The 50 Best Grunge Songs

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25. Dinosaur Jr. – “Out There”
With layers of unashamedly bombastic drumming and enough throwback guitar solos to be in a Karate Kid sequel, “Out There” is a memorable number from Dinosaur Jr.’s early ’90s catalog. This mix of loud and fast rock, with J. Mascis’ warbling, patient lament, creates some of the finest synthesis of sounds, definitive of all the possibilities that the grunge movement held in its pocket. —Zohair Hussain

24. Mudhoney – “In ’n’ Out of Grace”
“We wanna be free to do what we want to do.” So begins Mudhoney’s excellent “In ’n’ Out of Grace”—starting with a sound clip from Peter Fonda’s character in The Wild Ones and eventually giving way to punk-infused lo-fi greatness and blistering vocals. Culled from 1988’s Superfuzz Bigmuff, the song illustrates why Mudhoney was one of the genre’s best early on. While the bands of the early 1990s would eventually usurp them as grunge’s golden boys, Mark Arm and company had everything their peers had, and “In ’n’ Out of Grace” is a true testament to that. —Michael Danaher

23. Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”
In the early ’90s, with a slew of impressive releases already under their belt, Soundgarden still hadn’t received the same attention that peers Nirvana and Pearl Jam had. Their big break came with the release of Superunknown and their megahit “Black Hole Sun,” a dark-eyed track spurned by Kim Thayil’s deranged guitar lead and Chris Cornell’s ominous lyrics. With the video playing constantly on MTV, one of grunge’s godfathers had finally gotten the attention they deserved. —Michael Danaher

22. Pearl Jam – “Rearviewmirror”
Pearl Jam has continued to put out commendable material well past their 20th anniversary. But there aren’t too many recent tracks from the band’s current repertoire that can match the urgency and grit that “Rearviewmirror” has. When Eddie Vedder screams about how he could see things so much clearer “once you, were in my…rearview mirror,” the song becomes less of a piece of music and more of a credo: Sometimes things are better left in the past. —Shawn Christ

21. L7 – “Pretend We’re Dead”
Los Angeles’s L7 formed in the late ’80s, but it wouldn’t be until the early ’90s that they would make an impression. One of the band’s best tracks, “Pretend We’re Dead,” off of 1992’s Bricks are Heavy, is an straightforward, pop-friendly arrangement lined with fuzzed-out guitars and sticky-sweet chorus. While the track showcases the band’s knack for solid songwriting, it also solidified producer Butch Vig as a presence in grunge as much as any of the performers. —Michael Danaher

20. Nirvana – “Heart-Shaped Box”
“Heart-Shaped Box” is a dark, dark ballad that only Nirvana could actualize into grunge cannon. Equal parts dingy and vulnerable, dark and passionate, this In Utero cut is a love song for the plaid and tired. It provided enough hook and depth to appeal to audiences on both sides of the spectrum—the heady had the existential destruction of love, while the head-banging masses had enough crunch and thump to risk a neck injury.
—Zohair Hussain

19. Stone Temple Pilots – “Plush”
Based in San Diego, Stone Temple Pilots weren’t a founding father of grunge, but you’d never know that based on the band’s first mega hit, “Plush.” The most popular single off their 1992 debut, Core, the song finds singer Scott Weiland’s doing his best Eddie Vedder impression—a vocal style Weiland would soon abandon—and an arsenal of guitars submerged in distortion and twang. The song is one of the movement’s most significant contributions, as it confirmed that grunge taking off and wasn’t just a small fad based in Washington. —Michael Danaher

18. Hole – “Doll Parts”
Courtney Love’s finest moment comes in Live Through This’s “Doll Parts.” Building off of a simple acoustic strum and vocal line, the song crests into a wall of despondence, in which she takes pleasure in the idea of someone else’s pain. “Someday you will ache like ache,” sings Love. In a time ripe with disorder and drug abuse, it captured a feeling more genuine than anything she’s done since. —Michael Danaher

17. Screaming Trees – “Nearly Lost You”
For whatever reason, the Screaming Trees never saw the commercial success that their Seattle peers did, but they were still in the thick of it, crafting dingy, booze-soaked guitar rock to the backdrop of Mark Lanegan’s gravelly voice. Featured on 1992’s Sweet Oblivion (as well as the Singles soundtrack, helmed by Cameron Crowe), “Nearly Lost You” became the Screaming Trees’ flagship track, thanks to fluttering lead guitars, bleary-eyed vocals and convoluted drum work. A true triumph. —Michael Danaher

