Best 90s Rock Anthems (Songs from the 90s)

The 1990s was a transformative decade for rock music, witnessing the rise of various influential bands and iconic songs that have left an indelible mark on the genre.

In this article, we will take a nostalgic journey through the best rock songs of the ’90s, exploring the artists, albums, and tracks that defined the era.

From grunge to alternative rock, these songs captured the essence of the decade and continue to resonate with audiences today.

AC/DC, “Thunderstruck” (1990)

Whoever would’ve thought that 12 years after Eddie Van Halen unleashed “Eruption” and it ushered in an entire era (the ‘80s) of hotshot guitar players that it would be AC/DC’s Angus Young who captures the world’s attention with guitar tapping melody?

That iconic and immortal catchy melody, in tandem with tense, pounding drums that yielded “Thunderstruck,” kept these rock hounds alive ’n’ thriving through yet another decade of musical change. It came at just the right time, following a brief downturn in quality output.

Very few acts can produce all-time hits in three straight decades, which is why AC/DC has enjoyed such immense staying power.

 Aerosmith, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (1998)

It was a family affair, as Aerosmith frontman Steve Tyler belted out the heartfelt, Diane Warren-penned lyrics on “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from the 1998 blockbuster Armageddon starring Tyler’s daughter Liv Tyler.

The power ballad was a Mainstream Rock radio smash, hitting No. 4, but it also crossed over to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In a lengthy and stellar career, surprisingly, this is the band’s only chart-topper on the Hot 100.

Alice in Chains, “Would?” (1992)

Though it would be really hard to pick a quintessential Alice in Chains song, if we had to, it would be “Would?” from their brooding 1992 album Dirt.

First released on the soundtrack for the Cameron Crowe film Singles, “Would?” perfectly encapsulated the sound of the Pacific Northwest in a bass-heavy, sludgy, three-and-a-half-minutes.

Beastie Boys, “Sabotage” (1994)

These rappers can rock, showing some serious hardcore skills when they picked up their instruments and pushed everyone’s pulses to race with the 1994 single “Sabotage” from their Ill Communication album.

The ‘70s cop show parody video was a huge smash on MTV, while the song shot onto alt-rock radio, hitting No. 18 on the Alternative Airplay chart.

In the years since, it’s been featured in films and TV (Star Trek, Family Guy, This Means War + more), used as a sports anthem (for hockey’s Seattle Kraken), copped for a roller coaster (at Six Flags Magic Mountain), and covered by many a rock band.

The Black Crowes, “Hard to Handle” (1990)

The Black Crowes were doing something different than everyone else in the ‘90s when the music was getting more aggressive, and they were probably the only artist at the time who dared to cover a soul singer such as Otis Redding.

Featured on their debut album Shake Your Money Maker, their bluesy cover of “Hard to Handle,” and Chris Robinson’s effortless vocal delivery on it was such a hit that it eventually reached No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart.

Blind Melon, “No Rain” (1993)

Shannon Hoon’s first bit of mainstream exposure was as a backing vocalist on Guns N’ Roses’ 1991 ballad “Don’t Cry,” but by the time Blind Melon’s “No Rain” came out in 1992, he was one of the most notable voices in rock ’n’ roll.

Though it was actually the second single from the band’s self-titled debut album, its success on the radio and MTV — cue the “Bee Girl” in the music video — propelled them to a level of commercial success that five musicians from Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Indiana never would have thought possible.

Blink-182, “What’s My Age Again?” (1999)

In 1999, “What’s My Age Again?” propelled blink-182 to new heights. The lead single from Blink’s Enema of the State album, the song artfully captures the eager appetite of youth.

The band does something similar with 1997’s “Dammit,” which is also about growing up. But “What’s My Age Again?” — anchored by then-new drummer Travis Barker — ups the ante considerably, hitting the sentiment on the nose.

It spent 20 weeks on the Hot 100. Originally titled “Peter Pan Complex,” the pop-punk anthem takes a bit of artistic license with its narrative.

The lyrical takeaway, “Nobody likes you when you’re 23,” was written by singer-bassist Mark Hoppus when he was 26.

Blur, “Song 2” (1997)

“Woo-hoo!” Blur was one of the top Brit-pop bands of the ‘90s but livened things up considerably with their hard-driving stadium anthem “Song 2,” which was featured on their self-titled 1997 album.

