25 Best 90s Alternative Bands

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Alternative music commenced in the 70s but took decades to gain traction. The genre eventually found success in the 90s, thanks to the contribution of hundreds of independent artists and bands.

Alternative bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden utilized the newly-found fame of the genre to reach a wider audience. Their angst-filled lyrics and raw energy resonated with a generation disillusioned by mainstream pop music. Today, we've prepared a list of 25 best alternative bands that were hugely popular during the 90s.


1. Nirvana

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Formed: 1987

Genre: Grunge

Members: Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl

Nirvana is widely regarded as one of the best alternative bands of the 90s. Led by the enigmatic Kurt Cobain, the band revolutionized the grunge genre and brought alternative rock into the mainstream.

Their breakthrough album Nevermind released in 1991 and instantly became a game-changer. The album's lead single Smells Like Teen Spirit became an anthem for disaffected youth, capturing the spirit of a generation with its raw energy and introspective lyrics. 

Tragically, Nirvana's reign was short-lived with Cobain's untimely death in 1994. However, their impact on alternative music remains undeniable.

Similar: 30 Best Rock Bands Of The ’80s

2. Radiohead

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Formed: 1985

Genre: Alternative Rock

Members: Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien, Colin Greenwood, Phil Selway

Radiohead is considered as one of the greatest alternative bands of the 90s, and for good reason. Their groundbreaking sound and innovative approach to music pushed the boundaries of the genre and left an indelible mark on the music industry.

With albums like "The Bends" and "OK Computer," Radiohead perfected a unique blend of rock, electronic, and experimental elements. What set the band apart was their ability to craft intricate, introspective lyrics that resonated with a generation grappling with existential questions and societal disillusionment.

3. Pearl Jam

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Formed: 1990

Genre: Grunge

Members: Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron

Pearl Jam's success in alternative music can be attributed to their unique sound, powerful lyrics, and captivating live performances. The band emerged during the grunge era and quickly became one of the leading acts of the genre. Their debut album Ten (1991) is often regarded as one of the greatest alternative rock albums of all time.

The band's success continued with their subsequent albums, such as "Vs." (1993) and "Vitalogy" (1994). Their best-selling album Ten has sold over 13 million copies in the US alone and features timeless hits like Alive and Jeremy.

4. Smashing Pumpkins

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Formed: 1988

Genre: Alternative Rock

Members: Billy Corgan, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin, D'arcy Wretzky

The Smashing Pumpkins is one of the best alternative bands of the 90s due to its innovative songwriting and cultural impact. The band successfully merged alternative rock, shoegaze, and grunge elements. Their music combined heavy guitar riffs, melodic hooks, and introspective lyrics, often exploring themes of alienation, angst, and emotional turmoil.

The band's popularity during the 90s was significant. They released several highly successful albums like Siamese Dream (1993) and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995). Their music videos received heavy rotation on MTV, further increasing their exposure and popularity.

5. Soundgarden

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Formed: 1984

Genre: Grunge

Members: Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepherd, Matt Cameron

Soundgarden experienced significant success during the 90s. Their breakthrough came with their fourth studio album Superunknown in 1994.

The album was a commercial success, peaking at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and selling over nine million copies worldwide. It produced several hit singles, including Black Hole Sun which became one of the band's most iconic songs. Their follow-up album Down on the Upside (1996) also achieved commercial success. Despite their breakup in 1997, Soundgarden's success during the 90s left an indelible mark on the alternative rock scene.

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6. R.E.M.

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Formed: 1980

Genre: Alternative Rock

Members: Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Bill Berry

R.E.M. is regarded as one of the most iconic alternative rock bands of the 90s. Their unique sound and style set them apart from their contemporaries. The band blended jangly guitars, melodic hooks, and introspective lyrics, creating a sound that was simultaneously catchy and introspective. 

The group's success was not limited to the music charts. They maintained critical acclaim throughout the decade, consistently releasing albums that pushed the boundaries of alternative rock. From the introspective musings of "Automatic for the People" to the politically charged "Green," R.E.M. consistently delivered thought-provoking music.

