31 Best 90s Rock Songs

Best 90s Rock Songs

The 90s was a funky and unique decade for music, seeing the height of music television channels like MTV and VH1. Songs in the 90s were as iconic to the ears as they were to the eyes as music video production skyrocketed.

90s Rock songs encompass a wide range of subcategories, from grunge to metal. There are countless hits, and each one has an equally entertaining music video to pair with it. Read on to explore the best 90s Rock songs.

“Smells like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

Song Year: 1991

It’s only fitting to begin the list with the most iconic and revolutionary band of the 90s. Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” is an anthem for the grunge movement and 90s counter-culture.

If we could put every song from the Nevermind album, we would. However, for diversity’s sake, we’ll limit it to its biggest hit.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” is on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Songs that shaped rock and roll, Rolling Stone’s top 5 out of 500 Greatest Songs of all time, and every other noteworthy music critic’s “best of” list.

“Glycerine” by Bush

Song Year: 1995

Lead singer and rock n roll heartthrob Gavin Rossdale wrote “Glycerine” as a love song to his then-girlfriend Suz Demarchi. The song quickly reached number one in the Australia, Canada, and US Billboards.

Rossdale’s raspy and sultry voice with a sexy British accent could be the culprit to Bush’s wild success in the U.S.

“Zombie” by The Cranberries

Song Year: 1994

Everyone loved the Cranberries, not just for their music, but for their activism. A case in point is their most iconic song, “Zombie”, written as an Irish protest song against British rule.

Lead singer Dolores O’Riordan talks about two Irishmen who died during bombings by the IRA during the decades-long battle between the British and Northern Ireland.

“Basket Case” by Green Day

Song Year: 1994

Written by lead singer and guitarist Billi Joe Armstrong, “Basket Case” is Armstrong’s own therapeutic catharsis. Armstrong had long since suffered from anxiety, and “Basket Case” was his way of making sense of it through musical channels.

Green Day may be irreverent and edgy punk rock, but the lyrics and sentiment being their songs is profound and highly relatable

“Say it Ain’t So” by Weezer

Song year: 1995

An instant hit from Weezer’s self-titled Blue Album, “Say it Ain’t So” is an emotive summation of lead singer Rivers Cuomo’s teenage fears. The song talks about Cuomo’s parent’s split due to alcoholism, and subsequent remarriage to an equally alcoholic partner.

Whether the song helped break the cycle is anyone’s guess. If it didn’t, hopefully its praise from fans and rock critics was sufficient consolation.

“Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind

Song Year: 1997

Lead singer Stephan Jenkins wrote “Semi-Charmed Life” about his crystal-meth addiction, his close friends’ addictions, and the vicious cycle of emotional and mental crises plaguing his life at the time. You might miss the darkness of such lyrics because Jenkins defiantly hides them behind a catchy, upbeat melody.

“Semi-Charmed Life” also talks about the difficulty of making changes, a topic that most of us can relate to.

“What’s My Age Again?” by Blink 182

Song Year: 1999

From the most juvenile and fun pop-punk band of all time, “What’s My Age Again?” is a title that says it all. Blink 182 is known as a rowdy group of punk rock misfits that reminds you of the lost boys from Peter Pan.

“What’s My Age Again?” is their ode to the pangs of puberty and resistance to growing up. Considering their main fan base was pre-pubescent to early college kids, it appears they never did grow up after all.

“What I Got” by Sublime

Song Year: 1996

People often describe Sublime as the greatest cover band that ever lived, but they did create an amazing repertoire of proprietary songs. “What I Got” was one of these songs and Sublime’s most popular hit.

Unfortunately, lead singer and songwriter Bradley Nowell never got to reap the fruits of his passion as he died of a heroin overdose after recording the song. The lyrics Nowell wrote are eerily poignant to his life cut short.

“Jeremy” by Pearl Jam

Song Year: 1991

Pearl Jam was one of the key players in the grunge movement, writing highly emotional songs about the era’s most controversial social issues.

Lead singer Eddie Vedder wrote “Jeremy” about a Texas high-school student who shot himself in front of his English class, alluding to suppressed teenage angst, gun violence, and teen suicide.

Vedder combined Jeremy’s story with his own experiences with gun violence in schools as a middle schooler.

