Top 20 90s Alternative Rock Bands
Criteria for determining these bands include popularity, critical acclaim, lasting appeal, creativity, importance/influence, proficiency during the decade, and lastly, my personal taste. I will stay away from the big four grunge bands (Nirvana, AIC, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam) as I want to stick with a strict definition of 'alternative rock.' Indie Rock and Lo-Fi bands like Neutral Milk Hotel or Built to Spill are also not included.
1) Smashing Pumpkins- Come on, who else would be number one? Stretching from Gish to Adore, this band produced a slew of masterpieces that influenced pretty much every band you see now, and undeniably were the poster boys for 90s alternative rock. The abomination that was Zeitgeist only makes me cling tighter to their incredible 90s output. They get the nod over the next band by a hair, mainly just because I like them more.
Best Album- Siamese Dream
1) Bullet With Butterfly Wings
3) Cherub Rock
2) Red Hot Chili Peppers- In terms of popularity they were (and probably still are, among 90s alt. rock bands) number one. Blood Sugar Sex Magik defined early 90s alternative while Californication dominated the late 90s scene. With each release they reinvented themselves and their creativity is unquestioned. My personal indifference towards BSSM as well as my obsession with the Pumpkins prevents them from being number one.
Best Album- Californication
3) Under the Bridge
4) My Friends
3) REM- It says a lot that these guys would also be top five on my 80s alternative rock list. Clearly proficiency was never a problem for this group of prolific musicians who released five albums during the decade. The dawn of the 90s marked the pinnacle of their slow climb towards widespread popularity. While they peaked at the beginning of the decade with Out of Time and Automatic for the People, their later work is solid as well.
Best Album- Automatic for the People
1) Losing my Religion
2) Find the River
4) What’s the Frequency, Kenneth
4) Radiohead- Personally, I totally disagreed the direction that Radiohead went after the dawn of the new millennium. I’m very glad that Radiohead didn’t taint the 90s with one of their quirky, unappealing electronic albums. 90s Radiohead was smart while also being catchy (the latter cannot be said with much of their recent work). Each 90s release from Pablo Honey to The Bends and finally OK Computer was better than its predecessor. Their influence on today’s music and popularity is unparalleled. I miss the old Radiohead.
Best Album- OK Computer
1) Karma Police (#1 on Greatest Songs of all time)
2) Paranoid Android
4) My Iron Lung
5) Oasis- Americans may refer to them as Britpop, but in all essence they are British alternative rock. Nobody claims they like the Gallaghers, but few can say that they dislike their music. Morning Glory is one of the epic releases of alternative rock and their three other releases (counting The Masterplan) continued to show flashed of brilliance. Perhaps their creativity can be questioned (they often toed the line between plagiarizing the Beatles), but their importance cannot.
Best Album- (What’s the Story) Morning Glory
2) Don’t Look Back in Anger
3) Morning Glory
4) Champagne Supernova
6. Stone Temple Pilots- I like to think that STP made Core (which is a grunge record not an alt. rock one) to gain a mandate to create the type of music that they really wanted to make- alternative rock. Few can deny that their extremely influential album Purple and less notable albums like Tiny Music… and No. 4 fit snugly into the alternative rock category. Had Core been included within the criteria that I used for this list, STP would be number two or three. Sans Core, however, the next three albums are strong enough for a spot at number six.
Best Album- Purple
2) Interstate Love Song
3) Sour Girl
4) Big Empty
7) Toad the Wet Sprocket- I like to remind people in every list that includes this band (which is a lot) of how underrated these guys are. Especially in the context of alternative rock, these guys are just so perfectly representative of this genre. They had four strong albums and a distinct sound that led to a ton of great songs. You always see at least one TTWS song on every 90s era alternative list, but you never see them get their credit as a band. Hopefully I can start a trend.
Best Album- Dulcinea
1) All I Want
2) Crazy Life
4) Hold Her Down
8) Weezer- They display a heavier sound than most bands on this list, however they are just as much an alt rock staple as any band on this list. Weezer was always about guitars first, and that is huge reason for their success. They mainly makes the list on the strength of their seminal Blue Album. It’s that good folks. They do suffer from a lack of consistency, as their next two releases had their moments, but were generally unsatisfying.
Best Album- Blue Album (duh)
1) Buddy Holly
2) Say it Ain’t so
3) The Good Life
9) Counting Crows- Relying heavily on the distinct and soulful vocals of Adam Duritz (a Jewish guy with dreads?? So 90s) and melodic, catchy guitars, this band got a lot of bang from their three releases. August and Everything After is another one of those must-hear 90s alternative rock staples. Classics like “Mr Jones” to “A Long December” are all-time favorites for me and they speak volumes about the Crows’ versatility, pop sensibility, and nostalgic appeal.
Best Album- August and Everything After
1) Mr. Jones
2) A Long December
3) All My Friends
4) Round Here
10) Collective Soul- Another band that deserves to be esteemed in the echelon of bands like Weezer and Counting Crows, but doesn’t get its due. Although they are quite different from Toad the Wet Sprocket, they suffer many of the same injustices. Each of their four releases is very good, however the lack of an epic album kept them languishing as a second tier 90s alternative rock band. Also, the strong religious undertone of many of their songs may have turned some people off.
Best Album- Dosage
- Top 100 Female Sung Songs of the 90s (100-76)
- Top 300 90s Alternative Rock Songs Part 1
- Top 20 90s Alternative Rock Bands
- Top 100 Grunge Songs (100-76)
- Top 100 Pop-Punk Songs of Modern Rock (100-76)
- Top 100 Female Sung Songs of the 90s (25-1)
- Top Alternative Rock Songs (200-101)
- Top 100 90s Pop Songs (Songs 76-100)