Because bushes. And X chromosomes. And 90s bands. Get it? No but DO YOU GET IT?
This is the third instalment of the women in music series that my friend Nathan and I are doing.
1. No Doubt – Just A Girl
Possibly every girl-of-a-certain-age’s first feminist anthem? Or at the very least, listening to this was perhaps the first time that many of us questioned society’s treatment of us, and the ways in which we saw ourselves. I mean, come on, these lyrics:
‘Cause I’m just a girl, little ‘ol me
Don’t let me out of your sight
I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite
So don’t let me have any rights
SOMEHOW STILL RELEVANT NEARLY 20 YEARS LATER
2. Jale – Ali
From the days when Halifax was referred to as the Seattle of the east. Because of their music scene, not because they unleashed a chain of ubiquitous coffee shops on the world. Anyway, I had this Jale cd when I was fourteen and I thought it made me the coolest person ever because no one else in my school had ever heard of them. Yeah, I was a hipster before it was cool.
3. The Cranberries – Zombie
Everyone I went to school with thought this song was about the first world war (because of the reference to 1916 I guess?) but it turned out it was actually about Ireland’s Easter Rising. And then I made the mistake of asking my Irish grandfather about the Easter Rising and that ended about as well as you could imagine. So, thanks for that, Cranberries?
4. Hole – Olympia
This song taught me about the futility of trying to be an individual among a sea of people who are also trying to be individuals.
When I went to school in Olympia
Everyone’ss the same
And so are you in Olympia
Everyone is the same
We look the same, we talk the same, yeah
We even fuck the same
Even non-conformists end up conforming to something.
Ah, the life lessons I have learned from Courtney Love.
5. The Cardigans – My Favourite Game
As a bitterly contrary teenager, I was determined not to like The Cardigans because they were popular, and I eschewed all things popular. I mean, they had a song – the song, really – on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. Leonardo DiCaprio was in that movie. Obviously I couldn’t like them.
But then, damn them, they won me over with their sweet pop sensibilities and adorable voices. And then I realized that cardigans were, like, my favourite item of clothing ever. And I even learned to love Leo. So. Looks like a win for everyone involved.
6. Jewel – Morning Song
Ah, the song that introduced a generation of girls to Anaïs Nin.
I wish I could explain to you the look on the librarian’s face as my fourteen year old self checked out House of Incest.
7. Juliana Hatfield – Ugly
DON’T TELL ME YOU NEVER CRIED YOURSELF TO SLEEP WHILE LISTENING TO THIS SONG.
YOU AND I BOTH KNOW THE TRUTH.
8. Sneaker Pimps – 6 Underground
This was the kind of band that 90s teenagers took enormous delight in, at least in part because when their parents asked who that sweet girl was that they were listening to, they could smugly answer, “The Sneaker Pimps.”
And then your parents would be like, “Excuse me, the sneaker whats?” you would be like, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME OR MY ART.”
The Sneaker Pimps. I mean, man. They don’t make band names like that anymore.
Their music was pretty great, too.
9. Garbage – Only Happy When It Rains
One of the great anthems of the depressed, disaffected youth.
Oh how my Prozac-popping teenage self loved these lyrics:
I’m only happy when it rains
I feel good when things are going wrong
I only listen to the sad, sad songs
I’m only happy when it rains
I only smile in the dark
My only comfort is the night gone black
I didn’t accidentally tell you that
I’m only happy when it rains
I mean fuck yeah I only smiled in the dark! Fuckers.
10. The Breeders – Cannonball
I was ten when this song came out.
I believe it was the first time I’d ever heard of bongs and reggae.
Not to mention libertines.
Music is good for your vocabulary.
11. Lisa Loeb – Stay
I wish I could put every frigging song from Lisa Loeb’s Nine Stories on this list because goddamn I loved that stupid, shitty album. The lyrics were laughably terrible (at one point she sings, “your hair falls soft like animals,” and even my clueless 13 year old self knew that was embarrassingly bad), sonically she was pretty boring, but man did I ever love her. Part of it was that she was one of the first people to make Girls Who Wear Glasses cool and cute. And she loved cats! And was friends with Ethan Hawke! In New York City!! I mean, she was basically everything I wanted to be in life, except that I wanted to be able to write words that didn’t make pubescent girls cringe.
