Holy crap was this a hard list to narrow down. Every teen defines themselves by the media they consume. I was no different. I embraced 90’s rock as if it sustained my existence. I can rattle off a hundred songs that deserve to be on this list, which is painful in a way. I had to snub cherished tunes that I have listened to countless times. But dammit, this is a Zeedub Fiver and I have a job to do.
Looking back on these songs feels a tad bittersweet because my musical tastes have greatly expanded. My teenage years were dominated by alternative and industrial rock, both of which inspired me to form my own bands (which you can still check out here and here). But today, I listen to everything from Celtic to Classical. Hell, Tom Waits is a regular on my playlists, which should tell you everything.
My current tastes are eclectic AF, but that’s not the point of this list. These are the top five songs that defined my youth. And as much as I would like to select multiple tracks from the same band, I decided to limit myself to one per artist (long, painful sigh).
Hey Man, Nice Shot (Filter)
Some songs are so powerful that you can recall the first time hearing them. “Hey Man, Nice Shot” is one of those songs for me. It came over the radio as I was driving home from a friend’s house. When it finished, I actually pulled over to call the station (mid ’90s, no smartphones). I got through after a few tries, learned the band’s name, then rushed to the nearest record shop to buy the album. Short Bus blared from my stereo for months.
Come Out and Play (The Offspring)
I have probably listened to this song more than any other in my lifetime. The Offspring were my favorite band growing up and I treasured every album. 90’s punk was a strange genre with plenty of weirdness, but it carries a lot of nostalgia for me. “You gotta keep ’em separated” still makes me smile every time I hear it. I have seen the band dozens of times over the years and even got to hang out with them at one point. Great guys, fun music, delightful memories.
Killing in the Name (Rage Against the Machine)
The first time hearing “Killing in the Name” was a transcendent experience. I was at a high school party with several friends. We were shooting the shit when this song queued from the host’s playlist. It didn’t take long to steal my undivided attention. “Who is this?” was a simple enough question at the time, but it sparked a lifelong obsession with the band. Tom Morello, the lead guitarist, remains my musical hero to this day.
Rage may have opened my eyes to the power of pertinent music, but it was Tool that opened my third eye. I could select any number of tracks for a myriad of reasons, from the haunting imagery of “Forty Six & 2” to the crushing devastation of “10,000 Days.” Narrowing it down to a single song is akin to mental torture, so the standard gateway track seems like a logical choice. “Sober” is a fantastic song, but it’s only the first rung of a very deep ladder.
March of the Pigs (Nine Inch Nails)
Trent Reznor has been one of the biggest influences on my own music, so there was going to be a NIN song on this list. “Wish” was my initial choice. I covered it in my own live shows, often using it as a closer due to its maniacal energy. But, there’s something about “March of the Pigs” that needles my primal self. It’s so … raw. I have seen NIN in concert many times, and this song always goaded me into the mosh pit. It’s one big audible fist.
Sabotage (Beastie Boys)
Plush (Stone Temple Pilots)
Pepper (Butthole Surfers)
Jeremy (Pearl Jam)
Roots Radicals (Rancid)
Zero (Smashing Pumpkins)
Heart-Shaped Box (Nirvana)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? (R.E.M.)
More Human Than Human (White Zombie)