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90s Grunge and Alternative Rock
Best Grunge and Alternative Rock Bands
The 90s grunge or alternative rock movement was the music I was waiting for all through the crappy 80's. I was constantly looking for bands that had a crunchy sound instead of that slick metal sound. I had a girlfriend tell me once that I was grunge before grunge was cool.
I actually remember where I was when I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit from Nirvana. Downtown Atlanta for those who care. It sounded like a guitar assault on my senses. It was perfect. It was exactly what I had been waiting on. How thrilling to hear a song without a cheesy guitar solo. The hair metal rock of the late 80s was not exactly my favorite music. I would find pieces of songs that I liked but nothing really clicked. The aforementioned cheesy guitar solo was always something that I fast-forwarded through most every time. I wanted something hard and crunchy.
The alternative rock movement really came out of the college radio scene of the 80's. There was so much outstanding music coming from college radio that was never heard outside of the college towns. Thankfully pop music and metal had run its course and a change was needed. Nirvana made it OK to play grunge/alt rock on the radio. Rock on.
I suspect over time I will be adding to this list of bands. There seems to always be a band that folks believe I should add to my list that I have heretofore omitted. Recent additions have included Soundgarden while fully recognizing that up to now
There are many like the Offspring and Social Distortion that I really like but have yet to create any content on. I'll have to get on it sometime.
The 90's were a great decade for music. I miss the sound but am grateful for the huge catalog of music that can be revisited.
Photo Credit: Nirvana album cover
Grunge Rock Band Poll
Who is your favorite grunge band?
Alice in Chains
Facelift from Alice in Chains is the album that pretty much defined 90's alternative rock for me. This album actually came out before the groundbreaking Ten from Pearl Jam or Nevermind from Nirvana. The sound from this band was unlike anything I had heard up until then. Sea of Sorrow, Bleed the Freak and I Can't Remember are standouts tracks in my mind. Of course, Man in the Box got MTV airtime back when they actually played videos. Sludge heavy guitars reinvented a sound from those days of slick hair band metal. It was like an aural breakthrough. The lyrics were dark. Layne Staley's vocals were raucous. It was a perfect bridge from the 80's metal production to 90's alternative.
Dirt was the follow up to Facelift. I loved this album. To this day many of the songs on this album I still play. "Down in a Hole" was a favorite song for what seemed like years. I was amazed to find that it was not on the latest greatest hits album Essential Alice in Chains. Anyway Dirt is without a doubt the most depressing, lyrically, album I have ever heard. The music is actually the darkest I've listed to as well. Lanye Staley was at his best with this album and the album just grinds from Cantrell's greasy play through each song. Man, you can tell Staley was in pain. 6 of the 12 songs deal with drugs and addiction.
My favorite songs on this album is the aforementioned "Down in a Hole" which is actually a slow anthem-like tune, "Damn That River" which is full of grungy rhythm, "Rain When I Die", and of course "Rooster", which apparently was an ode to Cantrell's dad in Vietnam. "Junkhead" is a great song which is basically about Staley's drug addiction. "Angry Chair" is a moody and grungy rocker. And "Would" is a fantastic theme song of sorts as it was in the 90's movie 'Singles'.
This may be my favorite overall album of the 90's. It hit all the right heavy notes. I still jam to this album weekly. Heavy rock has never been better.
I have to say that I always liked AIC much better than other notable Seattle grunge/Alternative bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana or Pearl Jam. Nirvana may get credit for ushering in 90's alternative to the masses, but I believe it was Alice in Chains who delivered the first blow to the 80's hair band sound.
Alice in Chains - Facelift
Facelift was release just about the time that metal was dying. And it was glorious. Hard rocking, dreary sludge rockers like We Die Young, Man in the Box, Sea of Sorrow, Bleed the Freak and I Can't Remember were just the antidote for 80's crap. This is a classic album. Easily one of my favorite albums of the 90's it continues to play in heavy rotation on my pod.
