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The 25 Best Grunge Bands

List Of The Day

To paraphrase Led Zeppelin, "Does Anyone Remember Pearl Jam?"

Of course you do, and their first album, the numerically titled Ten, has just been reissued in all its glorious "grunge" splendor, making all of us who remember it the first time feel very, very old. I remember a world B.G. (Before Grunge) when hair-metal bands and funk-'n'-roll bands ruled the earth. And while grunge bands ended up quickly becoming a parody of themselves, they at least handed us a few memorable tunes and held off "The Death of Music" for a few years.

Well, I exaggerate. But not by much. "Grunge" was a great way for the folks over at Sub Pop Records in Seattle to prove they could go toe-to-toe with any superslick marketing campaign from some fancy East Coast ad agency and essentially sell their record label as a "brand." How much the "movement" actually contributed to society is still up for debate. Are we better people because of it? We may not know that answer for a hundred years, at which point, as my friend Bill so astutely pointed out, "We'll all be dead."

I even wondered aloud, what would qualify a band as "grunge"? Would it be the wearing of flannel? If so, the Minutemen would qualify. Would it be the usage of long hair without hair product? That would include too many unwashed bands to mention. Would it be a band's proximity to Seattle? That would preclude a "West Coast bias." After awhile I realized it would be best if I just started listing all the bands I could think of and then see how it rolled out and then let nature be my guide.

No one ever agrees with me anyway. So why worry? But I will admit, I have a sneaking suspicion that I left off at least one crucial band. Obviously, I don't know who--or else I'd list them! But it's a daunting fear that keeps me awake at night and prevents me from truly enjoying the life I've imagined.

And, hey, how do you like this new economy?

25) Smashing Pumpkins: Billy Corgan was always too much of a studio taskmaster to really fit the loose and raw aesthetic of "grunge," but he sure could whine! And considering how so much of this stuff is based on "complaint" rock, Smashing Pumpkins surely fit the bill. And he did from Chicago, one heckuva town!

24) 7 Year Bitch: Unfortunately many of the bands on this list lived up to the slacker reputation of the genre by underachieving and suffering band tragedies. In this poor band's case, it was the drug overdose of guitarist Stefanie Sargent after only their first album. Close friend Mia Zapata of the Gits was brutally raped and murdered and the band paid tribute with their second album, Viva Zapata! They even signed to a major label but the band's momentum never quite rolled as it should.

23) Fastbacks: Around long before any "grunge" scene, Fastbacks could be seen as "enablers" of the scene, as they played big brother to their eventual more successful young protégés.

22) Temple Of The Dog: With members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, this was a grunge supergroup that formed before there was anything super about it. By the time the band members were famous the band was over, but that didn't stop the record label from discovering they had pure gold on their hands and the "Hunger Strike" began in full earnest.

21) Mad Season: Another supergroup, this one formed once there was something "super" about them, featuring members of Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, and Screaming Trees. It's almost like all these guys hung out at the same YMCA and got these crazy ideas sitting in the steam room and then made it happen. Don't you wish your life was like this? Amounting to something?

20) Cat Butt: With the best name in the business, it's a wonder how they guys never caught on. You'd think there'd be legions of junior high school students just dying to get in on this and scrawl the name on their notebooks.

19) Veruca Salt: Were they actually grunge? They were surely sloppy and that "Seether" song sure was catchy. But then they went into the studio with Bob Rock and came out sounding like something Bob Rock would produce and that didn't bode well for their future. And it didn't.

18) Skin Yard: Jack Endino produced tons of grunge bands, so it was only fitting that he have his own band to play around with. Not many people took notice. But those that did liked them quite a bit. Me? I stared at their album covers and waited to be inspired. I've remembered their name after all these years. That counts for something.

17) Mother Love Bone: Heroin played way too major a role in the Seattle scene, and where Kurt Cobain eked out a career for a few years, MLB singer Andrew Wood overdosed before his band could make the proper inroads. MLB is now cited as one of those bands with lots of guys who later went on to be part of Pearl Jam.

16) Tad: What exactly is an "8-Way Santa"? I don't think I want to know the answer. But this BIG man made a BIG impression on people obsessed with BIGness. No relation that I know of to Tad's Steaks, which is a quality cheap eatery that can be found in NYC.

