The best 90s songs, as chosen by your favourite bands
33 of rock and metal's hottest bands pick the best songs from the 90s
As proven in issue 299 of Metal Hammer, the 1990s were a banner decade for rock and metal, with bands like Sepultura, Rage Against The Machine, Alice In Chains and Pantera rising to prominence.
Despite all the incredible music released during that fruitful time, it's hard to pick a definitive favourite moment – we counted down the top 100 songs from the '90s and that was hard enough! But we knew that it could be done, and that if anyone was up to the challenge of picking their favourite '90s songs, it would be bands themselves. We caught up with 33 of the biggest and brightest stars in rock and metal to find out what they deem as the perfect musical representation of the '90s, or the song that they sat around in their pants listening to the most. Basically the same, innit?
Limp Bizkit – Nookie (Significant Other, 1999)
Picked by Jacob Field from The One Hundred
"Huge groove, aggressive, in your face, and relentless. It has a catchy melodic chorus, porn-like groove basslines, breakbeat verses and some of the most inappropriate lyrics. It still sounds current despite being nearly twenty years old – the song has really stood the test of time. It features everything Bizkit are; hip-hop and rock mixed perfectly."
Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight (Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Picked by Sean Harmanis from Make Them Suffer
"I picked this song because not only is it hugely nostalgic for me, but it's a song that I've come to appreciate more as time has passed. When I initially heard this song, truthfully I didn't think much of it. I found the orchestral elements a little cheesy. As I've grown older however, this tune has become something of an anthem for me. It's an absolute must in the Pumpkins discography and I believe Tonight, Tonight is the best song of the '90s because of it's ability to age like a fine wine."
Slipknot – (sic) (Slipknot, 1999)
Picked by Ben Bruce from Asking Alexandria
"While the song was released at the very end of the '90s, I feel it is one of the best metal songs of the era. The song is just so aggressive and so energetic, it's unlike anything else from the '90s, and still holds it weight almost 20 years later."
Blur – Song 2 (Blur, 1997)
Picked by Rob Vicars from Wars
"Nothing grabs me by the collar and bellows '90s at me quite like the 'Woohoo!' of Blur's Song 2, largely due to it's main menu appearance on FIFA 98. It instantly reminds me of simpler times when I thought football games were decent and if a band weren’t Blink 182 then they didn’t exist."
Alice In Chains – Rooster (Dirt, 1992)
Picked by Elijah Witt from Cane Hill
"I know it's their 'mainstream hit' which could make it fuckin' 'lame' for me to choose it, but it blew them even further into the mainstream, and no matter what any prick says about selling out and reaching mainstream audiences, it's a fucking beautiful moment when underground music gets recognition from the normies. That means you're doing something so right! Not only the freaks like you get it, but the people who aren't outwardly admitting they're problematic because it isn't cool relate to your art. An on top of that it's what got me into Alice – a band that helped me find, and be happy with, myself."
Radiohead – Creep (Pablo Honey, 1993)
Picked by Rory Rodriguez from Dayseeker
"Creep to me has always been one of my favourites from the '90s. The dynamics of a song that uses the same four chords over and over again is astounding. Lyrically, I feel like it's something most people can relate to. Just wanting to be a better version of yourself at all times."
Slint – Washer (Spiderland, 1991)
Picked by Rusty Cleave from Helpless
"The Spiderland LP changed the way I thought about dark music. I bought this album around 1992 on its second release when it was distributed on Touch M Go Records. Touch N Go had a roster of angular noise at the time – The Jesus Lizard, Big Black etc. It was a brave and brilliant move for a bunch of teenagers to record really sensitive quiet music on a label full of noise. It doesn’t have to be loud to be heavy."
Metallica – Sad But True (Metallica, 1991)
Picked by Tobias Young from Our Hollow, Our Home
"The first time I heard the main riff to Sad But True, I felt like I'd been hit in the face by a train. Repeatedly. And it felt mighty fine. The Black Album slays, but for me Sad But True is the train-shaped icing on the cake."
Jesus Lizard – Thumbscrews (Shot, 1996)
Picked by Josh Scogin from '68
"This is a great reminder that a song can successfully feel 'heavy' without having gratuitous distortion over everything. There is obviously a little juice on there, but ultimately the guitar and bass are very clear. It's also a great reminder that sometimes it's okay for a singer to scream an unintelligible one syllable word over and over again at the end of a song."
