Grunge music is a subgenre of alternative rock with roots in Seattle, Washington. You probably recognize the big names like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, even if this genre isn’t one you know much about.
Grunge songs never fail to have a riveting beat, often centering around chaotic guitars and disordered drums. It always makes for a fun and adrenaline-filled time. Here’s our pick of the best grunge songs!
Table of Contents
- Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
- Alive – Pearl Jam
- Today – The Smashing Pumpkins
- Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
- Would? – Alice In Chains
- Interstate Love Song – Stone Temple Pilots
- Hunger Strike – Temple of the Dog
- Doll Parts – Hole
- Nearly Lost You – Screaming Trees
- Pretend We’re Dead – L7
- Touch Me I’m Sick – Mudhoney
- Swallow My Pride – Green River
- Comedown – Bush
- River of Deceit – Mad Season and Seattle Symphony
- Seether – Veruca Salt
- Even Flow – Pearl Jam
- Feel the Pain – Dinosaur Jr.
- Come as You Are – Nirvana
- Tomorrow – Silverchair
- Grease Box – TAD
- Plush – Stone Temple Pilots
- Outshined – Soundgarden
- Lizzy – Melvins
- Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns – Mother Love Bone
- Out of Focus – Love Battery
- Rooster – Alice In Chains
- Far Behind – Candlebox
- Sweet ’69 – Babes in Toyland
- Seven – Sunny Day Real Estate
- Jessie – Paw
- Bob – The Gits
- The Scratch – 7 Year Bitch
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is a hallmark of Nirvana’s discography, one of their most popular singles and one of the first alternative rock songs to go mainstream. Kurt Cobain’s vocals, especially in the chorus, are full of dangerous emotion that entices you to sing along. Cobain seems to have a cynical and complicated relationship with his fame and audience, singing, “I feel stupid and contagious. Here we are now. Entertain us.”
Related: This song features on our playlist of songs about teenage life.
Alive – Pearl Jam
‘Alive’ was Pearl Jam’s first single, and its unique vulnerability makes it an exceptional song. The track is a semi-autobiographical one about lead singer Eddie Vedder finding out that his father was actually his stepfather and that his biological father had passed away. Despite his world being turned completely upside down, Vedder finds comfort in the simple idea that he’s still alive.
Related: Check out more of the best 90s songs.
Today – The Smashing Pumpkins
The hook line of the chorus is “today is the greatest day I’ve ever known,” yet the rest of the song works to prove this sentiment wrong. Today is only a good day because it means you’re not yet facing tomorrow. It’s certainly a depressing outlook, spoken from a truly hopeless place. We’ve all been there, facing the monotony of life after we realize we “wanted more than life could ever grant” us.
Related: Rise to the top with our underdog songs list.
Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
This grooving song has an interesting metaphor. Soundgarden asks, “black hole sun, won’t you come and wash away the rain?” The rain here is the deceit, depression, and drug abuse present in the music industry at the time. Soundgarden wants the warmth of a black hole sun to suck it all away so they can start anew in an industry that’s only about the music.
Related: Like the sound of this song? Then you’ll love these popular drop D songs.
Would? – Alice In Chains
A menacing bassline and intense production set the scene for this song with heavy themes. Alice In Chains uses ‘Would?’ to talk about how hard it is to walk the line between relapse and rehab. Addiction is a lonely and difficult burden, and the narrator wonders if the burden will ever ease, asking, “have I run too far to get home?”
Related: Listen to more Singles soundtrack songs.
Interstate Love Song – Stone Temple Pilots
Lead singer Scott Weiland wrote ‘Interstate Love Song’ from the perspective of his fiancé. When Weiland was on the road touring, he would lie about the state of his well-being and drug habits to his fiancé but imagined that she could see right through his lies. The guilt is clear in the regretful tone of the song.
Related: We’re telling the truth—these are the best liar songs.
Hunger Strike – Temple of the Dog
‘Hunger Strike’ was one of Temple of the Dog’s most popular songs, likely due to its emotional relatability. The song talks about going hungry despite having plenty of resources to avoid this. But this kind of hunger is a metaphorical one that no amount of money can nourish—something is missing inside. The agony of this feeling shines through the wailing vocals and dynamic guitars.
Doll Parts – Hole
If you’ve ever had feelings for someone well-liked, ‘Doll Parts’ will probably resonate with you. Singer Courtney Love wrote this song about Kurt Cobain. She wanted him but knew that so many other people did, too. She is confident that she’s the best choice but is afraid he will never see it. Her vocals get progressively more intense, promising him that if he doesn’t choose her, “you will ache like I ache.”
