A few years ago, after many pitchers of beer at a bowling alley in Brooklyn, two musician friends and I started a deep, drunken discussion on the greatest songs of the 1990s. Sponge’s ‘Molly (Sixteen Candles Down the Drain).’ Freedy Johnston’s ‘Bad Reputation.’ Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag.’

Once we all sobered up, we started to piece together a playlist on Spotify called Dream of the ’90s that included these songs and many more. As a journalist, I eventually had the idea of taking the concept a step further and contacting the tracks’ songwriters to talk about their songs. That was the chrysalis of what became Made Man’s ‘Oral Hit-story’ series, which kicked off in March 2014 with Matthew Sweet’s ‘Sick of Myself’—on our original playlist, by the way—and has spanned the entire year, covering a number of outstanding artists from a variety of genres. For this first full year, we focused on hits that were anywhere from 15 to 25 years old.

One of the best parts about doing this series has been getting to re-listen to these great songs—and hopefully, introducing some of them to a new audience. So as a way of wrapping up the year, here are the 17 coolest things we—and you—learned about these songs, as well as a shareable Spotify playlist that includes nearly all of them. (The Rentals have somehow eluded Spotify up to this point. Rebels.) Read, learn and look forward to loads of new musical insights in 2015…


1. The name of the record on which ‘Sick of Myself’ appears, 100% Fun, is a direct reference to Kurt Cobain’s suicide note. The full quote is: “The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100 percent fun.”
Peak Chart Position: No. 2 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


2. Tchad Blake, the producer of Soul Coughing’s hit song ‘Circles,’ hated the song, because he “wanted weirder stuff.” Ironically, Blake would win his first Grammy the following year for producing a not-so-weird hit record by Sheryl Crow, The Globe Sessions.
Peak Chart Position: No. 8 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


3. Molly Ringwald—of Sixteen Candles fame—had approached the band Sponge about starring in their video for ‘Molly (Sixteen Candles Down the Drain),’ but the band “shot the idea down,” according to songwriter Vinnie Dombroski.
Peak Chart Position: No. 3 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


4. Toad the Wet Sprocket recorded ‘All I Want’ at a studio in Reno, Nevada, owned by a guy who was trying to relaunch the careers of Milli Vanilli—a.k.a. Rob and Fab—post lip-synch scandal.
Peak Chart Position: No. 15 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart


5. Butch Vig, who produced Nirvana’s Nevermind, produced and played drums on Freedy Johnston’s hit ‘Bad Reputation.’ Vig, who ended up playing drums in ’90s alt-rock band Garbage, hadn’t played drums for a couple of years before doing the session.
Peak Chart Position: No. 54 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart


6. Coolio had come into the studio and was listening to his friend L.V.’s new song, which became the hook for ‘Gangsta’s Paradise.’ That day, the rapper was so inspired, he came up with those first few iconic lines off the top of his head.
Peak Chart Position: No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart (and in 17 other countries)


7. In Veruca Salt’s ‘Volcano Girls,’ the band references their other hit song, ‘Seether,’ revealing that the seether is co-lead-singer Louise Post. (The idea came from the Beatles’ über-self-referential song, ‘Glass Onion,’ in which John Lennon sings “The Walrus was Paul.”)
Peak Chart Position: No. 8 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


8. Michael Penn wrote ‘No Myth,’ in his parent’s garage in Malibu. He is a son of actor/director Leo Penn and actress Eileen Ryan and the older brother of actors Sean Penn and the late Chris Penn.
Peak Chart Position: No. 4 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


9. The ‘P’ in the Rentals’ song ‘Friends of P.’ is Czech supermodel Paulina Porizkova, the wife of producer Ric Ocasek. The brains behind the Rentals, Matt Sharp, had been the bassist in Weezer (Ocasek produced their debut) and said Porizkova hung out in the studio with the band and read everyone’s palms. The song draws heavily from a conversation Sharp had with her.
Peak Chart Position: No. 7 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


10. Alien Ant Farm’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ was the year’s lone Oral Hit-story that was a cover of an original song (it first appeared on Michael Jackson’s Bad). AAF lead singer Dryden Mitchell tells us Jackson had given his blessing to their version and its Jackson-video homage.
Peak Chart Position: No. 1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


11. The girl, “Noel,” who gets name-checked in Wheatus’ ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ is a real person; she was in songwriter Brendan B. Brown’s brother’s class. And if you were wondering, yes, he did listen to a lot of Iron Maiden, baby.
Peak Chart Position: No. 7 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


12. Better Than Ezra’s songwriter and lead singer, Kevin Griffin, says that when his friends make fun of him, they use that ‘WAH-ahh’ he sings in the song ‘Good’ as a “sad trombone” sound effect.
Peak Chart Position: No. 1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


13. In the opening lines of Live’s ‘Lightning Crashes,’ songwriter Ed Kowalczyk sings, quite graphically, about a birth, where the mother’s “placenta falls to the floor.” At the time he wrote the song, he had no kids. He now has four of them, was present at all of their births, and he tells us he’s seen “just about everything.”
Peak Chart Position: No. 1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


14. In the summer of 1989, when ‘Fight the Power’ first became a hit, writer Chuck D told us he couldn’t even enjoy the song’s success because the prominent New York City alt-weekly, The Village Voice, had accused the group of being anti-Semitic.
Peak Chart Position: No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles chart


15. Adam Duritz composed ballad ‘A Long December’ in the wee hours of the morning in a cottage he was renting in Laurel Canyon (outside of Los Angeles) on a piano originally owned by Doors frontman Jim Morrison. Allegedly.
Peak Chart Position: No. 5 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart


16. Besides scoring a hit single with ‘Regulate,’ Warren G also appeared on seminal West Coast gangsta rap album, The Chronic, which was produced by his brother, Dr. Dre.
Peak Chart Position: No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart


17. The cover of Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet, featuring his hit song ‘Party Hard,’ pictures him with blood running out of his nose. Some criticized it, inferring a reference to cocaine use. But as he realized while talking to us, it was a nod to a kid he’d gone to elementary school with, Andy McClain, who used to get bloody noses in dry weather. Go figure.
Peak Chart Position: No. 14 on U.K. Singles Charts