The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1990s: 470 to 461
470. “All the Small Things,” Blink -182. Songwriters: Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus; #6 pop; 1999. Being a “pop punk” outfit came with a built in reaction of white hot hatred from some sectors, but radio was more than happy to embrace the sing along, puppy dog punk of the Southern California band Blink-182. The band’s 1999 album “Enema of the State” sold over 15 million copies worldwide and “All the Small Things” was their breakthrough pop hit, although one might have hoped that earlier titles like “Apple Shampoo” or “Dick Lips” would have had that honor. Tom DeLonge, “I wanted to write a song with ‘na-nas’ in it, ’cause I love the Ramones. So I thought, I’ll write this song about my chick, and it’ll be an ode to the Ramones, too.” Jonah Weiner of Blender, “It was an unabashedly corny love song and it would prove to be a pop-punk watershed.” (Future entries will have less names of men that sound like porn aliases).
469. “Writing to Reach You,” Travis. Songwriter: Fran Healy; Did Not Chart; 1999. Travis is an alt-rock Scottish band that made only minor inroads into the U.S. market, despite scoring eighteen U.K. Top 40 hits from 1996 to 2007. If “Writing to Reach You” sounds familiar, songwriter Fran Healy cheerfully admits it’s a rewrite of “Wonderwall” by Oasis, if a bit more introspective. Healy, “I just changed the rhythm and melody. You can sing ‘Waiting to Reach You’ over ‘Wonderwall,’ and vice versa.” The band’s 1999 album “The Man Who” sold millions of copies in Europe and is considered their career album. Healy, “We were this little island that a lot of people clambered onto to get away from Limp Bizkit and Britney Spears. People were desperate for something that wasn’t shit in the late 1990s, and we were lucky and honored enough make that record.”
468. “Jesus, The Missing Years,” John Prine. Songwriter: John Prine; Did Not Chart; 1991. Patrick Doyle of Rolling Stone, “In the Bible, there’s an 18-year gap in Jesus’ life, age 12 to 29, that’s unaccounted for. Prine decided to fill those gaps with a surreal, seven-minute, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott–style ballad. So what was Jesus up to during that time? He traveled to France and Spain, he got into some trouble with the cops, he grew his hair out, saw ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ and invented Santa Claus. Also: ‘He discovered the Beatles, recorded with the Stones, and once even opened up a three-way package in Southern California for old George Jones.’ Jesus also meets an Irish bride, just like Prine did in the late Eighties when he met his wife Fiona in Dublin. That sequence of events ends abruptly when Jesus realizes he’s ‘a human corkscrew and all my wine is blood. They’re gonna kill me Mama, they don’t like me bud.’ This is why he was one of Dylan’s favorite songwriters; it’s a staggeringly beautiful piece of poetry that should be studied generations from now.”
467. “Secret Heart,” Ron Sexsmith. Songwriter: Ron Sexsmith; Did Not Chart; 1995. Canadian Ron Sexsmith has been release good music for over two and a half decades, proving in the process that there’s no market for an unpretentious Elvis Costello. “Secret Heart” is in the spirit of a 1950’s ballad in terms of its innocent, but all-encompassing look at love, “The very secret you’re trying to conceal/Is the very same one you’re dying to reveal.” Sexsmith on penning his song that’s been covered by Rod Stewart, Feist, and Raul Malo, among others, “When you’re doing anything that’s not taxing on the brain your mind wanders. I wrote ‘Secret Heart’ when I was a courier, out delivering packages. If you’re open to writing 24/7 you’ll get more songs.”
466. “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” Jay-Z. Songwriters: Shawn Carter, Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin, Amin Rarmoul; #15 pop/#10 R&B; 1998. Jay-Z crossed over to the pop charts in 1998 with “Hard Knock Life,” a song built around a hook from a pitch modified sample of “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from the musical “Annie.” Jay-Z on dividing the Broadway/hip hop gap, “I wasn’t worried about the clash between the hard lyrics and the image of redheaded Annie. Instead, I found the mirror between the two stories – that Annie’s story was mine, and mine was hers, and the song was the place where our experiences weren’t contradictions, just different dimensions of the same reality. That’s one of the songs that, was almost like a conversation for me. It’s not anything to think about, the chorus already dictates where the song should go and what should be said. I probably did the song in maybe five minutes.”
