The 90s is my favorite time period in music, primarily due to the proliferation of GOOD alternative rock during the decade.
From Weezer and the Smashing Pumpkins to My Bloody Valentine and Archers of Loaf, there was an absolute TON of great alt rock music getting released on practically a weekly basis. And while a lot of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam became immortal rock acts, a lot of other bands, despite being tremendously talented, just kind of came onto the scene and fizzled out, almost as quickly as they arrived.
Today, I would like to pay homage to alt rock acts of the latter category, giving them the recognition and approbation they oh-so retroactively deserve. These are the bands that achieved temporary fame, but could not sustain it, despite being outstanding musicians that, in many instances, managed to make music FAR beyond their heyday. Heck, some of these bands are still together and releasing albums, if you can believe it!
These bands are the unsung, unheralded and underappreciated acts that helped make the 90s the absolute greatest epoch EVER in the history of alternative music. And now, it is time to shine a much-deserved spotlight on their criminally underrated achievements and efforts. Hey, twenty years late is better than never, isn't it?
Who are they? A Swedish alt-pop rock band that recorded three albums in the 90s, including one on the very, VERY short-lived Sony mini-disc format.
What did they do? The group s biggest - and really, only - hit was the 1993 single Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe, which was featured on their 1995 debut album We Care. The song was positively huge in Scandinavia, and a pretty big success in the U.S. and U.K, breaking into the top 30 charts in both countries in the mid 90s.
What do they sound like? US3 meets Dee-lite with PJ Harvey - only with a happy childhood - as the front woman.
Where have I heard them before? Odds are, your only exposure to the band is via their brief appearance on an episode of Beavis and Butt-head, in which the two critiqued the band s video for Hobo-Humpin Slobo Babe, commenting on the front woman s penchant for licking armpits and inspecting the nads of her band mates.
Why didn't they get famous? I think it probably has something to do with the fact that they were just too upbeat at a time when alternative rock radio wanted things depressed and cynical-sounding. With such a poppy sound, a lot of AOR stations never picked them up, and since MTV was primarily dominated by ironic and bitter post-grunge acts at the time, Whale never really had a foothold in the musical landscape of the 1990s.
Who are they? A post-hardcore act formed by Walter Schereifels, ex-guitarist for the extremely influential straight-edge bands Gorilla Biscuits and Youth of Today.
What did they do? The band, formed in 1990, released two albums: Slip in 1993 and Manic Compression in 1995. Despite touring with some big name alt-metal acts throughout the decade (among them, White Zombie and Anthrax), the band ultimately disbanded in 1999.
What do they sound like? Tool meets Helmet - only if Maynard James Keenan was the world s biggest Phil Collins fan.
Where have I heard them before? The most exposure the band ever got was on an episode of Beavis and Butthead, in which the duo mocked the band s video for Delusional - a track that received moderate airplay on some alt rock radio stations and 120 Minutes. The group also had a song, Thorn in My Side included on soundtrack for the 1995 movie (that sucked) Empire Records.
Why didn't they get famous? The band was a little late on the scene, making their biggest splash in 1994 when pop-industrial alt-metal really hit its stride around 1992. By the time Quicksand was on the national radar, industrial-pop was already something of a passe genre, and since the band lacked the edge of a Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson, they were quickly forgotten as techno-alt (Death in Vegas, The Chemical Bros, Prodigy, etc.) had their five minutes of popularity in the late 90s.
Who are they? An L.A. hard rock-alternative fusion act that released two albums, No Biting in 1993 and This is Greta! in 1995. Prior to joining Rage Against the Machine in 1992, Brad Wilk was the band s drummer.
What did they do? Greta was an extremely short-lived act, forming in 1992 and disbanding just three years later. Although never a commercially huge band a la Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, the group did manage to land a contract with Mercury Records, who released the groups only two albums in the mid 90s.
What do they sound like? Blind Melon and The Melvins step into that teleportation booth from The Fly at the same time. . .and then the end result starts a Three Dog Night tribute band.
Where have I heard them before? Once again, the most likely place you have heard the band is on Beavis and Butt-head, where the two analyzed the video for Fathom - alternately mocking the lead singer for wearing a dress and rocking out as a toilet gets destroyed on camera.
Why didn't they get famous? Greta was just a little too hippie-dippie sounding for most alt rock stations, and since proto-emo angst was all the rage on MTV at the time of Fathom hitting the airwaves, the band had a difficult time finding a niche between Hootie and the Blowfish and Hole. As distressing as it is to say, Greta was a band that was ultimately punished for its uniqueness - had they sounded a little more like Bush or Radiohead, they probably could have had heavier rotation.
