37 Best 90s Rock Bands
The best 90s rock bands mark the way the rock music scene morphed during the last decade of the 20th century. During the 80s, the biggest names in rock included hair bands, New Wave and soft (or dad) rock artists. But by the 90s, the range of popular rock bands had expanded to include grunge, alternative and indie acts.
The best 90s rock band contenders include some of the 90s’ top bands. Such as Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pulp. There were 90s alternative bands, 90s grunge bands and 90s indie bands. British bands of the 80s and 90s also made waves with the Britpop genre.
The list of 90s bands also includes the odd heavy metal band. Plus, of course, classic rock bands that continued to define both the decade and pre-millenium times. What the best of the bunch have in common in enduring success: many of their songs are still played, vey often indeed, to this day.
Keep reading if you want to discover 37 of the finest 90s rock bands. Which do you already love – or are yet to listen to?
22 of the best 90s rock bands
Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the biggest and best 90s bands of all. On the US Billboard Alternative Chart they’ve had more songs in the top ten and at number one than any other band. They’ve also spent more weeks in the top spot than any other act. Some of their most famous hits from the 90s include Californication, Give It Away, Scar Tissue and Under the Bridge, from their albums Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Californication.
Stone Temple Pilots
The five-CD Original Album Series from Stone Temple Pilots showcases the band from San Diego, California. The first lead singer, Scott Weiland, was infamously fired from the band in early 2013. Chester Bennington, formerly of Linkin Park, also fronted the band before his death in 2017.
Green Day dates from 1987, and are the third consecutive Californian band on this list. Though much of their success came post-millenium, hits like Basket Case from the album Dookie made a name for them during the 90s.
Nine Inch Nails
Fronted by Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails – or NIN or NIИ – are one of the top 90s bands specialising in industrial rock. Broken, The Downward Spiral and The Fragile were the albums made by the band during the decade.
I’ve had a soft spot for the Smashing Pumpkins since I found out they wrote Shame about Michael Hutchence of INXS. Hailing from Chicago, the band broke up in 2000, but have since reunited and are active once more.
Rage Against The Machine
I downloaded the single Killing in the Name Of once to try to get RATM to number one at Christmas in the UK. It was all in protest against the X Factor’s annual dominance of the charts during the festive period. Anyway, it surprises some people to find out that it’s a song I love, but then I did always have eclectic taste in music.
Pearl Jam hails from Seattle, and is a band I’d barely heard of until I went to uni and met one of their biggest fans. Like some of the other biggest bands of the 90s, they’re still touring to this day. In 2011, Rolling Stone named Black as the band’s best track of all time. Get a taste of 90s Pearl Jam by listening to Rearviewmirror.
The importance of Nirvana and late frontman Kurt Cobain cannot be overstressed. His suicide in 1994 sadly made him a member of the infamous 27 club. For me, the overlying memory of how the dancefloor filled up whenever Smells Like Teen Spirit came on makes me think of Nirvana as numero uno among 90s grunge bands.
From the aftermath of Cobain’s suicide came the Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl – the drummer from Nirvana – initially intended to set up a one-man show, but like other 1990s rock bands the Foo Fighters are still doing very well indeed for themselves.
The album Pablo Honey was the first from Radiohead, released in 1993. I always found their music a little too sombre for my tastes, if I’m honest, but other people absolutely loved them. I do have a fondness for Creep, however.
LIke a significant number of bands from the 80s and 90s, The Offspring also hails from California. Their 1998 album Americana came 14 years after their inception, when they were formerly known as Manic Subsidal.
Alternative, hard rock, heavy metal and grunge are all terms that have been used to describe the music of this Seattle band. Superunknown, their 1994 album, was remastered in 2014 for its 20th anniversary.
Though the preceding decades were more their era, Queen’s star continued to burn bright into the 90s. At least until Freddie Mercury left us in late 1991. The Show Must Go On (from Innuendo) possibly the most poignant track they ever recorded, and was released only six weeks before Mercury’s death.
