The Top 5 Grunge Bands of the ’90s

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


In the early ’90s, the Seattle music scene exploded with the advent of grunge. This was a subgenre of rock that was characterized by heavy guitars, angst-ridden lyrics, and a general sense of despair. While there were many great grunge bands, these five bands were the best of the best.


Nirvana was an American rock band that was formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987. The band became a major force in the early 1990s with their breakthrough album, “Nevermind.” The album was a commercial and critical success, and it catapulted the band to the mainstream. Nirvana was one of the most influential grunge bands of the ’90s, and they are often credited with popularizing the genre.

Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain was the singer, guitarist, and main songwriter for the American grunge band Nirvana. He was born in Aberdeen, Washington, on February 20, 1967. Cobain formed Nirvana with bassist Krist Novoselic in 1987 and drummer Dave Grohl in 1990. The band’s debut album Bleach was released in 1989 on the Seattle-based independent label Sub Pop. Nirvana’s follow-up album Nevermind (1991) brought them mainstream success, and Cobain became a reluctant spokesperson for the Generation X. Cobain struggled with fame and his own struggles with heroin addiction and depression, which led to his suicide at the age of 27 on April 5, 1994.


Released on September 24, 1991, Nevermind is the second album by American rock band Nirvana, and the first to feature drummer Dave Grohl. The album was a commercial success, reaching number one on the Billboard 200 chart and selling more than 30 million copies worldwide. It is considered one of the most influential albums in rock history.

The album’s iconic artwork, designed by Robert Fisher and Kurt Cobain, features a naked infant swimming towards a dollar bill on a fishhook. The image became one of the most recognizable and controversial images in popular music.

Nevermind was Nirvana’s breakthrough album, and it established the band as leading representatives of the (*) grunge movement of the early 1990s. The album features some of Nirvana’s best-known songs, including “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Come As You Are”, “Lithium”, and “In Bloom”.

In Utero

In Utero is the third and final studio album by American rock band Nirvana, released on September 13, 1993, by DGC Records. Produced by Steve Albini, it was the band’s last recording before the suicide of singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain. The album’s musical style ranged from grunge to punk rock, and experimented with an array of alternative rock genres.

Albini had gained a reputation as a “no-nonsense” punk rocker in his work with bands like The Pixies, Shellac, and Big Black. He advocated an approach toSound recording that would maintain the raw, unpolished sound of a band’s live performance. In Utero entered the Billboard 200 chart at number one and received critical acclaim as a drastic departure from Nevermind. The record has sold over 15 million copies worldwide.

Pearl Jam

Eddie Vedder

Eddie Vedder (born Edward Louis Severson III; December 23, 1964) is an American singer, songwriter, musician and actor. He is best known as the lead vocalist and one of three main songwriters of the rock band Pearl Jam. He also appeared as a guest musician on the Temple of the Dog album, a tribute to the late singer Andrew Wood. Vedder has been ranked at number 7 on a list of “Best Lead Singers of All Time”, compiled by Rolling Stone in 2017.

In 2006, Vedder released his first solo album as a soundtrack for the film Into the Wild. His second album, Ukulele Songs, was released on May 31, 2011. Vedder will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Pearl Jam on April 7, 2017.


While grunge may have officially ended with the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, its influence can still be felt today. The genre was a major force in the ’90s, producing some of the most iconic bands and albums of the decade.

If you’re a fan of grunge, or just ’90s music in general, here are the top 5 grunge bands of the ’90s:

1. Nirvana – Nirvana is undoubtedly the most influential and important band of the grunge movement. Although they only released 3 studio albums, each one was hugely successful and cemented Nirvana’s place in rock history. Songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and ” Heart-Shaped Box” are still as popular today as they were when they were first released.

2. Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam was another one of the biggest names in grunge, and their 1991 debut album “Ten” is often considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time. Pearl Jam continued to produce quality music throughout the ’90s and are still active today.

3. Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains was one of the darkest and heaviest bands of the grunge movement, and their unique sound helped them stand out from the rest. They released 4 studio albums in the ’90s, all of which were very successful. Singer Layne Staley’s battle with addiction was well-publicized and ultimately played a role in his death in 2002.

4. Soundgarden – Soundgarden was one of the earliest grunge bands, formed in 1984. They released 5 studio albums in the ’90s, including their 1994 album “Superunknown” which went on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide. Soundgarden disbanded in 1997 but reunited in 2010 and are still active today.

5. Mudhoney – Mudhoney is often credited as being one of the first grunge bands, alongside Green River (which included future members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden). They never achieved mainstream success but they were hugely influential on the genre nevertheless.


Pearl Jam’s second album, Vs., was released on October 19, 1993. The album features a rawer and more aggressive sound than its predecessor, Ten. Vs. was the band’s first album to be co-produced by Brendan O’Brien and features the hit singles “Go”, “Daughter”, “Animal”, and “Dissident”. Pearl Jam would go on to win two Grammy Awards for Best Hard Rock Performance for the songs “Go” and “Spin the Black Circle” at the 37th Annual Grammy Awards.

