Best Bands of the 90s

Best Bands of the 90s

With every decade music continues its ongoing metamorphosis, and the 90s is no exception. After the big pop tunes and heavy rock scene that characterised the 80s, in the following decade it was dance, indie, Britpop and grunge that were big music news. So who were the best bands of the 90s?

There are lots of contenders. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Green Day. Nirvana. Blur. Oasis. The Stone Roses. The Verve. Radiohead. New Order. M M People. Simply Red. Take That. Just to name a dozen. Then there’s Nine Inch Nails, The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, The Backstreet Boys, The Foo Fighters, The Happy Mondays…

I spent a good chunk of the 90s at the centre of it all, in Manchester. Aka Madchester. Technically Salford, but I did work at one of the seminal venues of the time – the Manchester Boardwalk. Where Oasis played their first gig – alas it was before my time there.

Although it was a few years until they hit the charts. There were rehearsal rooms as well as the club, and when I arrived at work and went upstairs to report to the manager’s office I always heard the sound of drums and guitars emanating from somewhere in the building.

Who knows – Liam Gallagher et al may have been responsible for some of those sounds I heard. Or perhaps The Happy Mondays – from Salford – or James, formed in Manchester. Both of those also had ties with the place and performed there. It’s unlikely I’ll ever know for sure, as I have no record of the nights I pulled pints and the place is now long gone.

Anyway, as one of my tutors at Salford was (overly) fond of saying, I digress. Here they are – my top ten popular 90s bands. The reasons for each selection are explained under each listing. Of course many will disagree. Or even digress…

The 10 Best Bands of the 90s

Simply Red

Let’s begin with something softer, shall we? Simply Red were big news – in the early 1990s in particular. I saw them live in Manchester in 1993, having secured tickets along with the housemate I’d just met during Fresher’s Fortnight. (I wonder if Salford Uni still do a two-week shebang to welcome their newest recruits?)

At 19, we were still young enough to swoon over Mick Hucknall. (He looked right at me!) Ruby tooth, ginger locks and all. Well Simply Red certainly made a better name than ‘The Frantic Elevators’… Apparently there may be a Manchester United connection there too. (No one supported Man City when I lived in the city.)

Simply Red were nominated for numerous awards – and ended up with a few trophies, too. Best British Group at The Brits in 1992 and 1993, and a couple of Ivor Novello awards for songwriting and an ‘Outstanding Song Collection’. Stars was the second best selling album of the decade in the UK.

My pick of that collection is Money’s Too Tight to Mention from their very first album, Picture Book. It speaks to my northern soul. Or something.

See Simply Red: Greatest Hits here


Another early memory from my University involves sheer terror. When Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit came on at the student union venue. The dancefloor suddenly seemed like a very dangerous place, with hundreds of teenagers jumping around in extremely high spirits. They may have sunk a few spirits themselves by that point of the evening…

Was Kurt Cobain one of those tortured artist types that was destined to die young? Like by beloved Michael Hutchence, and many more legends? Maybe. Cobain died aged just 27, while Hutchence was 37.

Their music lives on. I see teens in Nirvana t-shirts to this day. My favourite track is Come As You Are. The irony of ‘I don’t have a gun’ isn’t lost on me. A sad loss to the world – especially the musical universe.

See Nirvana: Nirvana here


I never saw Oasis live – more’s the pity. Although I may have heard them rehearsing (see the intro for more on that). But they were, without doubt, one of the biggest bands of the 90s. And their music is still going strong – even if the Gallagher brothers might never settle their differences.

Such a shame, I’ve always thought, that a pair of musical geniuses like them come across as such a pair of t***s. But I keep an open mind – the media do like to edit things to present the picture they want you to see. Perhaps if I had bumped into one or either of them on the way up the Boardwalk’s huge, dark, perforated metal staircase (if I remember it correctly) on the way to the loo they’d have been perfect gentlemen.

That aside, there’s no denying that musical talent. Much is made of their being influenced by The Beatles. For my part, I think they’re almost up there with Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. I was interested to read that The Smiths are cited as an influence, as I see them as the 80s precursor to the whole 90s indie and Britpop scene.

