19. June 2023

15 songs that bring back the blazing 90s

Old compact cassette tapes scattered across a yellow background

The 90s tracks I put on when I need a holiday from the 2020s


Every now and again, that old dinner party conversation-starter comes up: which historical era would you go back to if you had the chance? Always an interesting discussion. (If only to stop conversation veering off to the toxic quicksand of politics, a.k.a the most effective dinnerparty-destroyer known to mankind.)

1920s Berlin? Central Europe in 1989? Fin de siècle Vienna or Paris? All quite exciting prospects but, if I’m honest, the answer I’m most likely to give these days is “Britain in the 1990s”.

Oh, the unbridled optimism

This yearning for the era of my youth may be a sign of my midlife crisis manifesting itself. But I think it’s more likely to do with the apathy with which I contemplate the world and the future these days. Back in the blazing 90s, the future looked like a friendly, inviting place and one moved towards it with confidence and optimism. We felt certain: things were always going to get better!

These days, I do my level best not to think too much about the state of the world — or the future — at large. It just depresses me too much, brings on too much anxiety. I prefer to focus on the here and now and what I can influence in that small space.

I’d love a little weekend trip to the 1990s. Not to be young again (and definitely not to be at school again) — but just to touch with my fingertips that unbridled optimism, swaggering confidence and creativity that 90s Britain was so full of.

Of course, actual time travel is an impossibility. But music can be a good way to bring back some of the feelings of that time. Here are the songs I put on when I feel like giving in to nostalgia and taking a trip down memory lane back to 90s Britain.

1. Fighting Fit – Gene

2. I Don’t Want a Lover — Texas

Probably my favourite song of all time. Just superb.

3. Open Up — Leftfield feat. John Lydon

Swords was also an absolutely brilliant song.

4. Ready to Go — Republica

As good an example of any of the musical side of “Ladette Culture”. Any notion of being ladylike went straight out the window. British girls were now loud and proud – and could drink their male counterparts right under the table.

5. Dark Therapy — Echobelly

Echobelly were an indispensable element of the Britpop scene of the mid- to late 90s.

6. She Cries Your Name — Beth Orton

Not just an excellent standalone track, but also the stop-in-your-tracks-and-listen opener on Orton’s classic debut album, Trailer Park.

7. Common People – Pulp

No collection of quintessential British music from the 90s would be complete without this.

8. She Said – The Longpigs

9. Yes – McCalmont & Butler

The ultimate feelgood track.

10. The Riverboat Song – Ocean Colour Scene

11. Teardrop – Massive Attack

Many will argue that Unfinished Sympathy was their greatest 90s hit. And that is a great, great track. But I prefer this. Mesmerising.

12. Breathe – The Prodigy

As a kid in the 1990s, you listened to The Prodigy to peek over to the dark side as a quick thrill. We didn’t know then that this video was a prophetic depiction of our general mood in the 2020s.

13. Road Rage — Catatonia

I love Cerys Matthews’ voice and how her Welsh accent shines clearly through.

14. Out of the Sinking – Paul Weller

The grand master of that studied air of unbothered cool so typical of the Britpop era.

15. Cigarettes & Alcohol – Oasis


Other articles which you may enjoy:

My ultimate (and very millennial) running playlist

Tina Turner in 10 Songs

My favourite albums…and the best tracks on them

Sacrilege? I think these covers are better than the original songs


Photo: thichaa on Envato Elements