Alice in Chains

Alice in Chains is an American rock band formed in Seattle, Washington, in 1987 by guitarist and songwriter Jerry Cantrell and original lead vocalist Layne Staley. The initial lineup was rounded out by drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr, who was replaced in 1993 by Mike Inez. Despite having a career full of hardships, the band became well-known for their dark and searingly emotional take on heavy metal.

Layne Staley

Layne Staley was the lead singer of Alice in Chains, and is considered one of the most distinct and powerful vocalists of the grunge era. He was known for his dark, brooding lyrics and for his powerful, yet haunting singing voice. Staley struggled with drug addiction for much of his life, and this ultimately led to his untimely death in 2002.


Facelift is the debut studio album by American rock band Alice in Chains, released on August 21, 1990, through Columbia Records. The album was written during the late 1980s when grunge was still an underground genre. It was the first grunge album to be released by a major label. The album’s singles, “Man in the Box”, “Sea of Sorrow”, and “We Die Young”, received radio airplay and were praised by music critics. Facelift has been certified triple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and has sold over four million copies in the United States.


Dirt is the second studio album by American rock band Alice in Chains, released on September 29, 1992, through Columbia Records. Peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart, the album was well received by music critics and has since been certified quadruple-platinum by the RIAA and went on to become the band’s best-selling album. It is the first Alice in Chains album to feature bassist Mike Inez.

The singles “Would?”, “Them Bones”, and “Angry Chair” all reached number one on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The song “Rooster”, about lead singer Layne Staley’s Vietnam War veteran father, is also included on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.. In 2006, Dirt was ranked number two on Guitar World magazine’s list of the greatest 100 guitar albums of all time.


Soundgarden was one of the most successful grunge bands of the ’90s. The band’s sound was a mix of heavy metal and punk rock, and their lyrics dealt with topics like alienation, depersonalization, and suicide. Soundgarden was also one of the first grunge bands to achieve mainstream success, with their album Superunknown selling more than five million copies in the United States.

Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer. He was best known as the lead vocalist for the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave. He was also a solo artist and had released five studio albums and one live album. Cornell was considered one of the pioneers of the grunge movement of the early 1990s. He died in 2017 at the age of 52.

Cornell was born in Seattle, Washington, and started playing guitar at the age of 13. He began his musical career as a drummer in a local band called The Shemps, which would eventually evolve into Soundgarden. Soundgarden became one of the most successful grunge bands of the ’90s, releasing six studio albums and achieving mainstream success with singles like “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman.”

In 2001, Cornell joined forces with members of Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave. The supergroup released three studio albums before eventually disbanding in 2007. Cornell would go on to release three more solo albums before his death in 2017.


Badmotorfinger is the third studio album by 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. Badmotorfinger is often cited as one of the essential grunge albums of the early 1990s. In 2007, the album was ranked number 153 on Pitchfork’s list of The Top 200 Albums of the 1990s.


Superunknown is the fourth studio album by American rock band Soundgarden, released on March 8, 1994, by A&M Records. Upon release, Superunknown topped the Billboard 200 chart and became the band’s breakthrough album due to the success of its singles “Spoonman”, “Fell on Black Days”, “Black Hole Sun”, and “My Wave”.

An essential album of the grunge era, Superunknown features a more polished and diverse sound than the band’s previous albums. As a result, it was also their most commercially successful album, selling more than nine million copies in the United States and nearly five million in Europe. For its 20th anniversary, Superunknown was reissued in a deluxe box set featuring a new remaster of the original album, as well as demos and live recordings.

Stone Temple Pilots

Stone Temple Pilots were one of the most successful grunge bands of the ’90s. They released their debut album, Core, in 1992, and it quickly went platinum. The band’s follow-up album, Purple, was also a huge success, selling more than six million copies. Stone Temple Pilots continued to tour and release albums throughout the ’90s and early 2000s.

Scott Weiland

Frontman Scott Weiland rose to fame as the grunge movement was taking off in the early ’90s. Stone Temple Pilots released their debut album, “Core,” in 1992. The album included the hit singles “Sex Type Thing” and “Plush.” Stone Temple Pilots achieved significant commercial success with their second album, “Purple,” which was released in 1994. The album included the smash hit single “Interstate Love Song.” Stone Temple Pilots went on to release four more studio albums before disbanding in 2003. Scott Weiland passed away in 2015.


Stone Temple Pilots were one of the most commercially successful grunge bands of the early ’90s. Formed in San Diego in 1989, the band – composed of singer Scott Weiland, guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo, and drummer Eric Kretz – combined a heavy rock sound with neo-psychedelic elements and social commentary. The group’s debut album, Core, was released in 1992 and went on to sell over eight million copies in the United States. Stone Temple Pilots also won a Grammy Award for the song “Creep” in 1994.


The second and final album by the Stone Temple Pilots to feature Scott Weiland as their lead singer, “Purple” was released on June 7, 1994 through Atlantic Records. The album found the band experimenting with different sounds and song structures, veering away from their earlier grunge roots. “Purple” peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 chart and was later certified six times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The album features the singles “Vasoline”, “Big Empty”, and “Unglued”.

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