10 Worst Songs of the 1990s

It’s easy to look back at the 1990s with rose-coloured spectacles, assuming that the charts were dominated by respected and cutting-edge acts like Nirvana and Nas. But like every decade, plenty of less illustrious artists sold truckloads of records. This list is dominated by adult-contemporary ballads – upbeat songs I remembered hating, like Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ and The Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’, held up much better on revisiting than melodramatic vocal showcases.

This is the list that I’m most qualified to write since my entire teenage years took place during the 1990s.

10 Worst Songs of the 1990s

#10 – I’ll Be There For You by The Rembrandts

from LP, 1995
R.E.M. refused permission for their 1991 hit ‘Shiny Happy People’ to be used as the theme tune for the TV show Friends. Instead, the producers turned to power-pop duo The Rembrandts to approximate the same sound. It’s a serviceable tune, but the way that vocalists Danny Wilde and Phil Sōlem draw out the vowels in the chorus is maddening.


#9: My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion

from Titanic, 1997
Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ featured over the blockbuster Titanic’s end credits. Director James Cameron was reluctant to include such a commercial song but agreed to appease worried executives. There’s a pretty, folk-derived tune on ‘My Heart Will Go On’, but the arrangement turns it into an adult-contemporary cesspit with recorders, choirs, and a dramatic key change,


#8: Always by Bon Jovi

from Cross Road, 1994
Bon Jovi are aiming for a sweeping ballad like ‘November Rain’ on this track from their 1994 compilation Cross Road. But Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora lack the menace of Axl Rose and Slash, and ‘Always’ ends up as faceless adult contemporary. “I will love you…[’til]…the words don’t rhyme” is a supremely awkward sentiment.


#7: I Swear by All-4-One

from All-4-One, 1994
Not for the last time on this list, a humble country song is transformed into a mainstream blockbuster. California R&B vocal group All-4-One turn John Michael Montgomery’s 1993 country hit into a treacly confection. The Minions’ irreverent cover from Despicable Me 2, where they change the lyrics to ‘Underwear’ is a vast improvement.


#6: How Am I Supposed To Live Without You by Michael Bolton

from Soul Provider, 1990
After abandoning a career in hard rock, poodle-haired and husky-voiced balladeer Michael Bolton enjoyed a flurry of hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His first number one was ‘How Am I Supposed To Live With You’; it was released in late 1989. but charting in 1990 qualifies it for this list. I always associate Bolton with another unlikely early-1990s superstar, saxophonist Kenny G, because they had the same haircut and collaborated on the 1991 single ‘Miss You Now’.


#5: I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston

from The Bodyguard, 1992
Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ is a great song. Whitney Houston was a great vocalist who brought gospel chops to mainstream pop. But put them together, and it’s an overwrought extravaganza The song was much better served by Dolly Parton’s gentle original version than by Houston’s vocal gymnastics. The world disagrees with me – it’s massively successful; the video still gets 350,000 views a day, while Parton earned $10 million from the song during the 1990s.


#4: Love Is All Around by Wet Wet Wet

from Four Weddings and a Funeral: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1994
This smug cover sandblasts off the charm of The Troggs’ 1967 original. It could have been even worse; Wet Wet Wet were presented with three choices of songs to cover for the closing of Four Weddings and a Funeral. The other two choices were Barry Manilow’s ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ and Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’. ‘Love Is All Around’ didn’t crack the US top 40, but enjoyed one of the longest reigns at number one in the UK.


#3: Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman? by Bryan Adams

from Don Juan DeMarco, 1995
Canadian Bryan Adams was a reliable hit machine in the 1980s and early 1990s. When his songwriting muse faltered, he was such a mega-star that radio continued to pound his lesser songs. This flamenco-flavoured acoustic song is particularly clueless lyrically, reaching its nadir with the line “When you can see your unborn children in her eyes/You know you really love a woman.”


#2: Barbie Girl by Aqua

from Aquarium, 1997
‘Barbie Girl’ is a unique song, walking a fine line between a sophisticated critique of gender roles and a kitsch song about a childhood toy. It was intriguing the first time, but on subsequent listens the kitsch elements dominate. The hooks in ‘Barbie Girl’ stick – Lene Nystrøm’s wordless vocals in the chorus are memorable.