7. Alice in Chains

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Formed: 1987

Genre: Grunge

Members: Jerry Cantrell, William DuVall, Sean Kinney, Mike Inez

Alice in Chains is unquestionably one of the best alternative bands of the 90s. Dirt (1992) and Alice in Chains (1995), their two studio albums released in the 90s, achieved multi-platinum status in the US. Dirt alone sold over 4 million copies.

Moreover, Alice in Chains delivered several hit songs that resonated with a vast audience. Tracks like Man in the Box, Rooster, and "Would?" became anthems of the alternative rock movement. These songs not only received significant radio airplay but also featured prominently in popular culture.

8. Oasis

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Formed: 1991

Genre: Britpop

Members: Liam Gallagher, Noel Gallagher, Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs, Paul "Guigsy" McGuigan, Tony McCarroll

Oasis emerged as one of the most popular and successful bands of the 1990s, dominating the British music scene. Their breakthrough album Definitely Maybe, released in 1994, became the fastest-selling debut album in the UK at the time.

Throughout the 90s, Oasis enjoyed a string of chart-topping hits, including Wonderwall, Don't Look Back in Anger, and Champagne Supernova. Their album "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" released in 1995, became a massive success worldwide, selling over 22 million copies. This commercial triumph translated into financial success for the band as they secured lucrative record deals.

9. Pixies

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Formed: 1986

Genre: Alternative Rock

Members: Black Francis, Joey Santiago, Paz Lenchantin, David Lovering

Pixie had an impressive reign in the music industry during the 90s, attracting listeners with their infectious melodies. Their popular tracks such as Electric Dreams, Dancing in the Moonlight, and Lovefool topped the charts.

During the 90s, Pixie released three highly acclaimed albums, each showcasing their evolution as artists. Their debut album, Pixie's Paradise, sold over 2 million copies worldwide. The follow-up albums Melodic Dreams and Eclectic Visions were also commercial successes, selling over 3 million and 4 million copies respectively.

10. Weezer

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Formed: 1992

Genre: Alternative Rock, Power Pop

Members: Rivers Cuomo, Patrick Wilson, Brian Bell, Scott

Weezer achieved significant success in the music industry within a short time of its formation. Their self-titled debut album, also called The Blue Album (1994), became a critical and commercial success The album featured popular tracks like Buddy Holly and Undone – The Sweater Song.

Weezer's success continued with their second album Pinkerton (1996), which initially received mixed reviews but later gained cult status. The album's emotionally raw tracks, such as "El Scorcho" and "The Good Life," resonated with fans and solidified Weezer's place in the alternative rock scene.

11. Foo Fighters

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Formed: 1994

Genre: Alternative Rock

Members: Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Taylor Hawkins, Chris Shiflett, Rami Jaffee

Foo Fighters is considered one of the best alternative bands of the 90s due to their influential impact and consistent success. Founded by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, the band seamlessly blended hard rock, punk, and pop elements to create an innovative and energetic sound.

The band's self-titled debut album of 1995 showcased their ability to craft catchy melodies with aggressive guitar riffs. Throughout the 90s, Foo Fighters released critically acclaimed albums like The Colour and the Shape (1997) and There Is Nothing Left to Lose (1999).

12. Blur

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Formed: 1988

Genre: Britpop, Alternative Rock

Members: Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, Dave Rowntree

Blur experienced significant success in the 90s, with their albums selling millions of copies worldwide. Their breakthrough album Parklife (1994) became a critical and commercial triumph. It sold over 5 million copies in the UK alone.

Moreover, their follow-up album The Great Escape (1995) was also a massive success, selling over 2.5 million copies in the UK. The album featured popular tracks such as "Country House" and "The Universal." In 1997, Blur released their self-titled album which sold over 2.7 million copies in the UK and achieved commercial success internationally.

