Here’s a giant 800-track alt/indie-focused 90's playlist in chronological order

The title is self-explanatory, so feel free to click on links and get to listening. But below are some notes that may or may not explain some things, so read those if you want!

giant 90s alt/indie/etc playlist PART 1: 1990–1994

rdio playlist

spotify playlist

giant 90s alt/indie/etc playlist PART 2: 1995–1996

rdio playlist

spotify playlist

giant 90s alt/indie/etc playlist PART 3: 1997–1999

rdio playlist

spotify playlist

  • First, the playlist is split into three parts: 1990–1994, 1995–1996, and 1997–1999. They’re respectively around 300 tracks, 200 tracks, and 300 tracks, for a total of 800 tracks. The total running time is around 55 hours. I want to stress that it’s chronological on a micro level, with few exceptions. A track released on May 7, 1994 will come before a track released on May 14, 1994. The first track is “Birdhouse In Your Soul”, released on January 15, 1990. The last track is “Big Pimpin”, released on December 28, 1999.
  • I initially planned a single long playlist, but Rdio starts to behave strangely and skip songs once you approach the 300-track mark. I believe that problem shouldn’t occur here, but let me know if it does; Rdio Support tells me they can fix it for a specific playlist. Also, I made this playlist in Rdio and then imported it into Spotify. So there are some songs missing from Spotify, but only a dozen or so. The two playlists are mostly the same.
  • Relevant background: I’m 33, so while I grew up in 1982, I can reasonably say I was “musically conscious” throughout the entirety of the 90s. I was eight in 1990, so that consciousness started out pretty inchoate and surface-level, then grew increasingly sophisticated as the decade went on. I was an early bloomer as far as the alt stuff went — “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was every bit the cliché life-changing experience for me, but I was in 2nd grade rather than a disaffected teenager. It was nonetheless profound as hell; even as a kid you can connect with this stuff for good reason. Point is, from 2nd grade on I really sought out that pure hit of energy and wry intelligence that Nirvana had provided me, and that took me into indie and niche stuff at a young age. Much of that necessarily came from the one “alternative rock” radio station playing in the suburbs and the copies of Rolling Stone I could read in the library. Lack of internet, spending money, and peers with similar music interests meant my access was limited. But I had a brother who was off living in a residential academy for gifted kids, and those gifted kids had decent taste in music. Every month he brought home lots of weird things for me to listen to, and I devoured it all.
  • The inspiration for this playlist came from seeing one too many of those nostalgia-bait pieces aimed at my cohort: “You totally forgot about these 20 amazing hits from the 90's” where it’s all stuff you really haven’t forgotten at all, because if you were young throughout that period then the songs you heard are forever embedded in your consciousness. And after the 6th or 7th of these articles all listing off the same obvious things, you start to think you really have heard everything from the 90s. But we all know that’s not true. And so I thought: what if I go through the list of albums released, week by week, for the entire decade, and pluck out interesting and noteworthy songs? A mix of things everyone is familiar with, and more obscure artifacts, the sorts of songs you might have only been familiar with if you were, say, listening to college rock in 1991. It turns out wikipedia is handy for this: it contains a list of albums released each year in chronological order. Here’s the 1990 section, for example. That’s the resource I used when compiling this. It’s incomplete but reasonably thorough. There are many songs and artists I wasn’t familiar with until I dug in and did the research. So much of this playlist is new for me, and hopefully will be new for you too. Maybe it’s a glimpse into the past in a nearly alternative-universe form: “here are songs you remember, mixed in with songs you WOULD remember if you had heard them.”
  • The playlist is probably ideal for twenty-something millenials, in my mind anyway. Music-savvy people my age and older are probably just going to be annoyed that I neglected to include an essential song, or act amazed I would choose something so obvious, or whatever. Gripes. But if a bunch of this is new for your ears, that’s awesome! Less criticism more enjoyment. And I hope it makes a case for the 90s being far more interesting and eclectic than they usually get credit for. Even from a narrow rock perspective, it really wasn’t just grunge, followed by a post-grunge hangover. There was a TON of stuff happening on a week-to-week basis, and so much of it is essential! Throughout the course of making this, I came to realize that the 90s can be viably considered a true high water mark for music, and it’s not just my nostalgia-tinted lenses. Brilliant stuff was consistently being released every week, and I can say that for certain now that I’ve actually spent a dozen hours combing through those weeks in order. (Yes, I spent a dozen hours compiling this playlist. In my defense, it was really fun.)
  • Don’t feel the need to listen from start to end. Dip in wherever you feel like, skip around. But also keep in mind that it’s painstakingly chronological, so as you move through the playlist, the idea is you’ll get a sense of the music of the decade changing and progressing, feeding off of where it’s gone before. That’s what’s so fascinating about this thing here. It’s the Boyhood of 90's playlists. lolll.
  • As large as the playlist is, I did have to mostly focus on rock: alt (meaning alternative radio), indie, and college stuff. It reflects my subjective experience of the 90s (as well as my wished experience), though, so it’s rock-focused, but not rock-exclusive by any means. My enjoyment of pop, r&b and hip hop increased toward the latter half of the decade, which is coincidentally where some amazing jams sit. I felt like including them, because why not? But make no mistake, it’s a playlist where you’re mostly going to be hearing rock. There are unavoidable problems with that narrowed focus, but if I didn’t narrow this thing down somehow, it would’ve been 4x the length and ain’t no one got time for that.
  • I didn’t include Korn, Limp Bizkit, Hanson, Spice Girls, Hootie, and lots of other things. It’s no judgment against them, it’s just we’ll all heard that stuff, and I’m personally okay with not hearing it in this playlist. However, I am okay with including Savage Garden, Soundgarden, “My Own Worst Enemy”, and Slipknot. Who knows? It all reflects what I can stand to hear vs. what I’d probably skip. Completely subjective — don’t look for any internal consistency, because there isn’t any.
  • Why did I write so much about this shit. Who cares. Enjoy!