The Greatest Alternative Love Songs of the ’90s

The Greatest Alternative Love Songs of the ’90s

The 90s delivered some of the most memorable alternative love songs. These are some of the best of the decade.

13. Weezer -“Across the Sea” (Geffen)

Remember when Weezer was good? Pinkerton may be a fading memory, but quirky heart-on-sleeve love songs like “Across the Sea,” which Rivers Cuomo penned in response to a random fan letter he received from a Japanese girl who was enamored of him, used to fuel this group of lovable nerds before they went all Beverly Hills. “Across the Sea” proves that sometimes the warm fuzzies of imaginary love can give the real thing a run for its money. – Josh Goller

12. James – “Laid” (Mercury)

Passion and volatility go hand in hand, and James’s ode to unstable sexual partners keeps those lusty fires burning until the neighbors complain. Through its catchy guitar strums and soaring falsetto chorus, “Laid” perfectly captures the all-consuming desire of passionate love, the one socially acceptable form of insanity. Now, dye my eyes and call me pretty! – Josh Goller

11. The La’s – “There She Goes” (Go! Discs)

A well-loved single from an underappreciated band, “There She Goes” is memorable for its anachronistic simplicity. At a time when Britpop was taking its cues from psychedelia, the La’s sounded like a latecomer to the British Invasion. There’s just one repeated verse and a bridge – it’s less than three minutes, but you wish it’d go on forever. – Stacey Pavlick

10. Pulp – “Disco 2000” (Island)

Not all love songs require a happy ending. Some of the best ones are filled with unrequited love, just like the type the narrator in Pulp’s “Disco 2000” is still grappling with over a childhood crush. “What are you doing Sunday, baby/ Would you like to come and meet me, maybe/ You can even bring your baby,” Jarvis Cocker wistfully sings to a love that was never his but still has managed to slip through his fingers. – David Harris

9. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Into My Arms” (Mute)

I recall hearing Nick Cave joking that “Into My Arms” is about heroin. In fact, it is the singer’s best love song from a fecund period where he wrote albums full of great love songs. It’s mournful, quiet, literate and reverent – the perfect antidote for the slick overproduced “love songs” being played on the radio at the time. – David Harris

8. Björk – “Hyperballad” (Elektra)

Björk has found the perfect way to avoid breaking up: temper your relationship with alone time and you’re golden. When alone, figure out a way to channel that independence, whether it be throwing things from the edge of a cliff or delving deep into personal trauma. Forget the crap espoused by so many love songs and follow Björk’s advice: “I go thru this before you wake up/ So I can feel happier to be safe up here with you.” – David Harris

7. Portishead — “Glory Box” (Go! Discs)

If someone asks you to define “sultry,” just play them this tune. Setting the scene of a speakeasy through a ‘90s lens, “Glory Box” is a chanteuse’s ode to her own wiles, the oil-dripping bass and vapors coming from Beth Gibbons’ smoky pipes epitomizing black widow seduction. “Give me a reason/ To love you,” Gibbons sings in the hook amid strained guitars and ambient crackles and pops, the ambiguity of it being a pained yearning or a backhanded putdown furthering the addictive mystique. – Cole Waterman

6. Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Chrysalis)

Sinead O’Connor delivers Prince’s ballad with soulful regret, without slipping quite so deep into histrionics. Sure, it’s more of a breakup than a love song, but true love is all about surrender. Like obsessively poking a sore tooth, this tune baptizes itself in loss and unrequited feelings. – Jester Jay Goldman

5. R.E.M. – “Nightswimming” (Warner Bros.)

The simple piano creates a slow-dance sway under disco-ball stars. The lyrics scatter a chain of images that somehow convey a deep longing as each word drops into the water with a clear ripple. It’s a moment frozen in time, a private memory of blissful ignorance and unconscious peace. – Jester Jay Goldman

4. Mazzy Star – “Fade Into You” (Capitol)

Hope Sandoval’s voice just melts, and in “Fade Into You,” we are secreted away into a dreamy trance. As guitar pitches bend with narcotized distortion, the world dissolves into soft focus. Listen to this when you and your someone want to disappear for a spell. – Stacey Pavlick

3. The Magnetic Fields – “The Book of Love” (Merge)

Stephin Merritt and his Magnetic Fields wrote three CDs worth of love songs, 69 of them to be precise ranging from folk to blues to rock, but “The Book of Love” emerges as the best of the bunch. Completely stripped-down, the song has a haunting quality featuring straightforward, yet profound lyrics such as, “I love it when you give me things/ And you/ You ought to give me wedding rings.”For all of the album’s cheekiness, “The Book of Love” rings true. – David Harris

2. Jeff Buckley — “Last Goodbye” (Columbia)

It’s quirky to select any Jeff Buckley song as indicative of an era, precisely because the troubadour’s oeuvre sounds so apart from any time. “Last Goodbye,” with the hummingbird wing flutter of the guitars and the sweeping cadence that only ever flows forward with increasing intensity, undercuts every ‘90s trapping, mixing jazz, classical and anthemic rock at the expense of anything resembling traditional song structure. It’s opulent without being pompous, cinematic and yet sincere, all due to the linchpin of Buckley’s inimitable octave-range conveying the vacillating emotions of a symbiotic relationship crumbling to its end. – Cole Waterman

1. Nirvana – “Heart-Shaped Box” (Geffen)

Whether or not you believe Courtney Love’s claim that this is a song about her vagina (consider “meat-eating orchid” as evidence), “Heart-Shaped Box” rattles with disturbing intensity. “I wish I could eat your cancer/ When you turn black.” I love you too? – Stacey Pavlick

But wait, there’s more!

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