If you want to get to know me, hold off on scouring my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Get to know my late 90s playlist and you'll get a deeper look into who I am.
“Doin Time” by Sublime
To this day, I call it Summertime, thanks to the Gershwin chorus that made Sublime’s 1996 breezy tune Doin Time such a jam. It shuttles me into August humidity chilling in Mike Bannet’s backyard rolling joints and bobbin our head silently, until we all came in on the “take a tip take a tip take a t-t-tip from me” and it was the kind of song you never wanted to see fade into its final note, like how we were allergic to watching August ease into the same-old of September.
We didn’t just rock to Doin’ Time but everything off Sublime’s self-titled album, sing-rapping with Bradley about LBC and the Watts riots like we weren’t Canadians painfully confused about the gritty Americana in the verses. Well, beyond the on-the-noseness of Caress Me Down.
“Are You That Somebody?” by Aaliyah
I can only think of a handful of R&B tracks from ’98 I still rock out today like I’m wearing my dopest threads and frosting my tips at a club whose name is also a punctuation mark, brimming with shots of Jack and bad decisions involving Jager and a friend with a way higher alcohol tolerance than me. One of those bangers is “Are You That Somebody” by Aaliyah, whose beat has the dual effect of pumping me the fuck up and lulling me into a swaying state of bliss.
Did you also sign up to Masterclass to learn how Timbaland concocts beats out of baby wails and adult groans? No, just me? It was the best $200 I ever spent, and I’m not even going to talk about what David Sedaris taught me about making fun of your family. When Timabland led an entire 12-minute video on the production map behind “Are you That Somebody”, I stopped forking the tub of salted caramel ice cream I didn’t buy premeditated, I swear, and listened with all my earhole strength to absorb the recipe he was sharing with normals like me.
Since that Masterclass two months ago, Aaliyah has been on heavy rotation through all my lacklustre pandemic workout mixes, even cracking the top 5 songs I play in my shower with my waterproof speaker. It’s well earned.
“Home for a Rest” by Spirit of the West
I started university at 18, which meant I was a year away from legal drinking and hangovers that felt illegally destructive. I had a shitty fake ID but it didn’t work twice, so I wasn’t too fond of my middling batting average with this smudgy fascmile of a charmingly chunky dude who didn’t even have the same coloured eyes as my brown sultries. It was truly a heart-stopping moment that first time I entered a Ryerson pub at 19, delighted by this gilded palace of watery kegs and lemon drop shots and soggy fries and fist pumps for no reason.
Well, there was one main reason we all raised our fists and glasses while swilling pints of Rickard's Red at the pub a block around the main journalism school campus: When the DJ put on “Home for a Rest” by Spirit of the West, a two-hit wonder alt-rock Canadian band, every freshman, sophomore and dudes visiting Toronto who accidentally wandered into a college bar, took the floor into a wiggling awkward-dancing frenzy. We channeled our drunken energy into screaming the lyrics to this East Coast boozing song soaked with fiddle solos and attacking guitar chords. It didn’t matter if you hated alt or country or Halifax kitchen parties or even all-caps MUSIC; this was college camaraderie at its zenith, as if whatever sexual tension or biting rivalries or who-the-hell-are-you’s faded double-quick when those first guitar strings plucked the intro.
I have no doubt, though, this song contributed to both the bottom line of every bar it played at, and the bottom lining of every garbage can waiting beside our beds the morning after we air-fiddled our joy deep into the loud night.
“All Over You” by Live
“All Over You” by Live has the unique distinction of being remembered by absolutely no one I know who lived, grew up during or remembered the 90s. Sure, “Lightning Crashes” was the big hit from the terribly named band known for warbling vocals and catchy choruses, but “All Over You” was the killer tune on that Throwing Copper album I listened to front and back like I was running out of time. Perhaps what made this disc stand out to me too was that it was the first actual CD I bought, since I had long been a holdout for this newfangled fancy format looking to supplant my thick cassette collection.
“Soul to Squeeze” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
I have an intimate relationship with an under-the-radar Red Hot Chili Peppers song best known for slipping onto the soundtrack of the SNL film Coneheads. As an overzealous RHCP nerd—I may or may not frequently comment on its sub-reddit every week—I’m big into all their albums pre-2002, especially anything prior to Californication.
