As an only somewhat abashed fan of nineties alt rock music, I’ve been waiting all week with bated breath for Pitchfork to reveal their very top tracks of the 1990s if only to see what kind of crazy bullshit they come up with. And I’m impressed! Things start off banally with the decision to put Pavement in the number one slot rather than one of the era’s better-selling alternative outfits. The genius move, here, however, is to really fuck with us by trying to insist that “Gold Soundz” is actually better than the much better-known “Cut Your Hair.” The claim is offered with so much panache that you might actually believe until you go back and listen to the songs. Then it turns out that, much as you remember, “Cut Your Hair” was a big beloved hit because it’s so awesome.
The true stroke of genius, however, comes with the one-two punch of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at number 13 and Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker” at number 12. I can’t even count the layers of brilliance on display. A lesser list-compiler might have tried to take the iconic nineties song and argue that it’s somehow bad or mediocre. But no! Number thirteen is a really high number! What are you even complaining about? They agree that it’s great. Just not, you know, quite so great as a wacky experimental electronica tune with zero broader cultural impact. The mind reels. You the poor reader are simply unworthy.
If there’s a false note here it’s the odd decision to strand Dr Dre’s classic “Nuthin But a ‘G’ Thang” at the number three slot. If you think this is the best hip-hop song of the decade, and also superior to any number of iconic rock hits, then why not make it number one? After all, it strikes even this pasty white rock and roll fan that musical history will record the 1990s as the decade in which hip-hop overtook rock as a relevant cultural force. If you’re going to make hip-hop top out at #3 on the list, then you need to go with something more idiosyncratic in the absurd “Gold Soundz” mode. “Fuck Wit Dre Day,” perhaps.