The 90s were a time of growth and change in the music industry. From hip-hop and R&B to grunge, pop rock, and dance music, the best songs from the decade are surprisingly diverse. Let’s take a look at some of the best 90s songs!
25 of the Best 90s Songs
1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana (1991)
This song’s title was inspired by the Teen Spirit deodorant brand. At one point, Kurt Cobain dated Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill. Since she thought Kurt smelled like Tobi’s deodorant, Bikini Kill member Kathleen Hanna wrote “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on a wall at a party.
Nirvana hugely influenced today’s indie rock, so it’s no wonder many people want to play it! It isn’t difficult if you want to learn the rhythm part; you’ll mostly need power chords. This video (below left) will take you through them.
2. “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin (1999)
This song is the English language debut of Latin pop singer Ricky Martin. It was a massive hit, and its success paved the way for other Latin artists, including Santana, Jennifer Lopez, and Christina Aguilera.
Even if you’re a beginner, you can learn the rhythm of “Livin’ la Vida Loca” relatively easily. It sounds great on either an acoustic or electric guitar. This tutorial (video above right) will take you through a beginner-friendly version. You’ll need the chords C#m, F#m, G#m, A, B7, G#7, and Bsus2.
3. “Ironic” by Alanis Morrissette (1995)
If there’s one song by Alanis Morrissette that people remember, “Ironic” (from the album Jagged Little Pill) is it. The song’s music video won big at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards: it won Best Editing, Best Female Video, and Best New Artist in a Video.
This song is a lot of fun to strum and sing. And with this quick tutorial (video below left), you can start playing it in no time. For this version, you’ll need to place a capo at the fourth fret. From there, you need to play G, C, D, D/F#, Em7, F, and Em.
4. “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden (1994)
Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell has said that this song’s catchy title came from hearing an anchor on the news say what he thought was “black hole sun.” He thought the misheard phrase would make a great song title and wrote the song from there.
You can certainly play “Black Hole Sun” on an electric guitar, but it also sounds beautiful when played acoustically. This video (above right) takes you through picking the song on an acoustic guitar and includes a tab to follow. And if you’ve never played in an alternate tuning, this song’s drop D tuning is a great place to start.
5. “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind (1997)
This song has an upbeat melody, but its lyrics reveal a more somber story: it’s about the descent into crystal meth addiction. And though it was released in 1997, the song has enjoyed enduring popularity in the world of film and TV.
To play this song, you need three chords: G, Dsus2, and Cadd9. But one of the challenges of performing songs like this is ensuring the rhythms don’t get boring. You can mix up your strumming pattern, add some palm muting, and include some percussive strumming. This video (below left) offers tips on playing it and keeping it interesting.
6. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve (1997)
The sample of orchestral strings that permeates “Bitter Sweet Symphony” is arguably what makes the song. However, that sample came from an orchestral cover of “The Last Time” by the Rolling Stones. This led to a thorny legal battle over songwriting credits and royalties.
Thanks to that repeating sample, the song is pretty easy to play. As you’ll see in this video (above right), you just need E, Bm, D, and A. But if you want to pick out the melody line, the video will show you that, too.
7. “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio (1995)
This song is based on the Stevie Wonder song “Pastime Paradise.” When Coolio reached out to Stevie Wonder, wanting to use the music in “Gangsta’s Paradise,” Stevie Wonder initially refused because the song had too many curse words. Once Coolio cleaned up the lyrics, Stevie Wonder approved the request.
This song translates best to the piano. And if you have a digital piano or synthesizer, it can be fun to add effects. This video tutorial (below left) will teach you how to play it on the piano. You can follow both the on-screen keyboard and the pianist’s hands.
8. “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion (1997)
You might recognize this famous song as the theme for the movie Titanic. But it almost wasn’t; Celine Dion didn’t like the song when she heard it and initially insisted she didn’t want to sing it.
This is another song that really lends itself to the piano. Don’t worry if you’re new to the instrument; this easy tutorial (video above right) uses an on-screen keyboard to show you how to play both the left and right-hand parts.
9. “Wannabe” by Spice Girls (1996)
“Wannabe” might be the most famous Spice Girls song, and listening to it is a fast track to 90s nostalgia! Even today, it’s still the top-selling song by an all-female group in the world!
