The full list of Lithium’s top 100 alternative + grunge songs of ’90s

5 minutes, 24 seconds Read

Nirvana. Pearl Jam. Soundgarden. Foo Fighters. R.E.M. Nine Inch Nails. Alice in Chains. Which band had the best song in the 90s? SiriusXM’s Lithium channel spent the last week counting down the best songs during the alternative and grunge era A.K.A. the 1990s. They just finished up the list on Sunday night.


And as with all “best of” lists – no one is going to agree with the top 5 or top 10 or top 100, and there will be plenty of deserving songs that don’t make the list. No doubt that Nirvana had the most cultural impact in the 90s, but does that mean they automatically deserve a top spot? And does popularity/record sales matter or is it just about the music? If it’s just about the music itself, then can we agree on the factors that matter the most?

No? Okay. Well… let’s just get on with it shall we? Here’s Lithium’s Top 100 starting from the bottom:

Top 100 Alternative Songs of the 90s
Rank Song Artist/Band
100 Praise You Fatboy Slim
99 Scar Tissue Red Hot Chili Peppers
98 My Own Worst Enemy Lit
97 Cherub Rock Smashing Pumpkins
96 Tomorrow Silverchair
95 Learn To Fly Foo Fighters
94 In The Meantime Spacehog
93 Hey Jealousy Gin Blossoms
92 Big Empty Stone Temple Pilots
91 Closing Time Semisonic
90 Glycerine Bush
89 The Distance Cake
88 Daughter Pearl Jam
87 The Beautiful People Marilyn Manson
86 Stupid Girl Garbage
85 Otherside Red Hot Chili Peppers
84 Good Better Than Ezra
83 What's The Frequency Kenneth? R.E.M.
82 Champagne Supernova Oasis
81 Burden In My Hand Soundgarden
80 Just A Girl No Doubt
79 In Bloom Nirvana
78 Backwater Meat Puppets
77 Brain Stew/Jaded Green Day
76 Loser Beck
75 Undone-The Sweater Song Weezer
74 I Alone Live
73 I'll Stick Around Foo Fighters
72 Hey Man Nice Shot Filter
71 Guerrilla Radio Rage Against The Machine
70 Song 2 Blur
69 Comedown Bush
68 Flagpole Sitta Harvey Danger
67 Plush Stone Temple Pilots
66 What Would You Say Dave Matthews Band
65 1979 Smashing Pumpkins
64 Black Pearl Jam
63 Jane Says (Live) Jane's Addiction
62 Give It Away Red Hot Chili Peppers
61 Would? Alice In Chains
60 Epic Faith No More
59 Monkey Wrench Foo Fighters
58 Low Cracker
57 Heart Shaped Box Nirvana
56 You Oughta Know Alanis Morissette
55 Man On The Moon R.E.M.
54 Buddy Holly Weezer
53 Peaches Presidents Of The United States Of America
52 Basket Case Green Day
51 Don't Look Back In Anger Oasis
50 Fell On Black Days Soundgarden
49 Machinehead Bush
48 What I Got Sublime
47 Sabotage Beastie Boys
46 Tonight Tonight Smashing Pumpkins
45 Come Out And Play Offspring
44 Californication Red Hot Chili Peppers
43 Even Flow Pearl Jam
42 Semi-Charmed Life Third Eye Blind
41 Heaven Beside You Alice In Chains
40 Santa Monica Everclear
39 Lightning Crashes Live
38 Down 311
37 My Hero Foo Fighters
36 Possum Kingdom Toadies
35 Come As You Are Nirvana
34 Hunger Strike Temple Of The Dog
33 Interstate Love Song Stone Temple Pilots
32 Longview Green Day
31 Bittersweet Symphony The Verve
30 Killing In The Name Rage Against The Machine
29 Losing My Religion R.E.M.
28 Santeria Sublime
27 Everything Zen Bush
26 Spoonman Soundgarden
25 Rooster Alice In Chains
24 Creep Radiohead
23 Bullet With Butterfly Wings Smashing Pumpkins
22 No Rain Blind Melon
21 Lithium Nirvana
20 Self-Esteem Offspring
19 Creep Stone Temple Pilots
18 Been Caught Stealing Jane's Addiction
17 Say It Ain't So Weezer
16 All Over You Live
15 Wonderwall Oasis
14 When I Come Around Green Day
13 Jeremy Pearl Jam
12 Bulls On Parade Rage Against The Machine
11 Where It's At Beck
10 Man In The Box Alice In Chains
9 Closer Nine Inch Nails
8 Under The Bridge Red Hot Chili Peppers
7 Black Hole Sun Soundgarden
6 Today Smashing Pumpkins
5 Smells Like Teen Spirit Nirvana
4 Vasoline Stone Temple Pilots
3 Alive Pearl Jam
2 The Man Who Sold The World (Unplugged) Nirvana
1 Everlong Foo Fighters


Six bands dominated with five or more songs on the list. It’s the usual suspects in Nirvana (6), Foo Fighters (5), Pearl Jam (5), Red Hot Chili Peppers (5), Smashing Pumpkins (5), and Stone Temple Pilots (5) while Alice in Chains, Bush, Green Day and Soundgarden all had four songs on the list.