Ironically, the song was recorded as a joke by the band, figuring their label would never go for the amped-up grungy heaviness.

To their surprise, when they told the label they wanted to release it as a single, the label obliged. Radio bought in, too, with the song hitting No. 6 for Alternative Airplay.

The Breeders, “Cannonball” (1993)

Former Pixies bassist Kim Deal joined up with sister Kelley Deal to lead The Breeders, who broke out with the infinitely catchy “Cannonball” from their Last Splash album.

Though Deal was known for her bass chops in the Pixies, it’s Josephine Wiggs handling the distinctive bass lines within the song.

The track hit No. 2 for Alternative Airplay, was in heavy rotation at MTV, and nearly cracked the Top 40 (it peaked at No. 44) on the Billboard Hot 100.

Bush, “Machinehead” (1996)

Bush saved the best for last, as “Machinehead” was the fifth and final single to be released off their stellar debut album, Sixteen Stone.

The track was also one of two Bush songs featured in the Mark Wahlberg-starring film Fear, giving the song a little extra promotional boost during its run.

The hard-driving rocker is recognizable by Gavin Rossdale’s “Breathe in, breathe out” repetitive refrain. It went on to reach No. 4 on both the Mainstream Rock and Alternative Airplay charts and is their second most-streamed song on Spotify.

Collective Soul, “Shine” (1994)

After struggling for a few years to find label representation and keep a band lineup, Ed Roland caught his first break with “Shine,” recorded with his newly put-together band that would become Collective Soul.

The song started to garner regional airplay, eventually grabbing the attention of Atlantic Records who signed them and put out their demo album Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid as their first release.

The song’s distinctive gritty guitar riff and Roland’s add-on “Yeah” response grabbed the ears of rock radio listeners, who helped catapult the song to No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart and No. 4 for Alternative Airplay.

The track even crossed over to hit No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, kicking off what would be a very successful run for the band in the ‘90s.

Counting Crows, “Mr. Jones” (1994)

“Mr. Jones” encompasses beautiful, lucky irony. It’s Counting Crows’ breakout hit, yet it was written by lead singer Adam Duritz about his and his bandmate’s quest to be recognized.

That bandmate was the bass player Marty Jones of Duritz’s pre-Crows group The Himalayans, who played around San Francisco about a year before the Counting Crows came together.

“I wanna be Bob Dylan,” Duritz sings in but one of many penetrating “Mr. Jones” stanzas. “Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky / When everybody loves you / That’s just about as funky as you can be.”

The album with “Mr. Jones,” 1993’s August and Everything After, remains Counting Crows’ defining statement.

Cracker, “Low” (1993)

After finding ‘80s college radio success with Camper Van Beethoven, singer David Lowery formed Cracker in the ‘90s just as alt-rock was finally moving to the forefront.

The band’s biggest radio hit came in 1993 with “Low” from their sophomore set, Kerosene Hat.

The angst of Lowery’s raspy voice shone through as he sang of a deteriorating relationship feeling like “being stoned.”

The song’s video featured Lowery taking a beating from comedienne Sandra Bernhard in a boxing ring. The song hit No. 3 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.

The Cranberries, “Zombie” (1994)

Dolores O’Riordan’s airy vocal touch lifted The Cranberries to alt-rock success in the early ‘90s, but with their sophomore set No Need to Argue, the band showed a decidedly heavier side with the lead single “Zombie,” a protest song written about the horrors of war that continued to rage in Northern Ireland.

The song hit No. 1 for Alternative Airplay, and it received the 1995 Best Alternative Video at the MTV Europe Music Awards.

The song’s legacy continues as it was covered in recent years by Bad Wolves who turned it into a major rock radio hit as well.

Creed, “Higher” (1999)

By the time Creed released their second studio album, 1999’s Human Clay, they were already taking rock radio by storm.

With Scott Stapp’s Eddie Vedder-like voice and the powerful, almost-Christian lyrics driving the songs, Creed was building a strong fanbase, but it wasn’t until they released Human Clay’s lead single, “Higher,” that they cemented their success.

“Higher” marked their first Top 10 single and, at the time, set a record for sitting at No. 1 on the Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts for 17 consecutive weeks.

The Cure, “Friday I’m in Love” (1992)

‘80s gloom gave way to ‘90s lightness for The Cure, who scored one of their biggest hits with the unusually upbeat “Friday I’m in Love.”