Alice in Chains - Dirt
The follow up to Facelift showed absolutely no signs of a so-called sophomore slump. This album rocked. Rooster hit the radio on heavy rotation. Rain When I Die and Damn That River followed. Interesting the song that remains my favorite, and actually took a while to get on the radio, was Down in a Hole. Possibly it is now one of the most played AIC classics on alt radio today.
Alice in Chains Video - Grind
So many great AIC songs. This one stuck out for now.
I am going to commit blasphemy. I believe Pearl Jam to more or less suck. Yes, I know they are considered by many to be the greatest American rock band of the 90's. I believe Newsweek magazine even said as much just as the alt rock scene was breathing its final breaths. Their music never did much for me. I could never find a hook to latch on to on any of the songs. Plus I really never liked Eddie Veddar's marble mouth singing.
Part of my malfunction with the band is their insistence to drag political awareness into their music. I find that annoying. I know a lot of you hippy wannabes get all fired up when a favorite group starts spouting off about a popular liberal issue or political figure. Yes, I get that rock and roll has always been a favorite vessel for delivering a bands political bent. I simply want them to STFU. I care about the music. Which in this case was extremely boring.
Ten was their first album and best seller released on August 1991. Four massive singles were released that dominated the alt rock airwaves for a good year: "Evenflow", "Alive", "Jeremy" and "Black". If I hear "Jeremy" one more time my brain will turn to sludge and run out of my nostrils. I actually like "Black" finding it a very soulful and thoughtful song. It builds to a satisfying crescendo. "Evenflow" and "Alive" were hardy rockers that I liked a lot at the time. This was definitely my favorite PJ album by far.
After Ten we got Vs, released in October 1993. They could have released an album full of lullabyes at this point and would have sold 5 million copies. They were at the height of their popularity. They decided not to release a single off this album because they were too cool. Alt radio did pick up some of the flotsam to play like "Animal and "Daughter".
It was around this time that two of the band mates did do something cool which was to try to reel in the costs of Ticketmaster. It obviously didn't work but at least they tried. They thought ticket prices was too high. Gossard and Amen actually went before a subcommittee in Congress to air out their grievances over the high prices.A later judgment by the Justice Department favored Ticketmaster. Bummer for us all because they really suck.
Vitology was released in December.1994. It was another hit. "Better Man" played constantly in 1995. This album would be their last big hit.
Pearl Jam release a couple of more albums in the 90s, Yield and a Live album, neither of which came close to achieving the success of the first three albums. Through the 2000s they continue to release various albums and Live sets that barely achieve Platinum status. The media continue to try to find them relevant but commercially they are not the same band that sold 20 million records in the 90's.
I never saw the band live. I trust that they are much better live than the music on their albums.
Pearl Jam Ten
Peral Jam classic. Jeremy. Evenflow. Alive. Blah, blah, blah. Never a fan but plenty others were. The best song was Black which has been done better by the likes of recent rocker Aaron Lewis. You Tube it.
Pearl Jam Video - Black
No, this is not Eddie Vedder. No, I do not like Pearl Jam. Yes, I like Black. It just so happens that Aaron Lewis of Staind has an incredible live voice and does this song justice instead of the crap that Vedder performs live.
I can't think of too many rock bands that endured more crap than Bush did in the 90's. They could never get a fair shake with their music, since everything they did was compared to Nirvana. I liked Nirvana and I liked Bush. Never did I confuse the two. I don't get why critics had the same problem.
I actually enjoyed Sixteen Stone more than Nirvana's Nevermind (here I go comparing the two bands...stop it!). Horrors! I thought Nevermind was genius. I just didn't think it was as fun as Sixteen Stone. I don't confuse the difference.
Anyway, I loved the crunchy guitars on Sixteen Stone. Machinehead, Glycerine, Little Things, Everything Zen and Comedown got serious airplay back in '94-95. I still hear those tunes on Sirius Lithium. These songs have stood the test of time.
Personally my favorite tune on the album was Little Things. Everything Zen was the first tune that got airplay on the alt radio station. Machinehead was a zippy little tune. Glycerine sucked in my opinion.