Though this dance-style song might seem complicated to replicate on guitar, it actually makes a lively, strummy acoustic piece! This video (below left) shows you the chords you need and lets you strum along. With a capo on the second fret, you will need F#m, A, C, D, E, and G. This version also throws in a couple of unusual “spice chords” for some flavor: Adim7(#11)aug and Cm4(b1).
10. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by Backstreet Boys (1997)
Boy bands were big in the 90s, and the Backstreet Boys were the biggest of them all. And since “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” was written by top Swedish hitmakers Max Martin and Denniz Pop, it was virtually guaranteed to be a success.
Even though it’s a dance-pop song, this is another one that translates surprisingly well to the guitar. Throwing in some percussive strumming will help it sound more like the original. And as you can see in this video (above right), you just need three chords: Am, F, and E.
11. “…Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears (1998)
Britney Spear’s songs are perfect for the dance floor, and this one is especially so. It’s the title track to Britney’s debut album, her best-selling album ever.
Like many upbeat pop songs, this one sounds excellent strummed on acoustic or electric guitar. As this video (below right) will show you, you only need the following chords: Bb, C, Cm, G, Eb, Fm, B, and Ab. It will also let you practice sliding between power chords; it’s a valuable skill!
12. “Just a Girl” by No Doubt (1995)
No Doubt was already working and touring when this song came out, but it gave them a massive boost in popularity. It also caused some contention in the band, as listeners began to show more interest in Gwen Stefani than in other band members.
This song is an interesting one to play on the guitar. While it includes a lot of power chords, they’re usually played by picking the strings separately to create the distinctive rhythm of the song’s verses. This video (above right) does a great job of concisely breaking it down.
13. “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers (1991)
This song is one of the most poignant by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Anthony Keidis wrote it about his debilitating struggles with drug use and getting sober and his affection for his city.
“Under the Bridge” is a great song to learn if you want to sharpen your guitar skills. As you’ll see in this detailed tutorial (below left), the song is something of a hybrid between strumming and picking. And if you’re newer to barre chords, it’ll also help you get more comfortable with those.
14. “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans ft. 112 (1997)
This song was written as a tribute to the murdered rapper The Notorious B.I.G., who was also Faith Evans’s husband. It rose high on the charts of several countries, including Iceland, the Netherlands, Romania, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
If you already know how to play “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, you will already pretty much know how to play this song. This video (above right) will show you the needed rhythm and chords. To play it, you’ll need to use Gadd9, Emadd9, Csus2, and Dsus2.
15. “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band (1996)
Dave Matthews has said this song is about “the worship of women,” but it’s also from the perspective of a peeping-Tom-like character. Despite that fact, the song has remained popular, with Stevie Nicks and other prominent artists doing covers.
The pretty guitar part of this song is satisfying to play, and it sounds best on an acoustic guitar. Though it’s mostly strumming, it will keep you focused with multiple hammer-ons and pull-offs! This helpful tutorial (below left) will take you through them.
16. “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch (1996)
Although Mark Wahlberg is an actor now, this song introduced him to the music industry. He released two rap albums before getting into acting. According to rumors, he gets upset if someone mentions the name “Marky Mark” or his past works.
Like many hip-hop songs, this one includes chords that aren’t too hard to master. This video (above right) offers both tabs and a demonstration. You will need G#, A#m, F#, and G#. There’s also a relatively easy solo to try!
17. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill (1998)
This massive hit has been praised by fans for promoting equality between men and women. It warns both men and women that sometimes, the other gender only looks for one thing.
This song is especially fun to play on the keyboard, and this helpful, detailed video will take you through it with keys that light up on the screen. The song’s tempo is quite fast, so it may be easier to start playing it more slowly and work up from there.
18. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston (1992)
Though Whitney Houston recorded this famous number, the original was written by Dolly Parton. It isn’t a traditional love song; Parton wrote it for her mentor to show her appreciation before ultimately leaving his show.
Playing this song on a guitar requires some advanced chords, so it may not be suitable for beginners. If you want to give it a shot, check out this detailed and highly accurate video lesson. You will need the chords A, E, D, F#m7, Amaj7sus2, G#, F#, Dmaj7, F#m7, C#m7, Bm7, F#9sus4, D#m7, Em7, F#, and Emaj7.
