The Best 90s Punk Bands
The 1990s were a throwback to a bygone era – and the music industry was truly booming in the innocence of the pre-Millennium rush. No genre perhaps better epitomized that boom than punk, giving us some of the most unforgettable bands, songs and albums of the era. Let’s take a trip down memory lane as we take a look at some of the 90s punk bands that really defined the era, chart some of their greatest ever songs and albums and look at where you can get to see some of your favorite punk artists at festivals today.
Best 90s Punk Bands
The 1990s was a glorious time for punk, with the continuation of their 80s dominance and the emergence of new, exciting bands that went on to dominate the decade, it was truly the punk genre at the pinnacle and height of its worldwide fame as fans everywhere let go of their inhibitions and moshed out to their favorite artists.
Jimmy Eat World
Without doubt one of the top 90s punk bands, Jimmy Eat World really entered our consciousness way back in 1993 but it was their fourth studio album Bleed America from 1995 that shot them into the commercial music realm. Four singles from this album hit the top 20 of the Alternative Music charts, bringing them worldwide attention and the popularity they deserve. That popularity was kept alive with another six studio albums in the years that have followed, all of them gaining worldwide attention as this band proves time and time again that they've got it.
Founded in 1996, Sum 41 never followed the rules when it comes to their music. They played whatever they wanted - and that really struck a chord with 90s fans and still does today. You simply can’t get more punk than Sum 41 and the band is synonymous with the skateboard-riding free of the 1990s that characterized the punk genre. With the explosive energy of frontman Derek Whibley, Sum 41 have enjoyed extraordinary success that still continues to this day, but the 1990s were undoubtedly the zenith for this iconic band.
When punk band Manic Subsidal decided to change their name in 1986, little did they know the impact the nearly renamed 'The Offspring' would have on the world of punk rock in the subsequent decade. Without doubt one of the top punk bands of 90s, it wasn’t until the release of their third studio album ‘Smash’ in 1994 that they hit commercial success and it hit in a huge way. Since then, the Californian band have treated us to tune after tune and album after album of relentless punk classics.
Blink 182 are undoubtedly one of the top punk bands of the 90s. However, just saying that alone feels a little hollow as they are surely one of the top punk bands of all time. Having sold well over 50 million albums worldwide, the band, originally from California, have ensured their place amongst the true greats of punk from just about any era.
They ended the decade with their 1999 album release – ‘Enema of the State’ - which sold over 15 million worldwide and was acclaimed by punk fans to be one of the greatest albums ever. Given their body of work, there’s no doubt they are one of the key influential bands of the 90s era with their new 2019 album success also proving the timelessness of this legendary punk band.
It’s no surprise to see Green Day on any list that includes the greatest punk bands of the 90s. With over 85 million in album sales and sold-out arenas all across the world. There is no arguing the popularity and impact Green Day have had on pop punk music.
Perhaps their greatest success story came with their 1994 third album release, ‘Dookie’. This definitive punk album, spoke about pretty much everything that we were told we shouldn't speak about - masturbation, bisexuality, anxiety, loneliness and mental health.
In 1995, the band won best Alternative Album award at the Grammys, but this band has always been unquestionably punk and sit atop the tree where any discussion involving 90s punk bands is concerned.
How cool must it be to be Bad Religion? Other punk bands may have sold more records during the 90s, but few received the admiration of their fans and critics as Bad Religion did. The group recorded numerous well-crafted records, created their own punk rock record label and promoted their core political and religious values throughout their career.
By the mid-1990s, this band was at the peak of its power and they have released punk albums consistently, rarely straying from their vision. The praise has kept coming for Bad Religion - one of those rare bands that are universally loved - and with good reason.
The Nation of Ulysses
The Nation of Ulysses were a punk band whose influence stretched way beyond their chart hits. By 1992, once their brief and hectic career had ended, they had influenced countless other punk, indie, and hardcore punk groups all across America.
