50 Must-See Documentaries, Selected by 10 Influential Documentary Filmmakers

How to get a han­dle on doc­u­men­tary film? Giv­en not just the quan­ti­ty but the wide vari­ety of works in the field, with all their vast dif­fer­ences in style, dura­tion, approach, and epis­te­mol­o­gy, get­ting up to speed with the state of the art (or per­haps you con­sid­er it a form of essay, or of jour­nal­ism) can seem a daunt­ing task indeed. But as luck would have it, ten experts on doc­u­men­tary film — doc­u­men­tar­i­ans them­selves, in fact — have just done some of the work for you, select­ing a total of “Fifty Doc­u­men­taries You Need to See” for The Guardian.

Few pic­tures in the his­to­ry of cin­e­ma have played as impor­tant a role in the for­ma­tion of a genre as has Dzi­ga Ver­tov’s 1929 Man with a Movie Cam­era, which Man on Wire direc­tor James Marsh named as an essen­tial. “This was the first tru­ly sub­ver­sive, play­ful doc­u­men­tary,” he says. “It’s notion­al­ly a day in the life of a city in the Sovi­et Union and so it has, on a pure­ly sociological/historical lev­el, great val­ue. But what it does beyond that is to show you the means of pro­duc­tion: the film­ing, the cut­ting room, the edit­ing – all the things that are going into the mak­ing of this film.”

You can, of course, watch Man with a Movie Cam­era free at the top of this post. For the oth­er 49 Doc­u­men­taries You Need to See, you may have to do some more search­ing, but they’ll repay the effort many times over with their intel­lec­tu­al stim­u­la­tion, their unex­pect­ed dra­ma, and their explo­ration of the bor­der­lands between cin­e­mat­ic fic­tion and cin­e­mat­ic fact. Few films of any kind per­form that last mis­sion as astute­ly as Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-up (avail­able on Hulu if you start a free tri­al), about a man’s imper­son­ation of famous Iran­ian film­mak­er Mohsen Makhmal­baf, re-enact­ed with the very same peo­ple orig­i­nal­ly involved: the impos­tor, the fam­i­ly he tried to trick, the judge who presided over the ensu­ing tri­al, and even Makhmal­baf him­self.

Close-up (as well as one of Makhmal­baf’s own movies, Salaam Cin­e­ma) appears among the picks from Joshua Oppen­heimer, a doc­u­men­tar­i­an spe­cial­iz­ing in exam­i­na­tions of mas­sacres in Indone­sia. When you’ve watched all the rec­om­men­da­tions, you might con­sid­er cir­cling back and check­ing out Oppen­heimer’s The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. By the same token, after you’ve seen Agnès Var­da’s The Glean­ers and I, have a look at Lucy Walk­er’s Waste Land; after Wern­er Her­zog’s Griz­zly Man, Kha­lo Mata­bane’s Sto­ry of a Beau­ti­ful Coun­try. But fair warn­ing before you launch into this view­ing project: once you come out of it, you won’t see the pos­si­bil­i­ties of cin­e­ma in quite the same way ever again — at the very least, you’ll see infi­nite­ly more of them.

For anoth­er list, see The 10 Great­est Doc­u­men­taries of All Time Accord­ing to 340 Film­mak­ers and Crit­ics.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

265 Free Doc­u­men­taries Online

Free: Dzi­ga Vertov’s A Man with a Movie Cam­era, the 8th Best Film Ever Made

Wern­er Her­zog Nar­rates the Touch­ing, Exis­ten­tial Jour­ney of a Plas­tic Bag

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Christopher Lee Reads Five Horror Classics: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera & More


Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

The great hor­ror actors of the genre’s gold­en age—the time of Drac­u­la, Franken­stein, The Mum­my, and yet more Drac­u­la—suc­ceed­ed on the strength of their high­ly uncon­ven­tion­al looks. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Christo­pher Lee were not faces you would pass on the street with­out a sec­ond look. But they suc­ceed­ed equal­ly because all three, includ­ing Karloff, made use of some very well trained voices—voices honed for the the­atri­cal.

