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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Top 100 Alternative Rock Songs

Originally posted 6/14/12. Updated 9/18/13.

image from nufizzle.wordpress.com

More than 70 different lists (see Resources and Related Links at the bottom of the page) were aggregated to create this list. Alternative is a widely defined collection of rock music which stretches from the garage bands of the 1960s to the indie scene of today. It generally is used to describe groups which are more left of center, but many of the bands embraced by the alternative scene – such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, U2, and R.E.M. – moved to the forefront of mainstream rock.

A brief history of the genre shows its origins to come out of the D.I.Y. aesthetic that accompanied rougher sounding, experimental bands who came out of the 1960s. Groups like the Velvet Underground and The Stooges provided a raunchier and rawer alternative to mainstream rock like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

By the mid-1970s, groups like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Ramones spearheaded the punk scene, which grew out of angry working class kids looking for a musical outlet. By the close of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, new wave groups like The Cure, Depeche Mode, and New Order emerged at the forefront of a more accessible, electronically-driven, and ready-for-video format. The college rock scene quickly grew out of that, also lending audiences to groups like U2, R.E.M., and The Smiths.

By the end of the 1990s, grunge became the dominant form of rock music with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam at the helm. They revived some of the punk and D.I.Y. ethos of the 1960s and 1970s, while also crafting big songs which echoed some of the big-anthem classic rock of those decades.

Since grunge, there hasn’t been one dominant form of alternative – or what became known as “modern rock.” Groups like Green Day and Blink-182 created punk-pop while The White Stripes and The Strokes reminded listeners of the garage rock of the 1960s. Artists like Radiohead and Beck reminded listeners of the experimental nature of the genre.

So what is alternative rock exactly? It’s hard to say. This list taps into all the forms referenced above and more. I’ll just let these songs tell you what alternative is.

Top 100 Alternative Rock Songs

Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.” (1976)

1. Nirvana…Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)
2. Violent Femmes…Blister in the Sun (1983)
3. Ramones…I Wanna Be Sedated (1978)
4. Radiohead…Creep (1993)
5. The Cure…Just Like Heaven (1987)
6. Beck…Loser (1993)
7. The Smiths…How Soon Is Now? (1984)
8. Blur…Song 2 (1997)
9. Nirvana…Come As You Are (1992)
10. New Order…Blue Monday (1983)

The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” (1978)

11. Red Hot Chili Peppers…Under the Bridge (1992)
12. Pearl Jam…Alive (1991)
13. Oasis…Wonderwall (1995)
14. Jane’s Addiction…Been Caught Stealing (1990)
15. Green Day…Longview (1994)
16. The Clash…London Calling (1979)
17. Nine Inch Nails…Closer (1994)
18. Beastie Boys…You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party (1986)
19. Sex Pistols…Anarchy in the U.K. (1976)
20. Smashing Pumpkins…Today (1993)

The Clash’s “London Calling” (1979)

21. Sublime…What I Got (1996)
22. Soft Cell…Tainted Love (1981)
23. R.E.M….Losing My Religion (1991)
24. New Order…Bizarre Love Triangle (1986)
25. Joy Division…Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)
26. Pearl Jam…Jeremy (1992)
27. Depeche Mode…Personal Jesus (1989)
28. Jane’s Addiction…Jane Says (1988)
29. The Offspring…Come Out and Play (1994)
30. Smashing Pumpkins…1979 (1995)

R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” (1983)

31. The Clash…Should I Stay Or Should I Go (1982)
32. U2…Sunday Bloody Sunday (1983)
33. The Clash…Rock the Casbah (1982)
34. Ramones…Blitzkrieg Bop (1976)
35. U2…With Or Without You (1987)
36. Beastie Boys…Sabotage (1994)
37. R.E.M….It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) (1987)
38. The Verve…Bittersweet Symphony (1997)
39. Linkin Park…In the End (2001)
40. Modern English…I Melt with You (1983)

U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1983)