After being formed by rock visionary Ian Svenonius, critics and the wider public never truly figured out how serious they should take the group. That mystery only helped their reputation, however, and they went from strength to strength in the 80s before they came to an abrupt end in the 90s, but are still one of the defining artists of both decades.
Possibly no other band throughout the adventurous history of punk rock has earned quite the esteem of Fugazi. Founder Ian MacKaye was already well-known in the American underground for his involvement in other groups by the time he had helped form Fugazi take their popularity to the next level in the 1990s with an array of classic songs and albums. Fugazi’s legacy has never diminished. Part of that is owed to the great, timeless sounding music they recorded. Part of that is likely due to the group members being present at some of punk's key moments as it developed in the 80s and 90s period.
The critical acclaim Sonic Youth received for a single group in the 1990s was something rather unusual for a punk band - but it was fully merited as the band took the genre to new heights. Focusing on texture, focused experimentation and wearing their numerous influences on their sleeves, Sonic Youth acted like a guide through rock’s underground. Few 90s punk bands were cooler and more inventive than Sonic Youth and their best hits are still belted out on radios up and down the country today.
The Top 10 Punk Albums of the 90s
Great artists mean great songs and great songs mean great albums. The 90s did not disappoint in delivering some of the greatest punk albums of all time. Check out our top 10 below.
Guttermouth – Musical Monkey (1997)
Let's get things started with something a little more light-hearted. Rightly considered one of the top 10 punk albums of the 90s is Musical Monkey. Guttermouth have some of the funniest lyrics ever written by any punk band and this is certainly them at their very humorous best. Although like several of the forthcoming bands on this, arguably their best album actually came out in the early '00s, this was also a huge hit and one of those albums that instantly comes to mind when you think back to the pure, sweet era that was the 90s as far as punk music is concerned.
Propagandhi – How to Clean Everything (1993)
The punk band Propagandhi, who are still going strong today, were some of the most technically proficient musicians around the time of this release. This album skews far more to the 90’s punk template proffered by their contemporaries than their subsequent releases – but since gone more hardcore and, in one of the more interesting musical career progressions, the band have added heavier bits of thrash metal. However, this remains the stand out offering from them in terms of 90s punk album success.
Poison Idea – Feel the Darkness (1990)
This is undoubtedly the most unique album on the list but one we simply could not leave off. Here, Poison Idea incorporates several genres with something for everyone on Feel the Darkness. The audience certainly felt the darkness as the album was a huge chart hit. They again tried to match this sound with their next album, but Feel The Darkness effortlessly remains Poison Idea’s finest hour, and one of the best punk albums of the 90s decade.
Bad Religion – Against the Grain (1990)
The late 80s and early 90s belonged to this band, so much so that Bad Religion are pretty much defined by this time period: three albums in three years, three smash hits. This is absolutely crucial listening for even the most casual of fans of punk music. Bad Religion nailed it here with 4 of the singles from the album reaching the top 10 in that period - mightily impressive for a punk band.
Rancid - And Out Come the Wolves (1995)
Rancid had to make this list of the top 10 punk albums of all time and what better way to do it than with 'And Out Come the Wolves'? Released in 1995, this was possibly the best example of punk rock and showed the band at its very best. Truly, Rancid were one of the few bands of the era to sound like they were writing actual pop songs, but for a punk audience. That made them unpopular with some and absolutely adored by others - but never, ever ignored.
Green Day - Dookie (1994)
Green Day really announced themselves in the punk world with their debut album and it remains arguably their greatest ever work. This one really hit home with emotional teens and punk-crazy adults alike and was a huge hit for the band. They followed it up with albums such as Basket Case, Longview, and Welcome To Paradise to see out the 90s, but none of them got close to the acclaim Dookie rightly received by its legions of fans and the media alike.
Pennywise – Straight Ahead (1997)
Pennywise, were one of the more popular bands of the era but garnered criticism for their inability to record a smash album until this 1997 hit. Excellent start to finish, it displays the bands songwriting talents at their very best and was a real slap in the face of their critics who had nowhere to turn except top picture of the band scooping award after award for this cult classic.
