90’s nostalgia has been upon us for awhile, and, much like Ren Faire attendees would rather ignore the fact that the Medieval era would’ve been torturous to endure, those screaming about how much they “LOVE 90’s music!!!” rarely look objectively at the decade. Y’see, kids, kids, pop music went on a strange tangent in those years between the 80’s and the Britney/Christina/boy band invasion of ’98, and thanks to our parents’ determination to follow the stars of yore during their respective descents into Snoozeville (see: Rod Stewart, Elton John), a horrible vanilla phase emerged in the undercurrent of the adult contemporary genre. A huuuge chunk of 90’s musical culture includes this wave of hostile Caucasian Americana-brand mediocrity which permeated suburban life via carpool lane radio and The Weather Channel. It’s in our best interest to remember this dark side so we aren’t doomed to repeat it.
All I’m saying is: Thank God for “The Bodyguard” Soundtrack breaking through to the Mom-pop stations and keeping it interesting. We miss you, Whitney.
Anyway, a healthy life is about balance, so to offer a counterweight to the glory of 90’s hip hop/rap/alternative/R&B/riot grrrl/grunge, I’ve curated some of the worst pop hits from 1990-95. I’m not going to bash many of the era’s heavy-hitters (Celine, Michael Bolton, Kenny G,) even though they were also responsible for some heavy-duty earsores (looking at you too, Madonna). Instead, let’s explore those subtle-yet-pervasive hits that we’ve all tried very hard to blot out in the years since.
FUN FACT: I’d never seen the videos to any of these songs, because, as the oldest of four kids in a pretty conservative family, I didn’t have any exposure to MTV until after Kurt Cobain was dead. So I first experienced these as I put this post together – a real treat!
As a warm-up, here’s
Aaron Neville’s Cotton Commercial
Ready now? Let’s do this!
How Do You Talk to an Angel – The Heights
I’M COMING IN HOT!!! Yeah, I said it, 90210 fans!! NOW WHAT WHAT NOW?!!?!?
No, but seriously, y’guys. Give this another listen with our now-adult perspectives and tell me it’s a good song with a straight face. If you can, you’re a sociopath, no questions asked.
Also, I’m not going to get into the whole Gin Blossoms/BoDeans/Rembrandts/Spin Doctors soft-altrock thing any further than this. Promise.
All for Love – Sting, Rod Stewart, & Bryan Adams (from “The Three Musketeers” Soundtrack)
Alright, to avenge 90210 Fans, here I am stepping on my own toes because I definitely liked this song and absolutely harmonized the shit out of it together with my BFF just this summer when she visited my place. And it. Is. The. Worst.
Soldier of Love – Donny Osmond
Alright, CONFESSION: I didn’t know Donny Osmond sang this until just now. Again, my pop culture knowledge has a lot of blind spots from that era (Ex: I just watched both “Total Recall” and “Basic Instinct” for the first time just this week. Yeah, really.) But true to form, he continues to be not at all “rock’n’roll”, no matter how hard he’s working that Jordan Knight-knockoff look.
Good for Me – Amy Grant
Whenever people my age whine that “music these days has just gotten soo baaaad. I miss the good old days when pop music was great!!”, my brain immediately thinks of Amy Grant and Billy Ocean as evidence to the contrary.
You guys, Amy Grant was awful. (BUZZKILL ALERT: There’s a ton of scientific reasoning why everyone believes the music that came out during their adolescent years was the best. It correlates with your pubescent hormones and the imprinting of the feelings the music gave you at that time in your life holding significant value and meaning, exactly like your first love. This is why you’re not as amazed by new music when you’re an adult and why your parents hated what you were listening to when you were a teen. The music wasn’t better; you were just hormonal. Sorry ’bout it.) “Good For Me” is particularly cheesy, although “Baby, Baby” is a close second.
Anything by Jon Secada. Just anything.
There was a span of about a year where this guy was everywhere and honestly, all his tracks sound like clones of each other. In fact, until I went hunting for his videos on YouTube just now, I didn’t realize I know at least 5 songss of his because I was convinced it was just the same two played over and over. Also, I remember always wondering whether or not his music was secular or if he was Trojan-horsing a Jesus message on all of us, which was a super common thing back in those days, as evidenced by…
Michael W. Smith – I Will Be Here For You
Christian crossover artists were all over contemporary charts at the time (see: Amy Grant) and Michael W. Smith was the guy your parents were happy for you to listen to because you’d probably hear his stuff at the “contemporary service” on Sunday, too!
Faithful – Go West
I’m cackling at the idea of any of you curiously clicking this link to give this a first listen because JEE. ZUSS. I forgot how terrible this song was. Oh man. I’m so sorry.
The Heart of the Matter – Don Henley
I really thought this song was called “Forgiveness” until just now when I Googled it to find the video. Who cares. Garbage.
I Want to Be Rich – Calloway
I may’ve learned a little American Sign Language through Girl Scouts and private study and then taught myself how to sign this entire song for fun… just in case you were wondering what my personal brand was during this time in my life.
Would I Lie to You – Charles & Eddie
I keep finding these and thinking “Oh WAAAAOOWW… THIS one has to be the worst…” until I get to the next one on my list, but honestly, this one is Top 3. I don’t usually believe in superlatives, but this song makes me blush and cringe in a way I’m not comfortable with.
Life is a Highway – Tom Cochrane or anybody else who covers it
And to answer the follow-up question: No, none of the covers of this are good, either.
Peter Cetera’s Varied Number-One-Ranked Experiments in Increasingly Mind-Numbing Sounds
Remember that thing I said about our parents aging stars of yore? Yeeeaahh…
Richard Marx – Right Here Waiting
It’s all just starting to sound the same, right?
Right Here Right Now – Jesus Jones
That Springsteen Song from Jerry Maguire
Maaaaaaaauuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-wuh!!!!
HONORABLE MENTION: I Know – Dionne Farris
Alright, this wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either. It was a track that was a little more of what the adults would embarrassingly dub “funky”, but was pretty tame and middle-of-the-road by all accounts. I’m including it on this list because it seems to be THE SONG we all heard repeatedly and we all knew and when we sang along to it when it was on the radio at any given moment for about 2 years, our moms didn’t give us a hard time about it. Kind of like Des’ree but without a memorable voice.
…And yes, I DID have that one Des’ree album on cassette. And I DID listen to it when I went for a rollerblading cardio session every day during the summer… when I wasn’t listening to the “Batman Forever” soundtrack.