Saturday, July 28, 2012

The 100 Best Alternative Rock Bands of the Past 25 Years

Last night I saw Weezer. It was an excellent show and I should post my review later today or tomorrow.

Despite Weezer being, arguably, one of the few alt-rock superstar bands of the '90s still in existence--and one whose music I've always enjoyed--this was only the second time I'd seen them, and the first was only because they were on a double-bill with the Foo Fighters.

So it got me thinking about where I'd place them in the pantheon of alternative rock bands. Thus, I started making this list.

Initially I was only thinking in terms of acts from the '90s, but in being unsure if I should also consider music made since then, I decided to go back 25 years.

Even this, like all list making attempts, is of course imprecise.

First of all, what defines alternative?

It seems that once Nirvana rolled around, alternative music became the mainstream. And nowadays, "alternative" seems to be a dead moniker, with alternative rock stations--like Chicago's Q101--having bitten the dust.

But, as a rough qualifier for inclusion on this list, the following artists (mostly bands, but not just) are ones I would have expected to hear on an alternative rock radio station (with new music) over the past 25 years. Thus no Guns 'n Roses, Metallica, Bruce Springsteen or presumably Adele, but a pretty wide swath otherwise. And if you're unclear what makes Elvis Costello, post-87, any more "alternative" than Tom Petty, you've got a pretty good point. As I said, this is imprecise.

Though the 25 year span largely covers the rise of alternative era--from the origins of The Pixies and Jane's Addition through the grunge explosion, the birth of Lollapalooza and everything since--it too is an imperfect demarcation, as it leaves out much punk, which I tend to consider alternative.

Though the whole list is obviously based on my own preferences and whims, I tried to gauge artists only by the music they made within the 1987-2012 range. Thus I left out otherwise extremely deserving bands like The Smiths, Husker Du, Talking Heads and Ramones, who were either on their last legs by '87 or no longer producing their best music. For included acts whose careers pre-date 1987, I tried to only reflect their work since them, not their overall output. In many cases, I was able to factor in the band as a live act, but some I've never seen.

And since this is my list, I could only include artists whose music I know pretty well and enjoy, so no Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, My Bloody Valentine, Ministry, Tool, Guided by Voices, Built to Spill, Sleater-Kinney, Portishead or others that you might include (additional "also-rans" are included after the top 100).

So take it for what it's worth--if I made the same list tomorrow, it would likely be ordered slighly differently--but this is how I rate the 100 Best Alternative Rock Bands (and Solo Acts) of the Past 25 Years:
1. Nirvana
2. U2
3. R.E.M.
4. Pearl Jam
5. The Smashing Pumpkins (+ Zwan)
6. Radiohead
7. The Replacements (+ Paul Westerberg solo)
8. Midnight Oil
9. Green Day
10. Soundgarden

11. The Cure
12. Foo Fighters
13. Red Hot Chili Peppers
14. Dinosaur Jr.
15. Nine Inch Nails
16. The Pixies
17. Arcade Fire
18. The Flaming Lips
19. The Beastie Boys
20. The Wildhearts (check out this song)

21. Depeche Mode
22. Blur
23. Wilco
24. The White Stripes
25. The Killers
26. Weezer
27. Bob Mould (including Sugar)
28. Jane's Addiction
29. System of a Down
30. Stone Temple Pilots

31. Paul Weller
32. Rage Against The Machine
33. Elvis Costello (remember, this is '87 onward)
34. Phish
35. Smoking Popes
36. Stereophonics
37. The Waterboys
38. Garbage
39. Beck
40. BoDeans

41. Maximo Park
42. Ash
43. Social Distortion
44. Oasis
45. Sonic Youth
46. No Doubt
47. Coldplay
48. Counting Crows
49. Teenage Fanclub
50. Material Issue

51. Pulp
52. Moby
53. LCD Soundsystem
54. Alice in Chains
55. The Lemonheads
56. Screaming Trees
57. Everclear
58. The Hives
59. The Wallflowers
60. Faith No More

61. Stone Roses
62. Liz Phair
63. Snow Patrol
64. Hole
65. Urge Overkill
66. Supergrass
67. Manic Street Preachers
68. Pavement
69. Mudhoney
70. Cracker