“Cannonball” by The Breeders

Song year: 1993

With “Cannonball”, The Breeders’ lead singer Kim Deal finally got her time to shine after singing backup for the Pixies. “Cannonball” was The Breeders' most popular song and a unique combination of grunge rock and reggae guitar riffs.

Deal’s ethereal, high-pitched voice sounds strong and feminine. The edgy and rebellious music video directed by Spike Jonze ramps up the bad girl element.

“Two Princes” by Spin Doctors

Song Year: 1993

The Spin Doctors epitomized the New York Street rock scene of the 80s and early 90s. Their album Pocket Full of Kryptonite was an instant success, if not a short-lived one-hit-wonder.

“Two Princes” was one of two hit singles that topped the charts in the US and Europe, earning the Spin Doctor’s a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Song.

“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden

Song Year: 1994

Yet another Seattle grunge band, Soundgarden cranked out hit after hit during the mid-90s. While it may sound ominous, “Black Hole Sun” originated from a misheard interpretation of a radio announcement that lead singer Chris Cornell heard on his drive home one day.

Cornell wrote the song in 15-minutes without the slightest expectation that his bandmates would like it, let alone release it as one of Soundgarden’s biggest hits.

“Scar Tissue” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

Song Year: 1999

“Under the Bridge” may be the Red Hot Chili Peppers' most iconic song, but “Scar Tissue” marks a monumental shift in the band’s musical stylings. Just in time for the new millennium, “Scar Tissue” was a part of the hit album Californication.

With this album, the Red Hot Chili Peppers became less punk rock and funk and more mainstream alternative rock. Their versatility and Anthony Kiedis’ poetic lyrics make the Chili Peppers one of the greatest bands of all time.

“Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba

Song Year: 1997

“Tubthumping” is the quintessential British pub song that was an instant worldwide hit. Everyone in the Western world can relate to crazy drunken stories from their local bar. Guitarist Buff Whalley wrote the song about his local pub in Leeds.

Chumbawamba may be a one-hit-wonder in the states, but with an iconic favorite like “Tubthumping”, it’s probably best to quit while you’re ahead.

“Pepper” by The Butthole Surfers

Song Year: 1996

The Butthole Surfers are the 90s version of Frank Zappa, creating bizarre, comedic rock often at a fellow musician’s expense. That’s the case in their hit song “Pepper”. Not only is the album name Electriclarryland a spoof on Jimi Hendrix, but the song itself is a comic retort to Beck’s song “Loser”.

Even if Beck didn’t appreciate the joke, the rest of the world did because “Pepper” topped the US Billboard charts. 

“Loser” by Beck

“Loser” by Beck

Song Year: 1993

“Loser” was Beck’s first major hit of what would soon be a long and successful musical career. In true 90s fashion, Beck combines genres you’d never expect to complement each other. “Loser” combines folk music with hip hop.

“Losing My Religion” By REM

Song Year: 1991

REM won two Grammys for “Losing My Religion”; one for best music video and one for best pop song. Despite its controversial title, lead singer and songwriter Michael Stipe claims that the song isn’t about religion at all.

Instead, it’s about obsession over a love interest. Perhaps obsessive thoughts about your crush equate to a sort of religious devotion.

“No Rain” by Blind Melon

Song Year: 1993

“No Rain” was Blind Melon’s only hit song that reached a multi-platinum status and number one on the US, Canadian, and Australian billboards.

Bassist Brad Smith wrote the song about depression, taking inspiration from an old girlfriend who slept through sunny days, finding rainy days the best to suit her brooding moods.

“Thunderstruck” by AC/DC

Song Year: 1990

AC/DC may be a legendary rock and roll band from the 70s and 80s, but “Thunderstruck” just goes to show that this rock band ages like a fine wine. “Thunderstruck” went platinum in Canada, the US, Mexico, the UK, Italy, and the band’s native Australia.

It has one of the most iconic guitar shredding solos of all time that you’ll undoubtedly find yourself air guitaring to behind closed doors.

“Come Out and Play” by The Offspring

Song Year: 1994

“Come Out and Play” is the ultimate fight song to get you riled up and ready to throw punches. It was The Offspring’s first big hit and introduction to mainstream fandom after being a lesser-known punk band.