41. Red Hot Chili Peppers…Give It Away (1991)
42. Soundgarden…Black Hole Sun (1994)
43. Pearl Jam…Black (1991)
44. The B-52’s…Rock Lobster (1979)
45. Devo…Whip It (1980)
46. Sex Pistols…God Save the Queen (1977)
47. Depeche Mode…Enjoy the Silence (1990)
48. Green Day…Basket Case (1994)
49. U2…Pride (In the Name of Love) (1984)
50. Live…Lightning Crashes (1994)

51. Rage Against the Machine…Killing in the Name (1993)
52. Stone Temple Pilots…Plush (1992)
53. U2…One (1992)
54. Green Day…When I Come Around (1994)
55. Gary Numan…Cars (1979)
56. A Flock of Seagulls…I Ran (1982)
57. Simple Minds…Don’t You Forget About Me (1985)
58. Green Day…Brain Stew/Jaded (1995)
59. Talking Heads…Once in a Lifetime (1981)
60. Oasis…Live Forever (1994)

New Order’s “Blue Monday” (1983)

61. Metallica…Enter Sandman (1991)
62. The Cure…Boys Don’t Cry (1979)
63. The Cure…Love Song (1989)
64. The Pixies…Here Comes Your Man (1989)
65. The White Stripes…Seven Nation Army (2003)
66. Green Day…Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) (1997)
67. The Offspring…Self Esteem (1994)
68. R.E.M….Radio Free Europe (1983)
69. Pulp…Common People (1995)
70. Echo & the Bunnymen…Lips Like Sugar (1987)

The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now” (1984)

71. Talking Heads…Burning Down the House (1983)
72. Foo Fighters…Everlong (1997)
73. Stone Temple Pilots…Interstate Love Song (1994)
74. Eurythmics…Sweet Dreams Are Made of This (1983)
75. Blink-182…Dammit (Growing Up) (1997)
76. Depeche Mode…People Are People (1985)
77. Pearl Jam…Even Flow (1991)
78. Nine Inch Nails…Head Like a Hole (1989)
79. Weezer…Buddy Holly (1994)
80. Sublime…Wrong Way (1996)

Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)

81. Iggy Pop…Lust for Life (1977)
82. Faith No More…Epic (1990)
83. Smashing Pumpkins…Bullet with Butterfly Wings (1995)
84. Nirvana…All Apologies (1993)
85. Dexy’s Midnight Runners…Come on Eileen (1982)
86. Blondie…Heart of Glass (1979)
87. Suicidal Tendencies…Institutionalized (1983)
88. Talking Heads…Psycho Killer (1977)
89. Midnight Oil…Beds Are Burning (1988)
90. Nirvana…Lithium (1991)

Radiohead’s “Creep” (1993)

91. Smashing Pumpkins…Disarm (1993)
92. Papa Roach...Last Resort (2000)
93. Frankie Goes to Hollywood…Relax (1983)
94. Depeche Mode…Just Can’t Get Enough (1981)
95. Rage Against the Machine…Bulls on Parade (1996)
96. Violent Femmes…Add It Up (1983)
97. Beastie Boys…Intergalactic (1998)
98. Blink-182…What’s My Age Again? (1999)
99. Duran Duran…Hungry Like the Wolf (1982)
100. The English Beat…Save It for Later (1983)

Beck’s “Loser” (1993)

Resources and Related Links:


  1. I am forever a fan of alternative rock music. U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Linkin Park are a few of my favorites. I feel glad that there are other alternative rock song lovers out there who share to the public their passion for this kind of music. So thank you so much for this article.

  2. Great stuff...but metallica...not
    So much that should have been here that was replaced by pop and hit radio stuff...
    At least in my book..

    1. I completely agree. I compiled this list by aggregating multiple alternative-rock-oriented lists so it is a mystery to me how Metallica made appearances on enough lists to make the cut.

    2. Yea I hate it that underground non hit oriented radio was sold to idiots and mass marketed...
      where are the Replacements,Husker Du,Sonic Youth,or any of the real bands that made the movement,not those crap pop bands that destroyed alternative..check this out
      The whole movement was punk and the lack of the look at me airhead that it became.At least indie is keeping it real so far.
      We will lauch soon as a computer radio,focusing on the new indie and classic alternative,keeping our music real.

    3. But I do like your site allot,.
      Great job.