4 Bands That Created Grunge Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Grunge music is a genre of rock that emerged in the mid-1980s. It was characterized by a dirty, distorted sound and lyrics about angst, alienation, and apathy. Here are four of the most influential grunge bands.


Nirvana was a grunge band that was formed in Washington in 1987. The band became one of the most successful bands of the early 1990s with their album Nevermind. Nirvana brought grunge music to the mainstream and their success helped to popularize the genre.

Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain was the singer, guitarist, and main songwriter for the American rock band Nirvana. He was born on February 20th, 1967 in Aberdeen, Washington. Cobain formed Nirvana in 1987 with drummer Aaron Burckhard. The band’s first bassist, Krist Novoselic, joined the following year.

Nirvana released its debut album Bleach in 1989. The album was moderately successful and led to the band signing with major label DGC Records. Nirvana’s second album, Nevermind, was released in 1991 and became a surprise global hit. It topped the charts in several countries, including the United States, where it sold more than four million copies.

Cobain achieved major fame with Nirvana’s next album In Utero (1993), which reached number one on the Billboard 200 chart. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. Cobain also won Grammy Awards for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for the song “All Apologies” from In Utero.

Cobain’s personal life was troubled by drug addiction and depression. On April 8th, 1994, Cobain died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Seattle, Washington. He was 27 years old.


Nirvana was a Seattle-based grunge rock band formed in 1987 by singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. The duo recruited drummer Dave Grohl the following year. Though often labeled as a Cobain solo project, Nevermind (1991) was actually a group effort, with each member contributing to the songwriting. The album topped the Billboard 200 chart, eventually selling 30 million copies worldwide, and ushered in the alternative rock era of the 1990s with such hits as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are.” After touring extensively behind Nevermind, Nirvana released In Utero (1993), which debuted at number one but met with mixed reviews.

Pearl Jam

Grunge music is a genre of rock that developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the Pacific Northwest U.S. state of Washington, particularly in Seattle. It was known for its DIY ethic, Its thick, distorted guitars, heavy drums, and angry, heartfelt lyrics. Pearl Jam was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

Eddie Vedder

Eddie Vedder (born Edward Louis Severson III; December 23, 1964) is an American musician, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist and one of three main songwriters of the American rock band Pearl Jam. He is considered a cultural icon in the Seattle music scene.


Ten is the second studio album by American rock band Pearl Jam, released on August 27, 1991 through Epic Records. Following the success of their debut album, Ten (1991), Pearl Jam recorded Ten with producer Brendan O’Brien at London Bridge Studios in Seattle, Washington between January and February 1991. The band intended to make a straightforward rock record that was stripped-down and simpler compared to the ornate embellishments typical of many popular grunge records of the time. More so than their debut album, lyricist Eddie Vedder wrote lyrics about personal frustrations and relationships.

The band struggled with the writing process for more than a year, as Vedder felt he did not have enough time to write lyrics following the tour for their debut album. The music on Ten was darker and heavier than what Pearl Jam had done previously. The recording sessions were tense at times, due to disagreements within the band around vocalist Eddie Vedder’s growing creative input. Upon its release, Ten garnered critical acclaim, with many critics hailing it as one of the greatest albums of all time. The album has been credited with helping alternative rock music achieve mainstream popularity in the 1990s. It has been certified 13× multi-platinum by the RIAA in 2013 and ranks as one of the best-selling albums in history, with over 13 million copies sold in the United States and 30 million copies sold worldwide. Pearl Jam was ranked number 186 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”, and it is also included in Time’s “All-Time 100 Albums”. In 2001, a vote by UK music magazine Q placed it at number five on its list “The 100 Greatest British Albums Ever”.


Hailing from Seattle, Soundgarden was one of the first grunge bands to achieve mainstream success. The band’s debut album, Ultramega OK, was released in 1988 to critical acclaim. The band’s sound was a mix of metal and punk, with distortion-heavy guitars and anguished vocals. Soundgarden’s breakthrough album was 1991’s Badmotorfinger, which featured the hit single “Rusty Cage.” The band’s popularity continued to grow with the release of 1994’s Superunknown, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and was nominated for five Grammy Awards.

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell was an American singer, songwriter and musician, best known as the lead vocalist, primary songwriter and rhythm guitarist for the rock band Soundgarden and as lead vocalist and songwriter for the supergroup Audioslave. He was also known as a solo artist, forming and fronting the band Temple of the Dog, as well as working on various soundtracks for films and television. Cornell is considered one of the chief architects of the 1990s grunge movement.

Cornell was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, and attended Christ the King Catholic elementary school before being involved with music. He developed a love for singing after his mother showed him a Ray Charles concert on TV when he was a young boy. As a teenager, he was both a drummer in various local bands and took guitar lessons; he cited Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page among his influences. During his high school years, he sang in local bands including The Shemps, The bossanova-influenced Deep Six, and at one point performing with future Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd in a band called The King Animal.


Badmotorfinger is the third studio album by the American rock band Soundgarden, released on October 8, 1991, through A&M Records. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1992. In 2007, Badmotorfinger was ranked number 216 in Classic Rock’s “The 200 Greatest Albums of the 90s”.

The album was remastered and reissued on vinyl on April 15, 2016.

Alice in Chains

Though they never reached the same level of mainstream success as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, Alice in Chains were nonetheless one of the most popular and influential grunge bands of the early 1990s. Formed in Seattle in 1987, the group was originally composed of vocalist Layne Staley, guitarist Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Starr, and drummer Sean Kinney.

Layne Staley

Layne Thomas Staley (August 22, 1967 – April 5, 2002) was an American musician who served as the lead singer and co-lyricist of the rock band Alice in Chains, which he founded with guitarist Jerry Cantrell in Seattle, Washington in 1987.

Staley was also a member of the side project band Mad Season and briefly collaborated with Jerry Cantrell on the rock supergroup supergroup Axl Rose. Alice in Chains rose to international fame as part of the grunge movement of the early 1990s. The band’s third studio album, Dirt (1992), ranked as the 11th best-selling album of the year on the Billboard 200 and has been certified six-times platinum by the RIAA.

Staley struggled throughout his career with heroin addiction and depression, which ultimately resulted in his death from a drug overdose in 2002. His struggle with addiction was publicly known and he often spoke about it during interviews.


Facelift is the debut studio album by Alice in Chains, released on August 21, 1990. The album was written by guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney, with contributions from former guitarist Stone Gossard. It was the first release to feature bassist Mike Inez; keyboardist Johnny Thaw was also added during the recording sessions.

The album peaked at number 33 on the Billboard 200 and has been certified double platinum by the RIAA. Facelift was well received by music critics. In 2017, it was ranked at number 8 on Rolling Stone’s list of ‘100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time.’

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