Nearly Lost You – Screaming Trees
Released at the peak of the early 90s grunge scene, ‘Nearly Lost You’ is a quintessential Screaming Trees song. The track has shredding guitars and riffs that pull you in as the narrator talks about the pull of drugs. The “I” and the “you” of the song seem to be the same person—he is speaking to himself about how he almost got lost in the throes of drug abuse.
Related: Find more of the best songs about addiction.
Pretend We’re Dead – L7
Singer and writer Donita Sparks’ monotone vocals match the vibe of this song perfectly. Her apathy lets lyrics like “we pretend that we’re dead” carry more weight because it sounds like Sparks is doing just that. The track is a protest song about how social change can only come if we refuse to pretend we’re dead. The repetition of “come on, come on” is an inspiring call to action.
Related: Let your voice be heard with these great protest songs.
Touch Me I’m Sick – Mudhoney
‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ was a huge grunge anthem and has remained so since its release in ’88. Its quick beat and staticky electric guitar give the song an intensity you can feel in your chest, which matches desperate lyrics like “I’m gonna make you love me ’til the day you die.”
Swallow My Pride – Green River
Harsh electric guitar lays down the backbone of ‘Swallow My Pride,’ and melodies that walk down are like an auditory metaphor for swallowing that pride. The narrator is talking to a girl who he believes is naive and misled, and all he wants to do is tell her “pride comes before a fall” to give her a reality check.
Comedown – Bush
Many songs compare love to a drug, something that gives you an addictive high that you just can’t get enough of. ‘Comedown’ talks about the aftermath of that high, when things fall apart, and all you’re left with is the withdrawal. Much like the disorienting sonics of this song, a comedown leaves you with only questions: “what do you say, do you do, when it all comes down?”
River of Deceit – Mad Season and Seattle Symphony
It’s not obvious exactly what the ‘River of Deceit’ is, but it’s nothing good. It may allude to drug addiction or mental health problems, but it could also apply to any struggle that is hard to escape from. All the river does is pull you down, and it feels fruitless to fight against it. You can hear the defeat of the narrator as he sings, which adds a beautiful emotion to the track.
Related: Let the current take you to our playlist of river music.
Seether – Veruca Salt
Ah, female rage. Such a perfect muse for a grunge song. ‘Seether’ is the personification of the narrator’s anger. She has a rage that runs so deep it makes her feel like a different person sometimes. She sings, “can’t fight the seether, I can’t see her till I’m foaming at the mouth.” By the time the seether appears, she’s too lost in her anger to try and control it.
Even Flow – Pearl Jam
‘Even Flow’ describes the life of a homeless man. The “he” of the song is living on the streets, resting “his head on a pillow made of concrete.” The song still has an upbeat feel despite its heavy content, which matches the subtle hope in the song that the man will remain happy and “begin his life again.”
Related: If you need a boost of encouragement, here are some songs to inspire hope.
Feel the Pain – Dinosaur Jr.
At the very beginning of ‘Feel the Pain,’ there’s an effect that sounds like a wine bottle being uncorked. That gives a drunken perspective to the song, like this narrator is lamenting over his sorrow after a lonely night and a few glasses of wine. He goes back and forth between feeling too much and nothing at all, singing, “I feel the pain of everyone, then I feel nothing.” This juxtaposition is matched by the instrumentation, which pushes forward and pulls back in intensity throughout the song.
Related: Grab a glass and listen to more wine songs.
Come as You Are – Nirvana
‘Come as You Are’ is an iconic Nirvana song because of the driving drums and echoing guitars. Its lyrics are also really thought-provoking because nearly all of them contradict each other. Lines like “as a friend, as an old enemy” and “come doused in mud, soaked in bleach” are just a few examples. Nirvana seems to be using these opposing descriptions to drive home the point of coming as you are, no matter what that means to you.
Related: Feeling anxious? You’re not alone with these songs about being nervous.
Tomorrow – Silverchair
Silverchair has said that this song was inspired by a TV show where a rich guy has to live as a poor guy temporarily. Even when the rich guy wants to give up, he must “wait until tomorrow.” It’s an interesting look at how rich people will never understand poverty even if they’re put in the middle of it because they know they can always just go back home.
Related: If you wish you had more money than you could spend, you’ll enjoy our songs about getting rich playlist.
Grease Box – TAD
‘Grease Box’ may have you asking yourself, “what the hell’s it mean?” TAD sings about digging for your soul and running from six dead horses and thirteen men, and though this isn’t the clearest sentiment, it seems like the narrator is looking at his identity. He’s strange and not widely accepted, but he knows it’s okay to stand alone. The tough electric guitar builds the idea of this unwavering authenticity.
Related: You’re irreplaceable! Check out the best songs about accepting yourself.