There was something about “Soul to Squeeze” that instantly spoke to me, not in a godlike “this is your path, David!” way but so much so it became my new fave slow-and-chill RHCP song, supplanting “Under the Bridge” and “You Could Have Lied” from that hallowed space. The lyrics, the bass line, the guitar solo near the end…it gave me the good fuzzies all over. I began to fold this song into a tradition I began in the 90s: As a writer, when I finished a short story or novel (yep, I was writing books back then, and never since), I put on “Soul to Squeeze” to celebrate this fulfilling achievement, lying on my bed, eyes closed, letting Kiedis’s soulful singing wash over me like some kind of musical balm. I still play the tune whenever I need a little reminder of all that I’ve accomplished, as if those five minutes of RHCP recount all the writing trophies I’ve given myself over the years. It’s weird but it works.
“Crash Into Me” by Dave Mathews Band
Dave Mathews Band is the shit. That statement can get me tossed out of some parties, but I’m sticking by it, chest out, head held high. I will FIGHT YOU if you label DMB alt-rock schmaltz only good for Starbucks muzack. It just takes listening to an entire album instead of casting judgement on what a bored AM station is cranking out at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday.
“Crash Into Me” is one of the sweetest most delicate songs I’ve ever heard, while also careening me into memories of the many DMB concerts I hit up with my friends in the 90s. God, those were fun times.
Those concerts were more of a social event than an appreciation of quality music, even though the latter holds true as well. I also noticed my mainly Jewish crew of friends at the time were deep into DMB, as opposed to some non-Jewish friends I had who poked fun at the softness of this “rock band”. Was there something Jewy about fanning hard for DMB? Was it the violin-friendly bits that reminded us of our Fiddler on the Roof roots? Nah. I doubt it. DMB didn’t have a klezmer crumb in its musical architecture, but instead was one heckuva jam band in its live shows that had all of us singing the verses to “Crash Into Me” and holding up lighters and passing the J back and forth.
Fun fact: I’m still impressed my buddy Raph taught himself how to play “Satellite” backwards.
“Basket Case” by Green Day
Doesn’t this song scream IT’S THE 90s AND I’M ONE OF THOSE MELODRAMATIC FOOLS! For me, this song double-screams CRUISING YONGE AND STEELES WITH MUNROE IN HIS BLACK DODGE 400 CONVERTIBLE BETWEEN PERIODS, LIVIN THE LIFE! Confused by the latter sentence? Understandable, since you likely didn’t attend Newtonbrook S.S. between 1996 and 1998, but if you did, you might’ve heard Green Day’s “Basket Case” blasting from Dave Munroe’s Dodge 400, where I likely rode shotgun as we hung out during a spare between periods, since we both shared an English class that preceded an hour of free time so we just hopped in his car and hit up Taco Bell or his house to play Goldeneye and eat grilled cheese sandwiches. It was a simpler time then.
Green Day has long been Munroe’s favourite band, like my never-ending craze over RHCP. I actually never heard much of Green Day beyond their MuchMusic videos until Munroe showed me the deeper cuts on their albums, but it was Basket Case that boasted a nice dose of bravado, and a no-holds-barred attitude coming from the riffs and lyrics.
In fact, that whole Dookie album is a big high-five of nostalgia, particularly focused on a good buddy I still see frequently today, when school and homework were behind us like engine exhaust, and we rode along Steeles West without even needing to say a lot between the Dookie tunes. We’d save that for in class when we got bored.
“California Love” by 2Pac, Dr Dre
Do I really need to say anything else than just BANGER ALL DAY? Any day, any era, hell, this’ll fire up a dance floor in 2080 when the VR DJ puts on the “retro-classics” and everyone’s bio-chipped booty can’t resist shaking to the thumping beat that bows down to no man, from Oakland to Sactown, the Bay area and back down, and the party can’t stop rockin to one of the West Coastest joints this hot augmented-reality after-hours club ever did see.