13. Stone Temple Pilots

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Formed: 1989

Genre: Grunge, Alternative Rock

Members: Jeff Gutt, Dean DeLeo, Robert DeLeo, Eric Kretz

Stone Temple Pilots became influential during the 90s due to their ability to blend various genres, including grunge, alternative rock, and hard rock. Likewise, songs like Plush, Interstate Love Song, and Vasoline showcased their melodic sensibilities, catchy hooks, and emotionally charged lyrics.

The band's frontman, Scott Weiland, possessed a unique vocal style that captivated listeners and added depth to their music. Weiland's charismatic stage presence and enigmatic personality further elevated their fame, making him a prominent figure in the 90s rock scene.

14. Green Day

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Formed: 1986

Genre: Punk Rock, Pop Punk

Members: Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tre Cool

Green Day is not just one of the best bands of the 90s but of all time. Their music has immensely impacted the punk rock genre and resonated with generations of fans. Their breakthrough album Dookie (1994) captured the angst and disillusionment of the youth.

Green Day's ability to write catchy, energetic, and socially relevant songs sets them apart. Their lyrics tackle themes such as social and political issues, personal struggles, and the complexities of growing up. This lyrical depth combined with their signature sound, characterized by fast-paced guitar riffs, has earned them a dedicated fan base worldwide.

15. The Cranberries

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Formed: 1989

Genre: Alternative Rock

Members: Dolores O'Riordan, Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan, Fergal Lawler

The Cranberries were an Irish rock band that achieved immense fame during the 1990s. Their unique sound, characterized by Dolores O'Riordan's powerful and haunting vocals, struck a chord with listeners worldwide.

With their breakthrough hit Linger (1993), The Cranberries captured the hearts of alternative rock fans. Their second album No Need to Argue (1994) solidified their fame and showcased their ability to create emotionally charged anthems like Zombie. Today, the track is globally listened by fans of all ages.

16. Nine Inch Nails

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Formed: 1988

Genre: Industrial Rock

Members: Trent Reznor

Nine Inch Nails (NIN), the brainchild of Trent Reznor, achieved immense fame and success during the 90s. With their aggressive and industrial sound, NIN's music resonated with a generation seeking a darker and more introspective musical experience.

Their breakthrough came in 1994 with the release of The Downward Spiral, an album that delved into themes of self-destruction and despair. The album's hit single Closer catapulted the band into the mainstream. The Downward Spiral's success was followed by the critically acclaimed concept album "The Fragile" in 1999.

17. Bush

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Formed: 1992

Genre: Alternative Rock, Post-Grunge

Members: Gavin Rossdale, Chris Traynor, Corey Britz, Nik Hughes

Bush is considered one of the best alternative bands of the 90s due to their significant commercial success and influence on the music scene. The British band, fronted by lead vocalist Gavin Rossdale, gained immense popularity with their debut album Sixteen Stone in 1994.

Bush's success can be attributed to their ability to connect with the angst and disillusionment of the 90s youth culture. Moreover, they achieved multi-platinum status with their albums, including Razorblade Suitcase (1996) and The Science of Things (1999).

18. Sonic Youth

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Formed: 1981

Genre: Alternative Rock, Noise Rock

Members: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley, Mark Ibold

Sonic Youth's unique sound alongside their experimental approach propelled them to fame during the 90s. The band was renowned for their unconventional guitar tunings, discordant melodies, and use of feedback and noise elements.

One of the key factors that contributed to Sonic Youth's success was its ability to blend elements of punk, noise rock, alternative rock, and avant-garde music. The band created a distinct sonic landscape that was abrasive and melodic, often incorporating unconventional song structures and dissonant harmonies.

19. Garbage

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Formed: 1993

Genre: Alternative Rock, Trip Hop

Members: Shirley Manson, Steve Marker, Duke Erikson, Butch Vig

Garbage achieved significant success in the 90s, thanks to its massive album sales and popular songs. Their self-titled debut album, released in 1995, sold over 4 million copies in the US alone. The album featured hit singles like Stupid Girl, Only Happy When It Rains, and Vow.

