The Seattle Sound: Staffers rank top 90s grunge bands

Maddie Davis and Rachel Lock, Staff Writers

Disclaimer: On the day after the anniversary of what would have been late grunge star Kurt Cobain’s 47th birthday, we remember the events that started this unique music genre and changed the meaning of rock ‘n’ roll. Grunge is intense music, and isn’t for everyone. However, this genre that started on the muddy banks of Seattle in the 1990s still has a wide fanbase today and, of course, has the ever-present plaid-wearing grunge posers. Grunge music consists of “growling vocals,” strange guitar parts and angst-filled lyrics. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a song by grunge band Nirvana, launched grunge music to the masses. (Side note: If you think you’re a fan or grunge-lover just because you love “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” you’re the exact definition of someone Cobain would hate.) The following four bands demonstrate the grunge characteristics and have iconic sounds that make the genre what it is today.

With band members Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Noveselic, this band definitely shocked the public with their revolutionary release of “Nevermind” in 1991. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. Changing the course of rock ‘n’ roll history, this album is chock full of distorted guitars, cool bass riffs, gravelly singing and, of course, incendiary drumming. “Nevermind” includes most of the band’s well-known songs, but true fans will have checked out their other stuff, too. Their lyrics are usually hard to decipher, but they contain a lot of meaning — whether or not that meaning is apparent to the listener. Nirvana, through shunning popularity, achieved just that. Refusing to participate in the flashy style of the ‘80s, Nirvana became an inspiration for many bands who followed suit.

Best Albums: Not only did Nirvana change music, they also changed live performances. Check out their live albums such as “MTV Unplugged: Live in New York” and “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah.” Their first album, “Bleach,” was released in 1989. And, yes, despite common belief, “Nevermind” was not their first album, but it is an important one. Nirvana wouldn’t have reached its popularity level without “Nevermind.” “In Utero” and “Incesticde” are two of their other albums that are definitely worth a listen.

Rachel’s Song Picks: “Lithium,” “Sifting,” “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter,” “Lounge Act”

Maddie’s Song Picks: “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle,” “Heart-Shaped Box,” “Sappy,” “Aneurysm”

Taking some inspiration from Nirvana, Green Day brought punk-rock style grunge back to a younger audience. Childhood friends Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt changed their band, Sweet Children, to Green Day in 1989 and added permanent drummer Tré Cool. Thanks to MTV’s support of “Dookie’s” original single, “Longview,” the album became a major hit. Green Day stole the show at the 1994 Woodstock, which only added to their fanbase. Green Day’s popularity has grown since then, with the release of many more albums including their three newest installations, “¡Uno!,” “¡Dos!” and “¡Tré!” released in 2012.

Best Albums: “Dookie” (1994) was Green Day’s first popular album release. Armstrong’s accented vocals and Cool’s reverberating drums compose a listen-worthy album. With their albums, Green Day recharged the punk-rock scene with their catchy, three-chord songs. Other listen-worthy albums are “Insomniac” and “Nimrod.” “Insomniac” is the band’s third best album and went double-platinum. However, the lyrics and music of this album were much darker, contradicting the normal sound of the band. “Nimrod,” released in 1997, focused more on building better songs, rather than a united album. The album sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

Rachel’s Song Picks: “Brain Stew,” “Worry Rock,” “Basket Case,” “Hitchin’ a Ride”

Maddie’s Song Picks: “Longview,” “Armatage Shanks,” “Prosthetic Head,” “Coming Clean”

Following the tragic events that ended Nirvana, their drummer, Dave Grohl, decided to start his own band. Much to everyone’s surprise, Grohl got behind the mic instead of his usual seat at the drums. While this change seems strange, Grohl made it work. With many hits following the band’s formation in 1994, the band rose in popularity and has won various awards, including 11 Grammy awards, the most recent of which was in 2012. Current members include Grohl, Taylor Hawkins, Chris Shiflett and Nate Mendel. Foo Fighters’ songs vary in tempo and style with some more mellow songs as well as some with a hard rock sound.

Best Albums: “The Colour and the Shape” was their second album that debuted in 1997. This album features the Foo Fighters’ hit — “My Hero” — which Grohl wrote about Kurt Cobain. One of their best albums is “One by One.” After the band’s brief break-up, they were having some trouble making a new album. After wasting time and money in the studio, Grohl suggested they take it to his basement. The product that came out was far better than the band could’ve imagined and resurrected the Foo Fighters once again.

 Rachel’s Song Picks: “All My Life,” “The Pretender,” “Lonely as You,” “This is a Call”

Maddie’s Song Picks: “I’ll Stick Around,” “Best of You,” “Monkey Wrench,” “My Hero”


Current members Chris Cornell, Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd make up the band known as Soundgarden. Soundgarden was one of the original grunge bands but did not achieve success until the grunge genre became more popular in the 1990s. “Superunknown” (1994) topped the Billboard charts and included the Grammy award-winning “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun.”  However, even with this success, the band broke up in 1997. They reunited in 2010 with their sixth studio album, “King Animal,” which was released two years later.

Best Albums: “Louder than Love” was the band’s first album — however, it did not gain much success until other albums were released. “Badmotorfinger” (1991) was really Soundgarden’s first rewarding album. The same year of its release, it was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Metal Performance. Soundgarden’s 1994 release of “Superunknown” was by far their best. It was number-one on the Billboard 200, selling more than 300 thousand copies its opening week. Two singles on this album, “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman” won Grammy awards and helped the band’s popularity expand. “Down on the Upside” (1996) was the band’s final release before a hiatus of 13 years. This album was certified platinum in the United States. “Pretty Noose” and “Blow Up the Outside World” were the main popular songs of this album.

Rachel’s Song Picks: “Blow up the Outside World,” “Slaves and Bulldozers,” “Black Hole Sun,” “Let Me Drown”

Maddie’s Song Picks: “Pretty Noose,” “Spoonman,” “The Day I Tried to Live,” “Rusty Cage”



  • Stone Temple Pilots
  • Alice in Chains
  • Jane’s Addiction
  • Hole
  • The Smashing Pumpkins
  • Everclear
  • The Offspring
  • Bush
  • Rage Against the Machine