With 47 songs between these 10 bands, they make up nearly half the songs.

Then there’s Third-Eye Blind, Better Than Ezra, 311, Gin Blossoms, Oasis and The Verve. Not to mention the names that came out during that decade: Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, Chris Cornell and Billy Corgan. Layne Staley, Courtney Love, Anthony Kiedis and David Grohl.

Doesn’t that take you back? I forgot about half of these songs, so what’s great about Lithium putting together this list is reminding us of the great music that came out 25 years ago.

So how did they come up with it? Here’s what the SiriusXM blog had to say about their selection process:

Narrowing down a decade’s worth of music to a list of 100 was a great deal easier than one would think. It only required two teams of experts, working 1,700 miles apart. The first team consisted of 9 of the world’s top alternative and grunge music experts locked in a conference room in the former Kmart World Headquarters in Troy, MI. These musicologists needed only 3 weeks to compile a list of songs they felt deserving of being on the Lithium Top 100.

I know that radio people don’t get paid much money, much less get paid to be locked in a conference room for three weeks, but that sounds like a lot of fun. Think of anything you’re passionate about and you’re then asked for your opinion for an authority on the subject?

But in what order? That’s where the second team began their work, in a laboratory built nearly a quarter mile beneath the surface of a nondescript patch of New Mexico desert. There, 17 rogue scientists used math, Bunsen burners and a particle accelerator to determine what song was truly number 1, and which one was 2. And 3. And so on.

Omissions, Snubs and Impossibility

What about the omissions? The top 100 didn’t include The Breeders’ Cannonball, Hole’s Violet, Pearl Jam’s Better Man or Yellow Ledbetter,  Pepper by The Butthole Surfers, No Doubt’s Don’t Speak, Nirvana’s All Apologies, Spin Doctor’s Two Princes, Liz Phair’s Supernova, PJ Harvey’s Down by the Water, Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, The Cranberries’ Zombie or Soul Asylum’s Runaway Train?

We could go on and on and on and that’s our point — it’s 100% impossible to make a perfect list of “best” music for an entire decade because music tastes are subjective.

Our take is as long as most can agree that the top 15-20 is 90% accurate, that’s the best you can really hope for. You’ll know you have a good list when an argument can be made for any of the top ten songs for the #1 spot.

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  1. avatar
    Chris says:

    I’d love to hear the rationale for having Smells Like Teen Spirit at #5 and an acoustic cover of The Man Who Sold the World at #2.

    Teen Spirit defined a generation and ushered in the entire generation. Set aside my argument that it should be #1 overall on this countdown. To not have it as the highest ranked Nirvana song blows my mind and makes me wonder how the hell the list was compiled.

    1. avatar
      layyla says:

      My husband suggested that the men (I don’t think that women were involved) who made this list were thinking of how they feel about the songs, especially the top 10 today rather than remembering the impact of the songs when they were new. It’s just a thought.

    2. avatar
      Jonal says:

      I totally agree with you. I had Smells like Teen Spirit as lock down #1. And it’s 5? No freaking way, That song is what you play when someone asks what is grunge? That song defined the genre. I wouldn’t even have Everlong in top 10. But you know what, I could have lived with it at #2. The only thing they needed to do to get this list right was have teen spirit #1 and they failed. Hell Lithium is named after a damn Nirvana song! How could NIRVANA NOT BE #1 WHEN YOU NAMED THE DAMN CHANNEL AFTER ONE OF THIER SONGS!

  2. avatar
    layyla says:

    Women in general are underrepresented on this list. We have Alanis, No Doubt, and Garbage as the select few female voices. It appears that women didn’t participate in 90’s alternative rock.

  3. avatar
    Robert Vela says:

    3 songs per band says enough about their impact and open up room for the other artist who deserve recognition and (most likely) were inspired and given a chance by the success & popularity of the big names. Maybe some input on how much $ was made per song would add a nice spin on the perspective of what is “success” and what feels “right”. Money is always a factor and I am sure this would spark further discussion. Thanks for doing all the legwork on a great weekend of music.

  4. avatar
    Lux Interior says:

    Understand that all “lists” are put together to cause clicks by offended readers. Of course SLTS defines the genre and has to be number 1 but then the outrage wouldn’t be there to cause participation. It’s silly, really.

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