71. Muse
72. Incubus
73. Live
74. Alanis Morrisette
75. Franz Ferdinand
76. The Strokes
77. The Cranberries
78. The Wedding Present
79. PJ Harvey
80. The Jesus and Mary Chain

81. Blink 182
82. Suede
83. Placebo
84. The Charlatans UK
85. Matthew Sweet
86. The Tragically Hip
87. Fishbone
88. Dave Matthews Band
89. The Fratellis
90. Local H

91. The Decemberists
92. Kaiser Chiefs
93. Bush
94. The Offspring
95. Sponge
96. TV on the Radio
97. Son Volt
98. The Hold Steady
99. Feeder
100. Soul Coughing

Assorted Others in No Particular Order

Primal Scream
Arctic Monkeys
My Morning Jacket
Soul Asylum 
Linkin Park
Mission of Burma
The La's
Uncle Tupelo
Goo Goo Dolls
Gin Blossoms
Toad the Wet Sprocket
Queens of the Stone Age
Death Cab for Cutie
My Chemical Romance
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
My Bloody Valentine
Guided by Voices
Built to Spill


Seth Arkin said...

So who did I miss? Following are some additional candidates that were suggested to me, or that I recalled after making my list.

I don't consider any of them egregious oversights, with only a few that I might consider deserving of a Top 100 spot.

The Black Keys
Fleet Foxes
At The Drive In
The National
Modest Mouse
Bad Religion
Kid Rock - Not sure he's alternative
The Cult
The Church
INXS - Was never that big a fan
Morrissey - I'm not all that familiar with his solo work
Neutral Milk Hotel
The Eels
The Breeders
The Verve
Veruca Salt

Who else is still missing?

Anonymous said...

I won't argue with your list especially the first 10. I love these bands. Although The Bush and The Offspring are way down under but they're still in the list.
I remember now my friend Tim Jones in Spokane. He plays in a band and on tour.

Anonymous said...

This list is great, but The Brian Jonestown Massacre should be up here somewhere man.

guitar picks said...

Thank you for sharing this post. Well, many may not concur with your choices but it is your choice and people should respect that. If not, then they just have to make their own list. Anyway, I would say that there are several pop rock bands out there and I even had to search some of these just to recall them. Let us just be thankful that these musicians have shared their talent to us! By the way, you got a great collection.

Anonymous said...

Coldplay should be higher on the list and mumford and sons should be on the list.

Anonymous said...

Mumford and sons isn't alternative..... its more indie....

Anonymous said...

Linkin park man, it's missing.

Anonymous said...

Alice in Chains is way too low, they should be top 10 AT LEAST if you don't agree then you haven't really listened to them

mrugank bhatt said...

One Republic!

Anonymous said...

hey, pretty good job! alot more
credible than any rolling stone list i have ever seen.

Anonymous said...

great job, totally agree with the replacements in the top ten ... such an underrated band. though i do think new order should be somewhere and elvis costello produced excellent music after 1986 ... veronica? also what about 10,000 maniacs?

Andrew Ayers said...

What about Paramore and 3 Days Gace? They should be up there. Except Paramore is a more pop-rock band.

Anonymous said...

What about the all american rejects and sum 41?!?!

Parijat Gurha said...

Faith no more at 60?? They should be if not Top 10..then atleast in Top 20

Anonymous said...

Honestly I am offended that the most talented band of the seattle grunge scene, and by far the most talented vocalist of the same scene is disgraced at #54. Alice in chains blows nirvana out of the water, and Layne Staley's vocal ability and range was not touched by any of the other 3 major grunge groups lead vocalists of nirvana, pearl jam, and soundgarden. Also we should note that only 2 of these 4 are still together and recording. These 2 are alice in chains, and pearl jam although pearl jam is only recently back. Seriously Alice in Chains should rank above all of these bands and Ithink deserve a top ten all time.

Anonymous said...

Breaking Benjamin possibly??

Anonymous said...

Seether... Alter bridge... Awesome alternative bands. Most definitely should be on the list.

Anonymous said...


Seth Arkin said...

To the Pixies question, they are at #16.