#1: No Matter What by Boyzone

from Where We Belong, 1998
Ronan Keating and Boyzone dominated the airwaves in the late 1990s with a succession of toothless adult-contemporary hits. They barely made a dent in the US – ‘No Matter What’ was their only top 40 hit – but they were huge in the UK and here in New Zealand. Before unleashing ‘No Matter What’ Boyzone desecrated classics like Cat Stevens’ ‘Father and Son’ and Tracy Chapman’s ‘Baby, Can I Hold You Tonight?’. This plodding tune was written by Sir Andrew-Lloyd Webber.

What did I forget to include? Am I too harsh on Whitney Houston?

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94 comments

  1. Oddly, I don’t seem to have any strong dislikes from this decade. Well, maybe I do but they’re not coming to mind. That said I don’t know how you missed “Ice Ice Baby” or “I Want it That Way.” We discussed “I Will Always Love You” before. I am not a massive Houston fan but do like that one. Otherwise, I can live with your list. Any list that slams pointless arena rock band Bon Jovi, Michael Bolton, and that cheesehead Bryan Adams can’t be all bad. Adams should team up with Dan Hill and write a meaningless tearjerker that would make everyone’s head explode. I look forward to your sharing your hate mail.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. With regards to 1990s boy bands, you Americans win. Backstreet Boys are way better than Boyzone. The Backstreet Boys have pep, Boyzone are just boring adult contemporary.

      I don’t mind Bryan Adams in the 1980s – stuff like ‘Run To You’ and ‘Summer of ‘69’ is fun. It’s the 1990s when he really had issues.

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        1. I had the Spice Girls of my initial brainstorm list, but when I went back and listened they were ok. I was finding fast songs generally held up better than ballads, and I liked Mel B’s voice more than I remembered.

          I don’t think Canada wants to give Adams to New Zealand!

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        2. Well, when you put him against legends like that, it’s hard not to think of him as minor. However, he certainly has a place in Canadian music history and for people of a certain age, he’s a part of of Canadian summers, right alongside Kim Mitchell, The Tragically Hip, and 54.40.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I always love reading these kinds of lists to see what songs different people hate. I agree with a few of yours, especially the one from Michael Bolton, who busted a gut – along with a few vocal chords – on just about everything he sang.

    Though it’s probably my least-favorite decade for music overall (thanks to my early visceral dislike of rap, hip hop and grunge, which has since been tempered somewhat), there aren’t as many songs from that decade I truly detest as there are from the 1970s. I’ve never heard songs #1 & 2, so gave ’em a listen, and yes, they’re both insipid trash. Some big hits from the 90s I can’t stand include Snow’s “Informer”, Silk’s “Freak Me” and SWV’s “Weak” – three mediocre songs that dominated the Billboard charts during the first six months of 1993, when I felt music had gone over a cliff; Creed’s incredibly annoying “Higher”; Destiny’s Child’s equally annoying “Bills, Bills, Bills”; and all the boring Boyz II Men songs that spent months on end at #1 in the U.S.

    And yes, you’re being too harsh on Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, although I certainly understand how people can dislike it. Though I was a huge fan of hers from the beginning (I absolutely love “Saving All My Love For You”, “How Will I Know” and “Greatest Love of All” from her fabulous debut album), I didn’t care much for “I Will Always Love You” when it came out because, like you, I also felt it was too overwrought. Eventually I grew to love it.

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    1. I got pretty sick of those big BoyzIIMen hits, but I reckon ‘End of the Road’ and ‘One Sweet Day’ are good songs. I’m saving Creed for the 2000s list – I heard ‘Arms Wide Open’ a lot more.

      I think ‘I Will Always Love You’ suffered from me being a young teenager when it came out. A huge, dramatic, romantic ballad wasn’t really what I wanted to hear.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I did actually like “One Sweet Day”, probably due to Mariah Carey’s substantial contribution to the song. I just could not tolerate Scott Stapp’s vocals, at least while he sang for Creed. Hearing them was like nails on a chalkboard to me.

        I’m more than 20 years your senior, so was in my late 30s when “I Will Always Love You” came out. That said, I’ve always been a sucker for grandiose romantic ballads, as long as they’re done right.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I like this list. Whitney Houston I’m right with you…it’s akin to a nail being driven through your head.
    REM did a good version of Love Is All Around but this one yea…I agree.

    The Rembrandts…ah it doesn’t bother me and I was happy to see some power-pop song get some love but I get it…it does get annoying.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It doesn’t help being connected to that show and seeing that over and over again. I wasn’t the biggest Friends fan.

