Growing up in the 90s, Grunge Music was inescapable. The likes of Kurt Cobain elevated what was essentially an underground movement into a mainstay of the rock genre. Critics first praised the movement... then came to loathe it as a hundred garage bands emerged out of the woodwork to be the next Kurt Cobain... by literally doing nothing more than what he did.
Like all movements centered around a select few bands, it can be easy to dismiss a movement as derivatives of a few great bands. This is an incredibly dismissive attitude to have. Like all rock genres, grunge is full of variety that, while drawing from the same pool, takes the genre in fascinating new directions. Grunge's height may have been twenty-five years old (more depending on when you read this article), but that does not mean that the songs of our youths (or childhoods) are any less incredible than they were yesteryear – or, in some cases, a few songs you might never had heard of before... ?
Let's all just accept that no grunge Band list is complete without Nirvana. Hell, Kurt Cobain may be one of the most influential musicians of the 90s. Many people at the time might have thought that Nirvana was just a flash in the pan. A successful band in its day that would burn out fast.
Yet even years later, Nirvana remains hugely popular. Yes, the intense feeling in their songs did capture the zeitgeist of the early 90s teenage culture, but it's more than that. The music is harsh, rough, and unpolished – typical of grunge – while their lyrics are simply poetic. Harsh, rough, sometimes indecipherable poetry, but poetry all the same. If you haven't listened to Nirvana in awhile, or dismiss them as too mainstream, I urge you to revisit them. Really take in their music. It is worth your full attention.
Mentioning Kurt Cobain seems difficult without also mentioning Courtney Love. Courtney Love was Cobain's wife, and, sadly, often gets short-changed as just a part of Cobain's story. But the truth is that Courtney Love, even before marrying Kurt Cobain, had a significant musical career as the lead singer and guitarist for the band Hole.
Hole started in the late 80s as another early grunge band, and continued on through the 90s, following Love's marriage with Cobain. Hole's earlier work came across as very unrefined and rough – typical of grunge and punk at the time. As time went on, Hole moved away from the harsher punk aesthetic, and into softer, even pop sounds. Sadly, the band has been on and off again during the course of the 2000s and 2010s following the death of band members and personal disputes.
Oh, and their antics during their concerts came across as somewhat... bizarre. Specifically, Love's antics.
The only British band on this list, Bush is often described as a post-grunge band, inspired by the grunge movement following the initial wave. Many people have pointed out Bush's similarities to Nirvana – often shameless and unrepentant.
Though dismissed by critics at the time (and, to a lesser extent, even now), Bush proved to be an excellent band with tons of quality music. The problem was timing. Most grunge music that has had a lasting impact emerged in the late 80s or early 90s. Bush's first album hit stores in 94. While Sixteen Stone was successful, it marked the beginning of the end of the first wave of grunge music. Had they emerged just a little sooner, they might have struck a cord.
Sadly... no, no sadly. Bush still is doing pretty well. They just released an album in 2017.
Alice in Chains
Arguably the edgiest name for any grunge band, Alice in Chains has existed in some form since the 90s, though, following the 90s, the band has had numerous states of disarray due to publicized drug issues and the like.
Alice in Chains owes its success in part to the grunge music, though Jerry Cantrell, lead singer and songwriter of the band, claims the band draws more heavily from heavy metal. Indeed, as it moved away from the grunge scene, Alice in Chains took on a more metal feel. Because of this, the band is a great blend of metal and grunge aesthetics that really gives its songs a very unique feel.
Still, whether its grunge or metal, Alice in Chains remains a mainstay of the rocking scene.
Known in some circles as the Godfathers of Grunge, Screaming Trees predates the grunge movement, but rose to popularity atop its waves. Incorporating a punk aesthetic combined with some psychadelic elements, they managed to bend genres before Nirvana really pushed the grunge movement to the forefront of pop culture.
Screaming Trees saw its greatest success in the UK. However, toward the later half of the 90s, Screaming Trees ended up having trouble with their record label. This, along with other difficulties, lead to the band's collapse in the year 2000. But over the course of fifteen years, they released seven albums, and became one of the most successful underground rock bands of the 90s.
Another band that preceded the grunge movement, The Melvins proved a huge inspiration on bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden. From the early 80s to now, the band has entertained with their slower, more ambient tunes, spiced up by some idiosyncratic tendencies that really confused people at the time. "Are they a metal band like Black Sabbath? But they're too slow and stuff... so... what are they?"
Their sound became the cornerstone of what we now understand to be grunge. Of course, at the time, it was just The Melvin's unique style. Thankfully, the right young ones were listening, or else there would be nothing else like this great band's unique style.
