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Best Alternative Rock Bands

Photograph of the blog post author, Georgia Carter

Georgia Carter


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Alternative rock is a genre of music that emerged in the 1980s as an alternative to mainstream rock music. It is characterized by its non-conformity to traditional rock music, incorporating elements from various genres such as punk, grunge, and indie rock. Today, we will look at the best alternative rock bands that have graced the stage.

Alternative Rock Bands

History Of Alternative Rock Bands

The origins of alternative rock can be traced back to the punk rock movement of the 1970s. As punk rock began to decline in popularity, bands began to experiment with different sounds and styles, leading to the emergence of alternative rock. 

One of the earliest and most influential alternative rock bands was R.E.M., who formed in 1980. Their jangly guitar sound and introspective lyrics paved the way for other alternative rock bands to follow. In the 1990s, alternative rock exploded in popularity, thanks in part to the success of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. These bands, along with others like Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead, helped to define the sound of alternative rock in the 90s.

Other alternative rock bands of all time include Pixies, Sonic Youth, and The Smiths.

The popularity of alternative rock continued into the 2000s, with bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes, and Arctic Monkeys gaining mainstream success.

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Best Alternative Rock Bands

So, let’s take a closer look at these bands we have mentioned above and a few more that also made quite an impact on the music scene. Why don’t we see why they were so successful in this type of genre of music shall we? 

1. Nirvana – Alternative Rock Bands

Nirvana was an American rock band formed in 1987 in Aberdeen, Washington. The band consisted of Kurt Cobain (vocals, guitar), Krist Novoselic (bass), and Dave Grohl (drums). Nirvana is regarded as one of the most influential bands in the history of alternative rock. They are best known for their breakthrough album “Nevermind,” which was released in 1991 and featured the hit single “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The album went on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide and is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most important albums of all time. Nirvana’s music was characterized by its raw, stripped-down sound and Cobain’s introspective and often angst-ridden lyrics. The band’s success was cut short by Cobain’s suicide in 1994, but their impact on music and popular culture continues to be felt to this day.

2. Pearl Jam – Alternative Rock Bands

Pearl Jam is an American rock band formed in Seattle, Washington in 1990. They are known for their powerful live performances, socially conscious lyrics, and contributions to the grunge movement of the early 1990s. The band has released over ten studio albums and has sold over 85 million records worldwide. Some of their most popular songs include “Alive,” “Jeremy,” and “Black.” Pearl Jam has also been active in various social and political causes, including environmentalism and opposition to gun violence.

3. Soundgarden – Alternative Rock Bands

Soundgarden was an American rock band formed in Seattle, Washington in 1984. They were one of the pioneers of the grunge movement, along with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The band’s sound was characterized by heavy guitar riffs, complex rhythms, and the powerful vocals of frontman Chris Cornell. Some of their most popular songs include “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” and “Outshined.” They disbanded in 1997 but reunited in 2010 and continued to tour and release new music until Cornell’s death in 2017.

4. Smashing Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins is an American alternative rock band formed in Chicago in 1988. Led by frontman Billy Corgan, the band has undergone several lineup changes over the years, but has maintained a signature sound that blends heavy guitar riffs with introspective lyrics and melodic hooks. Their early albums, such as “Gish” and “Siamese Dream,” helped define the sound of 90s alternative rock, while later albums like “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” and “Adore” explored more experimental and electronic sounds. Despite a hiatus in the early 2000s, the band has continued to release music and tour, with Corgan remaining the sole original member.

5. Radiohead

Radiohead is an English rock band formed in 1985. They are known for their unique sound which blends elements of alternative rock, electronic music, and experimental music. The band consists of Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano), Jonny Greenwood (guitar, keyboard, other instruments), Colin Greenwood (bass), Ed O’Brien (guitar, backing vocals), and Philip Selway (drums, percussion). They have released several critically acclaimed albums, including “OK Computer” and “Kid A,” and are considered one of the most influential bands of the past few decades.

6. Pixies

Pixies is an American alternative rock band formed in 1986. They are known for their unique sound, blending elements of punk rock, indie rock, and surf rock. The band’s lineup consists of Black Francis (vocals, guitar), Joey Santiago (guitar), Paz Lenchantin (bass), and David Lovering (drums). They have released several critically acclaimed albums, including “Surfer Rosa,” “Doolittle,” and “Bossanova.” The band’s influence on alternative rock and indie music is widely recognized, and they continue to tour and record new music to this day.

7. Sonic Youth 

Sonic Youth is an American alternative rock band formed in New York City in 1981. They are known for their experimental and noisy sound, incorporating elements of punk rock, avant-garde, and art rock. The band has released numerous critically acclaimed albums and has been influential in shaping the alternative music scene. Sonic Youth disbanded in 2011 after 30 years together.

8. Cage The Elephant

Cage The Elephant is an American rock band formed in 2006 in Kentucky. They are known for their energetic and eclectic sound that draws influences from garage rock, punk, and blues. The band has released several successful albums and singles, including “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” “Come a Little Closer,” and “Shake Me Down.” They have also been praised for their dynamic live performances.

9. Oasis

Oasis was a British rock band formed in Manchester in 1991. The band consisted of brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, along with Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs, Paul “Guigsy” McGuigan, and Tony McCarroll. They became one of the most successful bands of the 1990s with their distinctive sound that blended rock, pop, and psychedelic influences. Oasis released several albums, including “Definitely Maybe,” “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?,” and “Be Here Now,” which all became commercial successes. The band’s music and raucous live performances helped define the Britpop movement of the 1990s. Despite their success, the band experienced internal tensions and eventually disbanded in 2009.

