When you think about the best ’90s rock bands, chances are every band on our researched list has crossed your mind. Let’s face it, The ’90s were an era of influential cultural events, more human connections, and excellent music! Grunge, nu-metal, and punk-pop became the genres to listen to and, for some, surprising staples in rock subgenres. It is music that will live forever.
The 1990s was a golden era for rock music, and several iconic bands emerged, leaving an indelible mark on the genre. Bands like Nirvana, with their groundbreaking album “Nevermind,” and Pearl Jam, known for their passionate and introspective sound, are often considered among the best of the ’90s. Additionally, groups like Radiohead, with their innovative approach to alternative rock, and the grunge-inspired Soundgarden, all contributed to the diversity and enduring influence of 1990s rock bands.
Playing one of these bands is nostalgic in more ways than one. Listening may take you back to a less stressful time. Just 24 short years ago we were all using beepers, debating the legitimacy of Y2K, and marveling at the wonders of America Online. A whole lot has changed and improved since then, but a new study finds that modern life may be much more stressful than the simpler times of the 20th century. Using data collected before COVID-19 appeared on the global stage, a team of Penn State researchers noted higher levels of reported stress among all age groups in comparison to the ’90s.
Ready to destress with some oldies but goodies? Our list of the best ’90s rock bands is comprised of the most recommended suggestions across 10 expert reviews. If your favorite group isn’t on our list, please leave it in the comments below!
The List: Best ’90s Rock Bands, According To Music Experts
“Icons from the ’90s, Nirvana was one of the most popular and influential rock bands of the decade. With their raw and emotional approach to music, Nirvana struck a chord with millions of fans around the world. The band’s album ‘Nevermind’ was a defining moment of the ’90s, and it remains one of the best-selling albums of all time. Nirvana’s other albums are also considered classics,” states Musician Wave.
Glam bands like Poison were what people were listening to until Nirvana hit the scene in 1991. “Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and Krist Novoselic were the veritable heart of the grunge movement that emerged in the late ’80s and early ’90s in Seattle,” says Midder Music.
Many fan sites agree that Nirvana is the epitome of the grunge movement. “Led by the enigmatic Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s raw energy and introspective lyrics resonated with an entire generation. Their iconic album ‘Nevermind’ and anthems like ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ transformed the musical landscape forever,” informs Yahoo.com.
2. Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam was one of the leaders of the grunge movement in the ’90s. The band’s debut album, “Ten,” was a huge success and propelled them to stardom. “They went on to release several more critically and commercially successful albums, including ‘Vs.’ and ‘Vitalogy.’ Their hit songs include ‘Alive,’ ‘Jeremy,’ and ‘Better Man.’ You can’t talk about the ’90’s best rock music without mentioning Pearl Jam,” admits Musician Wave.
Pearl Jam emerged with a more accessible approach than Nirvana. They blended raw emotion and rock and roll swagger. “Eddie Vedder’s impassioned vocals and the intricate guitar work of Mike McCready and Stone Gossard solidified the band’s place in rock history. Their debut album, ‘Ten,’ remains a seminal example of the genre, tackling themes of alienation, loss, and redemption. Pearl Jam’s prolific career continues to thrive, consistently delivering powerful live performances and displaying a relentless commitment to activism,” says Ranker.
Pearl Jam’s success continued throughout the ‘90s as they released another four albums. “Charting songs worth noting are ‘I Got Id,’ ‘Last Kiss,’ and ‘Jeremy.’ Pearl Jam encountered a few changes in its lineup over the years and faced some controversy through the grunge scene with Nirvana’s lead singer Kurt Cobain,” offers Hello Music Theory.
3. Alice In Chains
From the Seattle grunge scene, Alice in Chains combined heavy metal with darkly introspective lyrics to create a sound all their own. “Layne Staley’s eerily beautiful vocals paired with Jerry Cantrell’s melodic guitar work made for an unforgettable combination. Although the band experienced significant turmoil and tragedy, including Staley’s death in 2002, their music continues to captivate and inspire. Alice in Chains’ haunting tunes resonate with listeners who know that life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows,” explains Ranker.
Alice In Chains originally came together in the early ’80s. They underwent many changes in lineup and names until the group finally settled on a band name in the late ’80s. “They quickly became one of the biggest successes in grunge as their single ‘Man in the Box’ became a regular hit on MTV’s music video rotation,” offers Hello Music Theory.
Alice in Chains took a different route than many contemporaries in the early ’90s and incorporated aspects of heavy metal into their music. “Led by Jerry Cantrell and the late Layne Staley, Alice In Chains retains a distinctive sound that has matured over the last three decades,” explains Music Grotto.
4. Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are arguably one of the best-known ’90s rock bands in the world. “Anthony Kiedis and Flea are living legends and for good reason. They pioneered a fresh, vivacious, lively sound that incorporated unconventional instrumentals and riffs with soft-edged vocals and experimental choruses. 1999’s ‘Californication’ is pure rock bliss,” says Midder Music.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers blended funk, rock, and alternative influences to create their signature sound. “With the release of ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik,’ the band achieved mainstream success, featuring hits like ‘Under the Bridge’ and ‘Give It Away.’ Their infectious energy and charismatic performances made them a beloved ’90s act,” informs Yahoo.com.
Red Hot Chili Peppers was formed by Kiedis, Flea, Jack Irons, and Hillel Slovak and began making music in 1983. “They didn’t really hit the mainstream until they released their fifth album, ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik,’ in 1991, which included the single ‘Give It Away’ and brought them to number one on the best modern rock charts,” says Hello Music Theory.
