is fucking gross.” But Keith Richards is cool because he did tons of drugs and is literally incapable of dying. He sings “Thru and Thru”, which is a really weird song that doesn’t really have a chorus. It just kind of builds and builds until it gets super intense, and you have to admit that it is amazing even though The Rolling Stones are older than Methuselah.

52. “We’re the Same” by Matthew Sweet

With 100% Fun, Matthew Sweet made his third convincing bid that he is America’s pop savior in a row (well, at least the United States’. Canada is on America, and so is Sloan). While the album had a bit of a grungy feel as a whole, “We’re the Same” is as clean and jangly as the best of the freshly scrubbed Girlfriend. Its melodic sweetness makes the tearful lyric hit all the harder…

51. “The First Part” by Superchunk

…but it don’t hit like this! Superchunk are as indie as a self-pressed 7 inch, but they are capable of rocking harder than Creedence Clearwater Revival. I have that big punch in the face you ordered, and it is called “The First Part”.

50. “Then She Did” by Jane’s Addiction

Jane’s Addiction can rock pretty fucking hard too, but it’s when they simmer down that they are most alluring. “Then She Did” is more than eight minutes of alluring simmering. Perry Farrell does right by his mom with a truly moving lyric about his difficult upbringing. Dave Navarro’s guitar lick is elegant and gorgeous. The way Stephen Perkins’s drums kick in with the string arrangement is as mighty as almighty Zeus.

49. “Near Wild Heaven” by R.E.M.

When we last left Mike Mills, he was keeping it real with the ominous “Texarkana”. “Near Wild Heaven” is the flipside…breezier, sunnier, and more harmonious than any Mama or Papa.  And that includes you, Cass! All twelve strings of Peter Buck’s Rickenbacker sounds like they’re playing themselves.

48. “I’ve Been Waiting” by Matthew Sweet

No, no, no! Don’t stop jangling now! And no jangling par-tay is complete without Mr. Sweet. “I’ve Been Waiting” is so romantic that no one could ever use it as their wedding song because no marriage could ever live up to it. They should just choose “At Last” instead…especially if they want to look like totally unoriginal dicks.

47. “20% Amnesia” by Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello was like a totally old man by the time he recorded the ironically titled  Brutal Youth. But he screams like it’s still 1978 and he’s still merely middle-aged on the vitriolic “20% Amnesia”. One does not necessarily think of “heavy” as an Elvis-friendly descriptor, but “heavy” certainly applies to the skull-crushing “20% Amnesia”.

46. “The Sky Lit Up” by PJ Harvey

Elvis works himself up into a good froth on “20% Amnesia”. He does not, however, sound like a banshee who just exploded out of the sun to kill the Earth with her banshee wails. Only PJ Harvey sounds that way, and she sounds like it on “The Sky Lit Up”. This song sounds like the apocalypse. Assuming the apocalypse will last less than two minutes.

45. “Cupid’s Trick” by Elliott Smith

And the venom keeps spilling! But while Elvis and Polly Jean sound like they just went postal, Elliott Smith seethes with near silent intensity leaving the livid volume to the instrumental accompaniment. Allegedly written in a heavy chemical stupor, “Cupid’s Trick” seems to defy interpretation. Its writer couldn’t even remember what it meant! Anything this intense can only mean nothing and everything.

44. “Conjure Me” by Afghan Whigs

Afghan Whigs also know a thing or two about intensity. Guitars scream in torment. Drums rattle like they’re being punished for doing something very naughty. Piano hammers like someone’s running a short distance race on the keys. Greg Dulli splatters everyone within a mile with his saliva. Everyone’s head caves in.

42. “Psychic Pilot Clocks Out” by Robert Pollard

Bob Pollard rarely projected the illusion that he makes sense as convincingly as he does on “Psychic Pilot Clocks Out”. “Live it up before you pass away”? OK, I get what that means. “Don’t be defensive, not with me”? Got that one too. “I feel life passing on by us”? Oh, who can’t relate to that? “Light me, blood clot, I’m a child of light”? Alright, now you’re starting to lose me, Bob. No worries, though, because every moment of this song sounds like the clearest intergalactic transmission to the depths of my soul. Hey, that could be a line from a Robert Pollard song!

