Following the hair-metal spandex of the previous decade, the 1990s introduced a new brand of rock called grunge. This brand fused elements of punk and metal with a counterculture perspective. The 90s rock bands that gained popularity were Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and many more.
Rock music was quite popular in the 1990s. But unlike the previous season, we saw new subgenres of rock music appear. These include grunge rock, industrial rock, Britpop, alternative rock, ska punk, punk rock, and more.
Fun fact: Smells Like Teen Spirit, the song by Nirvana is widely considered the best song of the 1990s. All the cool kids will tell you they were into Nirvana back in the day.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most popular 90s rock bands.
Arguably the best 90s rock band, Nirvana was an American band formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987. Lead singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic formed the band.
They established themselves as part of the Seattle grunge scene in the late 1980s. But in the 1990s, that is when they reached their climax.
The band released its first album Bleach in 1989. With that album, Nirvana developed a sound that relied on dynamic contrasts.
Their most popular song, Smells Like Teen Spirit was released in 1991 as the first single of their landmark album, Nevermind.
Nirvana was famous for its punk aesthetic, a fusion of pop melodies with noise, and their effort to combine themes of abjection and social alienation.
To this day, they remain one of the best-selling bands of all time with more than 75 million record sales. They have also received a Grammy Award, American Music Award, and seven MTV Video Music Awards.
This band was also part of the Seattle rock scene. Soundgarden was formed in 1984 by singer and rhythm guitarist Chris Cornell and lead guitarist Kim Thayil. Both are the only members to appear in every incarnation of the band.
They popularized grunge music, a style of alternative rock that appeared in the mid-to-late-1980s. They were contemporaries with Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana.
Soundgarden was the first grunge band to sign with the record label Sub Pop.
Many fans will tell you Green Day achieved its success much later than the 1990s. They were formed in 1987 by Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt. But while they released several albums in the 1990s, they were much more popular in the 2000s.
And that is because of touring. Yet, their most successful album to date remains Dookie, released in 1994.
They have sold more than 75 million records worldwide and earned a nomination for Grammy Award 20 times. They have won the award five times for Best Alternative Album, Best Rock Album, and more.
Alice in Chains
Often abbreviated as AIC, the American rock band from Seattle, Washington was formed in 1987. Initial members include guitarist and vocalist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney. They recruited lead vocalist Layne Staley later on.
They are associated with grunge music, incorporating heavy metal elements into their sound. Their distinctive vocal style includes harmonized vocals between Staley and Cantrell.
They rose to fame as the grunge movement of the early 1990s was taking the world by storm. Their albums Facelift, Dirt, and Alice in Chains were all released in the 1990s.
The American rock band consisted of founding members Jeff Ament at bass guitar, Stone Gossard at rhythm guitar, Mike McGready at lead guitar, Eddie Vedder as lead vocal, and Matt Cameron at drums.
Formed after the demise of previous bands by its members, Pearl Jam broke into the mainstream with the debut album Ten, released in 1991.
Their debut studio album stayed on the Billboard 200 charts for nearly five years. It remains one of the highest-selling rock records ever, going for 13x platinum in the US.
The American band was formed in Seattle, Washington, in 1994. As you can see, the 1990s were a great period for rock music in Seattle. Former Nirvana drummer, Dave Grohl founded the band as a one-man project following the suicide of Kurt Cobain.
The group took its name from “foo fighter”, a nickname coined by Allied aircraft pilots for UFOs. Up to the release of the debut album, Grohl was the only official member.
Others have joined, including Nate Mendel, William Goldsmith, and Pat Smear.
The American rock band from Athens, Georgia was formed in 1980 by drummer Bill Berry, bassist Mile Mills, lead vocalist Michael Stipe, and guitarist Peter Buck.
They were all students at the University of Georgia, where they jammed together. They remain one of the first alternative rock bands. Noted for their guitar style and vocal quality, many other 90s rock bands viewed REM as the pioneer of the alternative rock genre.
The band’s most successful albums came in the 1990s. Those were Out of Time in 1991 and Automatic for the People in 1992.
Rage Against the Machine
Abbreviated as RATM or just shortened to Rage, the group was an American rock band from Los Angeles, California. Formed in 1991 by vocalist Zack de la Rocha, their songs express revolutionary political views.
They released their debut self-titled album in 1992 to commercial and critical success. The success of the album gave them a slot in the 1993 Lollapalooza festival.
They released two more albums, Evil Empire and The Battle of Los Angeles. They had a nine-year run. In 2000, the band disbanded after growing creative differences made De la Rocha depart from the group.
The American rock band from California was formed in 1992. They toured and recorded for years as an independent band. They finally signed to MCA records. Before that, they even had stints on the Warped Tour as an independent band.
Many rock fans view Blink 182 as one of the most prominent and influential rock acts of the late twentieth century. Their simple arrangements helped initiate pop punk and its mainstream rise.
Guns N’ Roses
The American hard rock band was formed in 1985 in Los Angeles, California. They signed to Geffen Records in 1986. At the time, the band comprised vocalist Axl Rose, lead guitarist Slash, drummer Steven Adler, and guitarists Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan.
Their debut album in 1987 reached worldwide success. Appetite for Destruction contained songs like Paradise City, Sweet Child o’Mine, and Welcome to the Jungle.
In the early years, the band’s hedonism and rebelliousness drew comparisons to the early Rolling Stones. That helped them earn the nickname, “the most dangerous band in the world”.
We have to mention Pantera as one of the popular 90s rock bands. While they enjoyed most of their success in the 1980s, they still produced music in the early 1990s as well.
They were part of the second wave of the thrash metal scene. Pantera started as a glam metal band and released three albums with little success in the genre.
It wasn’t until their fifth album that they popularized the groove metal genre.
We cannot have a list of popular rock bands without mentioning U2. The group was formed in Dublin, Great Britain in 1976.
Yes, they were formed in the late 1970s, but still produced music well into the 2000s and 2010s. That is why we can say they were a 90s band as well.
Bono played rhythm guitar and provided lead vocals. The band was formed when all the members were teenage pupils of Mount Temple Comprehensive School. They had limited musical proficiency. But over the years, they have become one of the most popular classic rock bands.
To this day, they have released 14 studio albums and sold between 150 and 170 million records sales. U2 has won a Grammy Award 22 times, more than any other band in the world.
The Australian hard rock band was formed in Sydney in 1973. Their music can be described as hard rock, blues rock, and heavy metal. But the band members called it rock and roll.
In the 1990s, the band enjoyed a commercial resurgence with the release of their album, The Razors Edge.
They have sold more than 200 million records worldwide, making them the ninth-highest-selling artist in the US.
The band can be classified as a rap rock band. Some of their music leaned heavily on rap, but their sound was pure rock.
The lineup consists of Fred Durst as lead vocals, John Otto at drums, Wes Borland at guitar and vocals, and Sam Rivers at bass.
They became popular in the Jacksonville underground music scene in the 1990s. Their commercial success improved with their song appearing on popular video games like Tony Hawk.
Let’s finish off the list with the iconic American rock band, Aerosmith. The group consists of Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, Brad Whitford, and Joey Kramer.
Their style is rooted in hard rock, but also incorporates elements of heavy metal, glam metal, and pop rock.
Aerosmith has inspired so many subsequent rock artists. Referred to as The Bad Boys from Boston, Aerosmith is the best-selling American hard rock band of all time.