Re: Alice in Chains, I liked and respected them but never quite loved on par with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. What albums do you think might convince me otherwise.

Per Faith No More, I loved The Real Thing and Angel Dust, lost track after that, and other than "Epic" can't say I revisit them often.

Anonymous said...

The Afghan Whigs?

Anonymous said...

You put Alice in chains behind Moby? ETF dude!!!

Anonymous said...

Kings of Leon?

Anonymous said...

What about operation ivy?

Anonymous said...

what about kings of Leon, third eye blind, afghan whigs, surgar ray, operation ivy, seven Mary three, candlebox, tantric, stabbing westward and helmet?

frodob18 said...

Come on! Muse should be WAY higher than it is. It should be in top 5. OneRepublic should be added too, it has some wonderful songs. Imagine Dragons too maybe.

Anonymous said...

I must be way old. I did not see Joy Division, New Order, English Beat, PIL, Fugazi, Jesus and MaryChain....

Seth Arkin said...

Regarding the latest comment: Several terrific bands, but to my familiarity none that did their best work (if at all) after 1987, which is what this list covers.

guitar picks said...

Nirvana is the best alternative band of all time. I grew up with their songs when I was in high school. They are a very talented and hard to beat band. Thank you for making it number one. Nirvana rules!

Anonymous said...

Great list, very hard to define alternative since it defines such a wide range. Your list brings back memories and emotions of youth, flashbacks of so many different stories. Wish I still had all my CD's now, and some casettes. If we are using popularity as a measuring stick (which I think you are, slightly)a few more bands could be mentioned considering the pop-punk explosion (loved and hated it-love punk and emo) and synth dance-pop alternative of today. Here are a few:

my chemical romance, brand new, new found glory, promise ring, the get-up kids, jimmy eat world, fall-out boy, sunny day realestate, manchester orcherstra, phoenix, portugal the man, bloc party, passion pit, the mars volta

in a few years: cage the elephant.

I love jonah montranga's stuff, not sure if he has a band that makes it though. Also love knapsack and then the jealous sound, but don't think they cut it.

Great list, but since a saw some punk bands on their, these may fight for a spot.

Wait, did you say Creed? Never a fan, but they were loved.

Mezhiilanyii said...

The Script.

mickswaggerr1 said...

where are the black keys and modest mouse? they are great alternative bands

Anonymous said...

I think Phoenix or Bloc Party should have been on this list or at least gotten an honorable mention. Tool should definetely be on the list, Muse should be way higher, at least top 30. Lastly Radiohead should be #1 in my opinion, seeing as their music is way more unique and interesting than Nirvana (imho)

Anonymous said...

Man I went over your list several times and even read every single comment and I am baffled that no one mentioned Days of the New, Black Label Society, Godsmack, Audioslave, or Puddle of Mudd. Audioslave was actually formed by Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Temple of the dog and later Soundgarden, BLS was formed by Ozzy's guitarist Zack Wylde, And former members of Days of the New went on to form Tantric, just to help you familiarize yourself with some of their work if you didn't already know. Great list, just wanted to do some of my other favorites some justice. Also, pertaining to the earlier discussion about Alice in Chains, I don't have a specific album to recommend but here is a random cluster of my favorites from over the years that might earn em a higher spot; 1. Down in a hole 2. Your decision 3. Heaven beside you 4. Rooster 5. nutshell 6.would. 7.them bones 8. man in the box. I'm Clay Lester from Ark. Msg me on FB if u ever wanna talk more great music :)

Anonymous said...

Foster the people, vampire weekend, the kooks, the neighbourhood, hot hot heat, hello goodbye, lonely forest

Anonymous said...

you are kidding me right . The cult not in the top 100 give me a break. I will argue this with you till the end of time cause you are wrong. Listen to dreamtime came out in 1984 but then u probably are so full of u2 shit you would not know what it is. Then the love album in 85, electric the best rock album of the 80s sonic temple, the cult in 94, beyond good and evil a top album came out in 2001 and choice of weapon which came out in 2012 and rocks. Open oyur ears to other musci not just u2 and put me to fucken sleep pearl whining jam.

Thanks but you wont reply cause you probable have not even listened to any of the above albums.

Cheers and have fun with your saccharine based u2


Anonymous said...

