The 10 Best Indie Rock Songs of All Time

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


We’ve compiled a list of the 10 best indie rock songs of all time. From early classics like Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” to more recent hits like Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor,” these are the tracks that have defined the genre.

The Smiths – “How Soon Is Now?”

Released in 1984, “How Soon Is Now?” is one of the most recognizable and influential indie rock songs of all time. The six-minute track was built around a simple, catchy guitar riff and Morrissey’s distinctive croon, but it’s the atmospheric production that really makes the song so special. “How Soon Is Now?” has been covered by everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Kelly Clarkson, and its influence can still be heard in the music of contemporary indie rock bands like Interpol and The National.

Pixies – “Where Is My Mind?”

Indie rock is about as eclectic and diverse a genre as you can get, which is why narrowing down the 10 best indie rock songs of all time was no easy feat. From punk to pop to folk to electronic, the genre has produced some truly incredible and timeless tracks over the years.

To create this list, we took into account a variety of factors, including impact, popularity, influence, and of course, personal preference. We also tried to mix things up a bit and included both classic tracks and newer songs that are already making waves in the indie rock world.

Without further ado, here are the 10 best indie rock songs of all time:

1) Pixies – “Where Is My Mind?”
2) Arcade Fire – “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
3) The Strokes – “Last Nite”
4) Beck – “Loser”
5) LCD Soundsystem – “All My Friends”
6) Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps”
7) Spoon – “The Way We Get By”
8) Vampire Weekend – “A-Punk”
9) The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army”
10) Radiohead – “Creep”

Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Released in September 1991 as the first single from Nevermind, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an instant hit, propelling Nirvana and grunge music into the mainstream and making front man Kurt Cobain a global superstar. The song’s success came as a surprise to Cobain, who was responded with bemusement when fans started singing it back to him at concerts. “I still don’t know what it is about that song that attracts so many people,” he said in a 1994 interview. “It just seems very catchy and every time I hear it on the radio I turn it up really loud.”

Radiohead – “Creep”

Radiohead’s “Creep” was released as the lead single from their debut album Pablo Honey in February 1993. The song was an instant hit, propelled by its angsty lyrics and grunge-influenced sound. “Creep” quickly became a staple of modern rock radio, and remains one of Radiohead’s most well-known songs.

Pavement – “Cut Your Hair”

“Cut Your Hair” is a song by American indie rock band Pavement, released as the lead single from their third studio album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994). The song was written by the band’s primary songwriter and frontman Stephen Malkmus.

The song is a satire of the music industry and celebrity culture, and its title is a reference to thelength of Malkmus’ hair at the time. It was one of the band’s most successful singles, reaching number 10 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in 1994.

Pitchfork listed “Cut Your Hair” as the second best song of the 1990s, and in 2003, NME ranked it as the 65th greatest song of all time.

Sonic Youth – “Teen Age Riot”

Sonic Youth’s “Teen Age Riot” is not only one of the best indie rock songs of all time, but it’s also one of the best rock songs period. The 1988 track, which clocks in at just under seven minutes, is an anthem for disaffected youth, with lyrics that explore alienation, apathy, and disenchantment. It’s a song that perfectly captures the frustration and ennui of being a teenager, and it’s also a crackling piece of guitar-driven rock music.

The Stone Roses – “Fools Gold”

“Fools Gold” is the perfect example of The Stone Roses’ perfect melding of Madchester/baggy beats with classic rock ‘n’ roll. The 9-minute opus is powered by a relentless, chugging bassline from Mani and features some of Ian Brown’s most Play-Doh-molded lyrics (“And you know it makes me move/It makes me do the hokey cokey/And that’s what it’s all about”). By the time John Squire unleashes his wah-wah solo midway through, you’ll be hooked for life.

My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow”

My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is one of the most influential records of the past 30 years, and “Only Shallow” is its centerpiece. The song is a masterclass in texture, with guitars that jangle and swirl in blissful harmony and drums that crack like thunder. It’s a perfect example of My Bloody Valentine’s ability to take disparate elements — in this case, noise and pop — and turn them into something beautiful.

Dinosaur Jr. – “Feel the Pain”

With a crunchy, driving guitar riff and J Mascis’s trademark nasally, deadpan vocal delivery, “Feel the Pain” is one of Dinosaur Jr.’s most instantly recognizable songs. The track first appeared on the band’s 1994 album Without a Sound, and its sound epitomizes the band’s blend of classic rock and punk influences. The song was also a major mainstream breakthrough for the band, reaching #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart and #24 on the Hot 100 – making it one of the highest-charting indie rock songs of all time.

The Strokes – “Is This It?”

The Strokes’ debut album Is This It? is not only one of the best indie rock albums of all time, it’s one of the best albums period. In just 10 songs, the New York City band created a perfect snapshot of life in the early 2000s – an era when indie rock was on the verge of becoming a global phenomenon.

Lead singer Julian Casablancas’ effortless cool and detached delivery is the perfect counterpoint to the band’s tight, muscular guitar riffs and rhythms. “Is This It?” is the perfect encapsulation of all that is great about The Strokes – and indie rock in general.

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