The 50 Best Pop Singles Of 1995 (Featuring New Interviews With Alanis Morissette, Garbage, Kylie Minogue, Monica, Ace Of Base & More!)

Robbie Daw | December 9, 2015 8:22 am
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Ah, 1995. It was a year that saw pop music posing just as many questions — What if God was one of us? Is she perverted like me? Does she speak eloquently? Am I a dreamer? Don’t it make you wanna scream? Are you strong enough to be my man? Have you ever really loved a woman? — as it did giving us advice. Just a few tips we picked up that year from the radio: It’s a beautiful life! Don’t take it personal! All the roads we have to walk are winding! Run away and save your life! Don’t go chasing waterfalls! The world is a vampire!

In November 2014, around the time that we began our annual coverage of the best and, in some cases, the worst the year had to offer, we here at Idolator also hopped into our time machine and rounded up the 50 best pop singles released in what is arguably one of the greatest years for music in recent memory, 1994, complete with a handful of artist interviews.

This time around, Idolator gathered up 12 writers to do a deep dive into 1995. Oh, and we also ramped up the input and reflections from the artists who were churning our collective life soundtrack to those 12 months. In addition to mini-essays on each and every song we deemed to be the best ’95 had to offer, you’ll also find interviews with acts like Alanis Morissette, TLC, Garbage, Seal, Kylie Minogue, Monica, Saint Etienne, Joan Osborne, Aimee Mann, Ace Of Base, Real McCoy, Alex Party, Livin’ Joy and Nicki French, plus producers Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Todd Terry.

So let’s get to it. Ready to step back in time to the very middle of the mid-’90s?


Billie Ray Martin Your Loving Arms

[Editor’s note: Though technically given a European release in 1994, this single found its stateside success the following year — and, well, we missed covering it in last year’s big ’94 roundup, so here you go!] If there were any pop iconoclasts who stood out in 1995, if only for a brief, shining moment atop the dance chart, prime among them was Billie Ray Martin. Even before you heard her debut single, the fiery “Your Loving Arms,” there was a Cindy Sherman-esque single cover with scattered roses and a distressed Martin giving us “I will NOT be ignored!” face. Then there was the video, all Joan Crawford glares and Sunset Boulevard tantrums. As for the song itself, “Your Loving Arms” was a predestined club classic, a pulsating techno torch song in which Martin sasses, vamps, and pleads over ominous rising chords and a frantic tambourine-inflected beat.

“Arms” was a mid-career triumph for Martin, a veteran of the biz who had previously found a glimmer of fame and acclaim with her own band Electribe 101 and their late-’80s house hit “Talking With Myself.” By the time she released her debut solo album, Deadline For My Memories, the world was almost ready for her eccentric brand of electrified soul… but not quite. Although “Your Loving Arms” did eventually chart on the Hot 100 at #46 with a Miami Bass Mix (courtesy of Todd Terry), subsequent singles made little impact outside the dance sphere. No matter for Martin: disillusioned with the industry, she returned to her club roots and still performs, records and DJs today under her own independent umbrella. — JOHN HAMILTON


Planet Soul Set U Free

Spacey and sorta-scary, “Set U Free” lulls you into a trance before late singer/songwriter Nadine “Harmony” Renee starts chanting, Janet Jackson-style. Hard to characterize, this dark-glamour techno jam almost cracked the Top 20 on the Hot 100 and stayed on the charts into 1996.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the once-startling “Set U Free” now sounds like the musical equivalent of a middle-school goth makeover (“Black fingernail polish?! IN CHURCH?!?!?) — it still has a very real and eerie power. Plus, how in the Sonya Blade was this not on the same year’s Mortal Kombat movie soundtrack? — JONATHAN RIGGS


The Rembrandts I'll Be There For You

This was the inescapable song of 1995 through 1996. Whether you loved it or loathed it, the ubiquitous ditty was all over the airwaves, on both radio and television. Most, of course, will recall this tune as the theme song for those six Manhattanites with apartments as big as parking lots on the mega-successful sitcom Friends. With a massive TV hit on their hands, someone saw dollar signs, and decided to pad the song for radio airplay (since it was originally less than a minute long) just in case you missed hearing “so no one told you life was gonna be this way…” ad nauseum. One of the verses added to stretch the song to radio-friendly-lengths seemed to contradict the number’s very first line: “Your mama told you there’d be days like these…” Huh? We thought nobody told us life would be this way? Seems the attraction of the almighty dollar trumps all logic.

The three-minute version of “I’ll Be There For You” was released as the first single from the Rembrandt’s third studio album, and the duo have never again gained that kind of love-them-or- hate-them popularity. But don’t feel bad —  those residual checks from still omnipresent Friends reruns can do more than just wipe away teardrops. — MIKE WOOD


Selena Dreaming Of You

Selena had already won the hearts of the Hispanic community years prior to the 1995 release of her fifth album Dreaming Of You. But it was then when the Tejano singer posthumously gained mainstream success, thanks to crossover singles like the album’s title track and “I Could Fall In Love.” It embodied every part of her personality that she was loved for, from the singer’s sweetly blissful vocal tone to her emotionally vulnerable lyrics and delicate melodies.

Selena met her untimely death on March 31, 1995 — just four months before she would be able to see her already-blossoming career skyrocket to international heights. Yet “Dreaming Of You” (which peaked at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100) and its parent album will always live on as a reminder of a brilliant star who continues to be an influence for a current generation of artists like Selena Gomez and Fifth Harmony. — BIANCA GRACIE


Coolio Gangsta's Paradise

Sure, Michelle Pfeiffer was the star of late summer 1995 box office hit Dangerous Minds, so you might be hard pressed to conjure up the film itself without seeing her face. But it’s Coolio’s rap rhapsody on the soundtrack that captures the very essence of the movie, and he deserves his cred. Many have argued that despite its title this is far from gangsta rap, and while Coolio didn’t make gangstas all cuddly-cute, he did change the game for the genre for years to come.

An entire generation of misunderstood teens and young adults had an emotional response to the then-32 year-old Los Angeleno’s hit single, a Stevie Wonder-sampling smash that played more like the musings from the “cool” kid in school speaking to a wider audience that might traditionally scoff at rap’s harder edges. (Not a single swear word is uttered in “Gangsta’s Paradise” — moms liked that in 1995). R&B singer L.V. collaborated with Coolio on the track, which held its #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for three consecutive weeks and topped charts the world over. — MIKE WOOD


Diana King Shy Guy

The ’90s typically get picked on for having a vast amount of one-hit wonders, but the truth is that a great majority of them were pretty damn good! Case in point: Diana King’s underrated and uber-confident “Shy Guy.” The reggae fusion sub-genre began to bubble over in the early ’90s with acts like Inner Circle, Snow and Sublime. But native Jamaican songstress King brought an authentic wave of fresh air and a needed female perspective that placed her right next to her North American counterparts.

“Shy Guy,” the lead single off King’s debut album Tougher Than Love, peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100, was certified Gold in the US and became an instant highlight on the Bad Boys film soundtrack. The breezy mid-tempo dance tune features sassy lyrics that are peppered with patois inflections that urge women everywhere to realize they deserve more than what these f*ck boys are offering. What other one-hit wonder can do that? — BIANCA GRACIE


Whitney Houston Exhale Shoop Shoop

With an abundance of hits to her credit, many tend to forget this slow-jamming gem from 1995’s Waiting To Exhale soundtrack. That may be mostly because of Whitney Houston’s restraint in her singing, the ballad’s simplistic beat or maybe those indefinable “shoops.” (Writer/producer Babyface admitted he couldn’t come up with lyrics, and thus, the “shoop” was born.)

Whitney had to be persuaded to contribute to the soundtrack because she mainly wanted to concentrate on her acting (she was Waiting‘s top-billed lead). Music critics widely praised Houston for her understated performance on “Exhale” — for a diva with pipes like Whitney?—which suited the soothing lyrics about learning how to let go and move on: “Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry / Life never tells us the whens or whys.” If only we all could keep that calm in light of life’s calamities. (Right, Bernadine? Shoop.)

The entire Waiting To Exhale soundtrack was a huge hit, with musical greats like Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige all taking part. But it was Whitney’s “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” that got the most traction: it debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and it was Whitney’s eleventh — and last—chart-topping single. It also won that year’s Grammy for Best R&B Song. — MIKE WOOD


One of the biggest singles of 1995 happened to be a cover version of a song released only a decade prior — albeit a cover that completely upped the tempo of the original. British singer Nicki French first recorded her simmering dance rendition of Bonnie Tyler‘s dramatic, chart-topping ballad “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” in 1994 with producer John Springate. A mutual contact within the office of production team Mike Stock and Matt Aitken (Kylie Minogue, Rick Astley, Donna Summer) passed the recording along to the pair, who decided to take a crack at giving French’s “Total Eclipse” a Hi-NRG/pop-house overhaul.

“Mike was happy to keep the backing vocals, but wanted a new lead vocal recorded, so that was fine,” French explains to Idolator. “Going into the studio to record for Mike and Matt for the very first time was more than a little daunting, to be honest! But they seemed very happy with what I did  — and in a short time, too. I just told myself right at the start, ‘Hey, they have faith in you – just do what you do best.’ And from then on I really enjoyed myself!”

