Rock bands of the 90s created different-sounding music than 80s rock bands.
It was an era where alternative rock and grunge bands, who rebelled against the look and feel of the 80s, became leaders of a new music movement.
The result of this grunge revolution turned the fashion and music industry upside down. Flannel-wearing rockers like Nirvana and Radiohead replaced glam bands like Guns ‘N Roses.
The focus was on creating raw, powerful, and simplistic music, not commercial success.
So without further ado, join us as we review, what we think, are the best bands of the 90s.
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The 10 Best Rock Bands of The ’90s
For our list, we focused on 90s bands in the rock genre and compared album sales to determine who was the best rock band.
We will also provide insights into how each band became famous and who may have influenced them musically.
Here’s our list of the 10 best rock bands of the 90s:
10. Foo Fighters
Album sales: $6,000,000
The Foo Fighters are fronted by Dave Grohl, who was Nirvana’s drummer during the band’s glory years.
Sitting behind the drums was Taylor Hawkins, who toured with Alanis Morrisett and had one of the best 90s songs with her hit “You Oughta Know.”
Musically, the Foo Fighters have explored grunge rock while writing music labeled pop rock. The result is a lush musical landscape with songs that found chart success and won critical acclaim from music professionals.
Dave Grohl molded the Foo Fighters into a hit-making rock machine that pumped out hits like “Everlong,” “My Hero,” and “The Pretender.”
With the tragic demise of Taylor Hawkins in 2022, the Foo Fighters have suspended touring and recording.
Time will tell if they will resume making music, but with their indoctrination into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2021, the Foo Fighters have proven that they’re one of the best 90s rock bands.
Album sales: $10,000,000
Not every grunge and alternative band in the 90s came from Seattle. Radiohead is an English band formed in 1985, and music experts credit them for advancing alternative rock with their experimental music style.
Radiohead drew upon many musical influences to create their music, like The Beatles, which had one of the best bassists of all time, Paul McCartney.
Other bands influencing their style are U2, one of the best bands of the 80s, and artists like David Bowie.
The band released their debut album, Pablo Honey, and had a hit in 1992 with “Creep,” which reached the Billboard Top 40.
Their third album, OK Computer, was released in 1997 and would bring the band international success and won the Best Alternative Music Award at the 1998 Grammy Awards.
In the next decade, Radiohead would continue to explore new musical directions until 2020, when they broke up.
Radiohead released albums that reshaped the music scene and got them inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, proving that they’re among the best bands of the decade.
8. Alice In Chains
Album sales: $13,000,000
This Seattle grunge band took its name from lead singer Layne Staley’s former glam metal band, Alice N’ Chains.
Alice In Chains (AIC) brought this heavy metal sound into their grunge sound to create their unique style.
Influenced by Deep Purple, who wrote one of the most recognizable forbidden riffs, AC/DC uses classic rock for creative inspiration when writing songs.
Hit songs by AIC include “Nutshell,” “Would?”, “No Excuses” and “Man in the Box” would help them earn eleven Grammy nominations. In 1994, they were nominated for the Top Rock Song Award at the Billboard Music Awards.
Alice In Chains lost momentum in 2002 when Staley died from a drug overdose. While the band continues to perform with new members like former Black Sabbath bass guitarist Mike Inez, their peak was during the 90s.
The Seattle rock band penned many great songs and has been nominated for some of the industry’s top honors, which is why Alice In Chains is one of the best bands of the 90s.
Album sales: $12,000,000
Soundgarden is another band from the Seattle grunge scene that formed in the mid-80s and rose to prominence in the next decade.
The band, who helped popularize alternative rock, began their musical journey by signing with small, independent record labels.
Doing so enabled them to grow a following in the Pacific Northwest, but it wasn’t until they landed a deal with a major label that their fan base would be worldwide.
Breakthrough success came with their third studio album Badmotorfinger, putting them on the map with hits like “Jesus Christ Pose,” Outshined,” and “Rusty Cage.”
Soundgarden’s 1994 release, Superunknown, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and contained Grammy-winning hits “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun.”
The band had more chart-topping success with their follow-up album, Down on the Upside, but broke up in 1997 due to internal strife.
Soundgarden helped pioneer the grunge sound and made it popular worldwide with hit songs and successful tours.
Add in their RIAA double-platinum album Badmotorfinger, and it’s easy to see why Soundgarden was one of the most successful bands of the 90s.
6. Green Day
Album sales: $28,000,000
Green Day is from the San Francisco area and began in 1987, writing punk rock and alternative music. Music critics would credit them for making punk rock a mainstream success due to their massive record sales.
Like many alternative rock bands, before signing a contract with one of the biggest record labels in the world, they worked with independent labels. As a result, fans and critics alike dubbed groups in this development phase as indie rock.
Green Day hits like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” are filled with emotional lyrics, which is why the band is also known as an emo band.
The band was heavily influenced by one of the best rock bands of the 70s, The Who, which wrote many classic rock hits. Additionally, Green Day credits The Kinks and The Ramones for influencing their sound and songwriting.
