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“Dolby’s Top 100 Rock Songs of the ’90s”


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100 Green Day – “Longview”

Kurt Cobain was in the very throes of his heroin struggle and depression but hark… we’re witnessing the pioneering of masturbation as a discussion topic in a hit song. I’m joking, but in all seriousness, this band believe it or not did pave the way for lots of other acts (even giving birth to the name The All American Rejects) to belt out juvenile, simplistic punk rock with simple rudiments and catchy hooks that, hey, everybody seems to like! How’d that happen?

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99 The Dismemberment Plan – “What Do You Want Me to Say?”

“What Do You Want Me to Say?” was my introduction to this mighty, marauding band and right away when I heard it I just internalized them permanently as cutting through convention with a sharp, uncompromising stylistic knife. Travis Morrison’s lyrics on this cut are deep and lively but it’s the uncanny way the band shirks any sort of former songwriting playbook that really makes this stuff last, like a spherical ball that rolls along refusing all prior methodology and jabbing free in jazz-funk degeneration.

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98 Filter – “Hey Man, Nice Shot”

How’s this for making a splash when you quit Nine Inch Nails and start your own da** band that’s way better: a burning peal dedicated to the Pennsylvania politician who shot himself up at a podium, mid-speech, with the discourse that suicide was his best option because “They stick it in your face / And let you smell what they consider wrong”. I think this song is probably supposed to be tongue in cheek too but it also represents the phenomenon of how songs can pertain to THOUGHTS we might have that are very real, and how they can help us get through that mental turmoil, even if the inkling were never going to lead to any actual destructive action.

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97 Counting Crows – “A Long December”

I don’t think there’s any song within the ’90s or of any time in our culture that’s so distinctly SEASONAL: although it’s the clear-cut best song on “Recovering the Satellites” they withheld issuing of it as a single until second so they could put it out IN December. Even in my personal playlist compilations I recall slapping this sucker on something called “December Mix” and not that you CAN’T listen to it any other time of the year, but it’s deliberate pace and mellow tone do make for perfect listening during the period of rest and reflection.

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96 Rage against the Machine – “Bullet in the Head”

Rage against the Machine seemed rudimentarily designed to take the novelty rock-rap blueprint lain down by Faith No More and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and stew it up into something purposeful, something that rocked out with more anger and anger that was more directed, from their ethnic vantage point of impoverished LA. “Bullet in the Head” is a favorite of mine because of that glorious opening guitar riff as well as the high-energy sped-up part at the end of riffy, thunderous rocking.

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95 The Smashing Pumpkins – “Zero”

It seems like at some point if you were to sit the Billy Corgan haters down and lead them through like 30-second samples of all their successful singles on Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, they’d at some point stop talking mid-sentence and start like coughing up blood, out of sheer realization of how stupid they were. Indeed, it’s staggering what this band achieved from ’93 to ’95 between melodic and memorable ballads and tracks like this where they just cranked it up and made your ears bleed. And of course who could forget the chorus to this one that’s probably been belted out in karaoke’s in every state: “Emptiness is loneliness / And loneliness is cleanliness / And cleanliness is godliness / And God is empty just like me”.

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94 The Breeders – “Drivin’ on 9”

Well wouldn’t you know it this is a cover, of Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, which Wikipedia calls an “alternative folk group.” But vying pretty well for “traditionalist” favorite cut on Last Splash (with “Roi” probably nabbing “hipster” favorite in one fell swoop), “Drivin’ on 9” chugs along beautifully with some jaunty banjo, cello and of course a beautiful guitar sound flanking Kim Deal’s tender vocals.

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93 Blur – “Song 2”

Twas a mighty, roaring riff from on high that powered this sucka — more concise and crushing than anything the band had done to date and arguably even better. Really, I probably relegated it this low on the list because I’ve heard it a tad too much, despite it being about the best lesson in simplicity leading to “rocking” you’re likely to find anywhere in the alt. world.

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92 Cat Power – “Cross Bones Style”

Honest to God this Moon Pix album is way more solid than it usually gets credit for and than I represent it as on this list, in all likelihood. It’s just so down and somber, through and through, but the songwriting genuineness is there without question and on this particular track the energy does get kicked up a notch, with some meticulous, celestial guitar riffing and some unforgettable lyrics: “Oh come child / In a cross bones style / Oh come child / Come and rescue me / ’Cause you have seen some unbelievable things”.

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91 Built to Spill – “Sidewalk”

Keep it Like a Secret from ’99 is really close to being my favorite Built to Spill record — what it lacks in deep, existential rumination and expansive song structures it seems to generally compensate for in energy and breezy, expedited songwriting, making it a better summer barbecue or party listen. “Sidewalk” typifies that dichotomy nicely with some polymorphous drum beat and a chorus that though fresh is simple enough to fit into some rocking, streamlined catchiness.

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90 Pavement – “AT&T”

I think people are slowly coming around to the angular, exhaustive beast that is Pavement’s third album Wowee Zowee and personally for me this cut takes the cake on it, straight-ahead power pop that seems to represent nothing if not pure innocence, freedom and a meticulous ear for rock and roll.

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89 Alanis Morissette – “Thank U”

Between odd jobs like an age 12 appearance on You Can’t Do That on Television and the movie Dogma by Kevin Smith (who puts one of her songs in just about every one of her soundtracks), Morissette was our part-objectified, part-revered darling of the ’90s who came off the blockbuster smash Jagged Little Pill with I think an even more pliable and angelic little swatch of songwriting about the beauty lying in humility and emotional autonomy.

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88 Counting Crows – “Time and Time again”

I was just reading up on the theremin yesterday on Bandcamp and though I kind of think it sounds like sh** it turns out it did give way to the bulk of technologies that would be used in synthesizer’s in the second half of the century and probably the “Hammond B3” organ, which on this cut makes this almost impossibly faint, whispery tone that almost seems to symbolize the dying hope in the human mind of a true connection (I felt so symbolic today).