When Nicki French’s rendition of “Total Eclipse” was re-released, this time with production by Stock and Aitken, it not only landed in the Top 5 in the singer’s home country of the UK, but also soared to #2 in the United States — where it was held off the top by the reign of Bryan Adams“Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?” — and hit #1 on the charts in Canada, Australia, Ireland and Norway.

Nicki French Total Eclipse Of The Heart

“I discovered that once you are in the charts, the gigs change substantially —  and I don’t just mean financially,” says French. “I went from doing shows that lasted up to an hour to gigs where I was only required to do a maximum of three songs, which took a bit of getting used to. Yet I was being paid 10 times the amount!”

Once Nicki’s version of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” crossed over to the States and began to climb the Billboard Hot 100, a full album, Secrets, quickly went into production with Stock and Aitken. It was released in June 1995. Twenty years later, French and Stock reunited to record “This Love,” a brand new single.

“The pressure was huge for me,” she says of working with Mike Stock again, “but once I was in the studio, and started singing, it just felt so good. The standard of the studio, the engineers, the song – you just know you’re working with quality, and it was lovely.” — ROBBIE DAW


Sophie B Hawkins As I Lay Me Down

Sophie B. Hawkins’ “As I Lay Me Down” was a massive adult contemporary/pop crossover hit, but it didn’t start out that way. After her 1992 breakthrough with “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” record execs were hoping for repeated success. When the lead single off of her second album stalled at #56 on the Billboard Hot 100, Sony scaled back promotion. Hawkins trudged on and toured the country with only a piano, and also played promotional gigs extensively for radio shows to gain support.

Though it was slow to make its way onto the Hot 100 (where it eventually peaked at #6), “As I Lay Me Down” stayed there for a long, long, loooooooong time — 44  weeks to be exact —  and fared even better on the Adult Contemporary chart, where it spent 6 weeks at #1. The secret to why the sweet lullaby clicked so well? It was the perfect musical backdrop for proms, weddings and, of course, movie and television soundtracks. — TYLER STEELE


Before 1995, South Central Los Angeles was often portrayed in the media as a war zone. R&B singer Montell Jordan grew up there, so he saw firsthand how local gang activity — the drug-dealing, the violence — can enforce a new breed of slavery. Yet, like with Ice Cube‘s stoner comedy classic Friday, the point of his debut single “This Is How We Do It” was to show that South Central can party, too. “It’s not all peaches and cream, but it’s not all drive-bys, either,” Jordan said to VIBE at the time.

The only threat that he posed was to R&B, at least according to critics. The New Jack Swing party anthem sampled hip-hop storyteller Slick Rick and had Montell rapping about stacking paper, a faux pas that, sadly, informed the rest of his career. (“I’m an artist who is helping to uplift soul and R&B music rather than contributing to its demise,” he said three years later.) The only song that topped the Hot 100 for longer in 1995 was Mariah Carey‘s “Fantasy.” — CHRISTINA LEE


Des'ree You Gotta Be

While Des’ree is probably best remembered for committing career suicide by suing Beyonce (she clocked Queen Bey for making unauthorized changes to her 1997 hit “I’m Kissing You” on B’Day), the Brit delivered a string of breezy, folk-tinged pop hits in the early ’90s, starting with debut single “Feel So High.”

The now-elusive diva reached her commercial zenith in early 1995 when “You Gotta Be” made the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. A relentlessly upbeat self-help anthem with a mantra-like chorus, the track was a much-needed ray of light at the height of grunge, and can still be heard in lifts and doctor’s waiting rooms today. — MIKE WASS


Dr. Dre Keep Their Heads Ringin

By 1995, Ice Cube was tired of his hometown being depicted as hell on earth. He certainly played a role in all that, as both a member of gangsta rap group N.W.A. and featured actor in Boyz N the Hood. Yet, like Montell Jordan, he was aware that South Central Los Angeles knew how to have fun as well — hence the stoner comedy Friday, directed by longtime pal F. Gary Gray. “We know it had its bad moments, but for the most part, there’s no place I would rather grow up,” Ice Cube told Rolling Stone.

Like Ice Cube, fellow N.W.A. member Dr. Dre raps with his chest puffed out. On record he can sound intimidating, menacing even. Thanks to his own “Keep Their Heads Ringin’,” however, Friday got the no-brainer pop hit it deserved for its official soundtrack. Zingers include  “Get popped like a pimple, so call me Clearasil.” Then of course, there is that hook — ladies singing like a bell that tolls at Dr. Dre’s command, which is dumb fun. Kind of like Friday. — CHRISTINA LEE


Adina Howard Freak Like Me

The funky synths that open Adina Howard’s classic debut single “Freak Like Me” would have you believing the singer originated from the West Coast, but she was actually bred from the Grand Rapids of Michigan. Still, her introductory cut was full of drop-top low rider vibes (and the massive shout out “ain’t no party like a West Coast party” on the song), as Howard let her freak flag fly. The song was a testament to the times for women in hip hop and R&B; groups like Salt-N-Pepa and TLC were challenging sexual boundaries, as the ladies became the provocateurs on the mic, accenting catchy tunes with naughty innuendos. “Freak Like Me” joined the charge and propelled Adina Howard to R&B royalty rather quickly.

The song was almost the prehistoric version of Destiny’s Child’s “Soldier.” “Let me lay it on the line, I’ve got a little freakiness inside,” Howard coos on the track, complete with a video where she’s rocking hot pants and a leather jacket, while sliding on yellow satin sheets. There’s also a gender role flip in the track with, “C’mon and I will take you around the hood on a gangsta lean,” meaning Adina wants to drive the guy around the ‘hood, as she leans to the right in her car (or his?). In the video, she’s on a manhunt with her girls in a Mercedes convertible. Talk about #goals. — KATHY IANDOLI


Mariah Carey One Sweet Day

The longest running #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was released in November 1995, as the second single off Mariah Carey‘s fifth album, Daydream. A pair-up with Boyz II Men, themselves no strangers to the top of the charts in that era, “One Sweet Day” was posed as a harmless, straight forward ballad reminding us that those in our lives who have passed away are never far from our hearts. The song spent a whopping 16 weeks at #1, a feat that was most recently almost (but not quite) matched by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars“Uptown Funk,” which racked up 14 weeks atop the Hot 100 this past spring.

The irony is that — real talk, people — “One Sweet Day” is hardly the best song from either the Mariah or the BIIM oeuvres. In fact, playing it now, it’s kind of hard to imagine how this made it to the top while, say for instance, Carey’s classic “Can’t Let Go” never did. Right place, right time, perhaps. — ROBBIE DAW


In 1995, the world wasn’t sure whether Michael Jackson could be trusted. The King of Pop had faced child sexual abuse allegations two years prior. Moreover, as fitting as it read on paper, his relationship with Lisa Marie Presley seemed to some like a publicity stunt. The couple lounges topless at Greek temple ruins in director Wayne Isham‘s “You Are Not Alone” video, though as they whisper to each other, there is zero sexual tension. Lisa Marie even looks over her shoulder at the camera, as if to make sure we’re watching them.

Still, the R. Kelly-written “You Are Not Alone” did wonders to earn Michael forgiveness. It became the very first song to debut atop the Hot 100 — the first in a string of 24 songs to do so that was book-ended 20 years later by current chart topper “Hello” by Adele — and it would be the last of his 15 #1 singles. To be honest, this ballad’s chart success likely had nothing to do with its actual subject matter: “You Are Not Alone” imagines that Michael already is alone, while still hopeful that the woman who abandoned him will return soon. The reason why “You Are Not Alone” still resonates, even six years after his death, is the hook; Michael’s promise to always be there has always seemed sincere. — CHRISTINA LEE

36. SEAL, “KISS FROM A ROSE”(Interview)

Seal 1995

Originally released in 1994 as the second single from Seal’s sophomore LP, “Kiss From A Rose” failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100. The Trevor Horn-produced ballad would top the chart a year later when director Joel Schumacher decided to use it in Batman Forever. It played over the closing credits, and left a lasting impression on moviegoers — such a large impression that the track was re-released with a new video and began its slow march to #1.

“Kiss From A Rose” was not only a belated commercial success, but also critically lauded. It would go on to win Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 1996 Grammys and earn Seal the gong for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

“We’ve always been tight,” Seal explained to Idolator in October about “Kiss From A Rose” producer Trevor Horn. “We’ve always been a strong part of each other’s lives. I’ve known him for 25 years. He’s also, as well as being my producer, he’s also been my music partner.”

Seal Kiss From A Rose

“He owns the studios where I’ve recorded a great deal of my albums,” the Brit continued. “It’s all about being free and being comfortable with someone and trusting someone and being vulnerable in front of that person. When you can do that you can do anything. Trevor’s just remarkable. He’s an incredible human being.”

As evidenced by “Kiss From A Rose,” the producer also knows how to frame Seal’s powerful pipes better than anyone else. “I don’t trust anyone with my voice as much as I do with Trevor,” he revealed. “I just always know that I’m going to be taken care of. He doesn’t let anything get in the way of the narrative. He will never sacrifice the narrative for a cool guitar line or a nice bit of orchestration. He just won’t do it.” — MIKE WASS


Sheryl Crow Strong Enough

Sheryl Crow sings in a thin, brittle voice that reveals its limitations when she reaches for notes beyond her range. But here, it works. Her weakness is gut-punchingly powerful on “Strong Enough,” one of the most nakedly vulnerable vocal-and-lyric combinations ever recorded. Its stripped-down simplicity sent the song to #5 and helped deepen Crow’s bubbly “All I Wanna Do” persona, setting the stage for the remarkable maturity she’d show on her self-titled follow-up album.

