What’s the difference between an artist you can’t remember and an artist you’ll never forget? One hit. It only takes one chart-topping single, one culturally ubiquitous song for an artist to lodge themself into our collective consciousness forever. These stars may have burned out almost immediately, but their legacies still shine bright in our hearts — especially at college parties when the keg starts to empty and the crowd starts to dwindle.
Belicia — Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping”
We can thank Chumbawamba for one of the creepiest album covers, greatest titles and a song to sing when we check our dismal bank account or realize our GPAs are sinking faster than our spirits (just me?). The entire song speaks of rising no matter what terrible circumstances have befallen us, and indulging in plenty of alcohol when the going gets tough. This song was released in 1997 but still rings true today. We’ve made it to the University of Texas at Austin, so even though we may get knocked down a few (or many) times, we’ll get up again — sometimes with the help of a whiskey drink, a vodka drink, a lager drink or a cider drink.
Jim — Crazy Town, “Butterfly”
If you’ve never seen the majesty that is the “Butterfly” music video, use this Wikipedia description to orient yourself: “The song’s music video, directed by Honey, features the band in a fantasy-like forest complete with butterflies where Shifty Shellshock and Epic Mazur sing their praises to two women with butterfly wings. At one point in the video, Shifty’s star-shaped tattoos fly off into the air.” “Butterfly” is absolutely a love song — a remarkably tender one at that — but with a chorus that’s almost exclusively about orgasms. This is a song for guys with teardrop tattoos to cry to in between sets of squatting 12 plates. It demonstrates the softer side of rap-rock, something I (almost) wish the genre had stuck around long enough to explore. Was Crazy Town a precursor to Drake’s in-my-feelings flexing? Were Shifty Shellshock and Epic Mazur the original sad boys? Makes you think.
Gab — Mumm-ra, “She’s Got You High”
When Tom Hansen broke the fourth wall at the end of 500 Days of Summer, it was an iconic moment that needed an iconic song. After watching his love life gloriously crash and burn, the hope of him moving forward and meeting a new girl helped to piece his broken heart — and ours — back together. “She’s Got You High” is a song of beginnings, and with beginnings come possibilities. This is the song you listen to on your first day of school. It’s the first song on your road trip playlist. It’s the song you listen to after a first date, and it’s the soundtrack to all your best daydreams. It’s three minutes and 25 seconds of believing in happy endings. Unless, of course, you listen to it on repeat — which is highly recommended.
Kristin — Edwin McCain, “I'll Be”
If I were to casually drop Edwin McCain’s name, chances are you wouldn’t have a clue who I was talking about, but I’ll bet everyone has heard his song, “I’ll Be.” It’s one of those love songs you can scream-sing along to whether you’re actually in a relationship or not, and you couldn’t have gone to a prom in 1998 without hearing it. For some reason, McCain never ascended to these heights of popularity again — maybe it was the haircut.
Armando — Digital Underground, “The Humpty Dance”
Before Soulja Boy, there was Shock G of Digital Underground. It’s surprising to me that the group that made Tupac famous never had another hit, especially considering the success of this one. “The Humpty Dance” is an absolute must at any party. It’s got everything you need in a rap song: a great beat, memorable lyrics and a dance that your middle-aged aunt will try to pull off, even when you beg her not to 100 times. It’s one of the defining songs of the ‘90s from a group that released countless G-Funk bangers that sadly missed the spotlight. It’s a shame, because Digital Underground was using Parliament Funkadelic samples long before Dr. Dre made it cool. Definitely give “The Humpty Dance” a spin at the next ‘90s party you get invited to, or if you want to get busy in a Burger King bathroom.
Amanda — Eiffel 65, “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”
This synth-driven, dance-pop hit was European group Eiffel 65’s most well-known single, and is still probably the most irritatingly catchy song I’ve heard to this day. Amidst the hypnotic repetition of “da ba dee da ba die” for the entirety of the chorus, the song tells the tale of “a little guy that lives in a blue world.” Literally, everything is blue: his house, his Corvette, his clothes, his... girlfriend? Whatever the deep-seated metaphor behind the world of all things blue, the electronic Euro disco beat and trance-inducing vocals kept my six-year-old self dancing until my mother shut off the radio.
Ignacio — Das Racist, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”
The now defunct rap super group consisted of Himanshu Suri (aka Heems), Victor Vasquez (aka Kool AD) and hype man Ashok Kondabolu (aka Dapwell), all of whom have kept busy with various outstanding projects since the band’s abrupt split in 2012. Beacons of political and social activism and nonsensical non sequiturs in the New York alternative rap scene, Das Racist first caught the Internet’s attention with their breakout hit, “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.” Truth be told, I absolutely hate this song. As this memetic track was most people’s introduction to Das Racist, the group was often relegated to the sub-genre of “joke rap” due to preconceived notions derived from this one particular song. The trio continued to wrestle with this stigma for the entirety of their lifespan while continuing to release seemingly lighthearted songs with profound undertones. Hell, even “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” can be considered a meditation on the ridiculousness of modern American consumerism.
Bryan — Semisonic, “Closing Time”
My high school had a quintessential Cool Math Teacher — you know, the one with tousled blonde hair and slim-fit jeans who takes part in student telecom projects and plays a battered Fender Stratocaster. Mr. Crouse hosted “Rock Club” after school on Thursdays, which normally just devolved into me sitting behind a drum kit playing half-assed Green Day Covers with my six best friends. One afternoon, we were sitting in a circle on the floor outside Crouse’s class, I with an acoustic guitar in my hands. The topic of conversation had somehow shifted to Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” As the chatter continued, I wordlessly pulled up the chords on my iPhone and plowed my way through the first verse. It was predictably shaky, as most people don’t habitually practice ‘90s alt-rock jams, but one by one, my friends chimed in. Soon, we were bellowing the chorus at the top of our lungs, blissfully unaware of our pitch problems. When we finished, our faces split into huge grins and we burst out laughing. Then we went home. We didn’t make a point to tell anybody. They wouldn’t have understood. But that’s OK, because we did. And I’m willing to bet we all still do.