The 95 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1995
And we're here to remind you
60. Alice in Chains, “Grind”
Alice in Chains would’ve made incredible rappers; they hated journalists for talking about exactly what they openly discussed in song. (It’s not like “Junkhead” left room for interpretation.) Still, this diss track found layers of Layne Staley lurching “You’d be well-advised / Not to plan my funeral ‘fore the body dies,” over one of the fugliest riffs to ever stain the airwaves. Why does it still feel like Staley had the last laugh? Maybe it’s that triumphant beam of guitar light that shines on the chorus. —D.W.
59. Live, “All Over You”
A one-verse, one-chorus song is one of the great joys of pop songwriting, and somewhat of a lost art. So this one is where Live’s heavy-handedness was so welcome it took a capsule of arena sugar that could’ve been too simple, and tricked it up. Ed Kowalczyk’s outrageous “yeah yeah yeah,” some nice minor key shifts, and over-emoted verses — all were welcome add-ons for stirring straight into that immaculately harmonized hook. Keep it complex, stupid. — D.W.
58. Face to Face, “Disconnected”
Like no other song from its era, the pop-punk anthem “Disconnected” captures the angst and allure of the big leap. Originally recorded for the band’s 1992 debut on Alta Loma’s Dr. Strange Records, the song was issued as a seven-inch by Fat Wreck Chords in 1993, then remixed for an EP after the band signed to JVC subsidiary Victory. The local response was huge, and Victory requested they re-do the song a second time for 1994’s Big Choice LP. Which they did: as a hidden track, with an intro featuring the band arguing against the song’s inclusion. A&M reissued Big Choice in ‘95, finally giving the ragged, yearning tune a suitable audience. —B.S.
57. The Muffs, “Kids in America”
Even though it didn’t officially soundtrack a Noxzema commercial, the Muffs’ most commercially recognizable single — a cover of Kim Wilde’s synth-silly ’81 original — has lived a long life post-inclusion on the Clueless soundtrack, so much so that Kim Shattuck & Co. are a little sick of hearing about it. But who could blame you for staying hooked? Permeating the otherwise flannel-wrapped mid-’90s with a shock of bratty pop-punk, the scratchy vocals and the band’s Dookie-era guitar chunks offer a peppy — but no less irresponsible — counterpoint to the era’s more obvious strain of Gen-X ennui. —R.B.
56. Jill Sobule, “I Kissed a Girl”
After a couple LPs that went nowhere commercially, folk-rock singer/songwriter Jill Sobule scuffed up her sound, recruited power-pop maestro Brad Jones, and immediately hit with “I Kissed a Girl,” a sneaky-influential ditty about same-sex attraction. The title is a chorus unto itself; Sobule delivers the line with quiet satisfaction, then gets giddy on a whammy-filled guitar solo. —B.S.
55. Sonic Youth, “The Diamond Sea”
A Sonic Youth ballad! Played for 20 minutes, as if to make up for all that lost time they could have been spending on effects-juiced, space-folk ditties like this one rather than sticking screwdrivers into their six-strings and climbing the stacks. Except by the feedbacking end of the song, there’s a few power tools thrown into the mix even on this plaintive tune. And thus begun the most autumnal and beautiful phase of their career, by sending one of their most accessible songs off into a sunset that overheats like a surge protector. — D.W.
54. Silverchair, “Tomorrow”
Australia got in the post-grunge game with Silverchair, a trio of longhairs young enough to still find the profundity in a lyric like “You say that money isn’t everything / Well I’d like to see you live without it!” The youthful exuberance was certainly appreciated, and those full-band hits that lead in the final chorus make for one of the most stupidly thrilling moments in ’95 rock. —A.U.
53. That Dog, “He’s Kissing Christian”
Speaking of “Could’ve been as big as Weezer” — there is a parallel universe where That Dog’s twisted power-pop masterpieces Totally Crushed Out! and Retreat from the Sun are as outspokenly hailed as Blue Album and Pinkerton. Crushed is grungier, with Petra Haden’s violin providing the sourness that keeps the harmonies from rotting your teeth. And “He’s Kissing Christian” is its crowning achievement, a hooky, teasing build to a phalanx of noise, the lyrics a tale of homoerotic frustration unlike any other 90s alt-rock song. It deserved the sales of Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed a Girl,” and perhaps even Katy Perry’s. —D.W.
52. The Offspring, “Gotta Get Away”
This was just icing on the cake for Orange County’s finest: Smash was well on its way to becoming the biggest-selling indie release in history, providing job security to Epitaph Records founder Brett Gurewitz and buying a house for the Didjits’ Rick Sims. “Gotta Get Away” wasn’t nearly as zeitgeisty as its big brothers “Self Esteem” and “Come Out and Play,” but it was a nice cred-shoring slice of melodic punk rock, led by a strong bass line and see-saw riffage. —B.S.
