The 1990s were an epochal period in music history. Grunge, hip hop, and punk were some of the most significant words in music while the stage was being set for the sounds of the new century. These albums were some of the most enduring and influential of the 1990s.
1. Achtung Baby — U2
U2 was instrumental in developing alternative rock in the 1980s and 1990s. Their 1991 album Achtung Baby signaled a departure from their usual musical style, embracing the more popular genres of the new decade. With dark, philosophical lyrics and a musical technique that included electronic rock and industrial music, it is considered one of U2’s most successful albums, spawning five top hits.
2. The Bends — Radiohead
Radiohead had previously enjoyed a reputation as a one-hit wonder band—until the release of their second album, The Bends, in 1995. The album marked their transition into mainstream popularity and they became one of the most famous British bands of the 1990s. The Bends has been cited as providing inspiration for future UK bands including Coldplay and Muse.
Next: Top 90s alt rock songs
3. Superunknown — Soundgarden
Superunknown, released in 1994, wasn’t Soundgarden’s first album, but it became their breakthrough work. The album included some of the biggest hits of their time as a group, including Black Hole Sun and Spoonman. It also won a rash of Grammy Awards, cementing Soundgarden in mainstream music and further popularizing grunge music beyond the Seattle niche.
4. Life After Death — The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G. released Life After Death in 1997 to great acclaim. In an eerie self-fulfilling prophecy, the album was released 16 days after the rapper was murdered. It was a massive success, featuring collaborations with some of the biggest names in the 1990s hip hop industry. Life After Death flew to No. 1 on the charts and has been recognized as one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.
5. Jagged Little Pill — Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album Jagged Little Pill abandoned her earlier forays into electronic pop and drew on inspiration from grunge and pop rock. It was a wild success, winning an astonishing five Grammy Awards—a massive achievement for the then-21-year-old Morissette. It also featured her iconic songs Ironic, and You Oughta Know, which would become standards.
6. Fear of a Black Planet — Public Enemy
Public Enemy was one of the most outspoken and influential hip hop groups of the 1980s and 1990s. Their music drew attention to pressing social and political issues of the time, particularly relating to racism and police brutality. Their 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet was praised for its deep lyrics and poignant commentary. It received widespread acclaim. Today, music historians say that the album was instrumental in moving black voices into mainstream music; the album has been added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress.
7. Nevermind — Nirvana
Nirvana had already established themselves as the leaders of the grunge genre with the release of their first album, Bleach. But it wasn’t until 1991’s Nevermind that they found mainstream popularity, becoming one of the most influential bands of the 1990s. The album’s top single, Smells Like Teen Spirit, has been called the anthem of Generation X.
8. My Life — Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige’s 1994 album, My Life, was aptly named, as the songs were deeply personal. The content was drawn from her experiences with addiction, abuse, and depression. The album received acclaim for this vulnerable and introspective content and set the stage for a more personal trend in modern R&B music. My Life topped the charts for eight weeks and was nominated for a Grammy.
9. Violator — Depeche Mode
Electronic music had been developing throughout the 1980s, but it wasn’t until the next decade that it began maturing and gaining mainstream popularity. One particularly influential album in the electronica genre was Depeche Mode’s 1990 album, Violator. It spawned two top 10 hits and propelled the British band onto the international stage. It has been widely credited for influencing the development of electropop throughout the 1990s.
10. The Score — Fugees
In many ways, Fugees’ 1996 album, The Score, seems to exemplify the biggest trends in hip hop in the mid-to-late 1990s. But that doesn’t mean that it was simply one of the crowd. The album was praised for its unique musicality, which embraced hip hop ideals while favoring a softer, less aggressive sound. The Score won Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards and broke records for its time on the R&B charts.
11. Very Necessary — Salt-N-Pepa
Female hip hop group, Salt-N-Pepa, revitalized the American hip hop scene throughout the 1990s with their high-energy, upbeat rap tracks. Their sound was in stark contrast to the more aggressive gangsta rap that was becoming popular during that time. Their 1993 album Very Necessary was one of their greatest successes, featuring four top hits, including Shoop and None of Your Business.
