The 30 best and essential Grunge albums of all time
In the early 1990’s the Alternative Rock revolution took over the airwaves, with it’s epicenter in Seattle, Grunge became for many the last significant Rock movement spreading quickly around the planet. From Nirvana to TAD, we explore the 30 best and essential Grunge albums of all time
It might be a cliche, it might not be the best or the most favorite by Grunge or Nirvana fans, but “Nevermind” is certainly the most influential Grunge album of all time due to it’s immense popularity and world wide success from when it was released back in 1991 until the present day. With a different musical approach from their debut album “Bleach”, it remains Nirvana’s signature release and most critical acclaimed one in part because of it’s perfect fusion between pop, punk and metal helped by the production of Butch Vig. It was responsible to draw worldwide attention to Seattle as the rock capital of the early 1990’s, that lead rock fans around the world seeking through Nirvana other similar bands and sounds. Released in the same time frame as Seattle’s peers major label debuts Pearl Jam’s “Ten” and Soundgarden’s “Bad Motorfinger”, it also competed directly with other releases by established rock bands during that period, such as Guns N’ Roses “Use Your Illusion I & II” and Metallica’s “Metallica” (or the “Black Album”). Besides all that was also responsible for exterminating the 80’s wave of hair metal and glam bands and bringing back honest rock music to the top of the charts, knocking King Of Pop Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” from Billboard’s #1.
Most influential tracks: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “In Bloom”, “Come As You Are”, “Lithium”, “Breed”, “Territorial Pissings”, “Drain You”, “Something In The Way”
“Bad Motorfinger” – Soundgarden
The first big release by Soundgarden featuring Metal flavored Grunge that could please to both worlds and with outstanding classic tracks such as “Jesus Christ Pose”. During this period the band embarked with Guns N’ Roses on the world wide tour of Use Your Illusion, offering them the definitive exposure to their music. More famous tracks produced by this album were “Rusty Cage” or “Outshined” that contains the famous line “Looking California and feeling Minnesota”.
Most influential tracks: “Rusty Cage”, “Outshined”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Slaves & Bulldozers”
“Mudhoney” – Mudhoney
Sub Pop’s first big hope to spread the word of Grunge around the world end up being one of the less popular after the rise of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soungarden and Alice In Chains, however remained one of the most relevant and influential. Their debut album, “Mudhoney” opens up with the very appropriate titled track “This Gift” and it’s pure Grunge.
Label: Sub Pop
Most influential tracks: “This Gift” , “Flat Out Fucked”, “You Got It”, “Here Comes Sickness” , “Come to Mind”
“Dirt” – Alice In Chains
Like Soundgarden, Alice In Chains were back then Metal flavored Grunge but darker. “Dirt” remains one of the darkest Grunge albums to this day, an album about death, drugs and disease that produced songs such as “Them Bones”, “Angry Chair”, “Would?” or Down In A Hole”
Most influential tracks: “Them Bones”, “Sickman”, “Rooster”, “Hate to Feel”, “Angry Chair”, “Down in a Hole”, “Would?”
“Ten” – Pearl Jam
After the disbanding of Mother Love Bone due to the death of their lead singer Andy Wood, some of the remaining members, instead of re-ashing the band formed a new one, Pearl Jam, with a new lead singer Eddie Vedder. Although originally not from Seattle, Vedder developed a particular vocal style that became popular among rock bands during the early 90’s. “Ten”, their debut album was released almost at the same time as Nirvana’s “Nevermind, but nothing alike sound-wise. While Nirvana followed the tradition of a heavier branch of Grunge, Punk influenced, Pearl Jam worked through a more standard rock tunes carefully crafted style that was able to appeal to wider audiences. Remains to this day a strong influential album not just in Grunge but also among general Rock fans. “Jeremy”, “Alive” or “Even Flow” are among the now classic rock songs this album produced.
Most influential tracks: “Once”, “Even Flow”, “Alive”, “Black”, “Jeremy”, “Oceans”, “Porch”
“Bleach” – Nirvana
The debut album of Nirvana, produced by Seattle’s Jack Endino sounds nothing like their follow up “Nevermind”. A slower heavier Grunge sound that was shared among some of the early Seattle bands but with a bit more of pop sensitivity as it can be heard in songs like “About A Girl” or the 60’s dutch psychedelic band Shocking Blue cover “Love Buzz”. It had a bigger visibility after the release of “Nevermind”.