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87 Supergrass – “Hollow Little Reign”

“Hollow Little Reign” is a gorgeous piano-driven tune toward the end of the band’s masterpiece In it for the Money, taking an easy pace and in the meantime laying down one of the most stupefying chord progressions I’ve probably ever heard. Equally stylish then are Gaz Coombes’ cubist, imagistic lyrics painting little snapshots of urban life — things that are meaningful to him and only to him, indulgently and triumphantly so.

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86 Guided by Voices – “Tractor Rape Chain”

On its surface this stuff might seem like pedestrian, shi**y sounding indie rock, but make no mistake (though it certainly is shi**y-sounding), this band takes great pains to flood their songs with eccentricities, sort of borrowing from the Pixies “wave of mutilation” lyrical playbook with coyly introducing an atrocity but attaching to the chorus a key phrasing unorthodoxy that saves the song from mundanity.

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85 INXS – “Beautiful Girl”

“Beautiful Girl” opens up with honest to God a guitar riff that straight up nabs The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” but somehow pulls it off, in part with a dueling, celestial piano run and partly with great amorous urban beat poetry from singer Michael Hutchence.

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84 R.E.M. – “Tongue”

“Tongue” comes from what’s undoubtedly R.E.M.’s glam-rock album Monster, which is a good thing and a bad thing but mostly just bad, with at least this particular tune gelatinizing up into something supremely catchy and pliable, and also notably a seven-note guitar solo that manages to kind of steal the show, in its own way. Don’t forget the music video, with Stipe looking astonishingly androgynous and Mike Mills looking awfully vibrant rocking out on that synth.

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83 Toad the Wet Sprocket – “Walk on the Ocean”

I personally don’t think this band ever really slung together a classic album, but their best-of run-through P.S. is pretty consistently rewarding, thanks in part to this nugget that trots along with the band’s midtempo m.o., some gorgeous backing vocals and even this close-picked mandolin in the chorus that sounds like it’s being played by a dude with about six hands.

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82 Ween – “Ocean Man”

Slowly but surely, through the mid-’90s, Ween started coming down to earth and writing actual “songs” and this progress is finally evident on 1997’s The Mollusk, which carries catchy numbers pretty much throughout like this nature travelogue about a fictitious ocean creature. The guitars sound nice and it’s a good catchy tune but what seem to take the forefront again are these guys’ weird approach to vocals, sort of over-enunciating and making everything condescending and excessively simple, as if the only rebellion left to them by this point is this absurdist kitsch.

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81 Green Day – “Basket Case”

If you want the definition of balls, look at Green Day who put out “Longview,” a song about masturbation, as the lead single off their commercial breakthrough album. “Basket Case” tones down the potential embarrassment factor a little bit but not by much (it’s hard to imagine a world in which artistic voices were so uninhibited and he**… FUN), weaving up a story about giving yourself the creeps and having a shrink lead you to a whore. As almost always, probably, it could be a tongue-in-cheek statement on general human ubiquity — otherwise people might have started to worry a little more than they did, indeed.

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80 The Dismemberment Plan – “Memory Machine”

“Memory Machine” is the raucous track two of The Dismemberment Plan’s classic Emergency & I where I think Travis Morrison devolves into a completely juvenile vocal high jinks of yelling “Red wire / Left temple / Black wire / Right temple” to illustrate his expressionist view of the technologically usurped future, but it certainly works, and in fact those Facebook “memories” sort of remind me of this exact thing a little bit.

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79 Weezer – “Say it Ain’t So”

“Say it Ain’t So” is emphatic, meticulous power pop off the band’s debut Blue Album, slowing the tempo down a little bit and constructing itself around what’s easily one of the best guitar intros of the ’90s. Apparently it’s autobiographical but only partly: the violence part is made up but also according to report alcohol was instrumental in ruining his mom and dad’s marriage, this tune then written to finally discovering his step-dad drinking in out of character fashion one night.

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78 The Wallflowers – “6th Avenue Heartache”

The band of Jakob Dylan, Bob Dylan’s proud progeny, had apparently pretty much a wealth of studio time and budget to get this initial album done, but they made it happen with a pretty strong side a, a listenable side b and this catchy and vaguely melancholic centerpiece which features Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows on background vocals, as well as T-Bone Burnett, who worked on August and Everything after, on production.

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77 Everclear – “Santa Monica”

It’s probably safe to say guitar string sales spiked big time in the mid-’90s, a lot of it likely because of wild-eyed primates around the U.S. doing this frantically strumming a muted string thing that was definitely a staple of alt-rock, and all the broken strings that were a result. “Santa Monica” is ultimately supremely cool and supremely apocalyptic as well, which is to say, supremely “’90s.”

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76 Radiohead – “Paranoid Android”

Up to this point in their career, Radiohead had definitely never done anything like this: a six-minute, screeching caterwaul of a rock epic, full of multiple tempo changes as well as changes in general mood and also reality itself, almost. Johnny Greenwood’s guitar solo and Thom Yorke’s unsettling lyrics of “When I am king / You will be first against the wall” and “Ambition makes you look pretty ugly / Kicking squealing Gucci little piggy” tend to basically battle it out, each worthily, for supreme dominance.

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75 Counting Crows – “Round Here”

Anybody who knows Counting Crows’ subject matter should know that the “under the gun” line is purely metaphorical, I would think, as well as the “Help me if I’m fallin’ / Help me ’cause I’m fallin’ down again” pairing, but not the “She looks up at the window / Says she’s thinkin’ of jumpin’ / Says she’s tired of life / She must be tired of something”. Maybe it’s all the metaphor.

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74 Alice in Chains – “Over Now”

How are they DOING this chord progression? This has gotta be the best thing I’ve ever heard. And then there’s those lyrics, pointing the interrogation in on the self at the end sort of like that Hitchcock film that ends with the dude aiming the revolver at the guy leaving the room, only to point it on himself and do the deed, for the end of the movie. And if that seems grim then you still don’t get it.

