Ah, 90s music, what a time to be alive! The previous decade had been dominated by aging rockers releasing rock power ballads but the arrival of grunge changed the dynamic of music in the 90s. The mid-90s arrival of Britpop kicked most aging rockers out of the charts, too. The best 90s rock bands are an eclectic mix, indeed. Here’s our list of favorite bands from the 90s:
The Seattle grunge scene changed the music landscape around the world. Nirvana was formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987 and become instrumental in bringing grunge to the mainstream. Kurt Cobain became a pop culture icon, with drummer Dave Grohl becoming a beloved rockstar with his band, Foo Fighters. 1991s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a defining moment in the development of one of the best 90s bands.
Radiohead refuses to be pigeonholed as an out-and-out rock band. The band has dabbled in electro and jazz, with the members embarking on solo projects. Radiohead hit the big time in 1992 with their debut album, “Pablo Honey” and its lead single, “Creep.” For more than 30 years, Radiohead has defied expectations and led the move to digital streaming. Of course, “OK Computer” later in the decade would be their best during the 90s, and that makes them one of the best bands of the era.
3. Alice in Chains
The influence of Seattle’s grunge scene continues with Alice in Chains. Alice in Chains took a different route than many contemporaries in the early 90s and incorporated aspects of heavy metal into their music. Led by Jerry Cantrell and the late Layne Staley, Alice in Chains retain a distinctive sound that has matured over the last three decades.
R.E.M. had been touring the U.S. and Europe since 1981 when they broke into the mainstream with 1991s “Out of Time.” Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck, and Bill Berry dominated the rock scene in the 90s by refusing to be pigeonholed. Following the radio-friendly “Out of Time” and “Automatic For The People” albums, R.E.M. defied expectations by lurching back towards a hard rock sound for 1994s “Monster.” R.E.M. disbanded in 2011.
Irish rockers, U2, reinvented themselves in the 1990s. After finding success with their debut album, “Boy”, in 1980, U2 changed its sound and musical direction in 1991. The album, “Achtung Baby”, was followed by the first of many stadium tours. Bono’s transformation in “The Fly” and a sound influenced by European electronic dance music made the band trailblazers in crossing musical genres.
6. Pearl Jam
Despite being part of the Seattle grunge scene, Pearl Jam brings a classic rock aesthetic to their work. Entering the 90s, Eddie Vedder’s band found fame with the album, “Ten.” The album produced classic songs, including “Alive”, “Jeremy”, and “Even Flow.” The dark subject matter of “Ten” included impactful songs about depression.
Noel and Liam Gallagher’s fights and the bitter split of the band overshadow a legacy of rock success for the Mancunian band. The punk-inspired debut, “Definitely, Maybe” remains one of the top-selling albums of all time. The Gallaghers followed a rock aesthetic inspired by 60s and 70s icons, including The Beatles, The Who, and Slade. The bickering Gallagher brothers led the band from 1991 to 2009, selling more than 70 million albums during the life of the band.
8. Foo Fighters
The death of Kurt Cobain left Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Krist Novoselic to disband the beloved grunge group. Grohl had been writing songs and recording demo’s for years without sharing them with Cobain because he felt intimidated by his talent. Grohl intended Foo Fighters to be a solo project before he succumbed to the pressure to join another band as a drummer. The release of Foo Fighters’ second album, “The Color and The Shape” put the band on a path toward the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Blur and Oasis were the leading lights of the mid-90s Britpop explosion. Led by Gorillaz frontman, Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon, Blur has found success in different musical genres. From 1993 to 1995, a trio of albums pushed Blur to the top of the album charts around the world. From the 1997 self-titled album to the present day, the band has experimented with different styles. The use of the electronic, gospel, and lofi styles sees them regarded as musical innovators.
10. Green Day
Having sold 75 million albums during its life, Green Day remains one of American rock musics’ biggest live acts. The Billie Joe Armstrong fronted band found success in 1994 with the album, “Dookie.” The album made them a popular band throughout the 1990s before they returned to commercial success in the 2000s.
