27 Albums You Definitely Heard If You Went To A Liberal Arts College In The Late ’90s

It’s time to dust off those old Ani DiFranco and Portishead CDs.

1. Air, Moon Safari

What was this? The super-chill debut album by a couple of suave yet introverted French dudes. You might’ve made out with someone while listening to this.

What was the popular song on it? “Sexy Boy” was their radio/MTV hit, but “La Femme d’Argent” was the boudoir jam.

2. Ani DiFranco, Living in Clip

What was this? Ani DiFranco’s first live album was everywhere, in part because it was the easiest way to jump into her body of work. At the time this came out, she already had seven studio albums.

What was the hit? You’re probably thinking of “32 Flavors,” the Ani song that turned up on the most mixtapes back then.

3. Black Star, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

What was this? The indie rap album of ‘98, and the record that put Mos Def and Talib Kweli on the map.

What was the hit? “Definition,” which is one of those songs that somehow gets better if you put it on repeat for a half hour.

4. Dr. Octagon, Dr. Octagonecologyst

What was this? Hip-hop veteran Kool Keith reinvented himself on this deeply weird, grimy, and often pornographic record under the name Dr. Octagon. When it came out it felt like it was from the future, so it makes sense that it’d hold up so well today.

What were the hits? The psychedelic “Blue Flowers” and the groovy “No Awareness.”

5. Massive Attack, Mezzanine

What was this? The third album by the kings of trip-hop. Remember back when Nerve personals were a thing and this was the song virtually everyone mentioned this as the record to put on while having sex? Yup.

What was the hit? “Teardrop,” which is better known today as the theme song from House.

6. Belle & Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister

What was this? The breakthrough album by the greatest twee band of all time. This is one of those records that didn’t really chart on the time, but filled out thousands of mixtapes made in the late ’90s.

What were the hits? Depends on who you ask! “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” and “Judy and the Dream of Horses” are probably the best-known tracks.

7. Wilco, Summerteeth

What was this? Wilco’s last album as an underdog “alt-country” band before crossing over a few laters with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. This is a lot of people’s favorite Wilco record.

What were the hits? “Can’t Stand It,” “A Shot in the Arm” and “I’m Always in Love” were the singles, but “Via Chicago” is the one that makes the fans really lose it at a show.

8. Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space

What was this again? The biggest and boldest record by Jason Pierce’s space rock orchestra. One of the best albums about being a heroin junkie ever, and there’s some major competition on that front.

What was the hit? There were a few — the garage rocker “Electricity,” the gospel anthem “Come Together,” and the spacey ballad “I Think I’m in Love.”

9. Radiohead, OK Computer

What was this? Oh come on, you know what OK Computer is. It hasn’t gone away. It’s one of the most acclaimed rock albums of all time. You probably know at least one person for whom this record was basically their religion circa 1998. It might have been you.

What were the hits? “Paranoid Android,” “Karma Police,” “No Surprises,” “Lucky.”

10. Björk, Homogenic

What was this? Björk’s third solo record, and the album on which she ascended to art-pop deity status.

What were the hits? “Bachelorette,” “Hunter,” “Joga,” and “All Is Full of Love.”

11. Wu-Tang Clan, Wu-Tang Forever

What was this? The double-disc sequel to the Wu-Tang Clan’s classic debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). No, it’s not as good as the first one. But almost nothing in life is. There’s a few duds, but it’s mostly amazing. Seriously, go back to this if you haven’t in a while.

What were the hits? “Triumph,” “It’s Yourz,” and “Reunited.” “For Heaven’s Sake” and “Deadly Melody” are A+++ album tracks.

12. Erykah Badu, Baduizm

What was this? The debut by one of the most original voices in modern R&B. This was the record that really kicked the “neo-soul” movement into high gear.

What were the hits? “On & On,” “Apple Tree,” “Next Lifetime.”

13. Pavement, Brighten the Corners

What was this? The fourth album by the greatest indie rock band of all time. This is their most refined and chill record, and the one where they actually get a bit jam band-ish.

What were the hits? “Shady Lane” got some play on MTV at the time, and “Stereo” is the one everyone quotes. (“You’re my fact-checkin’ cuz!”)

14. Beastie Boys, Hello Nasty

What is this? It’s a Beastie Boys album, obviously! It’s the record that came after Ill Communication, and it has some alt-rock–type songs tossed in among the more traditional rap tracks.

What’s on this one again? The big hit everyone knows is “Intergalactic,” and “Body Movin’” was popular too. Also, this is a great time to mention that “Unite” is one of the Beasties’ all-time best deep cuts.

