With culture's ever-reliable 20-year cycle meaning that all things 90s are very much back in vogue, now seems as good a time as any to take a look back at the original artists that did it first. Whether you're staring into the nihilistic, grunge abyss, indulging in some giddy Britpop escapism or charging up your riot grrl power, these are the tracks that started it all. Words: Priya Elan, Matthew Horton, Ben Hewitt

10‘Killing In The Name’

The campaign to beat the 2009 The X Factor winner to the Christmas No.1 spot provided a timely reminder of just how much fire burned within Rage Against The Machine’s rallying call against the rank hideousness of US society. It's a flame built on Tom Morello’s iconic, white-hot riff as Zack de la Rocha pours on the gasoline, taunting American forces with rhymes about racism and the Ku Klux Klan.


What a greedy swine Bernard Butler is: not content with peppering the upper echelons of this weighty list with tracks from his time with Suede, he also found time to create pop magic with singer David McAlmont. True to form, the pair would split before their debut LP was released, but that doesn’t sully the fists-in-the-air, sing-a-long triumph of ‘Yes’, unarguably their best – and most successful – single.

8‘Da Funk’

‘Da Funk’ seemed to appear out of nowhere – an insistent slice of massive, throbbing house pop. But in a rare interview Daft Punk revealed it was written after attempting (and failing) to make a hardcore hip-hop record. Instead they recreated one of their favourite tracks of the time (Warren G’s G-Funk classic ‘Regulate’), with some Giorgio Moroder-like synths thrown into the mix.


They started as punks, so it was only natural the B-Boys would return to their original musical influence. ‘Sabotage’ paired organic hip-hop beats with an alternative underbelly and the result was brilliant. Mind you, it will be eternally linked with Spike Jonze’s brilliant visual treatment which eked out the humour and irony in the track, hidden behind barnstorming guitars and propulsive beats.


Coming on like a twin of ‘Live Forever’, Noel Gallagher’s no-nonsense lyrics, a typically bolshy delivery from “our kid” and a guitar riff which echoed George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ added up to the very first Oasis classic. "I need to be myself/ I can't be no-one else," drawled Liam, thus creating the Gallagher brothers' utterly self-confident manifesto from the off.

5‘Motorcycle Emptiness’

While ‘Generation Terrorists’ has its critics, no sage soul has a bad word to say about ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ – and with good reason, because it remains one of the Manics’ glittering high-points. To this day, it shines as an undimmed soul-trodden elegy, buoyed by some of James Dean Bradfield’s finest fretwork, and topped off with Richey Edwards’ typically brilliant poetic flourishes.

4’Paranoid Android’

In which Radiohead revealed they were the new Pink Floyd and killed off any lingering fans of ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’. After the stake in the ground that was 1995’s ‘The Bends’, ‘Paranoid Android’ was a rash comeback, a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’-style epic with Jonny Greenwood trying new and exciting axe shapes and Thom Yorke sneering at Gucci piggies. But it worked and Radiohead now rule the universe.

3‘Stay Together’

The Valentine’s Day kiss-off between Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler came in the form of these nine minutes of swirling romantic drama. Anderson’s lyric spoke of the pull of a junkie’s fix versus love, whileButler’s fretwork was brash and bold, hinting at something more celestial. Its bombast didn’t give any hint of what was about to happen to band chemistry. ‘Stay Together’? As if they could…

2’Smells Like Teen Spirit’

That brutal four-chord riff is the death knell for hair metal, the end of spandex, the funeral march for all preening 80s rock. Kurt Cobain was more blasé about it, admitting its kinship with Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling’, but it was the raging delivery of both riff and vocal that changed the game as Cobain poured scorn and pain into a new nihilist hymn. The kids that missed punk had their own rallying call.

1’Common People’

Pulp had been building up to this one, slyly chronicling our peculiar little ways to a soundtrack that rose above the Britpop mire. On ‘Razzmatazz’ and ‘Lipgloss’ Jarvis skewered his own roots with a half-smile and a touch of kitsch, but ‘Common People’ was almost serious in its study of the class divide. Based on a true story, it broke free of the specific and became an anthem for the lot of us.

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