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Early 90's Rock

Updated on April 10, 2014

Early '90s Rock: Grunge, Alternative, Metal, Pop/Mainstream Rock and Punk

Alternative rock rose in popularity and airtime in the early '90s, especially with the advent of the grunge genre with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. While 'glam metal' was going by the wayside, a few of the metal bands of the late '80s like Metallica and Guns 'N Roses were still forces to be reckoned with, and rock legends U2 released Achtung Baby, considered by many to be their best album. Groundwork was being laid by Green Day and other bands for a resurgence of Punk as well.

Come join me for a tour of rock music during the beginning of a decade where college campuses were the proving grounds for many up-and-coming bands. I was fortunate enough to be in college during most of the early '90s so this lens is also an ode to the music that was much of the soundtrack to my college life.

If this is nostalgia to you, drink it in. If early 90's college music is a new experience to you, hope you enjoy or at least learn a bit.

Rock on!

photo credit: Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden by, used under a Creative Commons license.

College Radio

Where I got my music -- WPGU; the University of Illinois' radio station

In my days at The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, my radio dial was always set to WPGU (standing for Parade Ground Units -- the original location of the station).

The on-air personalities (one of whom was a friend of mine) prided themselves in playing progressive rock, and were often left to their own devices to play anything from heavy metal to alternative to grunge to punk rock in the same day. WPGU-FM was once known, during the heyday of the alternative/grunge music genre in the 1990s, as "Modern Rock Radio, 107.1, The Planet". One of my roommates did the morning sports report on The Planet; she was the first woman whom I'd heard doing a sportscast; on the radio or otherwise.

These days, WPGU is known as 'True Alternative.'

The Heyday of Alternative/Grunge Rock

By 1992, bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana had burst into the higher eschelons of the music scene and were helping to catapult the rest of the grunge and alternative college bands into the spotlight as well. Mostly angst-filled, it appealed to many of us Gen-Xers, with lots of guitar feedback, fuzz and distortion, grunge rock spoke to the hopelessness of the status quo of society.

Plus, I think it singlehandedly made plaid flannel shirts as a fashion statement. I have to admit, I had my share of oversize plaid flannel shirts. Funny thing is I'm starting to see people wearing them again in 2013.

Concert Memories -- The Gin Blossoms

The University of Illinois had a ticket lottery for the Gin Blossoms concert, and I ended up getting #4. My good friend, my roommate and her boyfriend and I ended up in the second row for a somewhat intimate show in one of the larger lecture halls on campus. Loved it!

The Grunge/Alternative Scene of the Early 90's - Some of the big events from 1990 - 1995

  • May 27, 1990 - The Stone Roses stage a legendary concert at Spike Island, Cheshire
  • October 22,1990 - Pearl Jam, then named "Mookie Blaylock", play their first show as a band at the Off Ramp club in Seattle, Washington.
  • August 27, 1991 - Pearl Jam releases their debut album, "Ten". While initially slow to sell, it became #2 on the Billboard charts within a year and has since become certified thirteen times Platinum in the United States
  • Late 1991/Early 1992 - Nirvana's surprise hit single 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' propels their 1991 album, Nevermind, to the top of the Billboard charts.
  • February 24, 1992 - Nirvana's Kurt Cobain marries Hole's Courtney Love.
  • March 22, 1993 - Depeche Mode becomes the first alternative British band to achieve the number one in U.S.A. on the Billboard 200, with the album Songs of Faith and Devotion.
  • January 25, 1994 - Alice in Chains release their Jar of Flies album which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, becoming the first ever EP to do so.
  • August 1, 1994 - Nirvana play their final concert in Munich.
  • April 8, 1994 - The body of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, is found. Cobain's death three days before, is legally declared to be suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot.

News from the World of Rock - Besides grunge and alternative, there was still a lot going on in the world of rock. Here are some of the big events of the early