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73 Goo Goo Dolls – “Name”

This is a song that was always pretty popular on the radio off of ’95’s A Boy Named Goo, maybe a little overplayed but still that grew on me gradually over time for all the hard-won, stone-faced wisdom and realization, taking a disillusioned look at a world where anonymity is the logical recourse over vulnerable intimacy with the simple conclusion: “I won’t tell no one your name”.

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72 Built to Spill – “Made-up Dreams”

Perfect from Now on is sort of one of those epic albums whose background songwriting story you sort of hold at arm’s length, saying “Ok, this dude probably drank himself retarded and all that jazz.” Anyway, “Made-up Dreams” is the breezy centerpiece where Doug Martsch and company let their guard down and start having a wacky time with the ska-swing-punk… definitely not, but the pace gallops along with a smidge more enthusiasm. None of the creative swagger becomes entropy either, with sharp hooks and of course the great lines “No one wants to hear / What you dreamt about / Unless you dreamt about them / Don’t let that stop you / Tell them anyway / And you can make it up / As you go”.

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71 Pavement – “Cut Your Hair”

I went and saw the Pitchfork festival in 2010 and Pavement was the “headliner,” if festivals have headliners, and I heard somebody make the comment that “They better just play ‘Cut Your Hair’ early to get it out of the way so people stop yelling for it.” It’s the obvious go-to song of the band, all of whose albums came out at some point in the ’90s, the usual Rob Sheffield pick to sum up the band’s catalogue and generally so ubiquitous that your natural inclination is to rebel against it and come up with some “sleeper” favorite Pavement song, which usually just makes you look pretentious. The band was in full command on this Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain staple, plotting down some funky phrasings, background “ooh-ooh-ooh”’s and snarky humor for the most replay-able moment they’d ever manufacture as a collective.

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70 Foo Fighters – “My Hero”

There’s been speculation that this song is about Kurt Cobain and really it’s never been ascertained to me to this day: really with a song of this magnitude I feel like it can’t help but be ambiguous, or about two people at once, Cobain being obviously someone who fed Grohl’s creative drive over the years but equally Dave Grohl being a pretty precocious alt-rock firebrand in himself, getting his Foo Fighters record deal incognito and thereby getting by without the Nirvana star-making advantage, which you’ve gotta admit is pretty cool.

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69 Stone Temple Pilots – “Lady Picture Show”

I swear to God these songs must have been like seeping into my consciousness in the mid-’90s between episodes of Mad about You and Grace under Fire because I never attached this title as being a good song but when I heard it again I immediately fell into it like it was a bottomless pit of celestial, angelic melody. The music video is no slouch either, as this band is rightly known for.

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68 The Breeders – “Divine Hammer”

“Divine Hammer” trots along at a brisk, uplifting pace late in Last Splash but also in quintessential singles form, building around a simple, major-chord chorus. I thoroughly recommend The Breeders’ live show, if you ever get the chance.

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67 Beck – “Devils Haircut”

In a way it’s odd that rap-rock was such a novelty when Korn and Limp Bizkit took over the rock charts in ’99 or thereabouts because when you look at it, the ’90s weren’t nothin’ but one big rock-rap stew waiting to come to a boil and start bustin’ rumps. “Devils Haircut,” the catchy opener on and single from Odelay, doesn’t have any rapping but Beck’s other work did and it does show the funky-fresh beats of The Dust Brothers to go with that incessant, awesomely banal and gubernatorial guitar riff.

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66 Blur – “End of a Century”

This is one gorgeous and pliable Blur number pretty much everybody can agree on that I first encountered on my very plebian, primitive The Best of Blur and later on on their authoritative LP Parklife from ’94. Once again lyrical theme is made of the “TV,” similar to how R.E.M. used to do, with unflinching sociologically resignation as if to say yes, I am only one of these technology-hooked droids.

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65 LIVE – “Lightning Crashes”

I’d like to take this opportunity to say “fu** you” to Steven Hyden of the A/V Club who basically blasted LIVE for no other reason than that they were mainstream and sold a lot of albums. People seem to forget this music was coming out and propagating in the throes of the Nancy Kerrigan attack, the Oklahoma City bombing and the OJ Simpson murder — it wasn’t this cutesy time of taking pot shots on successful people for the sad-sack objective of spurring your own dormant career as a critic. How much things change, sometimes.

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64 Soundgarden – “Spoonman”


That riff to this song will probably forever be sovereign as one of the most righteous things ever lain down in 7/4 time signature. In addition, you’ve gotta love the lyrical imagery of “All my friends are Indians / All my friends are brown and red”, tapping into a rich minority heritage and conjuring up this spooky, fomenting vibe of what can explode out of the speakers when music is taken back to its roots. And yeah, it’s median grunge, obviously, but it’s dual, in this way, I think.

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63 Helmet – “Ironhead”

When “alternative rock” became basically the “mainstream” for all intents and purposes in ’93 with key albums from The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and the Counting Crows, Helmet existed sort of over in the left field of New York City as the REAL alternative, bludgeoning out an edgy, caterwauling brand of alternative rock that was certainly an acquired taste for one weaned on tame melodies and cooperative relationship platitude. “Ironhead” is sort of their quintessential track to me, the second song on their debut album Meantime, all quick, brutish, murderous and official.

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62 Guided by Voices – “Watch Me Jumpstart”

For all GBV might have to complain about over the years for being overlooked or left under the proverbial rug (really they don’t… they were the epitome of “slacker” leaving that malfunctional guitar channel on the final mixing of “Hardcore U.F.O.’s”), one complaint they couldn’t level against the industry would be putting too much PRESSURE on them for their ’95 effort Alien Lanes. So it was all straight from the hip, freewheeling rock and roll that we got, like this odd ode to apparently making yourself a “machine” in life when good ol’ mortality doesn’t seem to be cutting it.

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61 Green Day – “When I Come around”

What makes this a great song? I don’t think it’s even POSSIBLE to explain. It’s like “Divine Hammer” and “Spoonman” — I spent so long trying to write about both of those songs and now I’m just resigning myself to the fact that sometimes anthems are just greater than me and I’ve never really achieved the exact mind state requisite for explaining or assessing them. But I’m pretty sure everybody can agree on this song — I’ve even encountered black dudes lately who like Green Day and “When I Come around” is sort of the inaugural materialization of the playbook they’re still using to this day, if you will.

