The Seattle grunge rock scene came and went in the blink of an eye, but its legacy lives on through some incredible records.
More of a movement than any specific genre, the "Seattle sound" was a mix of punk, heavy metal, classic rock and proto-stoner rock, and everything in between.
Between all this variation and the many awful impersonators the music industry pumped out in hopes of finding another Nirvana, it can be challenging for a modern listener to know where to start with grunge. So, here is a collection of grunge's most seminal works to give you an idea of what the genre has to offer.
Amazing Grunge Albums You Need to Hear
- Nevermind by Nirvana
- Ten by Pearl Jam
- Dirt by Alice in Chains
- Superunknown by Soundgarden
- Purple by Stone Temple Pilots
- Live Through This by Hole
- Superfuzz Bigmuff (Plus Early Singles) by Mudhoney
- Temple of the Dog by Temple of the Dog
- Stoner Witch by Melvins
- Sweet Oblivion by Screaming Trees
Released: September 24, 1991
Nevermind is the album that brought grunge and alternative rock into the mainstream, closing out the hair-metal era.
Nearly 30 years later, Nevermind still sounds every bit as good as it did in '91. The opening track, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," became an anthem for a generation, while the dreamy "Come as You Are" and soulful "Lithium" became mega hits in their own right.
Elsewhere, tracks such as "On a Plain" and "Lounge Act" have an infectious, almost nursery-rhyme like quality to them, while "Polly" exhibits Kurt's extraordinary storytelling abilities. Indeed, every song here has "hit" written all over it.
On Nevermind, the band's love for the weird and macabre is matched only by their love of a catchy chorus. As a result, there's no more accessible place to start when exploring grunge rock.
Released: August 27, 1991
Released just before Nevermind, Ten took a lot longer to gain the same kind of traction as Nirvana's chart-topper, but by the end of 1992, it made Pearl Jam, the biggest band in the world.
Displaying a classic rock influence not seen elsewhere in grunge, the tracks that grace Ten are some of the most arena-ready and anthemic the genre ever produced.
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The dark subject matter behind songs like "Alive" and "Once," the album's opener, revealed Pearl Jam to be so much more than just a throwback rock band, and their intelligent lyrics are some of the best in music.
Although the band has since spent much of their careers trying to avoid or even sabotage their fame (while still producing good music), Ten is still a popular album, and it stands as one of grunge's masterpieces.
Dirt—Alice in Chains
Released: September 29, 1992
Alice in Chains produced one of the first true hits of the grunge era with their debut album Facelift, yet it would be on their second album, Dirt, where the band would put all the pieces together to create an all-time classic grunge album.
The album wastes no time pushing the pedal to the floor with opener Them Bones. What follows is an alt-metal onslaught that only occasionally slows down so that the soaring choruses of tracks such as "Down in a Hole" and "Rooster" can have their full impact. Emotionally charged and brutally honest in its subject matter, Dirt is an absolute must listen for grunge fans.
Released: March 8, 1994
One of the few bands at the beginning of the Seattle movement that managed to find mainstream success later, Soundgarden transcended the contemporary hard rock sounds of the era by instilling a darker tone into their music.
The album would change the game for heavy rock bands moving forward. Songs such as "Let Me Drown" and the title track are as kinetic and catchy as they are powerful, while the chart-topping "Black Hole Sun" and "Fell on Black Days" take the band's hard-rocking sound into a more brooding territory.
Purple—Stone Temple Pilots
Released: June 7, 1994
Hailing from outside of the Seattle scene, critics incorrectly labelled Stone Temple Pilots as posers attempting to jump on the grunge bandwagon following the success of their debut album, Core.
Core's follow up album Purple would prove that the band were the real deal.
From the trudging opener, "Meat Plow," to the country-rock inspired "Interstate Love Song," Stone Temple Pilots show a great deal of depth and versatility on this album resulting in one of the most vital grunge records ever created.
Live Through This—Hole
Released: April 12, 1994
Few people in rock history have been as controversial as Courtney Love. While her husband Kurt has been all but martyred in the eyes of alternative rock fans, Courtney has often been vilified. We won't get into all the conspiracy theories or criticisms of Courtney's antics here. Instead, we'll explore how Hole's second album is among alternative rock's finest records.
Whereas Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam took the Seattle sound and created arena-ready anthems with it, Hole cut the grunge sound back to its bare bones. The music is presented 'warts and all', delivering a raw emotional punch to the gut as a result.
Whether it's with the childlike sensibilities of "Softer, Softest" and "Doll Parts," or the ravenous punk rock on "Plump" and "Violet," this album is excellent from start to finish. It's a genuinely must-have grunge record.
Superfuzz Bigmuff (Plus Early Singles)—Mudhoney
Released: October 20, 1988 (EP) & October 25, 1990 (LP)
As mentioned above, the Seattle sound was a lot of different things, but if you were going to try and encapsulate it with just one band and one album, it would be Mudhoney's Superfuzz Bigmuff.
Born from the remains of arguably the first genuine grunge band, Green River, Mudhoney never quite managed to break into the mainstream but were no-less one of the most important and influential acts going throughout (and beyond) the grunge years.
Initially released as an EP, before being re-released with the band's early singles. Whether Superfuzz Bigmuff is the band's best offering is certainly up for debate, but it's certainly a damn infectious place to start.
It's not a record without range, but from the band's semi-hit "Touch Me I'm Sick" to the distorted ambience of "Mudride," the band never drifts from their plan of delivering balls-to-the-wall, pure grunge rock.
Self-Titled—Temple of the Dog
Released: April 16, 1991
Consisting of members of Soundgarden and future members of Pearl Jam, grunge Rock's first supergroup's self-titled release served as a tribute to Andrew Wood, the former lead singer of Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone. As a result, the album is appropriately mournful but also warm and energetic.
Chris Cornell takes his knack for self-introspection and creates something life-affirming in the process. Lead track "Say Hello to Heaven" sets the tone for the rest of this ballad-heavy album, which reaches its peak on the track "Hunger Strike." If you need proof that there was so much more to grunge than self-loathing and distorted guitars, this is it.
Released: October 18, 1994
Another band from the Seattle scene's early days, the Melvins, proved to be not only a significant influence on grunge but the stoner rock and sludge metal genres as well. Their sluggish, doom-riddled, and ferocious sound inspired many bands to come.
Far too uncompromising to ever break into the mainstream, the Melvins did nonetheless find some commercial success in the '90s, peaking with their '93 LP Houdini.
However, for those looking to start exploring the band's offerings, '94's Stoner Witch provides a much clearer snapshot of the group working at the peak of their creative abilities.
Though many of the songs featured here are essentially classic southern rock or metal compositions, everything is played through a hazy and distorted filter, with a drum sound that's thunderous no matter how slow or fast the band chooses to take its tempo.
Sweet Oblivion—Screaming Trees
Released: September 8, 1992
From their 1986 debut Clairvoyance to their final 1996 LP, Dust, the screaming trees often skated between the underground music scene and major commercial success. However, their '92 LP, Sweet Oblivion, brought them closest to the latter.
The opener "Shadow of the Season" sets the tone. Mark Lanegan's scratchy baritone voice swoons over infectious guitar riffs, and the music only continues to soar from there. The result is an album that feels like the sonic equivalent of cigarettes and several shots of whiskey to your brain. Still, it's catchy as hell.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Mike Grindle
Mike Grindle (author) from UK on July 09, 2020:
Purple really is an underrated album in my view.
Carlos Henrique from Caracas on July 08, 2020:
Purple by Stone Temple Pilots its my favorite forever. Dirt, second place.