Grunge was more than a genre of music: it was a united scene striving for freedom and understanding. In about a decade’s time, that tight-knit Seattle scene crafted a collection of flannel-fueled songs that live on today.
Ever since the 20th anniversary of Nevermind last year, it seems I’ve been listening to grunge nonstop. In honor of all things grunge, we’re counting down the Top 10 Grunge Albums. Since there was no way to fit every great grunge release in here, put your picks in the comments section and complete our list!
10. Mudhoney, Mudhoney
Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden may be the bread-and-butter bands of ‘90s grunge, but Mudhoney were the guys that gave the grunge rock movement its official start. Mudhoney were the first breakout band on Sub Pop Records, and their underground success was critical in laying the blueprint for the Seattle sound. For that, we’ll always to be grateful to Mudhoney and their 1989 Sub Pop self-titled debut.
9. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York
It’s never easy to capture the magic of a band’s live show on tape, whether that’s with a live album or DVD, but that’s just what happened with Nirvana’s 1994 MTV Unplugged release. Here, you’ll find some moments that you just feel in your gut, whether it’s the late Kurt Cobain completely letting loose at the end of the show or the crackle in his voice on “The Man Who Sold the World.”
8. The Melvins, Ozma
A young Kurt Cobain spent many of his days as a roadie for the Melvins, and he knew how to pick ‘em. The Melvins were the originators when it came to fusing post-punk with a grungy, Black Sabbath-influenced sound, and the songs on Ozma and the rest of the Melvins collection surely influenced bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana in the years to come.
7. Screaming Trees, Sweet Oblivion
Mark Lanegan is near-legendary in the grunge rock world, toting a ton of killer collaborations plus a solo career. Sweet Oblivion is Screaming Trees’ sixth record, and it boasts the hit “Nearly Lost You,” arguably the band’s most popular song. Musically, the album is tough and gentle, lashing and but laid-back. It’s as wacky and exciting as Lanegan.
6. Temple of the Dog, Temple of the Dog
Temple of the Dog, the Seattle supergroup featuring members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, represented that unique kinship and loyalty among the Seattle scene. Hits such as “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Hunger Strike” radiated the spectrum of emotions, and the collaboration paid deep respect to the late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood. If I had to pick one album to sum up the Seattle scene, this would be it.
5. Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream
While Nirvana ruled the airwaves with a punk-y brand of grunge, Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins set themselves apart by churning out arena rockers with dazzling art-rock ditties, layers of sound and painfully confessional lyrics. While Gish kicked things off, Siamese Dream is where things really gelled, thanks to everlasting tracks such as “Cherub Rock,” “Today” and “Disarm.”
4. Alice in Chains, Dirt
Alice in Chains’ Dirt is the band’s key creative statement and a gloomy masterpiece on grunge: bleak, haunting, yet beautiful. It’s a detailed, maddening cry from the pit of the late Layne Staley’s heroin addiction and one of the most tormented concept albums to date.
3. Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger
Soundgarden was the metal’s fans answer to grunge, and nowhere was their sound more raw and groundbreaking than on Badmotorfinger. The album maintained all of the band’s underground elements, while bringing a Led Zeppelin-vibe to the budding grunge genre. Badmotorfinger was also Soundgarden’s first step towards commercial success.
2. Pearl Jam, Ten
Pearl Jam’s debut, Ten, holds up incredibly well over the years, with its raw blend of rock ‘n’ roll guitars and Eddie Vedder’s serious, introspective lyrics. This album simply clicked with the masses, and it helped keep grunge music at a fever pitch for years. While Pearl Jam still tour and, apparently, are still working on a new album, there’s no denying that Ten is still the band’s biggest opus to date.
1. Nirvana, Nevermind
Let’s get real. This list wouldn’t be here without Nirvana’s Nevermind. Nirvana’s influence on diffusing the Seattle sound to the masses is irrefutable. When Nevermind hit the airwaves -- buoyed by a catchy, grungy gem in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” -- America was sold. There was simply no turning back. Toting eternal hits such as “Come As You Are” and “Lithium,” Nevermind is still the most celebrated album of its time.