“Ready or Not” by The Fugees
Ever been to a restaurant where every single course is delectable and exquisite in how the flavours make sweet love to your mouth? That’s what I’ve always thought of The Score, the perfect Fugees album whose only weak spots are some corny skits that didn’t really land. “Ready or Not” is a whole mood to me, crafted with ingredients from other moods: chill, funky, confident, not giving a fuck, smooth, shadowy, sly, jazzy. The finest of the fine on one heckuva fine album, “Ready or Not” gave Lauryn, Pras and Wyclef the platform to introduce themselves to us, and we all fell in love by the second minute of the track, and I, for one, looked up every collab or rare track Lauryn ever released, even before I went through The Score front to back.
It started with “Ready or Not”, but by the early 2000s I gobbled up Lauryn’s Unplugged album, so much so I actually entered a friggin ticket-giveaway content (which I never do, because who has time for that when you’re trying to figure out how to pay tuition and lose your freshman 15) and lo! the lottery gods were kind to me on a 2004 afternoon and bestowed upon me two tickets to see Lauryn at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, second flippin row! I’ve never told anyone this before but I think Lauryn smiled at me in the middle of one of her songs, and my heart fluttered a little, like she flicked it with her guitar pick. OK, I’ve said too much, on to track 10…
“Zoot Suit Riot” by Cherry Poppin Daddies
Speaking of live concerts, and not speaking of weird music phases I went through, no Dave-sanctioned playlist of the late 90s would be complete without a nod to my swing fondness, particularly the zooted up Cherry Poppin Daddies.
As a ska fan who couldn’t get enough Reel Big Fish, Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Goldfinger, the Daddies wasn’t a far lean for me. Swing felt like a more PG ska--
Less punky, less moshy, heavier on the suit-and-tie and dance lessons. I actually told myself I was going to take swing lessons sometime, or at least check out one of those free drop-ins normally full of 70-year-olds who want to dance to “real music” instead of the schlock they endure at their grandkids’ weddings.
And is it just me or do tunes like Zoot just put you in a good mood, even if only for the minutes of that one song? Or at least a few trumpet blasts got you boppin. Nothing a few brass instruments can’t fix as you find yourself tapping toes non-nervously for the first time in weeks.
“Save Tonight” By Eagle Eye Cherry
You wouldn’t know it looking at my uncalloused fingertips today, but I used to dabble on the acoustic gee-tar, knowing my A chord from my D chord, memorizing the tabs to my fave songs. One of the earliest songs I played was “Save Tonight”, which was incredibly simple as far as chord progressions go and didn’t have any tricky bridges my stubby fingers couldn’t always get right quickly. Plus, let’s be honest, this song oozes camp, doesn’t it? In that hearty marshmallows-over-a-fire kind of way. I never really got into sleepover camp, but if I did, I’m picturing this song and a whole lotta Dave Mathews piping good from portable CD players at Camp Wanahawin or Camp ForestHillKidsOnlyHere, something like that.
“Sex and Candy” by Macy Playground
I’m not dropping any fresh hot takes by declaring that songs can have a clear relationship to someone in your life. This oh-so-90s Macy Playground one-hit wonderful song reminds me of Monica, a friend I grew apart from after high school. I miss her. I miss this song. That is all.
“Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai
I’m a George Clinton stan of the deepest reverence, so much so I recently commissioned a A-class artist to paint the Funkadelic frontman with his band in full colourful glory, where it now stands above my mantle like a live concert snapshot frozen in time on my wall. I could go on and on about the redeeming qualities of Bop Gun and Flashlight and Give Up The Funk but this is late 90s playlist and if there were ever a 90s band that reminded me of the grooves Clinton brought on stage so smoothly it was Jamiroquai.
And it was “Virtual Insanity” that had me jigging with it like I did with any of Clinton’s jams. I still can’t stop dancing to every inch of this song when it’s on, no matter where I’m at (In Shoppers, it’s painfully embarrassing). And wasn’t this a staple at every late 90s wedding and Bar Mitzvah or am I just wishing that on the world’s past?
