In case you missed it, 90s nostalgia is having a serious moment: MTV is reviving TRL, Matchbox 20 is on tour with Counting Crows, OK Computer just turned 20, and this 90s mashup by Todrick Hall blew up on social media (rightfully so—it is IMPRESSIVE.) Most “Best of the 90s” listicles and throwback playlists are full of the massive hits we all remember from that decade: “Ice Ice Baby,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Hypnotize,” “Waterfalls,” and “Hit Me Baby One More Time” are just a few of the usual selections.
But beyond these obvious chart toppers, it’s the once-ubiquitous, now-obscure songs that can really warp us back in time. I’m talking about the ones that come on in the dentist’s office waiting room or your mom’s car. More than that, it’s the peculiar moment when you’re stunned to realize that you still know all the words even though you haven’t heard them since Bill Clinton was president and there were Fruitopia vending machines outside Blockbuster.
Here are nine forgotten 90s jams that scratch a deeper nostalgia itch than that Ace of Base song you still sing at karaoke.
La Bouche – “Be My Lover” (1995)
We imported a lot of dance music from Europe in the 90s (see also: Another Night by Real McCoy). With its catchy-yet-ominous “la da da dee da” hook and a rap break that namechecks Boyz II Men, “Be My Lover” was in rotation on dance floors, basketball stadiums, step aerobics classes AND Top 40 radio all at once.
Michael Jackson – “Will You Be There” (1991)
“Will You Be There” was the eighth (!) single off MJ’s Dangerous album, released more than a year after chart-toppers “Black or White” and “Remember the Time.” It did not achieve the lasting success and acclaim of those predecessors—but if you grew up in the 90s, you will instantly remember this track, with its shuffle-y percussion and soaring gospel choir, as the theme song to the 1993 classic, Free Willy.
Shawn Mullins – “Lullaby” (1998)
This song has oddball spoken-word verses that tell a poor-little-rich-girl story with a Hollywood twist. But the chorus is a heaping helping of adult contemporary comfort food: “Everything’s Gonna be alright, Rockabye.” Bonus trivia: You might be surprised to learn that Shawn Mullins co-wrote 2008 country hit Toes with the Zac Brown Band. Nashville with a tan, indeed.
Brandy – “Sittin Up In My Room” (1995)
“Sittin’ Up In My Room” is on the soundtrack from Waiting to Exhale, which is basically a
musical roll call of powerhouse R&B divas: Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, and so forth. Brandy is the fresh-faced newcomer of the group, but certainly holds her own. In the video, she wears a short-sleeved velour turtleneck and crushes hard on a young Donald Faison (post-Clueless, pre-Scrubs). SO. NINETIES.
Swirl 360 – “Hey Now Now” (1998)
Swirl360 sounds more like the name of a frozen yogurt stand than a D-list 90s boyband, which is
kind of apt, because this song is sugary-sweet summertime bubblegum pop. “Hey Now Now” made it onto a couple of movie soundtracks and peaked at number 47 on the Billboard Hot 100. The twin brothers of Swirl360 then disappeared and re-emerged a couple of years later with a more sensible band name: Evan and Jaron. OK, no, I made that up, they’re two different twin-brother bands. But it seems totally plausible.
Babyface – “Every Time I Close My Eyes” (1997)
Babyface is like the Kevin Bacon of the music industry: connected to very artist you could possibly think of in six degrees or less. He co-founded the record label that gave us TLC and Usher, LaFace Records, and also wrote and produced hit songs for Whitney Houston, Madonna, Boyz II Men, Carole King, Janet Jackson…just Wikipedia him, the list is insane. This was his most popular single as a solo artist, and if the background vocals sound familiar, it’s because they’re Mariah Carey.
Goldfinger – “Superman” (1997)
For a few years, we heard a LOT of brass and horns on the radio courtesy of bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Brian Setzer Orchestra—remember that Gap commercial with the swing dancers? But if you (or your brother, boyfriend or roommate) had a skater punk phase and a Playstation, this is the ska song you probably still know the words to thanks to its appearance on the soundtrack of the very first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
Faith Hill – “This Kiss”
Before Taylor Swift and “bro country” infiltrated mainstream radio, a country singer who charted on Top 40 playlists was dubbed a “crossover” success. Shania Twain was the first woman to really own this space, followed closely by the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill. Faith went on to become a megastar in her own right, but her first crossover single was basically Shania for people who thought Shania and her floor-length animal print hoodie were a little…much. Also: this video is a GEM. They made her sing perched on a giant peach like Miley Cyrus in the Wrecking Ball video!
Jordan Hill – “Remember Me This Way”
Picture the scene: it’s the last song of the Halloween dance. A handsome young stranger
approaches teenage Christina Ricci, leads her onto the dance floor, and soon they are
levitating dreamily above the heads of her classmates. Christina clings to her mystery
boy, and he whispers the line that reveals his identity: “Can I keep you?” The film was
Casper, and the song was “Remember Me This Way” by Jordan Hill (no relation to Faith, BTW). Nineties girls, if you don’t still swoon a tiny bit at this moment, you’ve grown up too fast.