Oh, and to reassure Crow and all the “complicated ladies” out there, country superstar and Sheryl hair doppleganger Travis Tritt scored a hit with his mansplainy answer song, “Strong Enough To Be Your Man.” (Spoiler alert: he is!) — JONATHAN RIGGS


Bucketheads The Bomb

Who would have predicted that The Karate Kid, Part II balladeer and former lead singer of Chicago, Peter Cetera, would experience a mid-’90s career renaissance as a house music diva? (Not even Miss Cleo!) But that’s exactly what happened when noted remixer/producer Kenny “Dope” Gonzales (Lisa Stansfield, Madonna, and Debbie Gibson were just a few of his clients) lifted a vintage slice of Chicago’s “Street Player,” dressed it with a funky kick, edited the hell out of the horn section and Cetera’s vocals and turned it all out as “The Bomb!”

Aside from being one of the more eccentric dance tracks of the period, “The Bomb!” stands as one of the few truly underground records that crossed over to mainstream radio, reaching #5 on the UK singles chart and eventually peaking in the US at #49 on the Billboard Hot 100. More importantly, it was the basis of “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)”, Pitbull’s 2009 breakout single. So, in a weird, teeny-tiny, obscure kind of way, we may have Peter Cetera to thank for Pitbull. What a world! — JOHN HAMILTON


Dave Grohl had written some solo scraps while he was still in Nirvana, and in the months after Kurt Cobain‘s suicide he started fleshing out that material to help get through the loss. Much of this ultimately became his self-titled solo debut as Foo Fighters, which was an improbably loose, playful release.

This was apparent immediately with lead single and album opener “This Is A Call.” It was grunge without the baggage, quirky and fun where Nirvana was acerbic and tortured. Commercialized grunge runoff was already dominating by the summer of 1995, but when the long-haired Nirvana basher joined the fray with this nimble single, for better or worse he legitimized the movement, giving it something the Bushes and Seven Mary Threes of the world never could: authenticity. — CARL WILLIOTT


Notorious BIG One More Chance Stay With Me Remix

The original “One More Chance,” off Notorious B.I.G.’s brutal 1994 debut Ready To Die, was him treating sex as if it was strictly business. “Hit you with the dick, make your kidney shift,” he raps, though his voice is so cold that it almost sounds like a threat. “One More Chance” begins with several women leaving him voicemails, demanding to know why he dared not call them again. You’d be forgiven for wondering why they bothered.

B.I.G. claims that he hasn’t changed in the candlelit “Stay With Me (Remix)” — “Heartthrob? Never / Black and ugly as ever.” Yet, because of how his loose, easy flow glides over “Prince” Charles Alexander‘s instrumental (he sampled two R&B tracks, one of which was by Barry White), “One More Chance / Stay With Me” did better to show why anyone would find him hard to resist. It debuted at #5 on the Hot 100, joining Michael and Janet Jackson‘s “Scream” as the highest single debut ever at the time. — CHRISTINA LEE


Bush Comedown

In the mid ’90s, contradictions in popular music were harder to digest — specifically the “sellout alt rock” oxymoron, which Bush often seemed to flaunt. Their debut Sixteen Stone was initially seen as a safe, softened-up approximation of Nirvana, grunge created by someone charting out metrics like engagement and reach. But that was a complicated trick to pull off, and the duality was best expressed on third single “Comedown,” which seamlessly fused the sleaziness and sneering of grunge with the sexiness and brightness of Top 40 radio (a place the song indeed reached, peaking at #30).

It starts with swooping guitar parts and a lurching bass groove that comes straight from the pelvis, but that angsty psychedelic sprawl morphs into a singalong chorus full of yearning and proto-Coldplay guitar theatrics. “Comedown” may be best remembered for spawning one of the era’s iconic fish-eye lens videos, but it proved Bush was more than just a British Nirvana knockoff. To be that cold you couldn’t make something this warm. — CARL WILLIOTT


La Bouche Be My Lover

“La da da dee da da da da!” Who knew a string of non-sensical lyrics could change the way I thought of dance music forever? Despite being born years after the heyday of Hi-NRG and Eurodance, my glow stick still waves proudly as if I was old enough to remember those hazy underground NYC club nights from that era (the 1998 film A Night At The Roxbury had a lot to do with the obsession as well). La Bouche’s “Be My Lover” is one of those songs that continue to feed the nostalgic vein that courses through me without shame.

This German dance duo, comprised of rapper Lane McCray and late singer Melanie Thornton, created blood-pumping tunes that combined energetic waves of synths with incredibly soulful vocals that kept bodies moving way longer than those endless rounds of Sex On The Beach cocktails ever could! Looking back at it now, it may come across as just another Eurotrash song to an unknowing ear. But for people like me who hold dance music to the same standard as pop or R&B, “Be My Lover” still provides a sense of euphoric escape that continues to refuel the spirit. — BIANCA GRACIE


Weezer Say It Ain't So

“Buddy Holly” and “Undone” were brilliant, but they also suggested Weezer might be reliant upon winking gimmickry. Then the third single from The Blue Album arrived, proving quiet/loud and clear these guys could do heavy, hooky angst just as well as their mopey, flannel-clad peers.

“Say It Ain’t So” is probably Chapter 1 in the “Weezer invented emo” narrative, but no matter how many sensi-dude whines about disappointing dads the “Like father, stepfather!” bridge would go on to inspire, this song’s legacy rests on the massive verse-chorus payoff. That feedback squall marking the switch from soft to loud as the knuckle-dragging power chords batter against the chorus, that was the 1995 version of the drop. — CARL WILLIOTT


Here’s an experiment: take the manic energy and hooks of decades of female-fronted UK punk like X-Ray Spex or The Slits, make it all a bit more palatable by smoothing out the screaming and rough bits, and you have yourself trans-Atlantic hit potential. This was what Elastica did well for a brief blip in the mid-’90s. Punk purists decried them as derivative, all the more so because bandleader Justine Frischmann was born London posh and the whole endeavor seemed like a one-off rich kid dalliance, her relationship with Blur lead singer Damon Albarn icing on the cake. But, oh my, the band’s breakout single “Stutter” and the no-holds-barred earworm “Connection” are such good, simple, streamlined, punk-pop that you kind of have to throw all those critiques out the window.

There’s so much energy in “Connection”s massive wall of fuzz, guttural Oooahs  and high-pitched two-tone synth line, it’s hard not to feel like you’re moshing in a gritty subterranean Camden Town club. Frischmann’s “I barely give a shit” throaty delivery only ups the song’s cool factor. Elastica fizzled out after a less successful second album, but Frischmann paid her fame forward: she shared a flat with and was an early supporter of a visual artist named Maya Arulpragasam, who would go on to write music of her own and come to be known as M.I.A. — ALEXANDER CHO

27. 2 PAC, “DEAR MAMA”

2Pac Dear Mama

Afeni Shakur was a positive influence on her first child, Tupac. She told him to read Shakespeare. She also had him attend the Baltimore School Of Performing Arts, where he started rapping. Then the budding MC’s mother grew addicted to crack cocaine, which had her using welfare payments to care for her children until Tupac moved out in 1989. She would only reconnect with her son after completing a 12-step rehab program, after he rose to stardom with his 1991 debut 2Pacalypse Now. Their story is extraordinary.

Tupac was in jail for two counts of sexual abuse when he released “Dear Mama,” though the love letter to Afeni complicated the world’s view on him and hip hop at large. It was the third rap song recognized by the Library Of Congress as a recording of historical significance, because of its portrayal of a single mother’s struggle to raise her children without familial or governmental support. But Tupac also made it universal by saying what every parent wants to hear from their child: “You are appreciated.” — CHRISTINA LEE


Kylie Minogue 1995 Nick Cave

With Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato making headlines with their sexy image overhauls and comparatively edgy new albums, 2015 is very much the year of the reinvented teen queen. However, their transformations pale in comparison to the one Kylie Minogue went through 20 years ago when she teamed up with Nick Cave for Murder Ballads highlight “Where The Wild Roses Grow.”

The Aussie pop icon had tried to break the chains of bubblegum-pop stardom a year earlier with an indie-pop leaning LP, but there were still doubts about her commitment and capabilities. They evaporated when she effortlessly morphed into Eliza Day — the victim of Nick Cave’s riverside skull-crushing.

It turns out the seed for “Where The Wild Roses Grow” was sown in the early ‘90s by the enduring diva’s then-boyfriend. “Five or six years prior to recording the song, Michael Hutchence had said to me, ‘My friend Nick Cave would really love to do a song with you,’” Kylie tells Idolator. “I didn’t really know who he was talking about.”

“I said, ‘Yeah, great’, and didn’t hear anything else until much further down the line,” she continues. “1995 was the era of being post-modern and ironic, and if I hadn’t known that it was coming from a really sincere place over many years, I might not have done it. Also, by that stage I did know more about Nick Cave.”

