Podcast Of The Week: 60 Songs That Explain The ‘90s

I simultaneously can’t believe Rob Harvilla made this many episodes of 60 Songs That Explain the ‘90s (120ish songs and it’s still incomplete?!) AND that he’s stopping making them. 

There are approximately 5 podcasts I listen to regularly but don’t promote enough because they are part of the water in which my ears swim. These are morning workout podcasts. Long walk listens. Stuff that gets my mind swirling, my creativity buzzing, and overall day-starting sounds. I’m ready to talk about this one.   

60 Songs That Explain The ‘90s had an epic run. 

Epic, not like the nerd word, a little like the record label, and very specifically like the Epic Soundtrax imprint that released the movie soundtracks (soundtrax? that is so 90s of them) for Singles, Forest Gump, and Judgement Night, just to name a few. 

What makes the show so special is how Harvilla frames each song as part of life’s soundtrack. 

He’s got personal anecdotes. He’s got cultural touchpoints. And, he’s got guests who want to add their (thoughtful, impassioned, often joyous) perspectives too. There are journalist guests and pop-culture guests, from Open Mike Eagle to Courtney Love. It’s as great a formula for a show as they come. 

If unfamiliar, I’ll invite you to start at the end, which is, appropriately, “Closing Time – Semisonic.” 

You get the story about how the song is, clearly, about the closing of a bar and sending the drinkers home. 

You also get the story about how the song is, clearly – at least once you know – about the birth of the songwriter’s daughter. Lines like “Time for you to go out to the places you will be from / closing time / this room won’t be open ‘til your brothers or sisters come” suddenly make more sense. 

Even if you, like me, harbor a musty disdain for the song from hanging out in too many bars for too many years, the story of transition it paints is pretty profound. It’s a more than appropriate way to end a show. All things must be closed down, even if not suitably cleaned up (college bars, I’m looking at you).

I’ve been binging my way back through the podcast’s entire catalog since it ended, so you should expect more 90s anecdotes from me than usual in these notes. I definitely dipped in and out of the series as they aired, and so far, my relistens have been totally rewarding.

Plus, Harvilla’s book should be on your shelf too. He’s an incredible writer, and I love how he mixes the stories together. I don’t know why I waited to order it, but it’s living on my desk for the foreseeable future now. So many of the quotes from the show are right there (like explaining the Weezer picture on the cover of the blue album as, “I would describe them as having accessible haircuts,” which may be one of the truest and funniest things I’ve ever read in my life).  

Bravo to The Ringer for backing this project. It’s brought me so much joy.

And Rob, you’re on point. All the time. I can’t wait to see or hear whatever you do next. Please don’t let me wait too long.