The Ultimate ’90s Video Playlist
This quarantine has had me exploring various ways to keep myself entertained, so I’ve willingly gone down the YouTube rabbit hole and spent hours just reliving the ’90s, when everything was so simple and all I had to worry about was whether or not I’d see my favorite video that day.
And so I’ve come up with my ultimate ’90s video playlist. This is old school – we’re talking about videos that I watched on TV, because YouTube did not exist yet. I’m sure there are other music videos considered more iconic, but these are the ones that I watched constantly and so shaped my memories of the ’90s in a huge way.
“Amazing” – Aerosmith (1993)
In the olden days before we got cable, some local channels would fill their early timeslots before the official sign-on with music videos, often the same ones every single day. Luckily for me, one channel chose Aerosmith’s videos, which is the only reason I got to watch this. I woke up early just to catch the video, which is part of the classic Alicia Silverstone trilogy (along with “Cryin'” and “Crazy”). It also featured Jason London, who was a bit of a heartthrob back then, though I never could tell him apart from Jeremy. The virtual reality depicted in the video seemed crazy futuristic back then, but now it looks so quaint, which adds to its charm.
And get this – I just found out today, while writing this, that Don Henley sang backup on this song! I am amazed, amazed I tell you!
“Hold On” – Wilson Phillips (1990)
Chynna’s hair, her vest, and her overly dramatic delivery are my favorite parts of this video. Which is not to say that the Wilson sisters are relegated to the background – their relaxed singing serves as the perfect counterpoint to Chynna’s emotional singing.
When this first came out, it was mindblowing to find out that these women were daughters of legends – Chynna of The Mamas and the Papas’ John and Michelle Phillips, and Wendy and Carnie, daughters of Beach Boy Brian Wilson.
Do you remember what it was like watching a weekly Top 10 video show, waiting to see if your favorite would finally reach Number One? The closer you got to the top without seeing the video, the higher the chances that your favorite would finally make it. That’s what it was like for me during the peak of this song – I’d run to catch the countdown show to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and when they would finally announce “Hold On” at Number One, I’d scream for joy and proceed to sing along as emotionally as Chynna.
“Baby Baby” – Amy Grant (1991)
I feel like in the 90s, you only had two choices – hip-hop or pop. And I went the pop route. This was before I realized you could like all types of music. But the hip-hop gangs in school scared me, strutting around and not taking lessons seriously, that I stayed away from the music they listened to. Which is all to say, this is why songs like Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” and its accompanying bright and happy video was my jam.
“To Be With You” – Mr. Big (1991)
I am crazy in love with this song, and I never get tired of listening to it. This video captures that singular ’90s aesthetic completely with the black and white (though it reverts to color towards the end), the vests, and that whole relaxed vibe. Everyone in the band looks so young, and it’s especially poignant because drummer Pat Torpey has passed. But in this moment, everything is as perfect as this song.
“More Than Words” – Extreme (1990)
Probably the ultimate ’90s video, the one that started it all. The sound, the look – iconic. It’s also ironic, because Extreme is a hard rock band, but they’re most famous for a ballad. But they don’t seem to mind, with guitarist Nuno Bettencourt still singing the song in concerts. As much as it defines the era, the song is also timeless. I dare you not to sing along!
Alison Road – Gin Blossoms (1994)
Before we got MTV, there was Channel V. Channel V was an Asian music video show, and for a while they were much better than MTV because they actually played music! And to be honest I preferred the Channel V VJs because they didn’t act too cool for school. That’s where I first saw this video. The jangly guitar sound of the Gin Blossoms brings me back to the ’90s like no other, because there are no more songs that sound like this. And because I could only get Channel V on my dad’s TV, I have vivid memories of staying in my parents’ room in the summer just so I could get my fill of music videos.
Choose – Color Me Badd (1993)
Rewatching this video now, the title graphics strike me as the ultimate throwback. There was something about the titles of ’90s videos that was somehow so analog. I am so crazy about this video that I dedicated a whole post about it.
(Apparently WMG doesn’t like their videos playing anywhere else except YouTube, so here’s the link to this gem.)
Stay – Lisa Loeb (1994)
The Reality Bites soundtrack was awesome. That’s where I first heard the Juliana Hatfield Three, Squeeze, and Lisa Loeb. (Of course that’s where I first heard the song that changed my life, U2’s “All I Want Is You”, but that’s a whole other story.) I remember that I was obsessed with Lisa Loeb’s dress and glasses in this video! And it was such a surprise to see a one-take, bare bones video. I didn’t know you could do that! Knowing that Ethan Hawke directed this also added to the appeal – plus, the song is just catchy.
Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough – Patti Smyth Feat. Don Henley (1992)
Okay, let me break down why I adore this music video. First of all, the song is beautiful – haunting and heartbreaking. Then it’s in that ubiquitous ’90s black and white. And then – it features Don Henley! You can hear his distinctive voice even before you see him, and afterwards he just materializes standing cooly like the boss that he is. Can you tell how much I love him? I also love that Patty Smyth used to sing backup for Henley, and now he is returning the favor by singing on her track. Isn’t that wonderful?
You Learn – Alanis Morrissette (1996)
It’s hard to pick just one of Alanis’ videos, because the singles from Jagged Little Pill practically dominated the ’90s landscape. But I’d say my favorite visual is from “You Learn”, with her casually strolling through chaos, wearing her dreadlocks and those magnificent Adidas jackets.
You Get What You Give – New Radicals (1998)
You can’t listen to this song and not sing along at the top of your lungs. And when you watch the video, you have to dance along too. There was something familiar about the video because it’s set in a mall. Filipinos are mallrats so it felt like I knew the place. It probably contradicts the song’s message about corporate greed. But hey, I got this part: “Don’t let go, you’ve got the music in you.”
All Apologies Unplugged – Nirvana (1994)
Why am I including a video that breaks my heart? Well, the shock of Kurt Cobain’s death takes up a lot of space in my ’90s memories. I was late in discovering Nirvana’s music, and the first time I saw this rock star with the piercing vocals sing this stripped back number, wearing a nerdy cardigan, was simply breathtaking. Could we tell how much pain he was in? I don’t know if I see the pain in his face only in hindsight. Only two months after this video was released, Kurt was gone.
Summer Girls – LFO (1999)
“What the hell is Abercrombie & Fitch?”, my poor self who couldn’t afford new clothes asked as I listened to this song. There’s something bittersweet about this video though, because it came out the summer before I graduated from college, and the ’90s – with all my idealized notions about it – were about to end. Two of the members of LFO have since died from cancer, and the remaining member seems to be a staunch pro-lifer who hangs out at abortion clinics. Summer always ends. But for 4 minutes 18 seconds, we’re having fun at the beach, everything is sunny, and life is good.