Top 90’s Grunge Music You Need to Know About
Still don’t know what grunge is? Get schooled on the top 90’s grunge songs you need to know about.
Nirvana- Smells Like Teen Spirit
Nirvana was a rock band formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987. The band was founded by singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. Nirvana went through a succession of drummers, the longest-lasting and best-known being Dave Grohl, who joined the band in 1990.
Their first album Bleach was released on the independent record label Sub Pop in 1989. The following year, they produced Nevermind, which became a breakout success and overnight transformed the group into one of the most popular bands of all time. With massive mainstream appeal, Nirvana’s unassuming DIY approach to both music and lyrics subverted existing pop music conventions and “stripped rock ‘n’ roll back to its raw essentials.”
AsBLEACHr third studio album In Utero (1993), Nirvana pushed the boundaries of artistic expression in mainstream rock music with songs that merge brutal honesty with poetic beauty like “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Rape Me”. They also gained critical acclaim for their forceful rejection of conventional fleeting pop sensibilities in favor of long-lasting intuitive expression on songs like “All Apologies”. Over the course of their brief career, Nirvana came to be regarded as one of the most influential and innovative rock bands of all time, selling over 75 million records worldwide and helping to launch the alternative rock boom of the early 1990s.
Pearl Jam- Alive
Released in late 1991 as the lead single from Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, “Alive” was an instant success, reaching #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Though it would eventually be eclipsed by the success of future singles like “Jeremy” and “Even Flow,” “Alive” remains one of Pearl Jam’s most popular and recognizable songs.
The song is notable for its nuanced exploration of complicated subject matter, touching on themes of abuse, survival, and hope. Eddie Vedder’s lyrics were reportedly inspired by a childhood friend who had recently revealed to him that he had been sexually abused by his father. Vedder has said that he wrote the lyrics from the perspective of someone who has escaped their abuser and is now looking back on their life with a new understanding.
Musically, “Alive” is a tour de force, showcasing the band’s masterful mix of hard rock heaviness and pop hooks. The song features some of Mike McCready’s most blistering guitar work, as well as Jeff Ament’s signature bass groove. Drummer Dave Krusen keeps things tight throughout, providing a rock-solid foundation for the rest of the band to build upon.
As a whole, “Alive” is a powerful statement from a band that would go on to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world. It remains one of Pearl Jam’s best-loved songs and is rightly considered one of the cornerstones of the grunge movement.
Alice in Chains- Would?
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.
The band’s trapped-in-a-room sound was their trademark, thanks largely to Cantrell’s minimalistic guitarplaying, which relied heavily on the use of power chords. It helped define the grunge sound of the early-’90s. The group became known for their dark lyrical themes, often focusing on substance abuse (particularly Layne Staley’s well-publicized battle with heroin addiction), depression, and suicide.
Soundgarden- Black Hole Sun
Soundgarden was one of the most successful grunge bands of the 1990s. Formed in Seattle in 1984, the band released their debut album, Ultramega OK, in 1988. Their second album, Louder Than Love, was released in 1989 and reached #2 on the Billboard charts.
Black Hole Sun was released as a single in 1994 and reached #1 on the Billboard charts. The song is about loss and decay, and is considered one of Soundgarden’s signature songs. The music video for Black Hole Sun won several awards, including Best Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards.
Stone Temple Pilots- Interstate Love Song
Stone Temple Pilots, one of the most commercially successful grunge bands of the ’90s, built their career on a foundation of strong songwriting and powerful performances. Interstate Love Song, from their 1994 album Purple, is one of the band’s most iconic songs and remains a radio staple to this day. With its catchy guitars and singalong chorus, Interstate Love Song perfectly captures the band’s unique mix of hard rock and pop sensibilities.
Temple of the Dog- Hunger Strike
Temple of the Dog was an American rock band that formed in Seattle, Washington in 1990. The band was made up of members of two other Seattle bands, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. The band’s only album, Temple of the Dog, was released in 1991.
The album was a tribute to the band’s friend Andrew Wood, who had died of a heroin overdose in 1990. The album features the song “Hunger Strike”, which became a minor hit.
Mudhoney- Touch Me I’m Sick
Mudhoney is one of the most influential bands of the 90’s grunge movement. They were one of the first to sign to Sub Pop Records, and their debut album, Superfuzz Bigmuff, is considered a classic. Mudhoney’s sound is raw and powerful, with a heavy guitar sound and gravelly vocals. Their song “Touch Me I’m Sick” is an anthem for the grunge movement, and its catchy hook and heavy guitars make it a classic Mudhoney song.
Green River- Swallow My Pride
If there was one band that represented the tumultuous birth of grunge, it would be Green River. Hailing from Seattle, the group was led by Mark Arm and Steve Turner, who would later find fame with Mudhoney. Green River’s debut EP, Come on Down, is full of punk intensity, but the song that really announced their arrival was “Swallow My Pride.” It’s a seething missive against the music industry, with Arm sneering “I’ll sell my soul for rock and roll/I won’t swallow my pride.” The song remains one of grunge’s most powerful anthems.
Screaming Trees- Nearly Lost You
Screaming Trees were an American rock band formed in Ellensburg, Washington in 1985. The band achieved a degree of commercial success with their fifth album, Sweet Oblivion (1992), which became a surprise hit on college and modern rock radio, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard 200 album chart and selling more than one million copies worldwide. Their sound was considered a cross between hard rock and psychedelic rock. Screaming Trees are known for their three-part vocal harmony style of singer Mark Lanegan, guitarist Gary Lee Conner, and bassist Van Conner; as well as their work with producer/engineer Jack Endino.
The band reached their commercial peak with the release of Sweet Oblivion in 1992. The album, which featured the song “Nearly Lost You” as its lead single, became a surprise hit on modern rock and college radio stations, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard 200 album chart and selling more than one million copies worldwide. Screaming Trees toured extensively in support of the album, including headlining tours of Europe and North America.
L7- Pretend We’re Dead
L7 is an American grunge band from Los Angeles, California, United States. The band’s name originates from a 1950s slang term for “square”. They were active from 1985 to 2001 and reunited in 2014. Due to their heavy-sounding guitar riffs and lead singer Donita Sparks’s “snarling” vocal style, they are often compared to fellow grunge band Nirvana.
The single “Pretend We’re Dead” was released in 1992 and was included on the band’s second album, Bricks Are Heavy. The song received significant airplay on alternative rock radio stations, and its accompanying music video was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Alternative Video.