The 95 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1995
And we're here to remind you
80. Echobelly, “King of the Kerb”
Britpop shoulda-beens Echobelly bulked up their sound considerably on their second album, 1995’s On, courtesy of producers Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie. Exhibit A: The high-flying “King of the Kerb,” whose grungy, arpeggiated guitars had Catherine Wheel-caliber shoegaze fuzz, all the better to frame frontwoman Sonya Madan’s soaring vocals. —A.Z.
79. Softies, “An Awful Mess”
As the Softies’ name suggests, Rose Melberg’s first post-Tiger Trap project was always pretty good about conjuring immense weight out of near-silence. “An Awful Mess,” from their debut It’s Love, demonstrated the best of what she and fellow singer/songwriter Jen Sbragia could do with their twin electric guitar hush. With just two voices, two guitar lines and a unique eye for little details (a “heart-shaped scar,” a “taffeta dress”), the pair can move mountains, just a little more quietly than you might imagine. —C.J.
78. KMFDM, “Juke Joint Jezebel”
KMFDM’s strangely dry sense of humor gets overlooked in the industrial conversation, but the soul-gospel exhortations on their most visible song to “Be mine! Sister salvation!” made for danceable heavy metal like no other. Imagine if Charlie Watts’ backbone precision was a Teutonic 4/4 instead and you’ve found the genre’s “Gimme Shelter.” — D.W.
77. Tripping Daisy, “I Got a Girl”
“I got a girl, she loves her dog / I got a girl, I love her dog too.” Love songs didn’t get much more lower-stakes than this in 1995, but that was kind of the point. —A.U.
76. Elastica, “Car Song”
Sexier than either LL Cool J’s “Back Seat (Of My Jeep)” or R. Kelly’s “You Remind Me,” and neither of those dudes were bad enough to fight firebreathing ghost-monsters with laser guns in their music videos. —A.U.
75. Sparklehorse, “Someday I Will Treat You Good”
A fine layer of distortion coats “Someday I Will Treat You Good,” a tangled but sturdy song steeped in barnstorming twang and raucous rock & roll. More telling are Mark Linkous’ lyrical self-recriminations — “I left my baby on the side of the highway / She just couldn’t see things my way” — which sum up the song’s barely concealed loathing and frustration. —A.Z.
74. Teenage Fanclub, “About You”
It’s a pretty simple formula; the fewer lyrics a ’90s Teenage Fanclub song has, the better the song is. So with six lines total, “About You”: Not quite as good as “What You Do to Me,” but an obvious high point of Grand Prix (and of ’95 power-pop in general). —A.U.
73. R.E.M., “Bang and Blame”
More sizzle than
steak extra-firm tofu, but like all of R.E.M.’s Monster, the song isn’t as important as the tones that comprise it: That endlessly reverberating guitar chop, the slithering fuzz-bass, the eerie backing falsettos. It was obvious they’d have to reverse polarity after this one, but it was a sound worth glamming through to its logical extreme. —A.U.
72. Massive Attack, “Karmacoma”
Though “Karmacoma” would later be recast in softer, sexier light as “Overcome” on Tricky’s solo debut Maxinquaye later that year, the jam-rocking masterclass in trip-hop’s minimal fringes will forever be remembered — especially with its bizarro, Jonathan Glazer-directed music video, drawing from The Shining and other pop culture nightmares. —H.B.
71. The Presidents of the United States of America, “Lump”
It’s almost unfair that Presidents of the United States of America would choreograph the blistered, twitchy infectiousness of their loopy post-grunge tumor jam “Lump” in the song’s lyrics. “Is this lump out of my head?” Nope, don’t think so. —C.J.
70. Slowdive, “Crazy for You”
Neil Halstead crafted bigger anthems (“Alison”) and more beautifully blunted abstractions (the 5 EP), but here he manages to make the best of both, if only by matching form and content. The delirious spiraling instrumental (which would later be covered by ambient techno producer Ulrich Schnauss) mirrors the elliptical sentiment of the song’s one lovesick lyric, “Crazy for lovin’ you,” repeated ad infinitum. —C.J.
69. The Prodigy, “Poison”
Prodigy MC Maxim Reality provided the remedy not just rhythmically, but for our dystopian future-society: those icy hi-hat washed drum breaks, sampled from funk crew Skull Snaps’ 1973 classic “It’s a New Day,” soundtracked The Matrix’s eye-popping shots of slow-mo trenchcoats and lots of leather. From one ‘90s staple to another, “Poison” was emblematic of a generation at odds with itself. —H.B.
68. Veruca Salt, “Number One Blind”
If it’s eluded you for years how the grunge-pop quartet could be singing about “Dumbledore” over those smart chord changes in 1995, maybe it’s time to Google Levolor and discover it’s an actual manufacturer of venetian blinds. Then give the Volcano Girls a 10 for sticking to themes and a side eye for failing to secure an endorsement deal. — D.W.
67. The Boo Radleys, “Wake Up Boo!”
On “Wake Up Boo!” the Boo Radleys banish their moody, churning shoegaze tendencies to the back of the closet: The band’s lone U.K. top-ten hit it is a shiny, horn-peppered pop trifle boasting California-sunny harmonies and retro soul vibes. —A.Z.
66. Wilco, “Box Full of Letters”
Leave it to Jeff Tweedy to write a straightforward, poignant evocation of the painful process of sorting through all the physical debris a breakup leaves behind — the collection of letters and a stack of records are physical reminders of what’s missing, turning an otherwise straightforward alt-country period piece into a beautifully twangy reminiscence. All this from a guy who’d soon be hooking up with experimental godheads and writing abstract murder ballads. —C.J.
65. Lilys, “The Hermit Crab”
Kurt Heasley’s ever-endearing MBV worship came to a head on 1995’s Eccsame the Photon Band, and “The Hermit Crab” may have been its hallucinatory high point — a stuttering and tense tightrope walk between musclebound shoegaze and dizzier dream-pop that takes a tumble and then soars off, light and airy, before any sort of violent impact. —C.J.
64. Wax, “California”
More memorable for its man-on-fire one-shot video, sure, but the song earned its Spike Jonze visual; a blistering, two-minute rave-up of geographical regret worth spontaneously combusting to. —A.U.
63. Portishead, “Glory Box”
Just think – at his peak, it took DJ Shadow upwards of 30 samples to approximate the mood Portishead coaxed from a lone lift of “Ike’s Rap II”. And Beth Gibbons could mix grins with the grimness: check the way she pronounces “temptress”. A slow-burn torch song calling for a lovers’ truce, “Glory Box” closed the band’s landmark debut with elegiac elegance. —B.S.
62. Luna, “23 Minutes in Brussels”
Has complicated love ever played out so uncomplicatedly? Dean Wareham’s laconic drawl musters up an epic concert-closer built around the refrain “Say a prayer / For you and me / Say a prayer / Tell me do you miss me,” while guitars (including that of Television’s fellow Velvet-jamming Tom Verlaine) coil and hover. Sighing has never felt more sexy. — D.W.
61. Cibo Matto, “Birthday Cake”
The first recipe in what would eventually become 1996’s Viva! La Woman cookbook, Cibo Matto pour heaps of extra sugar and extra salt into this punk/pop/hip-hop concoction and watch with devilish glee at the abomination that rises from the oven. Once served, don’t bother with the constructive criticism, lest you get hit with another “SHUT UP AAAANNNNNND EEAAAAAAAAAT!!!!!” —A.U.