Label: Sub Pop
Most influential tracks: “Blew”, “Floyd the Barber”, “About a Girl”, “School”, “Love Buzz” (Shocking Blue cover), “Negative Creep”, “Scoff”, “Sifting” “Big Cheese” (not featured on original release)
“Ultramega OK” – Soundgarden
Soundgarden kicked off their album discography with this absolute grunge classic and one of the best Soundgarden albums. The band sounds fresh, heavy and the songs are creative and some such as “Circle of Power” or “Nazi Driver” even catchy at their own right.
Most influential tracks: “Flower”, “All Your Lies”, “Beyond the Wheel”, “Circle of Power”, “Nazi Driver”, “Head Injury”.
“Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles” – Mudhoney
A compilation album released by Sub Pop that features all Mudhoney single releases for Sub Pop inclunding their first one “Touch Me I’m Sick” and The Dicks cover “Hate The Police”, staples on Mudhoney live concerts back then.
Label: Sub Pop
Most influential tracks: “Touch Me I’m Sick”, “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” , “Hate the Police” (The Dicks cover), “You Got It (Keep It Outta My Face)” , “Halloween” (Sonic Youth cover) , “In ‘n’ Out of Grace”
“Piece Of Cake” – Mudhoney
The first Mudhoney album released on a major label, Reprise, on an attempt to reach wider audiences like their most successful Seattle peers, didn’t really escalated on the charts, maybe because they wanted to remain unpolished and faithful to their signature noisy, fuzzy Grunge sound. It produced a memorable rock hit “Suck You Dry” and great songs such as “Make It Now” that would be featured on the 1994 movie “Brain Scan”.
Most influential tracks: “No End in Sight”, “Make It Now”, “Suck You Dry”, “Blinding Sun” ,”I’m Spun”, “Living Wreck” , “Acetone”.
“Core” – Stone Temple Pilots
Though not a Seattle band, Stone Temple Pilots jumped on the Grunge band wagon and they made it quite ok. “Core” it’s a grunge rock masterpiece with loud guitars and Scott Weiland’s distinguishable scratchy vocals. It produced strong and memorable solid songs such as “Plush”, “Sex Type Thing”, “Crackerman” or the dark ballad “Creep”.
Most influential tracks: “Dead & Bloated”, “Sex Type Thing”, “Wicked Garden”, “Naked Sunday”, “Creep”, “Plush”, “Crackerman”
“Vs” – Pearl Jam
1993 was a year of change for the Grunge music after the big boom in 1991 and 1992, and most of the successful Seattle bands were trying to produce follow ups that could be as strong as their predecessors. Pearl Jam’s second album “Vs” it’s a good attempt of diversity and change from “Ten” and ironically, without any music video promotion, a choice of the band, became even more mainstream due to songs like “Daughter”, “Glorfied G.” or “Rear View Mirror”.
Most influential tracks: “Go”, “Animal”, “Daughter”, “Glorified G”, “Dissident”, “Blood”, “Rearviewmirror”, “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”
“Salt Lick/God’s Balls” – TAD
If we talk about influential Grunge music, TAD needs to be considered one of the biggest. It’s unpolished, dirty, loud Grunge music, the way it originally was. This is a compilation album from Sub Pop that brings together TAD’s two previously released EP’s and was released during the period Sub Pop was trying to launch their bands worldwide, in TAD’s case, touring with Nirvana in Europe on the “Heavier Than Heaven” tour, being the latter the support band. Ears wide open for “Axe To Grind” , “High On The Hog” or the melodic “Helot”.
Label: Sub Pop
Most influential tracks: “Axe to Grind”, “High on the Hog”, “Wood Goblins”, “Loser”, “Helot”, “Sex God Missy”
“In Utero” – Nirvana
“In Utero” was the last studio album of Nirvana and their heaviest and darkest work. The band wanted to sound less polished and more dirty than “Nevermind”. The first version of the album, titled “I Hate Myself And I Want To Die” was sent back by Geffen because it didn’t had the commercial potential the label was looking for. The final result was not too different though, with songs titled such as “Rape Me”, “Milk It”, “Dumb” or “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” this was an album different in sound, concept and lyrically, more loyal to the original Grunge spirit. Even so, it still was able to produce rock hits such as “Heart-Shaped Box”, “Pennyroyal Tea”, “All Apologies” and “Rape Me”.
Most influential tracks: “Serve the Servants”, “Scentless Apprentice”, “Heart-Shaped Box”, “Rape Me”, “Dumb”, “Pennyroyal Tea”, “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter”, “Tourette’s”, “All Apologies”
“Superunknown” – Soundgarden
1994 was a year where the original Grunge bands had to keep up with the musical industries trends in order to keep being relevant. At the time, new trends were competing with what was the Seattle sound in the early 90’s, and with Kurt Cobain’s death drawing negativity and bad reputation to Grunge music the way was to cool down and become milder. Though “Superunknown” was recorded during 1993, it came out in 94 and was an intentional move from the band to change their sound and musical direction. Though a darker album than “Bad Motorfinger” or “Ultramega OK”, it delivered more easy to catch on songs such as “My Wave”, “Fell On Black Days”, Spoonman” or what would become their signature song “Black Hole Sun”.