Nirvana – Breed (Nevermind, 1991)
Picked by Erik Bickerstaffe from Loathe
"Breed for me was the track that stood out the most on Nirvana's Nevermind album. After being exposed to the obvious songs like In Bloom and Smells Like Teen Spirit, I bought the album. Nirvana's overall style became one of my favourites as it seemed completely chaotic but still followed that of a pop structure, giving it an extra edge to fit into the mainstream world."
Savatage – Streets (Streets: A Rock Opera, 1991)
Picked by Hansi Kürsch from Blind Guardian
"Savatage is my favourite metal band of the late '80s and the early '90s. On this masterpiece Jon Oliva’s charismatic voice outshines everything, no matter how good the murderous guitar riffs, the songwriting, the lyrical concept, the production, or the spooky atmosphere of this outstanding album are. Period. "
Rammstein – Wollt ihr das Bett in Flammen sehen? (Herzeleid, 1995)
Picked by Jarkko Aaltonen from Korpiklaani
"The first track from the debut album restored many metal fans’ faith in rock music after Nirvana, Guns N’ Roses and the other early '90s crap occurred. The simple riff that forces you to bang your head to the beat and the even simpler chorus that you just have to sing along to – it captivated me!”
Rage Against The Machine – Bulls On Parade (Evil Empire, 1996)
Picked by Briton Bond from Wage War
"To this day, I don't think I've heard a more angry song. There are a lot of bands out there that try write angry music, but I think Rage had the perfect formula for what was going on at that time. I don't think we'll see another band like this for a long time."
Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nevermind, 1991)
Picked by Greg Kubacki from Car Bomb
"Seriously, is there any other answer? All of those spandex sweat shops, hairspray factories, Yngwie Malmsteen VHS instructional video duplication centres – that whole ecosystem of hair metal was completely destroyed overnight with four simple chords and Kurt’s voice. I can’t think of another song that came out of nowhere like that and single-handedly annihilated a whole genre of music."
Strapping Young Lad – Detox (City, 1997)
Picked by Tony Dolan from Venom Inc
"All you could want and more. Furiously addictive and powerfully charged, it takes no prisoners and is a brutal face frontal assault. Gloriously metallic. All hail the Townsend!"
Iron Monkey – 666 Pack (Iron Monkey, 1996)
Picked by T from Dragged Into Sunlight
"The perfect soundtrack to accompany growing up in the murky grey, syringe-ridden streets of a council estate in industrial England during the '90s. Like it's name suggests, this track from the pioneers of British sludge is pretty much the audio equivalent of consuming copious amounts of booze and/or other highly intoxicating substances, while enduring the bloodiest of bar fights – things that Dragged Into Sunlight are all too familiar with. The migraine-inducing riffs of this nihilistic anthem have been played in our rehearsal rooms and soundchecks from the very start of the band. A true inspiration that has never been surpassed in it's visceral, seething hatred and pummelling riffle."
Sepultura – Refuse/Resist (Chaos A.D., 1993)
Picked by Larissa Stupar from Venom Prison
"When it was released I must have been four years old. I discovered Sepultura through Slipknot when I was browsing Roadrunner Records to find new bands to listen to. Sepultura have influenced me more than I first realised, it's probably the first band with political content that I was aware of."
Slipknot – Purity (Slipknot, 1999)
Picked by Chris Pritchard from Blood Youth
"Partially inspired by a story from a website on a girl named Adrianne Purity Knight who was kidnapped, tortured and kept underground in a box. The song was pulled from the original self-titled release due to a lawsuit, and replaced with Me Inside, but was later released. To me it’s one of Slipknot’s darkest and heaviest songs to date."
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Give It Away (Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991)
Picked by Griff Dickinson from Shvpes
"The snare sound alone in this track is enough to give me the horn. It's got that really primal feel to it, where it just speaks to you from the get go. I love the way the lyrics sound like he's talking pure doo doo, but are actually pretty deep. Definitely one of the best track of the '90s."
Pantera – I’m Broken (Far Beyond Driven, 1994)
Picked by Alex O'Leary from Bailer
"I’m Broken is one of the anthems of the '90s. It displays everything about them at the peak of their career. Hard hitting, in your face riffs, visceral vocals, a blistering solo and pure groove. That video, too. Lads in a room pouring out their heart and souls. Perfect!"
Nirvana – Come As You Are (Nevermind, 1991)
Picked by Dario Sanchez from Alazka
"This is actually the very first song that I learned to play on guitar. It's not only the number one Nirvana track, but it's one of the best songs in rock history and my personal number one '90s track. This song might be simple, but it's deep and beautiful. It's timeless and more relevant than ever before. Nirvana managed to influence a whole generation and genre. They are one of the reasons that I am actually playing in a band."
