The 50 Best Songs of 1995
by Dan Weiss | November 1, 2013
Welcome to The 50, a Rhapsody scheme in which we attempt to compile the biggest, best, most historically remarkable songs of every year. Our list of 50 tracks -- presented here in no particular order, ideally flowing like a time-traveling DJ set -- has been argued over and (grudgingly) agreed upon by our full editorial staff. Please enjoy.
The year 1995 was a weird one for sure, and not just because R. Kelly was making inroads by telling a woman "you look just like my car." Rock was caught between grunge (when Matthew Sweet is hopping on your bandwagon it's probably reached the saturation point), ska (welcome, No Doubt, Rancid!) and rap-metal (led by 311 after Rage Against the Machine's false start three years prior). The Mighty Mighty Bosstones' unforgettable appearance in Clueless definitely documented a turning point from Beck and Hole the year prior. This was the beginning of alt rock's anything-goes period, where a veteran's lounge novelty (like Edwyn Collins' "A Girl Like You") could be a left-field hit, prepping the likes of Chumbawamba and OMC down the road. Oasis' massive "Wonderwall" and Pulp's critically acclaimed "Common People" ushered in a new Britpop takeover, while Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" arguably made the term "gangsta" completely unavoidable -- you didn't see Weird Al parodying Dr. Dre or Snoop, did you?
R&B was in a transitional period, too, with the diva likes of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston putting some beats on their melisma, and TLC's funky "Waterfalls" being possibly the last worldwide hit to use soul horns until Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." Rap was unquestionably dominated by the Wu-Tang Clan, and stars were made of GZA ("Liquid Swords"), Raekwon ("Ice Cream") and Ol' Dirty Bastard ("Shimmy Shimmy Ya"), who all released very different records with RZA's signature ethereal sonic stamp.
Electronic music was just starting to develop recognizable superstars like Moby and Bjork, though antihero Tricky was probably the most rock star of them all, with sex, drugs and guitar all over his debut album, Maxinquaye. One of his sample sources was Smashing Pumpkins, who reached Kurt Cobain levels of MTV fame with "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," the first single off alternative rock's first double album. Meanwhile, in the indie world, Yo La Tengo, Archers of Loaf and Luna quietly crafted innovative guitar beauty with roots in Television, Richard Hell and The Velvet Underground.
But with the onset of Lilith Fair a few years away, the big story of the year was female singer-songwriters with inescapable hits, from Joan Osborne's "One of Us" to Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know." PJ Harvey's To Bring You My Love garnered more critical praise than any other record that year, winning The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll with no small help from its eerie single "Down by the Water," and 1995 was when the world got its first taste of Shania Twain. There were plenty of male softies too, from Deep Blue Something's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" to a briefly massive phenomenon called Hootie and the Blowfish.