The Best Grunge Music of the 90s
- Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
- Pearl Jam – “Alive”
- Alice in Chains – “Would?”
- Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”
- Stone Temple Pilots – “Interstate Love Song”
- Bush – “Glycerine”
- Temple of the Dog – “Hunger Strike”
- Smashing Pumpkins – “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”
- Foo Fighters – “Everlong”
A list of the best grunge music of the 90s, including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.
Grunge music became commercially successful in the early 1990s, reaching its peak popularity between 1992 and 1994. The genre was a fusion of punk rock and heavy metal, and many grunge bands were influenced by the DIY ethic of the punk scene. Nirvana’s lead singer Kurt Cobain is credited with bringing grunge to mainstream success with their album Nevermind (1991).
Commercial success brought new challenges to grunge bands, as they were now being marketed to a wider audience and pressure from record labels to produce more radio-friendly material. This led to some creative tensions within the genre, as artists began to experiment with different sounds and production techniques. By the mid-1990s, grunge had begun to lose its commercial momentum, and many of the most successful bands from the genre disbanded or entered into hiatus.
Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was one of the most defining songs of the grunge movement of the early 1990s. With its distorted guitars, angsty lyrics, and catchy chorus, the song perfectly captured the frustration and disenchantment of a whole generation of young people. Nirvana quickly rose to become one of the biggest bands in the world, and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” remains one of their most iconic and beloved songs.
Pearl Jam – “Alive”
From their debut album Ten, Pearl Jam’s “Alive” is one of the quintessential grunge songs of the early ’90s. The band had initially planned to release the song as their first single, but due to its length (nearly six minutes), they instead opted for “Even Flow.” “Alive” would eventually be released as the third single from Ten, and although it didn’t perform as well as the first two singles, it remains one of Pearl Jam’s most popular songs.
Alice in Chains – “Would?”
Alice in Chains was one of the defining bands of the grunge movement of the early 1990s. Formed in Seattle in 1987, the band rose to prominence with their second album, Dirt (1992), which was certified quadruple platinum and contained the hit singles “Would?”, “Rooster”, and “Angry Chair”. The follow-up album, Jar of Flies (1994), debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and was certified triple platinum. The band’s fourth album, Alice in Chains (1995), was their first unqualified success, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 and being certified double platinum. The final studio album released before Staley’s death, 1996’s MTV Unplugged, was also a commercial and critical success, and is considered one of the band’s finest works.
Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”
Soundgarden was one of the most successful grunge bands of the 90s, and “Black Hole Sun” is one of their most iconic songs. The song was released in 1994 as part of the album Superunknown, and it quickly became a hit. The song is noted for its dark lyrics and melancholy tone, which perfectly capture the grunge aesthetic.
Stone Temple Pilots – “Interstate Love Song”
Stone Temple Pilots – “Interstate Love Song”
From their second album, Purple, this was the first of 16 chart singles for Stone Temple Pilots. It knocked Madonna’s “Take A Bow” out of the #1 spot on the Hot 100 in September 1994.
Bush – “Glycerine”
Bush’s “Glycerine” is one of the most enduring grunge songs of the 90s. Released in 1996, the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1997 and peaked at number twelve, making it the band’s most successful single. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.
The song is about lead singer Gavin Rossdale’s girlfriend at the time, Holly Marie Combs. The pair met when Bush was touring in support of their 1995 album Sixteen Stone. Combs was an actor on the television show Charmed, which was popular in the late 1990s. Rossdale has said that “Glycerine” is about the power of love and how it can make you do things you never thought you would do.
The song’s success helped propel Bush to stardom in the 1990s and cement their place as one of the most successful grunge bands of all time.
Temple of the Dog – “Hunger Strike”
One of the great things about the Seattle grunge scene of the early 90s was the sense of camaraderie and collaboration that existed between the musicians. Temple of the Dog was a perfect example of that, as it was a one-off project brought together by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and members of Pearl Jam (who were then known as Mookie Blaylock). The result was this 1991 classic, which features some of Cornell’s best vocal work.
Smashing Pumpkins – “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”
“Bullet with Butterfly Wings” is a song by American alternative rock band The Smashing Pumpkins. It was the third single from their 1995 double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and was nominated for five Grammy Awards.
In 2012, NME placed it at number 176 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 2014, it was voted by fans as the best song of the year in Triple J’s Hottest 100 poll.
Foo Fighters – “Everlong”
One of the defining songs of the grunge era, “Everlong” is an instant classic from the Foo Fighters’ second album, The Colour and the Shape. A perfect blend of heavy guitars and melodic vocals, “Everlong” is a song that any fan of the genre can appreciate.
Grunge music was a defining force in the 1990s, and its influence can still be felt today. This list has been carefully curated to represent the best grunge music of the decade. If you’re a fan of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or any other 90s grunge bands, you’re sure to find something to love on this list.