Silversun Pickups?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe Tool is not in your top 100!!!!!!

king flores said...

I can't believe Incubus isn't on the list!!!

Seth Arkin said...

I like Incubus. They're at #72.

Anonymous said...

Marillion 1981 to 1988 fish era should be at top of any list

Anonymous said...

They Might Be Giants is missing. They're one of the best alt band from the eighties!

Anonymous said...

Uhm...who the heck are the Wildhearts, and good lord, why are they so high on your list? As a professed alternative rock junkie-I've never even heard of them. Hearing them on youtube from your link, sounds to me like some very generic pub band from the UK that had no crossover success. Besides that-pretty coollist!

Anonymous said...

Blink 182 should be so much higher

Seth Arkin said...

Regarding the Wildhearts, I appreciate your incredulity.

About 10 years ago, I stumbled upon them opening for the Darkness (remember them?). By about the 5th song in, I was at the merch table buying their CD.

At their best--and some stuff is much better than other--they remind me of Cheap Trick merged with Metallica, or something akin.

I don't expect that to convince anyone else, I've heard enough that I love that I don't consider a seemingly silly ranking to be just a whim.

A few more songs to try:

Logan said...

first i'd like to say although i don't agree with the order i cannot disagree with almost any band in your list. Even if i replace the ones i'm not crazy about with some that didn't make the list I am leaving out 15-20 bands that i absolutely love. I think you nailed it pretty well especially the top 30 is great from a standpoint of my personal taste combined with who they were and what they did for the genre which a lot of people seem to be ignoring as part of the criteria for any "greatest" lists. great job cheers.

Dylan said...

I'm just happy to see someone actually has the Replacements on a list such as this one. They're in my opinion the best, but everyone has different opinions.

broski kid said...

Sorry but mother love bone or sliverchair should be on the list

John Doge said...

Yes maybe people haven't listened to them, or, maybe other people have different opinions than you. That might be difficult for you to understand though.

rockerrosh2000 said...

Thank you soooooo much for putting the smashing pumpkins in... They are my favourite band and such a good alt rock band... most of the top 10 alt rock bands have S.P. replaced by crap bands like imagine dragons and some band called my chemical romance...

rockerrosh2000 said...

The smashing pumpkins being 5th just made my day, they are my favorite band :)

patrickthegreat said...


Juan Gomez said...


Anonymous said...

surprised The Strokes placed that low. Lol. I'm not going to complain about some artists here that were placed too high imo but I hope you just review your list and redo it entirely, with artists with multiple quality albums placed higher.

Also, it's either you have an irrational hatred for Kings of Leon or you just forgot to put them here. Jk. And I'm almost certain you haven't heard enough of The Shins and Travis because if you have, you would have put them on this list. I have more to say but I'm gonna stop now.

Seth Arkin said...

I respect all opinions and am happy for anyone to cite artists you feel I unfairly overlooked or simply omitted.

Regarding the most recent comment, while I certainly may revisit my list at some point, I don't think I would move The Strokes any higher, nor add Travis or The Shins, and perhaps Kings of Leon only toward the bottom.

No disrespect to these bands or those who like them more than I do; all 4 have their merits, but I can't say I quite love any.

Same for Gorillaz and At the Drive In, both recently mentioned in comments.

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Noticed sone indie bands are in here but not Vampire Weekend or Phoenix? Hmm.

corey gardiner said...

Incubus is very underrated so it doesn't surprise me that their number 72what they deserve better never make the Hall of Fame but they should

corey gardiner said...

Incubus is 72? Lol. That's very low

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Staind♥ you goofy pplz

Anonymous said...

Green day shouldn't be anywhere near above system of a down or beastie boys. Green day shouldn't even be in top 20

Anonymous said...

Panic! at the Disco???

Umar Shaikh said...

Jane's Addiction should be higher. They helped bring Alt. Rock into the mainstream and had some great songs. Jane Says, Three Days, Ocean Size to name a few.

Jeremy said...

Hmm. U2 seems out of place if you are only talking about work after 1987. Even by the mid-1980s, they were doing the whole rock anthem thing ("In the Name of Love").

What about Ben Folds Five?

james taylor said...

