40. Moby, “All That I Need Is to Be Loved”
A precipitous plummet on the roller-coaster ride that is Moby’s SPIN Album of the Year Everything Is Wrong, the acid-thrash-metal seizure “All That I Need Is To Be Loved” foreshadowed 1996’s Animal Rights — for better or worse — with its barked, echoing repetition of the title and aggressively slung electric guitar riffs, proving Moby’s hyperactivity could be infectious in just about any genre. —H.B.
39. Fugazi, “Bed for the Scraping”
Hooks weren’t particularly paramount on Fugazi’s palette-expanding Red Medicine LP, but nearly all of the album’s best can be found on “Bed for the Scraping” — the “Longview”-worthy bass saunter, the squalling guitar chorus, and of course, one of the band’s most breathless maniacal chants (“IDONTWANNABEDEFEATED!“). One of the closest things the D.C. foursome had to a radio single, even if the airwaves were too cluttered with So-Cal pop-punk at the time to notice. —A.U.
38. The Cardigans, “Carnival”
Though it would understandably be overshadowed historically by the band’s true crossover hit, the Cardigans’ lilting lounge-pop throwback “Carnival” remains a peerless mid-decade delight, as gauzy and wistful as its soft-filtered music video. Groovy enough to be featured in Austin Powers a couple years later, without even feeling like a punchline. —A.U.
37. Sponge, “Molly (16 Candles)”
Possibly about a teenage suicide and possibly about a drunken night spent watching classic Brat Pack flicks on basic cable — or both — “Molly” does that thing that so many of the best post-grunge radio perennials do, translating the urgency of a moment of overinflated emotional importance into four minutes of screaming riffs and easily misinterpreted chorus yawps. Don’t ask why. —A.U.
36. Blues Traveler, “Run-Around”
Just for the record, there’s every reason to give John Popper the run-around. He blows into that harp like he doesn’t have an off-switch and screeches like he can rotate his head 270 degrees. He utilizes conga drums that should never be sold to anyone wearing a vest with that many harmonica pockets. And yet the hook brings us back. — D.W.
35. Ash, “Girl From Mars”
A charming pop-punk blast from overseas, frisky and surging enough to make our homegrown garage-rock scrappers seem bloated and tired by comparison. 20 years later, it still sounds as dreamy and transportive as ever, even if we never did figure out what the hell Henri Winterman cigars have to do with interplanetary young romance. —A.U.
34. Filter, “Hey Man Nice Shot”
How bizarre was this decade? Well, Trent Reznor’s touring guitarist went platinum off a streamlined industrial song about Budd Dwyer (the original viral-video star), waited four years for the follow-up, then scored a top-20 pop hit. Oh Butt Trumpet, what could have been? —B.S.
33. The Verve, “On Your Own”
The Verve reached peak morosity on the acoustic-driven “On Your Own,” a midtempo meditation about searching for The One to make the time between life and death more palatable. The song avoids total sappiness (or parody) thanks to frontman Richard Ashcroft, who gives one of his most vulnerable, open vocal performances. —A.Z.
32. Björk, “Army of Me”
Look, you probably shouldn’t cross Björk. We now know doing so means you might end up with a whole brilliant record about your personal shortcomings, but she already threatened as much 20 years ago. “If you complain once more you’ll meet an army of me,” she sings in the moment that gives Post‘s most nauseous track its title. And if mere words weren’t deterrent enough there’s the head-exploding instrumental that scrapes and glides like a version of big beat made from metal scraping metal, or perhaps, just like a toothache. You’ve been warned. —C.J.
31. Hum, “Stars”
The flipside to “Girl From Mars,” Hum’s “Stars” is an equally spectral dream-pop crusher about a girl with a bad case of extraterrestrial envy. The riffing is as gorgeously anthemic and spotless as any ’90s fretwork found outside Siamese Dream, and the lyrics are as simultaneously wondrous and disconcerting as any perplexed-dude gawk at femininity since Talking Heads’ “And She Was.” —A.U.
30. The Rentals, “Friends of P”
Mid-’90s alt-radio was a great time for guessing games: who or what was the “Seether?” Who exactly oughta know Alanis’ scorned fury? And who was the mysterious P receiving the mysterious Rentals’ bubblegummy tribute? Was it Paulina Porizkova, wife of Weezer producer Ric Ocasek, or maybe their drummer Patrick Wilson, who plays on the track? You might even say he’s a good guy for a gal. Ooooh-woo-hoo-hoo. —D.W.
