I watched a VH1 program the other night that counted down the top one hundred songs of the nineties, and I was suprised by the startling variety of music that was produced and popular during that decade. I was an alternative/grunge/goth/whatever music fan, and listened mostly to college radio at the time. So, I tried to miss the majority of the more mainstream stuff. A lot of the songs I loved made it onto the countdown, because this was the decade where college radio cracked the mainstream. Whatever that means.
The Number One song, as voted by the VH1 audience, was "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. No big surprise here. This song was such an anthem for disaffected, disillusioned youth, and it was HUGE in 1991-92. You couldn't escape it. I didn't want to escape it. From the first gritty guitar chords, it was like a buzzsaw cutting through all of the crap, wasn't it? I listened to that tape until I wore it out. The doomed Kurt Cobain really was our Elvis, and his early death was such a tragedy. "I feel stupid and contagious." Absolutely.
The Number Two song on the big old countdown was "One" from U2. Although it comes from
the same loosely defined genre of music as Nirvana's song, it could not be more opposite in sound or message. "One" originates from similar feelings of hurt and isolation as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" does, but, instead of wallowing in and celebrating that state, it calls for unity and strength to overcome it. "One" has been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Mary J. Blige, and has come to define U2's political and spiritual message. Whatever you might think of U2, this song is perfectly gorgeous, poetically lyrical and almost religiously sincere.