12 Best Grunge Songs of All Time


Black and white Nirvana photo

Nirvana – Audio Ink Radio’s 12 best grunge songs of all time – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Anton Corbijn

Audio Ink Radio presents the 12 best grunge songs of all time

Back in the late-1980s and early-1990s, it seemed as if popular music would forever be ruled by hair metal and glam rock. The Hollywood Strip was where it was at, and bands like Motley Crue and Poison were saturating the airwaves and concert rosters.

But, that all changed seemingly overnight with the sounds of Nirvana. The Seattle grunge band Nirvana released “Nevermind” in September of 1992, and they won over the hearts and ears of music lovers everywhere.

So, what are the greatest grunge songs of all time? It’s a complicated question, but we’re here to give our picks. Read on for Audio Ink Radio’s list of the 12 greatest grunge songs of all time. Give us your picks on Facebook here.

12. Alice in Chains, “Rooster” (1992 on “Dirt,” 1993 as a single)

Alice in Chains brought a chilling, dark dynamic to the grunge scene. “Rooster” is one of their most fascinating songs, featuring Layne Staley’s hair-raising harmonies and Jerry Cantrell’s gentle, sparse guitars.

11. Stone Temple Pilots, “Plush” (1992 on “Core,” 1993 as a single)

Honestly, Stone Temple Pilots aren’t always considered classic grunge, as they hailed from San Diego, California, instead of Seattle, Washington. But, they very much had the sound and style of the genre. “Plush” is one of the most recognizable songs of the grunge area and a huge moment for 1990s rock. STP may not get the respect they always deserve on the best-of lists of grunge artists, but this song is proof they deserve it.

10. Nirvana, “Heart-Shaped Box” (1993)

Nirvana are best known for their songs off “Nevermind,” but one gem off 1993’s “In Utero” is “Heart-Shaped Box.” The song, and album, came at a time when Nirvana were at their most popular, and fans were hungry for as much new music from the band as possible. Of course, it was also one of Nirvana’s last big chart-toppers before Kurt Cobain tragically took his own life in 1994. With weird and magical soft-loud dynamics and creepy lyrics, this is a standout in Nirvana’s catalog.

9. Pearl Jam, “Black” (1991)

Pearl Jam truly perfected the ballad with “Black.” Eddie Vedder puts so much feel and emotion into his performance, and it really takes the band to the next level. As Vedder sings amid simple guitars, one can almost feel what he’s feeling and experience what he’s experiencing.

8. Nirvana, “Come As You Are” (1992)

While “Come As You Are” was a hit, it’s not necessarily the song people think of when they think about Nirvana. That’s a shame, though, because it’s pretty much the perfect grunge-pop song. “Come As You Are” has a fantastic bass line, plus the drums, guitars and Kurt Cobain’s simple singing. It’s an easy-to-remember song with a great melody.

7. Soundgarden, “Blow Up the Outside World” (1996)

“Blow Up the Outside World” came in 1996, two years after Kurt Cobain or Nirvana’s death. At this point, post-grunge was making its way into the mainstream, but Soundgarden kept their original, authentic sound and still topped the charts with “Blow Up the Outside World,” proving grunge was still king. It’s a melancholy song that really shows off Chris Cornell’s strong vocals.

6. Pearl Jam, “Jeremy” (1992)

Coming off their 1991 opus “Ten,” Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” is one of the most recognizable songs from the grunge era. The track is often overshadowed by its controversial music video, however, depicting a kid shooting himself at school in front of his classmates. Aside from the video, “Jeremy” stands on its own, with its ripping lyrics and heavy guitars.

5. Alice in Chains, “Would?” (1992)

“Would?” is a special song, because Alice in Chains guitarist and vocalist Jerry Cantrell wrote it as a way to honor the late, great Andrew Wood. The lead vocalist of Mother Love Bone passed away in 1990 following an overdose. This is also one of those celebrated Alice in Chains songs that has both Cantrell and lead vocalist Layne Staley swapping vocal duties.

4. Pearl Jam, “Alive” (1991)

“Alive” truly introduced Pearl Jam to the world. The song marked Pearl Jam’s first single off their debut album, “Ten,” and arrived a few months before that album was released to the world. It’s a very personal song, with Eddie Vedder telling the tale of a young man learning that the man he thought was his father was actually his stepfather. That led to a complicated relationship with his mom, who saw his father in him. It’s an autobiographical tale, too.

3. Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun” (1994)

Honestly, this song was so overplayed on radio in the 1990s and 2000s, that it’s almost a groaner at this point, at least for this writer. But, there’s a reason “Black Hole Sun” got so much airplay: It’s an instant classic. This song has a deep metal influence, but it also has a Beatles-esque melody and appeal. Black Sabbath meets the Beatles could be an apt comparison.

2. Temple of the Dog, “Hunger Strike” (1991)

No, our No. 2 grunge song of all time isn’t from one of the “main” Seattle bands. It’s from a short-lived Seattle supergroup, or project, called Temple of the Dog. “Hunger Strike” is a tribute to the late, great Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone. The song brings together Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell and Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder, the latter who was new on the scene at the time, for a chilling duet.

1. Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)

Did you expect anything besides Nirvana and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the No. 1 grunge song of all time? Regardless of what you think of this track, there’s no denying that it’s the song that started it all. You can never predict a zeitgeist, but that’s exactly what happened when “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” off “Nevermind,” hit the airwaves in 1992. Popular music shifted, very suddenly, from hair and glam metal to bare-bones Seattle grunge overnight. Without “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it’s possible bands such as Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and any of the other bands on this list would never have become popular. For its influence, songwriting and explosive delivery, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is our No. 1 grunge song of all time.

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

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