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55 Best 90s Alternative Songs (Essential Classics)

December 6, 2023
Best 90s alternative songs

In this collection, I’ve selected the best 90s alternative songs and tracks that not only defined a genre but also captured the spirit of a generation.

These songs offer a nostalgic journey back to a time of musical rebellion and innovation.

Table of Contents

Top 90s alternative songs

  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
  • “Lightning Crashes” by Live
  • “Santa Monica” by Everclear
  • “Basket Case” by Green Day
  • “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction
  • “Zombie” by The Cranberries
  • “Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots
  • “Everlong” by Foo Fighters
  • “Glycerine” by Bush
  • “Song 2” by Blur

1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana is one of the most iconic 90s alternative songs. 

Released in 1991 as the lead single from their album Nevermind, it was a smashing success that sent shockwaves through the alternative music scene. 

The song has been hailed as one of the best songs of the 90s and is still very popular to this day.

2. “Lightning Crashes” by Live

When it comes to 90s alternative songs, there is no denying the power of “Lightning Crashes” by Live.

This song is one of the top alternative songs of the 90s and continues to remain popular today. 

Released in 1994, the song quickly became a hit and catapulted Live into the spotlight.

3. “Santa Monica” by Everclear

One of the best 90s alternative songs is Santa Monica by Everclear.

This track was released in 1995, and it quickly became an anthem for all alternative fans. 

The lyrics perfectly capture the teenage angst of the 90s and the accompanying music video is one that still sticks in our minds.

It’s no surprise that this song has held up over time and is considered one of the top alternative songs of the 90s.

4. “Basket Case” by Green Day

“Basket Case” by Green Day has been certified triple platinum by the RIAA and topped numerous charts, including the US Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks and the UK Singles Chart. 

It has become one of the best songs of the 1990s and has been used in many films, video games, and commercials. 

It’s considered one of the greatest 90s alternative songs.

5. “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction

This song perfectly encapsulates the sound of 90s alternative music – a mix of punk and metal with a hint of funk. 

The lead single from their 1990 album, Ritual de lo Habitual, “Been Caught Stealing” has become an iconic alternative anthem of the decade.

6. “Zombie” by The Cranberries

If you want to get the full 90s alternative experience, make sure you add “Zombie” to your playlist. 

This powerful song will take you back to the 90s, and its message will resonate with anyone who listens. 

It’s truly one of the best 90s songs of all time!

7. “Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots

The instrumental accompaniment is nothing short of spectacular. 

Featuring driving drums and a catchy bass line, the song builds to a soaring guitar solo that gives the track an unforgettable climax.

No list of top alternative songs from the 90s would be complete without Plush. 

It’s truly one of the best songs of its era and should definitely be part of any 90s music fan’s collection.

8. “Everlong” by Foo Fighters

One of the best 90s alternative songs has to be “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters. 

This song truly embodies the era’s alternative rock sound and its passionate lyrics have been inspiring listeners for decades.

This classic anthem was released in 1997 as part of the album The Colour and the Shape.

9. “Glycerine” by Bush

“Glycerine” by Bush is a 90s alternative song and a must-have for any fan of alternative music.

Released in 1994, Glycerine was the lead single from Bush’s debut album, Sixteen Stone, and quickly rose to the top of the alternative charts.

10. “Song 2” by Blur

“Song 2” was released in 1997 as part of the band’s self-titled fifth album, and it quickly rose to become one of the most recognizable and iconic songs of the decade. 

The song contains a powerful blend of punk energy, driving guitar riffs, and an infectious chorus that’s impossible not to sing along to.

11. “Cannonball” by The Breeders

The Breeders made an impact with their debut album, Last Splash, and “Cannonball” is one of the best songs from that album. 

It has gone on to be featured in various films and TV shows, as well as being covered by other artists.

Whether you’re a fan of alternative music or just looking for a good 90s song to listen to, Cannonball should be at the top of your list.

12. “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden

No list of the best 90s alternative songs would be complete without Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”.

This Grammy-winning track was a huge hit on the radio in 1994 and still stands as one of the most iconic and beloved songs of the decade.

