Ask anyone about the music of the 90s, and you’ll hear nothing but overwhelming gushing over the dark, gritty notes of grunge music.
Spearheaded by the iconic band Nirvana and their legendary frontman Kurt Cobain, grunge took the world by storm, with bands everywhere chipping in for a piece of the pie. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the greatest grunge songs that defined the decade.
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
No list of the best 90’s grunge songs would be complete without an appearance from Nirvana!
Being the original pioneers of the genre, their music would come to represent the growing apathy and anger of the 90’s revolution, and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was their theme. Despite the song being quite literally about nothing, it served as a rallying tune for the people, and it simply sounds great on top of that.
2. Jeremy by Pearl Jam
“Jeremy” by Pearl Jam was another rallying point for people in the 90s, this time against the injustice of the school system itself.
Pearl Jam would write this song about the real-life 16-year-old, Jeremy Wade Delle, who shot himself in front of his class. The song symbolizes the growing anger at the system’s inaction, which doesn’t support those in it but chews them out for their flaws instead.
3. Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden
Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” is a grunge tune that’s, once again, not about anything in particular. Instead, it’s about wordplay, and capturing a lifting vibe, one that’s meant to paint a surreal dreamscape image.
Paired with dreamy and smooth instrumentals, it makes for a great listening experience.
4. Man In The Box by Alice in Chains
Layne Staley, frontman and songwriter of Alice in Chains, would write “Man In The Box” while drunk and wasted as a cry for help.
The song isn’t subtle in its imagery, telling the story of a man with a drug addiction who’s already in his coffin, praying for help while knowing there’s no hope. This would mirror Layne’s real-life feelings, as he’d pass away not too long after the song’s release.
5. Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana
“Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana would be another absolutely massive hit for the grunge band. This song would feature the same angry, brooding sound that made “Smells Like Teen Spirit” a huge hit, but this time paired with cryptic lyrics.
To this day, people debate their meaning, with many different interpretations having been reached.
6. Seether by Veruca Salt
Veruca Salt’s music typically stays on the lighter end of the grunge sound, but “Seether” played into the darker aspects of her art.
Speaking of a character named the Seether, it becomes quickly apparent that it’s a representation of the lead singer’s anger and temper. For many, controlling your anger is a difficult task, though Veruca does a great job channeling it into art.
7. Violet by Hole
Dipping into the darker end of grunge, “Violet” by the band Hole is about the darker aspects of a relationship. It’s a commentary on how the world perceives intimacy, and how people only listen to their own conclusions regarding any situation. The female perspective makes it more interesting, shifting its meaning from general intimacy to more damning issues of not believing abuse victims.
8. Hunger Strike by Temple of the Dog
Temple of the Dog condemns those who take endlessly from others who can’t afford to give away in “Hunger Strike.” As the US economy took a slump in the 90s, this became a common sentiment for the struggling masses.
Grunge would once again be a rallying point, with a following forming around this song, its strong imagery, and its ferocious riffs.
9. Even Flow by Pearl Jam
“Even Flow” is a song written about witnessing a day in the life of a homeless person. It guides us through how they live their life, going day by day and trying to make something of nothing, while the world continues onward.
The homeless person’s thoughts drift in and out, never dwelling on any ideas long enough to improve their stance on life. It’s a sad reflection of real life, especially in the 90s with its big homeless epidemic.
10. Pretend We’re Dead by L7
Keeping with the rebellious nature of grunge, “Pretend We’re Dead” by L7 is a song about reluctant conformity. The entire song is dripping with sarcasm and irony, singing lines about pretending to fit the mold to avoid trouble.
Teenagers and young adults growing up in the 90s would be constricted by society to fit ideas they disliked, and this song captures that idea perfectly.
11. Tomorrow by Silverchair
The grunge movement was about two things, being yourself, and being honest. “Tomorrow” by Silverchair posits itself as a song criticizing people who don’t strive for these things.
It attacks hypocrites who frame themselves as people who know hardship, without experiencing the troubles of life in the first place.
12. Touch Me, I’m Sick by Mudhoney
“Touch Me, I’m Sick” by Mudhoney doesn’t have any grand ideas. It doesn’t want to change your mind or speak about the anger and injustice in the world. Instead, this one’s just a straight-up grunge banger, written to sound awesome and rock hard. Anyone can appreciate that, no?
13. Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns by Mother Love Bone
Many grunge songs aren’t really about one thing, but rather, many ideas put into one. This especially applies to “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns” by Mother Love Bone, a huge song that blends various ideas together through musical mastery.
Many people still debate about what it truly means, though we’ll probably never know for sure. What do know is that it sounds great!
14. Swallow My Pride by Green River
While Nirvana made grunge the big phenomenon it’s known as today, Green River were the actual originator of the genre. Their song, “Swallow My Pride,” carries all the themes of rage and the gritty, muddy sound that would go on to define grunge as a genre.
15. Nearly Lost You by Screaming Trees
“Nearly Lost You” by Screaming Trees is about losing your mind as one goes insane. Written as a vague memory and a reminder to not abuse drugs, it vividly depicts the story of someone who almost loses themselves, and never wants to go through it again.
The sheer distress that comes through in the music is excellent, and a great show of the musical depth of grunge as a genre.
Grunge was a genre that sought to break down the walls society had built up, and remove the idea of conformity. It provided a platform for people to express their anger and dissent, using music as a tool. People who followed grunge during the 90s were able to take away lessons from a great list of songs, many of which will never be forgotten.
We hope that this list of the 15 best grunge songs of the 90s has been able to showcase the great music that was around in those times. Whether you’re a fan of the genre or not, these songs are certainly worth checking out. Thanks for reading!