We all have that one artist or song, an alternative to mainstream hits, which gives us a powerful rush of emotion and nostalgia.
Alternative rock is a genre of rock music that emerged in the late 1970s and became increasingly popular in the 90s.
Nobody knows the accurate definition of alternative music.
But the genre has had such an immense impact on popular culture that almost everybody now has a favorite hit.
Here are the 30 best alternative songs worth checking out.
Table of Contents
- 1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
- 2. “Song 2” by Blur
- 3. “Everlong” by Foo Fighters
- 4. “Karma Police” by Radiohead
- 5. “Cannonball” by The Breeders
- 6. “Stressed Out” by Twenty-One Pilots
- 7. “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers
- 8. “Take Me To Church” by Hozier
- 9. “Renegades” by X Ambassadors
- 10. “Little Lion Man” by Mumford & Sons
- 11. “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk The Moon
- 12. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division
- 13. “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane Addiction
- 14. “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.
- 15. “The Killing Moon” by Echo & The Bunnymen
- 16. “Common People” by Pulp
- 17. “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye & Kimbra
- 18. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus
- 19. “Cannonball” by The Breeders
- 20. “Where The Wild Roses Grow” by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue
- 21. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2
- 22. “Touch Me, I’m Sick” by Mudhoney
- 23. “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys
- 24. “This Charming Man” by The Smiths
- 25. “Head Like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails
- 26. “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads
- 27. “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers
- 28. “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt
- 29. “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis
- 30. “Fell in Love with a Girl” by The White Stripes
- Best Alternative Songs – Final Thoughts
1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
You will know Nirvana’s greatest hit if you love alternative music.
Released in 1991, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one of the most influential alternative rock songs from the 90s.
The song’s rousing chorus and powerful guitar riffs have become an anthem for a generation of misfits.
2. “Song 2” by Blur
Blur’s 1997 smash hit is an alternative rock classic.
The song’s soothing melody and bouncy rhythm make it a favorite among alternative music fans.
It puts a smile on everyone’s face by bringing back the memories of the good old days.
3. “Everlong” by Foo Fighters
The fifth single from the Foo Fighter’s 1997 album, The Colour And The Shape, became one of the greatest alternative songs ever recorded.
The emotional lyrics describe a deep longing, instantly making it a fan favorite.
Since its release, “Everlong” has been featured in numerous film and television soundtracks.
4. “Karma Police” by Radiohead
What more can we say about “Karma Police” that isn’t out there?
Radiohead’s 1997 classic is one of the most popular alternative songs.
The song’s thoughtful lyrics, haunting melody, and powerful guitar riffs make it a timeless classic amongst alternative music fans.
5. “Cannonball” by The Breeders
“Cannonball” was the lead single from The Breeders’ Last Splash album and quickly became an alternative music staple.
It’s full of energy and catchy guitar riffs.
Kim Deal’s signature vocals make it one of the most recognizable alternative songs.
6. “Stressed Out” by Twenty-One Pilots
Any alternative music lover will want to have “Stressed Out” on their playlist because of the relatable message.
The lyrics capture the struggles of modern life, making it the perfect anthem for a generation of young people who want to be heard and understood.
7. “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers
“Ho Hey” has been a mainstay on alternative music charts since its 2012 release.
The Lumineers’ folksy, acoustic melody gives the song a uniquely infectious sound.
Every chorus builds to a powerful crescendo, making it one of the most memorable alternative songs.
8. “Take Me To Church” by Hozier
Hozier’s masterpiece captures the emotions of love and religion.
And it’s hardly surprising it’s become one of the most beloved alternative songs in recent years.
9. “Renegades” by X Ambassadors
“Renegades” is a powerful anthem for anyone who feels lost or misunderstood.
This is it if you’re looking for a song to motivate you to pursue your dreams.
The memorable chorus and powerful lyrics make this one of the most inspiring alternative songs to complete your playlist.
10. “Little Lion Man” by Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons quickly come to mind at the mention of alternative songs.
And that’s because they are one of the best British folk bands in history.
Their breakout single, “Little Lion Man,” is a folk-rock masterpiece best known for its explicit lyrics.
With its folk and rock elements, the song had a strong global appeal, charting in multiple countries and appearing in the top 20 in Belgium, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia.
11. “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk The Moon
Just shut up and dance.
That’s the message from Walk The Moon’s biggest hit single.
The infectious pop-rock tune topped the Billboard Alternative Songs chart and has since become a classic hit.
It is an upbeat anthem about forgetting your troubles and having some fun.
12. “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Joy Division
We all love stories about lost love.
Just like Joy Division’s 1980 post-punk classic with lyrics inspired by Ian Curtis’ troubled life.
The song captures the feelings of hopelessness and despair, making it a timeless classic amongst alternative music lovers.
The song sold more than 600,000 copies, with a lasting legacy as an era-defining hit.