13. “Under The Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Released in 1992, “Under the Bridge” quickly became one of the top alternative songs of the decade, making its way to the top 10 in multiple countries. 

The song was written by lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis and guitarist John Frusciante and speaks about Kiedis’s struggle with drug addiction and his relationship with the city of Los Angeles.

14. “Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana

“Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana is undeniably one of the best 90s alternative songs ever released.

Originally from the band’s third studio album, In Utero, it was released as a single in 1993 and immediately became an alternative rock classic. 

It peaked at number one on both the Modern Rock Tracks chart and the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

15. “Better Man” Pearl Jam

For those who want to relive the sound of 90s alternative, or just looking for a great tune to jam out to, Better Man is a must-listen. 

It’s a timeless classic that can take you back to the grunge era of the 90s, no matter when you hear it.

16. “Bound for the Floor” by Local H

Local H’s “Bound for the Floor” was Released in 1996, the single was a major hit from the band’s album As Good as Dead

It has a catchy chorus that is full of angst and energy, making it the perfect soundtrack for any teenage rebellion

17. “Come As You Are” by Nirvana

It’s no wonder why so many bands cite Nirvana as an influence, “Come as You Are” proves that you don’t need anything more than guitars and drums to create something unforgettable.

18. “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails

It’s no wonder why this song remains one of the best 90s alternative songs. 

The hauntingly beautiful piano accompaniment coupled with the simple, yet effective lyrics make this one of the best songs of the 90s. 

Even though the song may be sad and melancholic, it provides an intense listening experience.

19. “Pepper” by Butthole Surfers

This track is a must-have on any 90s alternative songs list and is sure to be a crowd pleaser at any party or event. 

With its classic alternative sound and meaningful lyrics, “Pepper” by Butthole Surfers is one of the best songs of the 90s that you need in your life.

20. “Lovefool” by The Cardigans

The catchy, upbeat tune was actually the first single off The Cardigans’ third album, First Band on the Moon

It was written by lead singer Nina Persson and co-written by Peter Svensson and Lasse Johansson.

The song blends the alternative sound of the 90s with a pop-infused chorus, creating an instantly memorable anthem.

21. “The Way” by Fastball

90s alternative songs were some of the greatest music of all time, and “The Way” by Fastball is one of the top alternative songs from the 90s. 

This catchy, upbeat track was a hit in 1998 and is still popular today. 

With its infectious chorus and anthemic lyrics, The Way has become one of the best 90s alternative songs and a timeless classic.

22. “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys

The driving drums, explosive guitars, and classic rap verses make “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys one of the top alternative songs from the 90s. 

Released in 1994 as part of the Beastie Boys’ album Ill Communication, Sabotage was an immediate success and quickly became one of the most famous songs from the Beastie Boys.

23. “Buddy Holly” by Weezer

The music video for Buddy Holly also helped catapult Weezer’s career into stardom, as it featured clips from the classic ’70s TV show Happy Days.

With its clever blend of nostalgia and modernity, the music video was an instant hit and made Buddy Holly one of the top alternative songs of the 90s.

24. “Doll Parts” by Hole

“Doll Parts” was popular in alternative circles throughout the 90s, earning Hole several awards and nominations. 

To this day, it remains a beloved classic among fans of 90s alternative music and continues to be one of the top alternative songs of the decade.

25. “The Distance” by Cake

“The Distance” is a dynamic track that showcases Cake’s unique blend of funk and alternative rock sound.

The song’s powerful chorus and memorable guitar riffs make it an absolute classic that any fan of 90s alternative music should listen to.

26. “Run-Around” by Blues Traveler

The 90s alternative music scene was an exciting one with a wide range of sounds and styles, from grunge to punk to pop. 

One band that has left an indelible mark on the scene is Blues Traveler, whose 1994 hit “Run-Around” is one of the top alternative songs of the 90s.

27. “Connection” by Elastica

“Connection” by Elastica is about being connected to someone or something else. 

In this case, it’s about being connected to someone you love. 

The lyrics are filled with metaphors and clever wordplay, making it a great example of lyrical depth.

