The 30 Most Influential Rock Songs of the 90s

Criteria: In compiling this list I considered the impact, influence, popularity and lasting appeal of the following songs. Most of these bands had a huge impact on the 90s rock scene. I set it up so that each band was allowed one song, which for better or for worse will always define them. I have done my best to include all the big trends and bands of 90s rock, from grunge to alternative/indie and from punk to metal; I even fit in the obligatory one hit wonder.

 

 

1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana- Nevermind)-

 

Nobody expected anything different, right? Grunge was, justifiably, the biggest craze of the decade, and Nirvana was grunge. They were the most influential, hyped, and popular band of the decade. They are already legendary just 14 years after Kurt’s death. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is undeniably the 90s most influential and popular rock song which formally booted hair metal out of the spotlight and really began 90s rock.

 

Nirvana Nevermind

 

2. “Jeremy” (Pearl Jam- Ten)-

 

It was tough for me to put this list together, because if I had my way an Alice in Chains song would occupy this spot. However, no matter my personal opinion on Pearl Jam (I used to hate them, but I’ve been digging them more lately) their impact was immense. Thus, “Jeremy” which is their anthem and most popular song, forces its way up to #2 on the list.

 

 

 

Pearl Jam Ten

 

3. “1979” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” TIE (Smashing Pumpkins- Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”)-

 

OK, so I’m really indecisive. Choosing between these two absolute classics is nearly impossible. Smashing Pumpkins are the first pure alternative band on the list so far. It is obligatory to include both songs to exemplify the beauty of the Smashing Pumpkins- their unbelievable capacity to flawlessly alternate between sheer power and pure tenderness.

 

Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

 

4. “Californication” (Red Hot Chili Peppers- Californication)-

 

The second alternative band is virtually incomparable to the first one. RHCP were shape shifters during the decade, producing three markedly different albums which combined to make them one of the most popular bands of the decade. “Californication” beats out “Under the Bridge” by a hair, pretty much just because I like it a little more.

 

Red Hot Chili Peppers- Californication

 

5. “Wonderwall” (Oasis- (What’s the Story) Morning Glory)-

 

To this day, this song is incredibly popular. Along with Radiohead, Oasis had the biggest impact on rock music of any British band. With that unforgettable intro and beautiful lyrics this gem is certainly the crown jewel of britpop and one of the best and most influential songs of the 90s.

 

Oasis What's the story morning glory

 

6. “Losing my Religion” (REM- Out of Time)-

 

This song is partially responsible for bringing the college rock or (as it came to be called later) alternative movement into the forefront of rock. Not only that, but this song finally introduced this immensely talented band to a broad audience (for better or for worse) and paved the way for classic albums like Automatic for the People.

 

R.E.M. Out of time

 

 

7. “Plush” (STP- Core)-

 

Although “Plush” is not my favorite STP song (that honor goes to “Creep”), it is undeniably their most popular and definitive song. This is the one that put them on everyone’s radar, and propelled their multi-platinum record, Core. Subsequent albums proved STP’s versatility and proved once and for all that they are not just run of the mill Pearl Jam imitators.

 

Stone temple pilots core

 

8. “Karma Police” (Radiohead- OK Computer)-

 

I have several reasons for using “Karma Police” over the highly overrated “Creep.” First, it is so much better than “Creep” it’s tough to do otherwise. Second, “Karma Police” came from arguably the highest rated, respected, and influential album of the decade, OK Computer. Lastly, while “Creep” may be more popular, “Karma Police” has ten times more lasting appeal and has also made a bigger impact on rock music.

 

Radiohead OK Computer

 

9. “Man in the Box” and “Rooster” TIE (Alice in Chains- Facelift)-

 

Anyone who knows me can understand how painful it was for me to put anything by AIC this low on a list that I created. Though very much influential, AIC (unfairly!) received much less attention than any of the other bands on the list so far, and thus I could only get them this high. “Man in the Box” and “Rooster” will forever be tied to this ill fated but spectacularly talented group.