51. Cornershop, “6 a.m. Jullandar Shere”
The slightly commonplace, folksy melody suggests endless verses in Punjabi passed down from several generations prior to this sampladelic alt-rock reinvention. And Tjinder Singh’s distortion-treated vocal suggests the gauze of an answering machine, like he’s teaching it to us over the phone, with that tabla and matched rock drums coming in suspiciously clear. It feels like it can go on forever, and 20 years later, in a way it has. — D.W.
50. Counting Crows, “Rain King”
Arguably the most fun Counting Crows song from their first batch was “Rain King,” a driving shock of mandolin and Adam Duritz’s just-woke-up vocals growing increasingly agitated (and therefore more bar-karaoke friendly) over a runaway train of Peter Buck-style chords. Just don’t forget to give your best/worst “Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” at bar karaoke before handing off the mic. — D.W.
49. Dave Matthews Band, “Ants Marching”
Dave Matthews’, or rather, violinist Boyd Tinsley’s, best riff — in tandem with Leroi Moore’s sax of course — and not just because of the riff itself. The breaks where they trade off solos, the chorus they ease into like it’s no big deal before bringing it back for grander and grander encores, “Ants Marching” is proof that jam junkies can distill their chops into an anthem that justifies their sales figures. Now if we could only “cut cut, cut cut” Dave’s rapping. — D.W.
48. The Chemical Brothers feat. Tim Burgess, “Life Is Sweet”
The blueprint for the future hits that wold make the Chemical Brothers unlikely British dance powerhouses; its crunchy breakbeats and Tim Burgess’ strung-out vocals establishing Tim Rowlands and Ed Simons’ signature big beat and belly-scraping distortions synth sounds, like the U.K.’s version of electronic grunge. —H.B.
47. Superchunk, “Detroit Has a Skyline”
A trove of post-breakup thematic clichés — drinking yourself silly, obsessing over relevant songs, being unable to contemplate happiness with anyone else — delivered with enough wit and specificity (“Drank my sleep from a can / Playing track six and track seven again and again”) to only add to the urgency of the band’s scorching power-punk. Feel free to find your own interpretation of the significance of Detroit’s skyline, it’ll be universal regardless. —A.U.
46. Archers of Loaf, “Harnessed in Slums”
The gruff pogo-pop gem “Harnessed In Slums” is gloriously askew — the ping that signals the end of the chorus and introduces the bridge! Those haywire guitars! — and an exemplary example of noisy indie-rock that’s both catchy and chaotic. —A.Z.
45. Soul Asylum, “Misery”
This is what happens when Dave Pirner’s allowed to take jokes too far. A four-minute play on the adage that “misery loves company,” we sit behind the boardroom at Frustrated Inc. where they literally Make the stuff, and crack wise about the government spreading AIDS, too. Pirner’s not just FI’s president, he’s also a client. — D.W.
44. Sunny Day Real Estate, “Red Elephant”
The band SongMeanings was invented for, emo’s grandfathers manage to be both pretty and fist-pumping while filling comments sections with everything from “This song is about the Republican party” to “it’s almost singing in a foreign language.” However tortured Jeremy Enigk sounds trying to wring the beauty out of his faux-British burden, he hoisted anthem after anthem like one into the world before they were fully verbalized, and painted them pink to disguise the cracks. — D.W.
43. White Zombie, “More Human Than Human”
An expert build up to moaning, bass-thumping, guitar-scraping industrial metal frenzy for lead Astro Creep Rob Zombie to scat unintelligibly over, ending each phrase with a brain-fried “MMMYEAH” and the titular chorus incantation to give fans something to scream along to. Just biding time until the next instrumental mosh, though, really. —A.U.
42. Tricky, “Black Steel”
Trust the U.K.’s O.G. trip-hop MC to convincingly replace Chuck D’s vituperative raps with Martina Topley-Bird’s salty coos (and sampled breakbeats with grungy, screeching riffs) on his re-imagination of Public Enemy’s 1989 paean to bucking the army-industrial complex, “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” The line between punk and rap has never been blurred with such a sultry echo of its former self. —H.B.
41. Mad Season, “River of Deceit”
Alice in Chains issued an album in ’95, but Layne Staley’s enduring contribution that year came with Mad Season’s “River of Deceit,” as harrowing a heroin ballad as there ever was. Backed by Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, who provides a bombed-out acoustic guitar line, he details a “self-chosen” pain that sinks him in the titular river — all the more tragic, knowing now that the choppy waters would eventually claim him. –C.J.