Random Favorites: Songs I Listened to in High School

I’m a 90s kid. As such, I find it increasingly weird that fashions of the 1990s are popular again. Whenever I see a rack full of plaid flannel, I have flashbacks to school shopping in high school.

woman in teal white and black plaid dress shirt standing beside brown wall

Not a picture of me in high school, but close enough.  Photo by Anastasiya Gepp on Pexels.com

I’ve been watching vintage Lindsay Ellis film and pop culture critiques and one of my favorites was Top 10 Music Videos of the 90s. It got me thinking about the music I listened to when I was in high school, which seems like it happened in a different universe now.

I attended a small public high school in a little prairie town in Nebraska. My graduating class was larger than average, having just over 100 students. The nearest large town had, at the time, about 23,000 people, and was a half-hour drive away. It had the closest real music stores– yes, music stores. Shops devoted to music, where you walked in and could look through their selection of vinyl albums, cassettes, and- by the time I reached high school– that snazzy new thing known as the compact disc. There was no Spotify, no iTunes, no YouTube music. It was even before Napster and Audiogalaxy (anyone remember either of those?).

Once upon a time, you could either listen to the radio or buy your favorite band’s latest album.

Given that I grew up in a little town on the Nebraska prairie, my radio options were limited. You had your choice of a single station of each of the following: NPR, Top 40 Rock/Pop, Country and Western, or Oldies. Or you could switch over to AM and listen to weather forecasts and crop market reports. To choose your own music, you had to be old enough to drive yourself the nearly 40 miles to one or the other of the music stores and plop down $15-20 for a CD.

Looking back, it’s almost amazing I developed the sort of musical tastes I have, given the effort it took to get away from what was on the radio.

So in no particular order, here are some of the songs teenaged me would happily listen to over and over again while flopped on my bed while wearing clunky headphones plugged into the stereo on my desk.

 

Somehow, a dance remix of this showed up on the Top 40 station, and it was a hit. I managed to find a used copy of the album, The Book of Secrets at the larger of the music stores and listened to it endlessly. It appealed to me and my friends, who were small-town Goths/wannabe witches who wanted to be anywhere other than where we were– Ireland in particular.

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  • Tonight, Tonight‘ by The Smashing Pumpkins (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)

To high school me, this double album from my favorite band was nothing short of brilliant. While I recognize now that several of the songs aren’t that great, ‘Tonight, Tonight’ is sheer brilliance, and its music video is one of the very best ever made. I never really liked the Grunge movement that swept radio from 1991 on (I know. A 90s kid who didn’t like Nirvana. Blasphemy!), and Billy Corgan’s high-pitched but articulate singing voice was an antidote to the often unintelligible mutterings of the Grunge bands you couldn’t escape from. Whether it was the symphony-backed extravaganza of ‘Tonight, Tonight’, the rock art that was ‘Porcelina of the Vast Oceans’, the delightful weirdness of ‘We Only Come Out at Night’, or the rage-fueled ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is an album I listened to so much that I still have almost every song memorized.

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  • Baba‘ by Alanis Morisette (Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, 1998)

To say that I grew up in a very religious area is putting it mildly. But while I grew up in the church, (and despite the limited availability of other perspectives from anywhere except the local public library), I was questioning the beliefs I grew up with during my last couple of years of high school. While others were singing the praises of ‘Thank U’ and ‘So Pure’ from Alanis Morisette’s second album, her song ‘Baba’ was closer to what I felt about religion at the time, even though she was singing about the selling of Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) to Westerners visiting India and I was questioning the mainline (white) Protestantism I grew up with. The sentiment felt the same, and the anger felt the same.

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Marilyn Manson was one of the most controversial musicians of the 1990s, with a lot of hand-wringing from (white, middle-class) parents who were concerned that Manson’s freakish costumes and makeup, gender ambiguity, sexuality, and shocking lyrics would warp their teenagers and turn them into violent sociopaths. *sighs* Whenever I was sick to death of dealing with the snobby and oh-so-wholesome-seeming Tiffanys and Trishas at school, I would go home and listen to this some a time or three to vent my frustration.

As you can see from my current bookish self with a wardrobe that would suit a librarian, I was obviously warped by Manson’s music.

That said, many are surprised to find out that I attended a Manson concert during the tour following the release of his 2007 album Eat Me, Drink Me.

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  • Ophelia‘ by Natalie Merchant (Ophelia, 1998)

In this brooding song, Merchant describes an array of women who broke the mold of traditional feminity to carve out lives for themselves, whether it was as a nun, a circus performer, a mafia courtesan, or the titular Ophelia of the Shakespearean play. It begins sedately but builds to a storm by the time Merchant comes to the Shakespearean tragedy. For 17-year-old me, ‘Ophelia’ felt like a feminist anthem for the ages.

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  • Possession‘ by Sarah McLachlan (Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, 1993)

While everyone else and their dog was in love with McLachlan’s song, ‘Angel’, I loved the dark edge of ‘Possession’, which she stated was written from the point of view of an obsessed fan. Creepy. I loved the music and the way McLachlan’s voice ranged from mezzo up toward the soprano stratosphere when it counted. The disturbing nature of the lyrics didn’t hit me until later.