Excellent list Seth, the order would always be argued over by everyone, & I like how you put in the personal choice of The Wildhearts (never heard of them until now). If it was mines I would have thrown in Envy Corps!!...
But I am surprised at your ommision of Scots Biffy Clyro. surely you couldn't have overlooked them!!?

Anonymous said...

Jayhawks, Cake, Smithereens, Belly, Letters to Cleo, Okkervil River, Fountains of Wayne, Bic Runga, Vulgar Boatmen, Raconteurs, Golden Smog, Buffalo Tom, Clientele, Ecobelly, Fall Out Boy, Bettie Serveert, Panic at the Disco, Bottle Rockets

Anonymous said...

Connells, Posies, Ryan Adams, Cash Brothers, Jet, Paul Kelly & the Messengers, Black Crowes, Iron & wine, Ben Folds, Scissor sisters, Neon Trees, The Phoenix, The Music, Ocean Colour Scene, Grace Potter & Nocturnals, Cranberries, Silversun Pickups, Live, Death Cab for Cutie, Magnapop

Anonymous said...

First thing i said was where's sum 41

Anonymous said...

OK Go deserves a spot, they are the best new band of the last 10 years.

Anonymous said...

A lot of them are not primarily alternative. Sublime should be higher and cage the elephant is a great new alternative band.

Anonymous said...

Great list! Not all in on the pleadings of some (sublime) but I didn't feel any where left out.

Anonymous said...

What bothers me the most about this list is The Strokes' low placement. Some bands are placed too high when they only have a few notable songs. The Strokes has a lot of important songs. They should be placed way up, with Arcade Fire. Certainly higher than Coldplay (which has made one great album but they really peaked at that)... and Snow Patrol, wtf! Or maybe rename this as your personal favorite alternative rock bands.

joe delia said...

i feel like bloc party, bon iver, fleet foxes, foster the people,cage the elephant, mgmt , passion pit, kings of leon,sufjan stevens, bombay bicycle club, silversun pickups, and even m83 should have honorable mentions great list tho no argument about that

joe delia said...

the neighbourhood has 2 decent songs thats it

Anonymous said...

Really happy to see placebo on this list even though i think they could have been ranked much higher. Also where is bloc party, silversun pickups, kings of leon, or phoenix?!?! Does blur even deserve a top 20 mention?

Anonymous said...

I guess it depends on how you definite "alternative rock," and maybe I missed a few names on your list, but just off the top of my head these omissions come to mind as candidates: Siouxie and the Banshees, The Smiths, Dead Can Dance, The Cocteau Twins, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Violent Femmes . . .

Anonymous said...

3 Days Grace is almost as bad as Nickelback. Do not put these terrible bands on this list....

Anonymous said...

SUM 41 is pop punk. Nothing cool about them. This list is great and understands the mentality of true alternative.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. The list could have gone back another 5 years when alternative was first becoming a genre.

Anonymous said...

No way! Awful AWFUL music! Some bands on this list, meh maybe... but Nickelback would have contaminated it for sure!

Anonymous said...

These are great mentions. They define alternative. But if we're talking 87 on then perhaps not. But then why bother with an alternative list then, right?

Anonymous said...

Deftones. They are as good as Alice in Chains.

Bryan Bouza said...


Harrison carter said...


Harrison carter said...

they r. they're #16

Randi Ling said...

Blind melon, Red hot chili peppers, rusted root,

Jarrick Hillery said...

Why is Linkin Park not on the list! I'm glad you mentioned them, but they deserve to be within the top. Probably a little bit under Green Day (though I personally like LP better than GD). Also, where is Snow Patrol.

Anonymous said...

your missing panic at the disco and fall out boy

Anonymous said...

Linkinnn Park in Top 5 Its misssing Its missing man. How cud u commit such a humongous mistake.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate all the musical talent on the list and that you were specific to 1987 to date, but I have to give a nod to two of the bands who were building blocks for the modern alt rock scene: Rush and Yes. Some will argue that they are "progressive rock" but I believe that their work has been a massive part of building the current alt rock genre. Rush's "Clockwork Angels" is some of their best, up there with 2112 in breadth.

Doodah said...

