We’ve never been big fans of Rolling Stone‘s readers polls, but for once whoever reads the magazine regularly have got it mostly right. In their latest list, they’ve picked out the 10 worst songs of the ’90s, and their rankings do indeed include some major stinkers: Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out?,” Aqua’s “Barbie Girl,” Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart,” and Los Del Rio’s once-unavoidable “Macarena” all get shout outs. (We will, however, take exception to the inclusion of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” — an excellent karaoke song.) Perusing the list, it occurred to us that most of the songs were one-hit wonders, which got us thinking about the considerable number of one-hit wonders from the ’90s we actually enjoyed. A list of our 10 favorites is after the jump. No, drunk girl dancing on the bar, “Baby Got Back” is not included.
Faith No More — “Epic” (1990)
Faith No More had released two well-received albums by the time The Real Thing came out in 1989, featuring new frontman Mike Patton. Although the band always had a loyal fan base and Patton remains an indie hero, they only cracked the Billboard Hot 100 once, with “Epic.” (“Midlife Crisis,” from 1992’s Angel Dust, did well on Billboard’s Modern Rock charts but never crossed over to the pop charts.) The song’s rapid-fire lyrics and heavy yet catchy chorus presaged the rap-metal vogue of the late ’90s — and proved that the maligned subgenre could have been much better than it eventually became.
Divinyls — “I Touch Myself” (1991)
Although they achieved much more success in their homeland of Australia — where they were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2006 — Divinyls’ stateside story begins and ends with the lovably lewd “I Touch Myself.” It’s no surprise why it was their only song to strike a chord in the US: Pair an alluring frontwoman cooing “I don’t want anybody else/ When I think about you, I touch myself” with some catchy guitar riffs and a big backbeat and you’ll have a chart-topping single every time. The predictable kerfuffle over the song’s subject matter only made it more successful.
Blind Melon — “No Rain” (1993)
Undoubtedly helped by its memorable “Bee Girl” music video, the angsty “No Rain” became the first and only big hit for Blind Melon, a band whose career was cut tragically short by the death of frontman Shannon Hoon in 1995. While many have dismissed them as minor alt-rock hangers-on, we’ve always appreciated their bluesy spin on grunge and recommend that those who only know “No Rain” dig further into their catalog.
The Flaming Lips — “She Don’t Use Jelly” (1993)
Probably because the term “one-hit wonder” has such pejorative connotations, we don’t tend to group our favorite bands in with the likes of Afroman and Toni Basil. And yet, many perfectly wonderful bands have only cracked the Top 40 once. Take, for example, the Flaming Lips, whose 1993 surprise hit “She Don’t Use Jelly” combines psych-pop goodness with the absurdity of novelty gold. Of course, the band didn’t hit its creative stride until a few years later, when 1999’s The Soft Bulletin kicked off a streak of classic albums that would forever endear the band to an audience far freakier than your average MTV devotee.
Queen Latifah — “U.N.I.T.Y.” (1994)
Queen Latifah is so all-around successful these days, from high-profile movie roles to her gig repping CoverGirl, that it’s easy to forget she started out as (and remains) a rapper. And while the Queen has never been short on critical acclaim, she only broke into the Hot 100 once, with the wonderful “U.N.I.T.Y.” A loud and clear demand that the hip-hop community respect women, it kicks off with the words, “Who you callin’ a bitch?” and the song is just as relevant today as it was 17 years ago.
Skee-Lo — “I Wish” (1995)
And now for a completely different kind of hip-hop track: Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” was a crossover novelty hit, with aspirational (and sometimes nonsensical) lyrics and playful wordplay. It may not be deep, but the song is pure fun, nothing more and nothing less. True children of the ’90s can rap the entire chorus on command.
Nada Surf — “Popular” (1996)
Another song whose success had everything to do with its provocative video, “Popular” was Nada Surf’s tongue-in-cheek ode to heartbreaking mean girls and high-school social Darwinism. This glowing example of loud-quiet-loud songwriting (whose irony was almost certainly lost on much of its teenage audience) made it to 63 on the Billboard 200 — not bad for a band that never had a pop hit again. In 1999, a few years after their brush with fame, Nada Surf took a few years off; since reuniting in 2002, they’ve released four full-lengths and earned back a boatload of indie cred and critical praise. The band is scheduled to release its seventh studio album before the end of 2011.
The Cardigans — “Lovefool” (1997)
Prime placement on the wildly popular soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet helped rocket this Swedish band to worldwide renown. Although it was painfully overplayed in its heyday, “Lovefool” holds up years later as one of pop’s great lovesick laments, a bittersweet confection composed of singer Nina Persson’s feather-light voice, bouncy synths, easy rhymes, and the kind of chorus Phil Spector might hear in his dreams.
Cornershop — “Brimful of Asha” (1997)
Cross-cultural British indie rockers Cornershop scored an international chart hit with this once-ubiquitous cut, a tribute to Asha Bhosle and classic Bollywood soundtracks. The band was already four albums into their career when the song zoomed to the top of the charts, thanks to a fantastic, sped-up Fatboy Slim remix that led to a re-release of the single. Although Cornershop have remained fairly successful in the UK, most US audiences still know them best for “Brimful of Asha” — which is a shame, because their fusion of rock, Indian pop, and dance music is perfect for these post-MIA times.
Marcy Playground — “Sex and Candy” (1998)
We don’t know about you, but the easiest way to transport us back to 1998 is to queue up Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy,” a track that manages to combine surreal sex appeal, ’70s disco slang, and a distinctly slackerish vibe. It’s a weird song from a strange band (that is, by the way, still touring and making albums), and we’re thankful that it somehow managed to land at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 — even if we did complain at the time about how much we had to hear it.