12. The Innocence Mission – Bright As Yellow
Is there a more quintessentially 90s movie than Empire Records? I mean, that is a rhetorical question because we all know that the answer is no. Empire Records is basically the entire decade summed up in a delightful 90 minute package about sticking it to the man and shaving your head. Not only that, but it introduced me to this delightful little song. I dare you to listen to it and not get even just a little bit teary-eyed with nostalgia. I MEAN COME ON REMEMBER WHEN THEY DANCED ON THE ROOF AT THE END? YOUR TWEEN SELF THOUGHT LIFE WAS GOING TO BE LIKE THAT. AND IT’S NOT. SO BOW DOWN AND WEEP.
13. Mazzy Star – Into Dust
Forget everything you think you know about this song. Forget about the terrible sex you had with your first boyfriend while it played on a loop. Forget about how your sixteen year old self put it on a mix cd she made after said boyfriend broke up with her and then listened to it until she couldn’t stand it anymore. Forget that it was used in that one episode of The O.C. where they go to Tijuana – coincidentally the episode where you realized Summer was adorable and hilarious and actually way too good for Seth Cohen. Forget every association you have with this song, close your eyes, and really listen to it as if you’re hearing it for the first song.
You guys, this song is basically perfect.
14. Indigo Girls – Romeo and Juliet
Hey remember when everyone told you that listening to the Indigo Girls would turn you into a lesbian? But then you did anyway, in secret, and then you had a sex dream about that one really hot blond girl in your biology class (who, by the way, is now a professional Marilyn Monroe impersonator) and you were pretty sure that it wasn’t because of the Indigo Girls but you could never actually be sure?
Anyway, here they are covering my favourite Dire Straits song which is just way too many things that I love all at once.
ALSO REMEMBER THAT SCENE IN EMPIRE RECORDS WHERE MARK DUSTS THE TOE OF THAT CUTE BALLERINA GIRL WHILE THIS SONG PLAYS? BOOM. NOW YOU’RE CRYING AGAIN BECAUSE ETHAN EMBRY WILL IN ALL LIKELIHOOD NEVER EVER DUST YOUR TOE.
15. Bikini Kill – I Like Fucking
Because I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe
16. Sleater-Kinney – Call the Doctor
Hands down the best song to shout along to when you are drunk and fucked up with your girlfriends. Because they DO want to socialize you and purify it and GODDAMN IT YOU ARE NOT GOING TO STAND FOR THAT SHIT.
I know they were kinda problematic and for sure not inclusive enough but fuck I miss the Riot Grrrl movement. RIOTS NOT DIETS.
17. Liz Phair – Fuck and Run
You will never be as cool as Liz Phair. Neither will I. It’s probably for the best if we all just accept that reality right now.
I remember listening to this song when I was what, 12? And thinking about the future day when I would be bad-ass enough to have one night stands and all that shit. Cut to ten years later where my first “one night stand” winds up being with the dude I will someday marry.
18. Fiona Apple – Criminal
This is the song everyone loved to hate or, conversely, hated to love. It’s annoying as fuck but SO GODDAMN CATCHY.
Anyway, this song will probably now be in your head for the rest of forever, so you’re welcome I guess.
19. Tori Amos – Me and a Gun
Tori Amos was hands-down the most important musician for me during my formative years. I spent hours and hours and hours locked in my room blasting her music on my shitty old tape player, until my mother would tell me that no one wanted to hear my sad woman music anymore at which point I would sulkily plug in my headphones, lie down on my back and stare up at the fairies I’d attempted to paint on my venetian blinds.
Me and a Gun is one of the hardest fucking songs to listen to, but also one of the most important for me and, I suspect, quite a few other people. She is singing about her experience of being raped. She is singing this beautiful, acoustically stripped-down song about being raped after a show by a man who had been in the audience. She is singing about having a gun pointed at her and being forced to have sex. And her strength in this song is raw and empowering and beautiful. This is the song I want everyone who makes stupid Tori Amos jokes to listen to, because fuck man. This song. This song takes guts.
