Colin Farrell in 1995. Photo by Mike Flamenco on Unsplash

The 24 Most Important Songs of 1994–2001

I’ll get back to Colin soon… probably.

Raphaela Weissman
15 min readDec 12, 2023


It’s the end of the year, and making lists is fun, and also a great way to write if you’re a “writer” who’s trying to “get some writing done” because that’s what you’re supposed to “do,” I guess. I highly recommend tricking yourself into doing things you’d otherwise put off this way. Dumb life down, and bribe yourself with treats. We really are all just dogs, if you think about it.

But first, a quick hello to our guy. I’m delighted to report that when you Google News “Colin Farrell,” all of the top stories are about his brief but crucial relationship with Britney Spears, and by “crucial” I mean Melani and I talked about it at length when we watched Phone Booth. I fully intend to read The Woman in Me, Britney’s recently released memoir, but I did brave spoilers to skim a couple of the articles, and great news, it’s mainly that they were very hot for each other for like two weeks. From Time:

They connected, she visited him on the set of his movie, and the pair “had a two-week brawl,” Spears writes in the book, a copy of which was obtained by TIME ahead of its Oct. 24 release. “Brawl is the only word for it — we were all over each other, grappling so passionately it was like we were in a street fight.”


So speaking of Britney Spears and of my best friend Melani, earlier this year, I made a ’90s playlist for Melani; we don’t use the same music streaming service so when I say I made her a playlist, I mean I wrote down a very long list of songs. She wrote back:

I don’t know if you are taking recommendations for additions to this playlist, but as you know it really got my wheels turning.

[this is an abbreviated sample of her suggestions:]

Jewel — why do you hate Jewel?

Toni Braxton — Unbreak My Heart — this music video was important to me. i put this song in the same iconic breakup song category as Celine’s It’s All Coming Back to Me Now which I would also add to this list but you do already have Celine represented thank god.

Soul Asylum — Runaway Train — this was my favorite song for a long time. turns out it’s from the 80s, not the 90s, but I very much associate it with teen angst. it hits you like the Verve Pipe’s the Freshmen.

Bon Jovi — why do you hate Bon Jovi?

So I 100% stole her idea and have been working my way through my playlist, which was at last count 210 songs, writing little mini-essays about each one. Below is a sampling of the thirtysomething I’ve gotten through all together. It’s a pretty fun exercise if you like list-making, or, like me, take the nineties nostalgia craze personally and need to process your anxiety about it.

Some ground rules: this is a personal list, much like my list of Movies to Watch Over and Over Again, and it should cover a stretch of time where the type of music that’s on it was important to you. Got me?

So for me, in 1994, I’m nine years old, so I’m listening exclusively to the oldies station and cassette tapes of The Beatles, but for the very first time I’m at least aware of some music that my peers are listening to (New Kids on the Block, Green Day, and TLC come to mind). I become a bit more aware of these things with each passing year, and then in 1997–99 I’m caring to an extent I never had before and haven’t since, like spending $17.99 of my sort-of-hard-earned allowance on a CD that I knew ONE SONG on. Insert whatever generational joke you want here about how many people reading this might literally not know what I’m talking about, or at least not understand how heartbreakingly stupid it is to spend that much money on a CD if it’s 2000 and you’re fifteen years old and you know one of the seventeen tracks. After that, I sort of became less interested in what was happening in contemporary music as I got older, but in 2000–2001, I’m still pretty jiggy with it, if you get my meaning.

SO, that’s why 1994–2001 is my youth/adolescence musical sweet spot. Please calculate yours however you like.

And now, without further ado, don’t delay, act now, supplies are running out!

The Prodigy — Firestarter

Maybe the sign that you’re from a certain era is that you can’t imagine something you thought was cool from that era ever not being cool. I feel that way about so many things on this list. I guess every generation has a version of someone yelling something into a mic, and probably everyone thinks theirs is the best, and I think mine is — ARE — the best. Pure screaming, pure fuck you energy. I’M A FIRESTARTER! Fuck yeah.

