4 of the Best British Rock Bands from the 1990s

Alternative rock music dominated culture in the 1990s and may be the last great decade for guitar bands.

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But it wasn’t only American bands who ruled MTV and FM radio. Brits with guitars were also yanking pop stars from the charts.

Below are four “cracking” British rock bands from the 1990s.


Oasis or Blur is Britpop’s version of The Beatles or Rolling Stones. They were the two towering bands of ’90s British rock music. Though they both outgrew the movement, Blur continued to evolve musically while Oasis reached their creative peak in 1997.

Blur’s Parklife became an avatar for Cool Britannia. “Girl & Boys,” “Parklife,” and “Country House” were Britpop anthems but soon, Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, and Dave Rowntree abandoned the sound.

Britpop was a reaction against American grunge. However, Blur looked to American indie bands like Pavement for a reinvention. Their self-titled, American-influenced album featured “Song 2,” which became their biggest hit. Woo-hoo!

The Verve

Because of “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” The Verve sometimes gets lumped into a one-hit wonder category. But they emerged from Wigan in 1993 with the brilliant, dreamy, shoegaze adjacent debut, A Storm in Heaven.

The band—singer Richard Ashcroft, guitarist Nick McCabe, bassist Simon Jones, and drummer Peter Salisbury—merged psychedelic jams with shoegaze while playing gigs around England with a then-unknown band called Oasis.

Ashcroft (known as “Mad Richard”) impacted the Manchester band enough for Noel Gallagher to write “Cast No Shadow” for The Verve singer.

On A Northern Soul, The Verve moved closer to alternative rock. Working with producer Owen Morris, songs like “On Your Own” and “History” foreshadowed where the band would end up musically. But first, they’d split up.

The Verve reformed and began work on their masterpiece Urban Hymns. The album’s lead single “Bitter Sweet Symphony” became one of the decade’s biggest songs. It also arrived with a copyright infringement case brought by The Rolling Stones’ former manager Allen Klein, who had refused to clear a sample the song was built on. As the single broke worldwide, The Verve relinquished all royalties. (In 2019, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards returned the rights to Ashcroft.)

At the pinnacle of their popularity, The Verve, always volatile, broke up again. They reunited for one more album (Forth) before splitting up a third time. Still, Urban Hymns stands tall in a decade full of great alternative rock albums. Have you ever been down?


It’s fitting that “Live Forever” became the first Oasis single to reach the Top 10. Noel Gallagher wrote it after hearing Nirvana’s “I Hate Myself and Want to Die.” Reacting against the doom and gloom of American grunge, he said, “I still thought that getting up in the morning was the greatest f—ing thing ever.”

Oasis released their debut single “Supersonic” on April 11, 1994, six days after Kurt Cobain died. Like Nirvana, Oasis shifted pop culture and Definitely Maybe became the fastest-selling debut album in UK history.

“Live Forever” and “Supersonic” sound like the punk rock Beatles. Gallagher wrote working-class anthems and Oasis gave downtrodden youth some kind of hope. To see these guys from a council estate sell out stadiums may not have replaced aimlessness and dead-end jobs, but the feeling that someone was singing to you had a Springsteen-like effect on a generation.

Definitely Maybe is driven by dreams, the places you want to be, hope, a little self-possession. Then Oasis followed it with (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? Gallagher shifted his focus from the dreams in his head to the reality of the stadium. “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” and “Champagne Supernova” defined not only the band but the era. I said maybe…


British bands have a long history of finding inspiration in American music. Radiohead was inspired by America’s indie rock bands like Pixies and Pavement. They wrote “Creep” using the Black Francis formula that worked for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “Creep” became their signature song but they refused to be defined by it.

On their second album The Bends, the Oxford group reacted against their biggest hit and expanded their sound, though it was still rooted in guitar-forward rock. In 1997, Radiohead released the groundbreaking OK Computer, which pushed rock and roll forward like a modern-day Revolver or The Dark Side of the Moon

Thom Yorke, Jonny and Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Phil Selway blended technology with traditional instruments. But Yorke also wrote with great anxiety about technology’s effect on the human condition. There are feelings of an Orwellian dystopia heard in songs like “Karma Police.” Yorke’s paranoid lyrics turned out to be prescient.

Kid A arrived in 1999 and with it, Radiohead deconstructed the very essence of a rock band. Synthesizers and glitchy drum loops replaced the guitars and Yorke abandoned writing choruses. It’s a masterpiece. Their most experimental album topped the U.S. albums chart for the first time in their career.

Radiohead blends electronic elements, avant-garde jazz, modern classical music, and conventional instrumentation. They’ve probably done more than any other band in pushing alternative music forward. It wears him out.

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Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella

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