“Who Needs Sleep” by The Barenaked Ladies
It was tough to choose just one song off Stunt, my top BNL album, I don’t care what you say about Gordon, OK, Maroon is close, I’d make it 1b. I’ve always been a fan of playful bands that don’t take them too seriously (ask my buddy Jonny O about my short-lived fandom of Corky n the Juice Pigs) and BNL were always super talented and melodic or whatever musical terms relates to writing really tight songs. “Who Needs Sleep” has a silly premise (“Sleep is important and it sucks to have insomnia!”) but I adore the way it’s constructed, and the chorus is infectious, and the lil effects they bring to the vocals and fills are nice touches.
This album was also my soundtrack on my way to Ryerson University on the subway running from Finch Station to Dundas Station, giving me tons of solo time pre-smartphone/scared of transit cuz of COVID. So Stunt kept me smiling like a silly first-year fool in ’98, and in a way placing me in a really warm positive space as I stepped outside my comfort zone (eek! Downtown! New people!) for the first time in a long time.
“The Ghosts That Haunt Me” by Crash Test Dummies
This is where I lose you, for two reasons, right? First, this is a 1991 track and my playlist is focused on the late 90s, the sticklers assert. True, but I only got into CTD in ’97 and besides, the last few tracks can flex on the arbitrarily rigid timeline I put on this collection of me-songs.
Secondly, I lost you to whatever notification you haven’t checked on your phone yet because you just read the words CRASH TEST DUMMIES and can only think of that long-haired dude who sings about Superman or who has an entire song titled as one letter repeated ad nauseum (looking at you, “Mmmmm mmmmm”). You’re not incorrect, once again you are spot-on with your Can-rock MuchMusic video scene cutaways, but CTD is more than just their two chart-topping singles.
I’ll go on record as saying that the album The Ghosts That Haunt Me is an excellent album for what it aims to do (be a light snack among competitors aiming to be heavy meals) and its title song is justifiably one of the most under-rated B-sides in the entire pantheon of Winnipeg’s musical darlings. The violin strains, the picturesque verses, Brad Roberts’ bass baritone voice with impressive range…something is just so essentially Canadian about this song, about CTD, it’s hard to put it in words. Oh wait, I guess that’s what I’m supposed to do as a writer. But give that song a listen and come back to me with your best impression of what Canuck feelings it evoked and you’ll also recognize how that quality is hard to mouth with tongue and throat, with fingers and keyboards. It’s a banjo strum, brush sticks keeping time on high hats, a fiddle pluck.
“The Crossroads” by Bone Thungs N Harmony
I was a MuchMusic fiend, from RapCity to The Wedge to Electric Circus (see how I slipped that in there?) to the Top Ten Countdown. Videos opened new musical doors for me, because I rarely listened to the radio or bought cassettes. When an imaginative WTF-inducing video came across my eyeballs, I was hooked. It’s the main reason I got into Tool for six months.
But it was The Crossroads that was the first real narrative story in a hiphop music video that I can remember, complete with a backstory (that I didn’t really understand at the time) and special effects that resembled those Terminator movies I was feeling.
Sidebar: You’re probably wondering how “Thriller” wasn’t mentioned here, but no foolin I was a late bloomer to MJ.
I didn’t know then that Bone Thugs N Harmony were basing the song on their relationship with the late Eazy-E; I just knew these guys lost someone close to them, and this tribute song was unique in its show of compassion, an emotion I didn’t see in a lot of rap videos or releases. And even though the context of their grief came to me later as an adult, watching this video as an 18-year-old high schooler told me it was OK to talk about heavy shit in your art and that, rr, I should get away from these fantasy novels I’m writing, I began to think, and maybe I should access some really personal memories and beliefs with my writing. You know. Real life.
I don’t want to make you LOL by hearing me claim Bone Thugs N Harmony transformed me into the writer I am today. Rather, it was a slow drip from a bunch of different faucets, from this track to getting bored with Tolkien to loving every John Irving character I could get my hands on to hankering to get published in respected magazines. Still, “The Crossroads” played its part, much like every song on this playlist is a piece of a charmingly chunky puzzle you might know as lil ol me, who ain’t so little anymore, and whose oldness is directly related to the warm nostalgic glow blanketing me now as I remember the songs from some of the best days of my life.
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