16. Alice in Chains – “Them Bones”
The start of Alice in Chains’ career-defining Dirt comes like a swift punch to the gut. “Them Bones” wastes absolutely no time getting off the ground: Layne Staley’s yelping mixed with Jerry Cantrell’s meaty metal riffs cued the start of something great—something unlike anything released by their grunge counterparts. The band had achieved success with their recent hit “Man in the Box,” but it wasn’t until Dirt that they found what they were truly made of. And “Them Bones” set the perfect tone for what would endure to be one of the era’s most important albums. —Michael Danaher

15. Meat Puppets – “Backwater”
Before Kurt Cobain incorporated the Meat Puppets into Nirvana’s famed Unplugged set, the Meat Puppets weren’t a household name. And while much of the band’s music doesn’t necessarily fit into the grand scheme of grunge, their song “Backwater” absolutely does. Fashioned out of sweltering guitar work and a hook-heavy melody, the song illustrates why people like Cobain were taking notice. —Michael Danaher

14. Nirvana – “Lithium”
Though Nirvana’s inclusion on a list such as this may seem “overrated,” this is an instance where an appropriate level of attention was well deserved. What Nirvana gave to grunge was a perceptive voice, dressed and fit for the scene. They transcended expectation and typecasting, adding a melodious undertone to even the grungiest riffs, adding beauty to the dirt. “Lithium” was a prime example of that intentional dissonance. Musically, the song sonically shifts between softer verses and a fuzz-driven, aggressive chorus. Lyrically, it hits on all pegs of what any alternative scene faces: alienation from the mainstream. —Zohair Hussain

13. Pearl Jam – “Even Flow”
There are songs so indicative of a time and place that it’s impossible to ever separate them from it. “Even Flow” is one of those songs, immediately calling to mind a time when music was shifting from glammed-up hair metal to a new generation of unkempt, plaid-donning degenerates. And while Pearl Jam was figuring how to handle their exploding success, they already had the music figured out, crafting hits like “Even Flow,” which oozed with confidence and swagger, ultimately positioning the band as one of the grunge’s biggest presences. —Michael Danaher

12. Dinosaur Jr. – “Feel the Pain”
While other bands were becoming the faces of a generation, Dinosaur Jr. managed to stick to the outskirts of grunge, content to quietly craft solid, lo-fi rock albums that flew under the radar from radio and MTV. “Feel the Pain,” the opener to one of the band’s best albums, Without a Sound, sets the course for J. Macias’s immense songwriting talents. One of the movement’s best-kept secrets at the time, Dinosaur Jr. has since gotten the attention they deserved on the indie circuit, and its catalog endures today while many of grunge’s most popular acts have since become outdated. —Michael Danaher

11. Melvins – “Lizzy”
The Melvins didn’t always fit the grunge profile, as much of the band’s songs felt more metal than anything. But “Lizzy,” one of the championing tracks from the band’s 1992 Houdini, is certainly the most grunge-laden, and it’s is probably one of the main factors why singer Buzz Osbourne was lumped in with the likes of Cobain and Vedder. Its off-kilter verse and hulking, obtrusive chorus were a perfect addition to grunge’s ever-expanding catalog, as was the band’s big, bantering sound. —Michael Danaher

10. Veruca Salt – “Seether”
Veruca Salt was hardly the first female-fronted band to make a meaningful contribution to the scene, but they may have been the first ones to perfect it. Drenched in fuzzed-out guitars and pop-oriented arrangements, “Seether” is a chugging concoction of glorious grunge rock. The band might not have gained as much recognition on MTV as other bands like L7 or Hole, but Veruca Salt was possibly the best out of all of them, and “Seether” remains the band’s most infectious offering. —Michael Danaher

9. Temple of the Dog – “Hunger Strike”
Temple of the Dog was so much more than a “supergroup.” It was one of those rare occurrences that takes place at a certain point in time when a music scene is bubbling over with talent, collaboration and support. The result is one of the most melodic and beautiful soundscapes to come out of the grunge movement. Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder on one track together is pure bliss. —Shawn Christ

8. Mudhoney – “Touch Me I’m Sick”
One of the best song titles to come from the era, “Touch Me I’m Sick” is Mudhoney’s crowning achievement. It has everything you’d want from a grunge song: tongue-in-cheek lyrics, scuzzy guitars, a vigorous and vulgar performance. “I’m full of rot / Gonna give you, girl, everything I got,” sings Mark Arm. The song works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously—something the more publicized bands of the ’90s would fall victim to. It was proof that Mudhoney had the heart and mentality of grunge down before anyone else. —Michael Danaher

