The 10 Best Songs of the 1990s

Hey! We all remember the 90s, right? I know I do! If you don’t, what the hell is wrong with you? I mean, it wasn’t that long ago. What are you, some kind of little baby? Get out of here, you little baby! Babies aren’t supposed to be online. Go play with your baby toys or learn to walk or something. This post is for grownups like me who remember that classic era and all the timeless pop culture that came with it.

As we all know, music sucks ass these days. It’s all just a bunch of Justin Bieber bull crap. I can’t even turn on the radio in my car anymore without having a violent road rage incident, because of how awful that watered-down crap they try to pass off as “music” nowadays is. But back in the 90s, when I was a child, they had what I like to call Real Music. Musicians in those days weren’t afraid to push boundaries and boldly explore the depths of human emotion. Today at Tall Peters, we honor those great artists by showcasing the best of the best: the 10 best songs of the 1990s.

10. Masato Nakamura – Casino Night Zone

As every true gamer knows, the 90s was the undisputed golden age of gaming, and the 1992 classic Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the greatest video game of all time. And as the saying goes, behind every great game is a great soundtrack. With the track “Casino Night Zone,” composer Masato Nakamura creates a fun, jazzy atmosphere for the bright, colorful world of the Casino Night Zone, with just the slightest dark undertones, hinting at the seedy underbelly lurking behind those bright lights.

9. Masato Nakamura – Oil Ocean Zone

Masato Nakamura, a giant in the world of video game music, drew inspiration from many sources when crafting the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 soundtrack. With “Oil Ocean Zone,” he references traditional Middle Eastern music, lending the player the feeling of being immersed in an unfamiliar exotic land. The simple yet elegant composition puts us right in Sonic’s shoes, making us feel as though we are off on a perilous adventure, just like our speedy blue friend.

8. Masato Nakamura – Emerald Hill Zone

There’s no place like home, but for a hero like Sonic the Hedgehog, the call to adventure is irresistible. So it’s fitting that the first piece of music we hear in STH2, “Emerald Hill Zone,” reflects the peaceful qualities of Sonic’s natural habitat while also evoking the challenges of the road ahead. Alas, peace is short-lived for those who are perpetually on the move.

7. “Weird Al” Yankovic – It’s All About The Pentiums

The 90s were a huge time for hip hop. Legendary acts like the Beastie Boys were at the top of their game, and future stars such as Eminem were exploding onto the scene. But one emcee eclipsed them all by managing to perfect the form with just one track. In 1999, “Weird Al” Yankovic made his rap debut with “It’s All About The Pentiums,” and unwittingly started a movement. In a hip hop landscape dominated by gangsters and thugs, Weird Al blazed a whole new trail, pioneering what’s known as “nerdcore” rap. It may seem strange now that 99% of rap music is about anime and jocks have taken over the internet, but back in the 90s, recording a hip hop love letter to computers was revolutionary. And needless to say, for a first-time rapper, Weird Al’s skills on the mic were nothing short of stunning.

6. Masato Nakamura – Chemical Plant Zone

It’s safe to say that techno artists like Daft Punk and Deadmouse owe a debt of gratitude to Nakamura for this electronic masterpiece, which perfectly captured the anxiety of modern technology dominating our lives. In retrospect, it feels decades ahead of its time.

5. Masato Nakamura – Aquatic Ruin Zone

I know Mr. Nakamura has been dominating this list, but what can I say? The highly-influential STH2 soundtrack continues to resonate with us to this day, from start to finish, and this often-overlooked track is no exception. It has a subtle beauty that stays with you, and grows more rewarding and enriching upon each repeated listen.

4. Masato Nakamura – Hill Top Zone

If I didn’t tell you, you almost wouldn’t know that this piece was from the same soundtrack as Nakamura’s previous entries on the list. While it bears his signature mark of quality, its twangy, rockabilly-influenced sound sets it apart from the rest of the album, keeping the player/listener on their toes.

3. Masato Nakamura – Metropolis Zone

In stark contrast to the anxious quality of the earlier track, “Chemical Plant Zone,” this composition is bustling with optimism about technology and the future, reminding us that there are two sides to everything. In a world that’s constantly growing, it’s easy to be afraid or uncertain, but we must never forget about the resilience of human potential and the wonders that we can accomplish.

2. Harvey Danger – Flagpole Sitta

The anthem that defined a generation. The words that moved us. Yes, it’s that song you’ve heard a million times before but probably didn’t know what it was called or who performed it. Where did Harvey Danger come from, and where did they go? What the hell does “flagpole sitta” mean and what does it even have to do with the song? These are among the great mysteries of our time, and we may never know the answers. But nonetheless this alt-rock staple will always hold a special place in the hearts of all of us who lived through those crazy 90s.

1. Masato Nakamura – Mystic Cave Zone

Merriam-Webster defines music as “the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.” It’s true; music is a science, but it’s also an art, and the best music—the music that truly speaks to us—cannot be explained with science. While a musical masterpiece like “Mystic Cave Zone” may indeed be an arrangement of tones and sounds, as the dictionary proclaims, there is surely something more to it, something undefinable. After all, how can we put perfection into words? Isn’t it paradoxical to attempt to use mere words to describe such transcendence when it is achieved using no words at all? A true genius like Masato Nakamura has no need for words and definitions. He needs only to harness the sound which flows from his heart. And that is the sound of perfection.

In 2017, art is more important than ever. With a madman in the Oval Office threatening to destroy everything that we as Americans hold dear, we must hold on tightly to our culture. Great music, like the soundtrack to Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Sega Genesis, must endure. We must remember what makes us strong. We must remember the 90s.

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