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        1. Thanks man…I’ll take a listen…I’ve only heard a few things by them…it’s a band that I can’t believe I haven’t explored…

          Off topic question. I’ve just started All Shook Down… I like Nobody and Someone Take The Wheel so far…what songs/song do you like off of it?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Cool! You’ve almost finished. I kind of like the two new songs from the Greatest Hits but that might just be me – I like Westerberg’s solo stuff and not every Replacement fan does.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. I’ve been listening to his Soundcloud channel music that he makes in his basement. I’m liking a lot of it. https://soundcloud.com/user-964848511

          The only proper one I’ve heard is 14 songs but I haven’t spent any time with it…but yes I do like what I’ve heard.

          I need to check out the new songs…I haven’t heard them.

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  4. Oh man, you’re at it again. Love this list though I don’t hate everything here. How close did ‘Barbie Girl’ get to being number one on this list. Surely it deserves the crown as the 90s worst song?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hate Boyzone and Ronan Keating’s music a lot – if there was no ‘No Matter What’, ‘Father and Son’ would have been a worthy number one. Keating makes me feel dirty and emotionally manipulated.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Some thoughts…
    I’ll Be There for You – it’s the Friends theme, I know the hooks, the claps, I can’t hate it.

    but
    Barbie Girl – I love this song, my go-to for Karaoke or anything that gives me the chance to play it, either for enjoyment or annoying others.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You can find worse songs all over the 90s. Of course, your list is full of meaningless, corporate rock ballads. But at least some of these songs have a “romantic” side that I have enjoyed while dancing slowly with my girlfriend.

    Another interesting topic to talk about: After 40 years of rock music, it was very difficult to say something new in the 90s. A few highlights (not outstanding but refreshing) you can find it with the Grunge movement and Brit pop (especially Radiohead) and a few more. But nothing at the 60s, 70s, 80s level.

    Finally, rock is dead. Or alive in 50-year-old dudes like me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t really like much mainstream rock past the 1970s – after that almost all the interesting stuff got pushed to the fringes, like The Replacements in the 1980s and Pavement in the 1990s. Radiohead are an obvious exception.

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  7. “Come on Barbie, let’s go party!” Wow. You’ve really picked the worst of the worst on here. I’d actually managed to forget that many of these songs existed. Now I have to go scrub my brain again…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Some real crackers here, man. I would be tempted to exclude Barbie Girl given it’s a novelty tune. I tip my hat to you for managing to narrow the Bryan Adams selection down. I might have included that and the effort with Rod Steward and Sting.

    Anyhoo, I’m gonna court controversy here and suggest that numero uno belongs to a track you mention right at the beginning when introducing us to I’ll Be There For You – Shiny Happy People. That songs is just horrible.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was tempted to include ‘Everything I Do’, but it’s pretty good compared to his stuff later in the decade. OK tune, just a cheese-fest.

      I like Shiny Happy People but I understand that it’s divisive.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Ah. That’s kinda harsh. At least they tried to take themselves out of their comfort zone and experiment once they made it big – like Radiohead (who’s evolution didn’t work IMO – but at least they tried something new).

      This is better than successful bands who keep going back to the same well – the foo fighters, green day, the red hot chili peppers and U2, kings of Leon.

      I think “automatic for the people” is their best album and that “Green” and “ out of time” are in the middle somewhere

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’ve got me curious about your thoughts on the Radiohead evolution. I think they became a really great band. I didn’t like Pablo Honey, I paid more attention to The Bends… and OK Computer sorta set out what to expect from them moving forward.

        But aye, no argument from me about artists evolving and developing their sound. R.E.M. done it successfully at various stages… I like R.E.M. quite a bit, but I just happen to think Shiny Happy People is horrible.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t know. He’s a huge talent obviously.

          They postponed their 2003 concert in Toronto because they were petrified of SARS, and then when they came back to do the makeup date a roadie died in a tragic accident (look it up).

          I think Pablo honey is accessible and fun. Obviously their highest points were “the bends”and “ok computer”

          “kid A” started to lose the plot a bit. I don’t get “amnesiac”.
          “Hail to the thief “ had some fun songs but it didn’t hang together like a top notch album should. Just my view.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I’m not sure but it seems like Kid A isn’t as highly regarded as it used to be. It’s always been my favorite, but that’s probably because by the late 90s I listened to more electronic music than Rock. But I think it was a good album by any standard really. Not just because I liked electronic music. But it seems like it’s been replaced by a couple other of their albums as far as favorites go. In Rainbows and stuff.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Only ten? Haha man, I could give you a hundred, but that would mean acknowledging them all.