12. In Utero — Nirvana
Nirvana was prolific through the early 1990s until the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, with their music strongly influencing the development of grunge, post-grunge, and punk rock long after they had disbanded. After the widespread commercial success of Nevermind, they released In Utero in 1993. The album was a massive success, despite the fact that it was a departure from Nirvana’s previous sound. It is best remembered for the singles Heart-Shaped Box and All Apologies.
13. The Bodyguard — Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston was propelled to superstardom with the release of the 1992 film The Bodyguard. Houston both starred in the film and recorded music for the soundtrack; it would win a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The album topped the international charts; in the US, Houston broke records as a female artist with the most weeks at No.1 on the charts. The most famous track of the album, I Will Always Love You, became one of her most iconic songs.
14. Weezer — Weezer
Weezer’s eponymous debut album has come to be known simply as “The Blue Album” due to its recognizable, bright-blue cover art. It has been called the first geek rock album, with critics praising it for its tongue-in-cheek humor. The album’s biggest tracks, including Buddy Holly and Say It Ain’t So, would go on to influence the development of emo rock.
15. CrazySexyCool — TLC
Hip hop girl groups were coming into their own in the 1990s with names like TLC and Salt-N-Pepa. TLC’s most famous album was 1994’s CrazySexyCool, which featured their iconic single Waterfalls. The album was praised for its innovative sound, which combined musical elements from soul, R&B, hip hop. It also gained attention for its lyrical content, which explored topics such as relationships, naivete, and sexuality.
16. The Chronic — Dr. Dre
Dr. Dre was one of the most important and influential hip hop artists of the 1980s and 1990s. He started out with the group N.W.A. before embarking on a solo career; The Chronic was his first solo album. It pioneered the development of G-funk and gangsta rap. Interestingly, the album also featured the then-little-known rapper Snoop Dogg and has been credited for launching his career.
17. Enter The Wu-Tang Clan — Wu-Tang Clan
Rap was explored extensively throughout the 1990s, leading to the development of many subgenres. Enter The Wu-Tang Clan, released in 1993, was significant for popularizing hardcore hip hop and reintroducing East Coast hip hop to mainstream success. It laid a blueprint through angry, aggressive beats, explicit lyrics, and a gritty, unpolished sound. Music historians have credited the album with sparking the era of hip hop known as the East Coast Renaissance.
18. Doggystyle — Snoop Doggy Dogg
Back at the start of his career, the perennially popular Snoop Dogg went by Snoop Doggy Dogg. His debut album, Doggystyle, was released in 1993. Snoop Dogg had recently become prominent for his collaboration with Dr. Dre on his debut solo album; this success set the stage for his own album. Doggystyle was a commercial success, cementing Snoop Dogg as one of the biggest rappers of the decade.
19. (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? — Oasis
Oasis’ second album, released in 1995, was an international hit. It has been called one of the most important albums of British indie rock, moving the band from a niche audience to a wider, more mainstream one. It did extremely well in the UK but also topped the charts in the US, helping to popularize Oasis in the States. The album is best remembered for its top singles, especially Wonderwall, Roll With It, and Don’t Look Back in Anger.
20. The Slim Shady LP — Eminem
Eminem made himself stand out in the hip hop industry with his second album, The Slim Shady LP. Released in 1999, the album introduced Eminem’s alter ego, Slim Shady, a malevolent doppelganger with a violent and angry personality. The character was intended to be a way to explore darker ideas as well as generate attention by causing shock and outrage.
21. Amor Prohibido — Selena
Selena’s 1994 album Amor Prohibido was one of her most successful, topping the Latin charts and helping to further popularize Tejano music. It would be her second-to-last album before her death in March 1995. Amor Prohibido was an effort to match the success of her 1992 single, Como la Flor; subsequently, the album experimented with a variety of musical styles, including ranchero music and hip hop.
