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

80‘Dry The Rain’

The Beta Band’s unique selling point was that even though they were game-changers, they sounded so damned effortless with it. Their magical concoction of stoner folk, and lo-fi hip-hop may have drawn parallels with Beck and Folk Implosion but in the gentle majesty of ‘Dry The Rain’ theirs was a very particular proposition, with Scot Steve Mason leading the dour charge to this musical melting pot.

79‘Groove Is In The Heart’

With a dream team of collaborators (Bootsy Collins, Q-Tip, and a Herbie Hancock sample from which the main riff was built), Deee-Lite’s only real hit was a pretty faultless collage of G-Funk, Daisy Age hip-hop, salsa and dippy disco. It stood out like a funky sore thumb in a UK chart full of synthetic dance hits from the likes of NKOTB and Snap!, but made more of a brilliant lasting impression because of that.

78‘What Time Is Love?’

Released in three versions, the development of this track from insistent Trance earworm to industrial, goth/gospel thumper is fascinating and also doubled as a comment about the speed with which dance music was developing during this late 80s/early 90s halcyon period. In typically bombastic fashion KLF impresario Bill Drummond dubbed the track a “warhorse” of a tune.

77‘Sexy Boy’

Jean-Benoit Dunkel and Nicolas Godin’s ‘Moon Safari’ was a pivotal electronic album; mixing easy listening elements with Serge Gainsbourg-like melodiousness and the atmospherics of experimental electronica. ‘Sexy Boy’ was a perfect unification of all these pieces, and, in the repeated hook of the lyrics of the chorus, seemed to also serve as a knowing comment on the vapidity of the fashion industry.

76‘Come Together’

Significantly this was the first track recorded for ‘Screamadelica’, setting a template for the sound of the record. Featuring producer Andy Weatherall’s gentle melding of gospel backing vocals, house-y piano riffs, samples from the film Paris, Texas and Jesse Jackson (on the remix), it showed The Scream cresting the wave of the new decade by ushering in a new dance/indie genre.

75‘Celebrity Skin’

Courtney Love's then flame Billy Corgan parachuted in to get Hole back on the straight and narrow and came up with the monster riff that does all the heavy lifting on ‘Celebrity Skin’. But Hole would be damned if they'd let a man take the glory and it's Courtney's throaty howl and confrontational confidence ("You'd better watch out for what you wish for") that steals the show.


Perhaps their last great single, ‘Regret’ served as a testament to the band’s survival following the collapse of Factory Records (this was released on London Records) but also saw them stretching the boundaries of indie dance-pop for the umpteenth time. That the song was actually about Bernard Sumner’s search for a new house didn’t seem to matter one jot.

73‘Nothing Compares 2 U’

Prince penned this track five years earlier for The Family, allegedly inspired by the death of his personal assistant’s father. For her version, Sinead O’Connor thought about her stormy relationship with her late mother, adding a resonance to the “All the flowers that you planted, mama/ In the backyard/ All died when you went away” line that leads her to cry in the video.

72‘Brimful Of Asha (Fatboy Slim Remix)’

Tjinder Singh penned this track about the luminous cinematic power of Bollywood actress Asha Bhosle. As it stood, it was an absolutely pleasant slice of indie pop dreaminess. However, late 90s DJ de jour Norman Cook got hold of it and gave it a fresh lick of paint in the form of speeding the track up and placing some crashing beats behind it, transforming it into a surprise chart smash.

71‘Protect Ya Neck’

As strident a ‘statement of intent’ as can be expected from a debut single, Wu’s opening shot was a slice of “hardcore” rap, somewhere left of NWA and Public Enemy’s sloganeering, but still deadly serious in its glorious intensity. The RZA’s beats were rudimentary but they provided the perfect platform for unforgettable verses from Method Man, Ghostface, ODB and GZA.

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