Like many bands during the grunge era, Bush could never replicate this album in terms of musicality or sales. They released a piece of crap called Razorblade Suitcase in '96. I loved the song Greedy Fly but little else about the album.
Bush - Sixteen Stone
This was a strange album when it came out. Snobs were quick to point out anyone that remotely sounded like Nirvana as fakers. And Bush was certinly the recipient of this, in my opinion, unfounded criticism. This was a great album. Most of the radio hits played then like "Everything Zen," "Machinehead", "Little Things," "Comedown," and "Glycerine" are still played today on alternative radio stations. Bush got the last laugh. The album has stood the test of time just fine.
Bush Video - Little Things
It's took me long enough to finally get the monsters of 90's rock onto this lens. Soundgarden was actually not one of my favorite bands to come out of the grungy 90's. They were not really a grunge band in as much as they had a longer history than bands like Nirvana. Chris Cornel is the voice behind Soundgarden and is well known as a solo artist as well. The man has a voice which I enjoyed all the way to the new century when he formed Audioslave with members of Rage Against the Machine.
Soundgarden formed in Seattle in 1984. They were cranking out tunes long before the "Seattle sound" became a popular groove. They are credited with being one of the major groups that defined the grunge era.
In 1991 they released Badmotorfinger which obviously pre-dated the goodness of Nevermind. The singles "Outshined" and "Rusty Cage" found a willing audience on alternative rock radio and MTV. Badmotorfinger was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1992.
Soundgardens big hit was 1994's Superunknown, which debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and delivered the Grammy Award-winning singles "Black Hole Sun" and "Spoonman". I could not freaking stand "Black Hole Sun". To this day it repulses me. "Spoonman" is a whole different tune. It is amazing. Hard driving grungy and sludgy rock with a fuse of deep blues. This is one rocker.
One of my favorite tunes off Superunknown was "Fell on Black Days". That song is a tasty little rock and rumbler. It just rolls along and proves Cornell is more than just his signature wail.
They released another 90's album in '96 Down on the Upside. It was popular and spawned a couple hits like "Pretty Noose" and "Blow up the Outside World" which I personally detested.
Obviously I wasn't the biggest Soundgarden fan. "Fell on Black Days" and Spoonman" is about as much as I could appreciate, though I do recognize the importance this band had for the grunge/alt rock 90's
Soundgarden - Superunknown
You can't go wrong with Chris Cornell's sing and wail. Great tunes included Fell on Black Days and The Day I Tried To Live. Black Hole Sun is the worst track on the album yet became one the big hits of the decade. Go figure. Definite necessity to your 90s rock album collection
Soundgarden Video - Spoonman
The Smashing Pumpkins were darlings of alternative rock during the 90's. Cool people remember their first album, Gish, produced by Butch Vig. I was not a fan of the Pumpkins at that point and did not really have an interest in them then. My interest in the Pumpkins came with Siamese Dream. Interestingly the first track I heard was Cherub Rock which to this day I cannot stand. But the follow-up song that got airplay on alt radio was "Disarm". My how I loved that song. To this day I can count it as one of my all time favorite songs.
As fans of alt rock know the Smashing Pumpkins consisted of James Iha, D'arcy Wretzky, Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin. The band was and has always been Corgan's. The music and lyrics all claim his signature. The original band was always talented and made great music.
Siamese Dream became one of the great alt rock albums during the heydey. The Pumpkins followed it with the smash hit, double album, MTV friendly Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. My favorite song as well as a young daughter's was "Bullet With Butterfly Wings". Other hits followed: "1979", "Zero", "Tonight, Tonight", and "Thirty-Three". They were a constant on alt radio from 1995-1997.
One of the better songs that followed the Mellon collie years was for the crappy Batman and Robin movie called "The End is the Beginning is the End". It actually won a Grammy which doesn't always mean the song sounds good but in this case it may have been deserved.
The Pumpkins finished out the decade with two more albums that were mostly ignored but were actually very strong performances: Adore and Machina. One of my favorite Pumpkins song was from Adore called "Ave Adore". It is a nice rocker with a slick beat.