19. “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera (1999)
This song was the top-selling single of 1999, and it catapulted Aguilera to significant fame. The song is quite catchy but also shows Aguilera’s impressively large vocal range.
If you’re ready to play one of the most popular songs of the 90s, get out your guitar and place a capo at the third fret. You can follow along with this quick tutorial (video below left) if you wish; as you’ll see, you just need to play Em, D, Cadd9, and B7.
20. “The Sign” by Ace of Base (1993)
Though Ace of Base is a Swedish pop group, this song was the #1 song of 1994 in the United States. The producer was Denniz Pop, a Swedish hitmaker who also wrote songs for many other top artists of the 90s, including the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.
This upbeat song isn’t too complex regarding rhythm, so it’s a good choice if you want to get used to playing and singing simultaneously. Check out this video (above right) to learn the chords you need and how to play them. There’s a suggested rhythm pattern but feel free to experiment or make your own! You need G, Em, C, D, Am, Gm, and Eb.
21. “Who Am I? (What’s My Name?)” by Snoop Doggy Dogg (1993)
This highly catchy rap hit helped to secure Snoop Doggy Dogg (now known as Snoop Dogg) a spot in pop culture history. The unusual yet entertaining video shows Snoop Doggy Dogg and other people transforming into actual dogs!
Like many rap songs, this one translates well to the synth and piano. This tutorial (video below left) will take you through how to play it. Though it helps you understand the timing, it’s complex enough that it may pose a challenge to beginners!
22. “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child (1999)
You likely already know Destiny’s Child is where Beyonce got her start. This song is one of the group’s best: it was popular but also achieved critical acclaim. In 2000, it won Grammys for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.
If you want to learn this Destiny’s Child hit, check out this video lesson (above right). It takes you through a beginner-friendly version that you can sing and play along to. You must play Am, F, Dm, and G with a capo on the third fret.
23. “Escapade” by Janet Jackson (1990)
“Escapade” proved to be a significant hit for Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson’s sister and a great performer in her own right. Co-writer and producer Jimmy Jam has said that the song was built around the word “escapade,” as it was exciting and old-fashioned.
This fun song is a good one to learn on piano. And if you prefer learning from sheet music, you’re in luck; this video tutorial (below left) includes sheet music on the screen. If you want to get really creative, try it on a synthesizer and add some cool effects!
24. “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” by Will Smith (1997)
This lighthearted pop-rap song reached #1 in the United States in 1997. It’s somewhat unique in that it includes samples and lyrical elements from a few different songs, so 12 different people are credited as co-writers.
Want to learn this top hit’s catchy riff? Check out this very short tutorial (above right). It starts with a quick demo and a backing track of the song and then gives you a close-up look at how it is played.
25. “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey (1990)
“Vision of Love” was where Mariah Carey’s career began. It was her debut single and included her use of the whistle register, an extremely high vocal register that many people aren’t even capable of reaching!
This song sounds great, played on a piano. This video also demonstrates how you can use a variety of synth pads to create a detailed arrangement. You can follow the highlighted keys and play them on an acoustic piano if you prefer.
Even More Great 90s Songs
- “Last Kiss” by Pearl Jam (1999)
- “If You Had My Love” by Jennifer Lopez (1999)
- “Barbie Girl” by Aqua (1997)
- “Interstate Love Song” by Stone Temple Pilots (1994)
- “California Love” by 2Pac (1995)
- “Around the World” by Daft Punk (1997)
- “Criminal” by Fiona Apple (1997)
- “Stupid Girl” by Garbage (1995)
- “I’ll Stick Around” by Foo Fighters (1995)
- “Zombie” by the Cranberries (1994)
- “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men (1994)
- “Protect Ya Neck” by Wu-Tang Clan (1992)
- “Buddy Holly” by Weezer (1994)
- “Live Forever” by Oasis (1994)
- “Let’s Talk About Sex” by Salt-n-Pepa
If you’re looking to improve your guitar skills while indulging in a little nostalgia, these 90s songs are a great place to start. And whether you’re trying to play them as written or wanting to make your own arrangements, you’re sure to have a lot of fun with them!
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