As a music-obsessed 12-year-old in the early ’90s, it was amazing to witness the rise of so-called “alternative rock” first hand. Seemingly overnight, radio stations switched formats to “modern rock,” effectively turning overproduced pop and skeevy hair metal into relics of the ’80s. Of course, Nirvana gets all the credit for this breakthrough, and there’s no doubt that they were worthy posterboys. But the breakthrough was the result of a decade of post-New Wave underground rock music, and this rich history exploded thanks to countless scenes and bands.

Musically, alt-rock (especially the early grunge-centered material) was not all that different from traditional rock music. Electric guitars, drums, bass, gritty vocals. The real change this period brought was the attitude—suddenly a thick sense of irony permeated pop culture, and being different became an asset rather than an automatic strike against your success. To celebrate this influential era (1991-1995*), I compiled 30 of my favorite songs that found success under the alt-rock banner. I omitted most of the obvious crossover smashes (“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Jeremy,” “Loser,” etc.), and instead tried to focus on the awesome modern rock radio hits that haven’t lasted quite as long in the public consciousness. Download and enjoy…

1. L7 “Pretend We’re Dead” (1992)
2. Dinosaur Jr. “Feel The Pain” (1994)
3. Veruca Salt “Seether” (1994)
4. Silverchair “Tomorrow” (1994)
5. PJ Harvey “Down By The Water” (1995)
6. The Flaming Lips “She Don’t Use Jelly” (1993)
7. Elastica “Stutter” (1993)
8. Rollins Band “Liar” (1994)
9. The Smashing Pumpkins “Drown” (1992)
10. Ween “Push Th’ Little Daisies” (1992)
11. Liz Phair “Supernova” (1994)
12. Alice In Chains “Rooster” (1992)
13. Primus “My Name Is Mud” (1993)
14. Meat Puppets “Backwater” (1994)
15. The Rentals “Friends of P.” (1995)
16. Butthole Surfers “Who Was in My Room Last Night?” (1993)
17. Sonic Youth “Bull In The Heather” (1994)
18. My Bloody Valentine “Only Shallow” (1991)
19. The Cranberries “Zombie” (1994)
20. Porno For Pyros “Pets” (1993)
21. The Toadies “Possum Kingdom” (1994)
22. White Zombie “Thunder Kiss ’65” (1992)
23. Stone Temple Pilots “Plush” (1992)
24. Breeders “Cannonball” (1993)
25. Pavement “Cut Your Hair” (1994)
26. Supergrass “Caught By The Fuzz” (1994)
27. Mazzy Star “Fade Into You” (1994)
28. Soul Asylum “Somebody to Shove” (1992)
29. Weezer “Susanne” (1994)
30. Temple of the Dog “Hunger Strike” (1991)

* A NOTE ABOUT THE ERA (1991-1995):
While the name “alternative rock” was surely used before 1991 and after 1995, I chose to define the era as this specific period for a number of reasons. First, it wasn’t until the success of Nirvana in late 1991 that the mainstream media truly defined the genre in the public consciousness. And by 1995, so-called “electronica” had become the media’s latest infatuation, while more traditional pop-rock bands like Collective Soul and Oasis had breakthroughs that seemed to push modern rock radio in a decidedly less experimental direction. Punk and ska bands like Green Day and No Doubt carried on the torch, but they identified more explicitly with their sub-genres than the “alternative” designation. Some alt-rock bands continued to make quality music in 1996 and beyond, but the term “alternative” had become, for all intents and purposes, meaningless.

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