465. “New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme),” Ice-T. Songwriters: Tracy Lauren Marrow, Alphonso Henderson; #67 pop/#49 R&B; 1991. Ice-T was one of the leading stars in the 1991 action crime film “New Jack City” and contributed this rap number about slinging dope and dead presidents to the soundtrack. Angus Batey of The Quietus, “At first glance, ‘New Jack Hustler’ is bullish bravado from a low-level crime lord, but it’s as acute and nuanced an investigation of how political imperatives and social conditioning fuel the drug crime industry as any scholarly paper or lobbyist’s briefing could have concocted.” Ice-T in 2011, “When they gave me the role they wanted me to play the police and I didn’t really know how if I was going to – how my musical fans would react to me playing a cop. People told me, they said yo, this is acting. Ice, you’re acting. Your fans will understand the difference. The movie made like $80 million and, you know, I didn’t make that. I made like $25,000. But it got myself through the door of the acting game, and then from then I’ve gone on to do more and more films and now I’m on television. Who would’ve thought I’d be on TV right now playing a cop, you know? It’s crazy. You never know.”
464. “Jump, Jive an’ Wail,” The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Songwriter: Louis Prima; #94 pop; 1998. Music fans primarily remember Louis Prima for his larger than life personality and his big band swing sound. During the 1950s, he also utilized a small, R&B inspired combo and in 1956 he released “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” on his Louis Jordan inspired album “The Wildest.” Brian Setzer had found fame as a member of The Stray Cats in the 1980s, but was working a retro big band style sound in the 1990s that first came into the mainstream with his faithful cover of “Jump, Jive an’ Wail.” Setzer recalls that a grand total of thirty people attended his first gig with his new Orchestra. Setzer in 2017, “I wasn’t disheartened that only 30 people showed up to that first show. I knew I had something when I first heard it come back at rehearsals. I didn’t know how a big band would work because I didn’t have a template for it, but when I heard it back, I said ‘Oh there’s something here and it’s really good.’ When the swing revival came, it put me on that wave and it was a great thing for me because it got the sound out there and all of a sudden I turned around and oh my gosh, everything was just huge.”
463. “Time Bomb,” Rancid. Songwriters: Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen, Matt Freeman; Did Not Chart; 1995. Rancid formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1991, merging influences with punk and ska music, both of which are at the forefront of “Time Bomb,” the band’s biggest alt-rock hit, which was included on their 1995 platinum “…And Out Came the Wolves” album. While the music on “Time Bomb” might suggest a party, the lyrics are about a young drug dealer who gets killed while driving his Cadillac. Author Matt Diehl, like most of us, wasn’t listening to the verses, “’Time Bomb’ is a ranking, skanking bluebeat rave up bar none.” Rancid guitarist Lars Frederiksen on the impact, “A lot of people, a lot of bands have come up to us and said if it wasn’t for ‘Time Bomb’ they probably would have ignored ska, but we just do what we do.”
462. “The Statue Got My High,” They Might Be Giants. Songwriters: John Linnell, John Flansburgh; Did Not Chart; 1992. On this minor modern rock hit, They Might Be Giants examine an emotional reaction to an inanimate object. Sample lyrics, “The monument of granite sent a beam into my eye…It took my hand, it killed me and it turned me to the sky.” John Linnell, “Part of it is that it’s the idea that the statue would be in a public square, a monument. Not necessarily a work of art, but something that’s just utterly immobile and represents something that’s in the past – just the idea of that blowing somebody’s mind. It seems like one of the least likely things to make the top of your head come off, and that’s what happens in the song.” Blogger Jon Bryon describes the song as “wonderfully quirky, yet utterly accessible,” which is a good summation of the band’s unique wheelhouse.
461. “Unbelievable,” EMF. Songwriters: EMF; #1 pop; 1990. The U.K. dance/rock act EMF scored their biggest hit with their debut single, “Unbelievable,” a song about a high maintenance woman with a sample hook from comedian Andrew “Dice” Clay. Andrew Doscas of Pop Matters, “EMF were pioneers of the rave-rock scene that never took off. Bands like EMF and Jesus Jones were supposedly the forerunners of the next big musical fad. Rave-rock combined elements of industrial dance music, rock, and ecstasy… most importantly ecstasy. It never caught on in the U.S., or pretty much anywhere else, and by 1992 rave-rock faded away as quickly as it sprang up.” Annette Petruso of “The Michigan Daily,” “An undeniably perfect pop single…ultra-simple, ultra-catchy, and ultra-overplayed.”