How about Fuel? Who can forget Hemorrhage (In My Hands)?, Shimmer?, Sunburn?, Innocent? Bittersweet?, Bad Day?, Last Time? And who can forget Brett Scallions?

Anonymous said...

What are you talking about? Three Days Grace is awesome

Anonymous said...


Andrew Duff said...

Mt. Helium. aka: The Apex Theory.
Way underrated and unheard of band.
They are amazing.

nick said...


Anonymous said...

Panic! At the Disco!!!!!

Anonymous said...

That's what I'm saying!! Why isn't panic on the list!?!?

Anonymous said...

Dave Matthews Band... And I would put them in the top 10 with AIC, STP, and PJ

Never in my life have I ever seen a more talented group of guys (I'd put Stefan in the top 10 bass players and Carter as top 3 drummers)

For the haters who think they suck, feel free to pick up any instrument included in their songs and try and play one of their upbeat songs.

Douglas Harrell said...

Kings of Leon should be in there somewhere

Anonymous said...

Dude why is sonic youth on 45 dinosaur jr and sonic youth pretty much invented this genre and both should be in top 10

Anonymous said...

Goo Goo Dolls???

Tim Murphy said...

In my opinion, no music list featuring the 90s thru today should be void of Deftones.

chancie pesina said...

nickelback will always be on my list as #1. a little disappointed that they aren't on the list.. they are definitely my favorite, have been every since I started listening to rock­čśî

stewart clutter said...

Young the Giant will always be #1 on my chart. Best alternative band in my opinion.

elohim said...

Whar about The Mission UK ? They were in January, 1987 - The Mission U.K. clean up in the Sounds Readers Poll, taking #1 honors for Best New Band, Best British Band, Best Live Act and Best LP ... The Band had after that 2 other great scoring LP's ... Up till today they are still alive and rockin'

Aaron Smith said...


coolnezz said...

Creed should've been up there.

Anonymous said...

Sum 41 and Blind Melon

Anonymous said...

The dead milkman, violent femmes, they might be giants. I know this is a really old post, but some bands are worth mentioning.

Anonymous said...

Staley doesn't touch Chris Cornell with a 10-foot pole. I'm sorry. He's a great singer, but no, just no. However, that is just, like, my opinion, man.

andy joylan said...

Limp bizkit

Anonymous said...

Fuel. Easily the best live band of the early 2000s. Brett used to deliver like no other

PT said...

Silversun Pickups, the worlds most underated band, their awesome

Cherokee said...

Not to be rude but he asked who is missing. Naming the same bands over and over again that are already on the list and saying what spot thy should be at is just an opinion. Nobody is going to have the same order. For those of you who put bands that werent already on the list thank you! Another thanks to Seth Saith

Randolph Hohl said...

The Fall
Cabaret Voltaire
Public Image Limited

Anonymous said...

Where is Echo and The Bunnymen! If ranking the Cure justifiably in top 15 then Echo should be right there.Id argue as a person into alternative from early 80's and onward that Echo music holds up and is very influential on today's artists, though not as successful in the early 90's as the Cure( Thank you goth girls and everyone jumping on the alt band wagon post Nirvana/ Lollapolloza) their music holds up today, and more successful artists, Bono and the boys, etc..give them a big thumbs up!Your list is very thorough and a good account of alt music!!!

Anonymous said...

How is Aaron Lewis / Staind not on this list

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Your list is great. Here are some others to consider

Wax, the eels, spacehog, mazzy star, Nada surf, cowboy junkies, Jesus lizard, folk explosion, the toadies, echo & the bunnymen, ride, slowdive, the smiths, joy division, tonic, hum , better than Ezra, cake, seven Mary three, heatmiser, the flys, dynamite hack, Harvey danger, collective soul, candle box, new order, summer camp, 20 fingers, therapy?, agent orange, gwar, the mentors, interpol, helmet, failure, him, the velvet underground (Lou reed), David bowie, corrosion of conformity.

Temple of dog, mad seasons, porno for pyros to equal your Soundgarden/pearl jam, alice in chains, Jane's addiction


Derek Breaux said...

I love both of these bands, the breeders too...

Derek Breaux said...

Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cocteau Twins also