Corgan kept the Pumpkins together off and on throughout the 2,000's to the present but like most grunge/alt rockers hasn't found his groove again.
I have to confess to being a little ambivalent towards the Smashing Pumpkins. I just could not get into Corgan's whiny singing voice. There were only a handful of songs I liked but I admit to ranking "Disarm" as one of my all-time faves.
Rotten Apples, The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits
The CD "Rotten Apples" comes complete with all of the classic Pumpkins songs from over the years.
From their first CD "Gish", you have the songs Siva and Rhinoceros.
From "Siamese Dream", you've got Cherub Rock, Today, and Disarm.
From the disc of B-Sides, "Pisces Iscariot", there is the cover of the Fleetwood Mac song, Landslide.
From "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness", there is Bullet with Butterfly Wings, Tonight Tonight, 1979, and Zero.
From "Adore", you have Ava Adore and Perfect.
From "Machina/The Machines of God", there is The Everlasting Gaze and Stand Inside your Love
And two songs not released on Pumpkins CD's in the past but put on other soundtrack albums are Drown and Eye.
Oasis came out of Britain in the mid-90's blazing a rock and roll trail with Definitely Maybe, then a year later with (What's the Story) Morning Glory. Both of these albums rank among my favorite rock and roll albums of the 90's.
Not very grundge but definitely alternative, Liam and Noel Gallagher created some of the best anthemic rock and roll songs played during the 90's.
Possibly my favorite Oasis song is "Live Forever" on Definitely Maybe. This one song, in my mind, held the great potential that this band could achieve, and subsequently lost. Morning Glory is definitely a classic 90's album but it was Oasis' peak. They haven't been the same since that release in '95. The brothers just couldn't keep it together and wound up fighting and creating other drama with their drinking and other strange mess. A potentially great band lost to virtual 90's obscurity. Oasis may in fact release new albums, but they will not live up to the greatness that was the mid 90's for this band and that, to me, is a waste. I loved this band. I can hope for a resurgence, but so far, in the 21st century they haven't found the old magic.
Oasis - What's the Story Morning Glory
(What's The Story) Morning Glory? is a non-stop train of tasty, ear-pleasing rock candy, with that, add in a little bit of swaggering attitude, and you have Oasis' niche. Songwriter (and sometimes, singer) Noel Gallagher has an excellent ear for melody.. even if most of his musings seem to be, more or less, stolen from The Beatles and their British Invasion contemporaries. If you're a music lover who is lamenting the lack of Britpop/British Invasion spin-offs in the popular music pantheon these days, or if you just want some loud, good-old fashioned rock n' roll, look into this album, and some of Oasis' other offerings.
Oasis - Definitely Maybe
A continuation of my enjoyment of Oasis music. One of my favorite tunes of the 90s was Live Forever. The rest of the album isn't as thoughtful and soaring as this tune, but the album is enjoyable all the same.
There are no bands that came out of the 90's and rocking in the 21st century that I am more enthused about than Tool. Defining Tool into any particular genre is quite difficult. They are at once minimalist, yet extremely deep and thoughtful. Their music is hard and crunchy yet experimental at times too. To say that their music is complex cannot do it justice. But whatever it is, they simply rock.
Tool's Aenema is one of my favorite albums of all time. Released in 1996 it is simply a masterpiece of musicality and lyrics. I love the cynicism of the title track, Aenema. Flush LA away. The lyrics to that song are simply hilarious and brilliant.
Forty Six and Two and Stinkfist are probably the most popular tracks on the album. They are each heavy and pretty straightforward rocking tunes.
The rest of the album is a mixture of fabulous instrumental experiments. Most work. Some take a few track spins to get. If you want to challenge yourself try to figure out singer Maynard James Keenan. Meaning, it seems that each track has spawned numerous arguments over just what he actually means with each lyric. Personally I am a huge fan of drummer Danny Carey. Mixing all sorts of bombastic beats with tribal rhythms, you never know what you might hear from song to song. And guitarist Adam Jones is one of my top three favorite guitarists. I am awed by his talent on every successive album they release.