They have ele­vat­ed even the camp­i­est mate­r­i­al through the use of their voic­es, and fur­ther ele­vat­ed many already great sto­ries by read­ing them aloud. Bela Lugosi con­tributed his Hun­gar­i­an-accent­ed bari­tone to a read­ing of Poe’s “The Tell­tale Heart,” sound­ing in every line like he might break into “I vant to suck your blood.” Karloff, the more ver­sa­tile voice actor, nar­rat­ed Aesop’s FablesRud­yard Kipling’s Just So Sto­ries, and too many oth­er books to list.

Christo­pher Lee has also read Poe, a lot of Poe. And—rather type­cast or land­ing the best voiceover gig of all—he record­ed five clas­sic hor­ror nov­els: Drac­u­la, Franken­stein, Phan­tom of the Opera, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Hunch­back of Notre Dame. (Though we might argue about whether Vic­tor Hugo’s nov­el belongs in this cat­e­go­ry).

Lee read Drac­u­la once before, in an adap­ta­tion made for a graph­ic nov­el in 1966. Here, he reads Bram Stok­er’s nov­el unabridged, unlike some of the oth­er books. You can pur­chase these in a com­pi­la­tion CD. Or you can hear them on Spo­ti­fy for free, either in your brows­er or using their soft­ware. (Hear Phan­tom of the Opera here and The Hunch­back of Notre Dame here). How­ev­er you hear his read­ings, like all of Lee’s voicework—even his heavy met­al Christ­mas album—these nar­ra­tions prac­ti­cal­ly vibrate with omi­nous ten­sion and sus­pense.

Look­ing for free, pro­fes­sion­al­ly-read audio books from Audible.com? Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free tri­al with Audible.com, you can down­load two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Christo­pher Lee Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” and From “The Fall of the House of Ush­er”

Hor­ror Leg­end Christo­pher Lee Reads Bram Stoker’s Drac­u­la

Hor­ror Leg­end Christo­pher Lee Presents a Heavy Met­al Ver­sion of The Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy

Hear Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” Read by the Great Bela Lugosi (1946)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

An Animated Carl Sagan Talks with Studs Terkel About Finding Extraterrestrial Life (1985)

This week, Blank on Blank wraps up its series “The Exper­i­menters,” with an episode ani­mat­ing a con­ver­sa­tion between Carl Sagan and Studs Terkel–two fig­ures we’ve high­light­ed on our site many times before. But nev­er have we brought them togeth­er. So here they are.

Record­ed in Octo­ber, 1985, as part of Terkel’s long-run­ning Chica­go radio show (find an archive of com­plete episodes here), the con­ver­sa­tion touched on some the big ques­tions you might expect: the com­pat­i­bil­i­ty between sci­ence and reli­gion; the prob­a­bil­i­ty we’ll encounter extrater­res­tri­als if giv­en enough time; and more. You can hear more out­takes from their con­ver­sa­tion here:

Oth­er episodes in “The Exper­i­menters” series fea­ture:

Relat­ed Con­tent

Studs Terkel Inter­views Bob Dylan, Shel Sil­ver­stein, Maya Angelou & More in New Audio Trove

Carl Sagan Presents Six Lec­tures on Earth, Mars & Our Solar Sys­tem … For Kids (1977)

Simone de Beau­voir Tells Studs Terkel How She Became an Intel­lec­tu­al and Fem­i­nist (1960)

Two Leg­ends Togeth­er: A Young Bob Dylan Talks and Plays on the Studs Terkel Pro­gram, 1963

The Met Digitally Restores the Colors of an Ancient Egyptian Temple, Using Projection Mapping Technology

Thanks to the tire­less efforts of archae­ol­o­gists, we have a pret­ty clear idea of what much of the ancient world looked like, at least as far as the clothes peo­ple wore and the struc­tures in and around which they spent their days. But we sel­dom imag­ine these lives among the ruins-before-they-became-ruins in col­or, despite hav­ing read in the his­to­ry books that some ancient builders and artists cre­at­ed a col­or­ful world indeed, espe­cial­ly when a spe­cial archi­tec­tur­al occa­sion like an Egypt­ian tem­ple called for it.

“As depict­ed in pop­u­lar cul­ture, ancient Egypt is awash with the col­or beige,” writes the New York Times’ Joshua Barone. “A trip to the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art would seem to reflect that notion: The Tem­ple of Den­dur, with its weath­er­worn sand­stone, could fit in nat­u­ral­ly with the earth tones of Aida or The Mum­my.