The Offspring – Smash (1994)
We spoke about The Offspring above, but we simply can't get enough of this band that graced the 90s period with smash hit after smash hit. This album, aptly named 'Smash,' delivered another smash hit for the band. One of the most famous punk albums of all time, featuring the unlikely hit songs “Come Out and Play,” and “Self Esteem”. The Offspring have since put out several other very good albums, but none come close to this in our book.
The Vandals – Hitler Bad, Vandals Good (1998)
Quite possibly one of the most underrated bands of the era. The Vandals do not get enough credit for their musicianship – Josh Freese is a masterful drummer, who’s played and toured with several high-profile bands, and performed as session drummer on over 100 studio releases. Warren Fitzgerald had a stint in Oingo Boingo, and just listen to his guitar work on Live Fast Diarrhea. This is probably the most mainstream sounding of their releases, but it also features some of their best songs, highest production values
AFI – Black Sails in the Sunset (1999)
A perhaps controversial choice here as AFI are probably more known for being more associated with the noughties, but before they signed to a major label, they were a majorly buzzing underground band with a sizable, incredibly passionate fanbase in the 90s. Listeners who fell in love with the band’s striking image, Davey Havok’s poetic lyrics, and AFI’s special combination of influences. AFI were incredibly active in the 90’s, putting out 4 albums and 2 proper EPs from 1995-1999. If anyone doubts this band's mark on 90s punk music, point them in the direction of this classic.
Best Punk Music Festivals
Festivals are truly special events that bring fans of music together to revel in their favorite songs and artists and, even if only for a short time, forget about all their troubles beyond simply enjoying the song. Punk music is fortunate to have some of the best music festivals in the business, so if you’re itching to see your favorite punk artist perform live check out our list of the best punk music festivals below and start planning for the experience of a lifetime.
Download Festival (Donington Park, Derby)
Roadburn Festival (013 Poppodium in Tilburg, Netherlands)
Radar Festival (Casino, Guildford)
Rock am Ring & Rock im Park (Rock am Ring - Nürburgring, Nürburg, Germany / Rock im Park - Zeppelinfeld, Nuremberg, Germany)
Slamdunk Festival North and South (North - Temple Newsam Park, Leeds / South - Hatfield Park, Hatfield)
Bloodstock Open Air (Catton Park, Walton Upon Trent)
Rock In Rio Lisboa (Parque Da Bela Vista, Lisbon)
Hellfest (Clisson, France)
Nova Rock Festival (Nickelsdorf, Austria)
Reading and Leeds Festival (Leeds - Bramham Park, Wetherby / Reading - Richfield Avenue Festival Site, Reading)
Wacken Open Air (Wacken, Germany)
Resurrection Fest (Viveiro, Spain)
Influential Figures in Punk Music
Punk music is, by definition, all about the often surreal and larger than life characters that have been present within the genre. As a sort of anti-establishment side of music, these influential figures are not the suits sitting in offices, but always the performers. The punk scene, both in the United States and the United Kingdom, has been defined by its performers.
They are some of the most iconic musicians — sometimes in the loosest sense of the word — in the history of entertainment. Whether it's the outlandish lifestyles, disturbing behavior on and off the stage or a unique sense of fashion, the characters within punk music have always been memorable and have left their mark on music fans whether you are a fan of the genre or not.
While it would certainly be impossible to name all of the countless influential figures that have helped make punk one of the most iconic, chaotic and successful genres in all of music, the following legends certainly deserve a mention for being part of punk music history;
- Jerry Only
- Iggy Pop
- Dee Dee Ramone
- Joey Ramone
- Johnny Ramone
- Lou Reed
- Henry Rollins
- Johnny Rotten
- Siouxsie Sioux
- Patti Smith
- Joe Strummer
- Poly Styrene
- Johnny Thunders
- David Vanian
- Sid Vicious
- Wendy O. Williams
- GG Allin
- Billie Joe Armstrong
- Stiv Bators
- Jello Biafra
- Glenn Danzig
- Kathleen Hanna
- Debbie Harry
- Joan Jett
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