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Top 10 Billboard Chart Topping Rock Songs of the 90s

VO: Matt Campbell
Script written by Q.V. Hough Hair bands, you're out. Grunge,you’re f**king in. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Billboard Chart Topping Rock Songs of the 90s. For this list, we're focusing on the definitive rock songs of the 90s that became Billboard #1s, whether it was on the Hot 100, Rock or Alternative charts. Special thanks to our user godslayer79 for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Q.V. Hough

Top 10 Billboard Chart Topping Rock Songs of the 90s

Hair bands, you’re out. Grunge, you’re f**king in. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Billboard Chart Topping Rock Songs of the '90s.

For this list, we’re focusing on the definitive rock songs of the '90s that became Billboard #1s, whether it was on the Hot 100, Rock or Alternative charts. While on previous lists in this series we only included songs that were on the Hot 100, we have opened up the criteria to include the other rock lists, as rock music faded out of the mainstream throughout the '90s.

#10: “No Rain” (1992)
Blind Melon

In the early 90s, a musician from Lafayette, Indiana moved to L.A. and met up with his sister’s pal from high school, Axl Rose. After singing backup for Guns N’ Roses, Shannon Hoon became one of the most recognizable frontmen of alternative rock thanks to Blind Melon’s outcast classic entitled “No Rain.” Anyone with a creative bone in their body knows what its like to be misunderstood, and this single took a comedic approach to all those that fly under the radar. Unfortunately, Hoon passed away of a cocaine overdose in 1995, but “No Rain” remains an essential component of the early '90s alt-rock scene.

#9: “Losing My Religion” (1991)

With vocals that were recorded in just one take, Michael Stipe reciting the hauntingly beautiful lyrics took the song right to number one on both the Mainstream and Modern rock charts. Of course, the brilliant music video played a major role in the song’s success, as director Tarsem Singh channeled both Italian painter Caravaggio and Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky for a truly intellectual take on someone becoming deeply pissed off. “Losing My Religion” established R.E.M. as one of the leading acts of alternative music, while “Drive” became another hit the following year.

#8: “1979” (1996)
Smashing Pumpkins

A dream pop anthem of outcast adolescence, and the defining track of “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.” Everybody knows what it’s like to be at that awkward stage of life – you know, when you’re not old enough to be considered an adult but far from being an innocent kid. With “1979,” Billy Corgan captured the essence of the teenage experience through a lyrical journey of freak and geeks, accompanied by a chilled out musical framework. Smashing Pumpkins won Alternative Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards, and “1979” became an essential topic of discussion for all types of '90s rock fans.

#7: “Lightning Crashes” (1995)

Contrary to popular opinion, this Billboard #1 is NOT about a mother passing away during the act of childbirth. In fact, it’s a celebration of life, as an elderly woman passes away in a hospital while a younger woman welcomes a newborn down the hall. So, we’re deeply apologetic if we just destroyed your interpretation of the heart-wrenching #1. With all due respect to “Selling the Drama” – another #1 hit from the same album, it was “Lighting Crashes” which thoroughly ripped the hearts out of listeners as they tried to understand what in the hell was taking place. It was…the circle of life.

#6: “Mysterious Ways” (1991)

Funky and surreal, this cryptic U2 single from “Achtung Baby” will make you get on your knees and beg for mercy - or perhaps heighten your concept of the ideal woman. “Mysterious Ways” is somewhat of a free self-help lesson for men struggling with their concept of love as U2 seems to be saying, “It’s all right, she might be a Goddess, but don’t be such a wimp. Regardless, it’s an unusually playful song from the legendary band, and consumers undoubtedly bought the message.

#5: “Loser” (1993)

Born and raised in LA, Beck Hansen found himself broke and penniless in the early '90s New York City music scene, but that’s not what made him a loser. It was his devastating attempt to mimic the style of Public Enemy’s Chuck D. When Beck returned to his native city and began improvising songs for live audiences, he and producer Carl Stephenson slowly morphed the nonsensical lyrical foundation into a hipster musical classic. Upon receiving a negative response to his rhymes, Beck came up with his iconic chorus.

#4: “Scar Tissue” (1999)
Red Hot Chili Peppers

For their seventh studio album, the Red Hot Chili Peppers adopted a more chilled out musical style while lead singer Anthony Kiedis embraced a new blonde look - but remained shirtless, of course. Lyrically, “Scar Tissue” represents the emotional journey of a hopeless wanderer, and in this case, you might say it’s a metaphor for Kiedis’ long-standing relationship with his bandmates. Eight years prior to this late '90s ballad, the Chili Peppers released another iconic hit with “Give It Away,” and they would kick off the 2000s with “Californication” - yet another defining single of the decade.

#3: “Interstate Love Song” (1994)
Stone Temple Pilots

It’s no easy task to replace yourself at #1 on the Billboard rock charts, but that’s exactly what Stone Temple Pilots did with this quintessential grunge single. In the four poetic verses of “Interstate Love Song,” Scott Weiland details a crumbling relationship and the escape that follows, however the true antagonist of the story was the singer himself, as he was struggling with a crippling heroin addiction. Off their 1994 album Purple, some might say that STP ruled the year as it was their second song of the year to reach number one on the Modern rock chart.

#2: “Better Man” (1994)
Pearl Jam

Written by lead singer Eddie Vedder when he was still in high school, this sarcastic take on true romance was occasionally performed by the singer before his rock star days, however as Pearl Jam rose to fame, it ultimately topped the Billboard Mainstream rock charts for eight consecutive weeks. While “Better Man” is clearly about a woman lost in love, Vedder once dedicated a live performance of the song to his stepfather, but regardless of the original subject, Pearl Jam’s slow progression into an all-out frenzy made for an unforgettable musical experience. And don’t get us started about their earlier hit “Daughter”.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Glycerine” (1995)

“Wonderwall” (1995)

“Basket Case” (1994)
Green Day

“Black Hole Sun” (1994)

Santana feat. Rob Thomas (1999)

#1: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)

When hair bands were still fighting for a spot on the Billboard charts, a new band emerged from the Pacific Northwest, and they could not have given two thoughts about fame. But they got it anyway. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” received its title when Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill made fun of Kurt Cobain’s smell. Not only did the song introduce Nirvana to a world of disparate youths, it inadvertently marked the unofficial beginning of the grunge movement with an unforgiving sound and subversive lyrics.

So, do you agree with our selections? What is your favorite chart topping Billboard rock song of the '90s? For more mind-blowing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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