Most influential tracks: “My Wave”, “Fell on Black Days”, “Superunknown”, “Black Hole Sun”, “Spoonman”, “The Day I Tried to Live”
“Bricks Are Heavy” – L7
The definitive L7 reference album with some of their best and well known songs. Californian Grunge that influenced actual Seattle bands, with an upbeat fuzz guitar sound and poignant lyrics, this album was released in the perfect time frame for it and produced songs such as “Wargasm”, “Monster”, “Shitlist” and the hit “Pretend We’re Dead”.
Most influential tracks: “Wargasm”, “Pretend We’re Dead”, “One More Thing”, “Monster”, “Shitlist”
“Pretty On The Inside” -Hole
Courtney Love’s dreams of becoming a successful rock artist took off with this album, produced by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. A heavy album very much in the line of bands like Babes In Toyland (Love’s previous band) , didn’t produced any hits but got some alternative radio airplays and success with songs such as “Teenage Whore”, “Garbadge Man” or “Pretty On The Inside”. Also features an unexpected cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” here titled as “Clouds”
Label: Caroline / City Slang
Most influential tracks: “Teenage Whore”, “Garbadge Man”, “Good Sister/Bad Sister”,”Berry”, “Loaded”, “Pretty on the Inside”
“Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” – Mudhoney
In the year that testified the unexpected world wide success of Seattle bands with releases such as “Nevermind”, “Ten” or “Bad Motorfinger”, Mudhoney did their own great album without as much of a projection as the mentioned ones. Still under Sub Pop label, they delivered this great Grunge album with songs such as “Good Enough”, “Thorn”, “Let It Slide” or the well crafted “Broken Hands” (look out for Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” reference).
Label: Sub Pop
Most influential tracks: “Let It Slide”, “Good Enough”, “Thorn”, “Into The Drink”, “Broken Hands”, “Fuzzgun ’91”, “Don’t Fade IV”, “Check-Out Time”
“Facelift” – Alice In Chains
The most Hard Rock of all Alice In Chains albums, “Facelift” is major label material without falling into over produced and commercial ridiculousness. “We Die Young”, “Bleed The Freak” , “Love, Hate, Love” and “It Ain’t Like That Anymore” are examples of Alice In Chains talent to write good resistant and timeless Hard Rock songs, “Man In The Box” is one of Grunge’s biggest and the most memorable track to this day from “Facelift”.
Most influential tracks: “We Die Young”, “Man in the Box”, “Sea of Sorrow”, “Bleed the Freak”, “Love, Hate, Love”, “It Ain’t Like That”
“Rehab Doll” – Green River
Considered by many as the 1st official Grunge music album, “Rehab Doll” it’s a split and conjuncture between the desires of Mark Arm wanting to remain in an independent label and future Pearl Jam founders Scott Gossard and Jeff Ament pursuing the major label adventure. Eventually it end up being that way as Arm pursued his own musical adventures with Mudhoney while Ament and Gossard went on to form Mother Love Bone signing with a major label and subsequently becoming the radio friendly Grunge Pearl Jam. The album reflects both these worlds as there are as much parallels to Mudhoney sound as to Pearl Jam or Mother Love Bone.
Label: Sub Pop
Most influential tracks: “Forever Means”, “Rehab Doll”, “Swallow My Pride”, “Smilin’ and Dyin”, “Take a Dive”
“Live Through This” – Hole
Hole’s second album was more refined and polished than their debut. Good written songs with poignant lyrics and top collaborations as for example from Love’s husband Kurt Cobain. Closer to Nirvana formula than their early songs, Hole puts on one of 90’s best albums but to this day struggling to prove it as their own. The rumors that most of the album was written by Kurt Cobain who decided to present his wife with songs and not getting credit for it started even before the album was released. He does participates in the album as backing vocals for the song “Asking For It”. The interlude bit of “Credit In The Straight World”, taken from Hole’s B-Side “Old Age” surfaced years later as an actual Nirvana song recorded as an outtake from the “Nevermind” sessions. None of this takes away the fact that it’s a great album, influential on many levels and released with the awkwardly “Live Through This” title the same week Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Big thumbs up for tracks such as “Violet”, “Miss World”, “Jennifer’s Body” and “Doll Parts”.
