Top 10 Rock Songs of the 1990s

The 1990s was an excellent decade for rock and roll. Though the era is known for gangsta rap and bubblegum pop, sandwiched in between were a myriad of rock gems.

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Below, we dive into 10 of those terrific tunes. From No Doubt to the grunge revolution, these are the ultimate rock tracks from the 1990s.

1. “Don’t Speak,” No Doubt

From the band’s breakout 1995 album, Tragic Kingdom, which also includes “Spiderwebs” and “Just a Girl,” this song is infectious. Its powerful-yet-vulnerable, dark and brooding yet energetic vibe encompasses the totality of the decade. The song was first written as a long song but then became a breakup song. In the end, it charted No. 1 in many countries, including the U.K. and Canada. It also earned the band a Grammy nom. But more than that, the track was a favorite at ’90s school dances everywhere. Sings frontwoman Gwen Stefani,

You and me
We used to be together, every day together
Always, I really feel that I’m losin’ my best friend
I can’t believe this could be the end

It looks as though you’re lettin’ go
And if it’s real, well, I don’t want to know

Don’t speak
I know just what you’re sayin’
So please stop explainin’
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts
Don’t speak
I know just what you’re thinkin’
I don’t need your reasons
Don’t tell me ’cause it hurts

2. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nirvana

It would be impossible to have a list of ’90s rock songs and not include Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The track, named after a joke Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna said to her friend Kurt Cobain one day, is the quintessential grunge song—a genre of music that ruled the decade. From Nirvana’s 1991 smash sophomore LP, Nevermind, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has been parodied, covered and worshiped, as it should. Sings Cobain,

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an albino
A mosquito, my libido

3. “Zombie,” The Cranberries

This 1994 track from the Irish band ruled the airwaves in the middle part of the decade. It hit No. 1 in a handful of countries. Written by frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan, the track is a protest song, decrying war. It features her striking, warbling vocals and remains a hit today. Sings O’Riordan,

Another head hangs lowly
Child is slowly taken
And the violence caused such silence
Who are we mistaken?

But you see, it’s not me
It’s not my family
In your head, in your head, they are fighting
With their tanks and their bombs
And their bombs and their guns
In your head, in your head, they are crying

4. “Losing My Religion,” R.E.M.

With apologies to bluegrass musicians, has a mandolin ever sounded as good? In this breakout hit from R.E.M., singer Michael Stipe is both energizing and lamenting. Released in 1991, the track became the band’s highest-charting hit in the U.S., hitting No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Sings Stipe,

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

5. “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” Lenny Kravitz

Released in 1993, this song was the first single from the album of the same name by the rocker Lenny Kravitz. To date, it’s been covered by artists ranging from Tom Jones to Metallica. The track also earned great commercial success, hitting No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Album Rock Tracks and No. 2 on the Modern Rock Tracks. It also hit the No. 4 in the U.K. Sings the always-alluring Kravitz over big guitars,

So tell me why we got to die
And kill each other one by one
We’ve got to hug and rub-a-dub
We’ve got to dance and be in love

Are you gonna go my way?
And I got to, got to know

Are you gonna go my way?
‘Cause, baby, I got to know

6. “Everlong,” Foo Fighters

When Cobain died in 1994, Nirvana was over. Drummer Dave Grohl began to write and record his own music, eventually releasing it under the moniker Foo Fighters. Today, the group is one of the biggest in the world. “Everlong,” a love song, was the second single from the Foo Fighters’ second studio LP, The Colour and the Shape, released in 1997. But it was in 1998 when Grohl performed it acoustic that the band and the song became etched in rock history. Sings Grohl,

If everything could ever be this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when
She sang

Breathe out
So I can breathe you in
Hold you in
And now
I know you’ve always been
Out of your head
Out of my head, I sang

7. “Jeremy,” Pearl Jam

This song comes from the band’s iconic debut album, Ten. It’s based on two different true stories. Largely, it’s a song about a 15-year-old student who shot and killed himself in front of his teacher and 30 classmates in 1991. The other story is one Vedder knew more personally, about a school shooter where he was from in San Diego. Sad inspirations aside, this song was a hit thanks in part to its music video, which got major airplay on MTV. The song became the most successful song from Ten. It peaked at No. 5 on the US Billboard Album Rock Tracks and Billboard Modern Rock Tracks charts. Vedder sings,

Daddy didn’t give affection, no
And the boy was something that mommy wouldn’t wear
King Jeremy the wicked
Oh ruled his world

Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today
Jeremy spoke in class today

8. “Champagne Supernova,” Oasis

In the mid-90s Oasis and Brit Pop were all the range. From “Wonderwall” to “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” the band, comprised of brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, wrote big, epic, catchy rock jams. Chief among them was “Champagne Supernova” from the hit 1996 LP, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? The seven-plus minute song was Oasis’ second No. 1 single on the Modern Rock Tracks chart in the U.S. Sings Noel,

How many special people change? 
How many lives are livin’ strange?
Where were you while we were getting high?
Slowly walkin’ down the hall
Faster than a cannonball
Where were you while we were getting high?

Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a champagne supernova in the sky
Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a champagne supernova
A champagne supernova in the sky

9. “Doll Parts,” Hole

The second single from the rock band Hole’s second studio LP, Live Through This, “Doll Parts” was written by Love not long after meeting husband-to-be Cobain of Nirvana. The track, which hit No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Modern Rock Tracks was written from a place of insecurity, Love said, born of Cobain’s interest in her. The resulting work is a master class in minimalism, something Love and Cobain both shared as songwriters. Sings Love,

I am doll eyes, doll mouth, doll legs
I am doll arms, big veins, dog beg
Yeah, they really want you
They really want you, they really do
Yeah, they really want you
They really want you and I do too

I want to be the girl with the most cake
I love him so much, it just turns to hate
I fake it so real, I am beyond fake
And someday, you will ache like I ache

10. “Black Hole Sun,” Soundgarden

Rounding out the top 10 is another grunge masterpiece, the song with the epic, sticky chorus, “Black Hole Sun.” From the grunge band that broke out of the PNW scene first, Soundgarden released this hit in 1994 from their album, Superunknown. The track spent seven weeks atop the Billboard Modern Rock chart. In the dark song, frontman Chris Cornell demonstrates his two voices, the high shriek and the low rumble. It’s masterful. He sings,

In my eyes
In disguises no one knows
Hides the face
Lies the snake
And the sun in my disgrace
Boiling heat
Summer stench
Neath the black, the sky looks dead
Call my name
Through the cream
And I’ll hear you scream again

Black hole sun
Won’t you come
And wash away the rain?
Black hole sun
Won’t you come
Won’t you come
Won’t you come

Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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