Who are they? A pop-punk band from L.A. that released two albums in the 90s, in addition to appearing on the soundtracks for the films Bio-Dome and Mallrats. Oh, and they also covered Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy from the Ren and Stimpy Show, too. No, seriously.
What did they do? The first incarnation of the band lasted from 1991 to 1995, resulting in two albums, What Else Can We Do and 13 Unlucky Numbers. After nearly 15 years on hiatus, the band reunited in 2009 to record an EP called Hangin' On.
What do they sound like? Blink-182 as fronted by Beck, with lyrics supplied by Ugly Kid Joe s far more austere and talented older sibling.
Where have I heard them before? Yeah, another band who had their five minutes of fame via Beavis and Butt-head - a video Beavis REALLY enjoyed, since their video for California consisted of nothing but a slow-motion, tracking shot of a dude running down the street while on fire. The few times it was played on MTV, it was prefaced by a warning bumper, telling children at home to not set themselves ablaze for entertainment.
Why didn't they get famous? Wax just was not an abrasive band, and seeing as how heroin-chic ostentatious-ness was the alt rock du jour at the time, the band never had a fair shake against the myriad Stone Temple Pilots and Green Days of the mid 90s. Even so, the band has remained fairly popular amongst those in the know, and the band remains a favorite of many popular acts today, as Wax played several shows alongside Weezer in promotion of their 2009 release Ratitude.
Who are they? A Chicago space rock band that recorded four albums throughout the 90s, before officially calling it quits in 2000.
What did they do? Throughout the 90s, the band provided gloomy and spaced out college students with the perfect background noise for baking pizza and brownies, as the albums Fillet Show, Electra 2000, You d Prefer an Astronaut and Downward is Heavenward remained art house rock favorites for years. Just to prove their 90s moxie, the band also did performances on the two most 90s talk shows of them all, the Howard Stern Show and Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.
What do they sound like? Radiohead fused with My Bloody Valentine - with a closet poet astrophysicist as the lead singer.
Where have I heard them before? Well, according to Beavis and Butt-head, their video for Stars allegedly sucked, but they at least appreciated it for being short. The same song was also featured in Saints Row 2, a game released on the Xbox 360 about four or five years ago.
Why didn't they get famous? Although Hum remained under-the-radar college radio favorites throughout the nineties, they never really had anything that subsequently matched the greatness of You d Prefer an Astronaut. Retroactively, the band has garnered a pretty sizable following, perhaps because the band s more laid-back style served as a precursor to the lite-alt boom (think bands like Incubus) of the late 90s.
Who are they? A Fort Worth, Texas band that formed in 1989. After signing with Interscope records, they made their big label debut with 1994 s Rubberneck, which spawned six AOR singles.
What did they do? While Rubberneck was a moderate commercial success, the band had a difficult time recording its follow-up, Feeler, which was originally supposed to be released in 1997. The disastrous recording session left the band with only half an album, which was remolded into the 2001 release Hell Below Stars Above. The band broke up shortly thereafter, only to reunite in 2006.
What do they sound like? Live teamed up with the Butthole Surfers - with a dude seemingly obsessed with sexual homicides as the lead singer.
Where have I heard them before?Possum Kingdom received a ton of airplay back in the day on MTV - for all of you millennials out there, however, you probably know that song best form its inclusion on the second Guitar Hero game. Also, one of their songs, Backslider, was featured on the soundtrack of the 1995 Chris Farley vehicle Black Sheep, which you have probably seen about a million times on Cinemax at 2 in the morning by this point.
Why didn't they get famous? The Toadies were an EXTREMELY dark band at a time when only superficial bleakness was the in thing. With songs about unsolved murders and stalking, the band was a bit too heavy for sustained success, although the band has released several albums since their 1994 magnum opus Rubberneck, including the FINALLY released in 2010 Feeler which in case you were wondering, still has plenty of catchy songs about rape and mayhem on it.
Who are they? A gaggle of existential, well-traveled art house kids that formed a band in New York in 1992. After Cars front man Ric Ocasek got wind of one of their demos, he agreed to produce their first big time album, which turned into 1996 s High Low
What did they do?I m head of the class, I m popular. . .if you were around in 1996, you no doubt remember their most famous track, which became one of the all-time AOR classics of the decade. Following the commercial failure of their 1998 follow up The Proximity Effect, the group returned to its art house roots, becoming one of the nation s most prolific and critically adored indie rock outfits.
