The 25 Most Influential Bands Of The '90s

Trent Reznor, you know, before the Oscar and all the weightlifting.
Trent Reznor, you know, before the Oscar and all the weightlifting.

As a music writer, we are asked constantly to compare the new with the old, to decipher the periphery where modern bands' influences come from to understand where we are going and what we are seeing. We can hear everything Keith Richards stole from Chuck Berry, and can stand in front of Green Day and watch the last 40 years of punk rock and The Who blast by us.

This past Wednesday marked 15 years since Sublime lead singer Brad Nowell died, and right now there are at least five Sublime tribute bands traveling the world, as well as a whole batch of original bands biting off his band's sound trying to reignite the flame of his indie-surf group. We'll let you judge whether or not that's an honor or a sin.

Then tonight, Houston welcomes Cage The Elephant back to town at Verizon Wireless Theater. The Kentucky band draws constant Nirvana comparisons, most of which are lazy, but still made us crick our neck to check them out. Funny how far having a blonde, shrieking lead singer will take you.

Right now the indie world is mired in the lush music of chillwave, a far cry from the aggressive and snaky sound that ruled just a decade ago. If you listened to new music now, you would think that Giorgio Moroder and the Cocteau Twins have usurped Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke as the new gods, and you would probably be half-right.

This all got Rocks Off to thinking about the current '90s revival and what it means in 2011. We've heard plenty of people make the stuttered case that it was the best decade in modern music, cutting paths not seen since the '60s, while others dismiss it as whiny and trite, built on consumerism and the co-opting of disparate cliques.

Making a list of the 25 most influential rock bands of the '90s was like doing 25 separate autopsies, extracting the guts of each group or artist to see their function. There were some bands that hit us as obvious, and other that we had to sell ourselves on, and with any list there will be unconscious omissions, not of the heart but of the brain.

These presented in no particular order. So debate, discuss, scream, get hostile, and drop some knowledge on everyone's ass. And yes, we do think that Creed is an influential band, because you know, influences aren't always good or hip.

Didn't your mama teach you anything?



30 Seconds To Mars, Seether, Cage The Elephant

Pearl Jam

Kings Of Leon, Nickelback, Our Lady Peace


Slightly Stoopid, Dirty Heads, Supervillians


Sunny Day Real Estate, Modest Mouse, Ben Kweller

Nine Inch Nails

Atari Teenage Riot, Slipknot, Combichrist

My Bloody Valentine

Beach House, Indian Jewelry, Glasvegas

Rage Against The Machine

Deftones, Rise Against, Hollywood Undead


Uncle Tupelo

Lucero, Whiskeytown, Old '97s


Lucero, Against Me!, Jimmy Eat World

Smashing Pumpkins

Silversun Pickups, Of Montreal, My Chemical Romance

Faith No More

Glassjaw, Deftones, Papa Roach


Every Time I Die, Avenged Sevenfold, Norma Jean


Theory Of A Deadman, Breaking Benjamin, Default



Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, The Music


Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Bumblebeez, Hot Chip

Green Day

blink-182, Bayside, New Found Glory


TV On The Radio, Muse, Coldplay

Flaming Lips

Arcade Fire, Band Of Horses, MGMT

PJ Harvey

Heartless Bastards, Sleater-Kinney, Cat Power



Thursday, The Blood Brothers, Gallows

Daft Punk

Justice, MSTRKRFT, Ghostland Observatory


The Kills, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Land of Talk


Clutch, Priestess, Wolfmother


Fall Out Boy, Saves The Day, Motion City Soundtrack

Elliott Smith

Bon Iver, Badly Drawn Boy, Rocky Votolato


The 25 Most Influential Bands Of The '90s


At The Drive-In

Their reach wasn't felt until after 2000's Relationship Of Command and their subsequent break-up, but on a '00s list they would get top billing. Reunion, pretty please?


More of an '80s phenomenon, they would be felt the most in Nirvana, and Radiohead, both of which would go on to be greatly earth-shattering '90s bands. Remember that their best stuff did come out in the late '80s, but you probably like Trompe Le Monde, so now we're the assholes.

Liz Phair

This riotously angry gal would pave the way for girls like Alanis Morrisette, Hayley Williams of Paramore, and Tracy Bonham of "Mother Mother" fame.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

Formed in the early '80s, the case could very much be made that they made their most ground-breaking music before they even began working on 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The debt that every '90s and '00s rap-rock act owes to them spawns from their '80s output is immense. As for their own '90s work, think of it as a case of making music to survive.


Jane Doe wouldn't arrive until 2001, and as much as we wanted to put the band on this list, we just never see When Forever Comes Crashing tattoos.


One of the biggest metal bands in a decade which saw quite a lot of gimmicky acts, Tool was and is still fueled by pure artistic anger. They are a niche band, but what a niche to own.


Another odd case, with a band releasing their best and most bone-shaking stuff in the '80s but not actually going above ground until reaping the benefits of fame until the '90s. We love 1991's Metallica, but they made more of an overall impact with Kill 'Em All, Ride The Lightning, Master of Puppets, ...And Justice for All, and constant touring and teen awe.

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