I love this band. I love this album. They are one of the best groups in the 90's. They are most certainly my favorite group to come out of the 90's that are still together making tunes.
Tool - Anema
I love each and every Tool album. They release an album about every 6 years so you really have a long time to get to know their complicated work. Anema was a favorite album of mine during the 90s. I had no idea what I was listening to but I sure love the sound of Anema, Forty Six and Two and Stinkfist. Have no idea what any of it means. That's OK. It's enough to let their musical genius wash over you.
Tool Video - Aenema
Great cynical song about the cesspool that is L.A.
Social Distortion was one of my favorite bands in the 90's. No they did not originate from the 90's but they had an album that to this day ranks as one of my all-time favorites: White Light, White Heat, White Trash. Now, most people find their self-titled album in 1990, Social Distortion, as their best work. It even spawned a couple of nice hits. That album never reached my radar. They are a California punk band and that music had a hard time hitting the airwaves in the early 90's in the south, unless you were lucky enough to have college radio nearby. And even then they were more interested in ringing out the last of the 80's crap or trying out that new Seattle sound.
Anyway, I never knew who Social D was until the White album. It came out in 1996 when grunge and alternative sound was big. This album got lost in the angst. Most critics dislike the album whining that the band threw away most of their punk roots in lieu of hard rock and an alternative sound. I think instead of having punk rock critics talk about the album perhaps they should have had alt rock and grunge critics give it a go. I'm not certain many did. The alt radio station I listened to picked up on "I Was Wrong". It was the first memorable song by Social D I'd ever heard and I loved Mike Ness' guitar and vocal growl.
I was intrigued by this band. They didn't sound like the grunge masters nor were they typical hard rockers. I think they kept their punk roots and fused it with hard rock alt sound. It worked fine for me. The first four tracks were sonic candy to my ears. From the windup and rapid decent of "Dear Lover" to "Don't Drag Me Down" and Ness' awesome guitar melodic soloing. The third track was named "Untitled" and was a slow burner. I really enjoyed the melody and build up to the half point in the song where the song sort of just began soaring. "I Was Wrong" is a cool rocker. The lyrics are very personal for Ness I think.
Track 5 is a throwaway in my opinion. Track 6 "Down on the World Again" is a nod to their punk roots. It's fast and a decent rocker. Ness growls through the song and rips out a nice sounding solo. Track 7 is booooring. Track 8 "Gotta Know the Rules" is another hard charging punk sound. Critics whine that these sounds have no hook. I disagree. I love the solo in this song as well.
Track 9, "Crown of Thorns" has a great guitar intro. This is a fun and bouncy rocker with yet another grand guitar solo. I love this song. Track 10 sucks. Track 11, "Down Here" is okay. It is a slow moving rocker with grunge like sound. Track 12 sucks as it's a remake of the Rolling Stones "Under My Thumb".
The 80's brought cheesy hair metal and mostly crappy guitar solos. Most every time I heard a guitar solo during the 80's I would turn the radio down. When the 90's rolled in the grunge-masters pretty much did away with guitar solos. Which was fine. Better none than utter crap. But Mike Ness is a great guitarist. I love listening to his guitar sound and the solos on this White album are melodic and sound great to my ears. His solos were of the few that I enjoyed during the 90's.
Social Distortion - White Light, White Heat, White Trash
One of the great punk bands and finest albums of the 90's. I still listen to this album at least once a week. I workout to Dear Lover, I Was Wrong, Crown of Thorns and Down on the World Again with regularity. One of my all-time favorite albums.
Social Distortion Video - I Was Wrong
Guess I'll get some flack for dropping Garbage into this listing. Look, I think garbage was one of the best bands in the later part of the 90's. They sort of helped usher a less grungy sound on alternative radio. Shirley Manson is one of the oddest yet sexiest women in rock and roll. Gwen Stefani can only dream of being so cool and sexy.
