It was the decade that gave us Nirvana, the Super Nintendo, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But what many fail to remember, the 1990s also gave us Days Of The New, Atari Jaguar, and Suburban Commando. I know what you’re thinking, every decade had its share of trash. And that’s true! But right now the 90s are as hot as Kelly Kapowski. Movies, fashion, and of course music, the decade of the Rachel Cut is currently being immortalized by the generation who weren’t even born to experience it.
But here at Bearded Gentlemen, we like to keep it 100. We dare you to see the decade for what it really was: 10% cool, 85% trash, and 5% hair gel.
This on-going series isn’t to bash those who have an affinity for a simpler time but to remind you how nostalgia goggles lift up quality and bury garbage. There were some dope things to come out of the decade, but the new class has forgotten all about the cringe-worthiness. However, we remember it so you don’t have to. This is I Hate The 90s – Volume 1: They Weren’t As Good As You Remember.
Donna Lewis “I Love You Always Forever” – 1996
Love songs were the cat’s meow in the 1990s. In fact, sappy ballads dominated the charts second only to the 1970s. Slow jams from Whitney Houston and Toni Braxton are still played on modern radio, but there were others not so timeless. The 90s were home to other love songs. The kind you only hear while in Walmart. Atrocities such as “I Love You Always Forever” by Donna Lewis.
While it was great to have love songs not solely about getting busy, it doesn’t mean the options were exactly complex. The breathy whispers of Lewis sound more like Cyndi Lauper trying not to fall asleep while reading poetry written by an 8th grader rather than kismetic romance. Despite being simple in design, the lyrics sort of read like the journal entries of a stalker.
It doesn’t help how the chorus is delivered almost like a chant.
Don’t even get me started on the music video. The whole thing is dimly lit and full of weird, sweeping camera angles as if the viewer is bound and gagged in Lewis’ basement. Her glossy-eyed stares are almost as unsettling as the fact there’s a scene where she is surrounded by curtains made of human hair. She even wears shoes on her hands in a few scenes. This woman is dangerous.
The only time the song picks up any energy is in a weird bridge where Lewis demands her obsession be reciprocated. Afterward, it goes right back into the breathy whisper as if it was all just some sort of off-kilter tantrum. The song is creepier than I remembered it and now it will have me checking my windows and door locks. –Aaron Cooper
Radiohead “Creep” – 1993
Radiohead is one of the greatest bands ever, and that’s the only reason anyone would ever write anything about “Creep” in 2019. It’s difficult to even have an opinion on a song so relentlessly 90s alt-rock-vanilla. If Radiohead didn’t go on to make actually great music, this song would erase itself from our collective memories as if it never happened. But in a twist of fate, their continued success has meant the continued existence of their worst song.
“Creep” persists because it’s the most radio-friendly song from one of the best bands ever.
Eiffel 65 “Blue” – 1998
Yo listen up, here’s a story about how Eiffel 65’s “Blue” completely took over the airwaves of 1999 and became the earworm we loved to hate. Although the song originally debuted in Italy in 1998, it invaded my home in 1999. As a teenager in Cleveland, every school night meant homework and listening to Jammin’ 92.3 on the radio where new songs were always premiering so we could all talk about it in the morning before classes started. *N’Sync, Britney, Eminem. Radio was the way I could hear all the newest pop music to my heart’s content, and not be judged.
I’d also like to say that I ALSO listened to Tori Amos, Smashing Pumpkins, Fiona Apple. I wasn’t a full-blown teenybopper. Come on.
So when “Blue” first played, my first thought was “Oh, no. Oh no, no no.” You see, the color blue was the color of my high school. Our mascot was the Blue Streaks. The nuns who walked the hallways were nicknamed the Blue Nuns. It didn’t matter that the lyrics made no sense (Is it about depression? Is it just about being literally blue like a Smurf?), the song quickly made its way into the ear holes of every bright young woman at my school because we’re blue! Get it? HAHA! BLUE! Yeah. Oh, those were the days.
But as annoying as that one hit wonder was, whenever it pops up on my Spotify #TBT playlist, it’s still a playful reminder of my carefree youth. Of dELiA*s clothing catalogs, blow-up furniture, frosted tips, and mix CDs; before I became a jaded 36-year-old Xennial writing about how I hate things. –Judie Vegh
The Wallflowers “Heroes” – 1998
Nothing could describe my excitement for the American adaption of Godzilla in early 1998. Growing up on monster movies and loving anything Kaiju related, this movie was destined to be the highlight of my summer. The marketing for the movie was shrouded in mystery with vague trailers and posters on public transit with phrases like “His toe is as big as this bus”. The hype was real. Then came the first single from the original soundtrack. A David Bowie cover by The Wallflowers?
