The 69 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1999

1999 essentially marked the end of the alternative dream floated by punk bands in the ’80s, sold by record companies in the ’90s, and eventually rebooted in the Garden State ’00s.

Five years earlier, alternative-minded Gen-Xers made Woodstock ’94 their own by throwing mud (Green Day) or wearing mud (Nine Inch Nails). Woodstock ’99 was, in turn, its Altamont, marked by sexual assaults, wanton destruction, macho aggro-rock and greed. Lollapalooza was benched for a second summer. The focused anger of Rage Against the Machine birthed the unfocused anger of nü–metal. Grunge had been watered down to something unidentifiable. The electronica boom had performed nicely but hopes of faceless knob-jockeys being the next Nirvana in America had long been dashed. Moby released Play, which would be licensed all over—a move that was criticized at the time but would ultimately prove to be the new normal. Napster began the internet’s two-decade quest to explode genre entirely. Boomer icons like Santana, and covers of classic rock nuggets like “Another Brick in the Wall” and “American Woman,” were appearing on the Modern Rock chart. What was alternative or modern about Buckcherry? Why was Axl Rose on the cover of SPIN? Even Pavement broke up.

If alternative rock is going to be indistinguishable from regular rock, you might as well learn to love it like a pop fan. Here are the best 69 songs that charted in the Modern Rock Top 40 in 1999, running the gamut from “brilliant” to “actually enjoyable” to “this website is clearly staffed by millennials.”

69. Lenny Kravitz – “American Woman”

Lenny Kravitz’s cover of the Guess Who’s iconic 1970 single “American Woman” is glossy, big and fun—more reflective of how people remember the ’60s and ’70s than how they actually were. Kravitz’s edition was tied to the Austin Powers sequel The Spy Who Shagged Me, complete with a video featuring the film’s co-star Heather Graham. Its easy to get on Kravitz’ case for gesturing at a sort of idealized, empty vision of classic rock, but his charm and ability to craft a stylish, enigmatic pop record is impressive. Sometimes being fun is enough. — ISRAEL DARAMOLA

68. Everlast  “Ends”

“Ends,” the second single from Everlast’s debut solo album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues, is transparently a second-rate replica of the former House of Pain member’s own “What It’s Like,” the first single from that album and the one Everlast song that everyone knows. In both songs, Everlast sketches a catalog of down-and-out characters, sing-rapping about their travails over plodding acoustic guitar. “What It’s Like” was a plea for empathy for its pregnant teens and alcoholic beggars, and “Ends” begins that way too. But it soon devolves into finger-wagging, framing each character’s downfall as the result of their own avarice or hedonism. In the second verse, Everlast indulges in the misogynistic cliche of a woman who uses sex to fund a flashy lifestyle she can’t otherwise afford: “Shopping sprees get her on her knees… if you’re broke she’ll spit, and if you’re rich she might swallow.” By the third, he can’t even be bothered to come up with a satisfactory ending for his “two homeboys who made a lot of noise,” announcing abruptly after eight bars that “one disappeared and one got robbed.” The chorus is all about the various nasty things people will do “for the ends,” with a little twist in its last line. “So before we go any further,” he sings, “I want my ends.” Maybe that’s the one good thing you can say about “Ends”: for a few brief moments, Everlast recognizes that he’s no better than the people he’s singing about. — ANDY CUSH

67. Smash Mouth – “All Star”

The second hit single from a band who seemed destined to be one-hit wonders, “All Star” exploded in 1999, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was originally conceived when the label sent the band back to the drawing board when they didn’t hear a single off second LP Astro Lounge. “One night I sat Greg [Camp, guitarist] down, opened up a Billboard magazine, and said, ‘Dude, let’s just go through this. I want a little piece of each one of these songs.'” The band’s manager, Robert Hayes, told Rolling Stone in a recent oral history. “The Top 50, at this time, was Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind, Vertical Horizon, Barenaked Ladies, Marcy Playground, Chumbawamba. He left, and two days later he walks into my office with a cassette tape.” “All Star,” famously, was propelled to another level of omnipresence by the success – and eventual meme-ification of – 2001’s animated ogre biography Shrek. It has since gone on to have a life of its own, transforming, as few songs do, into its own kind of cultural artifact. — TAYLOR BERMAN

66. Ben Folds Five – “Army”

In his commercial glory days, Ben Folds’ potty mouth and irreverent whine distinguished him from the baby boomers’ unfashionable piano men—this was our edgy ivory tickler, who sang about punk rock, getting wasted and being totally pissed at ex-girlfriends! However, when Folds lapses into raconteur mode, pounds a baby grand and sings from the perspective of a slacker bitching about joining the army it does veer a little close to Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack.” “Army,” with its modernistic chord changes and ragtime dream sequence, is Ben Folds’ most musically ambitious single—the ethos is prog as much as anything—and also one of his best. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON

65. Taxiride – “Get Set”

One of the year’s most uncontroversial, prettily harmonized, Savage Garden-y, shamelessly Beatlesesque hits—right down to an extended, gratuitous sitar intro. The edgiest these Australian rockers get on “Get Set” is a mumbled verse, or perhaps its spot soundtracking nihilistic Tammy from Election. “Get Set” sets a very specific aim, to be genial, and at that it succeeds. — KATHERINE ST. ASAPH

64. The Living End – “Prisoner of Society”

Australia’s the Living End were clean, pretty, and professional punks. “Prisoner of Society” snuck a bit of rebellion (however clean, pretty, and professional) into a radio chart dominated by Dudes With Shitty Attitudes. Their debut single has more fist pumping hooks per minute than should be allowed. — SEAN MALONEY

63. Marvelous 3 – “Freak of the Week”

The members of this Atlanta power-pop band had been around rock’s block by the late ’90s, with stints in bands of varying renown, including Headbangers’ Ball C-listers Southgang. Marvelous 3 kept that band’s sheeny, anthemic choruses intact, adding chunky riffs and low-slung grooves as well as, in this particular case, a bridge that had the oh-so-’90s one-two punch of distorted vocals jokingly singing about sellouts. “You’d have to be a Nazi not to like it,” frontman Butch Walker joked when SPIN asked him to describe the song’s appeal in 1999. — MAURA JOHNSTON

62. Sevendust – “Denial”

After the 21 months of touring and the slow-building success of their 1997 debut LP, Sevendust rushed out their second record, Home—yielding “some songs that will never get played again,” as they told CMJ New Music Monthly. But Home also spawned what may be the band’s signature hit, the churning, soaring “Denial,” a pure charge of Korn-gone-Stevie-Wonder adrenaline in an era where their peers were getting by with disco-metal or Eighties covers. “Denial,” the band told MTV News, is based on an argument that guitarist Clint Lowery recorded at a show. Many of its lyrics come straight from the tape. — CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

61. Our Lady Peace – “One Man Army”

Toronto quartet Our Lady Peace were narrowly edged out by Barenaked Ladies as the biggest Canadian band to cross over to the American alt-rock scene in the ’90s. At the end of the decade, they faced the challenge of following up their most successful album, 1997’s Clumsy. The song they chose to come back with, “One Man Army,” had a rubbery bass-driven groove and a nasal, high-pitched vocal that would do fellow Canadian Geddy Lee proud. “The chorus was kind of like this weird anti-chorus,” frontman Raine Maida told Asbury Park Press in 1999. “We really fought for that song to be the first single because of that.” While it wasn’t one of their biggest hits, the gutsy single choice gave the band one of its signature songs, befitting the lyric’s call to maintain your individuality. — AL SHIPLEY

IMPACT

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