 

Alice in chains facelife

 

10. “Killing in the Name of” (Rage Against the Machine- Rage Against the Machine)-

 

Can you think of an angrier sounding song in the 90s? When it came to hard rock in the 90s, Rage was second to none. Rage’s success in the 90s brought about thousands of no talent posers like Korn and Limp Bizkit, however their talent and contribution to the decade cannot be diminished by crappy bands that came after them (just look at Nirvana).

 

Rage against the machine album

 

11. “Buddy Holly” (Weezer- Blue Album)-

 

These guys were the definition of geek rock, and in the 2000s they became the definition of sell out (I never miss an opportunity to rag on Weezer). Anyways, before that, the straight up guitar rock of their landmark Blue Album has been often imitated but never outdone. For many it represented a nice break from grunge music. Everyone remembers the video, and everyone loves this song.

 

 

Weezer Blue Album

 

12. “Brain Stew” (Green Day- Insomniac)-

 

I want to start off by saying that I hate “Basket Case,” which I know would have been the pick of many. Green Day was undoubtedly the most influential and best pop-punk band of the 90s. The one good song from the weak Insomniac album, “Brain Stew” still reminds many of the times when pop-punk was actually good (suck it, Fall Out Boy).

 

brain stew greenday

 

13. “Black Hole Sun” (Soundgarden- Superunknown)-

 

Led by heavy guitar riffs and Chris Cornell’s snarling wail, Soundgarden burst into the forefront of grunge in 1991 with Badmotorfinger (which included my favorite Soundgarden song “Jesus Christ Pose”). It was not until 1994’s Superunknown and “Black Hole Sun” that they received widespread fame.

 

 

Soundgarden superunknown



14. “Ænima” (Tool- Ænima)-

 

“Schism” and “Stinkfist” might be more popular, however many Tool fans will tell you that “Ænima” is the best. Throughout the 90s, Tool were trailblazers of metal and were almost single handedly responsible for bringing it into the mainstream. Everyone from the Deftones to Breaking Benjamin would be nowhere without Tool.

 

Tool Aenima

 

 

15. “Everlong” (Foo Fighters- The Colour and the Shape)-

 

Dave Grohl is notable for being the only member of a band on this list twice. The former drummer of Nirvana scored this massive hit from the increasingly popular band’s second album. Today they are one of THE biggest rock bands out there, and that is in much thanks to this classic song.

 

Foo Fighters The colour and the shape

 

16. “Semi Charmed Life” (Third Eye Blind- Third Eye Blind)-

 

These guys rose to stardom in the late 90s upon the back of this incredible debut album. As I found out at their concert, it is still this song that gets EVERYONE to their feet. Unfortunately 3EB are a primary influence of many annoying emo bands, however they will always be remembered as one of the great bands of the late 90s.

 

 

third eye blind album

 

17. “Enter Sandman” (Metallica- Metallica)-

 

I know it’s kinda low to put a band as popular as Metallica, but they really faded away in the late part of the decade and had many of their best songs in the 80s. Nonetheless, there are not many songs more representative of the 90s than “Enter Sandman.” One of the best intros and riffs ever.

 

metallica self titled

 

18. "Velouria" (Pixies- Bossanova)-

 

One of the better songs from an incredible album, it is probably the most widely known, Pixies songs of the 90s. It is this low merely because a good amount of people criminally are ignorant of the Pixies, and unfortunately that is part of my criteria. Like I always say, the only ones who don’t love the Pixies are those that haven’t heard them.

pixies bossanova

 

19. “Self Esteem” (The Offspring- Smash)-

 

“She's drunk again and looking to score…” man that is so 90s. I had to throw one in from The Offspring. Along with Rage, these guys always seemed to have the best intros to their songs. Smash had a ton of classics, the best and most remembered of which is “Self Esteem.”