What do they sound like? The Goo-Goo Dolls pretending to be Pearl Jam, then deciding to be a good version of Coldplay.
Where have I heard them before? Their video for Popular was, ironically, rather popular back in 1996, when it received heavy airplay on MTV. Despite being an immensely popular video, however, the band never had a follow-up single from the album High Low chart.
Why didn't they get famous? Unlike a lot of bands on this list, Nada Surf not only trucked through the 90s, but found relative success as an indie alt rock act in the ensuing decade, releasing two truly outstanding albums in 2005 and 2008, The Weight is a Gift and Lucky. Although the band has yet to have a song take over the airwaves a la Popular, they remain a very respected and critically acclaimed act to this day. . .and a band you really ought to check out if they are ever in your neck of the woods.
Who are they? A pop-alt-hard rock act from Detroit whose 1994 album Rotting Pinata was certified gold by the RIAA. The band released two more awesome - yet, sadly, overlooked - albums in the 1990s, Wax Ecstatic in 1996 and New Pop Sunday in 1999.
What did they do? Outside of producing three of the best alt-pop albums of the 1990s, the band has been quite active ever since, releasing four albums in the 2000s, with their eighth album Soak it Up scheduled for release next year.
What do they sound like? An even better version of Better Than Ezra, or a version of Fuel that actually tried.
Where have I heard them before? The band released two pretty popular albums in the 1990s - Rotting Pinata in 1994, and Wax Ecstatic in 1996. Over that timeframe, the band scored three fairly successful singles, including an ode to a certain 80s teen queen Molly - Sixteen Candles, and Plowed, a song which remains on alt rock staple nationwide to this very day.
Why didn't they get famous? This is really one of the biggest conundrums of the 90s. Although the band had two very successful albums, they just could not keep their collective business together long enough to stay together as cohesive group. Since 1996, the band s line up has been a revolving door for just about every indie musician in Michigan. However, despite being a very unstable group, the band has managed to push beyond its heyday, releasing some of the most criminally underappreciated modern rock of the last ten years.
Who are they? A moog-driven, post-new wave alt-pop act fronted by the TRUE musical genius force behind Weezer, Matt Sharp, with spacey vocals supplied by the velvety voiced Petra Haden and Cherielynn Westrich.
What did they do? In 1995, they released their debut album The Return of the Rentals, a critically and commercially overlooked masterpiece that received a moderate amount of airplay on MTV and alt rock radio.
What do they sound like? Weezer meets the Pixies, with an ample does of B-movie music appreciation thrown in for good measure.
Where have I heard them before? If you paid close attention circa 1995 , you may have heard their only legit successful single, Friends of P played on MTV one or two times. Also, their single Waiting was included on the soundtrack for Joe s Apartment, which I am sure you have all but forgotten about until just then.
Why didn't they get famous? â€¦because mainstream America has a horrible taste in music, I suppose. While Weezer went on to record lifeless, plastic sell-out rock, ex-Weezer bassist Matt Sharp continued to put together outstanding music with the Rentals, releasing a critically and commercially ignored follow up to The Rentals Return, entitled Seven More Minutes in 1999. Sadly, The Rentals went on hiatus shortly thereafter, with Sharp pursuing a solo career as, if you can believe it, a folk-country singer. Thankfully, the band reformed in 2007, and has released several awesome - yet insanely hard to find - EP s that, hopefully, will someday find themselves in the band s long delayed third album.
People in this day and age seem to LOVE complaining about the lack of supposedly good alternative rock out there. While that may or may not hold true, there is still a tremendous amount of stuff out there from the 90s that you have either never heard or totally forgotten about. . .and if either is the case, I would highly recommend hitting up your iPod, cruising through YouTube, or even plugging up your old Walkman and rocking out to all of the above mentioned artists.
90s Alternative Rock is dead. Long Live 90s Alternative Rock!
James Swift is a freelance writer currently living in the metro Atlanta area. He is the author of two books, How I Survived Three Years at a Two-Year Community College: A Junior Memoir of Epic Proportions and Mascara Contra Mascara: A Tale of Two Masks. My YouTube Channel: youtube.com/user/jswiftmediaMy Twitter: twitter.com/jswiftmedia My Blog: internetisinamerica.blogspot.com