The Essence of 90s Rock

With the recent announcement of the Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson touring together this summer coupled with Everclear’s Art Alexaskis’ annual rock nostalgia presentation, Summerland, I thought I would make great use this week’s article to discuss the wonderful alternative rock bands of the 1990s. Sure, there were groups that were labeled 90s bands despite first making waves in the 80s such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction (and yes, RHCP had notable tunes before Blood Sugar Sex Magik was released). There were also those bands who broke out in the 90s but have experienced huge success since then, headlining arenas and selling chart topping albums (the aforementioned Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, Green Day). Then there’s the bands who came out in the early 2000s and latched onto the dying breaths of the previous decade (Vertical Horizon, Nine Days).  What I’m talking about are bands who are only known for their 90s jams and still try to relive that very success 20 years later. The following are 15 bands have found their greatest triumph in that very decade. Do they deserve the label of a “90s group”? Well let’s just see:

Bush
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It’s a shame that Bush is primarily known these days for its singer, Gavin Rossdale, being married to Gwen Stefani because there was a time when they were much more than that. These native Brits first hit the scene in 1994 with their debut album, Sixteen Stone. The record was a huge success spawning the singles, Everything Zen, Little Things, Comedown, and the mega smash, Glycerine. I certainly have no problem in admitting that Machinehead is one of my favorite songs ever with its excellent guitar riff. They followed up the acclaim with the well received but rarely talked about, Razorblade Suitcase. By the time their third album, The Science of Things, dropped in 1999, people sort of stopped caring about Bush and the band split shortly after their fourth record, Golden State, was released. Rossdale went on to form a new band, Institute, while trying his hand at acting (you may recall his epic scene from Constantine where he brawls with Keanu Reeves). After an eight year hiatus, Bush reunited in 2010 to mostly crickets and it looks like their best memories are stuck in 1996. Respectfully, they actually have a song off their latest release, Man on the Run, that is quite good. Did they deserve better? Honestly, I think they had the right amount of success for their talents. They’re definitely a 90s band but it’s not like there’s anything wrong with that, right?

Silverchair
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Here’s a band who had a bad reputation from the start. The Australian trio known as Silverchair experienced breakthrough success when they were only teenagers, something very impressive and scary being so young in the music industry. They released their major label debut, Frogstomp in 1995, which produced the hit single, Tomorrow. While grunge was still a hot topic in the mid 90s, these guys were labeled Nirvana rejects from the get go which wasn’t right or accurate. They were certainly marketed as such early on but their music showed that this wasn’t the case. They were blasted for ripping off Soundgarden when they were primarily influenced by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. By the time their third record, Neon Ballroom, dropped, their sound had completely matured and they shed their previous image. In my opinion, Neon Ballroom is one of the best albums of the 90s with and they were able to score a second hit with Anna’s Song in 1999. Their success in the states would end there and by the start of the new millenium, they shipped back to their home country where they continue to record and perform sporadically. I certainly wouldn’t mind another Silverchair release as I really do enjoy their later material. Deserved better? Absolutely.

Candlebox
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Now if you want to know a band who tried to ride the coattails of the grunge movement, look no further than Candlebox. After Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains experienced their greatest success, Candlebox swooped in to try to capitalize. I remember my brother being a huge fan of these guys, owning their first two albums. Boy were those albums 90s! As a kid, I would try to nap in my living room but their self titled record would be blaring through the walls so I was ingrained with You and Far Behind at a young age. Honestly, I liked their 1995 effort, Lucy, much better as it contained their most noteworthy song, Best Friend. They broke up in 2000 after their third record, Happy Pills, flopped but they reunited in 2006. They’re still kicking today and they’ll be the first to try to convince you that they had nothing in common with the Seattle bands. Haha, yeah right. Did they deserve better? Not really.

Stone Temple Pilots
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Stone Temple Pilots are one of those groups that will always be known as being grunge castoffs no matter how hard they tried. Their first two records, Core and Purple, were really good and among the best of the decade but timing led them to be rejected by some people who thought they also tried to hop on the Seattle trail. Despite this, they were still wickedly popular but the band experienced considerably less success in the early 2000s which led to their breakup. Singer, Scott Weiland went on to front the successful supergroup, Velvet Revolver, with a number of ex-Guns ‘N Roses members. They reunited in 2007 and even released one more record before Scott was booted. Now STP is fronted by Linkin Park vocalist, Chester Bennington, while Weiland heads his own unit, The Wildabouts. Interstate Love Song and Creep have been played to death but damnit, I still greatly enjoy both songs! Did they deserve more? Certainly but I also wish Weiland was less of a pain to deal with.

