The 1990s (like any decade) had its share of magnificent pop songs that, for whatever reasons, didn't scratch the Top 50 on Billboard's charts. Today, many of these tracks have fallen into obscurity, but they deserve another listen, as they still sound incredible. In alphabetical order, here are my picks for the 90's best singles that missed the Top 50 (with accompanying video links).
All Woman - Lisa Stansfield (1991)
Stansfield proved herself the decade's best new blue-eyed soul singer as evidenced by this heartbreaking ode to an underappreciated, hard working wife, which inexplicably stalled at #56. Pop charts be damned, in the right hands All Woman still has the makings of a mega-hit ballad (Adele, are you listening?)
Alright - Jamiroquai (1997)
Surprisingly, Alright was Jamiroquai's only U.S. Hot 100 single, and with its fierce soul/funk hooks straight from 70s era Stevie Wonder, should have fared much better than withering at #78.
Black Steel - Tricky (1995)
A Top 30 hit in Tricky's native U.K., American radio had no idea what to do with this dark, magnificent trip hop reworking of Public Enemy's Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos. Never charted.
Blow Up The Outside World - Soundgarden (1996)
Almost apocalyptic in scale, this epic rocker with Beatle-esque elements, one of Soundgarden's crowning achievements, fared well on rock radio, and even cracked the U.K. Top 40, but fizzled on the U.S. Hot 100 at #53.
Cuts You Up - Peter Murphy (1990)
Brooding, big and Bowie-esque, this atmospheric gothic rock feast for the ears, layered with strings and an inspired, angsty vocal, ruled the roost on alternative radio, but struggled to #55 on the Hot 100.
David Duchovny - Bree Sharp (1999)
The fact that Sharp's sweetly-tortured, immensely catchy, musical love letter to the man who played Fox Mulder never charted is a mystery right out of The X Files, especially since it was released at the apex of the series' late 90s heyday.
Deep Inside - Mary J. Blige (1999)
This highlight from Mary, one of Blige's best albums, featured Elton John's iconic piano riff from Bennie & The Jets. Both Blige and Sir Elton were white hot at the time - so how did this great single stall at #51?
The Dogs of Lust - The The (1993)
Dark, steamy, dense lead single from Dusk, one of the decade's finest (and most unsung) rock albums was M.I.A. on the charts.
Electric Barbarella - Duran Duran (1997)
This scintillating sleazy electro-romp played like a lost refugee from 1983, and had it been released that year, it would've fit nicely in the Top 10 between Hungry Like The Wolf and Rio, but in 1997, only reached #52.
Four Leaf Clover - Abra Moore (1997)
Receiving a Grammy nom for Best Rock Female Vocal (sadly, now an extinct category), Abra's delightful folk-rocker rose to #63, but deserved much better. A real gem. Where have you gone, Abra Moore?
Get The Message - Electronic (1991)
Electronic = New Order's Bernard Sumner + The Smiths' Johnny Marr (who once called Get The Message "the best song I've written"). This shimmering single went shamefully ignored by US radio outside of alternative outlets.
Ghost of a Texas Ladies' Man - Concrete Blonde (1992)
If Ghost Riders In The Sky had a wayward rocker cowgirl counterpart, it would've been this twangy, campfire ghost fable. For all its spooky, catchy brilliance, led by Johnette Napolitano's fierce howl, never managed to lasso the Hot 100.
Girls & Boys - Blur (1994)
Crazy infectious, electro-orgy that played like its own four minute and eighteen second sexual revolution, was named 94's best single by Britain's NME and Melody Maker, and hit big across Europe, Canada and Australia and New Zealand, but America somehow missed the party - it died stateside at #59.
Hello - The Beloved (1990)
England's The Beloved never made the Hot 100, yet they kicked off the decade in grand style with this synth-pop personality parade featuring everyone from Saint Peter to Freddy Flintstone to "Hello's" backup singer Kym Mazelle (whose Love Me The Right Way appears in Part Two of this list).
Here's Where The Story Ends - The Sundays (1990)
A dreamy, lilting, melodic breeze laced with cryptic lyrics ("it's that little souvenir of a terrible year") this received massive alternative radio airplay, but never cracked the Hot 100.
Hot Spot - Foxy Brown (1998)
How one of rap's best-ever singles fizzled at #91 (and in a year where rap's crossover was unstoppable) still baffles me. Whatever the reason, this bad girl party anthem is an eternal guilty pleasure treasure.
Human Behavior - Bjork (1993)
Iceland's most famous export delivered brilliant single after brilliant single in the 90s, but none even graced the Top 80. There's "definitely definitely definitely no logic" as to how this peculiar masterpiece, Bjork's first solo single in the U.S. (accompanied by a fantastical Michael Gondry directed video) peaked at #109, about 100 notches too low if you ask me.
If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night) - Me'Shell N'dgeocello (1993)
Me'Shell's debut single (#73) was an ultra-funky, ultra-confident declaration of getting what you want, and owning it. The title pretty much sums up the proceedings...thank you very much.
It's A Fine Day - Opus 3 (1992)
As ethereal as a Cirrus cloud, and as percussive as an avalanche, Opus 3 existed only from 92 to 94, leaving two euphoric ambient-dance albums in their wake crowned by this wondrous gem.
Kool Thing - Sonic Youth (1990)
The 90s grunge rush didn't began with Nirvana, it began with Kim Gordon and co. who unleashed this ultra-kool, sexy, feminist rocker at the decade's dawn. Given 1990's bestsellers (Paula Abdul, Wilson Phillips, etc), Kool Thing's shot at pop chart glory was slim, and alas, never cracked the US Hot 100, but it did go Top 30 in Ireland!
Land of The Living - Kristine W (1996)
Worthy of the throne upon which Donna and Gloria reigned, this epic disco anthem (never charted on the Hot 100) opened with W's stellar pipes setting the stage before the beat kicked in, and the roof ripped off. Alive alive alive alive alive - indeed!
Last Goodbye - Jeff Buckley (1994)
The late Jeff Buckley's magnificent rock ballad, one of the decade's best, never charted on the Hot 100, and only peaked at #19 on alternative rock charts, but its popularity in recent years proves again that history will (and always does) have the last laugh...
Coming soon: Best Singles of the 1990s That Missed the Top 50, Part Two!