Soundgarden was one of the pioneers of the grunge movement. They helped shape the sound of the ’90s. “Led by the powerful vocals of Chris Cornell, the band’s fusion of heavy rock and alternative elements yielded hits like ‘Black Hole Sun’ and ‘Spoonman,’ showcasing their dynamic musicianship and songwriting prowess,” says Yahoo.com.
Formed in 1985, Soundgarden didn’t see much success until their album “Superunknown” came out in 1994. “They won two Grammy’s for their singles ‘Black Hole Sun’ and ‘Spoonman.’ The album included some of Soundgarden’s best songs, with ‘Black Hole Sun’ becoming one of their first #1 hits on the Billboard Top 200,” explains Hello Music Theory.
When they reunited in 2010, they continued to play for seven more years until leader Chris Cornell passed away. “There may have been no better grunge voice than Chris Cornell’s. With a four-octave range and a powerful delivery, he could go from guttural growl to soaring falsetto all within the same tune. Although the band would break up in 1997 (before reuniting in 2010), Soundgarden earned two Grammy Awards and sold more than 15 million albums worldwide during the 90s,” states Ultimate Classic Rock.
R.E.M.’s melodic and introspective approach to alternative rock resonated with a wide audience in the ’90s. “R.E.M.’s album ‘Automatic for the People’ remains a classic, featuring iconic tracks like ‘Losing My Religion’ and ‘Everybody Hurts.’ R.E.M.’s poetic lyrics and Michael Stipe’s distinctive vocals left an enduring impact on the era,” says Yahoo.com.
R.E.M. had been touring the U.S. and Europe since 1981 when they broke into the mainstream with 1991’s “Out of Time.” “Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck, and Bill Berry dominated the rock scene in the ’90s by refusing to be pigeonholed. Following the radio-friendly ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Automatic For The People’ albums, R.E.M. defied expectations by lurching back towards a hard rock sound for the 1994 ‘Monster.’ R.E.M. disbanded in 2011,” offers Music Grotto.
It was smaller, more personal albums that made R.E.M. underground sensations. “R.E.M. started to move away from that with 1987’s ‘Document.’ The follow-up, 1989’s ‘Green,’ simply confirmed things: This wasn’t going to be the underground’s little secret anymore. R.E.M. was poised for big things in the decade to follow, and they lived up to every element of that promise. Everything got bigger: the sound, the themes, the stages, the sales. R.E.M. belonged to the world now,” infers Ultimate Classic Rock.
7. Foo Fighters
With some Nirvana roots, Foo Fighters is a rock band that was started by Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. “After the death of Kurt Cobain, Grohl decided to start his own band, and the Foo Fighters were born. Grohl made the entire self-titled album himself, but he was joined by other members for the band’s subsequent albums,” explains Musician Wave.
After his run with Nirvana, Dave Grohl found continued success with Foo Fighters. “Foo Fighters referenced the best of grunge while retaining an element of energetic optimism. Indeed, they became one of the biggest ’90s bands in their own right. Grohl et al blended refined, complex instrumentals with eminently catchy chords. ‘Learn to Fly’ remains one of their most enduring hits,” boasts Midder Music.
With the combination of infectious riffs and hooks, the Foo Fighters proved that they were more than just a side project for Grohl. “With a relentless work ethic and commitment to keeping rock music alive, Foo Fighters have amassed a loyal fan base and continue to churn out arena-ready anthems. Their enduring impact is a testament to the power of perseverance and the undeniable allure of raw, unapologetic rock and roll,” says Ranker.
Highest Grossing ’90s Rock Bands
While the experts might have their own favorites, let’s not forget money talks too. So how does this list compare with the most successful groups when it comes to overall earnings? Let’s take a look.
The highest-grossing rock bands of the 1990s were:
- Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
- The Rolling Stones
- Bon Jovi
- The Eagles
- Garth Brooks
- Elton John
- Van Halen
- Guns N’ Roses
Data for this list comes from a combination of the following:
- Billboard Boxscore charts
- Pollstar Box Office charts
- Record sales data from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI)
- Concert tour gross revenue data from various sources, including Pollstar, Billboard, and concert promoters
These bands dominated the concert charts throughout the decade, selling out stadiums and arenas around the world. Their music was also incredibly popular, with many of their albums selling millions of copies.
Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” as mentioned, was one of the best-selling albums of the 1990s, helping to usher in the grunge era. Metallica’s self-titled album, also known as the “Black Album,” was another huge success, selling over 16 million copies in the United States alone. U2’s album “Achtung Baby” was a critical and commercial success, and it helped to reinvent the band for the new decade.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Rolling Stones, and Bon Jovi were all touring juggernauts in the 1990s. They all played to massive crowds around the world, and their concerts were always in high demand. The Eagles reunited in the early 1990s for a tour that was one of the highest-grossing tours of all time. Garth Brooks was also a huge concert draw in the 1990s, and he quickly became one of the most popular country music artists of all time.
Elton John, Aerosmith, Van Halen, and Guns N’ Roses were all incredibly popular rock bands in the 1990s. They all released successful albums and toured extensively throughout the decade.
These ten rock bands were the highest-grossing rock bands of the 1990s, and they helped to shape the sound of rock music for the decade. Their music is still popular today, and they continue to be some of the most popular live acts in the world.
You might also be interested in:
- Best ’90s Grunge Albums
- Best Rock Bands Of All Time
- Best Songs of the 1980s
- Best Supermodels Of The 1990s
- Musician Wave
- WIO News
- Music Industry How-To
- Midder Music
- Hello Music Theory
- Music Grotto
- Ultimate Classic Rock
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.