Rage Against the Machine — Bulls on Parade

Many of my shirts from this era are still in my old room, which is now my mom’s room. Next time I’m home visiting my parents, I need to find my Rage Against the Machine shirt, which is the most important one. (Author’s note: was just home, forgot to do this.) It’s a black and white ringer shirt — God, ringer shirts were cool — that says “rage against the machine” on the front, all lowercase, courier new font, could not possibly be cooler, and on the back is a picture that’s like the whole planet earth turned into a CAGE, man, and all these people are in it looking out BUT THEY CAN’T GET OUT, BECAUSE THE WORLD IS JUST A CAGE, MAN! My shirt, if it’s still in a drawer in upstate New York, still, I hope upon hope, has traces of pink hair die on it around the collar from when I wore it to swimming class (a required class in high school, carved out of a semester of gym, in which you tell the coach every single time that you have your period because, despite being a high school girls’ swim teacher, it clearly makes him so uncomfortable that it earns you a free class of sitting on the bleachers and not having to participate, no questions asked. There was a catch, though: all your period days did count as absences, and nineteen of those or however many I had left me with an F or a zero or a “not pass” or whatever it was, so while I spent most of that semester not swimming in the actual class, I spent several days after school doing laps to make those up and not flunk out).

Something I might not truly, deeply understand in my soul, no matter how old I get: anyone can use currency to purchase a shirt. You’re actually not cosmically prohibited from wearing something cool (or having a tattoo or piercing or etc.) if you’re not cool enough to wear it. This, which again, I only really understand in theory to this day, was especially lost on me in high school. I could not believe I was wearing the same shirt I had seen on hot boys and other people who were objectively cooler than me. (If you made one of those word clouds of this playlist/essay, I am certain that “cool” would dwarf literally every other word.) Even as this shirt was on my body, I just could not get over that simply because my mom had paid a guy at the store some money, I got to wear it around, just like that. What a beautiful world it was.

The Fugees — Ready or Not

I was not very into hip-hop (which I probably would have called “rap” at the time) during this period. The hip-hop on this list falls into a few different categories; this one is “I thought this song always existed.” That “ready or not” in the beginning I feel like I remember from earlier than 1996, which of course I don’t actually. It feels like this song was in the air, like in Back to the Future, how “Mr. Sandman” is playing every time he goes back to 1955, just always playing in the background like it’s being piped out to the whole town over a loudspeaker, or just wafting mysteriously through the air. I predict that’s not the last time I’ll make that “Mr. Sandman” reference in this list; some songs, for the intents and purposes of memory, really were just floating all around us during certain times.

Matchbox 20 — Push

Kelli and Amy were both obsessed with Matchbox 20. I think not this song, I think some other Matchbox 20 song, was the one Kelli had me read the lyrics to because she couldn’t get over how similar they were to the situation she was in with the guy she had a crush on. It was a stressful assignment, because I couldn’t identify the specific rings of truth that were so apparent to her. I don’t remember what I said or if I was at all a good friend to her.

Primitive Radio Gods — Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand

I learned this song from my best friend Chrissy Smith in sixth grade. She wore giant white t-shirts and jeans and knew more about everything in pop culture than I did, and a lot of it was not as objectively cool as this song definitely is. “Ma Teresa’s joined the mob and happy with her full-time job” was her favorite line.

The Verve Pipe — Freshmen

This makes me think of getting ready for school in the morning and listening to the radio. I can’t remember how long I did this, I think it started in about eighth grade, and it made me feel grown-up. I didn’t have a TV in my room, so being able to listen to my own music — to anything, really — while getting ready in the morning made me feel like I was an independent adult with a little apartment in my parent’s house. I kept the volume comically low because I was treading on thin ice, I thought, and could, to mix metaphors, easily fly too close to the sun, get yelled at by my dad, and have the morning radio privileges taken away.

Sometimes I would listen to WRRV, the “alternative station,” which was so popular I remember distinctly the day that Dave was the contestant on “The Ass-Backwards Song of the Day,” in which, you guessed it, they played a song backwards and you had to guess what it was. I remember him addressing a little crowd that gathered in the front hallway of M. Clifford Miller Middle School to fawn over him and his radio appearance. I don’t remember if he actually won or not.

