(October 28, 2023). This article is a compilation of the greatest songs from the 1990s that missed the Billboard Hot 100 due to record label practices and chart eligibility rules, both of which made the ‘90s a unique decade that saw many of the biggest hits of that era miss the most important Billboard singles chart altogether.

(Spoiler alert: there are 70 songs on this list, which you can skip to the bottom of the article and see right away, or you can continue reading to get the story of how this anomaly was allowed to build to a point where, by 1998, most of the songs on the Hot 100 were not the country’s most played, as evidenced by the drastic chart turnover that occurred when Billboard finally made an important adjustment to its rules.)

While every decade has had its share of popular tunes that, for a variety of reasons, never saw the light of day on Billboard’s marquee song popularity chart—the Hot 100–none of them can hold a candle to the 1990s for that dubious distinction. 

That’s because two policies conspired to keep many of that decade’s biggest hits off the chart: one reflecting the greed of an industry—a greed that nearly doomed it, the other involving an age-old rule that made many of those songs ineligible for the chart—a rule that Billboard was slow in eliminating (until it finally was forced to as the decade was coming to a close).

First, the rule.  

It was one that millennials and younger generations may think is ridiculous today, but one that made sense back then, or at least until the ‘90s increasingly obliterated it with each passing year. 

From the Hot 100’s inception on August 4, 1958 until December 5, 1998, two things generally had to happen before a song was eligible to chart there: it had to be played on pop radio stations and, more essentially, it had to be released as a commercially available single (i.e., available for purchase in physical format as either 7-inch vinyl, cassette or CD single).

For the most part during those first 40 years, labels complied with this as they used physical singles to market their artists and setup albums for broader radio exposure and longer sales cycles.

There were a few famous exceptions, of course, in the earlier decades.  The British rock band Led Zeppelin—one of the five highest certified album acts of all time according to the Recording Industry Association of America—didn’t always rely on physical singles because, well, they didn’t need to.

They could sell tens of millions of albums based on album oriented rock station play alone, without the need for pop radio support (although they still received that with singles like “Whole Lotta Love,” “D’yer Maker” and “Fool In The Rain”).

Still, Zeppelin’s 1971 anthem “Stairway to Heaven,” is most cited by pop fans as the one that got away.  The band refused to release it as a single because, according to guitarist Jimmy Page, they didn’t want its eight minutes edited down to four-minute single length just to please pop radio station programmers.

As a likely result, the Zeppelin album containing “Stairway”—the only way fans could acquire the song back then—is one of the five-highest certified sellers in the RIAA’s archives, with more than 24 million sold in America alone.  (Amazingly, more labels didn’t see this as a viable album sales strategy going forward until the 1990s.)

Other pre-‘90s classics were also withheld from single release, including Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” from 1976’s Songs In The Key of Life (for the same artistic reasons that Zeppelin cited for “Stairway”), and Madonna’s “Into the Groove” from 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack.

In the latter case, unlike that of Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin, it was the label’s decision to keep “Into the Groove” off record shelves, not the artist’s.

Madonna’s label never released a 7″ vinyl version of “Into the Groove,” which prevented it from reaching the Hot 100 in 1985 at the peak of its popularity.

Sire/Warner Bros was still promoting Madonna’s Like A Virgin album in 1985 and there had already been one non-album soundtrack single, “Crazy For You,” that saturated airwaves only months before “Into the Groove” did. (Sire Records eventually released a 12” vinyl single of “Into the Groove,” backed with Like A Virgin’s third single, “Angel,” which was certified gold… despite “Groove” never reaching the Hot 100 due to its unavailability in 7” format.)

But those cases were rare in the chart’s first three and a half decades, with the overwhelming majority of the songs delivered to pop radio being available as physical singles and eligible for the Hot 100. 

The 1990s changed all of that.

Record companies withheld a growing number of that decade’s biggest hits from commercial single release due to the explosion of CD sales.  It became a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more CD sales grew, the more the labels withheld singles to force them to grow even further.

The result was that fans would have to buy whole albums to get the one or two hit songs they wanted, with those songs missing the Hot 100 entirely (in many cases).  Superstar pop acts like Backstreet Boys and N*Sync (and their labels) benefited greatly as they achieved astronomical first-week CD sales, partially due to the limited availability of their single hits in stores.  

While the bottom line was good for the industry, fans became increasingly frustrated with the practice.

Out of this frustration—and because digital technology made it possible—came illegal file-sharing sites like Napster and Limewire (remember those?) where fans could upload/download individual tracks and bypass the record company-forced album purchase altogether. 

As more and more consumers turned to free song downloads that they could burn to blank CDs (plus with many bootleggers selling whole albums illegally)—thereby cutting into album sales—the industry in turn became frustrated.

Adding salt to the wound of their profit margins being cut into was the fact that the very singles they were withholding were not showing up on the charts.  Simply put, the Hot 100 was no longer representative of the country’s most popular songs as many of the day’s biggest hits were missing from it.

Most famous among those were mega hits like No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” and the Cardigan’s “Love Fool”—both in 1996–and Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” in 1998.

“Don’t Speak” by No Doubt is often cited as the most egregious example of a hit single from the 1990s not making the Hot 100 due to chart rules at the time

Eventually, after much pressure from record labels, Billboard eliminated the requirement for commercial availability and, on December 5, 1998, allowed non-physical singles to be eligible for the Hot 100.

