What we now know as Grunge was at its peak in western pop culture for only a short period of time from around 1991-1994 exemplified by the release of Smells Like Teen Spirit, but it has its origins in a lot of punk rock, sludge metal and alternative rock coming out of the late 1980s and very early 1990s with bands like Soundgarden, Melvins, Mudhoney and Green River. One must also realise that post-grunge was indeed a part of the late 90s and 2000s. Grunge aesthetics, musical styles and influence did not end with the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994. Much of it could still be noticed in other great bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Screaming Trees, early Foo Fighters as well in other forms of media such as wrestling (WWE’s attitude era, for example), films, television, video games and more. Every band in this list had (or has) its own unique musical creativity, whilst there are so many great alternative rock bands that came out of the 90s, here is my personal ranking of the 4 bands that dominated that period of music.
4. Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam has a much softer side to grunge music compared to its counterparts. When tuning into some of Pearl Jam’s albums, I hear elements of folk music rather than sludge, punk or metal. My reasoning for making Pearl Jam number four on the list is mere subjectivity. I simply prefer the heavier side of grunge.
Soundgarden has produced many great albums both before and after the height of grunge in the early 1990s. “Fell on Black Days” has to be one of my favourite Soundgarden tracks, and possibly one of my top 10 rock songs of all time. For those getting into Soundgarden for the first time, check out Louder than Love to hear the raw pre-grunge heaviness.
Pearl Jam’s ’10’ album sold more than Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ at the time, but Kurt Cobain’s aesthetic and public personality inadvertently led the grunge movement and have become much more of a household name than any other grunge band. When people think of Grunge, they often think of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Heart Shape Box” or MTV Unplugged. From my musical ear, Nirvana is the most punk rock out of the top 4 grunge bands. But that’s what makes them great – their uniqueness and authenticity. Plus, their debut album ‘Bleach’, released way before ‘Nevermind’, doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves.
1. Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains don’t seem to get as much mention as I believe they should when talking about some of the greatest bands of the 1990s. Coinciding with Soundgarden, they are the grunge band with some of the most metal elements. That’s not the reason why I rank them number one. Jerry Cantrell’s compositional creativity, heavy riffs, and Layne Staley’s godly voice is what makes them the number one grunge band and the number one band of all time in my book. We must also give credit where it is due by acknowledging that William DuVall has done an incredible job as its new lead singer since the 2000s.