Where Grunge Music Comes From

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Grunge music is a style of rock that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s characterized by a raw, distorted sound and often dark, angsty lyrics. If you’re a fan of grunge, you might be wondering where it came from.

The Roots of Grunge

While grunge music is often associated with the Pacific Northwest, its roots actually come from a variety of places. One of the earliest and most influential grunge bands was the Melvins, who came out of the small town of Aberdeen, Washington. Other early grunge bands include Green River, Mudhoney, and Mother Love Bone. Grunge music became popular in the early 1990s with the release of Nirvana’s album Nevermind.

Punk Rock

Punk rock was a huge influence on grunge music. Punk rock is a genre of rock music that developed in the mid-1970s. Punk rock bands rejected the mainstream music industry, choosing instead to DIY and self-publish their own music.

Punk rock bands were often political, and their lyrics reflected this. They sang about social and economic issues, particularly those affecting working class people. Punk rock bands were also known for their aggressive, fast-paced sound.

Grunge artists were heavily influenced by punk rock. Many grunge bands got their start in the punk scene. Grunge music is similar to punk rock in its DIY ethos and its focus on social and economic issues. However, grunge is distinguished from punk rock by its slower, more atmospheric sound.

Hardcore Punk

Hardcore punk is a punk rock music genre that developed in the early 1980s. Hardcore punk bands are generally characterized by fast tempos, loud volumes, and aggressive musicianship. Hardcore punk lyrics often address social and political topics.

The origins of hardcore punk can be traced to the mid-1970s when bands such as the Ramones and the Sex Pistols began playing fast, loud, and simple music. The sound of these bands was raw and unpolished, which appealed to many punk rock fans. In the 1980s, hardcore punk became its own distinct genre with bands such as Black Flag, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat. These bands pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable in music, often writing songs about topics that were considered taboo at the time.

The popularity of hardcore punk declined in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the genre has had a lasting impact on popular music. Many of today’s most popular rock bands were influenced by hardcore punk, including Green Day, Blink-182, and Foo Fighters.


Post-punk is a type of rock music that emerged in the late 1970s as a reaction against the perceived excesses of punk rock.Post-punk bands were often experimental, drawing on diverse sources such as krautrock, dub reggae, and disco. They typically used synthesizers, drum machines, andbass guitars to create a dense, complex sound.

While punk rock had been fiercely critical of mainstream society and the music industry, post-punk bands were often ambivalent towards these things. This is reflected in the songwriting of post-punk bands; while punk songs were typically short and straightforward, post-punk songs were often long and cryptic. Many post-punk musicians worked in avant-garde or experimental styles, incorporating elements from other genres such as art rock, dub, funk, disco, and electronic music.

The Birth of Grunge

Grunge music came to be in the mid 1980s in the Seattle area of the US. The style of music was a mix of punk and metal and was often considered to be angry and aggressive. The first grunge band to release an album was Green River.

The Melvins

The Melvins were a big part of the grunge music scene, and are credited as being one of the first grunge bands. Formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1983, they were heavily influenced by Black Sabbath and other metal bands. But they also had a punk rock sensibility, which set them apart from their metal contemporaries.

The Melvins developed a cult following in the underground music scene, and their popularity grew when they toured with Nirvana in 1991. Their 1992 album “Lysol” was Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s favorite album at the time, and he even wrote the liner notes for it. Cobain was also a big fan of the Melvins’ song “ Honey Bucket,” which was later covered by Nirvana on their 1993 album “In Utero.”

The Melvins continue to tour and release music today, and are considered one of the most influential grunge bands. Other early grunge bands include Mudhoney, Green River, and Soundgarden.

Green River

Green River is often cited as the first grunge band. Formed in Seattle in 1984, the group was influential in creating the musical style that would come to be known as grunge. The band’s sound was a unique mix of punk and metal, with a heavy focus on distorted guitars and angsty lyrics. Green River’s influences can be heard in many of the later grunge bands that would achieve mainstream success, including Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam.


Mudhoney was an American grunge band formed in Seattle, Washington in 1988. Original members include Mark Arm (vocals and guitar), Steve Turner (guitar), Matt Lukin (bass) and Dan Peters (drums). The band’s early releases for the independent label Sub Pop helped to pioneer the grunge music genre.

Mudhoney’s first album, Superfuzz Bigmuff, was released in 1988 to positive reviews, though it did not achieve the mainstream success of later releases. The album’s first single, “Touch Me I’m Sick”, became a minor hit on college radio stations. subsequent singles “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” and “In ‘n’ Out of Grace” were also moderately successful on college radio.

The band’s second album, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (1991), was more successful than its predecessor, reaching #2 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and #24 on the Top Independent Albums chart. The first single from the album, “Here Comes Sickness”, was a minor hit on college radio. The second single, “Suck You Dry”, was more successful, peaking at #24 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Mudhoney’s third album, My Brother the Cow (1995), was their most commercially successful album to date, reaching #27 on the Billboard 200 and #5 on the Top Independent Albums chart. The first single from the album, “Into Your Shtik”, was a minor hit on modern rock radio. The second single, “Who You Drivin’ Now?”, was more successful, peaking at #18 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

The Mainstreaming of Grunge

Grunge music came about in the early 1990s as a result of the alternative rock and heavy metal music scenes. The term “grunge” was actually first used in print in the Seattle weekly The Rocket in June of 1991. The genre became mainstream in the early 1990s with the help of Nirvana’s album Nevermind.


Nirvana was an American rock band formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987. They were one of the most successful and influential bands of the 1990s, selling over fifty million albums worldwide. Nirvana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

Nirvana was founded by singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. The band released their debut album, Bleach, in 1989 on the independent record label Sub Pop. They achieved mainstream success with their second album, Nevermind, released on DGC Records in 1991.

