Although I didn't go to college in the 1990s, I'm a huge fan of '90s college rock songs. College rock was generally alternative with an occasional pop beat, sometimes meaningful and sometimes nonsensical. When you hear it, you have a tendency to think of frat boys and open air concerts, but that doesn't make it any less awesome. Although I spent most of the 1990s listening to Placebo, Nirvana, London After Midnight, and Eminem, I was still very much aware of these songs, which typically brought me out of my moody teenager fugues. Remember, your mileage may vary on what you consider the best '90s college rock songs, so don't be afraid to add the songs you loved!
1. “Crash into Me” – Dave Matthews Band
I still remember what I was doing when I first heard this song in 1997. I was on my way from science camp to marching band practice, and I fell in love immediately. DMB had many '90s college rock songs, and in fact the group is probably one of the most iconic college rock bands. I still love Dave Matthews Band, and Dave in particular, both their old songs and their new work. However, for me, nothing defines the '90s better than “Crash into Me” – and the video is just a work of art!
2. “Loser” – Beck
I can't believe this song came out twenty years ago. Beck was innovative and exciting. He looked different and he sounded different, to the point where you'll still hear this song at keggers and mixers. You can't beat the beat, and Beck is still the most adorable loser in the world.
3. “Mr. Jones” – Counting Crows
Another twenty year old throwback! I still love Counting Crows, too. Adam Duritz's voice is so plaintive, it's absolutely made for songs like “Colorblind,” “Lightning,” and “Round Here.” However, “Mr. Jones” helped define the band, partly because the lyrics were so evocative, somehow speaking to college students taking their first steps toward defining themselves and finding independence.
4. “One Headlight” – the Wallflowers
I debated between The Wallflowers and The Verve Pipe, with their singularly heartbreaking “Freshman,” but chose this because The Wallflowers were still big in the college scene even when I first found myself on campus. This song, too, spoke to a generation, making college students feel nostalgic for boyfriends and girlfriends left back in the safety of their hometowns. I sort of think we hoped Jakob would be our Bob Dylan, understandably enough.
5. “Flagpole Sitta” – Harvey Danger
Remember how I said some of the best '90s college rock songs were kind of nonsensical? Enter Harvey Danger. I still love this song, though. I think some of the lyrics, such as “Been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding, the cretins cloning and feeding,” speaks to that certain pretentiousness you tend to get your first year of college. For some of us (ahem, ahem), it lasts well into adulthood, but I mean, it's true!
6. “Buddy Holly” – Weezer
I could have picked just about anything from the blue album, including “Say It Ain't So” or “The Sweater Song,” but for me nothing says Weezer or the '90s like “Buddy Holly.” Rivers Cuomo doesn't necessarily love his status as a college rock god, but songs like this helped cement it. In fact, the entire eponymous album is a 1990s classic.
7. “One Week” – Barenaked Ladies
Ah, “One Week.” It made no sense and all the sense in the world, all at once. When it came out in 1998, I heard it every day, at least twice a day, blasting out of the car stereos from the senior parking lot. A lowly junior, I felt envious of all the college-bound seniors who, for whatever reason, considered this their anthem. I was even more envious the next year, when my graduating class wouldn't stop playing that damn Vitamin C song.
8. “Semi-Charmed Life” – Third Eye Blind
Third Eye Blind kind of epitomized the college scene, or at least what most freshmen think it's supposed to be about. This song, especially, was all sex, drugs, and rock n' roll, a vibe the band itself defined as it played on campuses all over the place. Honestly, I still like a lot of their music, but this song will always have a special place.
9. “Criminal” – Fiona Apple
It's a sad fact that there were very few true college rock female trendsetters. Most fell into the sublime indie/grunge/true alternative abyss and weren't notoriously invited to campuses that often. Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, and Natalie Merchant come to mind in particular. Something about Fiona Apple spoke to the masses, however – or maybe it was just that waifish look about her. Of course, all that ended for a while after that unfortunate awards show speech...
Most of these songs still have a place on my playlist, especially when I'm feeling nostalgic. The 1990s did a lot for rock, even with all the one hit wonders. Many of them now seem to have defined the decade. I'm only sad I couldn't include all the top college rock songs, so feel free to share your own favorites. What songs take you back to your high school or college days?