Most influential tracks: “Violet”, “Miss World”, “Asking for It”, “Jennifer’s Body”, “Doll Parts”, “Credit in the Straight World”, “Softer, Softest”, “Gutless”, “Rock Star”
“Inhaler” – TAD
The first TAD album released by a major label, it is one of their best. This album is perfect in so many ways but never reached or appeal to wider audiences the same way other Seattle bands did. TAD’s little visibility was in many ways thanks to Nirvana promoting the band every time they could which end up drawing attention to them and got them finally signed to a major label, Warner (keep in mind this is the band that Nirvana was opening for during their Sub Pop tours) “Inhaler” liner notes feature a thank you to Nirvana and it’s rumored that Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl collaborated on the recording of this album produced by J.Mascis but that has none similarities with his own Dinosaur Jr. sound. Heavy, thunderous, musically flawless, “Inhaler” had all the ingredients musically to bring TAD the recognition they deserved (Tad Doyle is actually a classical trained musician) but somethings are not meant to be, and certainly playing with the U.S President image to promote the album didn’t do any help to their cause with Warner (the infamous poster of Bill Clinton’s smoking weed with the tag line “this shit is heavy”) Most memorable track from the album is “Grease Box” that opens it and was also later featured in the 1994 movie “Brain Scan”, but it has many other pearls such as “Leafy Incline”, “Luminol”, “Just Bought The Farm” or the more mellow “Gouge”.
Label: Giant / Warner
Most influential tracks: “Grease Box”, “Leafy Incline”, “Luminol”, “Lycanthrope”, “Just Bought the Farm” , “Pansy”, “Gouge”
“Temple Of The Dog” – Temple Of The Dog
Following the death of Mother Love Bone’s singer Andy Wood from a drug overdose, the remaining of the band teamed up with close Wood’s friend, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron together with Eddie Vedder (Wood’s replacement for all means) to form the supergroup “Temple Of The Dog”. A softer melodic Grunge album that produced the hit “Hunger Strike” (the classic vocal duet between Vedder and Cornell) and features songs such as “Say Hello 2 Heaven” or “Call Me A Dog”.
Most influential tracks: “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, “Hunger Strike”, “Pushin Forward Back”, “Call Me a Dog”, “All Night Thing”
“Sweet Oblivion” – Screaming Trees
A very good album and effort to appeal wider audiences without letting go of the original Trees formula but failing to project themselves as a top rock act worldwide. Looking back in retrospective, it’s unfortunate because this is a very good album, not the dirty raw type Grunge, not the radio friendly Pearl Jam type, not the Metal flavored Grunge, it just doesn’t has a formula. The Screaming Trees never really became too big and the erratic Mark Arm’s was always more ambitious musically and pursued his own successful solo career that already had started prior to this release. Most memorable tracks here are “Nearly Lost You” (possibly the Trees biggest hit) , “Dollar Bill” or the very Mark Lanegan’s “No One Knows”.
Most influential tracks: “Shadow of the Season”, “Nearly Lost You”, “Dollar Bill”, “No One Knows”
“Purple” – Stone Temple Pilots
This is an album that didn’t had quite the same impact as their debut “Core”, and someone was wrote that this album itself sounded like a collection of Led Zeppelin’s outtakes, but “Purple” is more than that. It’s released in 1994, a turning year to Grunge bands and it’s perfect for the time frame it was released in. “Meatplow”, “Big Empty” together with the hits “Vasoline” and “Interstate Love Song” are enough to make this the good album that it is.
Most influential tracks: “Meatplow”, “Vasoline”, “Lounge Fly”, “Interstate Love Song”, “Pretty Penny”, “Big Empty”, “Kitchenware & Candybars”
“Down on the Upside” – Soundgarden
“Down on the Upside” remains to the date the last Soundgarden studio album that was finished, and sadly will remain that way due to Chris Cornell’s untimely death. It marked the end of the Grunge era in the music industry and the band as they went different ways, Cornell pursuing a very successful solo career and Matt Cameron becoming full time Pearl Jam drummer. It is also the less heavy of all Soundgarden albums and maybe the most refined one producing solid rock hits such as “Pretty Noose”, “Burden in My Hand” or “Blow Up The Outside World”.
