“End of the Road” by Boyz II Men. Singer-songwriter Babyface wrote it after going through a nasty divorce. He was going to sing it himself, until he thought Boyz II Men might do a better job.
“Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot. The music video’s director cast booty-quaking dancers by taking pictures of their butts, and sending them all to Sir Mix-A-Lot. He then picked out the butts he liked best, and the dancers whose butts those were got the gig.
“Jump” by Kris Kross. The Daddy Mack and the Mac Daddy were only 13 when this song was released, which is young, but old enough to cast shade at another kiddie act. The lyric “don’t try to compare us to another bad little fad,” is a dig at early ’90s R&B boy band Another Bad Creation.
“Save the Best for Last” by Vanessa Williams. The song contains some scientifically inaccurate lyrics. “Sometimes the sun goes ’round the moon” is not a thing that is possible.
“Baby-Baby-Baby” by TLC. It’s the only song on TLC’s wonderfully titled debut album Ooooooohhh…On the TLC Tip that doesn’t have a rap break from the late Lisa “Left Eye Lopes.
“Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. Clapton famously wrote this incredibly sad song after the death of his four-year-old son, Conor, who fell out of a window in 1991. It was a part of the grieving process, but in 2004, Clapton stopped playing this song live because he felt the grieving process was complete. “I didn’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs” he said.
“My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)” by En Vogue. It was just about the last song recorded for En Vogue’s album Funky Divas, and was also a last minute choice for lead single. Whereas most first singles are released a month before an album or more, “My Lovin'” hit radio just nine days before the album hit stores.
“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers. A lot of the lyrics don’t rhyme – that’s because it was originally a poem written by Anthony Kiedis. He had no intention of making it into a song or even showing it to his bandmates. Producer Rick Rubin found Kiedis’ notebook one day in the studio, saw his poem, and told him it would make not only a great song, but a way for the band to branch out of its usual punk/funk/rap.
“All 4 Love” by Color Me Badd. Totally ‘90s explosion! The group performed this song on a very special episode of Beverly Hills, 90210.
“Just Another Day” by Jon Secada. Gloria Estefan sings backing vocals on this song—a favor to Secada, who for years was a backup singer for Gloria Estefan.
“I Love Your Smile” by Shanice. The saxophone solo—set off by Shanice saying “blow Branford”—was performed by jazz great Branford Marsalis. At the time he was the bandleader on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
“To Be With You” by Mr. Big. Mr. Big lead singer Eric Martin wrote it years earlier, when he was a teenager. It’s a song of unrequited love for a girl named Patricia. By the time he finished writing the song, he wasn’t interested in Patricia anymore, but kept the song because he knew it would impress his sister’s friends.
“I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred. Those bald Eurodance dudes didn’t really think they’re too sexy for the world to handle them. The song was a joke making fun of narcissistic meatheads the band saw while working at a gym in London. The hook came about when group member Richard Fairbrass took off his shirt and posed in front of a mirror, singing “I’m too sexy for my shirt.”
“Black or White” by Michael Jackson. The rap break, as lip-synced to in the video by Jackson’s child pal Macaulay Culkin, is credited to someone named LTB. How did this rapper, who performed on a #1 hit for the King of Pop, never have another hit? LTB is actually Bill Bottrell, a writer and producer who worked on the song. He recorded a temporary vocal track of the rap part, intending to get LL Cool J or Heavy D to re-record it. But Jackson liked Bottrell’s take so much that they kept it in.
“Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus. The song that gave us line-dancing and mullets is a cover/reworking of an obscure song from 1991 called “Don’t Tell My Heart” by the Marcy Brothers.
“I’ll Be There” by Mariah Carey. This was a live recording from Carey’s episode of MTV Unplugged. She added this Jackson 5 song, a childhood favorite, to the set list at the last minute, when she learned it was traditional for acts on the series to include a cover.
“November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses. The epic song and its cinematic video are based on a short story called “Without You” by Del James. He’s a writer, close personal friend of Axl Rose, and Guns N’ Roses former road manager.
“Life is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane. Cochrane had a few minor hits in the ‘80s with his band Red Rider, but he’s a solo one-hit-wonder for this song. In the U.S. at least. He’s one of the biggest Canadian music stars ever. Up north, he scored 10 huge hits, won seven Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy), and was elected into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
“Remember the Time” by Michael Jackson. Jackson was putting together the ancient Egypt-themed music video for this song right when Magic Johnson announced that he was retiring from the NBA because he was HIV positive. Jackson was afraid that the public was going to turn on the sports legend, so he offered him a part in the video as a show of support.
“Finally” by CeCe Peniston. Peniston wrote the lyrics to this song while she was still in high school. She was sitting in a chemistry class and imagining what dating would be like when she got to college.
“This Used to Be My Playground” by Madonna. Because of weird contractual reasons, this song by Madonna, from the movie A League of Their Own, which starred Madonna, could not be included on the movie’s soundtrack. It was actually on the album Barcelona Gold, an Olympics tie-in.
“Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” by Don Henley and Patty Smyth. It’s a sad song about a couple splitting up, and country singer Travis Tritt later covered it—as a duet with his daughter.
“Can’t Let Go” by Mariah Carey. Carey and co-writer Walter Afanasieff were sued by songwriters Sharon Taber and Ron Gonzalez for copyright infringement, because they thought this song sounded too much like their unknown, unreleased song “Right Before My Eyes.” Even after Taber and Gonzalez got the tapes of Carey recording the song in-studio, they couldn’t prove that Carey and Afanasieff could have, would have, or did have rip them off. The suit was dropped.
“Jump Around” by House of Pain. This song is frequently played at stadiums, a tradition which started at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1992. Swim team members played it over a megaphone during football games.
“Diamonds and Pearls” by Prince. To promote the album Diamonds and Pearls, Prince brought in two new protégés and named them Diamond and Pearl. They appear in the video for “Diamonds and Pearls” but they don’t sing, because they’re dancers. Pearl was Robia LaMorte, who’d later play Jenny Calendar on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.