15) The Gits: Mia Zapata died horribly, raped and murdered. Her music spoke to the passion of life and a rocker's street life. Other bands have paid tribute and she's been remembered, which is about as much as you can ask from this life sometimes.

14) Hole: Courtney had to come crashing in somewhere. She made a spectacle of herself. And she sold over a million records at one time, which considering she was on MTV every single day for about two years isn't nearly as impressive as it should be. If I sold a million records that would be earth-shattering. Well, first I'd have to make a record...but you get the idea.

13) Afghan Whigs: Cincinnati in the house! And with more soul than most of the bands on the list, which is saying Greg Dulli sings like he's thought about sex as being something more than a board game or something you read about in a Led Zeppelin biography.

12) Bush: The most derivative band on this list. They make STP sound like true originators. "Everything Zen" remains one of my favorite "stupid" songs from the '90s to put on when I feel like annoying the people I love. And they even made indie-rock album "recorder" Steve Albini work for his money by hiring him to "record" one of their albums. I assume Steve had to stay awake and do his job for the fully contracted time. A job is a job.

11) Seven Mary 3: "Cumbersome" may be the most unintentionally amazing song of the grunge era. It rhymes "girl" and "world" and says, "I have become cumbersome," which is not a sentiment I ever thought would cross anyone's mind. I've heard of people wondering it they've gotten fat. I've heard of people wondering if they've gotten more forgetful or stupid. But cumbersome? 7M3 even went on to record other albums that were much better than people gave them credit. But once you're typecast as something--and in their case, as a less than great band--it's nearly impossible to get people to think any differently.

10) L7: These are some tough girls. They rocked hard and played with an aggression that could almost give Motorhead a run for their money. (Well, nobody gives Motorhead a run...) The bass player in Nirvana liked them enough to wear their T-shirt on national TV for free advertising. Man, if only I had a T-shirt and some friends!

9) Soundgarden: More Led Zeppelin than Stooges, Soundgarden were like the high-tech big brother of the scene with their macho hair and big, booming sound. Excuse Chris Cornell for being able to actually sing. But don't excuse him for his latest solo album. That thing is a mess. Does anyone like it?

8) Screaming Trees: Singer Mark Lanegan has gone on to have an admirable solo career, but he was once part of this lovely team of psychedelic rockers who played with enough fuzz to be considered a part of this fraternity of man.

7) Green River: Before there was Pearl Jam, before there was Mudhoney...I'd use the term "begat" since it sounds cool and makes everything sound Biblical, but you get the idea anyhow. These guys were "progenitors" of the scene.

6) The Melvins: The band that all the other grunge bands always paid tribute to, so even if you find them too raw for your own ears, you have to understand that the Melvins influenced a generation the way steroids apparently influenced a generation of ballplayers.

5) Alice In Chains: These guys specialized in "downer rock" and, of course, their lead singer Layne Staley didn't make it out alive. Their sound is pretty damn overpowering and genuinely creepy in just how art imitates life. Or life imitates art! I'm a bad philosopher, as you can see.

4) Mudhoney: Back in the late 1980s, it was not Nirvana who looked to be the favorite sons of Seattle but Mudhoney, who with their "Touch Me, I'm Sick" single announced their arrival. The band, however, had trouble gaining mainstream traction. To their credit, they continue to make very good records that people who like very good records continue to enjoy.

3) Stone Temple Pilots: One of the first bands to obviously exploit certain stylistic tendencies, sounding like Nirvana one moment and like Pearl Jam the next, STP wrote some catchy songs that sound better today than many of their contemporaries. And they didn't have to move to Seattle to do it!

2) Pearl Jam: While PJ were initially considered a "corporate" version of the grunge scene, since their members apparently had an interest in actual careers in the music business, they were often the target of criticisms that now sound pretty stupid. And considering they stopped shooting videos, argued with Ticketmaster, and eventually sold fewer and fewer records as years went on, well, can we just dig the music?

1) Nirvana: Without Nirvana's breakthrough hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit," there's a good chance all the other bands on this list never get signed to a decent record label and all end up washing cars somewhere. And the world as we know it exists in a very different form.

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