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60 Counting Crows – “Omaha”

Almost strangely more radio-destined than “Mr. Jones,” “Omaha” rolled along at midtempo with similarly opaque, head-scratch-inducing lyrics that seem to lambast “middle America” but also tote a requisite grounded humility that was definitely very ingratiating and refreshing in this time of arena rock gods in music. Indeed, Adam Duritz had just about the most adverse reaction to fame and success I’ve ever observed in any musician with the possible exception of Ludacris.

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59 Crash Test Dummies – “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”

“The 12-M song” was definitely all the rage around ’95 and again it’s hard to say exactly what was so great about it. It was just so warm, inviting and catchy, with Brad Roberts singing with this gentle but strangely assertive authority about the veritable zenith of human travails and obstacles one must overcome in life in the form of quirks that may or may not have been in some way apocryphal.

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58 At the Drive-in – “Napoleon Solo”

I still remember my first experience with El Paso’s At the Drive-in, whose Cedrix Bixler-Zavala would later ignite The Mars Volta as lead singer — I thought they were the most annoying band I’d ever heard, this grating, pessimistic punk that was like an obnoxious little brother pointing out every mistake you make. Well, most of their songs aren’t this catchy, to make an understatement, and this song almost defies analysis with its gorgeous guitar riff infrastructure and otherworldly, howling vocals.

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57 The Dismemberment Plan – “A Life of Possibilities”

This sonically schizophrenic, twisted power pop mania was pretty much established in template on the band’s first two albums, ! and The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified, but on their classic ’99 breakthrough Emergency & I the songwriting strokes come broader, more disciplined mature and well, sensible. “A Life of Possibilities” is the opener that isn’t so much stupefyingly funky as it is the fact of it being funky at all is stupefying, given all its simultaneous functionality as viable radio emo and vanguard indie rock.

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56 Radiohead – “Creep”

Few songs are so strange to try to analyze as “Creep,” an undeniably lasting achievement in indie rock whose artist made such stylistic left turns and also achieved such SUPERIOR heights, within the very next decade, to the point where they ended up embodying a sort of anti-Radiohead, if Radiohead is in terms of this initial alt-rock burp of radio prowess. So eh I just won’t analyze it. “High and Dry” is a better tune anyway.

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55 The Smashing Pumpkins – “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”

Earlier I hit on the phenomenon of songs representing if not manifest modes of life at least partially developed or fully developed THOUGHTS we might have, even if later discarded, that are memorable or meaningful enough to go on to feed vital rock music. This vituperative Corgan out burst I think turns that idea on its side: it’s the extroverted, materialized plaint of the rock star record label puppet toy, brought to uninhibited fruition from what in the mind of certain tortured souls like Adam Duritz might have been a malady too insurmountable to even express.

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54 Stone Temple Pilots – “Plush”

“Plush” probably doesn’t get enough credit for being a key seed in grunge’s overall germination as a style: it came out in ’92, less than a year after Nevermind and Ten, hit #1 on Album Rock Tracks, made top 20 of the mainstream chart and really postures itself in pretty close lockstep with the overall style of clear, deliberate and bludgeoning guitar riffs over imagistic lyrics of catastrophe and mania. But a couple things you can’t market up with your left brain are a classic, virally infectious chord progression and industrially elite production from Brendan O’Brien, going to make this cut an essential listen to this day.

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53 Pearl Jam – “Alive”

“Alive” you could probably say was the first taste of grunge for the world outside Seattle which hadn’t been imbibing other bands like Tad, U-Men and Mudhoney for a handful of years. As such, it’s likely the rubric by which many people judge Pearl Jam. Well if that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine anybody hating this band as so many seem to — sure the production is clean and that opening riff is pretty dramatic and arena-ready, but the song has many wrinkles like a skewed phrasing and key change leading into the chorus, and come on Eddie Vedder’s yowl was the best thing to happen to rock in a while.

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52 Nirvana – “All Apologies”

Growing up I kind of worshipped Kurt Cobain and this band: as I get older I definitely find myself more and more disillusioned about the kind of person he was and my tastes broaden out to other groups like Mudhoney and Helmet that might have been just as vital. With this being the case, it’s a bit hard to critique this song in its bare form and compute just what it means to me — it was literally like scripture to me when I was growing up. But maybe he’s apologizing to all the people he disrespected in the depths of his heroin addiction, which certainly would have been in order.

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51 Barenaked Ladies – “It’s All Been Done”

My stock story about “It’s All Been Done,” the second single off of Stunt following the blockbuster smash “One Week,” is these kids in high school ski club getting in trouble on the bus ride back for yelling “Ooh-ooh-ooh!” at a piercing din, along with this song on the radio, and distracting the bus driver. Yes, rock and roll songs were prompting singalongs and people in movies were saying things like “Big-tittied angels don’t just fall out of the sky for no reason.” Sometimes I miss the planet I used to live on.

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50 Supergrass – “Sun Hits the Sky”

“Sun Hits the Sky” is an ideal name for this rambunctious In it for the Money single because the energy is fiery, ferocious and altogether otherworldly, as they gallop along throwing key changes around like rice at a wedding and spewing little lyrical bits of coked-up glory like some of the best British lads to ever do it.

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49 The Offspring – “Come out and Play”

The lead single off The Offspring’s commercial breakthrough album, and really their best album, Smash, has a funny double entendre meaning of observing gang violence in east LA on the way to grad school and applying rules of laboratory chemical mixing to everyday life: “You gotta keep ’em separated”. “Bad Habit,” another single off the album and a really rockin’ tune with some of the fastest, most relentless palm muting every lain down, was probably written about that same commute.