But Egyp­tol­o­gists know that this tem­ple, like many oth­ers of the ancient world, was paint­ed with vivid col­ors and pat­terns. In ‘Col­or the Tem­ple,’ a mar­riage of research and pro­jec­tion-map­ping tech­nol­o­gy, vis­i­tors to the Met can now glimpse what the Tem­ple of Den­dur may have looked like in its orig­i­nal, poly­chro­mat­ic form more than 2,000 years ago.”

temple in color

Image via @Burning_Luke

While the rav­ages of time haven’t destroyed the var­i­ous scenes carved into the tem­ple’s walls, they’ve long made it next to impos­si­ble for schol­ars to get an idea of what col­ors their cre­ators paint­ed them. Orig­i­nal­ly locat­ed on the banks of the Nile, the tem­ple endured cen­tu­ry after cen­tu­ry of flood­ing (by the 1920s, almost nine months out of the year) which thor­ough­ly washed away the sur­face of the images. But after some seri­ous his­tor­i­cal research, includ­ing the con­sul­ta­tion of a 1906 sur­vey by Egyp­tol­o­gist Ayl­ward M. Black­man and the Napoleon­ic Descrip­tion de l’E­gypte, the Met’s team has come up with a pret­ty plau­si­ble idea of what the scene on the tem­ple’s south wall, in which Emper­or Cae­sar Augus­tus in Pharaoh garb presents wine to the deities Hathor and Horus, looked like in full col­or.

But it would hard­ly do to buy a few buck­ets from Sher­win-Williams and sim­ply fill the wall in. Instead, the Met has used a much more advanced tech­nol­o­gy called dig­i­tal pro­jec­tion map­ping (also known, more Wired-ly, as “spa­tial aug­ment­ed real­i­ty”) to restore the Tem­ple of Den­dur’s col­ors with light. You can get a sense of the result in the two videos at the top of the post, shot dur­ing the Col­or the Tem­ple exhi­bi­tion which ran through March 19.

For a clos­er look into the process, have a look at the video just above, cre­at­ed by Maria Paula Saba, who worked on the project. As you can see, the use of light rather than paint allows for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent col­or schemes, all of them quite pos­si­bly what the ancient Egyp­tians saw when they passed by, all of them fit­ting right in to the details and con­tours the ancient Egypt­ian artists put there — a thrill impos­si­ble to over­state for those of us who grew up with ancient-Egypt col­or­ing books.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids Were Built: A New The­o­ry in 3D Ani­ma­tion

Try the Old­est Known Recipe For Tooth­paste: From Ancient Egypt, Cir­ca the 4th Cen­tu­ry BC

The Turin Erot­ic Papyrus: The Old­est Known Depic­tion of Human Sex­u­al­i­ty (Cir­ca 1150 B.C.E.)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

11 Shakespeare Tragedies Mapped Out with Network Visualizations


Every sto­ry has its archi­tec­ture, its joints and cross­beams, orna­ments and deep struc­ture. The bound­aries and scope of a sto­ry, its built envi­ron­ment, can deter­mine the kind of sto­ry it is, tragedy, com­e­dy, or oth­er­wise. And every sto­ry also, it appears, gen­er­ates a network—a web of weak and strong con­nec­tions, hubs, and nodes.

Take Shake­speare’s tragedies. We would expect their net­works of char­ac­ters to be dense, what with all those plays’ intrigues and feasts. And they are, accord­ing to dig­i­tal human­i­ties, data visu­al­iza­tion, and net­work analy­sis schol­ar Mar­tin Grand­jean, who cre­at­ed the charts you see here: “net­work visualization[s] in which each char­ac­ter is rep­re­sent­ed by a node con­nect­ed with the char­ac­ters that appear in the same scenes.”

The result speaks for itself: the longest tragedy (Ham­let) is not the most struc­tural­ly com­plex and is less dense than King LearTitus Andron­i­cus or Oth­el­lo. Some plays reveal clear­ly the groups that shape the dra­ma: Mon­tague and Capulets in Romeo and Juli­et, Tro­jans and Greeks in Troilus and Cres­si­da, the tri­umvirs par­ties and Egyp­tians in Antony and Cleopa­tra, the Vols­cians and the Romans in Cori­olanus or the con­spir­a­tors in Julius Cae­sar.