It’s hard to pick a favourite track – please may I have a few? She’s Electric, Champagne Supernova and Don’t Look Back in Anger from (What’s the Story) Morning Glory and Cigarettes and Alcohol from Definitely Maybe. That’ll do for now…

See Oasis: Time Flies here


At the time I loved Oasis and Blur pretty much equally. I still listen to the music of both. While the albums of Oasis are better – in my opinion – Blur did produce some cracking tracks too.

There was a fierce rivalry between the two 90s bands. Blur were certainly one of the trailblazers of Britpop, while Oasis were one of the best 90s rock bands. It seemed there was something of a North versus South and class war going on there. Oasis were the northern working-class boys made good, while Blur were nice, middle-class southerners. Or so the media liked to portray it, anyway.

In 1995, the so-called ‘Battle of Britpop’ took place – right in the midst of the movement’s peak. With Oasis and Blur occupying pole position. By the late 90s it was pretty much over, although some of the key acts continued making music.

As with Oasis, I can’t pick just one track. Coffee and TV, There’s No Other Way and Girls and Boys, will that do? And yes, I can sing along to the latter with the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ in all the right places. So there.

View Blur: The Best Of here


Oasis and Blur, step aside. During the decade, Pulp were the best of all top 90s bands to me. I just loved Jarvis Cocker and co. My mates and I even had our own dance to Disco 2000, which we used to perform in the Mardi Gras in Liverpool during the second half of the 1990s. While drinking orange Hooch. Those were the days, indeed. No mortgage, kids, partner or even a ‘proper’ job. (I now have all of the former, but as a freelance writer the last is still up for debate.)

I’m coming to the conclusion that I like a bit of northern whinging about how hard done by we are. Well, what do you expect? I grew up in a North East mining area during the times when Margaret Thatcher was closing down all the mines. With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, and perhaps some of the increasing conservatism that appears to come with age (small ‘c’, mind) maybe closing the pits was a good thing. It was a very dirty and dangerous job. But it did give people employment, and thus hope.

I digress. Again. Back to the music. I loved Pulp’s Common People album, above all others, in the second half of the nineties. I still play it now. You cannot keep a good tune down.

Maybe that’s what is missing from more modern music. They just don’t complain enough. Of course the country was more left wing in the 90s, with New Labour led by Tony Blair in charge. (For better, for worse? You decide.)

I love Pulp’s big hitters Common People and Disco 2000, but one of my favourites is Something Changed. It resonates with me so, as sometimes a small change has had a monumental impact on my life. I also love Mis-Shapes. From His ‘n’ Hers, I like Do You Remember the First Time best.

See Pulp: Hits here

Take That

Anyone who doesn’t rate the inclusion of Take That hasn’t experienced the joy of returning to their home town after a term at uni. Then walking into a pub playing Relight my Fire and dancing the night away, reunited once more with school pals of many years’ standing. (You know who you are.)

Take That are still going, though whether they could be described as ‘strong’ these days is another matter. There are only three of the original band left – Gary Barlow, Mark Owen and Howard Donald. The latter resides in Burley, New Forest, I believe. Which is just up the road from me. A friends swears she once spotted him in her local chip shop in nearby Bransgore. Though that was during the tumbleweed years, when they’d faded into near-obscurity, so no one was very impressed.

While Robbie Williams may have gone on to bigger and better things (though that is of course a matter of opinion), Jason Orange seems to have disappeared from the public eye. A far cry from his days showing off on ‘The Hitman and Her’ with Pete Waterman and Michaela Strachan.

Song-wise, I don’t mind admitting that I’ll enjoy listening to Never Forget, Do What You Like and other cheery pop tunes of that ilk. For Sure.

See Take That: The Ultimate Collection here

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Red was clearly big in the 90s. I love a bit of Californication, don’t you? The Red Hot Chili Peppers date from the 80s, but impacted the charts more during the 90s when Blood Sugar Sex Magik, One Hot Minute and Californication were released.

