60 Songs that Explain the '90s

60 Songs That Explain the ’90s

60 Songs That Explain the '(0s
Topic: Music
Network: The Ringer
Podcast Year: 2024

I am a child of the 90s. Okay, I’m a young adult of the 90s. Which makes me perfectly situated to be into a podcast like this. Because, unlike the host, Rob Harvilla, I was a full-fledged adult for a couple months of 1990. Barely, but in the eyes of the law, I was legal. He was twelve. Which goes to the question: is the music you listen to in high school your music? Or college? Or in the few years post-college? When I was twelve, the number-one single was Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” A very, very cool song. And one that I absolutely loved. But also “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr. Another song I really dug as an adolescent. But not my music, per se. I’m the same exact age as Eminem. Yet even Eminem isn’t technically my era. My era was the 90s (though I’m a little immature, so it definitely stretched into the early aughts). So, again I say, this is my podcast.

It turns out that 60 songs isn’t enough. Harvilla — seemingly on the edge of a breakdown — actually just wrapped the podcast at 120 songs. Three-and-a-half years worth of pods. And an accompanying book. An incredible amount of time and work. Harvilla doesn’t just dive in and tell you about the artist and the song. He wends his way around it. Waaaay around it. Generally through personal anecdotes about suburban Cleveland. Riding around suburbia in cars. Listening to music with his dad. Writing stuff in his local, only to be trolled by his own mom. But mostly talking about every band and every song except the one in the title for forty minutes until he finally gets there. Each episode is like a panoply of rock ‘n’ roll and pop history stretching from the 70s to the 90s with an obvious focus, ultimately, on the weird and wonderful world of the era of our forefathers. Wait, Hipster Jr.’s forefathers. Me.

The frustrating part of these music podcasts is that we can only hear small snippets of the music the host is talking about due to rights issues and whatnot. And so much of the talk is about lyrics and vibe and things that are hard to get a sense of in 15-second clips. In many cases, I just flipped over to my Apple Music account and listened to more of the track if need be, but it’s not exactly an optimal experience. This isn’t the podcast’s fault, of course, but it’s one of the pitfalls they have to contend with when talking primarily and predominantly about copy-written musical material. It’s not as if I don’t listen to plenty of pods that talk about television and movies — both visual mediums that are multiple times harder to convey in an audio-only format. But the audio format to audio format you’d hope would be more friendly. Even if it isn’t.

And, yes, this experience is seen and narrated through Harvilla’s lens. And, no, it’s not the same as my lens. From Alanis Morissette’s “Yout Oughtta Know” to Semisonic’s “Closing Time,” there is something in these 120 songs for everyone. Unless you hate music. Which is akin to hating dogs. Nobody trusts you. Nobody likes you. They may pretend, but they’re just trying to be civil. I know or have an opinion about most of these songs, though not all. And while listening to Harvilla recount his experience around hearing it for the first time, or all the attending details in and around it, it brings back my memories of the same. And makes you remember just how much music helped shape or surround our young lives. Younger for him, of course, than me. But nobody said your late teens and twenties isn’t incredibly formative in your musical tastes. And your life.