Grand­jean’s visu­al­iza­tions show us how var­ied the den­si­ty of these plays is. While Mac­beth has 46 char­ac­ters, it only achieves 25% net­work den­si­ty. King Lear, with 33 char­ac­ters, reach­es 45%.


Ham­lets den­si­ty score near­ly match­es its num­ber of char­ac­ters, while Titus Andron­i­cus’ den­si­ty num­ber exceeds its char­ac­ter num­ber, as does that of Oth­el­lo by over twice as much. Why is this? Grand­jean does­n’t tell us. These data maps only pro­vide an answer to the ques­tion of whether “Shake­speare’s tragedies” are “all struc­tured in the same way.”

But does Grand­jean’s “result speak for itself,” as he claims? Though he helps us visu­al­ize the way char­ac­ters clus­ter around each oth­er, most obvi­ous­ly in Romeo and Juli­et, above, it’s not clear what a “den­si­ty” score does for our under­stand­ing of the dra­ma’s intent and pur­pos­es. With the excep­tion of the most promi­nent few char­ac­ters, the graph­ics only show var­i­ous plays’ per­son­ae as name­less shad­ed cir­cles, where­as Shake­speare’s skill was to turn most of those char­ac­ters, even the most minor, into anti­types and anom­alies. Per­haps as impor­tant as how they are con­nect­ed is the ques­tion of who they are when they con­nect.

You can view and down­load a com­plete poster of all 11 of Shake­speare’s tragedies at Grand­jean’s web­site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

74 Ways Char­ac­ters Die in Shakespeare’s Plays Shown in a Handy Info­graph­ic: From Snakebites to Lack of Sleep

Read All of Shakespeare’s Plays Free Online, Cour­tesy of the Fol­ger Shake­speare Library

A 68 Hour Playlist of Shakespeare’s Plays Being Per­formed by Great Actors: Giel­gud, McK­ellen & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

5 Books You Can Read Again .… and Again and Again: Here’s Our Picks, Now Yours

Recent­ly, a Metafil­ter user asked the ques­tion: which books do you reread again and again, and why— whether for “com­fort, dif­fi­cul­ty, humour, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, what­ev­er”? It got me think­ing about a few of the ways I’ve dis­cov­ered such books.

Writ­ing an essay or book about a nov­el is one good way to find out how well it holds up under mul­ti­ple read­ings. You stare at plot holes, implau­si­ble char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, incon­sis­tent chronolo­gies, and oth­er lit­er­ary flaws (or maybe fea­tures) for weeks, months, some­times even years. And you also live with the lan­guage that first seduced you, the char­ac­ters who drew you in, the images, places, atmos­pheres you can’t for­get….

But read­ing alone can mean that blind spots nev­er get addressed. We hold to our bias­es, pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive, despite our­selves. Anoth­er great way to test the dura­bil­i­ty of work of fic­tion is to teach it for years, or oth­er­wise read it in a group of engaged peo­ple, who will see what you don’t, can’t, or won’t, and help bet­ter your appre­ci­a­tion (or deep­en your dis­like).

Hav­ing spent many years doing both of these things as a stu­dent and teacher, there are a few books that sur­vived semes­ter after semes­ter, and still sit promi­nent­ly on my shelves, where at any time I can pull them down, open them up, and be imme­di­ate­ly absorbed. Then there are books I read when younger, and which seemed so mys­te­ri­ous, so pos­sessed of an almost reli­gious sig­nif­i­cance, I returned to them again and again—looking for the most enchant­ed sen­tences.

If I had to nar­row down to a short list the books I con­sis­tent­ly reread, those books would come out of all three expe­ri­ences above, and they would include, in no nec­es­sary order—

Absa­lom, Absa­lom!, by William Faulkn­er: I’ve writ­ten sev­er­al essays on this nov­el, over the course of sev­er­al years, and I love it as much or more as when I first picked it up. It’s a book that becomes both more grim and more dark­ly humor­ous as time goes on; its ver­tig­i­nous nar­ra­tive strat­e­gy cre­ates an inex­haustible num­ber of ways to see the sto­ry.

Wuther­ing Heights, by Emi­ly Bronte: I read this nov­el as a child and under­stood almost noth­ing about it but the ghost­ly set­ting of “wiley, windy moors” (as Kate Bush described it) and the furi­ous emo­tion­al inten­si­ty of Heath­cliff and Cather­ine. These ele­ments kept me com­ing back to dis­cov­er just how much Bronte—like Faulkner—encircles her read­er in a cyclone of pos­si­bil­i­ty; mul­ti­ple sto­ries, told from mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters, times, and places, swirl around, nev­er set­tling on what we most want in real life but nev­er get there either—simple answers.