7. Nirvana – “In Bloom”
Nirvana’s Nevermind probably would never have achieved legendary status had it not been for the expert production of Butch Vig. On “In Bloom,” Vig’s brilliance truly shines, manifesting itself in the form of thunderous drums and strong harmonic interplay between Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl. If there was one song to epitomize the Nirvana formula, it’s “In Bloom”: muddied and unkempt, but with an undeniable pop proclivity that’s just too damn catchy to shake. —Chris Powers

6. Stone Temple Pilots – “Vasoline”
Despite making a good first impression with their debut, Stone Temple Pilots suffered from one too many Pearl Jam comparisons, sometimes even being accused of ripping them off. Purple, the band’s sophomore effort, put a stop to all that, and lead single “Vasoline” made it strikingly clear that STP was its own brand with its own sound and vision. A slow fade-in blooms into a two-note rock riff that propels the song, eventually giving way to a chorus where Weiland shows he’s more than just a Vedder wannabe. “Vasoline” was more than just a hit song; it was a statement—and the masses were listening. —Michael Danaher

5. Smashing Pumpkins – “Today”
Sadness comes in many packages, and Smashing Pumpkins dressed one of their most popular singles in bright, upbeat wrapping. “Today” is all sunshine and good intentions to start—there’s that warm, unmistakable Stratocaster line plucked straight from a wind-up toy, that defiant verse that claims today truly is the greatest day Billy Corgan—the rock star, the poet, the ice cream man—has ever known. But the meat here is in Corgan and co.’s heartbreaking chorus, a guitar-stacked reflection on regret. It’s these two extremes—minor and loud, major and quiet—and a finale that force feeds nostalgia in 2014 makes this Smashing Pumpkins singles one of the finest pieces of grunge—and pop, and rock—to hit the radio in the early ‘90s.—Tyler Kane

4. Soundgarden – “Superunknown”
For a brief moment in early 1994, grunge hit its absolute apex. Part of that was thanks to Soundgarden’s release of Superunknown, which went straight to number one. The album had a slather of songs (many of which were long-listed for this feature), but it was the album’s title track that would be its shining moment, showcasing Kim Thayil’s spiraling guitars set to Cornell’s off-the-charts vocal register. The release confirmed that grunge was full-fledged mainstream, and for a brief moment, until Kurt Cobain’s death about a month later, the movement felt unstoppable. —Michael Danaher

3. Alice in Chains – “Would?”
Nirvana was recognized in the grunge era for bringing punk rock to the mainstream, and you could say Alice in Chains did the same for thoughtful, hairspray-free metal. “Would?,” which appeared on the band’s 1992 album Dirt, was in the majority of AiC tracks that focused on addiction. But instead of turning the spotlight within the band, guitarist Jerry Cantrell used the late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood as inspiration. The result was Alice in Chains’ most direct number—a bass-driven, often ugly song that showed off the full, triumphant range of singer Layne Staley. And for as dark “Would?” can be, Cantrell’s squealing guitars and Staley’s shredded howl always come back to what’s important: that powerful melody.—Tyler Kane

2. Pearl Jam – “Alive”
Pearl Jam is impressive not just because of the meteoric success they achieved but because of the odds they beat. While the band had its own problems handling success, it was probably the only megaband to emerge unscathed from the rubble of grunge while their peers had succumbed to varying degrees of dissension and destruction. Pearl Jam’s story is one of survival when everything around them was crumbling, so there’s no more fitting lyric for the band than Eddie Vedder’s singular wail of “I’m still Alive” setting off Mike McCready’s searing solo. The song’s meaning has actually changed in time, going from a personal tale of Vedder’s past to an anthemic mission statement—one bent on longevity and resilience. —Michael Danaher

1. Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Before “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” grunge was nothing but a handful of bands in the Pacific Northwest who played rock music. But after its release, grunge was suddenly a genre, a movement, a lifestyle, a cosmic and quaking shift in the trajectory of music history. Call the song overrated or overplayed or whatever you want—because it probably isn’t even the best Nirvana song—but grunge doesn’t become a massive worldwide entity without it. It changed everything, bringing a subculture into the spotlight and giving it not only a face but a voice. Kurt Cobain has since become enshrined in the music cannon thanks to this track’s breakthrough; and whether that’s due to radio play, MTV airtime, endless media coverage or just Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl’s supernatural musical chemistry, the fact remains: no song captures a moment in time and represents all of the complexity and audacity that accompanied it quite like this one. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the very best of what grunge had to offer. Twenty-three years later, it still brims with as much apprehension, apathy and angst as it did back in 1991. It always will. —Michael Danaher

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