28. “Black” by Pearl Jam

This iconic song speaks to the struggles of depression and sadness and was voted by Rolling Stone as the 48th best song of all time. 

This powerful and emotional track has remained a fan favorite for over two decades.

29. “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star

Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” was released in 1993 and quickly gained popularity, becoming one of the most recognizable alternative 90s songs. 

The song is a unique blend of country rock and dream pop, making it stand out from other 90s alt-rock songs.

30. “Creep” by Radiohead

“Creep” by Radiohead was the band’s first big hit and remains a fan-favorite to this day. 

With its hauntingly beautiful melody and captivating lyrics, Creep is an example of the perfect 90s alternative hit.

31. “Interstate Love Song” by Stone Temple Pilots

“Interstate Love Song” continues to be one of the most popular 90s alt-rock song, and its unique blend of melancholic melodies and passionate lyrics make it a timeless classic. 

If you’re looking for a great 90s alternative hit to add to your playlist, look no further than “Interstate Love Song”.

32. “When I Come Around” by Green Day

“When I Come Around” remains an iconic part of 90s alternative songs. 

It is an anthem for anyone who has felt their relationship falling apart, yet still believes that things will work out in the end. 

In many ways, “When I Come Around” captures the spirit of the 90s alternative movement.

33. “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails

The popularity of “Closer” has stood the test of time, making it one of the defining 90s alt-rock songs. 

Its combination of gritty emotion and infectious melody ensures that it will continue to be a classic for decades to come.

34. “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” by R.E.M.

The 90s were a fantastic era for alternative rock music, with countless hits taking over the radio and music charts. 

One of the most memorable of these hits was R.E.M.’s song “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” 

This alternative 90s song was released in 1994 as the lead single from their ninth studio album, Monster.

35. “Cherub Rock” by The Smashing Pumpkins

Few 90s alternative songs stand out quite like “Cherub Rock” by The Smashing Pumpkins. 

This anthemic hit is an absolute staple of any alternative 90s songs playlist and is still beloved today.

Released in 1993 on the band’s classic album Siamese Dream, “Cherub Rock” has become one of the most iconic 90s alternative hits.

36. “In Bloom” by Nirvana

Nirvana’s “In Bloom” is still as powerful and relevant today as it was when it first debuted in 1991.

Written and sung by Kurt Cobain, In Bloom is an iconic alt-rock anthem and one of the definitive 90s alternative hits.

37. “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam

This emotionally-charged track addresses difficult topics such as bullying, depression, and suicide. 

The bridge of the song, where frontman Eddie Vedder sings “Jeremy” spoke in class today, is one of the most memorable parts and was actually inspired by a real-life incident in which a high school student killed himself in front of his classmates.

38. “Hunger Strike” by Temple of The Dog

The song opens with a gentle acoustic strumming from Vedder’s guitar and a slow, bluesy vocal melody from Cornell. 

As the track builds, the two blend their unique voices in perfect harmony while singing the emotional lyrics.

39. “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals

The band, New Radicals, was formed in Los Angeles in 1997 and their sound and style have been described as combining elements of alternative rock, funk, power pop, and electronic music. 

They only released one album, Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, in 1998 before disbanding. 

However, the lasting influence of their single “You Get What You Give” has ensured that they remain an important part of the 1990s alternative music scene.

40. “No Rain” by Blind Melon

The song has an infectious energy that has made it a staple of 90s alt-rock songs for decades. 

The combination of Shannon Hoon’s vocals and the memorable guitar riff makes this one of the most recognizable and beloved 90s alternative songs.

41. “Feed The Tree” by Belly

The lyrics of “Feed the Tree” are deep and profound, dealing with concepts of death, rebirth, and renewal. 

Donelly’s powerful vocals echo the emotional and spiritual depth of the song. 

This single was a huge hit on alternative 90s charts, reaching the top 10 in multiple countries.

42. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve

“Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve, is an iconic track that has been featured in numerous films, television shows, and commercials. 

Released in 1997, the song is a haunting mix of strings and rock guitar riffs, with lead singer Richard Ashcroft’s melancholic voice weaving together this classic alternative 90s hit.