42. “As We Go Up, We Go Down” by Guided by Voices

Robert Pollard’s great gift is his ability to boil everything that makes a pop song perfect down to its absolute essence. He doesn’t need professional recording quality. He doesn’t need a slick band or voice. He doesn’t even need two whole minutes! Everything wonderful about pop is squeezed into the teeny tiny “As We Go Up, We Go Down”. He even manages to fit in some shocking misanthropy (“I speak in monotone, ‘leave my fucking life alone’). But then he gets right back to bopping up and down.

41. “Red House” by Shudder to Think

If you’ve got a hankering for some bopping without the nastiness and with a bit more timeage, take a trip to Shudder to Think’s “Red House”! Originally cut for the lo-fi Funeral at the Movies E.P., the guys rerecorded it with increased slickness and power for their crazy bid for pop stardom, 50,000 B.C. Alas, it was too good for all the chumps wagging their empty heads to “Semi-Charmed Life”.

40. “Sweet Adeline” by Elliott Smith

More perfectly crafted misery from XO! A great acoustic guitar line. A great melody. A great choir of harmonizing Elliott Smiths. Some huge, Ringo-channeling drumming, and Paul-channeling one-man bandery. Yup, Elliott recorded everything himself and he’s a better band than pretty much all the other bands that are actually bands. 

39. “Running Off with the Fun City Girls” by Guided by Voices

Guided by Voices bury another absolute classic where barely anyone can hear it. The gnarly “Running Off with the Fun City Girls” ended up tacked to the end of the Japanese edition of Mag Earwhig! despite being the best thing on a CD packed with superb songs. For a guy who acts like a great, big, high-kicking rock star, Robert Pollard made some moves that suggest he’s happiest underground.

38. “The Wedding Is Over” by Shudder to Think (with Lena Karlsson)

In 1998, Shudder to Think gathered together a bunch of contemporary stars to record a soundtrack for a movie no one saw and even fewer people liked. Too bad few people heard the soundtrack, because it’s off the hook. It’s best song does not feature any of the most well-known guests, which included Liz Phair, Jeff Buckley, Billy Corgan, and Nina Persson, as well as some old guys who could still pass as cool like Robin Zander and John Doe. The prime cut features a seriously obscure singer named Lena Karlsson, as well as an intoxicating A.C. Jobim vibe and what may be the best line in lyrical history: “Don’t worry about your soul when you’ve got alcohol”.

37. “Ocean of Wine” by Helium

The Dirt of Luck was all muddy noise and sludge-monster imagery. Mary Timony cleaned up her act with The Magic City, a sparklingly produced prog-pop album. Whereas The Dirt of Luck lurched from a hellish bog, The Magic City marched regally through fantasyland, and no track captures its prevailing feel better than “Ocean of Wine”. Timony’s over-effected guitar riff during the long vamp that finishes the song is one for the ages.

36. “Rise & Shine” by The Cardigans

The Cardigans often matched their sunny, sunny sounds with cloudy sentiments. Not the case on “Rise & Shine”, Jack! Nina Persson’s smiling voice, the beautiful guitar arpeggios, the skipping-through-a-heather-field drumming, and the sing-out-loud trumpeting are musical Seratonin. Next time you’re feeling down, pop this in the CD tray and quit your whining!

35. “Bled White” by Elliott Smith

Well, I guess that last bit of advice was a little glib. Certainly a guy like Elliott Smith was not going to cure his serious problems with a mere pop song, otherwise he might have met a happier end after recording the shimmering “Bled White”. Wait. No he wouldn’t, because those lyrics are still a big downer.

34. “Serve the Servants” by Nirvana

I hate to keep invoking The Beatles, but the return to the kind of pop they wrought really is what makes nineties rock so wonderful. Even Kurt Cobain admitted to their influence often and convincingly. The Beatles’ cheeky use of seventh chords is all over “Serve the Servants”, which sounds a bit like “Nowhere Man” played through a speaker that some grunge puppy just shoved the headstock of his Fender Jaguar through.