Mudhoney is one of the longest enduring grunge bands around. Emerging from the remnants of the 80s rock band Green River, Mudhoney started up as Nirvana's contemporary, being one of the initial members of the Grunge music movement leading into the 90s.
To this day, they still are out performing. Their most recent album, Vanishing Point, was released as recently as 2013. So yes, they are a long lasting band with a long history and long catalogue of songs. For over 35 years of entertainment (counting their Green River days), they deserve credit.
Stone Temple Pilots
During the early days of grunge, all the great bands came out of Seattle. This was where the underground music scene really had a chance to flourish, so a lot of great bands, drawing from one another, developed that unique grungy sound. Stone Temple Pilots came out of San Diego, pretty far from Seattle. It was the emergence of this band that said "Yeah, Grunge? Its scope of influence and impact is a lot larger than you thought before. It isn't just some Seattle thing."
Okay, admittedly, no one could possibly think that when "Smells like Teen Spirit" was being blasted from every radio, but the emergence of Stone Temple Pilots was an important step along the path for grunge's development.
Oh, and the band is really good, too.
Most people seem to think Pilots emerged after the success of Nirvana, but the band had existed under another name as early as 89. They insisted that they were not rip-offs, but rather drawing from the same influences of Nirvana. As time went on, they distanced themselves more and more from grunge... and then collapsed. They have been on-again, off-again since 2008.
The Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins, whether the band likes it or not, is forever tied to the grunge movement. It owes it success in part to the grunge wave following Nirvana and Pearl Jam, though the band really owes more to gothic rock and psychedelic rock, with elements of electronica sprinkled in as the band returned following a break-up.
The Smashing Pumpkins had toured with Guns N' Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers during the late 80s, opening for them, but only in the 90s did they become a main attraction – thanks to both their extensive touring and the grunge movement. They sounded just enough like grunge to be part of that movement, even though the band tried pretty hard to distance themselves from the movement.
Well, it hardly matters. Whether they like it or not, they are tied to grunge pretty inseparably. If you like grunge, you might want to look at the group that grew up alongside them.
Mother Love Bone
Mother Love Bone has something of a tragic story. Lead singer Andrew Wood died of a drug overdose shortly before the release of their first studio album. It became their sole album. Form 1988 to 1990, they rocked Seattle... but then, nothing.
But that one album became a success following the band's collapse. The early 90s hunger for grunge led fans to uncover Mother Love Bone and their sole album, Apple. This tragic hidden gem never managed to find success in its own lifetime, but it has received a legacy worthy of its potential.
But, thankfully, that potential did not go untapped...
From the corpse of Mother Love Bone, a phoenix rose. While members of Mother Love Bone did collaborate with Soundgarden, it wasn't until Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament of Mother Love Bone joined Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready that Pearl Jam, one of the most commercially successful grunge bands... ever.
In many respects, Pearl Jam can be considered the band of the 90s. While the band undeniably started as typical, if not high-quality, grunge, as it went on it incorporated numerous other styles without ever losing its roots as a grunge band. In addition, Pearl Jam consistently went against the music industry, from refusing interviews to boycotting Ticketmaster. Behavior like this would have killed other bands hoping for mainstream success, but somehow, Pearl Jam survived.
The reason why? Because their music is awesome.
Temple of the Dog
Another off-shoot of Mother Love Bone, this band lasted for only two years. Conceived as a tribute to the fallen lead singer of Mother Love Bone by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, They only released one self-titled album that failed to meet success until a year after its release.
What makes Temple of the Dog such an oddity in the grunge scene is that it feels in many ways as a side-project for all parties involved. Everyone had moved on from Mother Love Bone, yet this one band – a tribute band – released some of the most underrated, quality music of the grunge movement. If you've overlooked this band, you owe it to yourself to give them a chance.
"Who is better? Nirvana or Soundgarden?"
Hard question, but I don't think it really matters what the answer is. Soundgarden, though less famous than Nirvana, is just as essential to the movement as Nirvana. It was the first grunge band to sign onto a major label, which already gives the band major bragging points.
But unlike Nirvana, with its unrefined, harsh sound, Soundgarden's music had structure. It came across as defined. While undeniably grunge, songs like "Black-Hole Sun" have a very distinct structure to it that makes it stand apart from its contemporaries.
Oh, and the music video for "Black-Hole Sun" may be among the weirdest music-videos to emerge out of the grunge music scene.
While the ban seemingly disbanded during the late 90s, it reunited in 2010 to go on tour.