10 Most Important Grunge Bands

10 Most Important Grunge Bands

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Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, 1996 (Photo by Gie naeps/Getty Images)

When you put together a list of "important contributions" within the musical world, the list is always open to interpretation. However, there are certain certainties, so let’s find them with this 10 most important grunge bands list and start a discussion!

The word ‘grunge’ dates back a long way, in fact, some say its association with music began when describing Aussie bands in the very early 80s like Beasts Of Bourbon, King Snake Roost, and The Scientists. Not as a genre, but just as an adjective.  By the mid-80s it was getting used as a descriptive due to the low budget recording with a deliberate lack of professionalism, otherwise known as ‘the Seattle Sound’. It’s curious to note that most bands of the era and location didn’t like the term "grunge" or being associated with it, they considered themselves rock and roll bands, but as everything in music seemingly needs a pigeon hole, grunge, the genre, became commonplace.

With that out of the way, the most obvious place to start would be;


Nirvana wasn’t the first grunge band by any stretch, but they definitely fit the bill as one of the most important grunge bands, no question. Nevermind, their second of only 3 studio albums, exploded and sent shards of flannel raining down around the world and introduced people to the rest of that sound.  At that point, alternative rock music took over the world and had record companies signing anyone and everyone who fell into that genre, in the hope that they could replicate that success of Nirvana. Radio programmers were falling over themselves to find more and more of this dirty sounding fuzz, music that they had been oblivious to before Nirvana. They have to top the list.



Because they’re f***in Soundgarden! They were there in the beginning, like so many of the greats, signed to Sub Pop (which should really have its own breakout column), that forged the sound and brought it to the world. Their breakthrough to the mainstream would come later, despite being the first grunge band signed to a major label. Most true devotees will have Badmotorfinger and Superunknown in their collection at the very least. Their influence can never be ignored, true superstars of the scene, even if they never really wanted to be.


Yarling, as it came be to known, was ever present in the Seattle scene, (if you don’t know what it is, look it up) and Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley was at the forefront, along with Vedder and early years Scott Weiland. It went hand in hand with that grunge vibe. But that’s not what makes Alice in Chains one of the most important grunge bands. For me, it was the raw emotive lyrics, doubled with, really, having a second vocalist in Jerry Cantrell. That brought something really special to the table, Layne and Jerry’s voices meshed so beautifully, in such a haunting fashion sometimes, that they became unique in a scene that could sound very much the same.


If not for the untimely death from a heroin overdose of frontman, Andrew Wood, just a few days before the release of their debut album, Apple, Mother Love Bone probably would have enjoyed a successful career. But that’s easy to say in hindsight, isn’t it? Is a band that were only active for a few short years earn a spot as one of the most important grunge bands? Of course they do. For without them, we wouldn’t have Pearl Jam, or Temple Of The Dog. Such is the importance of MLB, to this day, they are referenced, not only for the death of their singer but for their contribution to spreading the word of what was happening in Seattle at the time, bringing the spotlight to many of its bands that deserved recognition.


This list really writes itself, doesn’t it? Such was the enormity of the grunge movement and its influence on rock music. I don’t need to wax lyrical on why Pearl Jam are on this list, they’re Pearl Jam! To this day, STILL one of the world’s biggest bands. Vedder’s voice instantly recognisable, often imitated, never bettered. I remember being a passenger in my mate Fefzi’s Toyota Corona in 1991 and hearing TEN for the first time and just falling in love with it all. Take yourself back to that time, there was NOTHING like it. These bands were all so instantly identifiable, and it begged the question, how can there be SO many amazing bands from one city just crushing the world? Important? Oh hell yes.


Some may be saying “Who?”, whilst others will be saying “YES”. So let’s first establish the fact that Green River weren’t the biggest band in the world, or even in Seattle, but their legacy is that they really were onto something, a sound, especially with Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard in the band. They combined a sludgy rock vibe tinged with melody and groove that was the beginning of grunge. Listen to Rehab Doll, and you’ll absolutely hear where others got stylistic and sonic ideas from. The drums sound like they were recorded in a dunny.


I remember the first time I heard Melvins was in the 80’s, at school on a mate’s mixed tape we used to skate to. I had never heard anything like it, it was punk, or at least that’s what I associated it with, because I didn’t understand that it wasn’t. Their Six Songs EP was, like Green River, the very beginning of grunge, even though it wasn’t called grunge at the time. The Melvins are not only one of the most important grunge bands, they are one of the most important rock bands of all time.


Whilst the ‘Psychos are technically and often referred to as a punk band, the nature of their recordings, attitude, live shows and sheer history meant that they were indeed an important band to the grunge scene. Their influence is widely noted by many of the world’s biggest bands to come from the ‘Seattle sound’. Let’s call a spade a spade, they ARE the epitome of grunge. Sloppy, dirty, untidy, loud, distorted, chaos. They were grunge before the term grunge was coined. A working man’s rock band, no frills. They were grunge.


The 25th anniversary of Core has passed. WHAT. AN. ALBUM. Proving that not all grunge came from the Pacific North West of the US, out of San Deigo came Stone Temple Pilots with an album that just blew people’s minds. Hugely influential, Scott Weiland an unbelievable frontman who could YARL with the best of them, often imitated, never equalled. Stone Temple Pilots were another band that brought something unique to the table, they’re instantly recognisable, and easily one of the most important grunge bands. Pre-order the amazing 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Core, here.


The thing you have to remember about the insane Pacific North West music scene, was that it was incredibly incestuous and intertwined, and when you boil it down you’ll find a core group of players who were instrumental (pardon the pun) in creating this grunge sound through many bands.  Dan Peters, drummer for Mudhoney, for example, also played drums for Nirvana, and The Screaming Trees. Original bassist Matt Lukin played in The Melvins, and of course, Mark and Steve’s work in Green River. Without these guys, the story of grunge could not be told. They are so integral to grunge that to exclude them from a most important list would be insane. They epitomise what grunge as, as noted at the beginning of this piece.  “low budget recording with a deliberate lack of professionalism”. Mudhoney have most definitely earned their spot. 

READ MORE: 10 Most Important Grunge Bands Part 2

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