20. “Elijah” – Rich Mullins (1996)
“Elijah” was originally released in 1986, but there is video of Rich performing this song as far back as 1982. This version is the re-recording that appeared on Songs just a year before Rich Mullins died in car accident in 1997. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of this remarkable man, please check out the movie Ragamuffin, or read one of the books written by, or about him.
19. “Don’t Underestimate” – Pete Stewart (1999)
I was familiar with a couple songs by Pete Stewart’s previous band, Grammatrain, but when I first heard “Don’t Underestimate” on the Seltzer 3 compilation is when I really became a fan. I was captivated by how much power this song brought. The vocals, drums, and guitar all just sounded so huge. I didn’t buy a whole lot of music at the time, as I was an unemployed high school sophomore, but I knew I needed to have the album with this song on it, which was Pete Stewart’s self-titled debut solo album. That album placed two songs on my list, but it wasn’t far from having five.
18. “Black” – Pearl Jam (1991)
You’ve probably noticed that this isn’t your typical 90’s music list. It’s not loaded with the alternative rock titans that dominated the decade. I guess I should go ahead and spill the beans, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is great, but I didn’t put it on my list. There’s just too many songs that I like better. Simple as that. I’m not even a huge Pearl Jam fan, outside of the Ten album. This song though, musically and lyrically, moves me more than any of the other big alternative hits of the 90’s.
17. “The King and I” – 4Him (1996)
You can call some of these kinds of songs guilty pleasures of mine if you want. If I heard “The King and I” for the first time today, I’m not sure I would consider it a favorite, but that’s the nature of nostalgia, I guess. I play this song and vivid thoughts of 8th grade come rushing to my head. In a sense, this is song is bigger than itself to me because of all of the ways it interacts with my memory. While I think this is a fine CCM song from The Message, I’m not sure I could say anything to convince most people why this song should be placed so high based on its own merits, but that’s just part of the power of music and the past. It’s a powerful combination.
16. “Hands in the Air” – The Waiting (1997)
This song comes from the self-titled album by The Waiting, but I first heard it on The Simply Fabulous $1.99 New Music Sampler. I discovered so much music from CD Samplers in the 90’s. I was broke, and they were cheap and had like 20 songs on them. It was a great thing. I liked this track when I first heard it on the sampler in 1997, but my love for it has only grown since then. At the end of the 90’s I don’t think it would have made this list, but here it is now, appearing with songs that have been among my 90’s favorites since the first time I heard them. This is a lyrically and musically powerful song about the struggle to surrender something to God that you selfishly want to hang on to.
15. “Worlds Apart” – Jars of Clay (1995)
Although this is the only song to make my list from the self-titled Jars of Clay album, I would guess that I listened to it more than any other album in the 90’s. Every song on it is excellent, and many just missed making this list. It’s surprising to me that “Worlds Apart” only clocks in at 5:18 because it seems like there’s so many different twists and turns; It’s rather slow and atmospheric at the beginning, yet it builds and cascades at the end. Thin, yet beautiful female vocals add texture to the chorus. Harmonizing male vocals here, layered sounding female “oooh’s” there. Big drums at the end. Wind chime sounds at the beginning. Vocalist Dan Haseltine sings a very emotional-sounding prayer to close it out. There’s just so many fascinating elements packed in to this one average-length song.
14. “6th Avenue Heartache” – The Wallflowers (1996)
I have loved this song since the first time I saw the black and white video on MTV. The slide guitar and overall moodiness of the track really captivated me. Jakob Dylan (son of Bob) sings lead vocals, while Adam Duritz (who wants to be Bob, according to Counting Crows hit “Mr. Jones”) lends his background vocals to the first single, yet second biggest hit, from Bringing Down the Horse. “One Headlight” is a really good song, but I’ve always been kind of surprised that it became a big hit after it seemed like pop radio didn’t want anything to do with “6th Avenue Heartache”.
13. “So Into You” – Tamia (1998)
In true 90’s fashion, the main thing I want to point out about this song is dat beat is dope. Seriously though, I love the beat to this song and I was never really one of those ‘check out that phat beat’ kinda people. Plus, Tamia’s vocals sound so smooth on this jam from her self-titled debut. It makes me want to to tuck in my t-shirt, go to the rink, and throw on some ugly khaki roller skates with orange wheels. That was just how I rolled in ’98.
12. “Crazy Times” – Jars of Clay (1997)
This first single from Much Afraid blew me away at first listen. I was already anticipating the release of the album, being that I was a big fan of their self-titled release, but I was pleasantly shocked at how heavy this song sounded compared to their previous material and everything else I had ever heard on adult contemporary Christian radio. I recorded this song off the airwaves to listen to until the album came out, and when it did I was at the Family Christian Stores release party. I consider Jars of Clay to be my favorite band of the 90’s, not only because of how much I loved them then, but also because of how great all the material from those first few albums still sounds now.
11. “I’m Still in Love with You – New Edition (1996)
New Edition were mentors and influences on the biggest hit ballad group of the 90’s, Boyz II Men. When the Bel Biv Devoe guys got back together with Bobby Brown and crew to end an eight year hiatus and release Home Again, I can’t help but wonder if they were out to try to prove that they could do it better than the Boyz. For the most part, I feel like they failed to accomplish that, but not on this huge track. As great as “End of the Road” and “Water Runs Dry” are, I’ll take this song as the greatest hit R&B ballad of the decade.
Check back for the top 10 in the next couple of days. Follow me on Twitter for notification as soon as I post something new! Thanks so much for reading.