13 Best Grunge Bands of All Time


Black and white image of grunge band Nirvana.

Nirvana – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Chris Cuffaro

Here are Audio Ink Radio’s picks for the 13 best grunge bands of all time

Grunge was more than a musical genre. It was a way of life. The grunge movement swept through America and the world in the early 1990s, changing popular culture, music and fashion with one song: Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It’s hard to imagine what would have become of rock and metal music if Nirvana hadn’t blown up in the 1990s, sparking a new style of music and influencing countless bands to follow. So, what are the best grunge bands of all time?

Many of the big grunge names come to mind when putting together list of the band grunge bands of all time, but it’s not that easy. There are also plenty of grunge bands that didn’t blow up big but were just as influential to the genre. Still, for this list, we focused on the bread-and-butter grunge names that made the genre a household name.

Here, we present Audio Ink Radio’s top 13 best grunge bands of all time. View the full roster of picks below. Reach out to us with your favorite grunge bands on social media.

13. Green River

Perhaps including Green River might raise some eyebrows, as they weren’t a blockbuster grunge band. But, they’re responsible for the term “grunge.” Bruce Pavitt of the Sub Pop record label coined the term “grunge” as a reference to Green River’s “Dry As A Bone” EP in 1987, calling it “gritty vocals, roaring Marshall amps, ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation.” Hence, the band that created the term grunge, by default, is one of the best grunge bands of all time.

12. Mudhoney

Mark Arm of Mudhoney is one of grunge’s last standing frontmen. He formed Mudhoney in Seattle, Washington, in 1988, and the band went on to sign to Sub Pop and achieve moderate success. Mudhoney, which also featured members of the aforementioned Green River, never achieved the kind of commercial success of some other grunge bands, but they’re certainly one of the most important bands of that era.

11. Tad

Tad doesn’t often appear on these best-of grunge lists, and we don’t know why. The band came up alongside Nirvana on Sub Pop and were one of the first bands of the grunge era. Fronted by the good-humored Tad Doyle, Tad’s 1991 Sub Pop release, “8-Way Santa,” is legendary. If it wasn’t for some unfortunate timing and a lawsuit dealing with the cover of “8-Way Santa,” it’s possible these guys could have been as big as Nirvana.

10. Hole

Hole would eventually become more known for the fact the band’s frontwoman, Courtney Love, was married to the late Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. But, that doesn’t discredit their inventive grunge music. Hole had that classic grunge sound, with lo-fi guitars, sloppy riffing and Love’s raspy, sexy vocals.

9. Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. were ahead of their time when it came to the grunge movement. Guitarist and vocalist J Mascis, bass player Lou Barlow and drummer Murph released their first album in 1985 and became underground rock sensations with their 1988 single, “Freak Scene.” They were extremely influential in the greater movement.

8. Melvins

Vocalist and guitarist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover of Melvins are often referred to as pioneers of what would blossom into the grunge genre. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was famously a huge Melvins fan, so they were an inspiration to him. The band’s sludgy, beautifully messy sound became a blueprint for bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden. Their sound also leaned a bit more into metal than most grunge acts, making them stand out.

7. Stone Temple Pilots

While most grunge spring up from Seattle, some of it was found outside the Evergreen State. One of those grunge bands was San Diego rockers Stone Temple Pilots. Charismatic vocalist Scott Weiland and company released their popular “Core” album in 1992 to plenty of fanfare. The single “Plush” off “Core” is still considered one of the genre’s finest melodic moments.

6. Screaming Trees

Screaming Trees are another Seattle band that didn’t quite hit stardom but were popular enough to be considered one of the best grunge bands of all time. The late Mark Lanegan led the band to a fair amount of success with songs such as “Nearly Lost You.” Later, he joined desert rockers Queens of the Stone Age and appeared on their albums “Songs for the Deaf” and “Lullabies to Paralyse.”

5. Mother Love Bone

Mother Love Bone are one of those bands that weren’t entirely appreciated until they were gone. Tragically, vocalist Andrew Wood passed away of a drug overdose just a few days before their first album was set to get a proper release. Still, the album endured with songs such as “Crown of Thorns” and “Stardog Champion.” What’s more, later, band members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard went on to form Pearl Jam.

4. Alice in Chains

Layne Staley came to close to Kurt Cobain when it came to being the poster child for the tortured frontman in grunge rock. What really made Alice in Chains stand out were Staley’s dissonant harmonies with guitarist and vocalist Jerry Cantrell. These were the kind of harmonies that would make the hairs on your arm stand straight up. Sadly, we lost Staley in 2002, but his legacy of songs such as “Would?,” “Rooster” and “Them Bones” continues.

3. Soundgarden

Soundgarden are one of the few grunge bands that crossed over and appealed to some of the last standing metalheads of the 1980s. Their dark, sludgy sound mixed Black Sabbath into a ’90s grunge feel, making their music very appealing to both rock and metal fans. Vocalist Chris Cornell and the ensemble ruled rock radio in the ’90s with songs such as “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” “Outshined” and “Fell on Black Days,” among others. They were simply one of the most popular bands from the grunge movement.

2. Pearl Jam

After the tragic death of Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, the band’s remaining members went on to form Pearl Jam. In 1991, they released “Ten,” which would become one of the most iconic records from its era. Songs such as the emotive “Alive,” the guitar-heavy “Even Flow” and the socially aware “Jeremy” demonstrated a band that could rock hard but appeal to the mainstream. Vocalist Eddie Vedder also had a unique sound and style to his voice that instantly made them stand out.

1. Nirvana

Nobody should be surprised that Nirvana is No. 1 on our list of the best grunge bands of all time. We could have gone with another band to be different, but honestly, no band was responsible for the surge in popularity of the grunge movement more than Nirvana. Songs such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are” became the most in-demand songs of the era, and they’re still among the most popular rock songs today. Who knows how far Nirvana could have gone if frontman Kurt Cobain didn’t sadly pass away in 1994. But, even with their short discography, Nirvana left the world with a plethora of music.

Find Audio Ink Radio’s list of the best grunge songs of all time here.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Grunge, Music