The last generation of the 20th century have become just as nostalgic as their parents were, but that’s the inevitable by-product of growth we suppose. Nevertheless, it is a little startling to see that 90s’ fashion has come back around as a millenial retro fad, or that 90s’ top 40 hits are now the designated playlist on oldies radio stations like Gold 90.5.
A lot has changed since then, and none more so than this generation’s approach to music discovery. Nobody hangs out at Tower Records or HMV to buy physical compact discs anymore, and even movie soundtracks no longer hold the cultural currency they once did. Back then, songs from touchstone movies were able to define tastes and shape identities.
Entire music subcultures boomed based on kids discovering whole new genres via cinema speakers. If the film spoke to your sensibilities, chances are that it’s soundtrack – from pop to hip-hop to grunge to house – would inform your lifestyle too. Which is why we here at Popwire will be looking back at the most influential of those OSTs!
(Now keep in mind, we’ll only be listing the soundtracks that described the 90s’, so anachronistic soundtracks from movies Reality Bites, Pulp Fiction or My Girl will be excluded. Similarly, great scores and seminal musicals won’t be included either since their music is designed specifically for the film and thus does not reflect the era’s sonic zeitgeist.)
A romantic comedy set in Seattle during the early 90s’, Cameron Crowe’s film distinctly captured the height of the grunge scene in a very natural way. Notably, real-life members of Pearl Jam also starred in the movie as members of Citizen Dick, Cliff’s (Matt Dillon) upstart band.
Notable songs: Pearl Jam – “Breath”, Alice In Chains – “Would?”, Mudhoney – “Overblown”, Soundgarden – “Birth Ritual”, The Smashing Pumpkins – “Drown”
Few soundtracks captured the energy and vibe of being a teen in the 90s’ as succinctly as this formative coming-of-age comedy. From No Doubt to The Cranberries, Clueless must also be lauded for complementing it’s vibrant female point-of view with female-fronted music.
Notable songs: No Doubt – “Just A Girl”, Salt-N-Pepa – “Shoop”, Jewel – “All By Myself”, The Cranberries – “Away”, Jill Sobule – “Supermodel”
Dangerous Minds (1995)
Primarily featuring a cast of African-American and Latino teens, this school drama set within poverty-stricken East Palo Alto is a stark contrast to most 90s’ teen movies. And it’s tougher tone is definitely aided by an amazing selection of 90s’ hip-hop, soul and R&B tunes.
Notable songs: Coolio – “Gangsta’s Paradise”, DeVante Swing – “Gin & Juice”, Big Mike – “Havin’ Things”, Rappin’ 4-Tay – “Problems”, Immature – “Feel The Funk”
Danny Boyle’s breakout film and it’s soundtrack immediately evokes the wild and reckless youth of 90s’ Britain. The scenes and sounds of Trainspotting are inseparable, so much so that we can’t listen to Underworld’s “Born Slippy” without visualizing the film’s incredible climax.
Notable songs: Primal Scream – “Trainspotting”, Underworld – “Born Slippy, Blur – “Sing”, Pulp – “Mile End”, Bedrock feat. KYO – “For What You Dream Of”
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
In true anachronistic Baz Luhrmann style, this version of Romeo and Juliet retained its original Shakespearean dialogue while displacing the Capulets and the Montagues in 90s’ Verona Beach. That same approach extended to it’s fabulously lovesick soundtrack as well!
Notable songs: The Cardigans – “Lovefool”, Kym Mazelle – “Young Hearts Run Free”, Garbage – “#1 Crush”, Butthole Surfers – “Whatever (I Had A Dream)”, Radiohead – “Exit Music (For a Film)”
Empire Records (1995)
If a coming-of-age comedy is bold enough to be set inside a record store, you can bet that it’s OST had to deliver. In fact, Empire Records’ song choices are far better than the mediocre movie it soundtracked, worthy of hoopla and reverence like it’s Rex Manning Day.
Notable songs: Gin Blossoms – “Till I Hear It From You”, Better Than Ezra – “Circle Of Friends”, The Cruel Sea – “The Honeymoon Is Over”, Edwyn Collins – “A Girl Like You”, The Cranberries – “Liar”
Batman Forever (1995)
Let’s get this out of the way, Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies were nowhere near as good Tim Burton’s. The were campy, cheesy and downright dumb. But one thing Batman Forever did do right was curate a killer soundtrack that became just as iconic the original’s Prince-rich OST.
Notable songs: Seal – “Kiss From A Rose”, U2 – “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”, Brandy – “Where Are You Now?”, Mazzy Star – “Tell Me Now”, Method Man – “The Riddler”
Cruel Intentions (1999)
Cruel Intentions earned its 90s’ reputation for its mainstream confrontation of teenage sexual manipulation, drug use and other taboo topics. The film itself doesn’t hold up well as a narrative (outside of its then-edgy themes), but it’s excellent pop-rock soundtrack sure does!
Notable songs: The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony”, Fatboy Slim – “Praise You”, Placebo – “Every You Every Me”, Blur – “Coffee & TV”, Aimee Mann – “You Could Make A Killing”
American Pie (1999)
American Pie became a staple of teen pop culture for many reasons, including that famous scene where Jason Biggs has sex with an apple pie on a kitchen counter. The movie captured the silly angst and euphoria of 90s’ teen life in a variety of ways, including it’s song selection!
Notable songs: Third Eye Blind – “New Girl”, Blink-182 – “Mutt”, Harvey Danger – “Flagpole Sitta”, Barenaked Ladies – “One Week”, Hole – “Celebrity Skin”