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  • Ava Adore‘ by The Smashing Pumpkins (Adore, 1998)

Adore was not well-received when it came out in 1998 (as far as I know. I was in the middle of nowhere with a dial-up internet connection in the days of AltaVista’s dubious search engine), but it’s probably my second favorite Pumpkins album, based almost solely on the strength of Adore and its bizarrely artful music video. Seriously. The planning and choreography that went into that video are mind-blowing, and it features Billy Corgan in a fantastic black coat, looking like he’s achieved his highest Goth-self. It’s another one of those songs that I know by heart, 22 years later.

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I bought this album for myself for my eighteenth birthday in 2000. It’s one of the few albums that had me hooked, always and forever, from the first note. To my knowledge, Machina was even less liked than Adore, but it’s my favorite Pumpkins album. The music was unexpected and gorgeous and so polished in an era where Grunge (and its requisite noisy, grungy almost unpracticed sounds) still held sway. Thanks to my classically trained musician sister, I grew up listening to a lot of classical music (seriously, I had Brandenburg concertos being played live from the bedroom down the hall and Chopin live from the living room), and Machina gave me all the musical complexities my ear longed for– and generally didn’t hear– in popular music, as well as the dark weirdness my little Goth heart craved. Seriously. The album tells the story of a musician named Glass who believes he hears the voice of God through, and so seeks to spread his idea of the word of God through his music, but eventually, he starts to wonder if he’s going insane. Of all the songs on the album, though, ‘Stand Inside Your Love’ is my favorite, and its black and white music video is pretty fantastic, too.

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22 thoughts on “Random Favorites: Songs I Listened to in High School

  1. It was a musical with the songs from the album, like they made a story using the songs as plot points. The show itself was really forced, but hearing her music is always good

  2. Solid list. One of my first concerts was a small venue tour Smashing Pumpkins did for the Adore album and it was a great night! I also remember Napster very well. My first year at college (and thus my first time with unlimited non-dialup internet access) was at the height of the P2P sharing craze and I certainly took advantage.

  3. Story actually to that. Our friends from out if town were coming in to see it. It was the guys Xmas gift to his wife, tickets hotel etc. they asked us to join them fir dinner and we noticed that the place we get discount tickets from had tickets for the night so we went. If they hadn’t gone my husband wouldn’t have gotten tickets for us

  4. Thanks! The Smashing Pumpkins didn’t come anywhere close to me until I was out of college (most bands didn’t, until fairly recently), so I never got to see them in their heyday. They came to Omaha maybe 5 or 6 years ago, but I didn’t go. I have no idea why.

  5. The only show I’ve paid sticker for was Hamilton. There’s a few websites I use to get them at a lower price. I also buy a lot of things in preview if I think it’s going to be hot. What crushed me about pandemic is I had front row to American Buffalo and good seats to Six, bought at 49% off

  6. American Buffalo is a Mamet…who I love to see staged. It was starring Lawrence Fishburn, Sam Rockwell and Darren Criss. Six is a musical about the wives of Henry the 8th…it was big in London making its American debut

  7. Huh. Well, Six certainly sounds like it would be up my alley.

    There is so little theater here. Basically, we have a few college productions and a couple of amateur theater companies. Otherwise, for a Big Name musicals, we just have to wait until a touring company comes along. If they deign to come to the Upper Midwest. Which they often don’t.

  8. I’m wondering if theater is ever recovering…The early word on Six was that is was excellent…sort of a British Hamilton

  9. I’m sure theater will do fine again whenever they can open up again. I’ve long been salty about the fact that Broadway refuses to film basically any plays or musicals so people outside New York can see them. The UK’s National Theatre films certain of their productions and broadcasts them live in the UK, and then sends them to the US where theaters can then show them. Thanks to this, I have seen far more British productions than American ones.

  10. Broadway is a pain. I’m guessing it’s a union thing. They are starting to tape more of them. I worry about theater, because I don’t know how many production companies or theater companies will have the money. The only show o know definitely opening post pandemic is the adaptation of The Music Man, and that’s only cause it’s Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster

  11. I really enjoy sometimes going back through music I grew up with, especially if I haven’t listened to it in a while. Sometimes I find I no longer like a song because my tastes are always changing, but more often it brings back great memories. I listed to a lot of heavier hard rock during my younger years, but I also enjoyed a lot of the softer, more melodic music. I haven’t listed to The Mummer’s Dance or Possession in ages, so thanks much for reminding me of those. That Sarah McLachlan album was a favorite of mine back when it came out. And I agree with you on Tonight, Tonight, absolutely great song.

  12. Same here! There are albums I loved at 16 that I would cringe to listen to now. Fortunately, the ones listed here have held up. I listened to the entirety of Machina again last night, and it was so nostalgia-inducing!

    It really is hard to beat Tonight, Tonight.

  13. The union rule for musicians annoys me. If something is a musical it must use a certain amount of musicians. If the production doesn’t call for that many, the show must employ the musicians anyway, even though they’re not actually in production. It means unless there’s a big name attached to something, or it started off Broadway and there’s a guaranteed demand, shows just don’t get produced

  14. That’s a stupid rule. I mean, if you need a cello and a trumpet for your musical, you shouldn’t have to employ however many musicians to stand around. A show doesn’t need to have a big snazzy musical number. A rule like that really cuts down on the types of productions you’ll get. Don’t they want people to experiment with the medium?

  15. That’s exactly why I hate it. It limits so many things. Off broadways a little more lenient, but it’s still so limiting. I agree….cuts down on anything imaginative and new coming across

  16. Pingback: July 2020 Month in Review – Death by Tsundoku

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