For a band often associated with goth, “Friday I’m in Love” was paradoxically jovial in nature, lightly bouncy with undeniable positivity.

This jangly gem from the Wish album topped the Alternative Airplay chart for four weeks while crossing over to give The Cure a Hot 100 hit at No. 18.

Eve 6, “Inside Out” (1998)

Eve 6’s first hit became their biggest, as singer Max Collins channeled the angst of teenage heartache (yes, we all feel “want to put my tender heart in a blender / watch it spin round to a beautiful oblivion” all too well) into a tongue-twistingly catchy tune that was inescapable in 1998.

The song topped the Alternative Airplay chart and reached No. 5 for Mainstream Rock, eventually crossing over to hit No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Everclear, “Santa Monica” (1995)

Wanna getaway? Everclear had the anthem for those struggling and needing a fresh start with 1995’s “Santa Monica.”

The Art Alexakis-penned track channels the angst of wanting to leave the bad times behind in favor of your happy place.

The track topped the Mainstream Rock chart while also hitting No. 5 for Alternative Airplay. It also kicked off a string of hits that would make Everclear one of the most successful alt-rock acts of the late ‘90s.

Faith No More, “Epic” (1990)

Never has denial rocked so much. Faith No More gave us one of the hardest-hitting anthems and killer bass lines with 1990’s “Epic” off their album The Real Thing.

The song called out the “gotta have it now” vibe that only increased with technological advances throughout the decade.

The song actually fared better on the Hot 100, where it peaked at No. 9 than it did on Mainstream Rock radio (it hit No. 25), but it became an MTV smash while mired in controversy over the flopping fish out of water that appeared to be dying at the end of the video.

Filter, “Take a Picture” (1999)

Filter’s Richard Patrick pulled from personal experience, even if he couldn’t remember it, for the late ‘90s hit, “Take a Picture.”

The song was inspired by multiple drunken experiences in which he was told of his antics later, asking a friend to document them for future reference.

The song also calls out Patrick’s embarrassment for how his actions would be viewed by his father.

The hypnotically catchy song became the band’s biggest hit, hitting No. 3 for Alternative Airplay and No. 4 for Mainstream Rock, while also climbing to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Foo Fighters, “Everlong” (1997)

Foo Fighters hit the sweet spot with this ‘90s classic, a love song penned during Dave Grohl’s past romance with Veruca Salt’s Louise Post about being in perfect harmony with someone.

The song was a radio smash for the band, finding a second life after an acoustic version of the track circulated on the radio as well.

The song peaked at No. 3 for Alternative Airplay and No. 4 for Mainstream Rock, but has become the staple of their catalog and is often the show-closer of their concerts.

Garbage – “Stupid Girl” (1996)

Garbage made a bold statement with their 1996 hit single “Stupid Girl.” This female empowerment anthem served as a cautionary tale, blending an infectious drum beat sampled from The Clash’s “Train in Vain” with powerful vocals from lead singer Shirley Manson.

The song’s success earned Garbage multiple Grammy nominations and a nomination for Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards.

“Stupid Girl” reached No. 2 on the Alternative Airplay chart and No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100, cementing its place as one of the best rock songs of the ’90s.

Gin Blossoms – “Hey Jealousy” (1993)

Gin Blossoms found their breakthrough success with the re-recorded version of “Hey Jealousy” from their 1992 album “New Miserable Experience.”

Penned by guitarist Doug Hopkins, the song delves into the emotions of longing and heartbreak.

Despite Hopkins’ departure from the band, “Hey Jealousy” climbed to No. 4 on the Mainstream Rock chart and No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, capturing the hearts of listeners with its catchy melodies and heartfelt lyrics.

What was the number 1 rock song in 1990?

The number 1 rock song in 1990 varied depending on the charts and regions, but one of the most notable rock songs from that year was “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor, which was a cover of a song originally written by Prince.

This song achieved significant popularity and is often associated with the rock genre, although it has elements of pop and alternative rock as well. Keep in mind that the top songs can vary based on different music charts and regions.

What kind of rock music was popular in the 90s?

Some of the notable styles of rock music that were popular during the 90s include:

  1. Grunge
  2. Alternative Rock
  3. Britpop
  4. Post-Grunge
  5. Pop Punk
  6. Nu Metal
  7. Indie Rock
  8. Hard Rock and Heavy Metal

These are just a few examples, and the 90s saw the blurring of boundaries between genres, leading to innovative and experimental sounds.

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