    That Rembrandts track, all I can think of is a stand-up one time talking about it, saying (I’m paraphrasing), “They say ‘No one told you life was gonna be this way,’ but then next verse they say ‘Your mother told you there’d be days like these.’ So which is it? It’s like they forgot what they wrote a few lines before.” You know I’ve never seen a full episode of Friends to this day, and I’m happy to keep it that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The decade of the 90s is a much different animal than the 60s 70s 80s musically.
    As a result, these lists are more difficult to make now. Music delivery and consumption changed in the decade (MP3s, personal playlists, specialty radio stations) in exactly the same way that starting in the 1990s people did not have to watch the same movie on an airplane anymore.

    I think it was the best decade because I know it for Radiohead and Pearl jam and the Tragically Hip and I didn’t have to listen to hip hop – even though hip hop fans also think it was the best decade as well.

    As an illustration – I know all of the songs on your 70s and 80s worst list but maybe half of the ones on the 90s list.

    Ignorance is bliss!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Napster only came in during the very late 1990s – fragmentation had obviously been happening since the 1970s (if not earlier) but I think it accelerated in the early 2000s more.

      In New Zealand we kind of get a crossover of US and UK stuff, and also some Australian and NZ stuff. I think a few of the songs you don’t know are probably UK ones that weren’t big over in Canada.

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  11. The worst song of the 90s was Hold On by Wilson Phillips. Or at least it’s the one that I hate the most. And almost anything by Sheryl Crow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with the people who think Macarena is one of those great Euro-dance type hits that just come out of left field once in awhile. The 90s actually had an unusually large amount of them. Like Blue by Eiffel 69, Mr. Vain by Culture Beat and What Is Love by Haddaway. I adore them all but there’s no doubt that there’s probably even more people who hate them. I guess you have a taste for that type of thing. Lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes the decade I firmly believe is the greatest rock decade ever DID have a lot of them (one hit novelty hits) . A surprisingly large number, actually

        You are forgetting:

        I get knocked down. Thumbawumba
        And
        Praise you – fatboy slim

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Absolutely. I love both of those. I heard an old expression somewhere that says….Never underestimate the power of stupid music. And it couldn’t be more true.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Your list is pretty good. I’m thrilled to see All-4-One, Celine and Whitney there. Strangely enough I think Aqua and Michael Bolton are acceptable records as those kinds of things go. I would have liked to have seen more of my personal un-favorites like Pearl Jam, Mariah Carey, Backstreet Boys or No Doubt. But the comments are full of top-notch picks that I’ve almost forgotten about.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I was considering :

    Nikelback (Hanna,AB)
    And
    Creed (Tallahassee FL)

    But then I realized they are both from 2000-2010

    So they will just have to wait their turn for the next list.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know baha men and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.
        Nickel back is Canadian Rock hell, Chad Kroger seems like a decent enough fellow but like Creed and Three Doors down it gets old in a hurry.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. It’s fun (not) to discuss Celine Dionne and Bryan Adams – but they have zero to do with the real 1990s.

    It was the greatest decade for rock in history, fusing what we now call “classic rock” of the 60s and 70s with the “first wave” movement of 80s. There will never be another led leppelin or Peter frampton. There will never be another Smiths or New Order. Now it’s all modern rock.

    My favorite songs of the 1990s:

    U2 – One
    REM – Find the River
    Counting Crows – Mr Jones
    Semisonic- Closing Time
    James – Laid
    The Tragically Hip – Scared
    Radiohead – Let Down
    The Red Hot chili Peppers – under the bridge
    Oasis. – wonderwall
    New Radicals – you get what you give
    Weezer – Buddy Holly
    The smashing pumpkins – Disarm
    Pearl Jam – wild eyed crazy Mary – feat Natalie Merchant
    Nirvana – the man who sold the world (Bowie cover)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wouldn’t take the 1990s over the 1970s – the one thing the 1990s had was more women involved with acts like PJ Harvey and Helium. But 1970s had classic rock like Rolling Stones, Bowie, and Led Zeppelin, progressive rock like Yes and Genesis, weird experimental stuff like Can, and punk rock at the end of the decade with The Clash and The Ramones. I don’t think the 1990s comes close, even though bands like Radiohead and R.E.M. are hall of famers.

