Grunge bloomed from the mid-to-late ‘80s Seattle music scene with fuzzy, distorted electric guitars, angst-y vocals and a general rebellion against the establishment. After the mainstream breakthrough of Nirvana’s Nevermind album in 1991, the genre became the most popular style of rock music in the ‘90s.
Grunge is still in the spotlight today, with many of those classic lineups touring and releasing new music. Songs such as “Black Hole Sun,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Jeremy” are still spinning hard on radio stations worldwide. Let’s get out our flannel and look at 10 Great Grunge Bands!
When many people think of “grunge,” the big names come to mind: Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Mudhoney were one of the earliest to dabble in that grunge rock sound. As the first breakout band on Seattle’s legendary Sub Pop Records, Mudhoney’s underground popularity helped set the stage for the ‘90s alternative explosion. Without Mudhoney, it’s possible that grunge would have never flourished.
Here’s another early grunge name. Frontman Mark Lanegan and company were one of Seattle’s most influential grunge bands in the ‘80s, and over the course of time, evolved into more psychedelic-sounding rockers. Screaming Trees were one of the first Seattle groups to sign to a major label, moving to Epic in 1989, but never achieved the kind of commercial success of a Nirvana or Soundgarden.
Well before Nirvana, a young, wide-eyed Kurt Cobain spent many of his days as a roadie for the Melvins, so it’s not a surprise that the band was a musical influence for Nirvana. The Melvins fused post-punk with a dark, heavy metal-influenced sound and were pioneers of the grunge sound.
Mother Love Bone
Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood was one of the greatest voices in the Seattle scene. Sadly, Wood and Mother Love Bone never got their proper spotlight, as the singer died of a drug overdose just a few days before the band’s first full-length album was set to arrive. “Crown of Thorns” is probably Mother Love Bone’s most recognizable song, and it’s a reminder of Wood’s talent and charisma. Mother Love Bone are also recognized as the precursor to Pearl Jam for members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament.
Stone Temple Pilots
Who says grunge is only out of Seattle? Not Stone Temple Pilots. The San Diego-based rock band arrived on the tail end of grunge and propelled the genre into the late-’90s. The band’s debut Core album features frontman Scott Weiland and the DeLeo brothers at their finest, with “Creep,” “Plush” and “Wicked Garden” leading the pack.
Smashing Pumpkins broke out of Chicago and became one of the biggest alternative rock bands of the ‘90s, not by imitating the punk-fueled brand of grunge that was on the airwaves, but by offering a totally different kind of music—one with dazzling melodies and discordant sounds. Songs such as “Today,” “1979” and “Disarm” are moments of greatness, and the band still actively tours and releases new music.
Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains vocalist Layne Staley and guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell proved one of the most powerful forces in grunge. The duo’s eerie harmonies were the trademark of Alice in Chains and created some of alternative rock’s most hauntingly beautiful concoctions. While 1990’s Facelift got things going, 1992’s Dirt put Alice in Chains front and center, with tormented classics such as “Would?,” “Rooster” and “Angry Chair.”
Soundgarden were rock innovators that pleased both alternative and metal fans alike by combining the heavy mud of ‘70s metal with the raw, artistic feel of indie and grunge. 1991’s Badmotorfinger is the moment it all came together, with Chris Cornell and company breaking out with heavy, hard-charging rock tunes that set the stage for 1994’s Superunknown later commercial success.
Following the tragic end of Mother Love Bone, band members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament regrouped with frontman Eddie Vedder, and Pearl Jam was born. Vedder’s thick, gravelly voice was one of the defining characteristics of Pearl Jam, and coupled with driving rock instrumentals, the band helped keep the grunge wave started by Nevermind going strong with omnipresent tunes like “Jeremy” and “Alive.”
It wasn’t difficult to make Nirvana at the top of our list of 10 Great Grunge Bands. It’s quite possible that without Nirvana, this list wouldn’t be here. The Kurt Cobain-fronted Seattle-based band made grunge a household name with 1991’s Nevermind, which kicked hair metal to the curb and made way for a new, rawer-sounding rock that mixed punk, post-punk and indie. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the song that started it all, with more to follow with “Come As You Are,” “Heart Shaped Box” and “Lithium.” Rock music has never been the same.