13. “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane Addiction
Never has a song captured the feeling of getting caught red-handed like Jane Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing.”
This 1990 classic has become an anthem for those who want to defy the status quo.
And it confirms Jane Addiction as one of America’s weirdest bands.
14. “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.
Your search for the best alternative songs only gets better with R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.”
It’s a timeless anthem for those who feel misunderstood or out of place.
If you want to talk about the unlikely hits that got everyone talking, this one’s as close as it can get.
15. “The Killing Moon” by Echo & The Bunnymen
Echo and the Bunnymen were one of the most influential English rock bands of the 1980s.
And their 1984 “The Killing Moon” hit shows their lyrical prowess.
It’s a hauntingly beautiful song that brings a special feeling.
That of overlooking earthly pleasures for a more meaningful pursuit.
It is a song about birth and death and everything in between.
16. “Common People” by Pulp
Here’s a classic alternative song that captures the feelings of being on the outside, looking in.
The song lives up to the “grass isn’t always greener on the other side” adage.
And it’s quite deserving of its lasting legacy on the UK music scene.
17. “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye & Kimbra
A few songs express the feelings of broken love quite as good as “Somebody That I Used to Know.”
The track earned worldwide attention for its powerful message.
It resonates with anyone who’s experienced a breakup.
It leaves you with the bittersweet feeling that even though letting go hurts, it is the fastest way to heal.
18. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus
Bauhaus’ dark and eerie post-punk classic was enough to cement their name in the gothic culture.
The 9-minute track is centered on a vampire’s death and became one of the greatest gothic rocks in history.
19. “Cannonball” by The Breeders
“Cannonball” put The Breeders on the global map as one of their best alternative rock songs.
It’s a light-hearted tune recognized by memorable guitar riffs and Kim Deal’s magical vocal delivery.
20. “Where The Wild Roses Grow” by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue
“Where the Wild Roses Grow” explores the tragedy of a doomed romantic affair.
You will love this song if you enjoy those intense and beautiful love stories with sad endings.
The emotional lyrics describe a maniac who kills his lover while out in the wild.
21. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2
While the U2 band is best known for its arena-rock anthems, it is also one of the most influential alternative rock groups.
Listening to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a great way to experience the band’s softer side.
It’s an emotional and powerful song that brings a unique sensation.
The 1983 classic has become an iconic alternative song.
22. “Touch Me, I’m Sick” by Mudhoney
Mudhoney’s “Touch Me, I’m Sick” is the perfect choice for gritty and raw rock vibes.
It is grunge and post-hardcore, packed with raw energy and dark humor.
23. “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys
Calling The Beastie Boys the most influential bands of the 1980s would be an understatement.
They were much more than just influential.
And their 1994 hit single justifies their legacy as one of the best rap rock groups in history.
It’s impossible to ignore the song’s rock instrumentation, distorted guitar riffs, and Ad-Rock vocals.
24. “This Charming Man” by The Smiths
The Smiths were one of the most influential bands of the 1980s, and their 1984 masterpiece perfectly sums up their unique style.
The mix of Morrissey’s distinct vocals, Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar riffs, and Andy Rourke’s bass lines sound as fresh as it did in 1983.
You can feel the emotions from the captivating story about the charming man.
25. “Head Like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails
A few bands can match Nine Inch Nails when it comes to pure, industrial rock music.
Their 1989 hit “Head Like a Hole” is often cited as one of the most influential alternative songs.
The song’s intense energy and Trent Reznor’s powerful vocals made it an instant classic.
It is the one song everybody wants to have on their playlist.
26. “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads
Talking Heads inspired some of the most influential bands in alternative music, with hits as good as “Burning Down the House.”
The song’s funky rhythm portrayed the new wave band at its best.
27. “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers
“Mr. Brightside” is a song for cheated hearts.
It is about looking at the positive side of life, even when everything makes little sense.
It was The Killers’ debut single from their Hot Fuss album, selling more than 3.5 million copies in the US.
28. “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt
“Don’t Speak” is a must-listen for any alternative music fan.
The 1996 hit song stamped No Doubt’s authority in the alternative music scene.
Everybody loves the catchy chorus, Gwen Stefani’s vocals, and the breakup message.
29. “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis
“Champagne Supernova” was a song from Oasis’ 2nd album, (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?
It became one of their greatest hits and the second to top the Modern Rock Tracks chart.
30. “Fell in Love with a Girl” by The White Stripes
Our list of the best alternative songs would be incomplete without The White Stripes.
They re-introduced garage rock back to the mainstream.
And “Fell in Love with a Girl” is one of the songs that made it possible.
The up-tempo alternative song is about discerning between real love and lust and features stirring rock instrumentation.
Best Alternative Songs – Final Thoughts
Alternative music emerged in the 70s, representing a generation of musical outcasts.
Today, it is a popular music genre with a genuine, loyal following to back it up.
We hope you enjoyed the list of the 30 best alternative songs and found more hits to add to your playlist.