Song of Solomon, by Toni Mor­ri­son: Morrison’s nov­el extracts from the 20th cen­tu­ry African Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence a tale of pro­found indi­vid­ual strug­gle, as char­ac­ters in her fic­tion­al fam­i­ly fight to define them­selves against social inequities and to tran­scend oppres­sive iden­ti­ties. Their fail­ures to do so are just as poignant as their suc­cess­es, and char­ac­ters like Pilate and Milk­man achieve an almost arche­typ­al sig­nif­i­cance through the course of the nov­el. Mor­ri­son cre­ates mod­ern myth.

The Yid­dish Police­man’s Union, by Michael Chabon. I taught this nov­el for years because it seemed like, and was, a great way to intro­duce stu­dents to the com­pli­ca­tions of plot, the joys of spec­u­la­tive fic­tion, and the empa­thet­ic imag­in­ing of oth­er peo­ple and cul­tures that the nov­el can enable. I can think of many ways some crit­ics might find Chabon’s book polit­i­cal­ly “prob­lem­at­ic,” but my con­sis­tent enjoy­ment of its wild-eyed sto­ry has nev­er dimin­ished since I first picked up the book and read it straight through in a cou­ple of days, ful­ly con­vinced by its fic­tion­al world.

Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges. The Argen­tin­ian writer’s best-known col­lec­tion of sto­ries and essays requires patient reread­ing. My first encounter with the book ear­ly in col­lege pro­voked amaze­ment, but lit­tle com­pre­hen­sion. I still can’t say that I under­stand Borges, but every time I reread him, I seem to dis­cov­er some new alcove, and some­times a whole oth­er room, filled with inscrutable, mys­te­ri­ous trea­sures.

This list is not in any way com­pre­hen­sive, but it cov­ers a few of the books that have stayed with me, each of them for well over a decade, and a few of the rea­sons why. What books do you reread, and why? What is it about them that keeps you return­ing, and how did you dis­cov­er these books? While I stuck with fic­tion above, I could also make a list of philo­soph­i­cal books, as well as poet­ry. Feel free to include such books in the com­ments sec­tion below as well.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 10 Great­est Books Ever, Accord­ing to 125 Top Authors (Down­load Them for Free)

Vladimir Nabokov Names the Great­est (and Most Over­rat­ed) Nov­els of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

Read 700 Free eBooks Made Avail­able by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Press

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Watch City Out of Time, A Short Tribute to Venice, Narrated by William Shatner in 1959

Last month, Cana­da lost one of its impor­tant film­mak­ers, Col­in Low. Over a career span­ning six decades, Low worked on over 200 pro­duc­tions at the Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da. He won count­less awards, includ­ing two Short Film Palme d’Or awards at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. His work inspired oth­er soon-to-be-influ­en­tial film­mak­ers, like Ken Burns and Stan­ley Kubrick. And he helped pio­neer the giant-screen IMAX for­mat.

Above you can watch City Out of Time, Low’s short trib­ute to Venice. The 1959 film, writes the Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da, “depicts Venice in all its splen­dor. In the tra­di­tion of Venet­ian painter Canalet­to, the film cap­tures the great Ital­ian city’s elu­sive beau­ty and fabled land­scapes, where spired church­es and tur­ret­ed palaces soar into a blue Mediter­ranean sky.” The film also fea­tures a nar­ra­tion by a young William Shat­ner, then only 28 years old, whose voice sounds noth­ing like the one we’d hear sev­er­al years lat­er in Star Trek, nev­er mind those unfor­get­table spo­ken-word albums he start­ed releas­ing in the late 1960s.