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48 Weezer – “Undone – The Sweater Song”

Insofar as labeling as these guys and general ’90s cultural arbiters as “slackers” ever gained any weight, it might have something to do with this song’s diction of just letting somebody “destroy (your) sweater” simply by pulling on one string until the whole thing unravels, an image that calls to mind the TV title character Daria sticking a hand out at about 30 degrees from her body, five seconds after the ball hits the floor, toward supreme athletic perseverance. Anyway, it’s a great song in general but my favorite part is without question the “Ooh-ooh-ooh”’s at the end, which summon up one of the trippiest vibes of the decade.

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47 Blur – “She’s So High”

Blur have had a career that’s been almost unparalleled in longevity and consistency of edgy, exciting rock music, so if you’re going to take a lesson from the first song on their first album it’s definitely going to be one of humility and resignation to that which is your de facto ruler: “She’s so high / I want to crawl all over her”. Damon Albarn might be just a sucker with no self-esteem but I’ll tell you what: he can say goodbye to his frickin’ day job.

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46 Counting Crows – “Mr. Jones”

Of course by now everybody’s more than familiar with the folkloric symbolism of this song, with the Mr. Jones character embodying the rich, corporate record label that is at this point soon to be Adam Duritz and his band’s boss, judge, jury and excecutioner, all this of course making Duritz’ volatile and loath reaction to fame and fortune all the more haunting and poignant. Really, the sarcastic tongue-in-cheek humor of this song hits me a little more every time and I pick up more snarky quips, like the whole “I felt so symbolic yesterday” thing which is likely making fun of some pretentious interview question or something, and the showcasing and prizing a “grey guitar” when Duritz doesn’t even play guitar anywhere on the album.

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45 Fountains of Wayne – “Radiation Vibe”

If it’s possible for a song to be catchy and infectious to an unsettling extent, it’s definitely this ’96 breakthrough hit from the Jersey band that yes, unfortunately and tragically, came to be known for writing that lowbrow frat-rock segment known as “Stacy’s Mom.” Note the fullness of the technical alt-rock repertoire at work though: Adam Schlesinger’s whammy bar, some sharp background vocals and of course that imagery in the chorus that lends to it being a summer smash hit, which is kinda dumb but kinda fun too.

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44 Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”

It’s funny what you pick up about a song on like the 1000th listen: it must have been Chris Cornell’s wolverine vocal yowl acting as a distraction all those years but I just never noticed how cool the guitar on this tune sounds, which is apparently something called a “Gretsch” played through a Leslie speaker (which triggers circular sound wave motion originally tailored for gospel Hammond organ) and for which I think the part was written by Cornell and then played by Kim Thayil for the actual recording and live performances. “Black Hole Sun” was the third single off of the band’s breakthrough Superunknown album (which really is their best album, completist hipsters be da**ed) and reached #9 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40.

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43 Ween – “The Golden Eel”

When it comes to Ween, you don’t really discuss singles, and not at all because the songs weren’t good enough but just because they were so glossed over — at this peak in their songwriting and performative career they were essentially a classic rock band, somewhat in the vein of Pearl Jam, crooning out songs with a special bizarre, almost kitschy sense of poignancy that you can never really tell is serious or jesting. But it’s almost as if this ambiguously forced disposition of the vocals serves more to reinstate the sovereignty of the music itself, somewhat like Kurt Cobain’s assertion that lyrics don’t really matter.

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42 The Verve – “Lucky Man”

The Verve’s urban hymns is a thoroughly classic album, better than any Oasis record by head and shoulders and right there throwing jabs with Supergrass’ In it for the Money and the best Blur work. It’s also got that awesome, memorable album cover of all the suburban Manchester blokes looking to the right of the camera on that grassy park lawn. “Lucky Man” is a sublime swab of classic alternative rock that seems to carry the sort of oblivious tranquility commanded by this very photo, like a picture saying a hundred words through stillness, harmony and vivid color.

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41 Radiohead – “Fake Plastic Trees”

In terms of Radiohead’s overall achievements, this The Bends (1995) cut tends to bookend their early years in terms of what they managed to do SONICALLY, with Johnny Greenwood’s guitar roaring proud and robust and Thom Yorke’s grating croon nestling itself almost ambiently in the mix, carrying enough meaning and moxie through the lyrics alone to abstain from its own virtuosity. It’s 4:50 long but ingenious in structure, slowly and gradually building to the visceral climax and so never outstaying its welcome, even in the format of radio.

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40 R.E.M. – “Nightswimming”

Ok I’ll give you a piano and a string section: go into a studio and write me a timeless alt-rock tune that will soundtrack rainy, solitary nights and strolls down the baking aisle of a grocery store alike. This certainly isn’t a task many bands would be game for in the ’90s or any time but R.E.M. were at an especial career peak on ’92’s Automatic for the People, whereby they could make a dark, ominous turn in the music’s mood and still have everything sound so pliable, off-the-cuff and natural.

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39 Nirvana – “Heart-Shaped Box”

Again, probably starting about a decade and a half ago I started getting a really tainted, real-life account of Kurt Cobain in my head, askance from the former sort of godhead as which I’d seen him, and with this one I can’t help but mentally gravitate to how he wanted to call the song “Heart-Shaped Coffin,” only to be rebuked by Geffen into this more family-friendly moniker. He was basically dragged through the video shoot, something he didn’t want to do, and looks every bit the subservient curmudgeon but at the same time the band did rip through this song multiple times in live performances and I can tell they loved playing it, and rightly so.

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38 The Smashing Pumpkins – “Mayonaise”

Now if any scholar could explain to me why this song is called “Mayonaise,” and especially not called “Mayonnaise,” he or she would be wiser than I. I have a feeling I don’t want to know the real reason but anyway it undoubtedly rocks, with that classic half-step guitar riff leading into every chorus and new phrase and generally with certainty a sonic blueprint that would pave the way for Pumpkins worshippers like Hum, whether or not the latter would ever admit to this.

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37 Soul Asylum – “Runaway Train”

Minnesota’s Soul Asylum would eventually get dropped from their label for what I actually think is a fairly solid album, ’98’s Candy from a Stranger, and tellingly Dave Pirner was completely classy in a response to an interview question thereon: “It’s sort of sad to say, but you could see the whole grunge-rock-band thing getting totally over-saturated and people were looking for something new.” I think their main hit here “Runaway Train” is a perfect example of how they were very no-frills: not so much entertainers as crafters of fine alternative rock songs and ardent, active worshippers of melody for its own sake.

