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20 Soft Rock and Dream Pop Alternative Songs From the 1990s

Mike Grindle is a freelance culture writer with a love for film, music, and literature.

20-chill-alt-rock-songs-from-the-90s

The 1990s will always be remembered as the era where alternative music went mainstream. And while the heavier, harder-hitting songs led the charge, plenty of dream pop, neo-psychedelia, and shoegaze songs also made the airwaves. Put on your favorite flannel shirt, grab your headphones, and chill out these tracks from the '90s.

1. Medicine (featuring Elizabeth Fraser) - "Time Baby III"

"Sometimes it rains inside my head
And the words run dry"

Artist: Medicine (featuring Elizabeth Fraser)

Year Released: 1994

Album: The Crow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Genre: Shoegaze, Soft Rock

Described as the closest thing to an American My Bloody Valentine, Medicine are perhaps best known for making a cameo appearance on the 1994 film The Crow, performing the track, "Time Baby II." "Time Baby III" is an alternative version of the same song, featuring guest vocals from Cocteau Twins' frontwoman Elizabeth Fraser.

2. The Cure - "A Letter To Elise"

"Oh Elise, it doesn't matter what you say
I just can't stay here every yesterday"

Artist: The Cure

Year Released: 1992

Album: Wish

Genre: Goth Pop Rock, Jangle Pop

"A Letter To Elise" was the third and final single from The Cure's 1992 album, Wish. According to frontman Robert Smith, the song is a "stream of consciousness piece" written about "resignation in the face of inevitable change." In any case, it's a quintessentially Cure love song, full of longing and despair, but remaining unashamedly poppy.

3. Counting Crows - "Mr. Jones"

"Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky
When everybody loves you, ah son
That's just about as funky as you can be"

Artist: Counting Crows

Year Released: 1993

Album: August And Everything After

Genre: Alternative Rock

This song about struggling musicians wanting to be rock stars was a breakout hit for the Counting Crows, who've been keeping it "funky" as rockstars themselves ever since.

4. Grandaddy - "A.M. 180"

"We'll defuse bombs, walk marathons and take on whatever together"

Artist: Grandaddy

Year Released: 1998

Album: Under The Western Freeway

Genre: Indie Rock

Featuring a cutesy jingle over distorted guitars, this sugary-sweet love song became a surprisingly prominent feature in the zombie-horror flick, 28 Days Later. Morbid associations aside, this nursery-rhyme-like slice of indie rock remains pleasant on the ears.

5. Pearl Jam - "Better Man"

"Memories back when she was bold and strong
And waiting for the world to come along
Swears she knew it, now she swears he's gone"

Artist: Pearl Jam

Year Released: 1994

Album: Vitalogy

Genre: Grunge, Pop Rock

Eddie Vedder wrote 'Better Man' before Pearl Jam even existed. Yet, it didn't make it onto a record until the group's third outing, Vitalogy. The success-shy Pearl Jam never released it as a single, but it was a pop song too insatiable to hold down and became a radio mainstay.

6. Beta Band - "Dry The Rain"

"This is the definition of my life
Lying in bed in the sunlight
Choking on the vitamin tablet
The doctor gave in the hope of saving me"

Artist: Beta Band

Year Released: 1997

Album: The Three E.P.'s

Genre: Folk Rock, Experimental Pop

Originally released on 1997's Champions Versions EP and later serving as the lead track for The Three EP's, "Dry The Rain" gained some notoriety after being featured in a scene of the 2000's film, High Fidelity. And yes, it is as good as that film makes it out to be, so give it a listen.

7. Slowdive - "Alison"

"Alison," I said, "We're sinking."

Artist: Slowdive

Year Released: 1992

Album: Souvlaki

Genre: Dream Pop

"Alison" is the lead track from shoegaze classic, Souvlaki, and is a dreamy song about, well, a dream about a girl named Alison. While Slowdive were generally ignored at the height of their powers, they've since gained a cult following, and "Alison" is a prime example of why they deserve all the praise they're finally getting.

8. Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Scar Tissue"

"Soft spoken with a broken jaw
Step outside but not to brawl and
Autumn's sweet, we call it fall
I'll make it to the moon if I have to crawl..."

Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers

Year Released: 1999

Album: Californication

Genre: Soft Rock, Blues Rock

You can't talk about chill alternative songs and not mention the red hot chili peppers. Of course, any number of the group's back catalog would fit here nicely, but the lead single from Californication, Scar Tissue, gets the nod just for those slide guitar licks.

9. Ride - "Twisterella"

"Any minute you will feel
The chemistry
Vibrations in the brain
Can't ever be explained"

Artist: Ride

Year Released: 1992

Album: Going Blank Again

Genre: Shoegaze, Neo-Psychedelia

The band Ride have a discography full of overlooked classics, but "Twisterella" is up there with their best. The track combines shoegaze and power pop to make something that is simply a lot of fun and well worth your time.

10. Smashing Pumpkins - "1979"

"That we don't even care
To shake these zipper blues
And we don't know
Just where our bones will rest
To dust I guess
Forgotten and absorbed
Into the earth below"

Artist: Smashing Pumpkins

Year Released: 1995

Album: Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness

Genre: Art Rock

The Smashing Pumpkins made their name with their layered guitar attack. But with "1979," the band took a drastically different direction, turning to loops and samples to create this classic hit. The song tells a coming-of-age story, and there's something about the nostalgic feeling Billy Corgan captures here that is just unshakable.

10 More Chill '90s Alternative Tracks

SongArtist(s)

"Waterfall"

Stone Roses

"Dumb"

Nirvana

"Sometimes"

My Bloody Valentine

"Waltz #2"

Elliott Smith

"Range Life"

Pavement

"Cherry Coloured Funk"

Cocteau Twins

"Malibu"

Hole

"Susan's House"

Eels

"Nutshell"

Alice In Chains

"Glycerine"

Bush

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.

© 2022 Mike Grindle