 

offspring smash

 

20. “You Ought to Know” (Alanis Morissette- Jagged Little Pill)-

Before she got all introspective and even before her naked video, Alanis created THE quintessential angry, jaded rocker chick anthem of the 90s; beating out Hole, Garbage, and a host of other commendable candidates. You can just imagine thousands of women dumping their husband’s clothing out of their windows to the sound of this one.

 

 

alanis morissette jagged little pill

 

21. “All the Small Things” (Blink-182- Enema of the State)-

I realize I should hate this song, but it’s just not in me, it’s so damn catchy and nostalgic for me. The 90s ended with an upswing in really bad music. This song might be in that group, but I still love it. There is no better anthem for the late 90s than this one.

blink 182 enema of the state

 

22. “Santeria” (Sublime- Sublime)-

Perhaps not Sublime’s best song, it’s both the most popular and one of the only ones I can stand. However, I didn’t want to upset the scores of potheads (many of whom are my friends) that would otherwise give out a collective “dude… no way” if I forgot to mention this one.

 

 

sublime self titled

 

23. “Cut Your Hair” (Pavement- Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain)-

Though they have a ton of better songs, this did mark their crossover hit. I’d say about 90% of today’s indie rock bands were heavily influenced by Pavement, the Pixies, or Sonic Youth. Similarly to the Pixies, Pavement never got much mainstream popularity, and that’s why we love ‘em.

 

 

 

24. “One Headlight” (The Wallflowers- Bringing Down the Horse)-

You can now exhale… here is the long awaited one hit wonder. 90s rock had more than its share of one hit wonders. Although I believe the Wallflowers had several good songs, most people tend to disagree. This song is top ten of all time for me, and probably always will be.

 

bringing down the horse

 

 

25. “Iris” (Goo Goo Dolls- Dizzy up the Girl)-

The kings of adult contemporary from 1998 on, “Iris” may be my favorite song from the weakass genre. Yes, it’s corny and is featured in terrible movies, but that is what the Goo Goo Dolls are all about. Legions of wussy emo and AC bands better be paying homage to the Goo Goos this Thanksgiving.

 

 

goo goo dolls dizzy up the girl
HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

26. “Closer” (Nine Inch Nails- Downward Spiral)-

Given my taste for gloomy music, people often assume I love NIN. I actually really don’t, however this sleazy, primeval sounding song deserves a spot because it’s so unique and powerful. Also, Trent Reznor deserves a spot for basically creating the industrial genre. Besides, in our weaker times, who hasn't wanted to fuck someone like an animal.

nine inch nails downward spiral

 

 

27. “Beautiful Disaster” (311- Transistor)-

Considering I don’t like Sublime, you can guess how much love I have for a band that has been called the ‘poor man’s Sublime.’ Somehow, though, they have a really devoted following. In my opinion 311 has created some of the most annoying songs of the decade (“Come Original,” “Down,” etc). “Beautiful Disaster” is actually quite catchy and is by far as good as 311 got in the 90s.

311 transistor

 

 

28. “Mysterious Ways” (U2- Achtung Baby)-

Though I’m not the biggest U2 fan in general, I am still struck by just how mediocre they were throughout much of the 90s. Ya, Achtung was good, but Pop? Really? Nonetheless, if U2 farted in front of a speaker they would influence hordes of followers, and thus I have to fit them in here somehow. “Mysterious Ways” far outweighs the vastly overrated “One” in my book.

u2 achtung baby

 

29. “Song #2” (Blur- Blur)-

In Britain, these guys played second fiddle to Oasis, much like Pearl Jam was always just behind Nirvana in the States. Just like with Pearl Jam and Nirvana, Blur could never quite reach Oasis because they were nowhere near as good. Also, their music was sooo British and had next to zero appeal outside of the Island. Still, Song #2 is one for the ages.

blur self titled

 