43. “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind

The song is all about making the most of life and enjoying the moment. 

With its positive message, Semi-Charmed Life was a huge success and resonated with a lot of alternative 90s music fans.

It was nominated for two Grammy Awards and peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list.

44. “The Drowners” by Suede

When you think of 90s alternative songs, one of the first to come to mind is “The Drowners” by Suede. 

Released in 1993, this song quickly became a classic on alternative 90s songs radio stations and continues to be an alt-rock favorite today. 

From its instantly recognizable opening guitar riff to its infectious melodies, it’s easy to understand why this song still resonates with fans almost 30 years after its release.

45. “In the Meantime” by Spacehog

Today, “In the Meantime” is still enjoyed by fans of 90s alt-rock songs and remains one of Spacehog’s most beloved tracks. 

So if you’re looking for an uplifting alternative anthem to take you back to the 90s, then look no further than “In the Meantime” by Spacehog.

46. “Criminal” by Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple’s 1997 hit “Criminal” is a 90s alternative song to come out of the decade. 

With its dark and brooding lyrics, this alternative rock song reflects on the angst of the 90s while still holding a hint of hopefulness.

The song was an instant hit, topping the Alternative chart and peaking at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

47. “Stupid Girl” by Garbage

Garbage’s “Stupid Girl” is a prime example of 90s alternative rock. 

Released in 1995, the song quickly rose to prominence, becoming one of the most recognizable alt rock songs of the decade. 

It features heavy guitars, edgy lyrics, and an irresistibly catchy hook.

48. “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger

Released in 1998, “Flagpole Sitta” quickly gained traction, becoming a true 90s alternative rock classic. 

It’s an upbeat, fast-paced track that talks about an existential crisis. 

The song deals with themes like loneliness, alienation, and nihilism.

49. “All Apologies” by Nirvana

“All Apologies” song is an undeniable 90s alternative hit. 

Its lyrics touch on themes of acceptance, humility, and resignation, making it a favorite amongst alt-rock fans. 

The song was released in 1993.

50. “Seether” by Veruca Salt

If you’re looking for a great throwback to the alternative 90s music scene then Veruca Salt’s “Seether” is for you. 

This song was a great hit and was released in 1994.

51. “Laid” by James

It’s no surprise that James’ “Laid” is considered one of the greatest 90s alternative songs. 

Released in 1993, “Laid” was an instant hit for James, and its appeal has only grown since then. 

The track combines a catchy chorus with thoughtful lyrics that create a timeless classic.

52. “Just A Girl” by No Doubt

“Just A Girl” by No Doubt was released in 1995 and it was an instant hit. 

With its upbeat tempo, catchy chorus and prominent guitars, it epitomizes the alternative rock sound of the 1990s.

53. “Machinehead” by Bush

The song has become an anthem for anyone who grew up in the 90s and enjoyed alternative music.

With its hard-driving riffs and intense chorus, “Machinehead” is a perfect example of the type of music that defined the era. 

It’s no surprise that it has become one of the most iconic 90s alt-rock songs

54. “Silver” by Moist

The track begins with a dreamy guitar riff, laying down the foundation for what will be an intense and heartfelt journey. 

Lead singer David Usher’s strong and emotive vocals bring the song to life, as he opens up about his inner struggles and how they affect his relationship with another person.

55. “Possum Kingdom” by Toadies

The lyrics of “Possum Kingdom” are cryptic and somewhat dark, reflecting the mood of much of alternative rock in the 90s. 

But despite its haunting sound, the song is still full of energy, making it a perfect addition to any list of great 90s alternative songs.

90s Alternative Songs – Final Thoughts

To conclude, the 90s was a decade filled with amazing alternative music. 

From alternative rock to grunge, and punk, to ska and more, there was something for everyone to enjoy. 

The alternative songs of the 90s had a major influence on modern music today, and they deserve to be celebrated. 

All of these classic 90s alternative songs are timeless hits and will continue to be cherished for years to come.

Similar Playlists:

Best 90s Rock Songs

Best 90s Rock Bands

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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