The song and its eerie visual now hold a special place in the hit-maker’s heart. “When I heard the song, without hesitation I was in,” Kylie remembers. “I loved it and I was excited about the prospect of doing something different. It holds up really well and I think the video is one of my favorite videos.”

The murder ballad didn’t chart in America, but it reached #2 in Australia and was a surprise hit across Europe. More importantly, it gave Kylie the credibility she had been craving since leaving PWL. — MIKE WASS


Smashing Pumpkins Bullet With Butterfly Wings

Anticipation for The Smashing Pumpkins’ third studio album was at a feverish level after the runaway success of 1993’s Siamese Dream and their replacing Nirvana as Lollapalooza headliners following Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994. The suspense was heightened when Billy Corgan and Co. announced they would give the world two discs of new material. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” the lead single off of the double album Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, screamed onto radio stations and MTV in October 1995 with a frenzied violence only hinted at in previous Pumpkins outings. It was as if the wistful and romantic Pumpkins of the two previous LPs finally tapped into their violent id. Giving the finger to those critics who complained that Siamese Dream was overproduced and Corgan’s challenging voice too filtered, “Bullet” debuted a new sound: even more outrageously overdubbed guitars combined with painfully raw vocals. It worked.

Despite all their rage, Corgan and his crew cleaned up at record stores. Mellon Collie, buoyed by “Bullet,” debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and went on to become their most successful album, eventually gaining a Diamond certification from the RIAA. The video, directed by grunge-era maestro Samuel Bayer (“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” among many others), is notable for the introduction of the now iconic black “ZERO” shirt. It’s also a moment of Pumpkins transition frozen in time, the final appearance of Corgan’s boyishly confused Siamese Dream-era locks before the full realization of his Uncle Fester-esque dome. — ALEXANDER CHO


Take That Back For Good

In every corner of the globe save for America, a country then preoccupied with alt-rock and hip hop, boy bands were as essential a part of the mid-1990s as the butt-part haircut or baggy jeans. And in Europe, it was UK five-piece Take That who were ruling airwaves, video channels and teen mags with their handsome mugs, homoerotic imagery and nonstop string of ballads and hip-pop jams.

That the group’s pop masterpiece “Back For Good” managed to break the US market barrier and crack the Top 10 — mind you, Take That’s only single to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 — was a true testament to member/writer Gary Barlow‘s talent; the song doesn’t just demonstrate his skill at song craft, it also underscores his knack for tapping into our collective emotions. Add the fact that “Back For Good” rose to the heights of the American chart after band member Robbie Williams had departed, and it’s all the more astounding. — ROBBIE DAW


“In the Meantime” is one of those songs that everyone seems to have heard, but whose creators no one can remember. Don’t blame yourself; Spacehog never really made any other dents in pop music history. The band, a crew of Englishmen living in Manhattan, titled their debut album Resident Alien. It went Gold, and “In the Meantime” hit #1 on the mainstream rock charts. The song is a weird, graceful pastiche, managing to be both soaring and quirky at the same time. It’s almost as if they decided to pull out all the stops for this one, knowing they’d only really have one chance. If the opening bars sound slightly intellectual, it’s because they are a sample from avant-classical UK collective Penguin Café Orchestra. The chorus, powered by booming syncopated chords and a loopy riff, is eminently catchy, yet totally indecipherable (“We love the all the all of you”), and there’s an uplifting guitar solo outro — plus even a wistful piano coda! What’s not to love?

The ’90s—what a special time, gifting us little bits of pop-rock fluff like this one, which has a special place in the pantheon of one-hit alt-rock wonders next to Len’s “Steal My Sunshine” and Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” Of note: lead singer Royston Langdon went on to marry — and separate from — actress and rock royalty-spawn Liv Tyler— ALEXANDER CHO

22. EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL, “Missing (Todd Terry Remix)” (Interview)

Todd Terry 90s

Just months before Todd Terry’s remix of Everything But The Girl’s “Missing” became a worldwide smash, the English duo – we’ll call them EBTG – were dropped by their record label. In her autobiography, Bedsit Disco Queen, Tracey Thorn (who made up EBTG with her now-husband Ben Watt) speculated that the label was “feeling a bit sick. They owned the song, but they no longer owned us.” Approached by label reps, the respected DJ Toddy Terry had quality material to work with.

“They let me do my thing on the mix.” Terry tells Idolator. “I always like to mix hard beats and soft vocals; that always works well on the dance floor, so I had what I needed.”

In fact, the track is very close to the original, with Terry adding a new beat while retaining the melody and structure. There’s nothing extraneous here – 1990’s EBTG tunes were marked by an elegant economy. The songs didn’t need extra dressing.

In either version, “Missing” is a noir-ish study in wistful longing, with a hint of lonely-but-relatable stalker in the lyric. The song is carried by Thorn’s gorgeously sad vocal. On 1995 radio, that voice rose right up over the decaying (and now corporate) grunge era. Like the arrival of Adele 15 years later, the world responded and made “Missing” a massive hit.

Terry, who’s never met EBTG in person, says today that he knew the song and the mix were great for radio — even a #1. “I was not that surprised.” — STEPHEN SEARS

21. ALEX PARTY, “Don’t Give Me Your Life” (Interview)

Alex Party Don't Give Me Your Life video

Diana Ross And The Supremes‘ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” Britney Spears‘ “Stronger,” JoJo‘s “Leave (Get Out)” and Kelly Clarkson‘s “Since U Been Gone” all spring to mind when it comes to great kiss-off anthems throughout the annals of pop, but in 1995, it was all about one big F U to a no-good ex blaring from club speakers across the globe: “Don’t Give Me Your Life.”

Alex Party was an international group comprised of Italian producer brothers Paolo and Gianni Visnadi, a DJ by the name of Alex Natale and British vocalist Shanie Campbell, the epitome of powerhouse dance diva. The Visnadis were quite prolific at the time, in that they had their hand in another Italo house act, Livin’ Joy. (More on them further up the list!)

At the beginning, the idea was to create something more oriented to the underground scene, but apparently it was a successful project —  so starting from that point we decided to add a voice,” Paolo Visnadi tells Idolator, while looking back on the origins of Alex Party. “Regarding Shanie Campbell, she was introduced to us through the historical label UMM, or Underground Music Movement.”

The quartet’s varied experiences gave “Don’t Give Me Your Life” a unique sound and a sophisticated flare compared to the other stomping grooves at the time. The song easily leaped into the Top 40 on the Italian singles chart, but its biggest successes were in the UK, where it peaked at #2, and on the US dance chart, which saw the club cut rise to #5.

“The means of productions back then were not like today, and the production phase was actually more challenging,” Paolo says. “I remember that the hardest part was the huge amount of work during the assembly, once the vocals were recorded on tape. After that, every single phrase from the vocals was sampled individually and controlled via midi with an Atari computer.”

As for Paolo’s current endeavors, he tells us, “At the moment I’m very focused on running Rising Park, the studio I’ve opened with my partners,  based in Venice. I have many upcoming projects ready to be released.” — ROBBIE DAW

You find out more about Rising Park Studios here and listen to some of Paolo’s current work here

20. MONICA, “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)” (Interview)

Monica 1995

There’s always been something about Monica’s debut single, “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days),” that sets it apart from the other hits of 1995 — something that makes it resonate all these years later. Is it the plaintive, a cappella intro? The loping, sample-heavy track that acts as a gritty counterpoint to her sweet yet assured vocal? Maybe it’s the lyric which, despite taking no less than six songwriters (not counting credits for the Public Enemy and LL Cool J samples), employs a simple and surprisingly mature sentiment for a 15-year-old singer: I’m angry inside, but if you give me some time alone it’ll pass.

Actually, it’s all of those things — and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give special mention to that video. Like a looking glass into everything cool about the ’90s, it’s a stylish, black-and-white slice of life with fresh-faced Monica in an array of era-specific outfits (flannel, puffy jacket, floppy hat) in a funky apartment, pining over her boyfriend and his doomed, toaster-sized cellphone.

“The video that everyone saw,” begins Monica today, taking time out of promoting her new album Code Red (out December 18 — pre-order on iTunes) to indulge Idolator in our 1995 love fest, “was actually the third time we shot the video. The first video, shortly after it was shot, I cut my hair. My mom — and of course, the label — was pissed. I didn’t understand imaging and the fact that in the video, I had long black hair, and now looked like a totally different person. The second video was just horrible and the third was perfect. We shot it in New York, in the streets and freezing cold, but it was real and reflected my personality more. Thank God [“Don’t Take It Personal” producer] Dallas Austin, aka Pops, believed in me and fought for the third shoot!”

Despite those video issues, not to mention some stiff chart competition from a slew of hip hop-leaning R&B ingenues, Monica had little to worry about in terms of having a hit. Prepped for success by TLC’s main collaborator, the aforementioned Austin, the Georgia native came straight out of the gate with “Personal,” landing high atop the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and hitting #2 on the Hot 100. She even scored Top 5 status as far away as New Zealand and Australia. The teen took her sudden stardom in stride.

“I was shocked yet honored and grateful,” Monica explains. “Where I’m from, it wasn’t commonplace to experience that level of success so young. My family kept me grounded in the process. So I never lost the humility that, to me, makes a person special. I just remember pure gratefulness and a little disbelief.”