10. The Smiths

The Smiths were an English rock band formed in Manchester in 1982. They were known for their unique blend of Morrissey’s melancholic lyrics and Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar melodies, which produced a distinctive sound that influenced many subsequent bands. The band’s short but prolific career produced four critically acclaimed albums and numerous hit singles, including “How Soon Is Now?” and “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” Despite their success, internal tensions and Morrissey’s solo aspirations led to the band’s breakup in 1987.

11. Red Hot Chili Peppers

Red Hot Chili Peppers is an American rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1983. They are known for their fusion of funk, punk, and psychedelic rock, as well as their energetic live performances. The band’s current lineup consists of vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith, and guitarist John Frusciante. They have released over 11 studio albums and have sold over 80 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling bands of all time. The band has won multiple Grammy Awards and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

12. The Cure

The Cure is an English rock band formed in 1976. They are known for their unique blend of post-punk and new wave music, characterized by the use of moody lyrics, atmospheric instrumentation, and frontman Robert Smith’s distinctive voice. The band has released numerous hit singles and albums over the years, including “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Just Like Heaven,” and “Disintegration.” They have also been credited with influencing the goth subculture and have remained a popular and influential band for over four decades.

13. Foo Fighters

Foo Fighters is an American rock band formed in 1994 by Dave Grohl, the former drummer of Nirvana. The band’s music is characterized by a blend of hard rock, punk rock, and pop influences. They have released ten studio albums and have won multiple Grammy Awards. Foo Fighters are known for their high-energy live performances and their ability to connect with their audience. They are considered one of the most successful and influential rock bands of the past two decades.

14. Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys is a British rock band formed in 2002. They gained popularity with their debut album “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” which became the fastest-selling debut album in UK chart history. Their music style has evolved over the years, with influences from indie rock, post-punk revival, and psychedelic rock. The band has won numerous awards and accolades, and their music continues to attract a large following worldwide. They have headlined the Glastonbury Festival twice, in 2007 and 2013, delivering unforgettable performances that showcased their energetic stage presence and musicianship. They were at Glastonbury again this year and gave an electric performance. 

15. The Strokes

The Strokes are an American rock band formed in New York City in 1998. They are known for their garage rock sound and catchy melodies, drawing influence from 70s and 80s punk and new wave. The band consists of lead vocalist Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti. They gained popularity in the early 2000s with their debut album “Is This It”, which is considered a modern classic in rock music. The Strokes continue to release critically acclaimed albums and tour worldwide.

16. The White Stripes

The White Stripes were an American rock duo formed in Detroit in 1997. The band consisted of Jack White (vocals, guitar, piano, and mandolin) and Meg White (drums and vocals). Their music was characterized by a raw and minimalist sound, blending elements of garage rock, blues, and punk. They became known for their hit songs such as “Seven Nation Army,” “Fell in Love with a Girl,” and “Icky Thump.” The White Stripes were highly influential in the garage rock revival of the early 2000s and were praised for their unique approach to songwriting and performance. They disbanded in 2011 after six studio albums and numerous accolades, including four Grammy Awards.

17. Weezer

Weezer is an American rock band formed in 1992 in Los Angeles. They are known for their catchy melodies, geeky lyrics, and power-pop sound. The band’s lineup consists of lead vocalist and guitarist Rivers Cuomo, drummer Patrick Wilson, guitarist Brian Bell, and bassist Scott Shriner. Weezer has released multiple platinum-selling albums, including their self-titled debut album, known as “The Blue Album,” and their third album, “Weezer (The Green Album).” They have also had several hit singles, such as “Buddy Holly,” “Say It Ain’t So,” and “Island in the Sun.” Weezer has been praised for their influence on the alternative rock genre and their ability to create memorable hooks and choruses.

18. Green Day

Green Day is an American punk rock band formed in 1987 in California. The band consists of lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tré Cool. They rose to fame in the mid-1990s with their album “Dookie” and have since released numerous successful albums. Known for their energetic live performances and socially conscious lyrics, Green Day has become one of the most influential punk bands of all time.

19. Muse

Muse is an English rock band formed in 1994. The band consists of lead vocalist and guitarist Matthew Bellamy, bassist and backing vocalist Chris Wolstenholme, and drummer Dominic Howard. Muse’s music is known for its fusion of various genres, including rock, alternative, electronic, and classical music. They are also known for their energetic live performances and elaborate stage shows. The band has released eight studio albums and has won numerous awards, including two Grammy Awards.

20. Incubus – Alternative Rock Bands

Incubus is an American rock band formed in 1991. The band’s music incorporates elements of alternative rock, funk, metal, and hip-hop. Incubus has released eight studio albums, with their most successful being “Make Yourself” and “Morning View”. The band is known for their dynamic live performances and the distinctive vocals of lead singer Brandon Boyd. Their music often explores themes of spirituality, social issues, and personal growth.

Summary – Alternative Rock Bands

Alternative Rock Bands

Today, alternative rock continues to evolve and influence new generations of musicians. Overall, alternative rock has had a significant impact on the music industry and continues to be a beloved genre for music fans around the world. These bands above are of course only a small group of the wider community of alternative rock bands, but we believe that they were the biggest names in the style of music. Please do get in touch with Music Gateway if you feel that you have your own music to publish or promote. We are always here to lend a helping hand, so we look forward to hearing from you.


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