The 90s saw an explosion of alternative music, with punk bands taking center stage and entering the mainstream alongside alternative rock groups. Many of them worked with independent labels before moving on to sign with major companies, and they’ve come to help define the rock, alternative, and punk genres in the years since. In this article, we’ll look at 31 of the best punk bands to come out of the 90s.
1. Green Day
Green Day was amongst the most successful California bands generally credited with popularizing punk music for mainstream audiences. Among the alternative bands of the 90s, Green Day emerged from the Bay Area Punk Scene to release a massive debut studio album, Dookie, that sold over 10 million copies in the US.
The band has sold well over 75 million albums worldwide, winning five Grammy Awards along the way and landing several songs on top of the Hot 100. The band’s success was not bound to the 90s like some other groups that will make this list, though, with the 2004 rock opera American Idiot being wildly popular with younger generations and their 2009 album, 21st Century Breakdown, giving them their highest-charting album. It’s almost impossible not to recognize some of their songs, whether it be Boulevard of Broken Dreams, American Idiot, or Basket Case.
I promise if you throw a Blink-182 song on in a bar of millennials today, you’ll have almost everyone singing along. Their in-your-face angst propelled them to massive success in and out of the punk scene, eventually reaching over 50 million worldwide record sales. What’s My Age Again, I Miss You, and All The Small Things are veritable pop punk anthems.
Outside of their standout albums, Blink-182 were regular performers at Warped Tour stops, helping them grow a cult following that lasted much longer than their stardom in mainstream music.
3. Bad Religion
Bad Religion is best known for its three-part vocal harmonies and its ability to take on tough topics like politics, society, religion, and mass media. In the punk rock world, they’re among the best-selling groups of all time, with over five million worldwide record sales spread between their 17 studio albums.
Like most great punk bands, they started with a large underground following before signing a major record deal with Atlantic in 1993. Despite their 90s success, their first album to crack the Billboard 200 Top 20 was True North in 2013.
4. The Offspring
The Offspring might be one of punk’s quintessential bands, scratching that high-energy, teenage angst itch with songs like The Kids Aren’t Alright, Self Esteem, and You’re Gonna Go Far Kid.
Their 40-plus-year career has seen the release of 10 studio albums and earned the band over 40 million worldwide record sales. Like many of the bands on this list, their early career saw them sign with Epitaph Records and release independent albums before landing a major deal.
One of those indie albums, Smash, sold over 11 million copies worldwide and still stands as one of the best-selling independent albums ever released. If you’re looking for one of their newest bangers, I recommend turning the volume on Let The Bad Times Roll.
5. Rise Against
Rise Against barely squeezed onto this list since they formed in 1999, but as a favorite punk band of mine, I’m throwing them in anyway.
They have an overtly aggressive sound, with much of their music relying on melodies and catchy hooks played at a rapid pace. Lyrically, the band is well-known for its social commentary, speaking out against political injustice and favoring environmentalism. Savior, Satellite, and Prayer of the Refugee are three of their best songs. Savior specifically found the band their biggest success, breaking the record for the most consecutive weeks on the Hot Rock Songs and Alternative Songs charts.
6. Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World land a bit in the middle of punk rock and emo pop, but hey, they still rock. The band was formed in 1993, inspired by pop punk bands like Radon and Horace Pinker, and earned itself an underground following that would propel them to mainstream success in the late 90s and early 2000s. Their biggest song, alas, did not come in the 90s, but came instead in 2001 (so yes, I’m cheating). The Middle reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and cemented the band’s place in the mainstream music world.
Sublime has so many good songs; oddly, they see more playtime on mainstream rock radio today than when they were active. From Santeria to Wrong Way and Doin’ Time to Caress Me Down, their brand of ska-punk music lives on today while the band doesn’t.
Most of their largest hits actually came after their breakup, with their third studio album being released after the death of frontman Bradley Nowell’s death in 1996. They earned their first hit single from the album release, What I Got, which made it number one on the Alternative Songs chart.
8. Sum 41
Sum 41 is another band that squeaks by in terms of the 1999 cutoff date for this list. Formed in 1996, the band released their debut studio album in 1999 and immediately saw Fat Lip top the Modern Rock Tracks chart.
Their next two singles, In Too Deep and Motivation, were also big commercial successes, catapulting them into a role as one of the bands shown most often on MTV. Sum 41 is one of the most successful bands to come out of Canada, among the Top 10 in terms of worldwide record sales.