No 90s rock bands list would be complete without REM. Losing My Religion was a mega hit globally, and Out Of Time from which it came was also critically acclaimed. In 2021, Rolling Stone even described the album as the one that ‘saved 90s rock.
Alice in Chains
It wasn’t only California making waves on the rock music scene of the 90s. Alice in Chains, like some other big bands at the time (not least Nirvana) came from Seattle. Their sound was on the heavier side, more heavy metal than grunge.
Here in the UK – and also across the stream in Ireland, from whence they came – U2 were a huge hit during the 90s. Their success was phenomenal, and global. The Fly from Achtung Baby did very well over here back then, even though today it’s often shunned in favour of better-known U2 tracks.
Weezer’s The Blue Album appears on many a list of the greatest 90s rock albums. Buddy Holly is one of the best known tracks from it, in turn referencing one of the key figures of the 50s rock and roll scene.
Yet another Californian band makes the grade in the form of Blink-182. Whatever your preferred genre, who can resist the rousing masterpiece that is All The Small Things? Not me, that’s for sure.
Enter Sandman – overrated or no? Not in my eyes, though of course they’re obscured by sand… there’s something darkly delicious about ‘Take my hand… off to never-never land’. For me this track alone merits Metallica more than a mere mention on any list of the top 90s music bands.
Much as my opinion of Liam Gallagher is about as rock-bottom as it could possibly be, given his behaviour towards Michael Hutchence of INXS at The Brits in 1996, I do really like the music of Oasis. The 90s pretty much personified for me, not least because I worked in a Manchester club when a student then where Oasis both rehearsed and made their live debut.
Another Californian export here, fronted by the ever-fabulous Gwen Stefani. Singles like Just a Girl and Don’t Speak, plus an excellent cover of Talk Talk’s It’s My Life, make this US girl-led band always worth a listen.
Guns ‘n’ Roses
The late 80s and early 90s was when the star of Guns ‘n’ Roses shone at its brightest. Perhaps surprisingly, the band didn’t get together until 1985, but they didn’t have to wait too long for massive commercial success on a worldwide scale.
15 more top 90s rock bands
- Blur – Britpop band Blur were big enough in the UK to give Oasis a good run for their money
- Bon Jovi – Not as hot as during the 80s, perhaps, but still a force to be reckoned with
- Bush – Gwen Stefani’s ex fronted one of the biggest 90s successes stateside
- The Cardigans – The use of Lovefool for Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet ensured 90s success
- The Cranberries – Other than U2, one of Ireland’s biggest rock exports
- Garbage – Flying the flag for the women during the indie era
- INXS – Best band ever IMHO, so there’s no way I could leave them out
- Korn – Pioneers of the sound which became known as nu-metal
- The Lemonheads – That Mrs Robinson cover. Need I say more?
- New Order – Not rock as such, but a landmark band of the decade for sure
- Pantera – One of the biggest heavy metal bands of the 90s
- Pulp – Many top 90s indie songs came from this popular English band
- The Stone Roses – Another of the stalwarts of the 90s indie scene
- Suede – Britpop favourites Suede had some storming 90s hits
- The Verve – Another massively successful 90s band in the UK
90s rock bands FAQs
What bands were big in the 90s?
The biggest bands of the 90s in the rock genre included Alice In Chains, the Foo Fighters, Green Day, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, REM and Soundgarden.
Who were the biggest British bands of the 90s?
In the UK in particular, Britpop and indie bands like Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Radiohead, Suede, The Stone Roses, The Verve and more were big news during the 90s.
Who Were the Best 90s Rock Bands for You?
The best rock bands of the 90s made all sorts of music between them. From the grunge acts of Seattle or the indie and Britpop bands of the UK to all manner of Californian rock bands, the popular songs of the 90s remain a solid go-to for any keen music fan.
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