And for a while I listened to a real morning-zoo type morning radio show called “Bob and Sherri in the morning,” which is wild to me, because now whenever I’m in an Uber in the morning that’s playing a show like that I want to jump out of the car.

Anyway, they played that song a lot.

Butthole Surfers — Pepper

So brilliant. So important.

Gina G — Ooh Aah… Just a Little Bit

Ok, it is difficult to find something to say about every one of these. And it’s too bad to first raise that point here, because this is a great song.

Marilyn Manson — The Beautiful People

I was not a Marilyn Manson fan, and in recent years it’s turned out he’s an abusive shitty person in real life, but he was very present. My best friend Chrissy Smith underwent a major change between sixth and seventh grade. In sixth grade, when we were best friends, she wore mostly enormous white t-shirts and jeans, and her primary concern in life was boys. Every member of her stuffed animal collection were all named some variation of the name “Jonathan Taylor Thomas” (Jonathan Taylor, Taylor Thomas, just Thomas, etc. etc.)

Then in seventh grade, she started wearing all black and just generally a lot more stuff — necklaces and bracelets and wallet chains , all composed of so much metal and leather— and became singularly obsessed with Marilyn Manson. We pretty quickly became pretty definitively not friends that year, but I must have been around for some of this phase, because I remember her explaining that everyone in Marilyn Manson’s band had taken the first name of a Hollywood starlet and the last name of a famous murderer (Twiggy Ramirez is the other one I can remember). I remember I found the whole thing totally scary, I didn’t get it at all, I didn’t like his freaky eye, and I didn’t know any of his music at all except for this song, which is fine I guess.

DJ Kool — Let Me Clear My Throat

A school dance, I’m thinking, is where I heard this first.

The Verve — Bittersweet Symphony

Why was there a band called The Verve during this period and also a band called the Verve Pipe? I didn’t understand it then and I don’t understand it now. What did the ’90s know about verve that we don’t???

Radiohead — Karma Police

I thought Radiohead was super overrated for a lot of my life. I still don’t know if I get why people think they’re the greatest shit of all time, although you don’t really hear that as much these days because we’re fucking old. In college, I definitely was like, this is sludgy mush and a guy whining, what on earth is the big deal, and I have little to no memory of what my feelings were about them pre-college except I remember my friend Mer and I singing “Creep” in his car at night really loudly and not knowing the words.

Why is this on this list? Why are there like four Radiohead songs on this list? This project somehow got kind of manic and slippery and flew out of my hands, and I’m only on number 14 right now, but I must press on. Surely I at least knew the song “Karma Police” in high school. We’ll figure this out eventually.

Green Day — Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)

It seems to me that this song is an early example of a phenomenon that would become fully fleshed out later with the arrival of social media and “comment culture,” the immediate commentary on a thing overtaking the thing itself before the thing even has a chance to, you know, do its thing. I feel like this song was out for about five seconds before it became The Graduation Song, this punchline about sentiment and sappiness. It’s a bigger part of this song than the song itself. This song is like the 1998 version of the Barbie movie.

Also, I always liked this song! So the snarkiness always bothered me a little.

Biggie Smalls & Puff Daddy — Mo Money Mo Problems

School dance, big time. If I made my life into a movie, I would take a page from Back to the Future and this song would be playing in every scene with a school dance, the entire time, regardless of the year.

Puff Daddy & Faith Evans — I’ll Be Missing You

School dance, but you can tell it’s about something sad that happened.

Chumbawumba — Tubthumping

My dad liked this song. He bought the Chumbawumba CD. So he had the Chumbawumba CD, and I did not. I have only a threadbare understanding of how music works since about 2014, but I guess this is like if there was a popular TikTok star and you’d never seen them before but your dad had.

Will Smith — Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It

You gotta give it to him, the guy knows how to write a catchy song.

Smash Mouth — Walking on the Sun

The Smash Mouth lead singer died recently, and this song is kind of the whole reason I made this playlist in the first place.