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36 Stone Temple Pilots – “Interstate Love Song”

What can riff do for you? More than with “Big Empty” or “Vasoline,” probably, “Interstate Love Song” is built around an authoritative lead guitar pattern that most major axe men would have given a lung to have pegged to their name. Also, Scott Weiland’s vaguely Southern-sounding drawl is for some reason just perfect for this vignette of relationship calamity, the song cruising along at a stoned speed into the sunset of your mind, irascible for its classic hooks.

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35 Primitive Radio Gods – “Standing outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand”

Generally Nirvana is given credit for sort of singlehandedly saving rock music in the early ’90s but this particular song has the funny story of actually being written and recorded in 1991 by newly independent artist Chris O’Connor formerly of the I-Rails. It took him five years to get a record deal and be christened “Primitive Radio Gods” but it is funny to think music like this was being written before the grunge explosion, a time period with a pop world typically thought beholden strictly to new wave and tacky androgyny.

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34 Alice in Chains – “Man in the Box”

“Man in the Box” is the maniacal stomp that put this band and this style of music on the map — surging out of the gate with deliberate devilishness, doom-saying lyrics of disaster and hopelessness and most importantly, that crushing, thunderous sound on the strength of guitarist Jerry Cantrell that would draw the blueprint for countless bands to come, even Metallica for their comeback self-titled album.

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33 Hootie & the Blowfish – “Let Her Cry”

“Let Her Cry” was the second single off of the multi-platinum debut Cracked Rear View and I think the emotional climax of the album, a song about the heartache of staying in a doomed relationship and achieving this beautiful sort of resignation and oneness with the world.

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32 Crash Test Dummies – “God Shuffled His Feet”

The title track on this Winnipeg band’s breakthrough album, “God Shuffled His Feet” features some bizarre apocrypha that seem as sacrilegious as they are pious, but more importantly Brad Roberts’ lustrous baritone crooning out some classic melodies and a finely orchestrated key change leading into the chorus.

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31 Modest Mouse – “Cowboy Dan”

Just going on word of mouth from countless Modest Mouse devotees, “Cowboy Dan” is pretty much a unanimous favorite, arguably the best tune on the band’s breakthrough sophomore LP The Lonesome Crowded West and all epic with tempo and theme variations throughout all leading up to a raucous chorus that shows the impeccable tightness of rhythm section Eric Judy and Jeremiah Green and of course Isaac Brock’s inimitable yowl.

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30 The Proclaimers – “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”

Like Simple Minds before them in the ’80s, The Proclaimers were a UK act that would issue a mega-popular single not for an album but just for a movie soundtrack (Benny & Joon) that would go on to become one of the most popular rock tunes of the decade. You’ve gotta love the dog-like romantic valor but the best part is obviously that signature “Da-da-dat-da” session toward the end.

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29 Spacehog – “In the Meantime”

Spacehog weren’t so much a one-hit wonder as they were RENOWNED for how bad all their songs other than “In the Meantime” sucked, but boy did they hit their stride with this one with that singer even belting out the vocals in the perfect voice, also amusing for their being a bunch of British dudes living in New York, and so, per perhaps their own insecure self-concept, “just taking up space.”

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28 Supergrass – “G-Song”

“G-Song” is certainly a special sort of gem in Britpop some might call even the style’s shining moment (particularly if that someone weren’t acquainted with The Stone Roses), a sort of rudimentary but spirited jaunt turning dread and anxiety into a special, distinct sort of rock and roll foment and the simple but stalwart chorus: “There may be trouble / In your mind / Maybe tomorrow / Could be fine”.

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27 Soundgarden – “The Day I Tried to Live”

Just in terms of meter alone, “The Day I Tried to Live” marks something most bands in grunge just weren’t doing or couldn’t do (appropriately enough, Pearl Jam’s following album Vitalogy would feature more songs that usual with unorthodox time signatures, with them more than likely having used Soundgarden as a guidebook) and in style it’s so perfect too, fitting the founding grunge m.o. of “hard music played to a slow tempo,” crawling along like a sloppy, drooling beast with perfect clarity, honesty and a smell all its own.

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26 Pearl Jam – “Better Man”

“Better Man” has the interesting back story per the excellent Cameron Crowe book Pearl Jam Twenty of Eddie Vedder having written it way before the band even formed, but always stockpiling it and never wanting to unleash it to the world until producer Brendan O’Brien finally coaxed it out of him for Vitalogy, one of the band’s best albums. They were so late with the recording, in fact, that they’d finished the album without it, only to have O’Brien play the opening pipe organ part in an impromptu session and Vedder sing an annexed vocal that they’d splice onto the previous, pre-recorded jam.

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25 Radiohead – “Karma Police”

As fallacious as it might be to tout MTV like some omnipotent godhead warding over all of this ambitiously vital music, it’s not really possible to discuss this song and not mention that otherworldly video of that fat, shirtless dude getting chased by that car the whole clip, only to light a match and flick it on to the trail of the reversed vehicle, which would then find itself engulfed in flames at the video’s end. It’s karma, I suppose, if perhaps a more obtuse example of the phenomenon than would have been furnished by less eccentric minds.

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24 Blur – “On Your Own”

“On Your Own” has what might have been seen by some as the dubious distinction of following “Song 2,” by far the band’s biggest smash to date, as single issued from the ’97 self-titled album, but I’ve actually ranked it ahead of the latter for its deliberate, complex and most gratifying chord progression and the frenetic Damon Albarn vocals of the chorus that conclude with the sort of pantheistic, everyman adage so proviso to classic alt-rock: “And we’ll all be the same / In the end”.