Everclear
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Frontman Art Alexakis had a problematic childhood. His father abandoned him at a young age (inspiring Father of Mine) while his girlfriend committed suicide (inspiring Santa Monica) so he’s seemingly made a career by taking darker themes and writing poppy tunes. Everclear were on a role with Sparkle & Fade and So Much For The Afterglow but their act grew stale. After a minor hit in 2000 with Wonderful, they quietly faded away. Suddenly, they struck back with an an ingenious idea, Summerland. This annual summer package tour features bands from the 90s and early 2000s performing all their hits and having one more shot at glory. It’s been been raking in cash so Bravo, Art! I actually attended the first tour back in 2012 which had the stellar line-up of Marcy Playground, Sugar Ray, Lit, and Gin Blossoms (more on those latter three later). Did they deserve more? Not in the slightest, but keep Summerland alive, gentlemen.

Eve 6
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I’ve always had a soft spot for Eve 6. I really enjoy their first two records. They’re nothing special musically but I always enjoyed their unorthodox lyrics. Their self-titled release in 1997 contained the ridiculously catchy, Superhero Girl along with their two best known hits, Leech and Inside Out. Their sophomore album, Horrorscope, dropped in 2000 and gave us the addicting tracks, Rescue, Promise, On The Roof Again, and Nightmare. With two hit records, with one in the new millenium, Eve 6 were on their way of shaking the 90s rock brand. Unfortunately, their third album, It’s All In Your Head, tanked and they were let go from their recording contract with RCA. When they broke up in 2004, I was upset that I’d never seen them live. That is until they reunited in 2007 and I was able to see them at a bar on Long Island two years after that. They’ve released an album since that I didn’t really care for but I’ll always remember the first two records and how fun they are to groove to. Did they deserve more? I think so.

Sponge
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Sponge are a hilarious experiment in hindsight. They were accused of cribbing STP who at the time were being accused of piggybacking on the grunge movement. So these guys were copying a copy? That certainly did them no favors. Despite that, Plowed and Molly are pretty good songs but can’t say I’m much more of a fan beyond that. They also seemingly disappeared after 1994’s Rotting Pinata before resurfacing a few years ago for the second annual Summerland tour. Deserve better? HELL NO.

Sugar Ray
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I was never really a Sugar Ray fan but find their history somewhat interesting. They started off as a punk act before morphing into what we know them as today. After the success of their 1997 single, Fly, a reggae-tinged, feel good anthem, their third LP was appropriately titled 14:59. Get it? Because their 15 minutes of fame were not up yet. They scored hits with Someday and Every Morning but the standout track for me was Falls Apart. I was hugely disappointed when they didn’t perform that one live when I saw them. Mark McGrath might be a tool but the band served their purpose as easy music to blast on the eve of the new century. Nowadays, they perform occasionally while McGrath hosts game shows on television. Funny story: Sugar Ray started their own nostalgia tour in recent years, Under The Sun, to compete with Summerland after McGrath had a falling out with Alexakis. How much money could possibly be made from this concept? Did they deserve better? Um, no.

Third Eye Blind
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I never understood why Stephen Jenkins became somewhat of a heartthrob in the 90s. Did I miss something? Regardless,  that didn’t stop Third Eye Blind’s AMAZING self titled debut album from hitting the scene. Every single song on that album was pretty much a hit. Once the 2000s hit, the band experienced a slump in their success but they trekked on. Now that 90s nostalgia is popular again, they’ve had a resurgence in popularity. This summer, they’re co-headlining a tour with emo posterboys, Dashboard Confessional. I was able to catch them live when they performed a set after a Mets game I attended in Citi Field back in 2013 and disappointingly, I wasn’t very impressed. I won’t fault them for that as the stadium’s sound was awful. Did they deserve more? Eh, I like the first album but haven’t cared for them since so… not really?