33. “Alec Eiffel” by The Pixies

There have been thousands of great pop songs about pioneering civil engineers. The very best of them all is Black Francis’s tribute to the guy who designed that great big phallus poking up from Paris. The synthesizer makes “Alec Eiffel” sound like one of those sci-fi themed numbers on Trompe le Monde. The rhythm makes it sound like Dick Dale. The repeated chorus that ends the track makes it sound like a voyage to heaven.

32. “Call All Destroyer” by Cornershop

Best song beginning ever? Some mucking about. A taste of the tune through a transistor radio. Then a hi-fi drum fill breaks through the crackles and we are off to the races with Rock & Roll as elemental as “Twist and Shout” or “Louie Louie”. Then it all stops short with Tjinder Singh speaking the album’s title. Might be best song ending ever too.

31. “6’1”” by Liz Phair

Liz Phair’s line about how Exile in Guyville is her track-by-track response to Exile on Main Street only holds a little water, but she almost pulls off the ruse with her album’s opening track. The riffing is pure Keef. The “I’m towering and you’re lame” lyric is a pretty valid response to the “I can’t get a boner!” song that begins Main Street. Even without the provocative Stones connections, “6’ 1”” would still be a fierce and inspiring Rock & Roll song, and it’s as great a way to begin one of the nineties’ best albums as “Rocks Off” was a great way to begin one of the seventies’ best.

30. “Texas” by Magnapop

There’s something magical about “Texas”. It doesn’t have Magnapop’s usual punk propulsion. It is airy, spacious, jangly, comforting. Even without caring memos like “I want to take you on a trip so far from everything”, “Texas” would still be a uniquely comforting pop song because of the tender performance and the strength and sympathy of Linda Hopper’s vocal. I want this song to be my mom.

29. “Nine Straight Lines” by The Push Kings

I hope I haven’t used up all my allotted Beatles comparisons yet, because no song on this list deserves it more than The Push Kings’ “Nine Straight Lines”. Actually, this may sound more like Wings than Macca’s first band. And shut up about how Wings sucked. Your face is the one who sucks! And “Nine Straight Lines” is amazing, retro, Paulie pop at its best.

28. “Flax” by Versus

The final track on their rarities comp Dead Leaves is Versus at their most intense. The track begins its slow burn with a tightly wound shoegaze rhythm before breaking out of its wallflower shell with a wall of squall. So you’ll be all like, “(mumble) no one likes me (mumble)” for the first two and a half minutes. Then when the feedback breaks in, you’ll be like “I’m a human supernova!” until Liz Phair sends you a cease and desist memo.

27. “Big Space” by Suzanne Vega

Non-B.C. Rich guitars made a big comeback in the early nineties, but the very beginning of the decade was still hung up on such eighties accoutrement as the synthesizer, and synthesizers are all over Suzanne Vega’s Days of Open Hand. Fortunately she and co-producer Anton Sanko used them with impeccable taste, and the spacey atmosphere of her third album is impossible to imagine without all the Fairlights. Synths are perhaps used to best effect on the spacious, magical “Big Space”. The bridge (“All feeeeeeling…”) tingles the spine.

26. “What Jail Is Like” by Afghan Whigs

Greg Dulli is a cur, a bounder, a scoundrel. Yet his wounded dog delivery of “What Jail Is Like” almost makes you feel sorry for him for being stuck in a dead end relationship. Oh, boo-hoo, Greg! The elegant piano line helps complete the illusion that he isn’t a cur, bounder, and scoundrel unworthy of your sympathy.

25. “Don’t Stop Now” by Guided by Voices

Alright, kids! We’ve entered the last quarter of Psychobabble’s 100 Favorite Songs of the 1990s! Should we stop now? No, we should not. We should listen to Guided by Voices. They say, “don’t stop now” too! And they say it with one of their most extraordinarily gorgeous songs. “Don’t Stop Now” has a heart-squishing melody, a harmonium, and a cello! It references a real rooster named “Big Daddy” that was a close, personal friend of Guided by Voices! It coins the timeless phrase “King Shit and the Golden Boys”! It is yet another example of why Robert Pollard deserves to be discussed in the same breath as Lennon, McCartney, and Wilson.

