Forgotten singles of the ’90s

We revisit forgotten classics from an era when music journalists used “alterna” as a prefix to every genre, when songs needlessly opened with samples, when one-hit wonders never stuck around past their used-by date and when penning a novelty single was a sure fire way to get played on triple j. There’s nothing ironic about this list – you won’t see Eiffel 65, East 17 or Aqua here.

Bran Van 3000 – Drinkin In LA (1997)

This Montreal collective put out two great albums – Discosis and Glee – but are best known for this late-’90s single that trades Beck-lite verses with soulful vocals, chilled-out beats and a reference to Snoop Dogg’s ‘Gin and Juice’.


Len – Steal My Sunshine (1999)

A Canadian brother-and-sister duo – neither of whom could really sing – alternate nonsensical verses over a snippet of Andrea True Connection’s 1976 disco hit ‘More, More, More’. Only in the ‘90s. An equally memorable video shot in Daytona Beach, Florida.

 


The Caulfields – Devil’s Diary (1995)

Better known by its declaratory chorus: “I’m bigger than Jesus now.” Fun fact: They toured Australia in the mid-1990s in support of Died Pretty. Did they play any other songs?


Not From There – Sich Offnen (1998)

How did one of the most interesting noise-pop outfits of the late-’90s garner high rotation on triple j? With a novelty single featuring lyrics in German, of course. Frontman Heinz Riegler is still making great ambient music in Brisbane.

 


Ammonia – Drugs (1995)

Observation #1: Val Kilmer could easily star as Dave Johnstone if anyone was stupid enough to make an Ammonia biopic. Observation #2: This song has a really underrated bassline.


Primitive Radio Gods – Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand (1996)

This ambient bit of mid-’90s melancholy is all about the BB King sample (“I’ve been downhearted baby, ever since the day we met”) which only appears twice. It’s a clever device that forces you to listen to this song the whole way through. All four minutes, 42 seconds of it.


Violetine – You Know (1998)

Q: Whatever happened to Violetine? A: They’re still paying off the debt from this needlessly expensive video that bands in the ‘90s were conned into thinking they needed to make.


Tokyo Ghetto Pussy – I Kiss Your Lips (1995)

Tokyo Ghetto Pussy was actually a German duo who performed under a bunch of aliases, most notably Jam & Spoon. This driving trance lullaby scored them a top 10 hit in Australia and the Netherlands – and pretty much nowhere else.


Fastball – The Way (1998)

A morbid true story about an old couple that gets lost in the desert set to a spaghetti-western backdrop. See also: ‘You’re An Ocean’ (2000).


Spacehog – In the Meantime (1996)

Was the sample of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’ really that crucial to the alterna-glam pay-off? Likewise, did the drummer really need that double kick?

The Refreshments – Banditos (1996)

Triple M routinely flogged this song in the mid-1990s. Now they routinely flog Nickelback. What era would you have preferred to live in? Let us know in the comments.


Coppertone – Fini Scad (1995)

“You know, Fini Scad should really reform,” said no one ever. And that’s actually quite tragic.


Geggy Tah – Whoever You Are (1996)

Before Greg Kurstin was a Grammy-nominated producer who worked with P!nk, Santigold, The Shins, Kesha, Sia, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Foster The People – the list goes on – he was part of a David Byrne-endorsed trio who tasted pop success with a smooth single about road etiquette.


Lucas – Lucas With The Lid Off (1994)

Like Geggy Tah’s Greg Kurstin, Denmark’s Lucas Secon has gone on to work with some of pop’s biggest names – from Britney to Xtina, The Pussycat Dolls to Kylie. His 1994 hit saw him being pretty fly for a white guy over samples of old swing.


Sneaker Pimps – Six Underground (1996)

Wonder why you didn’t hear much from Sneaker Pimps after this mainstream trip-hop hit? Singer Kelli Dayton was asked to leave after making their first album Becoming X.


Luscious Jackson – Naked Eye (1996)

The Beastie Boys connection runs deep with this great mid-1990s band. They were signed to the band’s boutique label Grand Royal and Kate Schellenbach was their drummer back in their formative punk days. ‘Naked Eye’ wasn’t Luscious Jackson’s only hit – remember ‘Ladyfingers’? – but it was certainly their biggest.


Money Mark – Hand In Your Head (1998)

Another Beastie Boys alumni – keyboardist Mark Ramos-Nishita – hit the bigtime in 1998 with this groovy number featuring half-time changes, vibes and keys galore. The soundtrack to the 1998 summer, and every year thereafter.


Fountains Of Wayne – Radiation Vibe (1996)

Adam Schlesinger may’ve won an Emmy and several Grammy Awards, scored Oscar, Tony and Golden Globe nominations for his soundtrack work, but what his Wikipedia page won’t tell you is that this powerpop nugget is the highpoint of his entire career.