Lead singer Dexter Holland wrote the song from his own life experiences, watching gang fights at his lower-income high school as well as witnessing the infamous LA riots.

“Spiderwebs” by No Doubt

Song Year: 1995

If you were a girl in the nineties, odds are you probably tried to emulate Gwen Stefani’s style and persona. Tragic Kingdom was one of the rare albums where every single song was a hit, and “Spiderwebs” is the iconic introductory song.

Stefani’s unmistakable style was her own doing. Much like Madonna, Stefani styled all her music videos and photoshoots.

“Everlong” by Foo Fighters

Song Year: 1997

Deemed one of the greatest hard rock songs ever by Rolling Stone, VHI, Kerrang!, and more, “Everlong” was one of many Foo Fighter hits.

Grohl’s move from Nirvana’s drummer to Foo Fighter frontman reveals his multi-faceted talent. Sadly, “Everlong” was the last song the late Foo Fighter drummer Taylor Hawkins performed before his death.

Ironically, Hawkin’s death made the song even more popular, earning it a place on the global billboards for the first time.

“Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction

Song Year: 1990

“Been Caught Stealing” is one of Janes Addiction’s most popular songs, spending a month at number one on US alternative rock billboards and making The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Critics praised the song for its use of dog barks, which came from singer Perry Farrell’s dog. Farrell said he brought his dog to the studio so he wouldn’t be alone, with no intention of having animal noises on the track at all.

“Alec Eiffel” by Pixies

Song Year: 1991

From the Pixies album Tromp le Monde, “Alec Eiffel” is an ode to France with an irreverent reference to “smart alecs’ thrown in by lead singer Black Francis. Alec Eiffel refers to the famed engineer and architect, Alexandre Eiffel, who designed the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

“Champagne Supernova” by Oasis

Song Year: 1995

It was a tossup between “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova” for British band Oasis’ most beloved songs. However, “Champagne Supernova” made the list due to its ambiguous, almost ridiculous lyrics.

Not even head singer and writer Noel Gallagher knows what it means, arguing that its popularity lies in the fact that it means something different for everyone.

“Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine

Song Year: 1992

Rage Against the Machine’s most iconic song, “Killing in the Name” is the ultimate anti-authority anthem of the 90s.

Despite its aggressive anti-societal and profanity-filled lyrics, “Killing in the Name” has been voted one of the greatest guitar songs of all time by Rolling Stone and Guitar World.

“Closing Time” by Semisonic

Song Year: 1998

A true one-hit-wonder, “Closing Time” reached number one on US billboards and received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song.

 A simple song about a bar’s last call with a contagiously catchy chorus has a deeper meaning, referring to singer Dan Wilson’s anticipation of the birth of his son.

“The Impression That I Get” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

Song Year: 1997

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were a punk meets ska band, known for high-energy and rowdy shows and controversial, activist lyrics. “The Impression That I Get” was a number one song on US billboards.

It was the band’s activist response to violence against abortion clinic workers in the band’s native state of Massachusetts.

“Tonight, Tonight” by The Smashing Pumpkins

Song Year: 1996

The ethereally beautiful music video to this epic song won as many awards as the song itself. “Tonight, Tonight” is lead singer Billy Corgan’s song to his younger self. The lyrics congratulate him for overcoming an abusive childhood by believing in himself.

The song by The Smashing Pumpkins received wide acclaim and continues to evoke profound feelings of both melancholy and hope from listeners to this day.

“The Way” by Fastball

Song Year: 1998

Fastball’s singer Tony Scalzo wrote the song about a newspaper article he had read involving an elderly couple who set out for a parade in a small Texas town but never made it. They were found dead at the bottom of a ravine weeks later.

“Lump” by The Presidents of The United States of America

Song Year: 1995

Lead singer Chris Ballew wrote the song about a benign brain tumor he had, mixing in bizarre imagery of a swamp lady. The Presidents epitomize 90s oddities and “Lump” was just one in a long line of weird yet light-hearted hits

Top 90s Rock Songs, Final Thoughts

Whether you’re looking to brood over teenage angst, get amped up for a brawl, or reflect on controversial societal criticism, our list of the best rock songs of the 90s has a musical styling for every mood.

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