29. Garbage, “Vow”
Debut Garbage single “Vow” features all the hallmarks that make a Shirley Manson and Co. song great: a glam-doom vocal performance unfettered by machine-shop sound effects, like the stereo panning that makes the verse riff spin around the room. Then it goes all minor before it goes all major, possibly with the most exultant melody of their career, to soundtrack a series of Manson threats: “I came to fuck you up,” “Break your soul apart.” But all this expertly Pro-Tooled industro-pop does is beckon you to play it again. — D.W.
28. Pearl Jam, “I Got Id”
In a Freudian sense, the Id is the part of a person’s mental process supposedly responsible for unchecked desire, but that’s appropriate here only as a signifier for the sort of psyche-exploration Eddie Vedder’s performing on himself here. He’s “an empty shell,” occupied by little more than “memories” and “s—t.” Anxiously probing lead lines (c/o Neil Young circa their Mirror Ball collab) serve to underscore the self-doubt and depression he’s expressing throughout, if nothing else, they settled on a way to convey a sonic equivalent of psychoanalysis. —C.J.
27. Elliott Smith, “Needle in the Hay”
As devastating a two-string guitar wringing as you’ll ever hear, to accompany verses about heroin and fear and desperation and a four-word chorus that sounds like Elliott Smith crawling further and further underneath his bedsheets with every successive repetition. It was probably inevitable that “Needle in the Hay” would become a suicide-soundtrack cliché, but it didn’t need any such cinematic appropriation — or echoes from real-life tragedy — to haunt its decade of origin for all time. —A.U.
26. Bush, “Everything Zen”
With that panicked slide guitar and Gavin Rossdale’s paranoid yowl, Bush’s excellent debut single is anything but zen — not with him scrounging around for food, new lovers, and asshole brothers in its opening bars, anyway. They weren’t the Nirvana ripoffs that early skeptics claimed; there’s no punk in Rossdale’s outfit and a lot more sex in, well, his violence. — D.W.
25. U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”
It’s probably unfair to call it the last great U2 song. But it’s definitely the last great U2 something. —A.U.
24. Nine Inch Nails, “Hurt”
The opening lines that launched a thousand Chuck Palahniuks, the closing chords that brought the Alternative Nation to its knees. Johnny Cash’s version had a half-century of trembling history on its side, but Trent Reznor’s original had a timeliness that couldn’t be replicated, a generational numbness that finds the undercurrent of terror and paralysis in any number of Gen X-themed Simpsons jokes. —A.U.
23. Foo Fighters, “I’ll Stick Around”
Coming off of personal and professional tragedy, it’s unlikely anyone would have blamed Dave Grohl for phoning it in on his debut Foo Fighters effort. Instead, there are brilliant moments of power-pop-qua-pure-rage like “I’ll Stick Around.” He may not have owed you (or anyone) anything but because its message is curt and its guitars are Kurt, he wrote one of the most memorable kiss offs of the ’90s, maybe ever. —C.J.
22. Supergrass, “Alright”
Since “Kids in America” was still technically property of the ’80s, 1995 (and Clueless, yet again) gifted us with Supergrass’ “Alright,” an equally invigorating and addictive Young Americans anthem. (Sure, Supergrass were British, but then so was Kim Wilde.) Being from the ’90s, of course, “Alright” was also fitted with a self-awareness and sense of doubt, singer Gaz Coombes crashing his new car and asking on the chorus “Are we like you? I can’t be sure,” but it’s tough for the piano-led jauntiness and clean-teethed enthusiasm not to win out. —A.U.
21. Collective Soul, “December”
Collective Soul didn’t know a goddamn thing about naming a band, approving cover art, or making videos. But like their shaggy Adult Contemporary forbears, they knew hits, and “December” was perhaps their biggest. Frontman Ed Roland plays the caustic shaman over a snare-heavy disco distillation, complete with string hits. The takeaway line is “turn your head now baby, just spit me out”: a reference to Revelation 3:16, or maybe it’s just gross. —B.S.