The 90s – CDs, the radio, record stores and my favourite tunes
t is sort of odd to think about that the 1990s started 30 years ago. Am I really that old? For me, that decade was hip, especially when it comes to music! We were different from the big haired colourful 80s kids, and we definitely had a lot of new inventions to play with: CDs, festivals for hundreds of thousands of music lovers, MTV and a wider range of music genres. Of course we were the cool kids! But as time went by, everything changed. We went from CDs to mp3s, to streaming. MTV became a reality show channel, and there are so many diverse genres now that it is hard to keep up. Talking about the 90s and the music from that time is nostalgic now, oh my!
The Radio and Tapes
I wonder if kids today remember where they first heard a song? When I was a young teenager, the radio was everything. Everyone listened to the radio and we all tried to record our favourite songs on tape. Tapes were definitely still a huge thing in the 90s, and they were an easy way to pirate music too. Yup, pirating is not a thing of the 2000s! We recorded not only from the radio but also from CDs and other tapes. A lot of work went into sharing music with your friends. You created mixed tapes and so did they. That is how you got to know the odd and underground bands that wouldn’t be played on the radio!
I remember the first song that I ever recorded from the radio, and for some odd reason it is was “Informer” by Snow. It is not the sort of genre that I especially enjoyed or enjoy now. But I think because the first time I got more conscious about music was through the radio, the first songs I remember listening to and not forgetting again, were the Top 40.
CDs and Record Stores in the 90s
The CDs though! If you wanted to buy something that was fairly popular, you could do so at a record store. Those places were heaven! They had all the cool music magazines, the CDS, they had video stations where you could watch live videos, and they always played the newest stuff on loudspeakers. There were different kinds of record stores too. There were the ones that were mainstream, and then the ones for alternative music. I went to both, depending on whom I hung out with that day. But one thing was for sure for many years of my life: almost every day, I spent a couple of hours at record stores!
I remember the first CD I ever bought. It was the single to Take That’s “Babe” and I was 11 years old. I had just gotten a CD player for Christmas and went to the record store the next week and bought it! It was so cool to open the CD and to find the little booklet with the lyrics inside! To be fair though, the lyrics were often in such small lettering that you needed glasses to read them!
If you wanted something obscure, you had to order it via a catalogue. In Germany that was EMP for the most part and you could get all the alternative music that your local independent store didn’t sell. Ooh, and if a new album of your favourite band came out, you had to stand in line at the record store in the morning before school! I remember Marilyn Manson’s “Mechanical Animals” coming out and I arrived too late at the record store and couldn’t catch a copy, it was sold out! (the same happened to me with concert tickets a few times, so darn sad!)
MTV and music videos in the 90s
So CDs and record stores were important parts of the music scene, no matter what you genre you listened to. But music TV, good people! The 90s produced some of the best music videos! They were like short movies, very arty and a good music video could make or break a song. It was especially the rockbands that made amazing videos during that decade. MTV, VH1, VIVA, they really played a huge part in everyone’s lives and whenever you were at a friend’s place, that was often what played in the background.
I do miss the good music videos, and to discover new artists that way. Now you can only see most videos on Vevo or YouTube and you have to search for an artist specifically. I watched MTV News every day, and that is how I found out that Kurt Cobain had shot himself, or that Take That had broken up.
I do become nostalgic about the 90s because it was the time that shaped my music taste. Just like right now, I was open-minded though and didn’t necessarily stick to one genre. I still stayed on top of who the big artists were although I listened to alternative music. I knew about all the newest bands and I didn’t skip a concert because someone wasn’t my favourite artists. The 90s were all about music for me: the clubs, the concerts every weekend, hanging out in record stores and with bands, playing in bands, dj-ing. I truly miss those days.
Without getting too political now, I also appreciate how music is distributed these days. I do miss the music videos, the CD booklets and how music often became a happening with friends. But for many artists during those days, it was nearly impossible to get a record deal or to get out to the big public. It was all about monopolizing record companies that were the middle man. Now, artists are free, they are not as bound to major record deals as they were before, which I think is great! While back in the day, most money was made with record sales, these days it is with concert tickets and merchandise. And the sad thing is, that with Covid happening, so many bands and music artists are struggling because their main source of income, concerts, is sort of off the table for a longer while.
Okay, I will leave you with two lists! The 90s was a weird era when it comes to music. There was a lot of pop and electro music coming out that didn’t make much sense. But at the same time, the alternative scene was blooming. So two lists! One with my favourite guilty pleasure songs from the 90s, the other with the best alternative songs from that time!
- “Barbie Girl” by Aqua
- “Gangster’s Paradise” by Coolio
- “Back for Good” – Take That
- “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson
- “All That She Wants” – Ace of Base
- “Genie in a Bottle” – Christina Aguilara
- “Torn” – Natalie Imbruglia
- “Livin la Vida Loca” – Ricky Martin
- “Wannabe” – Spice Girls
- “Unbreak my Heart” – Toni Braxton
The Cool List
- “Champagne Supernova” – Oasis
- “Lithium” – Nirvana
- “Head Like a Hole” – Nine Inch Nails
- “Coma White”- Marilyn Manson
- “Ana’s Song” – Silverchair
- “Song 2” – Blur
- “Sweet 666” – HIM
- “How to disappear completely” – Radiohead
- “Under the Bridge” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
- “Don’t Speak” – No Doubt