THROWBACK: 90's Rock Bands that Defined the Decade


Formed in 1984 by singer and guitarist Chris Cornell, Soundgarden is from Seattle Washington. They are one of the bands from the Northwest to have mainstreamed “Grunge” music. Grunge is an alternative rock style that mixes punk and heavy metal together. It was created in the late 80’s and by the mid-90’s it was a national sensation. Soundgarden hit it big with their album Superunknown, which received a Grammy nomination and also earned them 2 more Grammys for the songs “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoon Man”. By 2012, Soundgarden had sold more than 10.5 million records in the United States alone. In 2017, Chris Cornell passed away by suicide which caused uncertainty in the band’s future. In 2019 they reunited for one final concert in tribute for Chris Cornell.

Jane’s Addiction

Formed in 1985, Jane’s Addiction is an alternative rock band from Los Angles, California. It was founded by Perry Farrell after his previous band Psi Com broke up. Jane’s Addiction was one of the first alternative rock bands to gain commercial success in the early 90’s and paved the way for others in that same genre to follow. Their first two albums were released to critical acclaim. They headlined the first Lollapalooza which has become a huge staple in the festival circuit. In 2016, the band was nominated to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The Smashing Pumpkins

The Smashing Pumpkins are an Alternative rock band from Chicago, Illinois, formed by front man Billy Corgan. They have a different sound from other alternative bands, mixing styles of heavy metal, dream pop, progressive rock, psychedelic rock and gothic rock. Corgan writes all of their song’s lyrics and he wanted to stay away from the punk side of alternative rock. The band had their first bit of commercial success with their second album Siamese Dream in 1993. Then in 1995, their double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Success reached number 1 on the Billboard 200. By then they had over 30 million records sold and were one the most successful and popular band in the 90’s. They would go on tour until 2000 when they would break up because of inner tensions and drug abuse. In 2007, Billy Corgan re-formed the band and performed live again but with different band members.

Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails is an Industrial rock band, formed in 1988 in Cleveland, Ohio. Until 2005, the band only consisted of one guy, Trent Reznor, who can play multiple instruments. Reznor recored and released his first album Pretty Hate Machine in 1989. He worked on the project during his off hours when he was employed as a janitor at a studio. The record was a commercial success, with one of it’s lead tracks “Head Like a Hole” becoming very popular. The song received radio play and reached number 9 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart. Reznor signed with Interscope Records and released a new EP in 1992 titled Broken. His second and third albums, The Downward Spiral (1994), and The Fragile (1999), achieved critical acclaim as well as commercial success. By this time, Nine Inch Nails was one of the top mainstream bands of the 1990’s. In 2005, Reznor added one more member to his band, the English musician Atticus Ross. The two artists would even go on to score movies and win Academy awards. Nine Inch Nails has been nominated for 13 Grammy awards, winning for the songs “Wish” and “Happiness in Slavery”.

Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam was a key band in the “Grunge explosion” to come out of Seattle, in the early 1990’s. The band was formed after the local Seattle grunge band Mother Love Bone broke up. Their debut album Ten, in 1991, shot them into the mainstream and commercial success very quickly. They were now compared to with bands Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. Kurt Cobain criticized Pearl Jam’s Ten album, saying it wasn’t true alternative music and that the band were sellouts. Pearl Jam is well known for their attitudes against the music industry. They do not like to do interviews or music videos. They even sued Ticket Master in 2006, for having a monopoly on the concert ticket business. In 2017, in their first year of eligibility, Pearl Jam was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. By 2018, Pearl Jam had sold more than 85 million albums worldwide.


The Pixies are an alternative rock band from Boston, Massachusetts. They started in 1986 and would disband in 1993, but reunite again in 2004. They are considered a key component in the alternative rock scene to come from the 90’s. They melded genres like punk rock and surf rock. Their songs are comprised of surreal lyrics of strange topics. They were influences for the bands Nirvana and Radio Head. Their first album Surfer Rosa became more popular in Europe than America, though it did go certified Gold in America by 2005. The band saw modest success while they were together before their breakup. After they reunited in 2004 was when they were critically and commercially acclaimed.


Nirvana was a alternative rock band from Aberdeen, Washington. It was formed in 1987 by Kurt Cobain and it’s bassist Krist Novoselic. In 1990, Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) joined the band on drums. Nirvana was in the Seattle “grunge” scene and found modest success with their first album Bleach. The band became famous over night after their release of the song Smells Like Teen Spirit from their second album Nevermind. They would go on to record one more album In Utero, before the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994. Nirvana was considered the “flagship band of Generation X” with Cobain dubbed “the spokesman of a generation” by various media outlets. They won many awards, including a Grammy, American Music Award, Brit Award, MTV Video Music Awards and 2 NME Awards. They have sold than 75 million records worldwide. In 2014, they were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year eligible.