      Like

    2. I like your description of 90s rock being a fusion of classic rock and 80s rock. I never heard it like that before but it seems like it’s correct. I agree that 90’s rock is definitely the best since the sixties or seventies, but not greater than those two decades. There was something secondhand about 90s rock. Like it was just the next-best thing available in the absence of the old classic rock. Like just a good substitute. A REALLY GOOD substitute, but still a substitute. Like not quite the real thing. But like I said it was still a pretty good decade for Rock.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I looked it up and it said it’s from 2020. I never heard it before. It’s a pretty good-sounding record. Except for Springsteen I think it sounds more new than old.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that “Chinatown” was from the 90s. The bleachers members were likely all born in that decade. It’s Just an illustration of music fusion at work

      The Boss is very supportive of local NJ bands like Bleachers and also “Gaslight Anthem”.

      Look up “Don’t take the money” – Bleachers.

      Ya it’s all current, but good stuff all the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. G.
    I thought about it and I can’t agree with your comment about women musicians in the 1990s.
    Janice, mama Cass, Chrissy H, grace Jones and Slick, Joni etc were central figures in their respective decades.

    PJ Harvey and Gwen Stefani and Courtney Cobain were not really so important in the 1990s – a decade completely dominated by men on the rock side of things.

    Now (thankfully) the pendulum has swung back – and then some. If you listen to new rock like I do you will find that if you randomly tune into the Alt-Nation or Sirius XMU channels it’s more likely than not that there is a female vocalist/guitarist playing. Try it and see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. It’s a myth that were fewer women in rock in the 70s, and that they didn’t get the respect and attention that they deserved. They actually were very respected and got a lot of praise and attention, not to mention that they were much more popular than women in 90s rock. And not to mention that they were better. Women in rock have taken a real nosedive since then, with a few big exceptions. And there are no towering figures now like Joni Mitchell or Chrissie Hynde or Patti Smith or Carole King or Janis Joplin. And others to numerous to count. They’re mostly second stringers since the 90s.

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    2. And even the best ones were nothing but less talented imitations. All those Gwen Stefanis and all the other Debbie Harry impersonators couldn’t even come close to Blondie. Other than PJ Harvey there hasn’t been a major female rocker in decades. And maybe Kim Deal or L7 or something. And even they kind of fizzled out pretty quickly. I know people are always telling me that Taylor Swift is the new Carole King or something, but please. Don’t make me laugh.

      Like

    3. I was thinking specifically about guitar-based rock music since that was what was on your initial list. Grace Slick and Heart are exceptions, but there weren’t many successful rock bands with women until punk hit. Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde and The Go-Gos are examples from punk, but then I think it became a lot more widespread in the 1990s.

      Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, PJ Harvey, and Helium are all critically adored female rock acts. Alanis Morisette isn’t a rock band, but was inescapable with ‘You Oughta Know’ launching her to mega-stardom and it’s very much an angry grunge song.

      Outside of a strict definition of rock there’s also Björk, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Portishead. And R&B/hip hop like Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, and Erykah Badu. It feels to me that women got more opportunities in music in the 1990s than previous decades, and it’s continued expanding.

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  17. I think the decade of the 1990s was the low point for women’s influence in rock. Since then it has rebounded – to the point where we actually have gender equality in modern music.

    You can say what you want about Taylor Swift but she’s a real talent – to the extent that men cover her songs. Listen to the Ryan Adams cover of “Bad Blood” – it’s great.

    Lady Ggga is a classically trained guitarist who writes all her own songs.

    Lorde and Billie E are generational crossover talents – fusing pop and modern rock.
    I’m not even mentioning “ Bebbadoobee”, “Tones and I”, “Bene”, “middle kids”, “mall rat”, “ caroles daughter” “grimes”, “Tegan and Sarah””, “Emily Haines” “Lana Del Rey” and so many others who have taken it all over.

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  18. Wow that’s a bit harsh re the women I listed.
    Everyone is entitled to their opinions, obviously.
    My point s about the 1990s:
    1. Women were far less influential back then than they are today
    2. The 1990s decade was the very beginning of more choices for music consumers (consumer sovereignty). As a result there will never be an act that everyone listens to at the same time.
    There will never be another Elivis,Beatles, ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees. Not gonna happen.

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