Over the past few years, superhero soundtracks have become art forms in their own right: whether featuring brand new music inspired by the movie itself (the Black Panther OST stood out as one of the best records of 2018) or curating classic tunes to complement the film in question (Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 became the first soundtrack album consisting entirely of previously-released songs to top the US chart).
While Guardians of the Galaxy mixed ’70s and ’80s tunes, the soundtrack for the MCU’s latest addition, Captain Marvel (the film hits cinemas in the UK on 8 March), opts for ’90s nostalgia instead. Co-director Ryan Fleck recently explained how compiling the music actually helped to soundtrack the making of the movie itself: “We made like a big playlist at the beginning of the movie and we shared it with the crew and some of the cast and some of those songs are in the movie… we put the scenes together and just threw songs in and see what stuck.”
Featuring many faves from the era (R.E.M, Nirvana, TLC, No Doubt), there’s loads for ’90s nostalgists to enjoy, and plenty for the younger viewers/listeners to discover too. Here are some of the best tracks that pop up during the film.
Salt-N-Pepa – ‘Whatta Man’
Borrowing from a little-known cratedigger’s gem of the same name by 60s soul singer Linda Lyndell, hip-hop trio Salt-N-Pepa teamed up with En Vogue to turn the track into a big hit in 1993. The lyrics preach the virtues of a “mighty mighty good man,” or as one critic put it: “a celebration of strong men who stay home and care for kids”.
How ’90s is it? Despite emerging in the late 80s with now-bonafide karaoke classic ‘Push It’, Salt-N-Pepa’s commercial peak came in the early-to-mid-’90s and they very much remain associated with this time. ‘Whatta Man’ reached the Top 10 in both the UK and US, and was a constant radio staple on both sides of the pond. Just check out the dance moves from the video, you can’t get more ’90s than that.
Elastica – ‘Connection’
The Britpop outfit’s most famous track, lifted from their acclaimed ‘95 self-titled debut (the band’s follow-up didn’t fare so well), ‘Connection’ borrows a little from 70s post-punks Wire, sees jagged guitars going head-to-head with a earworm of a synth part while boasting a whole load of poignant-yet-cryptic lyrics, including: “I don’t understand how a heart is a spade, but somehow the vital connection is made.”
How ’90s is it? ‘Connection’ would have been heard at many London art school house parties at the time. Its opening synth line remains as iconic a ’90s intro as the drum and guitar combo from Blur’s ‘Song 2’ or the cascading strings of The Verve’s ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’. A true aural hallmark of Britpop.
Garbage – ‘Only Happy When It Rains’
“I only listen to the sad, sad songs, I’m only happy when it rains.” The second single from Garbage’s debut album became an angsty anthem, despite the lyrics actually being quite self-aware and tongue-in-cheek.
How ’90s is it? Well, ‘Only Happy When It Rains’ was actually a response to the caricature that grunge had become by the mid-’90s. As guitarist Steve Marker said of the track: “[It] was about what happened with grunge and the angst-filled thing which has dominated the American alternative rock scene. With us there’s self-deprecation, we have to poke fun at ourselves because we’re so incredibly obsessive about the songs and the lyrics, which makes us filled with self-loathing, hurhur.”
TLC – ‘Waterfalls’
‘Waterfalls’ is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to miss the very important messages within the lyrics: the song tackles topics like drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. The group’s singer Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas later explained: “Anything that’s self-destructive, that’s chasing a waterfall. We wanted to make a song with a strong message – about unprotected sex, being promiscuous, and hanging out in the wrong crowd. The messages in ‘Waterfalls’ hit home. I think that’s why it’s our biggest hit to date.”
How ’90s is it? Despite the serious subjects, ‘Waterfalls’ remains one of the quintessential ’90s R&B hits. Bonus points if you can recite Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes’s show-stopping verse line-for-line.
Nirvana – ‘Come As You Are’
Obviously you know this one. It may not have had as big a seismic shift on culture as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, but the murky sound of ‘Come As You Are’ went on to have massive influence on the post-grunge sound of the late-’90s and early-’00s. The song was so synonymous with not only Nirvana, but alternative music as a whole, that its lyrics are even itched into the welcome sign in Kurt Cobain’s hometown of Aberdeen, Washington.
How ’90s is it? Flannel shirts? Check. Ripped jeans? Check. Kurt’s signature gravelly tones? Check. It’s even got obtuse lyrics that we will all sing along to even though we have no idea what they truly mean. Very, very ’90s indeed.
No Doubt – ‘Just A Girl’
‘Just A Girl’ was the first song that Gwen Stefani penned without the input of brother Eric and it’s apt, then, that its a retort to sexism and misogyny, as Stefani sarcastically sneers: “I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite / So don’t let me have any rights”.
How ’90s is it? Combining the punk ethos of riot grrl with a more chart-friendly sound and pop peppiness, ‘Just A Girl’ is the perfect coming together of several key ’90s elements. That’s not even mentioning the ska influence: that’s very damn ’90s.
R.E.M – ‘Man On The Moon’
The band’s second single from 1992’s ‘Automatic for the People,’ ‘Man On The Moon’ was inspired by comedian-come-performance artist Andy Kaufman, who’s rumoured to have faked his own death. In the track, Michael Stipe ponders many of life’s big conspiracy theories, while in the video he wears a rather fetching cowboy hat.
How ’90s is it? It’s probably more ’80s than it is ’90s, and has more in common with the deep paranoia that bedded itself deep during that decade. Bassist Mike Mills explained to us in 2017: “Was [Andy] dead? Was he faking? He’s the perfect ghost to lead you through this tour of questioning things. Did the moon landing really happen? Is Elvis really dead?”
Hole – ‘Celebrity Skin’
The title-track from Hole’s most commercially successful record, ‘Celebrity Skin’ embraced Courtney Love’s newfound place in the mainstream, wearing California’s dark glamour as a badge of honour: “Wilted and faded / Somewhere in Hollywood / I’m glad I came here / With your pound of flesh”.
How ’90s is it? The track embodies the feeling of the late ’90s. It’s got the angst, it’s got the edge but it’s also a middle-finger to the soon-to-be-outdated idea of selling out.