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23 Chumbawamba – “Tubthumping”

Chumbawamba was a British band that started in… ’82? Am I reading this right? Like Len, then, I guess, who sent our hearts sparkling with “Steal My Sunshine,” these guys had been around forever but then pared their playbook down to something radio-friendly at long last, when the landscape seemed to call for it, with “Tubthumping” perhaps being a bit Apollonian and uplifting for the doomsday grunge era. This video too is completely bizarre and funny, with singer Boff Whaley rocking out like a champ, slamming his head up and down to the music right outside a bathroom stall somebody’s attempting to exit.

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22 The Smashing Pumpkins – “Tonight, Tonight”

This song was such a huge hit that it’s sort of an easy tune to rebel against — both the track itself and the video were ridiculously overplayed, to the point where it’s easy to forget the charm of things like the authentic Chicago imagery (“And the embers never fade / In the city by the lake”) and that buildup part at the end where Corgan is weaving a tapestry of all the things that could happen “tonight, tonight.”

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21 Nirvana – “In Bloom”

Powered by one of Krist Novoselic’s proudest basslines, “In Bloom” chugs along as an unassuming but rock-hard mainstay of Nevermind and of the band’s hit single lunch truck, this time taking on the subject matter of fans who only connect with the songs on a cursory, superficial level, a phenomenon that in truth could have actually led to some dilution in meaning Cobain would put into his songs, and not necessarily to his disadvantage.

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20 The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony”

I was 14 when this song came out and though I definitely liked it right away, thought it was really fresh, original and great, it didn’t even hit me the balls this band had for making a string intro the staple of their breakthrough hit. It’s also one of those tunes that can act as a singable anthem in the lyrics, too, with existential pessimism boiled down to the disciplined focus of “I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down… I’m here in my mode”.

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19 Radiohead – “High and Dry”

“High and Dry” is the timeless second single off of ’95’s The Bends and very much an intimate, singer/songwriter sort of affair that dates back to way before the album and Yorke performing it with just himself and a guitar. Transpose it on to the Radiohead studio and it’s still Yorke strumming that acoustic but the band added some sporadic stand-up bass drum to give it some nice ambience, also leaving it close to its embryonic form, too, to showcase the incredibly gutsy and sacrificial lyrics.

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18 The Breeders – “Cannonball”

I guess you could call it sweet revenge on Black Francis, Kim Deal’s old Pixies bandmate who disbanded the group in sort of rude fashion, so I hear, but also what Deal described as the “boys” around her home of Dayton, Ohio who would never let her be in a band with them because she was a girl, hence driving her to move to the East Coast Pixies, in the first place. This song definitely with good reason struck it bigger than any of those parties ever managed, with a simple but groovin’ bassline and what I really personally like, the toggle of muted guitar-strum to snare fill, rhythmically mimicking each other and leading into the chorus of “In the shade / In the shade”.

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17 Primus – “Too Many Puppies”

I think Primus is an “American” thing: the British Nirvana biographer Everett True, for instance, made specific verbal mince meat out of them in his diction but to me their music has always spoken to the wild, sort of noxious energy you find flowing in this country. They were tight, talented musicians but more than anything that bludgeoning SOUND summoned up on this formidable track from their debut Frizzle Fry almost went toe to toe with Metallica, no slouch for a shi**y punk band on their first album.

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16 Third Eye Blind – “Semi-Charmed Life”

“Most people think it’s a di**,” uttered Third Eye Blind singer Stephen Jenkins one time most coyly on MTV’s Total Request Live, prompting a “beep” sound over the final verb, but actually apparently as they explained the name had to do with the spiritual “third eye” that’s your extrasensory guide in life, or whatever. But getting back to that, I think the fact that they’re so sexual and relationship-oriented might be why this band wasn’t more lauded by the critics, because they’ve got the fans most bands can only dream of, and a chorus and “Doo-doo-doo” ration as memorable as this one, why not?

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15 Toadies – “Possum Kingdom”

Contrary to what I’ve heard a couple times, this is really not a very good album at large, and what’s more it’s called Rubberneck which I can’t help but take as phallic given the subject matter of this sole hit of the band, but the grooves and the beats are there… I actually couldn’t stop nodding my head along to this tune recently in a crowded library. Particularly I love descending half-step eighth-note guitar frills that bookend the irregularly plotted phrases and of course the sense of urgency in the lyrics and vocal delivery. And yeah it’s about killing somebody. Blah-be-de-blah.

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14 R.E.M. – “Drive”

Few bands other than R.E.M. are capable of grafting down this acute of a vial of melancholy with such gentle texture and mellow vocal, at the same time — this song seems almost made of a thinner substance than air, sauntering as it does about like not so much an individual but a system that’s knowledgeable of all the loss and depravity in the world and would rather die than forget.

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13 Blink-182 – “Adam’s Song”

Blink-182 was composed of the songwriting duo of guitarist Tom Delonge and bassist Mark Hoppus (and a pretty rad drummer Travis Barker to boot) but to me with “Adam’s Song” Hoppus cemented himself as the group’s primary genius. The song takes the perspective of a suicide note written by an apparent 17 year old but per legend incorporated real-life sentiments from Hoppus the result of mental and emotional exhaustion from touring.

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12 Stone Temple Pilots – “Big Empty”

“Big Empty,” as great as it is, was I think in being a ballad a pretty weird selection for lead single off of Purple and also I don’t think it belongs in a movie at all, though I must confess I’ve never seen The Crow. The album itself is sequenced perfectly — with this cut toward the back so it can act as a sort of climax and show off what I think nears songwriting perfection, Scott Weiland wielding this uncanny ability to plop the four-syllable work of “Conversation” into the precisely inflected, preexisting rhythm of the song like a jigsaw puzzle.

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11 Counting Crows – “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby”

After the initial showstopper of August and Everything after on which basically every song was classic, the Counting Crows had a way of plopping exactly one vital song on all of their subsequent albums, with this eight-minute epic of uproarious beauty no doubt taking the cake on the otherwise pretty common This Desert Life. My personal favorite line is “When I see you a blanket of stars covers me in my bed”, the fact that he’s in a “bed” perhaps lending himself to this savior figure being mythical and not corporeal. He**, nothing on the planet seems to have been helping this guy too much.