Children Of Bodom – Downfall (Hatebreeder, 1999)
Picked by Miles Dimitri Baker from Rings Of Saturn
"Downfall is one of the coolest '90s metal songs because the intro immediately grabs you, the song moves really well, and it has a nice classical influence without abusing it to a point where all you hear is Bach doing backflips in his grave. This song grabs your attention from start to finish and holds it very well. In a way, it has turned into somewhat of a marker of the Children Of Bodom sound, as well as paving the way for a lot of artists who came after and have been influenced by them."
Rancid – Salvation (Let's Go, 1994)
Picked by Andrew Neufeld from Comeback Kid
“I'm not usually one for favourites, but as music is a time and place, I'm going with Rancid's Salvation. This was my first introduction to punk on a commercial level. The catchy song, the aesthetic of the band and video all spoke to me as a young punk, hungry to know about this music and scene I was just finding out about.”
Pantera – Walk (Vulgar Display Of Power, 1992)
Picked by Vogg from Decapitated
“That song brought a new level of groove, heaviness and power to the metal scene, and completely changed it forever. That track has been a huge inspiration for thousands of musicians – specifically for me as a guitar player and songwriter.”
Type O Negative – Everything Dies (World Coming Down, 1999)
Picked by Joseph D. Rowland from Pallbearer
"It’s perhaps their most darkly beautiful song – and Type O themselves are a virtually perfect encapsulation of a sound that is both wholly singular and wholly ‘90s.”
Megadeth – Holy Wars... The Punishment Due (Rust In Peace, 1990)
Picked by Felix Lawrie from Brutai
"Holy Wars... is pretty much the reason I picked up a guitar and wanted to start a band. At a young age when I was just getting into metal, my cousin showed me the Rust In Peace album and as soon as I heard the opening riff I was hooked. It's the best opening metal album track to this day! I then spent the rest of my teenage years learning as many Megadeth songs as possible."
Deftones – My Own Summer (Shove It) (Around The Fur, 1997)
Picked by Carl Gethin from Fire Red Empress
"This track seemed to come out of nowhere and was just a great song! Deftones always seem to get lumped in with nu metal, but they have so much more about them than that. The contrast between the ethereal vocals and the nasty riffs is perfect. They were a huge influence on us."
Alice In Chains – Them Bones (Dirt, 1992)
Picked by Paul Mckenzie from This Year's Ghost
"This was one of the first songs, and albums, that really struck a chord with me as a teenager. It had the power and energy of metal, but had the disconnected melancholy that real grunge had at the time. Layne's voice had real pain and truth to it."
Alice In Chains – Would? (Dirt, 1992)
Picked by Shaun Coar from As Paradise Falls
"This song made me fall in love with big eerie vocal harmonies. The way Cantrell's voice blends in Layne's is stunning to say the least. It created the perfect atmospherics for the menacing bass line to ungulate along with the drums. Building a dynamic for Layne Stanley to bust open with a killer chorus."
Tool – Ænema (Ænima, 1996)
Picked by Aaron Pauley from Of Mice & Men
"Undeniably one of the best songs in rock and metal from the 90s. Lyrically, the song deals with celebrity and pop culture, and how their negative effects on society could be rectified by California slipping into the ocean and creating Arizona Bay. The song won the Grammy for Best Metal Performance at the 40th Grammy Awards."
Pantera – Cowboys From Hell (Cowboys From Hell, 1990)
Picked by Alex Canion from Voyager
"Cowboys from Hell encapsulates Pantera to a tee. Brash and confident; this song writes the book on how to use hooks, melody and groove in the genre of metal. The addictive main riff can be still be heard being playing in guitar shops, even 27 years after its release!"
Napalm Death – Mass Appeal Madness (Mass Appeal Madness EP, 1991)
Picked by Jeremy Wagner from Broken Hope
"This is the title-track from their 1991 EP. This song has everything: death-metal elements, grinding, blastbeats, and from 2:54 to 3:20 is one of the heaviest riffs ever! Plus the great Jesse Pintado!"
Entombed – Stranger Aeons (Clandestine, 1991)
Picked by Ben Ward from Orange Goblin
"When I think of the '90s I think of the golden period of death metal, which was my introduction to metal and extreme music in general. The album that sticks out to me is Clandestine by Entombed and in particular, the song Stranger Aeons which was an indication of the ‘death 'n' roll’ band that Entombed would later become on the likes of Wolverine Blues and. An amazing track by an amazing band!"