Hive Five: A Brief History of ’90s Film Soundtracking

Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner and Winona Ryder attend the "Reality Bites" premiere in Westwood, Calif., February 1994. Photo: Ron Galella/WireImage

Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, who last teamed up to make the pro-life route for pregnant teens seem hip in the 2007 hit Juno, have joined forces again for Young Adult, a comedy starring odd couple Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt as former schoolmates still stuck in the ‘90s. The soundtrack, out today in advance of the movie, similarly overflows with ‘90s nostalgia, sporting seminal alt-rock chestnuts by Teenage Fanclub, Dinosaur Jr., et al, alongside period piece by the likes of Veruca Salt and 4 Non Blondes. If you’re getting set to dive headfirst into the era of cardigans (the sweaters, not the band) and flannel, here are five more film soundtracks to fuel your ‘90s flashbacks.

1. Singles (1992)

The O.G. of ‘90s “youth” flicks, this Cameron Crowe rom-com chronicles the misadventures of a group of friends in grunge-boom Seattle. It features Matt Dillon in an unfortunate shoulder-length wig as a hapless Chris Cornell wannabe, with good-sport cameos by all the biggest grunge bands of the day except, of course, Nirvana. The soundtrack album is a virtual Greats of Grunge, including Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Mudhoney. It also kick-started the chart ascendance of Screaming Trees’ “Nearly Lost You,” finally giving the proto-grunge godfathers their overdue moment in the spotlight.

2. Reality Bites (1994)

Yes, kids, long before he transformed into an uptight version of Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller was once cool. Coming off the commercial nosedive of the ahead-of-its-time Ben Stiller Show, Stiller directed and co-starred in this slacker-versus-yuppie romantic triangle, alongside Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke (guess which guy comes out on top). The hit soundtrack roamed all over the mid-‘90s map, from the arena rock of U2’s “All I Want Is You” to the hippie hip-hop of Arrested Development’s “Give a Man a Fish.” But between kicking off Lisa Loeb’s career by introducing her ubiquitous hit “Stay” and giving the world Big Mountain’s reggae version of Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way,” the album has a lot to answer for.

3. Clerks (1994)

Kevin Smith’s shoestring-budget stairway to stardom has become a major part of modern indie-film mythos. The lo-fi slacker-com that turned Smith into a cottage industry was accompanied by what seems in retrospect like a hipper variation on the Singles soundtrack. Newly minted stars Alice in Chains and Soul Asylum rub shoulders with punkier cult heroes like Girls Against Boys, the Jesus Lizard, Bad Religion, and Corrosion of Conformity. In the ill-advised cover tune department, at least Seaweed’s grunge-up of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” wasn’t a hit.

4. Empire Records (1995)

A freewheeling romp about record-store employees, starring budding young ingénues Liv Tyler and Renee Zellwegger — how could Empire Records go wrong? Spectacularly, that’s how; but this box-office disaster, like many an iffy music-themed film before it, boasted a soundtrack that offered a far more satisfying experience than the movie itself. The sparkling power pop of the Gin Blossoms’ “Til I Hear It from You,” the sinuous stomp of Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You,” and a surprisingly effective Evan Dando take on Big Star’s “Ballad of El Goodo” more than make up for any cinematic missteps.

5. The Wackness (2008)

Ben Kingsley plays the suicidal shrink to teenage pot dealer Josh Peck in a movie that goes Young Adult’s ‘90s fixation one better by being set in 1994. Unlike the aforementioned films, The Wackness served to remind youngsters — and those with short musical memories — that the Clinton era was about more than skaters and Seattle, by presenting a period-perfect hip-hop snapshot. Granted, Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Summertime” won’t score any points from the crate-digger crowd, but when you throw in Raekwon, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, and KRS-One, the situation improves considerably.

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