Aggie Blum Thompson’s All the Dirty Secrets is a thrilling tale that asks how far you would go to protect your status and your family…and if some secrets should ever be revealed. And what better way to fully immerse yourself in a gripping book like this one than to have a killer playlist that accompanies it? Read below to see Aggie’s incredible list of 90s bops that’ll have you vibing out, reminiscing about your own teenage angst, and feeling all sorts of nostalgic!
By Aggie Blum Thompson:
Some decades are more difficult to define than others. You say 1920s, I say roaring. When we think of the 40s, Rosie the riveter and Victory Gardens come to mind. But the 90s? What is unifying about a decade that started with the fall of the Berlin Wall and ended with the overhyped Y2K threat that the entire world was about to implode?
Writing the chapters of All the Dirty Secrets that took place in 1994 thrust me back in time to the last decade that gave us TV shows that were cultural touchpoints – Friends, Seinfeld, The X-Files. To a time when Cable TV news erupted on the scene, crawling its way through our national consciousness with nonstop coverage of events like O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco ride and subsequent trial, of Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress and its implications, of shootouts between the feds and far-right groups at Ruby Ridge and Waco.
The nineties gave us both blockbusters that spawned industries – like Titanic and Jurassic Park — and films showcasing Gen X sarcasm – think Slacker and Clerks. The internet was a just a wee baby and was dominated by AOL. In a world before streaming, Apple Music, or Spotify, a file-sharing giant called Napster allowed strangers to exchange, illegally, songs for free. But my favorite part of writing these chapters was researching the music that rocked the decade. Here is a completely incomplete list of the soundtrack of the 90s.
- Freedom 90! by George Michael (1990). Released as the first single from his second solo album, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, Michael sang, “There’s something deep inside of me/There’s someone else I’ve got to be,” ushering in an era of songs that celebrated the LGBTQ community. The 80s were a tough time to be publicly gay, but the 90s saw several commercial artists openly embrace their queer identity — like k.d. lang with her hit Constant Craving, Melissa Etheridge and Come to My Window, and RuPaul’s Supermodel (You Better Work).
- Alive by Pearl Jam (1991). The neon colors and big hair of the 80s collapsed at the turn of the decade under the weight of a terrible economy and a war in the Middle East. All of a sudden, grunge emerged from the shadows of the alternative rock scene, as hits like Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, and Man In The Box by Alice in Chains exploded onto the charts. Everyone started wearing flannel, baby doll dresses, and doc martens, and packed the theaters to watch Singles and Reality Bites.
- Finally by CeCe Peniston (1991). House and club music may have been around since club DJs began spinning records at a tempo of 120 beats per minute, but they didn’t take America by storm until the early 90s thanks to a series of breakout hits featuring Black female voices — such as Robin S. (Show Me Love) and Martha Wash (Everybody, Everybody) – who often appeared on hits uncredited.
- The Rain King by Counting Crows (1993). This buoyant, jangly rock song was a single on the band’s debut album, showcasing their poetic lyrics, singable choruses, and desire to carry the torch of classic rock artists like Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen into the 90s. The Counting Crows helped us move past grunge into an era of hits the whole family could sing along to in the car, like I Only Wanna Be with You by Hootie and the Blowfish, Run Around by Blues Traveler, and Jealousy by the Gin Blossoms.
- Cornflake Girl by Tori Amos (1994). Her brilliant album Under the Pink is an example of the virtuoso women artists who appeared on the music scene in the nineties, often defying categorization – not quite pop or rock, R&B or country. Songs like Sarah McLachlan’s “Possesion,” Erykah Badu’s “On & On,” and Liz Phair’s “Never Said.” For several summers, the performers who gathered at Lilith Fair consisted solely of female solo artists and female-led bands. In its initial three years, Lilith Fair raised over $10 million for charity.
- Mo Money Mo Problems by Notorious B.I.G. feat. Mase & Puff Daddy (1997). Rap arrived big-time in the 90s, breaking off into diverse subgenres that dominated the charts with hits like Snoop Dog’s Gin and Juice, Lauryn Hill’s Doo Wop (That Thing), and Eminem’s My Name Is. Mo Money Mo Problems, an infectious danceable mega-hit that sampled Diana Ross’s joyful I’m Coming Out, showcased Biggie Smalls bragging about his fame and success. Sadly, he did not live to reap the rewards of this huge hit as he was murdered a few months before it was released.
- I Want it That Way by the Backstreet Boys (1999). Boy bands had been around a while – the 80s had Menudo, New Edition and New Kids on the Block — but the concept really blew up in the 90s. Suddenly, everywhere you turned were attractive but anodyne young men in coordinated outfits who wanted to sing and dance their way into your heart with hits like I Do by 98 Degrees, I Want You Back by ‘NSYNC, and Motown Philly by Boys II Men.
- Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis (1996). Not all the boy bands were happy and knew how to dance. Some were deeply angry and really wanted you to know. They whined. They growled. They yelled. They would have flipped their lids if you called them boy bands. But some of them — like Bush (Glycerine), Offspring (Self Esteem), and Live (Lightning Strikes) — made pretty good music.
- You’re Still the One by Shania Twain (1998). This gorgeous love song crossed over from country and became a huge mainstream hit, aided by a sexy video featuring the Canadian singer. Suddenly, country was cool and showing up on the pop charts with songs like How Do I Live by LeAnn Rimes, This Kiss by Faith Hill, and Amazed by Lonestar.
- Mambo No. Five by Lou Bega (1999). Who? you ask. Of course you can’t remember the artist, but there’s no way you don’t remember this earworm. It joins those one-hit wonders of the nineties like Macarena, Barbie Girl, Baby Got Back, and I’m Too Sexy that you hate-love but can’t stop singing along to. In fact, I bet you’re humming one right now. If not, let me help . . . a little bit of Monica in my life, a little bit of Erica by my side . . .
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