24. “500 Up” by Sloan

Sloan is Canada’s greatest pop band. There isn’t even a competitor. However, their first album attempted to mask the natural pop gifts of Chris, Patrick, Jay, and Andrew under an extra-fuzzy blanket of My Bloody Valentine feedback. One of the few exceptions is the thrilling “500 Up”, which is the album’s best indicator of the direction Sloan were preparing to go in with Twice Removed. It’s a rush.

23. “Seeing Other People” by Belle & Sebastian

You know what’s an underrated influence on pop songs? The “Peanuts” theme. But every pop song that sounds like the “Peanuts” song is awesome. Throwing Muses’ “Walking in the Dark” is awesome, and so is Belle & Sebastian’s “Seeing Other People”. Of course, the lyric about sexual initiations takes on disturbing overtones when you picture Linus and Peppermint Patty in the situations Stu Murdoch describes. That blend of airy, innocent, fairy-like music and sex is one of the things that make Belle & Sebastian so fascinating.

22. “Sexy S” by Belly

Belly’s debt to pop’s past becomes explicit on “Sexy S”. The “S” stands for “Sadie”. The debt should be clear to anyone who’s ever heard “The White Album”. But while John Lennon’s song was a tumbling, piano driven ballad about untrustworthy gurus, Belly’s song is a thunderous rocker drunk on guitar-pedals. If your head doesn’t reflexively bop along with the shimmying chorus, it might be time for a new head

21. “Gentleman” by The Afghan Whigs

Afghan Whigs’ macho nastiness gets a sort of anthem in the title track of their masterpiece. Greg Dulli’s slobbering posturing might have been insufferable if it wasn’t enveloped in such a vertiginous, slashing riff that herks and jerks all over the bedroom floor.

20. “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” by Sloan

You know what band sucks? Chicago. They suck. But Sloan’s “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” is proof that Chicago could have been amazing. “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” sounds like the most amazing Chicago song never written. The horns. The bouncy beat. The from-the-diaphragm vocals. Those are all Chicago signatures. The only signatures it’s missing are the crappy material and crappy Peter Cetera. In his place is Patrick Pentland, who is great. And Chris Murphy’s bass does an uncanny impersonation of McCartney’s Hofner.

19. “Ray Ray Rain” by Bettie Serveert

A lot of critics complained that indie darlings Bettie Serveert got too big and polished on their second CD, Lamprey. Those critics are dicks. Lamprey is a fabulous album, and “Ray Ray Rain” is a spectacular single. Name me one hit song that is catchier than this. Didn’t think you could. Name me one lyric in a sunshiny pop song that is cooler than “Spiders, snakes, and lizard heads; tell the tale, we’ll all be dead”. You can’t do that either. Name me an intro that is as glorious as Herman Bunskoeke playing the chorus melody on his bass and Carol van Dijk kissing the microphone. Strike three. 

18. “Cannonball” by The Breeders

Kim Deal takes the classic pop song, smashes it with a sledgehammer, and puts the pieces back together in a pot-reeking mosaic.  “Cannonball” is a bunch of disparate shards that don’t belong together. Josephine Wiggs’s Bootsy bassline. Kelley Deal’s Tiki slide guitar. Kim Deal’s garage-brewed power chords. Lyrics about who knows what. A special spotlight for mic feedback. Yet “Cannonball” became one of the signature alterna-pop hits. It just goes to show that a stellar tune is a stellar tune no matter what angle you shoot it from.

17. “Subspace Biographies” by Robert Pollard

1998 was just two years shy of the millennium. We all knew that the year 2000 would bring with it cities in space, Mars cars, Martian romances, and computer-generated devastation. Bob Pollard launches us into that brave, new, future with a rocket called “Subspace Biographies”. The verses are a build up to the blast off of a chorus loop as euphoric as a trip to the moon.

16. “Jane of the Waking Universe” by Guided by Voices

The Planet Pollard vibe continues with this awe-inspiring pop chant from Mag Earwhig! “Jane of the Waking Universe” is almost all chorus. When you have a chorus this good, you don’t need anything else.

