12 Best Grunge Songs of the 1980s


Black and white image of Chris Cornell.

Chris Cornell and Soundgarden have one of the best grunge songs of the 1980s via Audio Ink Radio’s list – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Ken Settle

Audio Ink Radio presents its tally of the 12 best grunge songs of the 1980s

Grunge music is the epicenter of 1990s rock. When Nirvana released “Nevermind” in 1991, it completely changed the musical landscape. Suddenly, hair metal was so yesterday, as it was replaced with the lo-fi, murky, simple riffing and introspective messaging of grunge music. But, grunge music didn’t start in the 1990s. The genre formed in Seattle, Washington, in the 1980s. It wasn’t until Nirvana’s “Nevermind” dropped that the world got wind of what was happening in this very underground music scene. So, what are some of the best grunge songs of the 1980s?

Green River are widely recognized as the first grunge band. They got together around the same time as many in the first wave of the Seattle grunge scene, including bands such as the Melvins and Soundgarden. They released an album in 1985, becoming one of the first grunge bands to do so. Green River also helped make Sub Pop the landmark grunge label it came to be in the late-1980s and early-1990s. After their breakup, band members went on to form Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone. Some also went on to create one of the biggest grunge bands of all time: Pearl Jam. The band included celebrated grunge musicians Mark Arm, Steve Turner, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament.

Songs by Green River and a bevy of other early grunge bands made our list of the best grunge songs of the ’80s. Check out Audio Ink Radio’s tally below, and contact us with your choices via social media.

12. Skin Yard, “Reptile”

Skin Yard were formed by Daniel House and producer Jack Endino in the mid-1980s, and famed drummer Matt Cameron became part of the band a few years later. While they never hit it big, they’re considered important in the Seattle movement. Endino even went on to become an in-demand Seattle producer. “Reptile” is a wild listen that arrived on their self-titled debut in 1987.

11. Wipers, “Alien Boy”

We’re going way back for this one. Wipers were one of the very earliest bands to start the grunge movement. Their music wasn’t grunge, but founder Greg Sage and company were one of the first punk bands to make it big out of the Portland, Oregon, area. Since the band was close to Seattle, they often played there, and as Wipers brought their sound to Seattle, that sparked the very beginnings of the punk-influenced grunge genre. “Alien Boy” is one of the most popular tracks off the band’s debut studio album, “Is This Real?,” which arrived in 1980.

10. The U-Men, “Whistlin’ Pete”

The U-Men were more influencers of the grunge movement than pure grunge themselves. They formed in Setatle in the 1980s and presented an experimental brand of punk rock that was very novel. Years later, grunge bands would cite them as influences. U-Men also worked with manager Susan Silver, who managed a collection of grunge bands later in her career, including Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Their sole studio album, “Step on a Bug,” arrived in 1988 on Black Label Records, and on it, opening track “Whistlin’ Pete” was a standout.

9. L7, “Bite the Wax Tadpole”

They weren’t from Seattle, but the L.A. rockers in L7 became known as ladies who knew how to rock out with a strong grunge style. They were also a big part of the “riot grrrl” in the early 1990s. Well before then, though, L7 released their self-titled debut album in 1988 by Epitaph Records. It was heavy on punk, but songs such as “Bite the Wax Tadpole” had a definite grunge flavor.

8. Melvins, “Influence of Atmosphere”

There’s something special about a debut album. It sets the tone for a band, and it leaves a first impression that’s difficult to change. Melvins came on the scene with their 1987 “Gluey Porch Treatments” debut album, which arrived via Alchemy Records. This was so old-school that the original release was available only on vinyl. While all of the songs off the set show that Melvins early on had strong talent and musical potential, “Influence of Atmosphere” is one of the more unique tracks. Moreover, it’s really short at under 2 minutes long.

7. Tad, “Hollow Man”

Tad could have been another Nirvana, but the timing just didn’t work out and a few other issues on the business side of the band also eclipsed a big mainstream run. But, “Hollow Man” is a shining example of the band’s early talent. On this track, frontman Tad Doyle displays an early talent for combining the heavy metal of the 1970s with the Seattle sound.

6. Screaming Trees, “Days”

Screaming Trees’ “Days” arrived on the band’s second EP and only Sub Pop recording, “Change Has Come.” The title was indicative of the musical landscape at the time, as change, indeed, was coming in the form of hair metal being pushed aside for Seattle grunge. While all of the tracks on this EP deserve attention, “Days” stands out with its strong songwriting. After this EP was released, Screaming Trees signed to Epic Records, thanks to the grunge boom.

5. Mother Love Bone, “Crown of Thorns”

“Crown of Thorns” arrived in 1989 along with the group’s debut EP, “Shine.” As it turns out, “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns” is really two complete songs sequenced together, and “Crown of Thorns” made it onto the group’s 1990 full-length, “Apple.” Unfortunately, “Crown of Thorns” represents the greatness that Mother Love Bone vocalist Andy Wood could have continued to create if he hadn’t died of a drug overdose in 1990. It’s a classic.

4. Mudhoney, “Touch Me I’m Sick”

What kind of a band writes a song called “Touch Me I’m Sick?” Mudhoney is that kind of band. The song from the early Seattle rockers is one of the most influential of the early grunge movement. It arrived as Mudhoney’s debut single via Sub Pop in 1988 and offered a twisted humor that grunge fans embraced.

3. Soundgarden, “Loud Love”

“Loud Love” was the first single off Soundarden’s sophomore studio album, “Louder than Love,” which arrived in 1989. It’s incredible to think that Soundgarden were already on their second album in 1989, before many grunge bands had even formed. It’s the featured track on the album and considered one of Soundgarden’s greatest hits, even standing up to their popular later radio singles.

2. Nirvana, “Negative Creep”

Yes, the guys of Nirvana were making music years before “Nevermind” because the “it” album. Nirvana’s 1989 Sub Pop debut, “Bleach,” is considered one of the strongest grunge albums of the 1980s. This was pre-Dave Grohl Nirvana, with Chad Channing behind the drum kit. Off “Bleach,” “Negative Creep” is a real snapshot of the Seattle scene at the time of its release. It has a trademark “grunge” sound and also features some of the most vicious vocals ever from Kurt Cobain. Here, Cobain sings with a total abandonment, loudly and intensely.

1. Green River, “Swallow My Pride”

The band considered the very first grunge band deserves the No. 1 spot on our tally. While Nirvana took grunge to the mainstream, Green River actually helped hone the genre and sound. Hence, if there had been no Green River, it’s possible there would have been no Nirvana. While plenty of Green River songs are strong, “Swallow My Pride” is a remarkable snapshot of grunge music in the late-1980s. The song arrived on the band’s 1985 “Come on Down” EP. It features a great hook and distorted production that really represents grunge. For its influence, Green River with “Swallow My Pride” is No. 1 on our list of the best grunge songs of the 1980s.

Find Audio Ink Radio’s list of the best grunge albums of all time here. This tally, of course, includes albums from both the 1980s and 1990s, heavy on the latter.

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