The Chilis have something of a hybrid sound, which I like. There’s a bit of punk, rock, pop and funk in there, with flashes of the psychedelic and alternative too. Globally, they are one of the best selling bands ever, so clearly it’s not just me who appreciates a bit of musical fusion. We have all three of their 90s albums in our old school CD collection.

I’m not tempted to give it away now either. The music that’s stayed with me this far – from my teens and twenties into my forties – is here to stay. We’re in it for the long haul.

The Chilis are still around. In fact they are one of the only bands ever to have performed at the Giza Pyramids in Egypt. They also headlined in Australia, where they are also popular.

My track picks? Give It Away, Under the Bridge and Suck my Kiss, all from Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

See Red Hot Chili Peppers: Greatest Hits here

M People

Another band I saw live in Manchester in the 1990s, for a time M People were my number one act. I spotted Heather Small a few times too, at one of Wigan’s train stations. I was going out with a guy from there, and she was going out with a rugby player, who used to drop her off at the station as I arrived to catch the train back to Manchester Piccadilly or Salford Crescent. Apparently they even had a child together, and lived in Standish near Wigan.

The ‘M’ in the name comes from Mike Pickering, rather than Manchester. (Or even Madchester.) He was prominent on that 90s music scene, dabbling in Djing at the Hacienda and even signing The Happy Mondays to Factory Records. He also formed M People after a chance meeting with Londoner Heather Small.

Dance with notes of pop, soul and funk describes the music of M People. The distinctive and powerful voice of Heather Small was a huge factor in their success. Her vocals belting out Moving on Up can still invoke feelings of intense positivity in me. Nothing can stop me, right?

View M People: Ultimate Collection here

Green Day

So Green Day called their Greatest Hits album ‘God’s Favorite Band‘. You just gotta love that – whether it’s a mickey-take or actual arrogance. Also the fact that they released a tune called American Idiot. And that was long before Trump even ran for president…

Green Day are one of two American bands in this list, the other being the Red Hot Chili Peppers mentioned above. Like many others, they are still making music. Their thirteenth album is called ‘Father of All Motherf***ers’. This is a band who love to court controversy and to provoke. As well as poke a little fun.

Green Day were very successful in the mid-90s with ‘Dookie’ and ‘Insomniac’, then their star began to wane. In 2004 they released the American Idiot album, and returned to the spotlight once more.

My favourite track is Basket Case. When it comes to mental health, the struggle is still real. With an anorexic and a PTSD sufferer in my family, I say there’s a long way to go yet. Just know that you’re not alone. And hopefully you have someone who will listen to you whine. About nothing and everything, all at once.

View Green Day: God’s Favorite Band here


Suede had a lot of success, and for a time were one of the most famous 90s bands. Justine Frischmann of Elastica was once part of Suede, and is a former partner of frontman Brett Anderson. She then dated Blur’s Damon Albarn for around seven years before they split in the late 1990s. The break up of Brett and Justine may have contributed to the fact that she departed the band in 1991.

They were signed in 1992, when Melody Maker ran a cover story proclaiming them ‘The Best New Band in Britain’. Once they released their self-titled album, it went straight to number one and turned gold on the second day, making it the fastest selling LP in a decade.

Like Pulp and Blur, Suede are associated with the Britpop sound, although they apparently disliked being described in those terms. To me, their sound is quintessentially indie.

My top Suede tracks? Beautiful Ones, of course, as they entitled their Greatest Hits album. Also Trash and Animal Nitrate.

See Suede: The Best Of here

Who are your best bands of the 90s?

There you go. That’s my greatest bands of the 90s selection. Who would make your top ten – or even top 100? Whatever your choice, it’s clear that some of the most popular 90s rock bands double as the best 90s alternative bands.

Call it what you will – many bands themselves apparently aren’t keen on the ‘Britpop’ label. The 90s was certainly the decade of the indie label though. That – and dance tunes – are the musical legacy of the decade before the millenium.

Grunge bands, punk rock acts and alternative rock bands ruled over the classic rock, heavy metal and hard rock of the 90s, although many of those were of course still around. I love much of the music from the 90s. Great music transcends time, and also paves the way for the artists and bands yet to come.

Marcy x

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