  • February 14,1990 - 50,000 fans watch The Rolling Stones play the first of 10 concerts at Tokyo's Korakuen Dome, the beginning of the Stones' first ever tour of Japan.
  • April 7,1990 - Neil Young, Elton John, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Guns N' Roses and Jackson Browne perform at Farm Aid IV in Indiana. John dedicates "Candle in the Wind" to AIDS patient Ryan White during his performance. White dies later that evening.
  • November 24, 1991 - Both Kiss drummer Eric Carr and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury died. Mercury was at home in London on November 24, due to AIDS complications. Rumors had been circulating that Mercury had AIDS, but the death comes as a shock to millions of fans and the music industry. The remaining members of Queen form the Mercury Phoenix Trust and the following year, a tribute concert is staged in Wembley Stadium. A sell-out crowd in attendance witness the three surviving members reuniting to play along with performances by the likes of David Bowie, Elton John, Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard, Metallica, Annie Lennox, and George Michael.
  • June 1992 - "November Rain" by Guns N' Roses enters the world record books when it becomes the longest single, at 8 minutes, 57 seconds, to reach the US Top 20. The single's video has a budget of over US$1.5 million, becoming the most expensive at the time.
  • May 31, 1993 - Oasis plays at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow, UK supporting 18 Wheeler. Creation Records boss Alan McGee, who is in the audience, offers them their first recording contract after the show
  • August 30, 1994 - Oasis release their debut album Definitely Maybe, it becomes the fastest selling debut album in the United Kingdom at the time until 2006 when it was beaten by the Arctic Monkeys' debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not.
  • August 22, 1995 - Rancid release their third studio album ...And Out Come the Wolves. Along with Green Day's Dookie and The Offspring's Smash (both released a year before), this album helped revive mainstream popular interest in punk rock in the mid-1990s, and becomes one of the best-selling independent records of all time. ...And Out Come the Wolves eventually goes platinum.
  • October 2, 1995 - Oasis release their second album, (What's the Story) Morning Glory?. The album spawns several number one singles around the world and eventually becomes the third best-selling album in the UK ever.

Concert Memories - U2

At the last minute, I decided to splurge and see U2 on their Zoo TV tour at Camp Randall Stadium at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Good choice. They were amazing, and their stage show had a lot of cool eye candy like a funky stack of cars and some slick looking scrolling lyrics. They're the kind of band that does well in a huge arena.

Sound off

What's Your Favorite Type of Early '90s Rock?

See results

Favorite Early '90s Music Memories - Tell about some of your favorite memories of early '90s music. What concerts did you love? What songs were your favorites,

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    • StillPlaysWithT profile image

      StillPlaysWithT 5 years ago

      My two favorites were/are Judas Priest and Megadeath. I know they're not really considered "90's bands". In the early 90's though, priest was still going strong and Megadeath was at the top of their game. Saw them play together in Reno and it was awesome - best concert I've ever been to.

    • profile image

      MikesLikes 5 years ago

      That would be faves. Their new album isn't half bad either.

    • profile image

      MikesLikes 5 years ago

      I remember these days fondly. Great stuff. Of all the bands, SP were my faces. I bought the Smashing Pumpkins reissues recently and they're amazing. Have to say I like their new one too.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I really love this site. Brings me back to the good ol days. You should definitely do more lists a la or

      Keep on rockin!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      Some of my favorite music comes from the early 90's - the entire Ten album by Pearl Jam... the evolution of U2's sound... the Offspring. Great stuff. Blessed by a SquidAngel! :)

    • GabStar profile image

      GabStar 6 years ago

      I loved the Gin Blossoms! Hey Jealousy is one of my favorite songs

    • profile image

      madhu2219 6 years ago

      outstanding article.. :)

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 6 years ago

      Good, honest, handmade and the most important real music. I've got all theirs albums.

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 6 years ago

      Good, honest, handmade and the most important real music. I've got all theirs albums.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 6 years ago from Connecticut

      After the hair bands of the 80's, the music of the newer bands from the 90's seemed to return to roots of rock. Nicely done!

    • punkgrinder profile image

      punkgrinder 6 years ago

      My favorite memory of the 90s in the musical tsunami that was Nirvana and how they changed everything, great lens.

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 6 years ago

      I remember first hearing U2's "Mysterious Ways" and RHCP's "Under The Bridge" by age 5 or 6...ironically didn't get into either band til my early 20's, now they're both favorites. Nice lens!

    • Jimformation LM profile image

      Jimformation LM 6 years ago

      Too many to list. Great concerts by Alice In Chains who were opening for Van Halen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Edgefest.. so many more. Memories of listening to all these bands with good friends and singing at the tops of our lungs.

      Good stuff

    • profile image

      raychR 6 years ago

      Great choice! :D i love them all!

    • sushilkin lm profile image

      sushilkin lm 6 years ago

      Awesome Lens!!!

    • BunnyFabulous profile image

      BunnyFabulous 6 years ago from Central Florida

      @youthministry: Thanks! I'm a big U2 fan as well.

    • youthministry profile image

      Paul Turner 6 years ago from Birmingham, Al.

      I am all about U2! Great job on the lens,

    • youthministry profile image

      Paul Turner 6 years ago from Birmingham, Al.

      I am all about U2! Great job on the lens,