16 Songs That Were on Everyone’s Mixtape in the 90s

Many people of a certain age believe that good music stopped in 1989. Everyone seems nostalgic for the 1970s and 1980s, but the ’90s produced great artists and incredible tracks that remain popular today.

It was also the final decade of the mixtape. Before digital downloads took over, we were still making tapes for walkmans and car journeys, and certain songs demanded to be included.

1. “Losing My Religion” – R.E.M.

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I’m one of those annoying people who liked R.E.M. before they were big, so nothing will compare with tracks such as “So Central Rain” and “Begin the Begin.” The ’90s saw the band explode beyond the fringes. The album Out of Time was released in 1991, and no mixtape was complete without “Losing My Religion,”

2. “One Sweet Day” – Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey

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Some songs suffer from overexposure. “One Sweet Day” spent 16 weeks on the Billboard chart, and many fans of both artists were tired of listening to it by the end of that run. Sales were high, and for an extended period in 1995, the track was on everyone’s mixtape.

3. “Wannabee” – Spice Girls

Spice Girls
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From its release in 1996, this track was on everyone’s playlist for the rest of the decade. I wish it hadn’t been, but I was in a musical minority. “Wannabee” launched the Spice Girls’ career and typified the attitude of Girl Power, which still resonates today.

4. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana

American musical group Nirvana
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How could I leave this out? The 1990s was the last decade to spawn music movements, and grunge was a defining period for many young artists and fans. Nothing defines grunge more than “Smells Like Teen Spirt,” with its iconic video and Kurt Cobain’s growling vocals.

5. “Buddy Holly” – Weezer

Concert of Weezer
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Over in the United Kingdom, we saw Weezer as an entry-level into grunge. They were the band that your parents might like, and this was a popular tune in the 1990s. The ingenious video of “Buddy Holly” played a significant part in its success, but even without the visuals, this is a great party song.

6. “Baby One More Time” – Britney Spears

Britney Spears
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The Britney Spears phenomenon was born in three minutes and 30 seconds. So much has happened since her debut single that we forget how great she was at producing catchy, successful pop tunes. It’s a late entry, released in 1998, but “Baby One More Time” was a mixtape standard for the remainder of the decade.

7. “Ironic”  – Alanis Morissette

Singer ALANIS MORISSETTE at the 13th Annual Environmental Media Awards in Los Angeles. November 5, 2003 Paul Smith / Featureflash
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Any song from the incredible 1995 album Jagged Little Pill could have made it onto the list. Many of the tracks were feminist anthems of the time, upgrading “I Will Survive” and taking the theme into the 1990s. As a male, “Ironic” is one song I’m more comfortable with, and I confess to having it on my mixtape.

8. “Wonderwall” – Oasis

Oasis band
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The Britpop scene struggled to make inroads into the United States, but Oasis was the exception. The band could claim to be the biggest in the world at one stage. The group wrote their most memorable tunes in the decade, but none made as big an impression as the stunning “Wonderwall.”

9. “Common People” – Pulp

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In contrast to Oasis, Pulp was a typically “British” band and didn’t travel well. They have a niche following in the U.S. and other countries but remain huge in the U.K. “Common People” is their most recognizable hit, and it was a must-have on mixtapes and at parties in the ’90s.

10. “Ice Ice Baby” – Vanilla Ice

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At the start of a new decade, Vanilla Ice released his biggest hit. “Ice Ice Baby” was his debut single and a number one on both sides of the Atlantic. Even if you’re not a fan, you can understand why the catchy song was such a success and why it was a must-have mixtape tune from 1990 onwards.

11. “Nothing Compares 2 U” – Sinead O’Connor

Sinead O'Connor
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Sinead O’Connor’s most memorable release is a perfect backdrop for certain moods. It wasn’t a floor-filler at parties, but it could be a romantic song or one that summed up that feeling following a bitter breakup. Released in 1990, this Prince Cover was named by Billboard as the number-one song of the year.

12. “Alright” – Supergrass

Supergrass singer Gareth Michael
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If you didn’t buy this record in 1995, you may have heard it as part of the soundtrack to the film Clueless. “Alright” was a hit for Supergrass in their native U.K., and it sums up the feel-good factor around the Britpop movement.

13. “Basket Case” – Green Day

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A big hit from Green Day’s 1994 album Dookie, “Basket Case,” is another song accompanied by a memorable video. The lyrics are about singer Billie Joe Armstrong and his struggle with anxiety. It’s a track that many identify with, but “Basket Case” made it onto most mixtapes because it’s a great tune.

14. “Cannonball” – The Breeders

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It was one of the unlikeliest radio hits of the decade, especially when Kim Deal was making her way following the breakup of Pixies. “Cannonball” starts with an error, and some music writers call it a “mess.” Everyone has an opinion, but many believe it’s a beautiful mess.

15. “My Heart Will Go On” – Celine Dion

Celine Dion
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One of the decade’s biggest movies needed a monster tune to back it up. Would 1997’s Titanic have been the same without the accompaniment of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On?” The two are forever linked, but the song stood alone as a favorite and a must-have for mixtapes focused on slow, romantic tracks.

16. “Parklife” – Blur

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I apologize for including many British hits in this roundup, but you must listen immediately if you have never heard “Parklife.” The track came out in 1994. It’s an anthem depicting everyday life, and the lyrics are still used in different contexts 30 years later.

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The Day After Tomorrow
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