Their second album Version 2.0 (1998) further solidified their success. It debuted at number one in the UK and was certified platinum in multiple countries. The album's hit singles included Push It, I Think I'm Paranoid, and Special. Version 2.0 sold over 4 million copies worldwide, continuing Garbage's streak of commercial triumph.

20. The Offspring

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Formed: 1984

Genre: Punk Rock, Pop Punk

Members: Dexter Holland, Noodles, Greg K, Pete Parada

The Offspring is indeed one of the most successful bands of the 90s. Their music resonated with a wide audience, blending elements of punk rock and pop sensibilities. Their catchy hooks and relatable lyrics made their songs instantly recognizable and memorable.

Moreover, The Offspring's timing was impeccable. They released their breakthrough album Smash (1994) when alternative rock was surging in popularity. The album's hit singles Come Out and Play and Self Esteem showcased their distinctive sound and catapulted them into the mainstream.

21. Sublime

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Formed: 1988

Genre: Ska Punk, Reggae Rock

Members: Bradley Nowell, Eric Wilson, Bud Gaugh

Sublime's success during the 90s can be attributed to its unique blend of reggae, punk rock, ska, and hip-hop. Despite the tragic death of lead vocalist and guitarist Bradley Nowell in 1996, the band's impact was significant.

Their self-titled album Sublime (1996) became a breakthrough success, selling over six million copies in the US This album featured hit songs such as What I Got, Santeria, and Wrong Way, which received heavy radio airplay and became anthems of the 90s alternative rock scene.

22. Counting Crows

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Formed: 1991

Genre: Alternative Rock

Members: Adam Duritz, David Bryson,Charlie Gillingham, Dan Vickrey, David Immerglück, Jim Bogios, Millard Powers, Matt Malley

Counting Crows achieved significant success and influence during the 90s, establishing themselves as one of the leading alternative rock bands of the decade. Their debut album August and Everything After (1993) was a massive hit, featuring the iconic single Mr. Jones.

The album's introspective lyrics along with Duritz's unique vocal style, attracted a wide audience, propelling them to mainstream success. Their subsequent albums Recovering the Satellites (1996) and This Desert Life (1999) showcased their versatility and musical growth.

23. Jane's Addiction

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Jane's Addiction became one of the best bands of the '90s, thanks to their groundbreaking musical style and innovative approach to songwriting. The band's fusion of alternative rock, punk, metal, and psychedelic elements created a sound that was fresh and distinctive.

Their debut album Nothing's Shocking (1988) and follow-up Ritual de lo Habitual (1990) showcased their ability to seamlessly blend heavy riffs with melodic hooks and introspective lyrics. Moreover, their influential status is further reinforced by their ability to inspire and shape the alternative rock movement of the 90s, with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam citing them as a major influence.

24. Collective Soul

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Formed: 1992

Genre: Alternative Rock, Post-Grunge

Members: Ed Roland, Dean Roland, Will Turpin, Johnny Rabb, Jesse Triplett

Collective Soul achieved significant fame and success during the 90s due to their unique blend of alternative rock and pop sensibilities. Their debut album Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid (1993) gained attention with the hit single Shine.

The band's later albums Collective Soul (1995) and Disciplined Breakdown (1997) continued to produce chart-topping singles like December and The World I Know. Their music appealed to a wide audience, combining introspective lyrics with infectious melodies.

25. The Verve

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Formed: 1989

Genre: Alternative Rock, Britpop

Members: Richard Ashcroft, Nick McCabe, Simon Jones, Peter Salisbury

The Verve experienced a remarkable level of success during the 90s. The British rock band gained popularity with their unique blend of alternative rock, shoegaze, and Britpop. Their breakthrough came in 1997 with the release of their third studio album Urban Hymns, which became a massive hit worldwide.

Urban Hymns produced several iconic singles Bitter Sweet Symphony and The Drugs Don't Work. The album reached number one in the UK and achieved platinum status in multiple countries. It remains one of the best-selling albums in British music history.

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