Garbage's self titled first album was really a lot of fun to listen to after getting hit over the head for so long with grunge on alternative radio. Granted their lyrics were quite cynical, the music was definitely not. There was a lot of variance in the music. Sure you had crunchy guitars but you also had an element of airy rhythms from the keyboard as well as danceable poundings from the drum kit. It was a good sound to get us out of the moody depths of grungy guitars.
My favorite tunes from their first album are typical. I love "Only Happy When it Rains", the cynicism of "Stupid Girl" and the biting "Queer".
The album is one of the best albums to come out of the 90's yet the band is hardly ever mentioned as favorites. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps we needed to see more panty shots of Shirley ala Paris Hilton or something. Seems this band stayed out of the limelight until it was time to promote the material.
Their follow-up album Garbage 2.0 released in the late 90's proved to be perhaps a little more radio friendly and definitely one for the dance halls. It left crunchy guitars behind in favor of more melodic guitar riffs and keyboard wizardry. Sort of more pop and party. Just another evolution of a constantly changing band. I did not personally enjoy this album as much as their first. Songs like "I Think I'm Paranoid" and "Push It" got a lot of airplay but at this point I was still interested in a crunchier sound which they sort of abandoned.
I still love Garbage. They came through the 90's just fine. 2005's Bleed Like Me brought the rock back to the music in fine form.
Garbage - Garbage
Garbage came on the scene in the late 90s as a project of Butch Vig and brought something new to the table. Stupid Girl was a radio favorite. I loved I'm Only Happy When It Rains more. The guitar work on that track was really interesting. This is a great album. Interesting one of the few 90s band still successful today.
Industrial Rock of the 90s
There was a lot of variety coming out of the 90's. I believe alternative rock encompassed a ton of different types of music. From Oasis to Tool to Alice in Chains, these bands were nothing like each other but they thrived and came out of the 90s as...alternative rock.
Another type of music that I loved was industrial rock. Some called it alt metal. I called it damn good. This consisted of bands like Filter (Hey Man Nice Shot), Gravity Kills (Guilty), Stabbing Westward (Save Yourself) and Orgy (Blue Monday). Yep Marilyn Manson wasn't bad in the mid 90's. Nine Inch Nails. I loved the sound. The hook. It was the kind of music that just begged to be blasted in your stereo. It's like Red Bull music. High caffeine noise. You just had to move when you heard it. Maybe drive a little faster.
Modern rock radio or college radio was playing the hell out of these bands through the 90s. There was so much great rock in the 90s that so many genres kept popping up like industrial, grunge, etc.
It's sad to think what we are left with today. Rock music, with few exceptions like The Killers, Muse, Tool, sucks. We have not seen a movement of rock music like we saw in the 90's. The 90's killed the 80's crap but could not survive and adapt into the new millennium. we are left with over produced pop and glam rock. Hopefully the next decade will do for rock what the 90's did to the 80's.
Anyway, this is in remembrance of a great genre of alt rock from the beloved 90's
One Hit Wonders From the 90's
As I usually do I was listening to Lithium on Sirius radio and have made a mental note of songs that I used to love from the 90's but whose artists I didn't hear much from them past that song. They may have been great groups but their radio play back in the day did not reflect that. So I decided that I would keep a list of grunge/alternative songs I dug from the 90's that I personally classify as one hit wonders. This list will continue to be added to and grow. Don't be offended if I choose a song and you believe that the group was the greatest thing with guitars and all their songs rocked your world. And in keeping with the vibe of this lens , these choices will be slanted more toward alt rock/grunge than alt pop. So here ya go:
Nada Surf - "Popular" - (OK so this is close to alt pop. Gimme a break.)
Harvey Danger - "Flagpole Sitta"
Semisonic - "Closing Time"
Better Than Ezra - "Desperately Wanting"
Breeders - "Cannonball"
Local H - High Fivin' MF
Local H is one of my favorite bands to come out of the 90s. Two dudes: one on guitar and one on drums making serious noise. Hard and edgy. Lots of fun. High Fivin' Motherf@#$ is a classic. Hilarious lyrics and rocks hard.