20. Natalie Merchant – My Skin
There was a time – like, most of my teenage years and my early twenties – when I truly thought that my body was this foul, ugly, untouchable thing. I was convinced that anyone who saw me with my clothes off would immediately lose their lunch. I hated everything about myself – my greasy skin, my crooked face, the way my stomach stuck out, the way I smelled, the hair that was all over my body, everything. Everything.
Whenever I would start dating someone, I would think that I’d somehow tricked them into it, or that they had incredibly low self-esteem or something. And I would spend the entire relationship waiting for them to figure out how disgusting I actually was. The first time anyone ever went down on me I tensed up and started crying because I felt so badly about my body. The poor guy (also a virgin) had no fucking clue what he’d done wrong, and I didn’t have the vocabulary or bravery to explain it to him. AWKWARD. Shortly after that he broke up with me, saying that things are changed. I was sure it was because my vagina was so repellent that he never wanted to be within a ten foot radius of it ever again. Man, being young is the fucking worst. Needless to say, being in my thirties and being comfortable in my skin and with my sexuality is pretty fucking rad and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Anyway. I basically I thought this song was about me.
21. Sixpence None The Richer – Kiss Me
This is, like, every smart, sentimental, Tennyson-reading teenager’s dream song. If Anne Shirley had been alive in the 90s and in a cute indie band, this is the song she would have written (except then the line would have been, “you wear those shoes I will wear that puff-sleeved dress”). This song is so twee and adorable that you feel like you should hate it, but PSYCH YOU DON’T.
There is no explaining why you love this song; you just do.
22. Natalie Imbruglia – Torn
Ah, the music video that made me cut off all my hair and realize that a cute bob looks really fucking good on me.
23. Brandy & Monica – The Boy Is Mine
OK BUT WHOSE BOY WAS HE???
24. TLC – No Scrubs
A scrub is a guy who thinks he’s fly
And is also known as a buster
Always talkin’ about what he wants
And just sits on his broke ass
A scrub is basically a Nice Guy™ who wants to know why you are friendzoning him. Also he wears a fedora and loves Richard Dawkins. He is certain that he is somehow entitled to a relationship with you, based entirely on how awesome and special he is. As always, TLC are full of excellent advice: RUN, LADIES.
25. Bran Van 3000 – Drinking In LA
What the hell am I doing not drinking in LA at 31?
MY FRIEND SYREETA LIVES THERE AND I COULD BE DRINKING WITH HER RIGHT NOW.
26. Lauryn Hill – Doo-Wop (That Thing)
I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is one of the best, most important albums to come out in the 90s or maybe ever.
Fuck I miss Lauryn Hill, you guys.
27. Queen Latifah – Living Single theme song
Nathan insisted we include this song.
Maybe just don’t ask why.
28. Elastica – Waking Up
I was, like, a HUGE Blur fan when I was in my early teens, so I was sort of contractually obligated to like Elastica. Because, you know, Justine Frischmann and Damon Albarn were a thing.
HOW IS IT THAT I CAN STILL REMEMBER THIS NEARLY TWENTY YEARS LATER BUT I CAN’T REMEMBER TO TURN OFF THE GODDAMN STOVE SOME DAYS.
29. Salt-N-Pepa – Shoop and Push It
When discussing which Salt-N-Pepa song to include, this conversation happened:
Me: which salt n pepa song?
Nathan: Are you fucking kidding me?
Me: … no?
Nathan: Or Push It.
Nathan: No, Shoop.
Nathan: I think.
Me: SEE, IT’S HARD
Nathan: Well it is definitely between those two.
Nathan: I’m asking my sister her opinion.
Then Nathan’s sister went rogue and said that Let’s Talk About Sex was the best Salt-N-Pepa song and we were like DAMN IT SHE’S RIGHT, TOO.
So we give you all three songs, because we just couldn’t choose:
30. Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2U
OH YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING TO MAKE IT THROUGH THIS LIST WITHOUT HAVING TO LISTEN TO THIS SONG, DID YOU?
WELL GAZE UPON SINEAD’S GLORIOUS FACE AND WEEP BECAUSE MOTHERFUCKER HERE IT IS