Most influential tracks: “Pretty Noose”, “Ty Cobb”, “Blow Up the Outside World”, “Burden in My Hand”, “Bleed Together” (released only on Australian tour bonus CD)
“8-Way Santa” – TAD
The first full length TAD album that became too controversial for it’s own good but never to a global scale. Still on Sub Pop TAD released this album with a cover art featuring a semi topless hippie couple that hadn’t gave permission to it forcing Sub Pop to switch the cover to a simple band shot looking like rednecks (this was the image that Sub Pop wanted TAD to reflect and unfortunately was not the right move for the band) adding to the controversy was the song “Jack Pepsi” that tells the tale of drunk and driving and presented the band with a corporate law suit from Pepsi. Nothing seemed to help the cause with this album but musically wise it’s a very good Grunge album that swings between the typical TAD formula of “Jinx”, “Stumblin’ Man” and the more melodic alternative rock approach of “3-D Witch Hunt”, where we can feel the touch of Butch Vig as a producer. One of TAD’s finest albums.
Label: Sub Pop
Most influent tracks: “Jinx”, “Wired God”, “Delinquent”, “Hedge Hog”, “Flame Tavern”, “Stumblin’ Man”, “Jack Pepsi”, “3-D Witch Hunt”, “Plague Years”
“My Brother The Cow” – Mudhoney
1995 didn’t brought much to Grunge music as it was a dying trend by then. Mudhoney the usual resistants went back to get Grunge master producer Jack Endino for this album. This album mixes Mudhoney influences from psychedelic 60’s rock, garage rock and punk and the final result is good. It produced songs as the poignant music industry critic “Generation Spokesmodel” , the 60’s garage punk style of “Into Yer Shtik” (containing the controversial line “Why don’t you blow your brains out too” that some interpreted as a direct reference to Kurt Cobain’s suicide), the classic Mudhoney formula on “Judgment, Rage, Retribution and Thyme” and “F.D.K. (Fearless Doctor Killers)”.
Most influential tracks: “Judgment, Rage, Retribution and Thyme”, “Generation Spokesmodel” , “Into Yer Shtik”, “F.D.K. (Fearless Doctor Killers)”, “1995”, “What Moves the Heart?”
“Houdini” – Melvins
The Melvins are one of the oldest Grunge bands to this day. This is the band that Kurt Cobain worshiped and work for as a “roadie” when he was 15 years old. There is no surprise that after the Grunge boom he did everything to spread the band’s name into the mainstream, but The Melvins were never an easy band to digest and they remain as underground as they always were. “Houdini” from 1993, their major label debut it’s perhaps Melvin’s most successful album; was partially produced by Cobain that also is featured as a musician on some of the tracks including as guitarist on “Sky Pup”. A heavy album with little melodic tone to it and as Grunge as it gets. Most memorable tracks are “Hooch” and the KISS cover “Going Blind”.
Most influent tracks: “Hooch”, “Going Blind”, “Honey Bucket”, “Hag Me”, “Sky Pup”, “Spread Eagle Beagle” (drum/percussion solos), “Lizzy”
“Spanking Machine” – Babes In Toyland
Emerging from Minneapolis, the all female power trio Babes In Toyland recorded their debut “Spanking Machine” in Seattle with Jack Endino as a producer on Reciprocal Studios (same one as where for example Nirvana’s “Bleach” was recorded) . Right after Courtney Love jumped off the band line up, it was not their best sell but it produced some of their most famous songs including their memorable “He’s My Thing” (that is mostly known as the 1993 version on the EP “Painkillers”, “Vomit Heart” and “Dust Cake Boy”. Through out their career they had a few more alternative rock hits such as “Bruise Violent, “Hansel And Gretel” or “Sweet 69” and their major label albums “Fontanelle” and “Nemesisters” are certainly more well known but this debut remains their best one for Kat Bjelland, Lori Barbero and Michelle Leon.
Label: Twin/Tone Records
Most influential tracks: “He’s My Thing”, “Vomit Heart”, “Dust Cake Boy”
“Vitalogy”- Pearl Jam
The 3rd Pearl Jam album that started a new phase in the bands sound and attitude towards mainstream. It is a much more milder and darker album than the previous two ones, the songs are more mature and carefully crafted together with deep lyrics from Eddie Vedder, it also features a more experimental and eclectic approach. This would mark the definitive decision of Pearl Jam’s refusal in doing music videos for promoting their albums as it had already started on the previous year with “Vs”. It is also the last album featuring drummer Dave Abbruzzese. A good album,still swimming in Grunge waters while getting more and more away from it. The heaviest track on the album is really just one “Spin The Black Circle”, it produced memorable Pearl Jam songs such as “Not for You”, “Nothingman” “Better Man” and “Immortality”.
Most influential tracks: “Spin the Black Circle”, “Not for You”, “Tremor Christ”, “Nothingman” “Better Man”, “Immortality”
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