A few years before Godzilla, The Wallflowers were riding high on the success of their breakthrough album Bringing Down The Horse and a string of milquetoast Top 40 singles including “One Headlight” and “6th Ave. Heartache”. Mopey white dudes doing fraternity bro-ballads seem like the perfect fit for the theme song of a movie about a giant radioactive lizard annihilating New York City right?
Needless to say, I was disappointed.
It’s weird but I kind of express the same feelings about The Wallflowers’ Bowie cover as the film itself. Both are glossy, soulless, superficial fluffiness made to churn in a quick buck by showing little to no respect to the source material. The original Bowie track, albeit corny, was full of emotion and enough self-awareness to give it that timeless Bowie charm. The same could be said about the original Godzilla. Yes, it’s a man in a rubber dinosaur suit destroying a plywood city, but the story was actually a metaphor for a very real nuclear war.
The Wallflowers’ cover doesn’t do anything to change up the arrangement and Jakob Dylan sounds just as bored as the listener. The rest of the soundtrack is a mixed bag of greatness and embarrassment (but more on that some other time). At the end of the day, neither Godzilla or “Heroes” are overly great or horrendously bad. They’re just kind of average enough to be forgotten about a few months after their releases. -Aaron Cooper
Blur “Country House” – 1995
I mean, let’s not beat around the bush here. This is the bottom of a barrel held up as a beacon of light by the British media in the ‘90s. For those not around at the time, or lived in another country, or had a life – this is my ode to this piece of armpit sweat mixed with belly button fluff and dried kebab sauce. A brief history lesson on “Country fuckin’ House”.
In August of 1995, Oasis and Blur were in a chart battle for the UK number one single. Oasis (I swear, Noel and Liam are different people) announced they were going to follow their first number one single “Some Might Say” with “Roll with It”. Blur’s label decided to create a marketing battle by moving the release date for “Country House” to clash with Oasis. At this point, Blur and Oasis were the biggest bands in the UK only because The Wildhearts kept splitting up. A band who were/are much better than these pairs of clown shoes.
So, the press obviously jumped on this constructed situation.
When all was said and done, “Country House” won the battle. It out-sold “Roll with It” by 5,000+, so it wasn’t even a close. The thing is, both songs are terrible. Yet, out of the two, I still hate “Country fuckin’ House”. Everything about it sucks a big one. The mocky (fake cockney) accent, the video by Damien Hurst (a pastiche of the best/worst bits of Modern British culture – Christ, even Graham Cox couldn’t be arsed to be in that tripe), the lyrics, the riff. Everything I disliked about Blur in one song. To this day I still can’t get through it with feeling unclean.
However, I think I need to leave this piece with a balanced view and not just me hating on Blur. They followed this song with their best, “The Universal”. Everything “Country House” was, “The Universal” fixed. The beautiful string instrumentation, the wonderful words, the performance, the video based around A Clockwork Orange; it was the nearest I’ve had to a guilty pleasure as my Blur hatred was pretty high at that point. It amazes me how one band could write two songs that were at polar opposites in my musical spectrum. One divine and the other deserved to be cast to the side of history and forgotten. Blur have written some amazing music, “Country fuckin’ House” is not one of those songs. –Eddie Carter
Sugar Ray ft/Supercat “Fly” – 1997
For the most part, ‘Alternative Rock’ in the 90s is basically what people call ‘indie’ now; nondescript rock music. All of this came about when label executives in the early 90s realized there was money to made by bands who didn’t look like the Cowardly Lion. I don’t want to get into a history lesson here but it’s important to understand the genre was an interesting one. A coverall for all sorts of things. All of which came to a crashing end in 1996. Out from the ashes came bad news. Enter Sugar Ray.
With frosted spikes upon his head like a crown of mediocrity, Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath was everywhere in 1997. And it was all bad.
On the outside, Sugar Ray was the traditional alternative rock band of the 90s. Guitars, bass, charismatic singer, and a radio hit with a sing-along hook. But underneath all the gloss and glitter was something far more sinister. The creativity of early 90s bands was twisted and contorted into something so superficial, I get sick to my stomach just thinking about it.
Not only was “Fly” ridiculous drivel, but it was on everywhere. MTV, Vh1, FM radio, Hair Cuttery, TJ Maxx, Walgreens, everywhere. The nauseating guitar riff over a painfully generic drum machine beat. Accentuated by some sort of rapper repeating “spread your love and fly” over and over. While on the subject, just who is Supercat anyway? And why should we care if he’s featured here if we’ve never heard from him before or after this track?
It’s like Sublime drove a convertible Mustang and went to college.
Worst of all, the success of “Fly” opened the flood gates for every other bro-douche alternative flavored pop band. I could be wrong but I blame this horrendous song for the popularity of Smash Mouth and eventually Limp Bizkit. And we all know how those bands ended the 90s, not with a bang but with an Axe Bodyspray scented whimper. -Aaron Cooper
Instead, I just want to leave you with the image of “Bat-Nipples” from the atrocity that is the 1997 movie Batman & Robin. –Jon
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.