22. Siamese Dream — the Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins’ 1993 album fused various musical genres that it is usually classified simply as alternative music. It was a skilled blend of grunge and psychedelic rock with influences from many other genres. Siamese Dream was released to widespread critical acclaim and is still called one of the most influential alt-rock albums of all time. It has also been noted for its introspective lyrics, which deal with themes of heartbreak, depression, mental illness, and neurodivergence.
23. Toni Braxton — Toni Braxton
Toni Braxton took a big risk to release her first album; having been offered a contract as a solo artist, she upended her plans to become a music educator and moved across the country. Her gamble paid off; her eponymous debut album, released in 1993, won her three Grammy Awards. She was praised as a significant up-and-coming R&B artist, a prophecy that she would fulfill by becoming one of the best-selling female musicians in history.
24. Automatic For The People — R.E.M.
Alt-rock went in many different directions throughout the 1990s, developing in a host of subgenres. R.E.M’s 1992 album Automatic For The People was a foray into alt-rock mixed with baroque pop, with lyrical content that seems like a precursor to the next decade’s emo pop. The album was a critical and commercial success, generating six top hits, including Drive, Man on The Moon, and The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite.
25. All Eyez On Me — 2Pac
All Eyez On Me was released in 1996, the last album to come out during 2Pac’s life. It featured a star-studded cast of rap collaborators, including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and E-40. The album was remarkable for its social and political commentary, which differed significantly from the rapper’s previous albums. All Eyez On Me would become 2Pac’s second album to hit No. 1 on both the Billboard 200 and the R&B/Hip Hop charts.
26. The Downward Spiral — Nine Inch Nails
The Downward Spiral, released in 1994, was a concept album exploring a man’s breakdown to the point of suicide. It was considered a breakthrough album for Nine Inch Nails and a significant influence on the established sound of the 1990s. Musically, The Downward Spiral experimented with elements of industrial rock, techno, and ambient music. The album generated significant controversy for its nihilistic attitude and themes of self-abuse.
27. OK Computer — Radiohead
For the 1997 album OK Computer, the members of Radiohead chose to self-produce. This gave them the opportunity for more creative freedom and opened new doors into a more eclectic sound.
The album earned acclaim for its unique use of unconventional and abstract sound as well as for its lyrical commentary on topics such as consumerism, politics, and isolation. Despite poor marketing from a record label who had no faith in the album, OK Computer was Radiohead’s biggest commercial success, hitting No. 21 on the Billboard 200.
28. Live Through This — Hole
Hole’s 1994 album Live Through This sought to shock audiences in a completely new way; while the female-led group had previously stirred controversy with an aggressive, hardcore sound, the new album turned the tables completely. Lead singer Courtney Love described Live Through This as an album that showed both softness and resilience. Much of the content was intensely female-centered, with topics such as motherhood, beauty standards, and violent crimes agaisnt women.
29. Aquemini — Outkast
Outkast’s 1998 funk-soul album Aquemini was an experiment in contrasting personalities. The album’s title came from the Zodiac signs of the two members, showing themes of human nature and relationships. Aquemini is a fascinating work, drawing significant inspiration from sci-fi and the sounds of 1970s funk and soul. It took only two months for the album to earn a platinum certification; it also peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and Hip Hop charts.
30. Use Your Illusion I — Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses released two album counterparts, Use Your Illusion I & II, on the same day in 1991. The albums presented a slightly more mellow sound than their previous aggressive hard rock, drawing influences from blues, punk, and classical music. Among the albums’ many successful singles was November Rain, one of the band’s most iconic songs, which broke records for being the longest song to hit the Billboard Top 10.
31. Goo — Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth’s 1990 album, Goo, was intended to be an exploration into new musical sounds and lyrical content. This was the album that helped the band solidify their trademark sounds of alternating guitar parts and layering. These elements, as well as the collaboration with Public Enemy on the track Kool Thing, have placed Goo on the list of the most influential alt-rock albums in history.