15. “Don’t Have Time” by Liz Phair

I’m not sure “Don’t Have Time” has a chorus at all. Liz Phair started her career making masterfully simple traditional pop songs. There’s nothing traditional about this shifty number buried on the soundtrack to John Singleton’s heavy-handed Higher Learning. It goes from a sort of tick-tocking toy rhythm to a dead stop to an edgier thrust before bursting open with a skeleton-smashing drum fill and a thousand shrieking birds. There’s nothing else quite like “Don’t Have Time” in Liz Phair’s catalog. There’s nothing like it in anyone else’s either.

14. “People Are Leaving” by Robert Pollard (with Stephanie Sayers)

A musician named Stephanie Sayers made a tape of a one-woman-band instrumental and sent it to Bob Pollard. He overdubbed his own lyric about the deaths of some friends and put it on his second album Waved Out. The result of this unusual collaboration is probably Pollard’s most emotionally affecting recording. Sayers’s piano and guitar work is stunningly beautiful and palpably sad. Bob honored that work with contributions that will pull your heart out and chop it into haggis.

13. “The Lines You Amend” by Sloan

Sloan punch out some tight, hand-clapping funk, and Jay Ferguson jives all around it, dropping personal snapshots of a friendship that ended in suicide and references to Ringo Starr’s “Photograph”. “Photograph” is an amazing song. “The Lines You Amend” is even better. Chris Murphy’s bass pushes the rhythm along, pulls away sneakily, and slides right back into the groove. This track is as cool as pop gets. The lyric is as personal as it gets without ever slipping into maudlin mode. Perfection.

12. “Tractor Rape Chain” by Guided by Voices

The nineties are nothing if not mopey, and the pain continues with a song sad in lyric and tune. Bob Pollard’s knack for nonsense and unsavory vocabulary peaks with the heart-stomping “Tractor Rape Chain”, a shimmering, lo-fi wonder that evokes the grand-scale tragedy of environmental destruction and the small-scale misery of a dying relationship. Sussing what he’s on about might be a fool’s errand, but no matter the meaning, the song’s emotional weight comes through in the delivery.

11. “The Stars of Track and Field” by Belle & Sebastian

Stuart Murdoch directs a musical mini-movie to begin his masterwork, If You’re Feeling Sinister. Even though it’s a sport movie, and sport clearly sucks, complex themes of doubt and sexuality make this a much better sport movie than Space Jam. Production so textural you can touch it is one part Village Green Preservation Society and one part Louvre.

10. “Teenage FBI” by Guided by Voices

Nose picking is the great American pastime, and former-teacher Robert Pollard wrote the ultimate tribute to this time-honored sport in a little number about a time when his students caught him digging for gold in class. An abbreviated, lo-fi version of “Teenage FBI” appeared on the 1997 EP Wish in One Hand, but the song reached its full potential when stretched to an epic three minutes, polished up by producer Ric Ocasek, and given lead-track status on the greatest CD of the nineties. There are those who would say Do the Collapse is a terrible, overproduced sell-out. Those people are turds.

9. “Not Too Soon” by Throwing Muses

Kristen Hersh was the queen Muse, but her sister Tanya was more than a mere sidekick. In fact, the best song on the best Muses album is the work of the future Belly queen. “Not Too Soon” is as brilliantly bouncy as Belly’s best and as aggressively tuneful as a merry-go-round.

8. “Feed the Tree (Single Mix)” by Belly

Even better than Tanya Donnelly’s “farewell” composition for Throwing Muses is her “hello!” composition for one of the biggest “alternative” bands of our decade. After hearing “Feed the Tree” for the first time, I basically put away my Beatles and Stones records for a year, elated that I could finally enjoy some music from my own generation. Belly’s sweet ride led me to discover nearly every song on this list. “Feed the Tree” is still as great a pop song as it was that first time I heard it on NY’s WDRE in 1993. The single mix is definitely the way to go since it gives us a few more rounds of that elating chorus than the more concise album mix.

7. “Money City Maniacs” by Sloan

As soon as those air raid sirens rev up, you know you’re in for something serious. This is the kind of getting-down-to-business hard rocking that most nineties bands were too self-conscious to attempt sans irony. Sloan says, “Fuck irony,” and slams out the power chords like they’re discharging A-bombs by the dozen. Had this song been about the kind of stuff that one usually sings about while playing this kind of music (cocks), it would be bullshit. But it’s about spraying Coca Cola on some sleeping guy. That is the antithesis of bullshit.