9. The All-American Rejects
Forming in 1999, The All American Rejects eventually dropped some insane punk tracks. Gives You Hell was one of the greatest breakup songs of its generation, while Dirty Little Secret rocked out with distorted awkward chords that reminded you of the weirdness of a secret relationship.
Yes, I know those songs came out in the 2000s. I just don’t care to change it. They’re easily one of the top bands to come out of the 90s punk music scene and one that does the most touring out of anyone out there.
Yellowcard gained some notoriety in the punk scene for its unique sound. There aren’t many punk bands willing to consistently use a violin, even the pop punk bands doing covers of pop songs.
Their earliest sound was pure hardcore punk, but that would evolve into more of a pop punk sound that was easier to swallow commercially and gave us hits like Ocean Avenue, Only One, and Way Away. Their work has been consistently featured on MTV programs, in video games like Madden 2004, and in films like Spider-Man 2.
Rancid is one of the bands that popularized punk rock alongside Green Day and NOFX. They were among the first bands to form in the punk wave that emerged in southern California and would become one of the best-selling punk acts in history.
They would eventually drop elements of the street punk sound to infuse punk with ska, reggae, funk, and hip hop to create something new and fresh before reverting to their hardcore punk roots for their fifth studio album.
12. Bikini Kill
We can’t have a list of the best punk bands without including groups that were part of the riot grrrl movement. Bikini Kill were pioneers of that wave, inspiring many other groups that popped up with their feminist lyrics, in-your-face attitudes, and exhilarating performances. In all honesty, they weren’t well-liked then, which was part of why they disbanded in 1997. A constant stream of media attention, with most of it being negative, doesn’t take away what this punk band achieved, nor is it enough to drown out their message.
13. New Found Glory
New Found Glory is largely considered one of the pioneers of the pop punk genre, and alongside Blink-182, they essentially laid down the template that would define pop punk for years after their biggest successes.
They came out of the second wave of punk in the 90s, were praised by critics for combining hardcore and pop punk seamlessly, and are one of the most influential bands in the easycore genre. New Found Glory released a total of 10 studio albums and four cover albums, flowing back and forth between alt-rock and pop punk as it suited them.
Sleater-Kinney started as part of the riot grrl movement but found a home in the American indie rock scene. There’s no denying the riot grrrl influences, with much of the band’s music reflecting the feminist lyrics and liberal politics expected from one of those bands.
Major publications have hailed the group as one of the best rock groups of the late 90s and early 2000s, and the band has a ten-album catalog to back up those claims. Their debut self-titled album and Dig Me Out are two of their most essential albums.
The Ramones didn’t form in the 90s; they formed in 1974. But they’re generally considered the first true punk rock group, and their music has been a major inspiration for many of the other groups on this list, with some even trying to emulate them. The band toured nonstop for 22 years, culminating with a farewell tour that saw them disband in 1996.
The end of Ramones has done nothing to lower their importance to the music world, with Spin Magazine ranking them only behind the Beatles on their 2002 list of the greatest bands of all time and ranking at number 26 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.
Misfits stand out, even on this list, as the pioneers of the horror punk subgenre. Now, this subgenre deals with blending punk music and horror films together, including imagery and themes from those movies. They had their first run in the 1980s, becoming influential in the hardcore punk scene, but reunited in 1995 to produce two tribute albums and a rerelease box set of their earlier works that were highly influential on the punk scene as a whole.
17. The Bouncing Souls
The Bouncing Souls formed in New Jersey in 1989 and were responsible for the popularity of the faster, lighthearted style of punk music that took over the northeastern United States. They released their first full-length album, The Good, The Bad & The Argyle, in 1994, unsurprisingly on their own record label. The band got their name from a style of Doc Martens shoes that included air-cushioned soles and an accompanying ad that said: “with Bouncing Soles.” By 1997, The Bouncing Soles followed in the footsteps of many other punk bands and signed with Epitaph Records.
18. Simple Plan
Simple Plan performed at every Vans Warped Tour stops from 1999 until 2005 and did the same for 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2018 tour dates. They’re perhaps the only punk group to play at the Olympic Games, as they performed at the 2010 Winter Olympics closing ceremony. Simple Plan produced one of the purest pop punk records in their first studio album, No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls, headlined by the single I’m Just a Kid.
Zebrahead’s brand of rap punk is electrifying. By 1998, they released their self-titled debut album through the independent label Doctor Dream Records but signed with Columbia Records later that year. Their origins story is super interesting, as each of the four band members was in a band right before Zebrahead that failed. Hence, they formed a new band together and experimented with their sound until they got something they ended up liking.
