The 1990s is a little harder to pigeonhole than most decades. It’s a little more fragmented. It’s not that the 1990s didn’t have identity, and it’s not that previous decades didn’t have diversity, it’s more that popular music began to seperate into seperate niches rather than be part of one whole.
Part of this is because genres which had been bubbling under had crossed over to the mainstream. Dance/club culture had a big impact on the early half of the decade, with Snap!, ‘Killer’ by Adamski & Seal, ‘Mr. Vain’ by Culture Beat, ‘Dreamer’ by Livin’ Joy and ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’ by Baby D being among the strongest. In the late 1990s dance music had a slightly harder edge with Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy topping the charts. Hip hop and rap had very much crossed over to the mainstream, to the extent that there were several million selling number one singles by rappers. These included ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ by Coolio feat. L.V, ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ by Puff Daddy & Faith Evans featuring 112, ‘Killing Me Softly’ by The Fugees, and ‘It’s Like That’ by Run DMC Vs Jason Nevins.
Indie rock saw the phenomenon of Britpop, with the often mentioned chart battle between Oasis – ‘Roll With It’ and Blur – ‘Country House’ ending with Blur beating Oasis to the top, though Oasis would go on to have more number ones overall. The Manic Street Preachers famously got to number one with ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, a song about the Spanish cival war. The Verve are mostly remembered for ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’, but their number one was ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’. There was also the idea of ‘pop’ as a genre of its own, that is bouncy, sugary pop, with Take That and the Spice Girls jointly having the most number ones of the decade, not to mention Britney Spears crashing straight in at number one with the often covered ‘…Baby One More Time’.
But if there’s something that does unify the whole decade, it’s that there are a LOT of songs from films, adverts and TV shows. This is why you get the likes of Mr. Blobby, the Teletubbies and Flat Eric (he was that yellow furry thing in a jeans advert. No? Well it was ridiculously overhyped at the time). That’s not even getting to the film soundtracks. Cher’s version of ‘The Shoop Shoop Song’ was from Mermaids. Maria McKee’s ‘Show Me Heaven’ was from Days Of Thunder. ‘Unchained Melody’ was from Ghost. Bryan Adams – ‘Everything I Do I Do It For You’ from Robin Hood Prince Of Theives. Wet Wet Wet’s version of ‘Love Is All Around Me’ from Four Weddings And A Funeral, Whitney Houstons version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ from The Bodyguard, R Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ from Space Jam, and Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from Titanic. While you did get some uptempo ones, like Will Smith- ‘Men In Black’ from, er, Men In Black, and Jamiroquai getting their only number one with ‘Deeper Underground’ from Godzilla, a lot of the film themes were big bombastic ballads with a serious tone. In general, pop singers pouring their hearts out was a popular trend, a lot of them reaching number one and staying there for months. This saw the 1990s setting chart records that have at the time of writing yet to be broken. The aforementioned Bryan Adams track stayed there for 16 weeks, and the decade saw the biggest selling single ever, that is Elton John’s Candle In The Wind, released in tribute to Princess Diana after her sudden, tragic death.
The 1990s number ones were a bit of a pic’n’mix, so he’s my pick from the mixed bag.
1) Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger
2) No Doubt – Don’t Speak
3) Madonna – Frozen
4) Shakespear’s Sister – Stay
5) The Beautiful South – A Little Time
6) The Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next
7) Olive – You’re Not Alone
8) Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
9) The Prodigy – Firestarter
10) Spice Girls – 2 Become 1