Lit
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Lit came around during the tail end of famed decade. Forming in 1988 with brothers, Jeremy and A. Jay Popoff, Lit didn’t release a full length album until 1997 with the little known, Tripping the Light Fantastic. They soon inked a deal with RCA and the result was 1999’s A Place in the Sun. With that record came one of the greatest tunes of the year, My Own Worst Enemy, as well as Zip-Lock, and Miserable. The latter song has a pretty gnarly music video starring Pamela Anderson. That entire LP was the basically perfect summer soundtrack. They tried to keep the momentum going in 2001 with their next effort, Atomic, but it failed to chart as well as their previous work and new music was rarely heard from them again. Since then, their drummer, Allen Shellenberger, died of cancer but they’re holding it together and still rocking stages today. These guys actually performed at my college during my sophomore year and for some reason, I didn’t attend. I did hear the next day that the turnout was very poor and I felt bad. I made up for it though seeing them in 2012 and I have to admit, I was really shocked at how much I enjoyed their set. Full of energy and genuinely happy to be performing. Deserved better? Eh, after APITS, not so much.

Soul Asylum
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See, I really liked Soul Asylum. Even their 2000s input is really good. Most people though only know them for Runaway Train. Hey, they had another hit song too in Somebody to Shove, with a video that starred a young Claire Danes! Wait, they had three hit songs! Don’t forget Black Gold. Believe it or not, these guys actually formed in the early 1980s, making them the longest tenured band on this list. While their first album was released in 1984, it wasn’t until their 1992 release, Grave Dancers Union, that exposed them to the public eye. No one will believe it but their 2006 LP, The Silver Lining was actually quite good but nope, everybody will continue to know only Runaway Train. Funny story, I was actually supposed to see these guys live back in 2013 but got food poisoning the day of the show and couldn’t attend, something I’m still kicking myself over to this day. That would have been a fun time. Deserved better? Just a tad.

Spin Doctors
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Let’s face it, these guys will never be famous for anything more than Two Princes. I mean, sure, there was Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong but that song rarely comes into discussion when these guys brought up. I must admit though, Two Princes is one hell of a great song. Even if these guys never record a hit again, the weight of that one single carried them for nearly 20 years. I’ve got nothing but respect for that. Deserved more? Quite possibly. They had the tools to make a bigger impact.

Gin Blossoms
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Another band who are clearly above this list. During their most successful period, their founder, Doug Hopkins, was on the outs with the gang and battling substance abuse. In 1993, a year after their major label debut, New Miserable Experience, was released, Hopkins committed suicide. He was the writer of Gin Blossoms’ biggest hits, Hey Jealousy and Found Out About You. Following the tragedy, they scored another hit in 1995 with Til I Hear It From You from the soundtrack of Empire Records. They were never really able to get that kind of momentum again but I feel they were talented enough to translate well in the next century. They’re still together and making music today but their newer releases had almost no response. They seem to do okay with themselves though with several tours co-starring other 90s favorites. Crowds still want to hear the hits. Deserved more? You betcha!

Fuel
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Fuel were yet another band who at one point was on the cusp of becoming more than a staple of the 90s. Lead singer, Brett Scallions, was good looking and had a killer voice. Their 1998 debut, Sunburn, had one of my absolute favorite mainstream rock songs ever, Shimmer. Their follow-up, Something Like Human, was released in 2000 and contained another song I really like, Hemorrhage. That coupled with Bad Day made it seem like Fuel were destined for rock immortality. Well, 2003’s Natural Selection was poorly received by fans and critics (their third album; sensing a theme here?). They released a mediocre song for Marvel’s Daredevil, Won’t Back Down, and Scallions hightailed it sometime after that. They acquired a new singer to replace him and they were actually able to have another notable song, Leave the Memories Alone, in 2007. The anthem is played at graduations and commemorative ceremonies across the world. Scallions rejoined in 2009 and the other bandmates of Fuel split leaving him as the only original member. They’re still touring and recording and to their credit, I feel their 2000s input gets mentioned more than their 90s. Deserved more? Eh, I think we got the right amount of mileage out of them.

Toadies
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Unlike the others here, Toadies had only one official released in the 90s. In 1994, these Texas rockers released Rubberneck which spawned the hit, Possum Kingdom. The song had a killer guitar riff made possible due to a whammy bar. They also had Tyler and Backslider who were minor hits but not nearly as catchy as the former. They were supposed to released a follow up in 1998 entitled Feeler but Interscope Records didn’t like the finished product and shelved it, sealing the band’s fate. Fun fact: I often get these guys confused with Toad the Wet Sprocket due to the fact that both bands have “Toad” in their names.

Like this article? Well then check out other 90s music articles composed by fellow CXF writer, David Hunter, who talks about Punk in the 1990s, 1990s female vocalists, and the Grunge and Post-Grunge era.

Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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