The 1990s will forever be remembered as a fertile time in music history when alternative rock made the jump from the underground clubs and into the mainstream consciousness. Nirvana's 1991 single "Smells Like Teen Spirit" all but took a wrecking ball to what remained of 1980s pop culture and all of its glossy excess.
By 1992, fellow Seattle bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains would join Nirvana as the new face of rock music on MTV and music magazines. The alternative rock boom was in full swing. Major record labels were ready to pounce on the underground rock world looking for the next big thing.
Some of these bands would go on to sell millions of records and have long careers. Others would produce one hit and never be heard from again. Today we're going to take a look at five one-hit wonders from the 1990s.
One-hit wonders from the 1990s not to be missed
New York band Nada Surf released their debut album High/Low in June of 1996. This underrated post-grunge gem showcased Nada Surf's mastery of Nirvana's quiet/loud dynamics, the Pixies pop hooks, and 90's post-hardcore's rhythmic propulsion. Songs like "Deeper Well" and "The Plan" could have been hits if the radio gods had been kinder, but Nada Surf will forever be known for one song.
The song "Popular" is a summary of everything a teenager experiences at the high school level. People of all generations can identify with the familiar social structure of the typical high school starting at the top with athletic stars and cheerleaders and descending to the bottom with the geeks and outcasts. With "Popular," Nada Surf places the basic rules of teenage social behavior into a remarkably catchy song.
What sets the song "Popular" apart from other hit songs is its delivery. Frontman Matthew Caws speaks the verses in a matter-of-fact and explanatory way that seems equal parts informative, equal parts passive-aggressive. The narrator shifts genders as the song develops, and the lyrics shift from over-explanations of how to deal with the politics of high school dating to what it's like to deal with rejection.
"Three important rules for breaking up," begins Caws." Don't put off breaking up if you know you want to. Prolonging the situation only makes it worse. Tell him honestly, simply, kindly, but firmly. Don't make a big production. don't make up an elaborate story. This will help you avoid a big tear-jerking scene. If you want to date other people, say so. Be prepared for the boy to be hurt and rejected."
The huge chorus that follows is straight out of the post-grunge playbook with fuzzed-out crunchy power chords and crashing drums. The now iconic words shouted atop the out-of-nowhere heaviness are straight out of a movie like Friday Night Lights.
"I'm head of the class, I'm popular," sings Caws. "I'm the quarterback, I'm popular. My mom say's I'm a catch, I'm popular. I'm never last picked, I've got a cheerleader chick."
"Popular" is the only song most people know from Nada Surf, and they definitely fall under the category of one-hit-wonders. But the band still releases music and tours to this day, so check them out.