11. Hootie & The Blowfish
Darius Rucker is best known for his country music incarnation in the 21st-century. In the 1990s, Rucker was the lead singer with the hugely successful Hootie & the Blowfish. The band formed in Columbia, South Carolina, and found mainstream success with “Cracked Rear View” in 1994. Hootie mania remained through the mid-90s before the band failed to much the 21-times platinum success of the debut album.
12. Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the most successful alternative rock bands of all time. The band incorporates funk and psychedelia into its work. The 1990s was a fertile time for the Californian band, with the decade beginning with the launch of “Blood Sugar Sex Magick.” Singles “Under the Bridge” and “Give It Away” showed the different styles influencing the band. The Red Hot Chili Peppers continue to tour and produce new music.
Chris Cornell was the driving force behind one of the pioneers of Seattle’s grunge scene. The band formed in 1985 but had to wait for 1994s “Superunknown” album to find mainstream success. The single “Black Hole Sun” was the band’s biggest chart success. Chris Cornell’s death in 2017 brought an end to the band’s career.
Few bands can recover from the loss of their creative force and go on to greater success. Suede had found some success with the debut album, “Suede”, with the help of lead guitarist Bernard Butler. Midway through recording the band’s second album, Butler departed due to creative differences. Early success with the single, “Animal Nitrate” pushed the band into the British press. Replacing Butler with 17-year-old fan Richard Oakes did not stop Suede from going on to become one of the most successful groups of the Britpop era.
15. Guns N’Roses
90s rock bands don’t come much bigger than Guns N’Roses. The band had been successful throughout the latter half of the 80s and kept their run going into the early 90s. Axl Rose and Slash led the band through the early 90s with the release of “Use Your Illusion I and II.” The success of the band in 1990 and 1991 is shocking when stories of the infighting and drug addictions that took place were made public.
The American hard rock and heavy metal band, Pantera, became one of the biggest bands of the mid-90s. Formed in Texas in 1981, Pantera became the pioneers of groove metal. The Abbott Brothers fronted Pantera and led them through a series of successes, including the albums “Cowboys From Hell” and “Vulgar Display of Power.” Pantera broke up in 2003, with the Abbott’s forming Damageplan. In 2004, Dimebag Darrell Abbott was murdered by an unstable fan at a Damageplan concert.
17. The Smashing Pumpkins
Billy Corgan has been leading The Smashing Pumpkins since the band was formed in 1988. The band found success in the mid-90s for the guitar-heavy sound that combined several musical styles. The Smashing Pumpkins’ biggest success was in 1995s “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.” The band’s career was derailed by drug use and infighting before the original lineup was reformed in the 2010s.
Emerging from the early-90s skate punk scene in Southern California, Blink-182 emerged as one of the best 90s bands. The band rose to stardom in 1995, with the release of their third album, “Enema of the State.” Blink-182 combines catchy pop melodies with punk rhythms to create a unique sound.
Forming in 1992, Weezer found instant success with the release of the self-titled album. The success of the music video for the single, “Buddy Holly” by Spike Jonze helped launch the career of the band. Written by Rivers Cuomo, “Buddy Holly” became a defining moment in the 90s rock scene. Weezer struggled to find success with its second album before returning to form in the early-2000s.
English space rock band, Spiritualized, leaped into the mainstream with 1997s “Ladies and gentlemen we are Floating in Space.” The lead single, “Come Together” helped the album be named 1997s best by members of Britain’s music press. The band has continued to find success over eight albums.
21. Rage Against The Machine
Revolutionary politics are the basis of the output of Rage Against the Machine. The Los Angeles-formed rock band found instant success with their self-titled debut in 1993. The album is widely considered a lasting effort that has appeal even to this day. The group became a pioneer of nu-metal and continued to have success during an initial nine-year run.