Nevermind topped the charts in several countries and became one of the best-selling albums of all time. The lead single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, became a global success, propelling the album to the top of the charts. The success of Nevermind surprised the music industry; according to DGC Records co-founder Jenny Larsen,”nirvana [seemed] to come out of nowhere”.

The band’s third album, In Utero, was released in 1993 on DGC Records. It was recorded in secret with producer Steve Albini over a two-week period to avoid interference from the label. In Utero entered the Billboard 200 chart at number one and received critical acclaim for its forceful musical direction.

The album was preceded by the lead single, “Heart-Shaped Box”. Nirvana embarked on extensive tours for In Utero throughout Europe and North America in 1993–1994. The tours were often hampered by illness; Cobain suffered from stomach pains and chronic bronchitis, while Novoselic battled a herniated disc. In March 1994, Nirvana performed at Serendipity 3 in New York City for MTV Unplugged; Cobain sang “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” from Lead Belly’s Folk Songs for Woody Guthrie compilation album as a duet with folk musician Beck Hansen. MTV Unplugged debuted on television six months after Cobain’s death and became one of Nirvana’s most iconic performances; a live album of the same name was released posthumously in 1994.

Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam is one of the most successful grunge bands of all time. Formed in Seattle in 1990, the band achieved mainstream success with their debut album, Ten, which was released in 1991. Pearl Jam went on to become one of the most successful and influential rock bands of the 1990s, selling over 30 million albums worldwide. Over the course of their career, Pearl Jam has won multiple Grammy Awards and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Soundgarden was an American rock band formed in Seattle, Washington, in 1984 by singer and rhythm guitarist Chris Cornell, lead guitarist Kim Thayil, and bassist Hiro Yamamoto. Matt Cameron became the band’s full-time drummer in 1986, while bassist Ben Shepherd became a permanent replacement for Yamamoto in 1990. The band built its reputation as part of the Seattle music scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, signing to A&M Records in 1988; their first album, Ultramega OK (1988), earned them a Grammy Award nomination for Best Metal Performance. Soundgarden was one of the seminal bands of grunge, creating a sound that combined metal and punk with elements of pop music.

The Legacy of Grunge

Grunge music is a subgenre of alternative rock that emerged in the mid-1980s. Grunge music is characterized by a heavy, distorted sound and a DIY ethic. The genre developed in the wake of the punk rock movement and was influenced by hardcore punk and heavy metal.

Foo Fighters

Despite the fact that grunge music emerged in the early 1990s, its roots can be traced back much further. Grunge is often thought of as a reaction against the polished sound and image of hair metal bands that were popular in the 1980s. While there is some truth to this, grunge is also indebted to a number of other musical genres, including punk and heavy metal.

One of the most important progenitors of grunge was the Seattle band Nirvana. Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind was a game-changer for popular music, and its success helped to make grunge one of the most popular genres of the 1990s. Other important grunge bands include Pearl Jam,Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden.

While grunge is often associated with Seattle, the genre actually has its origins in a number of different places. Grunge music first started to take shape in the 1980s punk scene in Washington state. Punk rock bands like Green River and Melvins were playing a brand of music that would later be called grunge. These bands combined elements of punk with heavier sounds borrowed from metal bands like Black Sabbath.

Grunge finally broke into the mainstream in 1991 with Nirvana’s Nevermind album. The album’s success surprised everyone, including Nirvana themselves. The popularity of Nevermind helped to make Seattle the epicenter of the grunge scene, and it also propelled Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s lead singer and songwriter, to superstardom. Cobain would go on to become one of the most iconic figures in popular music before his untimely death in 1994.

Stone Temple Pilots

Stone Temple Pilots were one of the most successful grunge bands of the early 1990s. The band’s debut album, Core, was released in 1992 and included the hit singles “Sex Type Thing” and “Creep”. Stone Temple Pilots went on to release four more studio albums, each of which was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. The band’s last album, self-titled Stone Temple Pilots, was released in 2010. Stone Temple Pilots disbanded in 2013, but reunited in 2018 with a new lead singer, Jeff Gutt.

Alice in Chains

Alice in Chains is an American rock band from Seattle, Washington, formed 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. Although widely associated with grunge music, the band’s sound incorporates heavy metal elements. Since its formation, Alice in Chains has released six studio albums, three EPs, two live albums, four compilations, and two DVDs.

The band rose to fame as part of the grunge movement of the early 1990s, along with other Seattle bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Alice in Chains was one of the most successful music acts of the 1990s, selling over 30 million records worldwide. The band has had 14 top ten songs on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts, nine Grammy Award nominations,[1] and four Grammy Award wins.[2] In 1992 the band released their Diamond-certified album Dirt. Their second album, Jar of Flies (1994), debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and is also certified Diamond; it remains the only EP to do so.

After Staley’s death in 2002, Kinney and Cantrell remained active members with Alice in Chains touring and releasing new material; however it was not until 2006 that they recruited William Duvall as lead vocalist to replace Staley permanently.[3] The new lineup released Black Gives Way to Blue (2009), their first album in 14 years; it debuted at number five on Billboard 200 and received Gold certification within three weeks of its release.[4][5][6] The album included hits “Check My Brain” – which peaked at number one on Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart[7] – as well as “Again”, “A Looking in View”, “Lesson Learned” and “Your Decision”. In 2013 they released The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, their fifth studio album since Staley’s death. It received mixed reviews but still debuted at number two on the Billboard 200.[8][9]

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