30. “Comedown” (Bush- Sixteen Stone)-

Damn, I really wanted to put “Chemicals Between us” because it is a significantly better than this song. However “Comedown’ is the best song from the wildly popular Sixteen Stone. On a random note, is it me, or is Bush the least British sounding band to ever come out from England? It even sounds like Gavin Rossdale is faking his British accent.

bush sixteen stone

 

 

 

Updated: 03/12/08: Extended from 20 to 30

Comments 

 
-1 #1 WHAT?daniel john 2012-06-13 09:30
No Silverchair? you suck
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+1 #2 RE: The 30 Most Influential Rock Songs of the 90sAmy 2012-06-13 10:08
Black Crowes? Totally missing.
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+2 #3 RE: The 30 Most Influential Rock Songs of the 90swhat 2012-06-13 10:47
Where is Jeff Buckley?
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-5 #4 Are you 12?FuckTheCzar 2012-06-13 10:56
Excuse me, but are you 12. You sure right like one. Your justifications bad and you should feel bad.
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+2 #5 RE: The 30 Most Influential Rock Songs of the 90sLulz 2012-06-16 01:22
Saying that Blur was not as good as Oasis is absolutely laughable. Laughable. :o
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-1 #6 RE: The 30 Most Influential Rock Songs of the 90sThe Rock Czar 2012-06-18 22:01
Silverchair, Black Crowes and Jeff Buckley are all undeserving of this list. Silverchair wwas not nearly creative enough. Black Crowes just faded into the background by the second half of the decade. Jeff Buckley, while immensely talented, died after just one album release.

TRC
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0 #7 RE: The 30 Most Influential Rock Songs of the 90sThe Rock Czar 2012-06-18 22:02
Quoting FuckTheCzar:
Excuse me, but are you 12. You sure right like one. Your justifications bad and you should feel bad.


I don't really think a response to this one is necessary. I'm assuming (and sincerely hoping) this person is trying to be ironic.

TRC
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0 #8 RE: The 30 Most Influential Rock Songs of the 90sbanging the czarina 2012-08-05 09:14
Agree with most of the list, but would have been better if you could let the list be as it was without pissing on the songs you happened to not like. Or just make a list with songs only you like, so people know to stay away. Let of your anger bud...nobody here knows of your erection problem.
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0 #9 RE: The 30 Most Influential Rock Songs of the 90srockit 2012-08-08 09:24
Silverchair should be on this list. Frogstomp and Freak Show were great albums but Neon Ballroom was their masterpiece. Fits the creativity criteria for sure. They are definately underrated outside of Australia.
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0 #10 RE: The 30 Most Influential Rock Songs of the 90sCormac 2012-10-19 21:24
Seriously? Mysterious ways is more influential than one? I understand some people dislike u2, but to say one is overrated isnt an opinion, it's just wrong. A song of that caliber should be appreciated, but for some reason people think californacation counts as quality music. Try listening to the song without an automatic prejudice towards it. That is my favorite song, and even though you dislike it, it created a structure that most rock songs from then on would be based on. And btw there is a charity named one, which was based on the song and used it's lines as its slogan. Like it or not, that song influenced the world more than any of those other songs. Maybe not Jeramy because that kind of caused a school shooting.
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0 #11 Few SuggesionsPubs 2013-03-02 19:15
1. Third Eye Blind should never be in this list.

2. Few songs should be included and you know which ones should be left out.

Shine - Collective Soul

Run Away Train - Soul Asylum( How can you miss this one--you know the story behind this song)

Interstate Love Song - S.T.P.

I'd do anything for love - Meat Loaf
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0 #12 RE: The 30 Most Influential Rock Songs of the 90sCormac 2013-03-07 12:17
Third eye blind had some great songs much better than meatloaf. i really only care if one isn't on the list. thas easily the best song of the 90's and maybe even all time. i think i jusy like different musi
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