City Out of Time will be added to our list of Free Doc­u­men­taries, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

The sec­ond film on the page is Low’s 1952 ani­ma­tion, The Romance of Trans­porta­tion in Cana­da, which won a Short Film Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

William Shat­ner Nar­rates Space Shut­tle Doc­u­men­tary

Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da Launch­es Free iPad App

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Venice (Its Streets, Plazas & Canals) with Google Street View

A Short His­to­ry of the Venice Bien­nale, the World’s Most Impor­tant Art Exhi­bi­tion

A Massive 800-Track Playlist of 90s Indie & Alternative Music, in Chronological Order

800 indie tracksIn the time it’s tak­en me to grow out of my way­ward 90s youth and into most­ly sol­id cit­i­zen adult­hood, cul­tur­al mem­o­ries of that decade have crys­tal­ized around a few gen­res that have seen some renew­al of late. I’m more than pleased to find cur­rent musi­cians reviv­ing shoegaze, 90s elec­tron­i­ca, and neo-soul. And with so many artists who peaked twen­ty or so years ago still releas­ing records or get­ting back togeth­er for impres­sive reunions, it often seems like the music I grew up with nev­er left, even if a whole raft of stars I couldn’t pick out of a line­up have emerged in the mean­time.

And yet, though the ven­er­a­tion of 90s music has become a thing in recent years, the per­spec­tive of it by peo­ple per­haps not even born when the decade end­ed tends to be some­what lim­it­ed. Per­haps all of us for­get how strange and eclec­tic 90s music was. Even at the time, pop and alter­na­tive cul­tures were almost instant­ly reduced in films, com­pi­la­tion albums, and more-or-less every show on MTV. It was an era when sub­cul­tures were quick­ly com­mod­i­fied, san­i­tized, and sold back to us in the­aters and on record shelves.

To remind our­selves of just how wide-rang­ing the 90s were, we might turn to the expan­sive “giant 90s alt/indie/etc” playlist here, com­piled by Aroon Korv­na (born in 1982, but pre­co­cious­ly “musi­cal­ly con­scious” dur­ing the decade). The jour­ney begins with the nasal cham­ber pop of They Might Be Giants’ “Bird­house in Your Soul”—a clas­sic of DIY dork-rock—and ends with Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin,” a song herald­ing the tri­umph of radio-ready rap and club hits over the decades’ many quirky rock and hip-hop guis­es.

Hear the playlist in three parts: Part I (1990–94) and II (1995–96) above; Part III (1997–99) below. (If you need Spo­ti­fy’s soft­ware, down­load it here.) Along the way, we run into for­got­ten songs by under-the-radar bands like The Dwarves, Red House Painters, Guid­ed By Voic­es, The Beta Band, and The Micro­phones; left­field choic­es from one-hit won­ders like Ned’s Atom­ic Dust­bin and Infor­ma­tion Soci­ety; the first stir­rings from now-super­stars like Daft Punk and Jack White; and cuts from just about every oth­er artist on col­lege or alter­na­tive radio through­out the decade.

“The inspi­ra­tion for this playlist,” writes Korv­na, “came from see­ing one too many of those nos­tal­gia-bait pieces aimed at my cohort: ‘You total­ly for­got about these 20 amaz­ing hits from the 90’s.… After the 6th or 7th of these arti­cles all list­ing off the same obvi­ous things, you start to think you real­ly have heard every­thing from the 90s. But we all know that’s not true.”

By doing a bit of inter­net research to fill gaps in mem­o­ry, Korv­na com­piled “a mix of things every­one is famil­iar with, and more obscure arti­facts, the sorts of songs you might have only been famil­iar with if you were, say, lis­ten­ing to col­lege rock in 1991.”

If the 90s is to you an unknown coun­try, you’ll find that this three-part Spo­ti­fy playlist offers a com­pre­hen­sive walk-through of the decades’ diverse musi­cal culture—and it does­n’t just play the hits. If you’re a gen­tle­man or lady of a cer­tain age, it will refresh a few mem­o­ries, make you smile and wince with nos­tal­gia, and per­haps fill you with indig­na­tion over all the songs you think need to be on there but aren’t.

Feel free to leave your sug­ges­tions in the comments—or to make your own 90s playlist. And while you’re at it, you might want to take a look at Flavorwire’s sur­pris­ing list of “105 ‘90s Alter­na­tive Bands that Still Exist.”

via Metafil­ter/Medi­um

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,000 Record­ings to Hear Before You Die: Stream a Huge Playlist of Songs Based on the Best­selling Book

62 Psy­che­del­ic Clas­sics: A Free Playlist Cre­at­ed by Sean Lennon

Radio David Byrne: Stream Free Music Playlists Cre­at­ed Every Month by the Front­man of Talk­ing Heads

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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