32. Dookie — Green Day
Green Day’s third album, Dookie, was released in 1994. The album was a critical and commercial success and has been widely credited with moving punk into mainstream music. It was also responsible for making Green Day international stars, serving as a breakthrough for the band. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Performance and is one of the best-selling albums of all time.
33. Grace — Jeff Buckley
Anyone who was around for the release of Jeff Buckley’s 1994 album might feel confused at seeing it on a list of the best albums of the decade. Grace was not a success at its release; it sold poorly and received unenthusiastic reviews from critics. It would take several years for the public’s opinion to change; in 2007, the album returned to charts in Australia. It is now considered a work of art that was unappreciated in its time, having earned praise from musicians such as Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Robert Plant.
34. Butterfly — Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey had been highly active throughout the 1990s, but her sixth studio album, released in 1997, was one of her most acclaimed. The album was characterized by Carey’s new creative freedom, which led to her developing a new and more mature sound. Carey later said that she considers Butterfly to be the best work of her career. The album was an international success, sparking five hit singles and earning three Grammy Award nominations.
35. janet. — Janet Jackson
Janet Jackson’s 1993 album was a deliberate move away from her association with her famous family, emphasizing her worth as a solo artist. Jackson was frustrated by insinuations that she had only succeeded as a singer because of her connections; subsequently, she wrote and co-produced every song on the album. It was a huge success, becoming her first album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. It also broke records for having six top 10 hits from one album.
36. Baduizm — Erykah Badu
Erykah Badu’s first album, Baduizm, was released in 1997. It was a swift success, earning both critical and commercial acclaim. It hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts and earned Badu a Grammy Award For Best R&B Album. Perhaps most flattering were the comments comparing Badu to Billie Holiday.
37. Ragged Glory — Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Neil Young had collaborated with the band Crazy Horse many times before, but their 1990 album Ragged Glory counts among their greatest. The album, officially classified as grunge or garage rock, drew heavily on the musical styles of the 60s and 70s, when they first began playing together. Ragged Glory was praised by critics for its unique combination of old and new styles.
38. Bridges to Babylon — The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones released Bridges to Babylon in 1997, 35 years after their formation. At that point, you might say a band can do whatever they want. The album was an eclectic mix of genres, experimenting with blues rock, hip hop, and even rap. Though it was met with an unenthusiastic response from critics, Bridges to Babylon sold extremely well and prompted a wildly-successful global tour.
39. American Recordings — Johnny Cash
Old age wasn’t slowing the Man in Black, but his career had flagged during the 1970s and 1980s. That all changed in 1994 when he released American Recordings. Cash was initially hesitant about releasing an album during the heyday of grunge, pop, and hip hop; the album embraced the musical stylings of his early career, with a simple, stripped-down sound. American Recordings was a huge success, revitalizing Cash’s career until his death in 2003.
40. Vitalogy — Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam’s earlier albums were considered pure grunge, but their 1994 album Vitalogy incorporated a more complex, mature sound, straying between punk and alt-rock. The musical styles of the album were highly experimental, alternating between aggressive tracks and smooth ballads. Vitalogy broke records for selling faster than any album in history and won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance.
41. Time Out of Mind — Bob Dylan
The 1990s marked a period of unusual inactivity for Bob Dylan, who had struggled to find his place in the modern music industry. After a seven-year hiatus, he released Time Out of Mind in 1997. It is widely considered to have been a career revitalization, winning three Grammy Awards and earning praise as the best album of Dylan’s career.
42. Rage Against The Machine — Rage Against The Machine
Rage Against The Machine released their debut album in 1992. It gained immediate attention for its overt political content, setting the stage with its cover art depicting Thích Quảng Đức’s act of self-immolation. Critics praised Rage Against The Machine for its authentic conviction and unique exploration into the developing genre of rap metal.
43. Wildflowers — Tom Petty
Wildflowers was Tom Petty’s second solo album, released in 1994. Petty had gone solo because he felt weighed down as a member of a group act; Wildflowers gave him a chance to take creative control of his music. The album received three platinums certifications and has been called one of the definitive albums of 1994.