Plush – Stone Temple Pilots
The electric guitar is dark and punchy, the bass is grooving, and the vocals are rich and full. ‘Plush’ takes us through the ins and outs of an unhealthy and obsessive relationship. The line “where ya goin’ with the mask I found?” tells us that both people in the relationship have been dishonest one way or another, and neither is being open about what they really want.
Related: See more of the best toxic relationship songs.
Outshined – Soundgarden
Chris Cornell’s vocals steal the show in ‘Outshined.’ The raspy vulnerability and the passionate delivery take the listener right into the depths of Cornell’s emotions. He’s struggling with not feeling good enough, finding it hard to even look in the mirror without criticizing himself. We all have our moments where we feel like we “can’t get any lower,” and Cornell is right there with us.
Related: We all feel inadequate from time to time. Here are some songs about not feeling loved.
Lizzy – Melvins
‘Lizzy’ has a slow and ominous start, with instruments adding to the deep guitar one by one until the song goes full-on grunge with heavy drums and growling vocals. The rest of the song follows a push and pull between the two styles, constantly building anticipation and then providing a satisfying resolve.
Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns – Mother Love Bone
This poignant song is deeply personal to Andrew Wood, the lead singer of Mother Love Bones. The first section of the song, ‘Chloe Dancer,’ talks about Wood’s fiancé, who tried out being a stripper until Wood could get a record contract. When the drums start picking up, the song transitions into ‘Crown of Thorns,’ which deals more with addiction and its tendency to leave you lonely.
Related: Need some company? Here’s our playlist of songs about feeling alone.
Out of Focus – Love Battery
Piercing electrical feedback throughout ‘Out of Focus’ will definitely keep your focus locked on the song. The singer is completely out of sorts because of his feelings for the song’s subject. He is enticed by her, obsessed with her, and torn apart by her. We don’t know if the relationship is healthy, but we know he can’t give it up—”all the world seems so unreal.”
Related: Head over to our playlist of songs about being obsessed with someone.
Rooster – Alice In Chains
Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell wrote this song to pay homage to his father. His father’s nickname is “Rooster,” hence the song’s title and the track is about Cantrell’s interpretation of what it was like for him in The Vietnam War. There’s uncertainty, fear, and death all around. But, when it comes to the Rooster, “you know he ain’t gonna die.”
Related: Listen to the best songs about dads.
Far Behind – Candlebox
This song was inspired by the death of Andrew Wood, the lead singer of the rock band Mother Love Bone. ‘Far Behind’ deals with all the complicated emotions that come with losing a friend to drugs. One of the opening lines is beautiful: “maybe some would say your life was sad, but you lived it anyway.” Despite all the struggles this person was facing, the singer admires his bravery for facing them as long as he could.
Related: Boost your confidence with the best courage songs.
Sweet ’69 – Babes in Toyland
‘Sweet ’69’ is aggressive and raging. Unhinged vocals and clattering rhythms make you want to let loose to this song. At the surface level, the song seems to be about a 1969 car, but numerous innuendos give each line a suggestive meaning. Lines like “you got a hood, shine, analyze, seats alive, vinyl thighs” make the comparison between a person and a cool car.
Related: Vroom, vroom! Fill up with these songs about a car.
Seven – Sunny Day Real Estate
Tight snare and huge drum rhythms battle with the softer vocals, but eventually, the passion of the vocal grows in conversation with the drums. Though the lyrics are a bit ambiguous, a likely conclusion is that this song is about the death and rebirth of someone in a car accident. The song’s beginning mentions a “tragic drive” and later says, “a new face, a soul reborn.”
Jessie – Paw
This song’s blaring guitar and rocking style isn’t the most typical setting for an emotional story about a lost dog, but it ends up being very impactful. You can clearly hear the devastating mourning in the broken vocals of the narrator, repeating over and over, “oh, Jessie, you’re a good dog.” He doesn’t feel deserving of this good dog, telling Jessie not to follow him anymore.
Related: Do you have a barking furry friend? You’ll want to hear our songs about dogs playlist.
Bob – The Gits
This song starts with a heavy guitar riff, slowly building until those drums come crashing in to wake you up. This instrumental choice perfectly sets up the opening lyric, “awaken in a state that’s not my own.” ‘Bob’ awakens you in a state of The Gits, a state of confusion over your identity. The Gits sing about the inner turmoil that comes with that feeling of losing yourself—”my only torment is my own disguise.”
The Scratch – 7 Year Bitch
This chaotic song is about that intense feeling of wanting something, even if you’re not quite sure what it is. The messy drums and vocals that are sometimes slightly out of time add to the chaos, and singing along will make you feel confident and confused in the best way possible.