6. “Auditorium/Motor Away” by Guided by Voices

“Motor Away” is about a much more typical Rock & Roll subject than “Money City Maniacs” is. It’s about hopping in the car, crying “Later, potatah!” to your lame-ass town, and never looking back. This is the best car song ever written. You read that right. It’s better than “Little Deuce Coupe”, “Little GTO”, “Hey Little Cobra”, “Little Red Corvette”, and the one or two car songs without “little” in the title. And the lead in it gets from the ruthlessly taut “Auditorium” makes the open-road release of “Motor Away” 100 times more exhilarating.

5. “Slow Dog” by Belly

While we’re on the topic of exhilarating, there’s the second—and oddly, least commercially successful—single from Belly’s first CD. Maybe alternative station DJs were reluctant to embrace a song about dog murder. Fair enough. However, the roadrunner delivery of the track sweetens its decayed subject matter. “Slow Dog” is musical dizziness of the most intoxicating variety.

4. “Waltz #2 (XO)” by Elliott Smith

Everyone’s mom had it real rough in the nineties. “You’re an asshole!” Person A would say. “So’s your mom!” Person B would retort. But no one’s mom got it worse in public than Elliott Smith’s. He called his mother out for her bad choices, some of which impacted him horrifically, in “Waltz #2 (XO)”. Yet he also did so with a beautiful tune and an enchanting pop production. The “I’m gonna love you anyhow” chorus must have at least softened the blow of having so much dirty laundry hung in public (or maybe it just twisted the knife a little more). This is the power of the pop song. If something’s bugging you, you turn it into extraordinary music, and Elliott Smith is extraordinarily bugged on “Waltz #2 (XO)”.

3. “Mockingbirds” by Grant Lee Buffalo

Grant Lee Buffalo’s tactile sound and knack with old-timey acoustic instrumentation make “Mockingbirds” soar. But the MVP is vocalist Grant Lee Phillips, who explores both ends of his amazing range, dipping down into his well of soul on the verses and taking wing with a feathery falsetto on the chorus. His voice is in league with the best there is: Smokey Robinson, Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Paul McCartney… the best. If there was an episode of Celebrity Death Match that pit him against Thom Yorke, he might have played “Mockingbirds” on Thom’s spleen. And Thom York is amazing.

2. “In Liverpool” by Suzanne Vega

Man oh man. It took every ounce of self control not to invoke the “B” word again with those last two songs, both of which sound like “White Album” outtakes. But, come on! This one is actually called “In Liverpool”! So I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna break the seal. “In Liverpool” sounds like The Beatles! Half the songs on this list sound like The Beatles! The Beatles were great! Writing a song that sounds like The Beatles guarantees that the song will be great! “In Liverpool” is great! It has a Lennon-esque melody and Abbey Road arpeggios! It references The Beatles’ hometown! But it also has marvelous Mitchel Froom industrial percussion, and a pure-poetry Suzanne Vega lyric that recalls rainy Sundays and Quasimodo. That’s it. I promise I will now, officially, stop comparing songs to Beatles songs. I promise!

1. “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead

The greatest song of the nineties accurately predicted where we’d end up in the coming century: a computerized society would leave us empty and vulnerable in the worst way. So “Paranoid Android” is a cynical product of an ironically less cynical time, though even Thom Yorke may not have been cynical enough to predict just where the Internet’s fabric of lies and easy access would leave us today. It is also harrowing, dramatic, and packed with great stuff melodically, instrumentally, and productionally (that’s a word!). One may argue that “Paranoid Android” is not the greatest song on OK Computer, but there’s nothing else on the CD that gives you more bang for your buck. Plus there’s Jonny Greenwood’s mega-riffage, Phil Selway’s tom-tom machine gunning, and Thom’s angel-to-a-sneer dynamics. “Paranoid Android” leaves me flawed, stunned, shaken, stirred and feeling a whole lot more human than I felt before it started. More irony! The nineties were ironic! Have I managed to make that clear by now? Yes? No? Whatever. Nevermind.

Peace out.
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