Nostalgia for the 1990s is a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to music. On one side, it’s awesome to look back at awesome songs and talk about how awesome they were. On the other, LOL, UR OLD! UR TAST N MUZIK SUCKD, IDIUT!

People love to dogpile onto the latter because it’s easy fodder for half-assed comedians. It takes virtually no effort to make fun of people’s tastes in entertainment, because all you have to do is point and say, “That’s stupid. Look how stupid that is. Stupid.” We’re all guilty of doing that to some degree, but there are a whole lot of bands from the ’90s who get way more shit than they deserve. I think if we’re going to dabble in this nostalgia, then we should at least honor the history and give proper respect to musicians like …

#5. Crash Test Dummies

Where You Know Them From:

If you don’t know “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” then you need to stop talking about the ’90s right now, because you haven’t earned the privilege.

“Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” came out in 1993 and broke the Billboard top five in pretty much every country that matters (suck it, Finland). There are a handful of singers who are so unique that you can guess who they are from the very first note that blows out of their flappy singhole, and Brad Roberts’ crazy deep baritone voice is way up on that list — just under Ozzy Osbourne and that screamy guy from AC/DC who sounds like he’s treating strep throat by gargling Drano.

The thing is that, as popular as “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” was, most critics look back on it as one of the most annoying songs of all time. VH1 at listed it 36 on such a list. Blender skipped the “annoying” part and ranked it 31 on a list of The 50 Worst Songs Ever. Damn, that’s harsh. I mean, yeah, they played the living shit out of it on the radio and MTV, so it was easy to get burnt out. But it’s not that damn bad, is it? I suppose, like all of this article, it’s subjective.

Why They Deserve Our Respect:

Regardless of what you think of that specific song, Crash Test Dummies are a really fucking good band. Many of their songs are constructed like parables, which gives them a sense of wisdom, even if the stories aren’t all that complex. (To be fair, how complex can you get in a four-minute song?) But the cool thing is that they don’t just offer up morals, they also question them … or at the very least, leave them open ended so you can figure out your own meaning. In other words, they never treat you like a dumbass.

For instance, in “God Shuffled His Feet” (above, from the album of the same title), they present a scene of God chilling on a blanket in the shade and telling his people simple stories. It’s not about religion, but about how simple the human mind can be. He talks about a little boy who woke up with blue hair. When he saw it, he was like, “Shit yeah!” He was really excited to show everyone … but when he gave it more thought, he got really embarrassed because he realized all of his friends would laugh at him or think he had gotten some weird-ass illness, like hair cancer or something. The story brings up an interesting point about how flawed our emotions can be, and how the reactions of our peers can completely change our viewpoints from positive to negative on a dime. But the story itself doesn’t say as much as the reaction from God’s audience does:

The people sat waiting
Out on their blankets in the garden
But God said nothing
So someone asked him: “I beg your pardon:
I’m not quite clear about what you just spoke
Was that a parable, or a very subtle joke?”
God shuffled his feet and glanced around at them;
The people cleared their throats and stared right back at him

“See, I told you this is why I don’t do God stuff.”

It’s such a wonderfully awkward scene. And when you really dig into it, they’re displaying the same traits as the boy. If it’s a joke, they’d laugh, right? But they won’t until they know for sure what everyone else thinks. Even if they thought it was funny, they want the reassurance of their peers before they laugh. Eh, maybe he should have thrown in a cheap line about dicks. Works for me. Sometimes.

Not all of their songs are done as parables. Many of them center on philosophical questions, often coupled with medical scares. Like if a man were to go back in time and live his life differently, would he still get lung cancer? Or when Roberts ditches the deep questions altogether and just knows how to perfectly describe running into an ex in one of my favorite songs, “I Think I’ll Disappear Now”:

Running into you like this without warning
Is like catching a sniff of tequila in the morning
But I’ll try … try to keep my food down
That’s quite an aftertaste that you’ve left, now that you’re not around

Even if you hate all of the songs, he once answered the question, “Why is your voice so deep?” with, “I have a third testicle.” So there’s that.

#4. P.M. Dawn

Where You Know Them From:

From 1991 to 1993, P.M. Dawn stormed onto the music scene like a character from Grand Theft Auto, just elbowing motherfuckers and picking up their money. Except music was their elbows, and the video game money was actual real-life money. We’re all cartoon hookers, regardless of the analogy. Their first hit was “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss,” which any self-respecting ’90s aficionado agrees is the best song to ever mention Christina Applegate:

If you line up all the countries in which it was released, showing the peak chart position in each one, it reads like a pretty good day at the mini golf course. Yeah, there’s a 14 and 17 in there, but what are you gonna do? Who puts a fucking windmill right in front of the hole like that?

