In the mid-90s, teenagers didn’t have modern high-speed internet, cell phones, streaming services, snap chat, or TikTok. If you wanted music, you had to turn on the radio or go down to the record shop and get CDs. Needless to say, kids were drawn to music shops, and there was none cooler than the fictional Empire Records. With stars like Liv Tyler and Renee Zellweger, how could there be? It was an incredible decade for music culture, and films like Empire Records were a significant part of it all. In honor of the classic music shops everywhere, we’re ranking all the songs from the Empire Records Soundtrack.
16. A Girl Like You by Edwyn Collins
If you weren’t around in the 1990s, then you may not know the name of the song A Girl Like You, but you’ve heard it. This song has been played and replayed so many times it’s impossible to count. However, most recently, you may recognize it from an episode of Netflix’s Lucifer. Every song in Empire Records was outstanding, including a lot that never made the soundtrack, but we had to pick one to start this list and come in last. A Girl Like You is a solid song that charted in virtually every country, so we know it can handle not making this top five list to make room for other incredible music to get some recognition.
15. Bright As Yellow by The Innocence Mission
Bright As Yellow was the only official single on Innocense Mission’s 1995 album Glow. In addition to being part of pop culture history on this soundtrack, it was also featured on Party of Five more than once. NASA also used it as a wake-up call for one of its flight crews.
14. Nice Overalls by Lustre
Nice Overalls and Luster are arguably the least well-known of all the songs and bands on the Empire Records Soundtrack. However, it deserves fifteen minutes of fame and a place in this outstanding collection. If any song on this album is genuinely underrated, it’s Nice Overalls. Lustre’s only musical sin was to be a rock-grunge band at a time when other, more famous grunge bands existed and took up all the airwaves thanks to a better PR team and label.
13. I Don’t Wanna Live Today by Ape Hangars
I Don’t Wanna Live Today by the Ape Hangars isn’t just a song. It’s a whole vibe. Empire Records was about more than music. It was about independence and shopping local before that was ‘on-trend.’ As Slash Film explains it, “Anyone who has worked for an independent business knows how much it means to be able to wear whatever clothes you want (within reason, obviously). That freedom of expression is especially important to these young characters as they not only navigate what they want to do with the rest of their lives but also face the traits about themselves that they aren’t comfortable with showing others. This is also emphasized through the film’s dynamic soundtrack.”
12. What You Are by Drill
This song is the most mysterious track we know of. Although What You Are was featured on the incredibly well-known Empire Records Soundtrack, Drill is an under-recognized band. Not only is there little information available about this song, but the band itself barely exists in online resources. Even the pages that list song lyrics are sparse on information about Drill.
11. Free by The Martinis
Free was a delightful pop tune from The Martini’s Smitten album. Although it fits well in Empire Records, the overall album and The Martinis were not well received. Ink 19 said, “Smitten has a few things to like about it, but it has even more to dismiss… Any additional originality on Smitten has been leached away by overproduction so that even the rare moments of raw emotion have a layer of thick, prettifying veneer over them.” Nevertheless, we feel like this song was notable and well used.
10. Ready, Steady, Go by The Meices
Ready, Steady, Go is a cover of Generation X’s original song. It’s not the only time this fun tune has been covered. In 2008 Peppermint Creeps also did a version of this enjoyable, fast-paced rock staple.
9. The Ballad of El Goodo by Evan Dando
Like Ready, Steady, Go, The Ballad of El Goodo is a cover. The original version of this song was done by Big Star in 1972. Morgan James, The Hucksters, and Counting Crows also famously covered this often-covered song. However, the version used on Empire Records by Evan Dando is arguably the best known of the many times this song has been recorded.
8. The Honeymoon Is Over by The Cruel Sea
Australian indie rock band, The Cruel Sea, has a unique sound with a steel-string guitar and a hint of country music flavor more familiar to American southern-rock bands. The Honeymoon Is Over is the title track for the band’s 1993 album. The following year they won five ARIA awards, including both single and song of the year for The Honeymoon Is Over.
7. Here It Comes Again by Please
A lot of the songs on the Empire Records Soundtrack are covers. Here It Comes Again is no exception. This song was written by Barry Mason and Les Reed and performed and recorded by The Fortunes in 1965, making it one of the oldest songs on the album. However, the version used for the movie and album was done by Please
6. Whole Lotta Trouble by Cracker
Whole Lotta Trouble off the album Bob’s Car is a fun, quintessentially 90’s rock song with an upbeat tune. Listening to the lyrics is a different story. The song is about how there’s always a problem, and nothing ever really works out in the end.
5. Circle of Friends by Better Than Ezra
Better Than Ezra was a staple of every teen folk-rock playlist in the 1990s. Circle of Friends is a superb example of why it seemed every young person knew this band. The lyrics are so utterly relatable, discussing the everyday low-pressure peer pressure of simply existing and having friends.
4. Til I Hear It From You by the Gin Blossoms
The Gin Blossoms were already iconic before Empire Records ever came out. For a month and a half, Till I Hear It From You was number one on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart, and in the US, it peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the US Adult Top 40. Additionally, Spin recognized it as one of the 95 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1995.
3. Liar by The Cranberries
Liar lives up to its name. The whole song is about dealing with a person who won’t tell the truth about what’s going on in their head. No one likes dealing with a liar, but it’s a near-universal experience and frustration we all know.
2. Crazy Life by Toad The Wet Sprocket
Few bands last for decades, but Toad The Wet Sprocket is still actively touring. More than three decades together is nothing to sneeze at, and some of it is doubtless thanks to their early successes, like landing a song in a well-received movie. Thanks to Empire Records, Crazy Life is still one of the band’s most beloved and recognized pieces.
1. Sugarhigh by Coyote Shivers
At the end of Empire Records, the plucky cast come together to save the shop they love. In a fantastic feel-good moment, Renee Zellweger joins the band on the roof and sings most of Sugarhigh by Coyote Shivers. This song is the culmination of a great, iconic film.
Like an actual record store, some of the music from Empire Records is super-famous, while other songs are virtually unknown. However, as albums go, this one speaks to how it felt to be a teenager or young adult in the mid-90s. When you finish listening to this soundtrack, we recommend checking out other music from the bands on the Empire Records Soundtrack and exploring more great rock from that era.