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10 Guided by Voices – “I am a Scientist”

There’s really no way to describe this ’94 album Bee Thousand than as hilariously weird, with kitschy little faux-folk interludes clogging most of side b until your consciousness is jolted back into pertinence with what’s really a pretty heady indie pop number, though brief, “I am a Scientist.” It’s juxtaposed so harshly against the nonsensical remainder of the album, for bolstered effect, even offering something lasting countercultural conclusion: “I am a scientist / I seek to understand me”.

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9 Soul Asylum – “Black Gold”

I’m usually kind of a nag on originality and almost like a cop about it but I just can’t help myself here: this intro is blatant ripoff of Rush’s “Fly by Night” but it’s still fu**ing great, one of the best alt-rock songs of all time, the name progenitor to the band’s best-of collection and in general a great song about taking stock in yourself and summoning up the utmost perseverance to beat your own impossible odds.

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8 Toad the Wet Sprocket – “All I Want”

God da** if Glen Phillips doesn’t just have the perfect voice and in a weird way this is sort of the ultimate “slacker” anthem, not in a humorous way but in terms of just accepting your position in life and internalizing a rock and roll song that though full of emotion and meaning still just sidles along at an unassuming pace, letting all its facets shine with patience and clarity.

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7 The Smashing Pumpkins – “1979”

Right and left I seem to pretty much see Billy Corgan not getting enough credit for things, whether it’s most people ignoring that he basically wrote Hole’s whole album Celebrity Skin (which is their only album that approaches anything close to “listenable”) or this song soundtracking a key moment in the movie Clerks II but not making it onto the official compilation, or what have you. But there are very few songs better than this to hear in a crowded plaza when you’re apprehensive before work: somehow it’s the perfect reassurance and affirmation of self. And of course who could forget that video, with teepeeing, ransacking a gas station and turning the shower on onto two kids making out in the tub.

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6 Our Lady Peace – “Clumsy”

Canada’s OLP has assuredly been one of the most frustrating acts I’ve ever encountered for the years because as piercing and undeniably gritty as their breakout single is I don’t think they HAVE another good song and they’re the quintessential case of trying to do too much, trying to pander excessively to the alt-rock reps. They could have used a good rep./producer like Rob Cavallo who signed and recorded Green Day, someone who would have let them let loose a little more not have to stack up all that sonic pretension into their songs. But sorry the video geek is striking again: you’ve GOTTA see this one, that crazy bedroom flooding scene and that otherworldly look in Raine Maeda’s eyes when he sings “You need to let me in”, hence I think obviating that the struggle being illustrated in these lyrics is an inner one.

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5 Beck – “Loser”

Sure this song isn’t exactly the definition of “rock” but including it on a rap list as a cracker would probably be your ticket to getting you’re a** beat… plus that simple but slick guitar riff does seem to govern the whole thing pretty nicely. I just wrote a whole post about Beck and his top 50 songs on which this tune ranks atop the list and it’s hard to know what to say about it other than it’s just really fun, a really goofy rap that replaced violence or conquest with a Herculean feat of the weird, random and muddled.

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4 Modest Mouse – “Trailer Trash”

Although they’d leap for a major label on their next album, the astonishing The Moon & Antarctica, Modest Mouse almost without question ushered in the new era of indie rock that would rule the blogosphere and the vinyl collection of so many throughout the next decade. Really, it should have been obvious right away with the bare, jangly guitar tone and refreshing sparseness that introduces this song, how refreshing and vitally devoid of corporate interests this stuff would be. “Trailer Trash” is a six-minute masterpiece with this great outro that showcases the ability of this rhythm section to be ridiculously dramatic and theatrical even upon the simplest of runs (like the drum beat to “A Different City,” for instance).

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3 Pearl Jam – “Jeremy”

Oh, Pearl Jam… is there any rule of the underground they DIDN’T break on this song? The guitar sound, those Bon Jovi drums, the theatrical, bombastic disposition of the lead singer… I mean the song is ABOUT something! Who the fu** does that? But it’s almost indubitably Vedder’s shining vocal performance of his career, with those “Ooh-ooh-ooh”’s at the end and a notable penchant for connecting with third-party subjects like this maligned and auto-destructive Texas boy on whom the song is based. Vedder would go on to make a regular living out of that sort of thing, nestling himself in the throes of tragedy or devastation, something that probably enhanced his meal ticket but showed off his storytelling ability too, just the same.

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2 Nirvana – “Lithium”

More so than even any other Nirvana track, “Lithium” I think gets at the core of Kurt Cobain’s HEART, which was obviously inclined to sacrifice and to concession of things like “I’m so ugly” and “I’m so horny”. But even in this de facto love song you can almost sense the keen element of independence and his lyrics from another song on this album of “Love myself better than you / I know it’s wrong but what can I do?”

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1 Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

I had this strange phenomenon happen only about a month and a half or so ago where I heard this song, I was at work, it had to have been like the 200th time I’d heard it in my life but I just KNEW that for the first time, I was hearing it objectively, without the distraction of all the surrounding hype and cultural validation, and I’d be able to form my own opinion of it, to hear it for what it truly was. And what it truly was, I think, was just head-scratchingly BRUTISH: it’s a song of crushing, undeniable and magnanimous raw power, that seems to suggest the utmost element of danger and reckless abandon on the part of the person who wrote it and all those who played it. Their addition of Dave Grohl to replace Chad Channing, who really did a pretty excellent job I thought on their debut album Bleach, proves that Cobain had a vision in mind of taking over the world on a VISCERAL level, and I think at the end of the day more important than the pessimistic lyrics, the obstinately simple guitar solo or the joke that it’s the same guitar part as Boston’s “More than a Feeling” just set to different chords, will be the blistering speed and screeching volume of this grunge cornerstone, the work of a band who seemed to care about little at all other than shutting you the he** up. And even though that didn’t work, it still stands as a classic whose velocity only gets more explosive when you begin the delicate act of trying to ply it apart.

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