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

30‘Born Slippy’

It was no coincidence that this track was chosen to soundtrack a key moment in Trainspotting. Penned on a drunken night as Karl Hyde got bleary-eyed in Soho, the fragmentary lyrics are mirrored by the music, which hurtles between speeds and moods, perfectly echoing the state of inebriation one needs to get to before belting out “lager, lager, lager” to passersby.

29‘Girls And Boys’

Not content with giving the middle finger to the grungesters, Damon and co showed their bums in the general direction of hedonistic club culture with this, their, er, most clubby song to date. It hurtled along at breakneck speed, a four-to-the-floor beat meshed with Albarn’s schoolyard taunt of a chorus and Graham’s buzzing guitar work. A first: a Blur song that made you dance first, think second.


Unlike the popular perception of the Foo Fighters and “nicest guy in rock” Dave Grohl, ‘Everlong’ subverts these received ideas to present the Foos as brooding and unsettled as Nirvana ever were. A jagged-edged guitar riff is paired with a creepy Grohl vocal delivery to create a whirl of uncertainty and regret. The effect is possibly one of the most winning and genuinely touching songs they’ve ever made.

27‘Down By The Water’

PJ Harvey shape-shifted from genius guitar banshee screeching about bodily functions to glamour puss teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. ‘Down By The Water’ was her purest pop song to date, but there was something more complicated lurking below. The track’s tale of infanticide and innocence lost found its inspiration in old blues songs but the sonics were pure Beefheart meets dancehall.


The G-Funk Era didn’t last a terribly long time but there was a big enough window for some choice cuts from Snoop and this defining moment from the otherwise fairly anonymous Warren G. Snaking along over a hefty chunk of ex-Doobie Brothers/Steely Dan vocalist Michael McDonald’s oh-so-smooth ‘I Keep Forgettin’’, the late Nate Dogg helps G out of a jam while ladies crash their car staring at him.


Released as a single after Richard Ashcroft and his long-suffering troops first decided to call it quits, ‘History’ would have made a fitting epitaph: a suitably grandiose affair that pillaged its opening lines from visionary poet William Blake’s work ‘London’. Instead, when they reformed, its use of strings proved to be something of a catalyst for future hits such as ‘Bittersweet Symphony’.

24‘Caught Out There’

Kelis’s “I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW!’ didn’t just perfectly crest a wave of emancipated divas, it was the breakout hit for The Neptunes. The duo, who would go on to dominate pop radio, created a unique audio world full of sparse beats, sci-fi styled keyboard sounds and spluttering rhythms. Kelis’s honeyed vocal, which broke into unfiltered madness, was the thing that took this track over the top.

23’Last Goodbye’

A gorgeous, regret-tinged ode that shines the spotlight upon Buckley's dazzling, once-in-a-generation talent but also gives a tantalising glimpse of what he might have gone on to achieve. As with much of his back catalogue, its lyrics have been given a hefty poignancy in light of his untimely death, but there’s something irrefutably hopeful in hearing his faultless falsetto vocal soaring into the skies.

22‘Into My Arms’

‘The Boatman’s Call’ saw Nick Cave undergo a radical transformation from hell-crazed post-punk to bruised piano balladry. ‘Into My Arms’, a gentle ode that intertwined love and spirituality, was one of his finest heart-on-sleeve efforts – and gained even more emotional heft when he sang it at the funeral of INXS singer Michael Hutchence, although he insisted all TV cameras were switched off.

21‘Live Forever’

As the dying embers of grunge faded away, Noel Gallagher penned this defiantly optimistic number in direct opposition to Kurt Cobain’s nihilism. It was a bold move that paid off. ‘Live Forever’’s positive mantra resonated totally with the public and Liam Gallagher’s delivery made it seem as if – in escaping the everyday – the impossible was possible again.

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