It was an auspicious start to brilliant career, with attendant album Miss Thang eventually going triple Platinum and spawning four more smashes in the forms of double A-side single “Before You Walk Out of My Life/ Like This and Like That” and its follow-up, “Why I Love You So Much.” The album itself lived up to its sassy title and then some, paving the way for a 20-plus-years career that continues with “Just Right for Me,” a recent hit in the upper reaches of Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Wrapping it all up for us, Monica looks back at her beginning with a rightful amount of pride.

“Dallas named my first album Miss Thang because I never let people make decisions for me,” she says. “Even at 13, if a record didn’t reflect my true beliefs, I either didn’t do it or rewrote it, or he rewrote it to fit me. I’m thankful for that, because when I look back over my career, I smile with no regrets.” — JOHN HAMILTON


Annie Lennox No More I Love You's

“I don’t find myself bouncing home whistling buttonhole tunes to make me cry.” Not your standard Top 40 radio lyric, is it? Annie Lennox, in 1995, didn’t do standard. She boldly launched the all-covers follow-up to her world-dominating solo debut, Diva, with this version of The Lover Speaks’ obscure 1986 single. This song, a Grammy winner for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, is a linguist’s delight — “changes are shifting outside the word” — with a lyric about the verbal clues of a fading love affair.

Lennox’s theatrical vocal is on a high wire throughout the song, climbing up and down the scales. She made subtle tweaks to the original lyrics and added a bizarre, spoken middle eight in which she assumes a child’s voice, gushing, “There are monsters outside!” The lush moment at 3:08, when a multi-tracked Lennox cascades back in, is flat-out beautiful. “No More ‘I Love You’s” lives as a testament to the power of the vocalist as an actor. — STEPHEN SEARS


Jarvis Cocker is, by American standards, an unlikely anti-hero. Before he became known for jumping onstage  at the 1996 BRIT Awards and shaking his ass at the audience while Michael Jackson performed that terrible single “Earth Song,” Cocker took the UK by storm with a series of songs that gave the finger, with wit, to staid British society. He was a wicked mix of social commentator and nerdy fop. Cocker has never revealed who he wrote “Common People” about, but it’s the story of a rich girl who’s slumming it with a lower class dude: “I said, ‘Pretend you’ve got no money’ / She just laughed and said, ‘Oh you’re so funny’.”

As a commentary on the British class system, “Common People” struck a nerve. It hit #2 on the UK chart, but had little impact in America. Didn’t matter — the band’s performance of it at the 1996 Glastonbury festival is legendary and the album from which it came, Different Class, remains an iconic Britpop masterpiece. It secured Cocker’s status in the upper echelons of UK pop/rock. — STEPHEN SEARS

17. LIVIN’ JOY, “Dreamer” (Interview)

Livin' Joy

Oh, hell yeah, “Dreamer” — that was the definitive club jam of 1995. Whether you were partying at Sound Factory in NYC or hanging at a hole in the wall in Ohio, you heard “Dreamer” at some point in the night. Just a whiff of that intro, the staccato gasp of omniscient diva Janice Robinson followed by a distinctive, rollicking synth riff, was enough to cause a stampede to the dance floor. I still taste rum and coke in my mouth when I hear that intro today.

Coming on like a giddy little sister of Robin S‘ 1993 floor filler “Show Me Love,” the ebullient “Dreamer” was the brainchild of the Visnadi brothers, Italian producers Paolo and Gianni, who raised the stakes for deep house with their colorful, energetic production style. As if the jumbo-sized synth bloops and hyper, screeching organ weren’t enough to win over the crowds, the rip-roaring chorus of “Dreamer” was guaranteed to stick in heads and make fools of amateur lip-syncers. Delivering that twisty, fascinating bit of wordplay was none other than the song’s co-writer, veteran club performer Robinson.

On putting the song together, Paolo (who also co-produced the #21 entry in our list, Alex Party’s “Don’t Give Me Your Life”) recounts: “I met Janice in a club in Jesolo, Italy, in the summer of 1990. She came for a live show and we really liked her vocal timbre and grit, and after almost a year we met again. That’s when we decided to make this happen. I remember, mainly, the fact of having recorded the takes of the voice with an eight-track tape recorder and everything was controlled via midi through an Atari computer!”

Livin Joy Dreamer

From there the single was launched, following the standard route of conquering the underground house scene before blossoming into a full-fledged Euro hit on a major label (MCA). World domination was imminent, and that included a #1 hit in England, Top 5 placing throughout Europe, and utter ubiquity anywhere that had a strobe light and a speaker. (An eventual #76 placing on the Billboard Hot 100 was disappointing, but not surprising.) All of this success was bolstered by a video that needs to be seen to be believed, a very ‘90s affair with more than the required quota of diaphanous outfits, muscle studs, chihuahuas, wigs,and Robinson dressed as a showgirl on a carousel horse bathed in mist. In other words: instant classic!

After “Dreamer” ran its course, Robinson departed Livin Joy for a bit of her own solo success. A sizable airplay hit in 1999, “Nothing I Would Change” (which lyrically referenced her success with “Dreamer”) was followed by a stint opening for Tina Turner. Later she accrued an impressive resume of songwriting for other artists, including Taylor Dayne, Ashley Tisdale, and Abigail. Livin’ Joy lived on, too, with the Visnadis bringing in a new vocalist for a string of further hits, including “Don’t Stop Movin” (which bested “Dreamer” with a #67 Hot 100 placing) and “Follow the Rules.”

Today, Paolo hints that “it’s never too late” to pick up where “Dreamer” left off, but when pressed to choose a favorite between his two 1995 classics, Livin’ Joy and Alex Party, he protests: “For me, they have the same value because they belong to the same family and period — an amazing one!” — JOHN HAMILTON


Edwyn Collins A Girl Like You

Like Liv Tyler’s mohair midriff sweater, Edwyn Collins’ reign as rock royalty was short but iconic. The deep-voiced Scot had been in the game for a long time — as frontman of Orange Juice, he wrote and performed their 1983 minor UK hit “Rip It Up.” But Collins broke though with “A Girl Like You,” easily the best cut on the excellent Empire Records soundtrack.

A dark, driving ode to female forces of nature who eat you alive while you’re loving every second of it, “Girl” is as sexy as it is spooky. Kind of shocking, then, that it only went to #32 on the Hot 100 and #4 in the UK. At least the Belgians got it right, shooting Edwyn to the top of the charts as fast as Empire’s Renée Zellweger slithers out of her panties on Rex Manning Day. — JONATHAN RIGGS


Mariah Carey Fantasy

Mariah dominated the ‘90s pop music scene and is often credited with introducing R&B and hip hop into pop’s traditional bounty of bubblegum confections. Mariah’s sweet, sweet “Fantasy” was just one such song to do just that, all while remaining as sticky-fluffy-fun as cotton candy. When you give the song a listen today, hip hop might be the last thing you hear, but 20 years ago, “Fantasy” was different; and speaking of different, its music video is a classic to behold: Mariah muses on about her fantasy man while rollerblading (oh, those knee pads), riding a roller coaster and sway-dancing atop a Jeep — all while wearing a hoodie crop-top. How can you not love 1995?

This was not the mega-hit that was her “One Sweet Day,” which remains the longest-running #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but “Fantasy” is a near-perfect example of a song with melded genres that satisfies across multiple music demographics. The song has the distinction of being the first by a female artist to debut atop the Hot 100, and it was Carey’s ninth #1. (The diva does have 18 of them!) Mimi deserved the glory, sounding like an angel and looking effortlessly beautiful…suspect hoodie crop-top and all. — MIKE WOOD


It’s a rare occurence when two close siblings who are among the biggest entertainers of all time manage to become one another’s competition. Michael Jackson and his little sister Janet had been battling each other for the ultimate pop star crown ever since the beginnings of their expansive careers, but when it came time for familial support, they knew when to put the friendly musical rivalry on hold.

Prior to the release of 1995’s “Scream” off Michael’s HIStory: Past, Present And Future, Book I, the singer found himself in the center of a media circus that was filled with career-deteriorating tabloid headlines. The scrutiny soon became too intense, and Michael decided to channel the frustration in one of his most aggressive and visceral songs of his career. Janet’s injections of tough girl vocals made “Scream” all the more combative.

Producer Jimmy Jam reveals an interesting tidbit to Idolator that could have caused a slight shift in both artists’ discographies: “We played a track that ended up becoming ‘Runaway’ for [Janet]. I remember her saying, ‘I want this one for me. He’s not going to pick this one anyway.’ She knew he was going to choose what ended up becoming ‘Scream.’ When we went to New York to play Michael the tracks, he liked them all but ended up picking ‘Scream.’ Janet looked at me like ‘I told you so’, but I think she was also happy that he didn’t pick ‘Runaway’.”

Michael Jackson Janet Jackson Scream

Michael was known for treating the recording studio as his own mini-concerts, and for “Scream” — which went on to be certified Platinum and peaked at #5 on the Hot 100 — the entertainer jam-packed his fiery aggression into just less than five minutes. Jam’s producing partner Terry Lewis recalls, “He went into the booth and he didn’t sing the song all nice in the microphone — he was performing like he was on stage at a stadium full of people! You could hear jewelry jangling, hands clapping and him spinning. It was crazy! It turned me into even more of a fan, and totally took me out of production mode. I was screaming like a little girl, and I’m not that kind of person!”

