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


Away from the Pixies, Kim Deal could exercise her ultrapop muscle, teaming up with sister Kelley, Josephine Wiggs and Jim MacPherson to make the quirkiest of alternative hits. ‘Cannonball’, lead single from second album ‘Last Splash’, is playful and raucous but unspeakably neat, firing off ideas and effects in all directions and storing up enough hooks to feed them all winter, because that’s what hooks do.

59’Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’

‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’ or ‘Time Of Your Life (Good Riddance)’ – whatever you fancy – was a true punk statement by the snotty-nosed revivalists: a ballad. Suckers worldwide clutched it to their hearts and sent it up the mainstream charts in 1997, but it had actually been knocking around for years, an earlier version surfacing as a B-side to the conflated 'Brain Stew/Jaded' in 1996.

58’Friday I’m In Love’

After the blissful misery of 1989’s ‘Disintegration’, ‘Wish’ was a return to the more poppy Bob Smith of mid-80s glory – and ‘Friday I’m In Love’ was its dangerously upbeat signature track. Not that its genesis was all that happy. The paranoid Smith was sure he’d nabbed the chord progression and spent hours ringing people up and playing it to them to see if they knew.

57’Needle In The Hay’

Quite beautiful but harsh all the same, Elliott Smith’s semi-confessional acoustic hymn to addiction feels like one of many foreshadowings of his death. It bristles with anger and bitterness, while keeping both under shaky control, and provided an almost too close to the bone soundtrack for Richie Tenenbaum’s suicide attempt, portrayed by Luke Wilson in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums.

56’Got Your Money’

It wasn’t a hit in the UK until 2000, scraping the Top 10 on the back of guest vocalist Kelis’s breakthrough with the raging ‘Caught Out There’, but in 1999 ‘Got Your Money’ and parent album ‘Nigga Please’ scandalised the States as ODB became public enemy no.1. Back to the music, The Neptunes’ whipcrack production and ODB’s bananas delivery gave Kelis the perfect platform for a big career.

55’Ready Or Not’

In 1996 the Fugees could’ve released five minutes of Wyclef chanting, “One time, two time” and it would’ve gone to No.1. But ‘Ready Or Not’ deserved its success, lifting The Delfonics’ ‘Ready Or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love) and shaping it into a downbeat groove. Lauryn Hill was rarely more soulful and her cohorts keep it simple, trading braggadocio with a deft flow.

54’Doo Wop (That Thing)’

After the demise of the Fugees, Lauryn Hill announced her arrival as a solo star with this startlingly original blend of hip-hop and doo wop. To an insistent piano vamp she shoots out warnings to each side of the gender divide, rhyming with dextrous speed and singing like a dream. It topped the charts in the US, made No.3 here and just adds to the whole heap of pity that Hill’s not cutting it anymore.


Everyone got all unnecessary about Justine Frischmann and Damon Albarn’s perfect Britpop union but the real story was Elastica’s knack for a crisp, punchy tune. Of course there was a lot of chat about Wire and The Stranglers, but on debut single ‘Stutter’ Elastica’s spiky allure sounds brand new, Frischmann belittling some poor fellow to the strains of their most killer chorus.


It’s hard not to read volumes into ‘Lithium’ as it struggles to keep a grip on life in the face of pain, neuroses and general bad vibes. Still, its protagonist finds solace in religion, which isn’t general Cobain practice even though he could see the benefits. Pop psychology aside, it was a pain in the neck to record – precipitating Dave Grohl’s arrival – but rocks like a holy mother.

51’One Love’

We thought it was going to be the overture for that difficult second album but ‘One Love’ ended up being four years adrift. Taking its cue from the new groove-based Roses of ‘Fools Gold’ it skittered around another ‘Funky Drummer’ beat, with John Squire firing off the kind of axe-based pyrotechnics that would come to the fore when the band finally re-emerged.

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