To illustrate how dramatic the resultant chart makeover was, a whopping 62 radio hits that had not been on the Hot 100 the week prior to the policy change entered the chart that week.

For the next few years, even with all songs now being eligible to chart, singles sales still influenced how high a song would reach.  In 2001, as physical singles sales overall continued to become less a factor, the first song not available for individual purchase reached No. 1 (Aaliyah’s “Try Again”).

To combat the illegal file-sharing phenomenon, which could have doomed the industry, Steve Jobs and Apple came up with the revolutionary iTunes platform, which monetized song downloads, making them legitimate in the eyes of Billboard, which, in turn, incorporated that data in its Hot 100 calculations beginning in 2003.

Ever since then, thanks to downloads and now streaming, consumption of individual tracks—regardless of physical format availability—remains a viable input to the chart.

But the 1990s represented a dubious period in Billboard Hot 100 history where many of the decade’s most memorable hits—many of them of the alternative rock genre—never saw ink on the chart. 

Djrobblog has tallied the best of those right here.  Listed in alphabetical order by title, here are the 70 greatest songs that the Billboard Hot 100 ignored during the 1990s.

*Song titles with asterisks either charted as “B” sides or after Billboard revised its rules to allow non-commercial singles to chart. In either case, they peaked below where they would have had they been eligible during their primes.

“A Long December” – Counting Crows (1997)

“All Over You” – Live (1995)

“Ants Marching” – Dave Matthews Band (1995)

“Are You Gonna Go My Way” – Lenny Kravitz (1993)

“Are You That Somebody?”* – Aaliyah (1998)

“As Long as You Love Me” – Backstreet Boys (1998)

“Basket Case” – Green Day (1994)

“Betcha By Golly Wow” – Prince (1996)

“Better Man” – Pearl Jam (1995)

“Big Me” – Foo Fighters (1996)

“Black Hole Sun” – Soundgarden (1994)

“Brick” – Ben Folds Five (1998)

“Buddy Holly” – Weezer (1995)

“Butterfly Kisses” – Bob Carlisle (1997)

“Champagne Supernova” – Oasis (1996)

“Closing Time” – Semisonic (1998)

“Crash Into Me” – Dave Matthews Band (1997)

“Crush” – Dave Matthews Band (1999)

“Crush On You” – Lil’ Kim ft. Lil’ Cease (1997)

“Daughter” – Pearl Jam (1994)

“Don’t Speak” – No Doubt (1996)

“Everlong” – Foo Fighters (1997)

“Fly” – Sugar Ray w Super Cat (1997)

“Foolish Games” (radio edit*) – Jewel (1997)

“Got ‘Til It’s Gone” – Janet Jackson (1997)

“Hand In My Pocket” – Alanis Morissette (1995)

“Head Over Feet” – Alanis Morissette (1996)

“How Bizarre” – OMC (1997)

“I Alone” – Live (1995)

“I Could Fall In Love” – Selena (1995)

“If You Could Only See” – Tonic (1997)

“The Impression That I Get” – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (1997)

“Interstate Love Song” – Stone Temple Pilots (1994)

“Iris”* – Goo Goo Dolls (1998)

“Jeremy”* – Pearl Jam (1993) *charted in a re-release two years later

“Killing Me Softly” – Fugees (1996)

“Kind & Generous” – Natalie Merchant (1998)

“Lightning Crashes” – Live (1995)

“Lovefool” – The Cardigans (1997)

“Men In Black” – Will Smith (1997)

“Mr. Jones” – Counting Crows (1994)

“My Hero” – Foo Fighters (1998)

“Next Lifetime” – Erykah Badu (1997)

“Ode To My Family” – The Cranberries (1995)

“One Headlight” – The Wallflowers (1997)

“One In A Million” – Aaliyah (1997)

“Plush” – Stone Temple Pilots (1993)

“Push” – Matchbox 20 (1997)

“Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” – Busta Rhymes (1997)

“The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” – Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott (1997)

“Ready or Not” – Fugees (1996)

“Santeria” – Sublime (1997)

“Seven Whole Days” – Toni Braxton (1994)

“6th Avenue Heartache” – The Wallflowers (1996)

“So Much To Say” – Dave Matthews Band (1996)

“Song 2” – Blur (1997)

“Spiderwebs” – No Doubt (1996)

“Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand” – Primitive Radio Gods (1996)

“State of the World” – Janet Jackson (1991)

“Tearin’ Up My Heart” – *NSync (1998)

“Thank U”* – Alanis Morissette (1998)

“3 AM” – Matchbox 20 (1998)

“Torn”* – Natalie Imbruglia (1998)

“Until I Fall Away” – Gin Blossoms (1994)

“Walkin’ On the Sun” – Smash Mouth (1998)

“The Way” – Fastball (1998)

“What I Got” – Sublime (1996)

“What Would You Say” – Dave Matthews Band (1995)

“When I Come Around” – Green Day (1995)

“You Oughta Know” – Alanis Morissette (1995)

“Zombie” – The Cranberries (1994)

You can also enjoy all these songs on my special Spotify playlist below.

Did I leave anything out?  

Feel free to leave comments either below or on any of the social media feeds where the article is posted.  


DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

DJRob (@djrobblog) on Threads

You can also register for free (below) to receive notifications of future articles.

By DJ Rob

Your thoughts?