Aside from the song, the accompanying Mark Romanek-directed black and white video for “Scream” is forever etched in pop culture history as one of the most striking visuals of all time. It’s also one of the most expensive, costing approximately $7 million — a number that was unheard of at the time. The media’s scrutiny of celebrities has become even more heightened since “Scream,” but very few are brave enough to combat it with such unapologetic force like Michael and Janet did 20 years ago. — BIANCA GRACIE

13. JOAN OSBORNE, “ONE OF US” (Interview)

Joan Osborne 1995

What if God was one of us? No really, what if he was? What if she was? Deep ponderings from Joan Osborne in 1995 had the whole word listening intently and talking about the meaning  behind the lyrics of her runaway hit “One Of Us.” Well, we were tired of second-guessing ourselves into a tizzy, and we wanted to know what Joan thought. So we asked her.

“I think people respond to this song because it is not telling them what they’re supposed to think, it’s asking them what they believe. And for a pop song, it talks about a very deep subject,” explains Osborne to Idolator. “Most pop songs are about romantic love, but this one is about faith in God. So it sparked a lot of conversation, and some controversy as well. People felt like they had to answer the central question of the song and they had to take a side or express an opinion about it. Whenever you involve people in a song in that way, it’s going to have a deeper effect than your typical pop song.” We’re with you, Joan. We’re with you.

While she was game to answer our inquiries, we’d always wondered about her take on this curious sliver of lyrics inserted into the otherwise heady anthem: “Back up to Heaven all alone, Nobody callin’ on the phone, ’cept for the Pope, maybe, in Rome”. Despite having too many semi-drunken dorm room debates back in college to count about the verse’s true intentions (Authentic? Ironic? Humorous?), we never had a clear idea; Joan does us a solid by letting us know how she interprets that part of the song, and she believes it is intended to be “firmly tongue-in-cheek. At least that is how I’ve performed it over the years.”

Joan Osborne One Of Us

While released in 1995, it took until January 1996 for “One Of Us” to reach the Top 10, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was a critical darling, too, and Osborne received Grammy nominations for Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Record Of The Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best New Artist. But, with stiff competition (see our whole countdown) “One Of Us” didn’t win in any category.

Surprisingly Osborne considered herself a “lapsed Catholic” when she first heard “One Of Us,” yet the song spoke to her nonetheless. “I was really disenchanted with the Church as an institution, and I felt it had consistently abused its political power at the expense of its spiritual mission,” she says. “So what attracted me to the song was the notion of God being a part of the everyday world, a part of us as we are part of God. Not something that had to be attained through the medium of the church, but something available to everyone at every moment.”

Osborne was unable to repeat this song’s commercial success, despite a career with similar songs that sought to challenge listeners with thoughtful lyrics. Still, parent album Relish went on to sell 3 million copies, and a special edition of the LP was released in October upon its 20th anniversary. “‘St. Teresa’ is a favorite. I still do it almost every time I perform a concert,” Osborne notes. “Fans have come up to me after shows and told me beautiful stories about how that song has affected them. And I had the joy of having Patti Smith tell me that it was one of her favorite songs, so in that sense it’s very meaningful to me.”

She also has a special place in her heart for “Crazy Baby”: “It really was written as a message of love to someone who was struggling — and I think many people have heard that in the song, and taking a lot of comfort from it. What more can you want as an artist?”

Not much, Joan. But maybe someone could let us know if God is a slob like all of us? You know, so we don’t have to clean our apartments to get into heaven. — MIKE WOOD


Saint Etienne 1990s

By late 1995, ambassadors of British pop Saint Etienne — the trio of Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and frequently boa’d lead singer Sarah Cracknell — had finished promoting their third album, Tiger Bay, and were preparing to gift the world with their very first greatest hits package. That collection, Too Young to Die, marked not only a half-decade’s worth of tastefully eclectic dance-pop singles (“You’re In a Bad Way,” “Who Do You Think You Are”) but also, unfortunately, a parting of ways with their label. Surprisingly, it also gave way to the biggest hit of their career, the Europop classic “He’s On the Phone.”

Finding themselves at a loss for new material to promote the collection, the band reached back to a recent collaboration with Gallic pop legend Etienne Daho for the moody “Accident,” an Anglicised cover of Daho’s own 1984 single “Weekend à  Rome.” How Daho and the Etiennes came to collaborate was a moment of pure reciprocal fandom. Lead singer Sarah Cracknell describes their meeting to Idolator: “Etienne came to one of our gigs in Paris and we all just got chatting after the show. We talked about a collaboration there and then and just went for it. He’s a great songwriter and a lovely man.”

Decidedly dark for a single, “Accident” was handed over to remixer Motiv8 (aka Steve Rodway) for deep sprucing. Having previously worked with the Etiennes on “Hug My Soul,” Rodway was newly hot at the time for his charting remixes of songs by Pulp and Doobie Brothers, and would soon bring Gina G to international fame. In the meantime, he painstaking rearranged Sarah’s vocals into a more melodic chorus and injected the track with what can only be described as a high dose of poppers: a galloping bass line, bright keyboards and a relentless nu-disco beat, with Daho’s spoken-word passage figuring powerfully in the breakdown.

Saint Etienne He's On The Phone

After taking in hi-NRG barnstormer “He’s On The Phone” for the first time, Cracknell says, “I personally was really excited when I heard the mix. I’m sure Bob and Pete were too. It certainly sounded like a hit to me!”

And a hit it was: In 1995, “He’s On the Phone” peaked at #11 in the UK, marking Saint Etienne’s highest-charting single. It also dominated dance charts around the world, garnering a Top of the Pops appearance and a US release the following year. More than that, it became a favorite of fans and tastemakers alike, sparking later collaborations between the band and techno god Paul Van Dyk.

Despite this triumph, the band took an extended break through 1996 and 1997 to explore solo projects. Cracknell recently released her second solo opus, the gorgeous Red Kite (buy on iTunes) a baroque pop record that, despite its lack of synths, doesn’t sit very far from the pop she normally makes with her mates Bob and Pete.

With promise of a new Saint Etienne record sometime next year (catch the band’s UK Christmas shows this week), Sarah looks back on “He’s On The Phone” fondly, saying, “I think like most good pop records, it was a combination of a great melody, melancholy and some top hooks. Voila!— JOHN HAMILTON

11. GARBAGE, “QUEER” (Interview)

Garbage 1995

After producing two of the most important records of the early 1990s with Nirvana’s Nevermind and The Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, Butch Vig decided to form a pop-centric band as a release from the monotony of grunge. All he needed was a singer, and despite a disastrous audition, Scottish rocker Shirley Manson landed the job.

“I felt really overwhelmed, because when the band first approached me, they had asked me if I was a writer,” she tells Idolator. “In a split-second decision, I panicked and thought that I wouldn’t get the chance to work with them if I said that I didn’t write. So, I said, ‘Yeah, I write’, having never written a note of music or words in my entire life.”

While that first session proved unfruitful, the band gave Shirley another shot, and Garbage was born. Their self-titled debut LP arrived in 1995 and was a massive success, reaching #20 on the Billboard 200 and going double Platinum. It also delivered a batch of alt-pop/rock classics, including “Stupid Girl,” “Only Happy When It Rains” and “Queer.”

Garbage took a huge risk by releasing the latter as their second US single. The sneering, swaggering anthem not only acknowledged the disenfranchised, but also celebrated them in a completely non-condescending way. Which is why the song remains important and beloved 20 years later.

“As a band… we really believed in civil rights for everybody and we were really aware that the LGBT community did not enjoy equal rights,” Shirley Manson recalls. “We were outraged by it, so I have a great affinity for ‘Queer’ to this day. I think it speaks to anyone who doesn’t fit in, everyone who’s not being treated fairly.” — MIKE WASS

10. REAL McCOY, “RUN AWAY” (Interview)

Real McCoy 1995

Today it’s commonplace for gruff MCs to feature soothing female vocalists on the chorus of their tracks, often over a club-ready beat. Rewind to 20 years ago, and Berlin-based Eurodance act Real McCoy perfected this template and ran with it to the upper echelon of charts worldwide with their energetic, strobelight-friendly hits.

“The reason I’m in this music business is because one of my heroes was Grandmaster Flash,” Real McCoy founder Olaf “O-Jay” Jeglitza tells Idolator. “I wanted to be cool. When I first came to the States, I had all this training for interviews, and one time one of the teachers brought one of their kids who said, ‘Oh, we always thought you were some black guy from Brooklyn’. That was, for me, the biggest compliment.”

If execs at Real McCoy’s label Arista had lost any sleep wondering if the band would be able to follow up mega-smash “Another Night” with another American hit in 1995, they needn’t have worried: the cautionary “Run Away,” the lyrics for which were inspired by George Orwell‘s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, matched its predecessor’s Billboard Hot 100 chart position of #3.

Though it was a hit in springtime 1995, the sentiment of “Run Away” couldn’t be more timely. Jeglitza says now it’s his favorite of all the songs Real McCoy recorded. “The lyrics fit so much more in the times now,” he notes. “It’s like 20 years later — ‘Big Brother is watching you’? ‘Cold cash money mentality’? It’s kind of like a dark thing.”