44. Reasonable Doubt — Jay-Z
Jay-Z is one of the most successful hip hop artists in the world, a reputation he established with the release of his debut album in 1996. It was instrumental in its contribution to the subgenres of gangsta rap and mafioso rap, and has been called Jay-Z’s best work. The rapper himself has said that he considers it his magnum opus.
45. Tidal — Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple was one of the most influential musicians of the 1990s, and her best work may have been displayed on her debut album, Tidal. Released in 1996, the album was a creative exploration into the genres of art-pop and jazz fusion. The single Criminal earned Apple her first Grammy Award.
46. One in a Million — Aaliyah
R&B queen Aaliyah released One in a Million in 1996 when she was only 17 years old. It quickly established her as one of the most talented and influential R&B artists of her time. A collaboration with Missy Elliott and Timbaland, the album was a huge success, producing six hit singles.
47. Love Deluxe — Sade
Smooth jazz was returning to mainstream music in the 1990s, as evidenced by the success of Sade’s 1992 album Love Deluxe. The album was praised for its integration of older jazz styles with more modern sounds such as trip hop. But it was Sade’s vocal performance that really spelled the album’s success, drenched with emotion in every track.
48. Loveless — My Bloody Valentine
Noise rock was coming into its own in the 1990s, characterized by distortion, feedback, and ethereal vocals. Few did it better than My Bloody Valentine, as shown on their 1991 album Loveless. The album was considered a landmark for the genre, but one that the band could never replicate again. Nevertheless, My Bloody Valentine has been called the perfect diagram for all that is noise rock.
49. Blood Sugar Sex Magik — Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers embraced a new sound with their fifth album, released in 1991. While using more overt elements of the metal genre, the album also emphasizes melodic instrumentals. Producing five hit singles, Blood Sugar Sex Magik catapulted the band to the international stage; it has been called the foundation of the alt-rock explosion throughout the decade.
50. Mama Said Knock You Out — LL Cool J
LL Cool J hit the new decade strong with his 1990 album, Mama Said Knock You Out. It followed an unsuccessful release in 1989, but its commercial and critical success helped establish the musician as one of the most influential hip hop artists of his time. Mama Said Knock You Out has been called a landmark album in the development of 90s hip hop.
51. Supa Dupa Fly — Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott’s 1997 debut album immediately earned her a reputation as one of hip hop’s leading female artists. The album, which featured collaborations with artists such as Aaliyah, Busta Rhymes, Lil’ Kim, and Ginuwine, was a critical success. It is widely considered one of the most impressive debut albums in music history.
52. I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got — Sinéad O’Connor
Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor made her breakthrough with her second album, 1990’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. It earned four Grammy nominations, winning one for the single, Nothing Compares 2 U. O’Connor’s famous cover of the Prince original won her widespread acclaim. She composed the rest of the album herself, with the exception of a few arrangements of traditional songs.
53. Ray of Light — Madonna
The 1980s are widely remembered as Madonna’s heyday, but the pop star continued to enjoy a successful career throughout the following decade. Her 1998 album Ray of Light explored new musical genres, drawing on trip hop, psychedelic music, and World music. Though it has been termed a great pop album, critics praised it for its musical complexity and called it her best album. Ray of Light won three Grammy Awards.
54. Post — Björk
Icelandic singer Björk led the exploration into electronica in the 1990s with her distinct style. But her 1995 album Post was something special. A foray into art pop, the album was praised for its adventurous composition, which incorporated elements of surrealism, industrial rock, and jazz. Björk described the album as “schizophrenic,” where every track was meant to be chaotic and unpredictable, with no apparent pattern.
55. Ten — Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam, the band that would become known as the kings of grunge music, released their debut album in 1991. Ten was slow at first to gain mainstream attention, but topped the charts by the end of the next year. The album was praised for its throwback style that evoked Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. It was most famous for the tragic song Jeremy, which told the story of a school shooting.
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