15. Portishead, Portishead

What was this? The second album by the moodiest, sexiest trip-hop band ever. Some elements on this record feel very late ’90s — the DJ scratching, for example — but these ballads really hold up.

What were the hits?: “All Mine” and “Only You,” which are both outstanding.

16. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One

What was this? The culmination of a decade of hard work, basically. This is the record where Yo La Tengo broke through and found their audience. It’s still their most popular record, and for good reason — it’s eclectic and consistently great, and features a lot of their best songs.

What were the best songs, then? “Autumn Sweater” was the one you put on mixtapes for crushes, and “Sugarcube” was the one with the funny video on MTV.

17. Various Artists, Rawkus Presents: Soundbombing II

What was this? The second in a series of compilations featuring artists from the Rawkus roster. Every single dude with a passing interest in backpacker hip-hop owned a copy of this.

What was the hit? You know, the whole aesthetic of this is anti-“hit.” But Common’s “One-Nine-Nine-Nine” was a single.

18. Elliott Smith, XO

What was this? The most popular album by the arguably saddest songwriter of the ’90s. This is the record where he made the jump from lo-fi to a more polished style that brought out the Beatles-ness in his tunes.

What were the hits? “Waltz #2 (XO)” was the lead single, and the jaunty “Baby Britain” got a push too.

19. Stereolab, Dots and Loops

What was this? Stereolab were a French-British band who specialized in groove-based indie music built from elements of art rock, punk, and ’60s kitsch. Dots and Loops wasn’t their best record that would be the album that immediately preceded it, Emperor Tomato Ketchup — but it’s their most electronic, and the one best suited to being played while you do homework in a cafe.

What was the hit? The single was “Miss Modular,” and it’s delightful.

20. Phish, A Live One

What was this? The first official live album by the band who carried the torch for jam band culture after Jerry Garcia died. This was a lot of people’s entry point for the band, which makes sense since they’re known mostly for their live shows.

What was the hit? Oh, you know, the long jammy one.

21. Cat Power, Moon Pix

What was this? Oh, just one of the prettiest and saddest things you’ll ever hear in your life. Chan Marshall had been recording as Cat Power for a while at this point, but this is the record that made her an indie star.

What was the hit? They made a video for the relatively up-tempo “Cross Bones Style,” but “Colors and the Kids” and “Metal Heart” were the go-to tracks for mixtapes.

22. Cornershop, When I Was Born for the 7th Time

What was this? The breakthrough album by the genre-bending Indian-British band. This is a truly eclectic and joyful album; it’s really too bad no one really talks about it anymore. It definitely holds up.

What was the hit? “Brimful of Asha,” which actually hit the top of the U.K. pop chart when it was remixed by Fatboy Slim.

23. Various Artists, Buena Vista Social Club

What was this? The soundtrack to a documentary about Cuban musicians who were not known outside of Cuba. The record is all new recordings compiled and produced by Juan de Marcos González and Ry Cooder. It was a surprise hit, and ended up being one of those CDs that always could be found in a someone’s “eclectic” record collection.

What were the hits? “Chan Chan” was sorta the hit, but you’ve definitely heard all of these songs played a restaurant at some point.

24. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out

What was this? The breakthrough album by one of the great rock bands of the ’90s. You might know Carrie Brownstein today as “that woman from Portlandia.”

What were the hits? All of Sleater-Kinney’s albums are great, but this one is full of classics like “One More Hour,” “Words + Guitar,” “Turn It On,” and “Dig Me Out.”

25. Tricky, Pre-Millennium Tension

What was this? The second proper album by one of the most fascinating and distinct producers of the ’90s. This record is all lust and paranoia, and the best songs make the most of the odd sexual chemistry between Tricky and his lover/muse, Martina Topley-Bird.

What were the hits? The quasi-hip-hop “Christiansands” was the lead single, but the one you need to hear is the gorgeous ballad “Makes Me Wanna Die.”

26. Built to Spill, Keep It Like a Secret

What was this? The most epic album by an indie rock band who specialize in huge, cinematic anthems. It’s kinda like the halfway point between Billy Corgan and Neil Young.

What were the hits? “The Plan” was the first single, and they also pushed “Carry the Zero” and “You Were Right.”

27. The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs

What was this? It’s exactly what it says it is – 69 love songs penned by The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt. It’s very consistent, and everyone has their own unique set of favorites.

What were the hits?: Over time, “The Book of Love” has become something of a standard, and “Papa Was a Rodeo” is a fan favorite.

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