22. The Verve
Dysfunctional does not describe the British rock band, The Verve. The band has come and gone from each other’s lives for decades. Formed in the English town of Wigan, The Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft built a reputation as the best singer touring the U.K. in the 90s. The band suffered legal problems, health battles, and substance abuse on the way to releasing 1997s, “Urban Hymns.” The song, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” remains one of the most influential of the 90s.
Bush broke the U.S. before making an impact on the music scene in the U.K. The band became one of the most successful of the 90s, selling 10 million albums in the U.S. Gavin Rossdale and the band recorded their debut album, “Sixteen Stone” in 1994 with influences from America.
Pavement has turned their backs on the success they could have achieved signed to a major label. The Californian band is one of the most influential in the music industry without finding mainstream success. The single “Cut Your Hair” is the closest the indie rockers have come to finding mainstream success.
25. New Order
New order is among the great survivors of rock music. The Manchester band was formed by the remaining members of Joy Division after the death of Ian Curtis. By the 1990s, the band’s label, Factory Records was about to declare bankruptcy. New Order’s “Republic” album is led by the classic single, “Regret.” The decade began with New Order recording the iconic soccer song, “World in Motion” for England’s bid to win the World Cup.
The members of Korn made their way into the music business to follow the nu-metal pioneers Rage Against the Machine. Korn became one of the most popular nu-metal bands in history, with two albums topping the Billboard Top 200 before the end of the 20th-century.
27. The Lemonheads
Evan Dando has remained the only consistent member of the indie band since it was formed in 1986. After forming in Boston, the band released several albums and EPs through independent labels. The Lemonheads found success in Europe and Asia with the 1992 release, “It’s a Shame About Ray.” The single, “Mrs. Robinson” remains the band’s most successful single release.
Pulp had formed in 1978 without reaching the mainstream before the mid-90s. The album, “His n Hers” brought some success before the single, “Common People” launched the band’s next album, “Different Class.” Jarvis Cocker’s witty, sexually suggestive lyrics mixed with a humorous delivery created a classic English style. The band went on hiatus for a decade and reform for tours in the 2020s.
Having formed in L.A. in 1981, Metallica had become a popular thrash metal band by 1990. In 1991, the release of a self-titled album acted as a reboot for the band. A move away from thrash metal made Metallica one of the biggest stadium rock bands in the world.
Scottish singer, Shirley Manson heads a band of U.S. musicians in a group formed in Wisconsin. The band became of the biggest of the mid-90s following the release of the album, “Garbage.” The singles “Stupid Girl” and “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” made the band one of the biggest in the world from 1995 to 1998.
31. Bon Jovi
Jon Bon Jovi led his band through the 1980s and achieved success with “Slippery When Wet.” By the 1990s, Bon Jovi continued to produce soft rock ballads and songs that had a commercial appeal. The “Keep the Faith” album focused the band on success in Europe. 1995s “These Days” continued the successful run of the New Jersey band.
32. The Black Crowes
Southern rock had fallen out of fashion by the mid-90s. The Black Crowes continued to find success with their brand of southern rock in the decade, however. Chris Robinson’s band topped the Billboard 200 in 1992 with “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.”
33. Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth had been kicking around the indie charts for the second half of the 1980s before finding success in the 1990s. A switch to the DGC label pushed Thurston Moore’s band to mainstream success in the U.S. and Europe. The album, “Goo” was the first to reach the album charts in 1990.
Aerosmith had found success in the 1970s before fading away from the limelight in the early-1980s. A collaboration with Run D.M.C. relaunched the band in 1984 and kept them at the top of the charts throughout the 1990s. A string of best-selling albums including “Get A Grip” and “Nine Lives” kept the group at the top of the rock mainstream.
35. The Cardigans
The Cardigans found success with the single, “Lovefool” in 1996. The song featured in several movies and led to a period of sustained success for the Swedish band. The album “Gran Turismo” brought the 1990s to a close for The Cardigans.
90s rock bands were an eclectic mix of aging bands and international stars. The emergence of Britpop and grunge led to the changing face of rock music in the 21st-century.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.