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


The fact Thom Yorke penned ‘Creep’ on an acoustic guitar while he was at Exeter University seems perfect; you can imagine him looking at the cool collegiate lot who were “so fucking special,” half pining for them, half wanting to destroy them. It evoked the same outsiderdom Kurt Cobain knew so well, with Jonny Greenwood snapping his electric guitar like a snarling member of Yorke’s posse.


The emotional opposite of Bjork’s biggest 90s hit ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’, ‘Hyperballad’ was an earnest attempt to try and make old love alive once more. She said it was about the art of “not forgetting about yourself” in a relationship and this was reflected in the music which altered from gentle folktronica to drum and bass-tinted acid house.

68‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’

The big beats and looped psychedelia of 1997’s ‘Dig Your Own Hole’ were jettisoned when The Chemical Brothers returned with ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’. They stamped on the house button, whipping up a storm of pumping beats and nagging bleeps to build something truly vast. If you’re wondering, that vocal hook's from Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three’s 1984 hit ‘The Roof Is On Fire’.

67‘Hell Is Round The Corner’

Isaac Hayes’ ‘Ike’s Rap II’ was all over trip hop in the mid-90s, from this to Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’. Chancer that he was, Tricky also recycles his rap from Massive Attack’s ‘Eurochild’, another 1994 release – but combined with Martina Topley-Bird’s witchy vocals all these elements sound original, fashioning another of Tricky’s peculiar stoner nightmares.

66’The Boy Is Mine’

It’s not quite as friendly as Macca and Jacko’s 1982 cheesefest ‘The Girl Is Mine’, instead featuring two R&B heavyweights piling on the passive aggression – “I’m sorry that you seem to be confused”, amazing. A Rodney Jerkins and Dallas Austin production, it’s such a highpoint of both Brandy and Monica’s career that they tried in vain to rekindle the magic earlier this year.


All that reinvention on 1991’s ‘Achtung Baby’ and the only song anyone remembers isn’t the daring ‘Mysterious Ways’ or raunchy ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’, but this classic U2 ballad. The lyrics, according to Bono, came from nowhere and The Edge’s chord sequence emerged from a jam session. Obviously Brian Eno hated it – too goddamned simple – but the rest of us had an anthem to cherish.

64’The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’

With this astonishing debut single Missy Elliott and producer Timbaland launched a beast on the world, presaging half a decade’s worth of stellar, questing production and tasty rhymes. It’s based, clearly, on a sample from Ann Peebles’ ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’, but the portly bassline is all Timbaland and the sexy drawl is all down to Missy, an instant star who went straight into the UK top 20.

63’Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’

Jason Pierce originally wanted to interpolate Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ into the title track of Spiritualized’s grand opus but was denied by The King’s estate. No matter, he did it anyway a decade later. In its original album form, ‘Ladies And Gentlemen…’ is a shimmering, devotional intro to a record that plucks heartstrings even while whacked out on every chemical under the sun.


Nirvana’s slipstream dragged in copious imitators, but also bands that hadn’t been lucky enough to break through on their own terms. Eddie Vedder’s Pearl Jam benefited from Nirvana’s impetus to hit big with first single ‘Alive’ a record of stern power led by Vedder’s grim voice, some stunning guitar work from Mike McCready and a LOLfest of a lyric about incest and mistaken parental identity.

61’It’s A Shame About Ray’

It took eons for Evan Dando to become a star but when grunge and the dawn of Generation X opened the door he shambled right in with a fifth album that surfed the laidback slacker wave. ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ – the album’s title track – was inspired by a mix of vague stories about newspaper headlines and a bar owner who called everyone Ray, but its melody is crystal clear and quite lovely.

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