Real McCoy Run Away

So dark, in fact, was the video shot for the US market by director Nigel Dick (Britney Spears‘ “…Baby One More Time”, Cher‘s “Believe,” etc.) deemed to be by Arista that the label scrapped it. The visual finally surfaced over 10 years later on YouTube. (Watch it above.)

“I started writing the lyrics and I kind of liked the dark message: run away and save yourself, and don’t get caught by the system. I was trying to have lyrics that had a message,” Olaf explains. “The interesting thing is that the meter I used, you can pop on a lot of tracks nowadays. If you put the rap from ‘Another Night’ on [current songs], it would slow down the tracks. But ‘money, sex and thought control’ still works on up-to-date tracks.”

Probably just one of the reasons we’re still bumping “Run Away” two decades later. — ROBBIE DAW


Ace Of Base 1995 Bridge

To-date, Max Martin‘s had either a songwriting or producing hand in an astonishing 21 chart-topping singles on the Hot 100, the most recent of which is The Weeknd‘s “Can’t Feel My Face.” Fun fact: the very first US hit the Swedish musician was credited on was “Beautiful Life” by Gothenburg quartet Ace Of Base, recorded while Martin was being mentored at Cheiron Studios in Stockholm by the late Denniz Pop.

“The ending choir was so fun to record. Denniz, Max and I were singing the final part on the demo ending, all in ecstasy, so to say,” says Ace Of Base’s Jonas “Joker” Berggren while speaking to Idolator about the song. “A real vocal quartet then recorded the ending of the song — two men and two women, one in each harmony. Then we put them in different volumes on all the different tracks, making them sound like a gospel choir from out of this world! So fun to work with such talented people.”

Utterly euphoric and unmistakably European in its sound, dance-pop classic “Beautiful Life” was the stateside lead single off Ace Of Base’s 1995 sophomore LP, The Bridge. A year prior, the band saw their debut The Sign (or Happy Nation, as it was titled overseas) go seven-times Platinum in North America, thanks to hits like the title track, “All That She Wants” and “Don’t Turn Around.” It was a feat that set the bar unbelievably high for their follow-up release.

Ace Of Base Beautiful Life

“[The Bridge] was difficult, especially since we were one year late with the delivery if it,” Jonas explains. “I told the record companies that it was impossible to make an album and release it in ’94 since we were still promoting the first album like crazy. Many bands had copied our sound, especially in Europe, by then, so we had to develop it a little. We added a little live Spanish touch with some of the songs on the album.”

Berggren continues, “Another fun thing is that we had a ‘catastrophe’ meeting with the labels, since we had only sold 7 million copies of the second album worldwide. The first album sold 23 millions, more or less, over the first three years. For that meeting, all the record companies were present and everybody was so disappointed about the sales. I remember I said, ‘Hey — 7 million is great sales! Who is selling that much? Come on.’ Those were the days.”

“Beautiful Life” charted at #15 in both the US and UK (while placing Top 10 in other European territories), and eventually took on a second life as a TV and movie soundtrack staple — most prominently with the films A Night At The Roxbury, I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry and You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. Clearly Ace Of Base and former Saturday Night Live cast members go hand in hand.

“I am very proud of ‘Beautiful Life’,” Berggren says now. “We all are. The vocals and production still feel and sound kind of fresh after such a long time. Both Linn and Jenny had sung so great on the track. Everything was perfect, including the fun video.” — ROBBIE DAW


Aimee Mann 1995

Aimee Mann became a triumphant poster child for independent artists when, as an unsigned act, her music formed the soundtrack for director Paul Thomas Anderson‘s 1999 film Magnolia. The experience scored Mann an Oscar nomination for the song “Save Me,” but five years prior, the poetic singer landed her biggest solo hit via an altogether different soundtrack: Melrose Place.

Following her groundbreaking work with the 1980s new wave band ‘til Tuesday, the irony that her first chart hit as a solo artist was born from an Aaron Spelling nighttime soap may not be completely lost on Mann. “I didn’t watch the show at the time. I think my notion of it was that it was a little trashy, which is probably not inaccurate,” she recalls to Idolator. “But as I was asking around, people were like, ‘No, it’s great!’ I realized my friends were watching it in that ironically great, campy way.”

Known for her narrative lyrics and edgy guitar-driven songs, “That’s Just What You Are” saw Mann taking a more pop approach. The song was built around a catchy drum loop versus a kit, and layered with catchy acoustic and electric guitar melodies. Recorded on two continents, Mann was able to — ahem —squeeze  in some help from friends. “I was actually in Boston and then I moved to London for a while, [so] I recorded half of the song in each place,” she says. “I had met the guys from Squeeze, Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford, in London, and they actually sang the background vocals, which we recorded there.”

When asked if Mann knew the track would be a single upon hearing the finished version, she explains that she wrote “That’s Just What You Are” in response to her then-label Geffen’s request for songs intended to be radio hits.

“I feel like I thought that it was a really poppy and accessible song, and my memory of the record company was that they didn’t think it was in the parlance of times,” Mann notes. “I still got that ‘we don’t hear a single’. And then I remember for the next record, someone at the record company saying, ‘Why don’t you write another song like ‘That’s Just What You Are’? And I was like, ‘You didn’t like it then!’”

Though the song wasn’t a big hit upon its release (it spent only six weeks on the Hot 100 and peaked at #93), it found better success on alternative and modern radio. Despite its position, “That’s Just What You Are” remains a cut that everyone around in the mid-’90s knew well enough to sing along to, and stands as proof that the biggest chart hits aren’t always the most enduring songs. — TYLER STEELE

Catch Aimee Mann’s Christmas shows this month with Ted Leo, Liz Phair and Jonathan Coulton

7. TLC, “WATERFALLS” (Interview)

TLC 1995

TLC is known for being one of the biggest and best-selling girl groups of all time, and it is not all down to their upbeat party tunes or lovelorn ballads like their other counterparts. Instead, underneath the incredibly cool outfits and smooth dance moves, the ladies made sure to embed uplifting messages in their lyrics. For example, CrazySexyCool’s third single “Waterfalls” focuses on issues that were not often discussed in pop music — but TLC were brave enough to take them on.

T-Boz reflected with us about what the creative process was like. “When we recorded ‘Waterfalls’, we weren’t in the studio at the same time,” she tells Idolator. “I remember that being Lisa‘s favorite song. She was in a bit of trouble at the time, so she was in her bathroom just writing her rap to it. With everything that she was going through at the time, she knew exactly what she wanted to say. It came effortlessly to her.”

Along with being a powerful song that showcases one of Left Eye’s best rap verses of her short-lived career (the ending line “dreams are hopeless aspirations/ In hopes of comin’ true/ Believe in yourself/ The rest is up to me and you” remains an album highlight), the innovative music video for “Waterfalls” opened many viewers’ eyes to the harsh realities of taboo topics like AIDS.

TLC Waterfalls

“When we first saw the video, all three of us were in tears because we couldn’t believe it! No one could’ve done it better than [director F. Gary Gray]; he really brought our ideas to life,” Chili tells us. “At first, radio was not playing ‘Waterfalls’ — they didn’t really get what we were saying. So that’s why videos are so important, because they help to tell the story. That’s exactly what our video did, and once people saw it they were like, ‘Oh, shit! That’s what they’re talking about?’”

“Waterfalls” spent seven weeks atop of the Billboard Hot 100. The song also became nominated for two Grammys. Like many songs from TLC’s catalog, it continues to be a source of inspiration for artists across various genres. For instance, in 2014, Bette Midler released girl group-inspired covers album It’s The Girls, which featured the diva’s spare, piano-driven rendition of “Waterfalls.” Chili was a big fan.

“It’s so Bette! I couldn’t imagine her doing it any other way, and it was such an honor to know that she wanted to record our song,” the TLC member says. “She did such a great job and gave us so much love while she promoted the record.” — BIANCA GRACIE


It only took 20 years, but I’ve finally realized that Dionne Farris’s “I Know” — one of the most play-listed songs of 1995 — is a sonic wonder and pretty much a pop masterpiece. Smart, pointed lyrics, a loose but determined vocal, repetitive verses that build and build, each line adding to the emotional heft of a harmonic climax that eventually breaks you, liberates you, tells you what you already knew. In short, it’s a revelation. (“I know!” — Dionne) It was a song that blared everywhere in 1995, from SNL and The Tonight Show to each and every gas station, department store, restaurant and car in town, so perhaps I knew of its genius all along but was temporarily blinded from overexposure.

Of course, no single could break so big without casting an equally large shadow. After peaking at #4 on the Hot 100, “I Know” proved a hard act to follow. New Jersey native Farris, a singer-songwriter and former vocalist for Arrested Development, clashed creatively with her label, the relationship soured and two years passed before another hit materialized. (That would be 1997’s “Hopeless,” a dreamy jam from the Love Jones soundtrack.) Farris was bound for greater glory in an independent milieu, and that’s where she continues to thrive today. Lucky for us, the catchy-as-hell “I Know” continues to live on in supermarkets and restaurants, penetrating even the most unreliable of memories. — JOHN HAMILTON


Brandy Sittin Up In My Room

The Waiting To Exhale soundtrack had its fair share of bangers that all straddled the line between sensual and scorned (much like the film). However, Brandy was at the beginning heights of her musical career and still just a teen, so her contribution was far more PG-rated. “Sittin’ Up In My Room” gave tons of feels, as the braided wunderkind wove a tale that encapsulated the universal experience of thinking of our crush within the confines of our own bedroom. By the time this song hit, the ink was just drying on the contract for Brandy’s hit TV series Moesha and she was on the verge of becoming a household name.