They followed it up with “I’d Die Without You,” which peaked at #3, and then the #6 “Looking Through Patient Eyes.” Here’s the problem, though: Every single person I’ve ever spoken to about this band has thought of them as a couple of pussies crying about love. And that’s a real shame, because …

Why They Deserve Our Respect:

Look, I totally get it if you’re not into pop love songs. I spent a significant amount of my high school years wearing dog collars and imagining myself giving DDTs to people over a soundtrack of “Fucking Hostile” by Pantera. But P.M. Dawn was so much more than the basic pop R&B formula. A whole lot of that is found in their lyrics, and very few of those lyrics are about love. Most of them are about spirituality, questioning the philosophical idea of reality, and trying to find one’s place in the universe. They broke the number-one rule of the music industry: Don’t ever make your listeners think, under any circumstances!

That song is called “The Beautiful” and it’s basically a spoken word, freestyle poem set to some pretty damn smooth background music. Almost everything “Prince Be” does is laced with irony and contradiction, so most of his lyrics are actually hard to understand. You have to break them down and ask “What does this mean?” word by word, like you’re in a literature appreciation class. But I’m pointing this song out in particular because even though it still utilizes those irony/contradiction rules, it’s one of the most straightforward pieces he’s written:

Once more, my feelings have succeeded in confusing me,
But what’s most amusing is … I like the way it looks.

Or my favorite verses from that song:

I tear my thoughts with my own sarcastically piercing blade.
I love you … because you make me sick.
Distorted, isn’t it?
But it’s beautiful.
Exceptionally beautiful … damn.

You can tell he means it because of the circle-shaped sunglasses.

That song comes from 1991’s Of The Heart, Of The Soul And Of The Cross: The Utopian Experience, which is damn near perfect. It’s one of the few albums I’ve heard that understands emotional transition between tracks. In other words, you don’t just throw out an energetic dance song and then pull out the rug with a depressing followup. You arrange the music so that when you listen to them all in a row, it’s like floating on a lake, smoothly riding waves of highs and lows. It’s not cocaine. It’s ecstasy.

#3. Better Than Ezra

Where You Know Them From:

“It was goooooooood … a-livin’ with you, WAH-haaaw!”

I’d love to embed the video for that, but it looks like someone got lawyer-happy and purged every copy of it from the internet. Even from MTV’s website. So here’s Riskay’s “Smell Yo Dick” instead:

Anyway, look around for “Good” by Better Than Ezra. It’s not hard to find. It came out in 1995 and hit #1 on the alternative charts. Then they followed that up in the same year with the #4 hit “In The Blood“. They had a couple of songs after that, like “King Of New Orleans” and “Desperately Wanting,” but nothing as big as those original two. The funny thing to me is that when you say the name of the band, it just screams ’90s. They are to the ’90s what teenage pregnancy was to the ’80s. Yet when I talk about the actual legitimacy of the band with my friends, they all just think of them as average, singing average songs to average people. They’re just kind of “Meh.”

Why They Deserve Our Respect:

Better Than Ezra are absolute masters of matching lyrical content to the emotional tone of the music, and I’ve heard very few bands that are better at it. To understand what I mean, you really need to hear their album Deluxe. The emotional range of the songs on that release range from “dance while you do the dishes” music to “I think I might stab myself in the face after this song is over.” There’s even a country song called “Coyote” which weirdly doesn’t sound out of place for an alternative band. Again, I can’t find the official version, so here’s “Smell Yo Dick” once more:

And when I mentioned stabbing yourself in the face, I wasn’t exaggerating. The dark songs on that album are super goddamn dark. In fact, one of the most fucked-up sets of lyrics I’ve ever heard comes from that album, and it’s mostly because the tone of the song feels like a tragic love story. Yeah, Marilyn Manson or Slipknot may have edgier lyrics, but you expect that sort of thing from them. You don’t expect Better Than Ezra to put this into the middle of a sweet-sounding ballad called “Porcelain”:

Well, I wish I could kill you and savor the sight
Get into my car; drive into the night
Then lie as I scream to the heavens above
That I was the last one you ever loved

He wants to kill her so that he’ll be the last person she ever loved. And savor it? That’s some Dexter-level shit right there. The whole album is filled with incredible lyrics like this, and they back it all up with perfect complimentary instrumentation. Anyone who says this band is just “meh” can lick my asshole.

#2. Hole

Where You Know Them From:

It’s Courtney Love. Conspiracy theorists have been on her jock since … well, you know the story. Just let it go, man. It’s been over two decades. Fuck.