Strawpeople – Trick With A Knife (1995)

John Wayne Bobbitt’s severed penis was reportedly the inspiration for this song, but it was well worth the sacrifice. Features vocals from Fiona McDonald from New Zealand’s Headless Chickens and a wonderfully noir clip.


Finley Quaye – Even After All (1997)

A mini-controversy raged in the late-1990s when this young reggae upstart claimed Tricky – an artist six years his senior – was his half-nephew. What wasn’t controversial was the fact he sang in a Kingston accent despite growing up in in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Beaverloop – Bad Acid … Jazz! (1998)

Believe it or not this clip of three Perth trippers actually won a Recovery video competition. It’s probably the most accurate depiction of the word “alternative” ever committed to tape. Features dreadlocks and goggles.


Local H – Bound For The Floor (1996)

From Fuel to Lifehouse, the post-grunge era certainly threw up its fair share of turkeys, but Local H were always a cut above the curled-lip curmudgeons doing doughnuts ‘round Cobain’s grave. A punchy riff and an opening line that summed up just how po-faced rock had become: “Born to be down!”


Antenna – Come On Spring (1998)

Kim Salmon hooked up with The Hoodoo Gurus Dave Faulkner for an experimental album called Installation. How experimental? Well, it featured drum machines and a string section for a start.


Jill Sobule – I Kissed A Girl (1995)

And she did it before Katy Perry. Guess that makes her a faux lesbianism pioneer.


Tripping Daisy – I Got A Girl (1995)

It’s hard to believe that the peroxided singer of this ode to complicated women went on to become the spiritual leader of a 21-piece “choral symphonic pop rock band”. Actually, not it’s not.


Francis Dunnery – American Life In The Summertime (1994)

“A record company clone not me,” sings Atlantic Records artist Francis Dunnery on a replica battleship to a backing tape of his own song on Swedish commercial TV. Another example of that great ‘90s tradition of artists speak-singing (“white rapping”) their way through verses.


The Murmurs – You Suck (1994)

Slightly more palatable than 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Going On’, but only just. A glaring omission on the soundtrack to Clueless.


Space – Female Of The Species (1996)

There were no boundaries to UK chart success in the mid-1990s. How else could you explain a song that sounded like Perry Como fronting a poolside band at a holiday resort in the Caribbean cracking the Top 20?


Definition Of Sound – Pass The Vibes (1995)

This London-based outfit hit the bigtime when they discovered that trip-hop and lounge were actually the same genre. And by “vibes” they mean “bong”, right?


Max Sharam – Coma (1994)

Max Sharam performed this creepy song about a deranged stalker on TV talent show New Faces in 1992. Sure beats another goddamned rendition of ‘Hallelujah’.

Days Of The New – Touch, Peel And Stand (1998)

If MTV Unplugged In New York not Nevermind inspired you to start a band.


Pollyanna – Effervescence (1997)

In which this underrated Sydney trio achieve powerpop perfection in a boxing ring.


Fool’s Garden – Lemon Tree (1995)

The song that introduced “German Brit-pop” to the world. Fool’s Garden were best known in their Motherland for Beatles covers until this nonsensical Oasis-lite tune broke onto the UK charts in 1996 to challenge the very band that inspired it.


K’s Choice – Not An Addict (1996)

A harrowing song about heroin addiction (“It’s not a habit, it’s cool”) that made this outfit the most well-known Belgian band behind dEUS. For a minute, at least.


Underwater Love – Smoke City (1997)

‘Underwater Love’ was 1997’s most seductive trip-hop celebration of mermaid love and Levi jeans. Smoke City split in 2002, but singer Nina Miranda and producer Chris Franck still record together as Zeep.


PM Dawn – Set Adrift On Memory Bliss (1991)

PM Dawn ushered in a decade of Cafe Del Mar comedown bliss with this mellow, Spandau Ballet-jacking classic in 1991. And just to remind you that this is the ‘90s there’s a reference to Christina Applegate in the lyrics.


The Rentals – Friends Of P (1995)

In 1995 we were all friends of P and ex-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp’s band The Rentals. “P” is Paulina Porizkova, the wife of Cars guitarist Ric Ocasek who produced the first Weezer album.


Lit – My Own Worst Enemy (1999)

Blink 18 who?


Imani Coppola – Legend Of A Cowgirl (1997)

Hip-hop, doo-wop, country, pop, funk all mixed up with the hook from Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’. Imani Coppola gets tagged with the One Hit Wonder label, but she also had an Australian Top 10 in 2000 when she teamed with the Baha Men for ‘You All Dat’. Yes, really.


Bentley Rhythm Ace – Bentley’s Gonna Sort You Out (1997)

Remember that time when Fat Boy Slim was a musical revolutionary and not just another burnt Englishman in a terry towelling hat? When bands all had names like Wicked Beat Soundsystem, Lo-Fidelity All-Stars and Meat Beat Manifesto? Remember Bentley Rhythm Ace?