The thing about nostalgia and the thing about being in your mid- to late thirties is that all of a sudden, you’re old. It’s been sneaking up here and there, the writing has been on the wall, but one day, you wake up and teenagers are wearing the shit people just wore at school as like, a funny, trendy, ironic statement. And it’s weird. And part of you feels kind of special that your era is having a moment in the spotlight, but another, bigger part of you feels sort of claustrophobic and anxious about the whole thing. You want, you need, for your actual experience of having actually lived in that moment to be recognized, and validated (as if you needed another fucking thing to need to feel recognized and validated about). You want to go up to every kid you see in a Rugrats shirt and scream “I WAS THERE!!!” (Hey, why Rugrats? How did that land as one of the unquestionable totems of this era in popular culture? Another thing you’ll learn is that the other people your age, the newly old, all have something like this, some obscure piece of ’90s iconography that makes them go, WHAT?? WHY?? Your friend Doug’s is “What is up with people wearing Taco Bell t-shirts???”)

Anyway, I WAS THERE, is what I’m trying to say. And I was there when this song was huge, because I will always remember field trip day, eighth grade, 1998, when my class was sitting on a bus in front of the middle school, waiting to go somewhere, I don’t remember where, and at the back of the bus, the popular kids started a debate, which is better, “Walking on the Sun” or Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life,” which devolved into the two sides singing their respective songs, at the same time, as loudly as possible. I’ll say again that the popular kids started this.

So buy all the Rugrats shirts you want, kids. You still weren’t there.

(Also, “Semi-Charmed Life” is not on this playlist, because I don’t like that song. Team WOTS 4 life!!!)

Travis — Why Does it Always Rain on Me

I first heard this on WDST, which was a backup station if WRRV wasn’t coming in or had a commercial break or something. WDST was… still is??? Who knows… Woodstock, New York’s official radio station. It used to be in a little shack at the edge of town by the Tinker Street Cinemas.

I figured out that WDST’s call letters were a reference to Woodstock when I was about 32 years old.

Sugar Ray — Fly

You know what else is not around anymore, those top ten shows on VH1. There was Best Week Ever, but there was also, like, I Love the 80s and Worst Songs Ever and Best Songs Ever and Craziest Celebrity Breakups and all kinds of shit like that. They were great for channel flipping, a perfect short-attention-span slice, so I watched a lot of them over the years. One was about Sexiest Celebrities and one of them was Mark McGrath, the guy from Sugar Ray, and I remember they showed a clip of him talking about what makes someone sexy, and he said he thought the sexiest thing was when someone didn’t know they were sexy, and I thought, especially if the interview had happened because of his inclusion on this list, that that was really funny, to talk about your own sexiness in those terms. I told my friends about it and we laughed and laughed.

Radiohead — No Surprises

The Radiohead mystery continues. Not only do I have no further insights from before, I actually forgot that I even addressed the Radiohead issue already. Doesn’t bode well for solving the mystery, does it?

Third Eye Blind — How’s it Going to Be

This song’s ok. It’s interesting that I kind of felt compelled to include Third Eye Blind on this list because I was very aware that I left off “Semi-Charmed Life.” I guess it’s a testament to what a big deal that song was.

White Town — I Could Never be Your Woman

I don’t understand how this song is not from the early ’90s or even ’80s. No teens were singing this song on the back of the bus in my day.

Hanson — Mmmbop

I DID NOT like this song at the time, and it would have been VERY IMPORTANT that you know that I DID NOT like this song, HATED it in fact, TOTALLY HATED THAT SONG that idiot preppy girls like, not me man, I liked Rage Against the Machine, was seriously considering getting a Rage shirt someday (if it really was that easy to just get a shirt that cool, I was still dubious), etc. etc. etc.

Because I was a stupid kid! This song is the best! A treat for the ears every time it comes on.

— — — — — — — — -

… be continued???? 186 to go. What do you think?

P.S. Thanks for reading this far, people who read this far! I was going to include special bonus content for you all, the end credits of the 1994 classic Houseguest, starring Phil Hartman and Sinbad, a favorite at the time which I think holds up great and is still an excellent film, but I couldn’t find a decent clip of it on YouTube that wasn’t taped off of TV and mostly consisted of ads for other TBS programming. The ’90s are everywhere! Anyway, so instead your bonus content is a recommendation; Houseguest would pair excellently with any of these songs.



Raphaela Weissman

Raphaela is a writer living in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of the novel Monsters: