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

20‘Basket Case’

‘Dookie’ placed Green Day as the loveable stoners who’d probably laugh at a fart joke before attempting to light their own, but there was something more going on beneath the three-chord wiggle. Billie Joe Armstrong was singing about the anxiety and panic under all the blissed-out wackiness, and this sense of outsider-ness was something they’d explore later on in their career.

19’Girl From Mars’

Fresh out of kindergarten, Northern Irish trio Ash made the big breakthrough with this paean to a lost Martian love. On ‘1977’ Ash were at their most vital, combining their love of sci-fi with breathless pop-grunge and giving the mid-90s punk revival a friendly face. In the Britpop whirlwind, Ash were often overlooked, but 'Girl From Mars' is proof that Tim Wheeler and co could write hooks to rival the best of them.

18‘Song 2’

Having spent half a decade thumbing their noses at the US invasion, and inventing Britpop in the face of the grunge wave, Blur confounded everyone by turning up in 1997 with an album so American it couldn’t pronounce Edinburgh. In many ways, 'Song 2' seemed like Blur's dumbest song, a two-minute slab of "woo hoos" and massive riffs, but as the age old adage states, it takes someone pretty clever to make something sound so stupid and 'Song 2' knew exactly what it was doing.

17’Buddy Holly’

Would this have been that stellar breakthrough smash if it hadn’t been for the Happy Days video? It deserved it anyway, because a song that Rivers Cuomo considered throwaway is the perfect meld of pop and grunge, marrying a dumbassed chorus to some thick, churning guitar. Their producer – The Cars’ Ric Ocasek – knew it was a hit, and you should always trust a man who never removes his sunglasses.

16‘My Name Is’

Shocking as it was (and still is), the truth is Eminem’s opening gambit was a moment Marshall Mathers never matched again. As complicated as the rapper himself, it was initially hilarious (something only enhanced by the colourful video), but scrape the surface and it actually made for pretty disturbing subject matter. Eminem Inc was a pretty messed-up place to visit, and this was just the beginning.

15‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’

Coming at the end of ‘The Bends’, ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ is both a fitting and uncertain conclusion for the monumental album. It feels like a psychological stripping back of everything that has come before, with Thom Yorke intoning mysteriously about “cracked eggs…dead birds” as the band whip up a quiet riot of minor chords. No wonder Yorke named it as one of the band’s “saddest songs.”

14’Animal Nitrate’

Music press darlings Suede came out with a third corker in as many singles, delivering a firm kick in the teeth to anyone muttering about hype. ‘Animal Nitrate’ boasted their best chorus yet, some outrageous guitar swagger from Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson slapping his impossibly bony rump in an epoch-making BRITs performance.


We wanna be free to do what we wanna do/ And we wanna get loaded” The Peter Fonda sample from cult flick The Wild Angels wasn’t just a nifty soundbite; it virtually served as Primal Scream’s mission statement as they espoused the joys of freedom and fucked-up fun, translating acid house and rave into a mainstream concern and somehow making a rambling, seven-minute epic with virtually no vocals one of their most loved tracks.


Madonna started the new decade at the top of her game. Originally recorded with new collaborator Shep Pettibone for the B-side of ‘Like A Prayer’ single ‘Keep It Together’, 'Vogue''s melding of old Hollywood lyrical references, house pianos and heavy referencing of The Salsoul Orchestra’s ‘Ooh, I Love It (Love Break)’ was too good to go to waste as a mere flipside.

11’Bittersweet Symphony’

The Verve’s triumphant return after one of their myriad splits was marked by a new ‘The’ in front of their name and a whole heap of Allen Klein-baiting cowbells. Klein owned the rights to Andrew Oldham’s arrangement of The Rolling Stones’ ‘The Last Time’ from whence they were lifted, and he sued Richard Ashcroft and co to within an inch of their royalties. But it was all worth it, wasn't it?

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