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8 Bands that Defined 90s Alternative Rock

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Featured Image by Jesse Frohman 

The 90s were a strange step in the evolution of mainstream music. The decade was filled with odd hair designs, weird music videos, and lots of out of key solos. Before 1990, you would have never heard of bands like Nirvana or Rage Against the Machine on the radio. Yet, as the 90s progressed, alternative music became a common (and very popular) genre label. This new sound of music captured the attention of the youth of America and would grow to become a very distinct chapter in the history of music.

1. Oasis

Oasis took the world by storm in the 90s. They were busy, releasing four massively popular albums throughout the decade. The band was infamous for the drama that occurred within the band’s two most popular members, brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher. Regardless of the turmoil, the two brothers lead their band into international fame with hits like “Champagne Supernova” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and secured their spot as one most influential bands of the 90s.

2. Nirvana

I know you’re shaking your head right now. Nirvana? And at the bottom of this list? Everyone and their mothers have heard of Nirvana and the legendary front man of Kurt Cobain, and for good reason. Nirvana brought heavy, distorted guitars and grungy, gravelly voices to the mainstream. They were the band that paved the way for many musicians on this list. The grunge movement lead to bands like Stone Temple Pilots, Seether, Bush, and others becoming massively popular. Nirvana is still cited by many bands today as a major influence. Check out, “Lithium” and their unplugged version of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World.”

3. Radiohead

Radiohead is the sort of band that you might not have ever heard of, but they have a fan base that will proudly proclaim that Radiohead is the greatest band of all time. The 90s were a great time to be a Radiohead fan, as they had two incredible albums released during the decade. Their second studio album, The Bends, was released in 1994, instantly launching the band on a fast track to fame. They followed up that album with an equally amazing album, OK Computer in 1997. It was kind of popular. If you haven’t heard of Radiohead, or have only heard of the name and never given them the time, stop what you’re doing and listen to them! Start with the super distorted solo of “Just” and then check out the lighter side of the band with “Street Spirit (Fade Out).” You won’t be disappointed.

4. Green Day

1994 saw the breakout of Green Day with the punk masterpiece Dookie. Green Day, who was spearheading punk into the mainstream radio waves, had been creating music since their high school days. While their previous albums had been underground hits, Dookie would go to sell over 85 million copies. This album contained classic punk hits like “Welcome to Paradise” and “Longview.” The band would go on to release two more monster albums over the decade: Insomniac and Nimrod. Without Green Day, we might never have gotten bands like Blink-182 or The Offspring.

5. Rage Against the Machine

Few bands know how to pull off the angry, stick-it-to-the-man sound like Rage Against the Machine. Lead by the electric Zack de la Rocha, fast spoken lyrics combined with the progressive guitar playing of Tom Morello to create some extremely energetic songs. Their shows were giant mosh pits filled with screaming fans. Rage Against the Machine would blow up throughout the 90s, gaining national success and spreading a message to their fans to question the government. The band split up in 2000 after a few bad decisions, including leading their fans to storm the Wall Street Building. The members of the band left their front man and joined Chris Cornell to form super-group Audioslave. Check out the songs “Bulls On Parade” and “Ghost of Tom Joad.”

6. Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been around for a long time with their first recordings dating back to 1984. From humble beginnings, improving music on stage while putting on the most energetic show they could, the band would rise to great heights and become nearly household names. During the 90s, the band came out with two of their largest hits, the albums Californication and By The Way. Songs from these two albums would become anthems of the 90s with a unique mix of funk and rock. Check out the classic “Californication” and the underappreciated “Universally Speaking.”

7. Melvins

The band Melvins were ushered to fame with the success of their friends, Nirvana. In fact, you might need to thank drummer Dale Crover for his role in helping form Nirvana. The band also wins points for the origin of their name. Melvin was a supervisor at the thrift store where singer Buzz Osborne worked. Filled with walls of distorted guitar, Melvins were the little, less popular brothers of Nirvana. Melvins have around 20 albums under their belt and are still active today. Check out their songs, “Honey Bucket” and “Night Goat.”

8. The Dandy Warhols

The Dandy Warhols released their label debut album The Dandy Warhols Come Down in 1997. An interesting blend of punk and psychedelic rock (à la The Velvet Underground), the band was not an instant hit but would quickly be seen as an underground gem. Their songs are reminiscent to a modern, more punk version of The Doors. The band’s use of synth in the background of their songs are incredibly well done and tasteful, it is one of the reasons that the band stands out among their peers. Check out the tracks “Boys Better” and “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth.” Oh yeah, we mentioned the weird music videos, right?

About Carson Long

I am the Editor-in-Chief for the student lifestyle magazine, The Sting. I am a technical writer, musician, and writing enthusiast. Right now, I play guitar in Atlanta band "The Wake Up Kids". You can always find me hiking mountains or reading a good book.

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