20. Bowling For Soup
Anyone who grew up in the early 2000s and watched a bit of the Disney Channel is going to recognize Bowling for Soup. The band performed the introduction for the show Phineas and Ferb.
But a few of their songs were also featured on the channel. Their major record label debut was mostly re-recordings of the band’s older works and a few covers, including a solid one of Bryan Adam’s Summer of 69. Their biggest hit, front the album, Girl All The Bad Guys Want, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2003 for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
The Descendents are another one of those early punk bands that reemerged in the 90s, kind of like the Misfits, but much more true to the hardcore punk style. They started their career in 1977 in California, becoming one of the most influential punk groups in the emerging scene. Over that period, their music shifted from hardcore songs that lasted under a minute to traditional 2-3 minute radio songs that were much more punk rock than just punk. Their early music was essentially the stepping stone for the skate punk and pop punk subgenres that found traction in the 90s.
NOFX found success among the other punk bands of the early 90s, but unlike most of their contemporaries, they never signed to a major record label and remained with independent producers. The band has released 15 studio albums, 16 extended plays, and several singles. In total, they’ve racked up over eight million worldwide record sales, which is even more impressive when you consider that all of their albums were released through independent labels.
Fugazi is an interesting post-hardcore band that formed in 1983. They take much more of a DIY route than other groups, especially regarding their contempt for the music industry and the way they transcend traditional style guidelines with their music. The band has been incredibly influential in the punk and alternative music scenes but has been on indefinite hiatus since 2003. They gained international recognition through a film and comprehensive live series detailing their six studio albums.
24. Social Distortion
Social Distortion takes on punk from a different angle than most of the bands on the list. Their music originally was in line with the hardcore scene before their hiatus; then, they shifted to incorporate elements of country, blues, and early rock and roll with punk styles.
Their 1990 self-titled album is where they made their fame, propped up by the singles Ball and Chain and Story of My Life. Interestingly, a cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire was included in the album, which helped the album reach gold certification.
25. Suicidal Tendencies
Suicidal Tendencies started their journey as a thrash band but began to shift into the skate-punk genre in 1987 when they released their Join The Army album. A lot of experimentation went on for the band throughout the 90s, which eventually brought them great commercial success. Oddly enough, that success was unnerving for the band, who wanted to remain relevant in the underground music circles they came from.
26. No Use For A Name
Honestly, what’s more, punk that not even conforming to your own signature style of music? No Use For A Name basically did just that, changing styles and sounds pretty much every year, with the changes obviously reflected in their discography. Starting out as part of the Bay Area punk scene, the band slowly shifted into heavier, metallic music and eventually evolved into a light style of melodic punk before the band ended its tenure.
27. Dropkick Murphys
The Dropkick Murphys are still one of the most relevant punk bands today. Their Celtic punk stylings were brought out to the world when they formed in 1996, though they didn’t get their big break during that decade.
Instead, their biggest hit to most people is I’m Shipping Up To Boston, featured in the 2006 film The Departed and became the band’s only platinum-selling single. Their origins as a band are wild, playing in basements and bars before being selected by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to be that group’s opening act for their 1997 tour.
Lit’s best and most well-known song has got to be My Own Worst Enemy. That song saw them top the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart for 11 consecutive weeks and win a Billboard Music Award for the biggest Modern rock song of 1999. They followed it up with Zip-Lock and Miserable, with the latter becoming one of the most-played songs of 2000. Their music incorporated punk rock with grunge, which was so famous in the 90s and had a few heavy metal riffs that helped them stand apart at the time.
29. Less Than Jake
Less Than Jake began their career producing seven-inch singles but finally released their debut album in 1995, Pezcore. After signing with Capitol Records, they gained more exposure and became a bigger deal, with successful commercial singles like She’s Gonna Break Soon and The Science of Selling Yourself Short.
30. The Suicide Machines
The Suicide Machines were one of the best punk bands to come out of Detroit in the 90s. In the beginning, they blended ska, punk, and hardcore elements to create their sound before going in a radio-friendly direction in the early 90s and shifting back to their original sound in the mid-90s. Confused? Don’t be. Just listen to them. They were one of the most famous underground bands thanks to their relentless touring, including Warped Tour and Riot Fest.
Guttermouth is just as famous for its music as they are for its antics. They often include outrageous lyrics in their songs and exhibit deliberately explicit behaviors in concert that are meant to add shock value and a bit of humor to the show. Punk to the core, their actions have seen them leave Warped Tour in 2004 and wait through an 18-month ban from Canada.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
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