Green Day has won five Grammy Awards, one of which was Best Alternative Album for Dookie.
Combine this with their string of hits and how they influenced the music industry, and it’s easy to see why they’re one of the greatest rock bands of the 90s.
5. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Album sales: $31,000,000
This LA-based band was formed in 1983 and features Flea on bass guitar, Chad Smith on drums, Anthony Kiedis on vocals, and John Frusciante on guitar.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers utilize funk, alternative, and punk rock to craft Grammy-winning hits and albums.
Topping this is their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Considered one of the great rock bands of the 90s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers fused funk on their 1989 hit of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” which showcased Flea’s slap bass technique.
Subsequent hits include “Californication” and “Give it Away,” which are rooted in their funk-punk sound.
As the years passed, the Red Hot Chili Peppers evolved with the changing music scene to become more pop rock.
The result was more hits in the next decade and making them cemented in the annals of rock history.
4. Pearl Jam
Album sales: $33,000,000
Pearl Jam emerged from the Seattle grunge scene in 1990 to become “the most popular American rock & roll band of the ‘90s.”
Despite such accolades, they were known for shunning music practices like releasing music videos or doing interviews.
They cite bands like The Who and Led Zeppelin, some of the best bands of all time, for influencing their sound, songs, and live performances. As a result, Pearl Jam wrote grunge songs that had more commercial success than other bands in the genre.
Hits by the band include “Black” and “Even Flow,” and despite their resolve not to make music videos, they won the MTV Award for Best Rock Video in 1993 for the song Jeremy.
Pearl Jam is committed to charity work, events, and causes, hoping its music can make a difference worldwide.
While the band has changed its lineup over the years, they continue to perform and record music, proof that Pearl Jam is one of the best 90s rock bands.
Album sales: $36,000,000
Oasis is an English rock band formed in 1991, and while band members came and went, brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher kept Oasis intact and focused.
The band is more of a Britpop ensemble than a hard rock or grunge band. The hit song “Wonderwall” was such a success that it is now one of the best songs everyone knows and will be one of Oasis’ biggest hits.
During their career, they released seven studio albums and were nominated for two Grammy awards for their music videos.
Oasis’ second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, is the best-selling record and was voted Best Album of 30 Years at the 2010 Brit Awards.
However, Liam Gallagher’s acceptance speech at the Brit Awards was full of obscenities, and he heaved his award and microphone into the crowd before sulking off stage.
While the show’s host described Gallagher as a “knobhead,” his hostile and rude display only seemed to help the band’s success, not hurt.
Throughout their music career, Oasis released international hits like “Champagne Supernova” and toured until 2011, making them one of the best rock bands of the 90s.
Album sales: $44,000,000
R.E.M. is an American rock band formed in Athens at the University of Georgia and would gain popularity in the 80s playing alternative rock.
Their debut album, Murmur, came out in 1983 and received critical praise, and the song “Radio Free Europe” became a hit on the college radio circuit.
Document, the band’s fifth album, would be their breakthrough recording, spawning commercial success with “The One I Love.”
R.E.M. was inspired by two of the best rock bands of the 60s, The Byrds and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and came into their own in the 90s with commercially successful albums like Out of Time and Automatic for the People.
International hits from these studio albums include “Losing My Religion,” “Everybody Hurts,” “Shiny Happy People,” and “Man On The Moon.”
R.E.M. continued recording and performing until 2011, contributing amazing alternative rock music to the world, which is why they’re one of the best 90s rock bands.
Album sales: $52,000,000
One band stands at the top of being instrumental in advancing the grunge music scene, and that is Nirvana.
Kurt Cobain founded Nirvana in 1987 with Krist Novoselic, who played bass guitar. In time, they recruited Dave Grohl to play drums and found success in the underground music scene of Seattle.
Often referred to as the figurehead band for Generation X, Nirvana popularized alternative rock with their sensational second album, Nevermind.
The record would become their most successful, but hard-core grunge fans became disillusioned with Nirvana for “selling out” and becoming wealthy as their fame increased.
The hit from this release, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” became one of the best music videos of all time and single-handedly spelled the end to hair metal bands of the 80s.
While the tragic death of Kurt Cobain in 1994 ended Nirvana as a band, they are regarded worldwide as the band that launched the grunge movement.
Add to that their awards and that Grohl marched onward with his band, The Foo Fighters, and it’s easy to see why we picked them as the best 90s band.
During the 90s, great music poured out of the Seattle area in the form of grunge and alternative rock.
These bands led a musical revolution away from the extravagance and heavy metal sounds of the 80s.
Artists wrote catchy pop melodies that had pop-punk sounds, and collectively, they ushered in a new era of music.
While the goal of these indie artists was never mainstream success, many became popular rock bands that dominated the charts, becoming the greatest bands of the 90s.
What’s the best rock band of the 90s, in your opinion? Leave a comment below.
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