The video, where then-16-year-old Brandy and her friends are having a house party, yet she prefers to sit in her room and master the possibilities, features Donald Faison, who was wildly popular that year after portraying the role of Murray in Clueless. “Donald’s downstairs?!” Brandy yelps as her friend is reading off the eye candy guest list. See? Even she knew he was poppin’. It’s an innocent love story for any age — not to mention any girl who once used the word “crush” and didn’t have the luxuries of Snap Chat to let a guy know she liked him. Those were the days. — KATHY IANDOLI


Alanis Morissette introduced herself to America by spewing enough acidic vitriol to fuel a thousand diss tracks, then went and did an about-face with the jangly, optimistic second single “Hand In My Pocket.” In the space of two songs, she confounded a public (and industry) that was used to filing artists into simplified categories.

“There was a time 20 years ago when you weren’t allowed, quote unquote, to be integrated. You weren’t allowed to be rock-pop-alternative-salsa-country. You had to pick one thing,” Morissette says over the phone. “So at the time, ‘Hand In My Pocket’ definitely marked that if someone said, ‘You’re just rock,’ I would always come back with, ‘And I’m also pop.’ And if someone said ‘You’re so pop,’ I’d say ‘I’m also a badass rocker.’ I was always fighting for everything then.”

“Now, this is the era of integration,” she adds, “which, by the way, is not a moment too soon.”

The single would eventually top the Modern Rock charts — no small feat considering the aggro nature of the genre back then. It was a promising indication that the music world was ready for a boundary-blurring star who was eager to carve out her own territory, and it’s easy to chart a throughline from this point directly to the women dominating the conversation today who willfully defy categorization, from Grimes to Nicki Minaj. But beyond laying the groundwork for artists who would flout rigid industry stratifications, “Hand In My Pocket” also serves as the thesis statement for Jagged Little Pill, and even Morissette’s entire career. Regarding the song’s dualities and contradictions, she said “it was a perfect marking of the mission.”

“It touches on the psychological part, and different aspects of self. I’ve always been everything and eventually, of course, I wind up writing a song about it because I had to.” — CARL WILLIOTT


Oasis Wonderwall

When the editor of Idolator asked me to participate in this 1995 song project, I looked back at my playlists and thought, “Well, I played the shit out of ‘Wonderwall.’ I want THAT.” On my first trip to London in October ‘95, I remember hearing this everywhere. Shop girls singing along, drunken pub crawlers wailing. The album it’s pulled from, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, is a flawless pop-rock gem, and “Wonderwall,” which begins with — literally — a cough, is the first renowned power ballad of what would become the Britpop era.

There are arguably better songs on the album (“Don’t Look Back in Anger,” anyone?), but Wonderwall soars in both its optimism and Liam Gallagher’s committed — and very British — vocal. For such a laddish, ornery bloke, he sings his heart out on this. Since the song’s release, he and brother Noel (who wrote the song) have had more fights than hits. The band is, for now, dormant. I‘ve been to London many times since and I wonder, in this age of EDM, whether this kind of track could ever have a worldwide impact again. The globalized music business has stripped pop hits of their unique cultural identities and romanticism. Whatever. In 1995, I was there, singing along with everyone else. — STEPHEN SEARS


 “Take this pink ribbon off my eyes. I’m exposed, and it’s no big surprise.” Most of us weren’t hip to No Doubt prior to those very words uttered by frontwoman Gwen Stefani at the start of “Just A Girl.” “Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand,” she continues, “this world is forcing me to hold your hand.” It came at an ideal moment. Riot Grrrl was well underway, and while the Anaheim, California outfit wasn’t exactly an extension of that movement, the sentiment of their introductory single tied in perfectly with the tune of the times. “Just A Girl” was a feminist anthem: bold, ironic, sardonic and sarcastic — as Stefani rattled off a list of everything she couldn’t do because she was, well, just a girl.

Urban legend tells us that Gwen penned this first single off No Doubt’s third (yet breakout) album Tragic Kingdom in response to her dad’s concern over her driving to then-boyfriend and bandmate Tony Kanal’s house at night. She even alludes to that in the song when she says, “I’m just a girl, I’d rather not be, ’cause they won’t let me drive late at night.” Such an anti-establishment anthem for women who grew tired of being smothered by stereotypes. And it spoke wildly to the genre No Doubt was wedged in. The Ska movement, like most niche genres, was something of a boys club, and Stefani had to prove her power by being one of the baddest. It worked out well for her and still does to this day.

The video, looking half b-roll/half Instagram filter, shows Stefani leaned up against a crashed car (probably one she cracked up since “girls can’t drive”) heading with her band to practice. The scenes are split, as the boys in the band get to have fun in the filthy men’s room jamming out, while Gwen dances alone in the posh ladies room as two bathroom maids sit and monitor her moves. Eventually Gwen’s “had it up to here,” and throws a party of her own with a bunch of ladies. By the end, the walls metaphorically come down and everyone gets to party together. If that’s not a microcosm of society, then what is?

“Just A Girl” wasn’t the biggest No Doubt hit, by far. It only landed at#23 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1995, but the song didn’t need accolades to become an instant classic. The track introduced us to Gwen, the epitome of Girl Power, who would ultimately sprinkle this femme outlook into the pop world. What’s most ironic about “Just A Girl” is really how little has changed in two decades; women are still ripping pink ribbons off their eyes, so 20 years later “Just A Girl” can still be replayed, absorbed and understood in response to everything happening around us. This is a song that stood the test of time, and while it wasn’t No Doubt’s most successful track on the charts, it was arguably one of their most meaningful. — KATHY IANDOLI


Alanis Morissette 1995

What can be expressed about “You Oughta Know” that hasn’t already been covered in the oral histories, the feminist roundtables, the glowing retrospectives? How about its impact on the car ride. In 1995, the car radio fueled epic struggles, particularly among siblings. It was always a battle between the boy’s music — Nirvana, Beastie Boys, R.E.M. — and the stuff his sisters liked — TLC, Mariah Carey, No Doubt. As antiquated as these sentiments sound in the year 2015, that’s how delineated and conditioned music listening was 20 years ago. “You Oughta Know” blew that up. It was the first song brothers and sisters of the ’90s agreed on.

“For me and everyone around me, it was such a no brainer to have [‘You Oughta Know’] be the start,” Morissette tells Idolator. “The expectations were really low. I remember the record company saying to me, ‘We may sell 100,000 copies of this record.’ And I remember telling them ‘Please don’t tell me that again, that’s too daunting. The bar is too high!’ I definitely loved the record so much, but there was no way for me to see what was to come.”

All the reasons that this concoction of feminist post-grunge shouldn’t have worked were the same reasons it did work. There was this striking female voice showing up in a sea of growly butt-rock. There was the racy “go down on you” line, years before the Clinton scandal would normalize BJ talk. There was the fact that two bona fide ’90s rock gods, Flea and Dave Navarro, were added to the track and were by far the least remarkable thing about the song, outshined by this commanding and fiery and honest newcomer at the center. And, of course, there was the song’s so-called “angry woman” narrative, which instantly pigeonholed Morissette.

“I was one-dimensionalized and perceived for a moment as singularly angry. And I thought, ‘Hey, in a patriarchal world, I can think of worse things to be perceived as.’ It was an egregiously incomplete perception, but I took it at the time.”

“You Oughta Know” didn’t invent feminist pop, but it proved feminist pop could break through the patriarchy on a mass scale without the aid of sexualization. And Morissette achieved this universal appeal by using the most personal and microscopic of relationship details to illustrate a perspective that those kids in the backseats weren’t used to singing along to. This wasn’t a heartbreak song; this wasn’t a breakup ballad; this wasn’t about yearning for a lost love; it was a shameless, warts-and-all scolding with no interest in courting sympathy from listeners.

“I thought it would be terrifying to be so transparent and autobiographical in my music. But the opposite wound up being the case,” she explains about the song’s content. “I felt like it was such a combination of devastation combined with the power that comes from admitting how angry I was. I was so transparent about that, I didn’t have to put on any false presentations in the public eye, so it was actually kind of relaxing.”

This confessional style is now the default stance for current superstars like Taylor Swift and Drake. But “You Oughta Know” was more than just a great song that served as a template for future generations of pop stars. It’s a timeless classic because it tapped into so many new cultural pivot points simultaneously, even though the industry, and the people who grew up under the song’s ubiquity didn’t realize it at the time. The monogenre, self-exposure, rebranding, empowerment, feminism: the DNA of “You Oughta Know” is the DNA of modern pop. And that’s why it’s the best single of 1995. — CARL WILLIOTT

Alanis Morrissette’s Jagged Little Pill was recently re-released in a four-disc, anniversary Collector’s Edition.

What are some of your own favorite songs from the year 1995? Let us know below!