Hole had three really big hits, starting with “Doll Parts” in 1994, which reached #4 on the charts. In 1998, “Celebrity Skin” hit #1, and “Malibu” peaked at #3 in 1999. The last two songs were nominated for a total of four Grammy Awards. Unfortunately for Love’s career, she was married to one of the greatest rock frontmen of all time, so it became impossible to not be compared to him every time she picked up a guitar or a microphone. A friend of mine once saw her in concert, and one of the audience members yelled out for her to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Love told him to go fuck himself, and I’ve respected her ever since.

Why They Deserve Our Respect:

Love never had a traditionally great singing voice. In that respect, she actually was a lot like Cobain. Both of them turned that weakness into a strength by making damn sure that their singing conveyed emotion. You’ll notice that’s a strong running theme in this article. That’s because if music doesn’t make you feel something, either you or it is broken.

How’d you get so desperate? How are you still alive?

Live Through This was exactly that. It’s dirty, raw, honest, and painful in spots. She had listened to critics call her fake for years, and instead of sitting back and taking it for another decade, she hit a breaking point and basically said with her music, “Yep, I am fake. In order to have a career in audio, I have to put on pretty little dresses and pretty makeup, and turn myself into a pretty fucking model. Fuck you. I’m fake. It’s part of the job.”

I fake it so real, I am beyond fake
And someday, you will ache like I ache

Tell me you can listen to “Violet” and not immediately bust out an impromptu crowd surf on your unsuspecting friend’s head:

They get what they want, and they never want it again
They get what they want, and they never want it again
Go on, take everything. Take everything, I want you to
Go on, take everything. Take everything, I dare you to

#1. The Lemonheads

Where You Know Them From:

Regular fans of The Lemonheads will see this entry and say, “Yeah, no shit. Everyone knows this band is crazy awesome. Some might even say ‘rad.'” My wife once Tweeted a picture of our Lemonheads playlist to Evan Dando, and he replied, “Hydrox.” I still have no idea what he means. Maybe he’s saying “the original”? As in, Hydrox was the original Oreo, and our playlist was from all the old albu- No, I still have no idea. Still, it’s a testament to his awesomeness.

I’m getting off-track. Even if you’re not a fan, you’d likely know them from their 1992 cover of “Mrs. Robinson” or from their #1 hit in 1993, “Into Your Arms.” Or maybe “It’s A Shame About Ray” from ’92:

Even though they’ve been together for 30 years (hiatus in the early 2000s excluded), The Lemonheads aren’t exactly what you’d call a mainstream success. People who aren’t balls-deep fans view them as just a kind of average band. They’re not pop enough for a dance floor. You won’t hear them on heavy radio rotation. They’re not an arena band. They’re more like the soundtrack to a slightly gritty coming of age love story. Even though they sometimes sing about drugs, you can’t even call them a stoner band. They’re more like, “Man, I am so high … I don’t even want to be this high.” To the music industry as a whole, they’re kind of just … there.

Why They Deserve Our Respect:

Pick out any album The Lemonheads have ever released. Randomly skip to any track you want. That track is awesome.

They are one of the most consistently catchy earworm bands I’ve ever heard. You’ll have to take my word for it, but I just did a broad “Lemonheads” search on YouTube and picked out the first video from their official label that caught my eye. I got “Confetti,” which has the awesome lines, “He kinda shoulda sorta woulda loved her if he could’ve … he’d rather be alone and pretend”:

It’s the story of a guy who enters a relationship because “Eh, why not?” He goes through the motions for a while, but then finds himself in a predicament, wanting out but not knowing how to get out without being a complete cockhole.

She wanted him to love her, but he didn’t
He took to the words and wandered in it
Walked along and on ’til his legs couldn’t
Stole her voice to tell her that he wouldn’t

Or if you’re more into booger analogies, he has those too:

But the thing I love the most about The Lemonheads is that if Evan Dando read this article right now, he couldn’t give the slightest shit what I thought of his band. He makes music because he loves it, and you can legitimately feel that in every song they play.

It should be noted that these aren’t even close to all of the bands I wanted write about. I have a list a mile long in my notes, but if I included them all, I’d have to title this article “I Wrote 10,000 Words On ’90s Music … Please Don’t Fire Me.” I’m sure that at some point, my nostalgia boner will rise again and I’ll do a followup. In the meantime, I just gave you a shitload of music to catch up on. Study hard … there will likely be a test. Here’s “Smell Yo Dick” again:

Marvel at the transformation of Kid Rock in 6 Bands That Totally Reinvented Themselves To Get Famous, and check out why we should give Metallica a break in 4 Famous Bands We (Wrongly) Hated When They Tried to Change.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel to see what happened to the worst band of this period in The Horrifying Future of Bands From the Late ’90s, and watch other videos you won’t see on the site!

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