Top 10 Most Important Alternative Rock Albums Ever



Top 10 Most Important Alternative Rock Albums Ever

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
These alt rock albums are iconic! For this list, we'll be ranking influential and important albums in alternative rock history. Our countdown includes The White Stripes, The Smiths, Radiohead, and more!

Top 10 Most Important Albums in Alternative Rock History

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 most important albums in alternative rock history.

For this list, we’ll be ranking influential and important albums in alternative rock history. These received immense amounts of critical acclaim, pushed the genre into the mainstream, and/or redefined what alternative rock could be. More than their quality, we’ll be considering their impact on the alternative rock genre, and music as a whole. We’re excluding albums that predated the alt rock genre, so you won’t find “The Velvet Underground & Nico” here.

What’s your fave alt rock album? Let us know in the comments.

#10: “White Blood Cells” (2001)

The White Stripes
Before “Seven Nation Army,” there was “White Blood Cells.” For their third studio album, The White Stripes shed their more blues rock-oriented sound and dove headfirst into the garage rock they are now known for. The move turned out to be the correct one (at least in a commercial sense), as the album became the band’s most successful to that time. It received stellar reviews and eventually went platinum, aided by the success of “Fell in Love with a Girl.” The album shot The White Stripes into the mainstream and redefined their sound, a sound that would eventually become one of the most recognizable in alternative rock.

#9: “Pinkerton” (1996)

There once was a time when Weezer dominated the alternative rock scene. (xref) After storming into the mainstream with “Weezer” in 1994, Weezer changed up their sound and released the darker and less commercial “Pinkerton”. The darker sound of “Pinkerton” came about from a variety of factors, including Rivers Cuomo’s disillusionment with fame, a painful surgery, and his ambition to create greater, more dramatic music. And while the less-commercial record initially saw poor sales and reviews, its standing has increased in recent years, with many emo bands of the 2000s calling it a major influence on their work. You could argue that “Pinkerton” helped spawn an entire genre of music.

#8: “Daydream Nation” (1988)

Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth showed the world what they could do with “Daydream Nation.” The group was known for their aggressive and abrasive sound, and they blended their penchant for noise rock with art and punk to create one of the greatest and most unique albums of the 80s. The album was praised for its bravery and stunning mixture of different forms of rock, and it was instantly labeled Sonic Youth’s greatest work.It earned the band acclaim and brought them to the attention of major record labels, and it has been a huge influence on the genre of alt rock and its progenitors, including Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.

#7: “Is This It” (2001)

The Strokes
Before “Is This It,” the Strokes were working part-time jobs and serving as supporting roles for bigger bands on tour. That all changed with “Is This It.” To say that the album was an instant success would be an understatement. Many music critics consider it a record that redefined the entire music industry, as it suddenly shifted mainstream attention away from pop and girl/boy bands to alt rock. It not only influenced popular successors like Franz Ferdinand, Kings of Leon, and Arctic Monkeys, it also reinvigorated art pop genres of the 70s and 80s like electro and synthpop. Many bands of the 2000s, and even today, owe a great debt to the Strokes.

#6: “Disintegration” (1989)

The Cure
The Cure was a very popular alt rock/pop band throughout the 80s. While they were once-known for their dark, gothic rock sound, they diverged into pop with albums like “The Head on the Door.” However, their newfound fame got to their heads, with drummer and keyboardist Lol Tolhurst falling into alcoholism and vocalist Robert Smith consuming large amounts of LSD. To distance themselves from the fame, Smith returned the band to goth rock. But it only made them more famous.The album is praised for its grand, haunting sound, and despite the less commercial music, it became the band’s highest-selling album. Talk about backfiring.

#5: “Murmur” (1983)

The production of “Murmur” was certainly interesting. It was initially produced by Stephen Hague, but the band hated his penchant for technical perfection. They teamed with their old producer, Mitch Easter, and created an album without popular rock attributes of the time, like the use of synthesizers. This resulted in a unique and highly original album, complete with muddy, imperfect production, groovy beats, Stipe’s droning vocals, and cryptic lyrics. No one really knew what to make of it, but looking back, it’s clear that the album served as a huge influence on the alt rock scene of the succeeding decade.

#4: “The Queen Is Dead” (1986)

The Smiths
You know a band has something to say when they release an album with that title. “The Queen Is Dead’ is undeniably one of the wackiest, most unique albums of the modern era. The album was praised for Morrissey’s vocals and sense of humor, and the music perfectly matched the witty lyrics, creating an atmosphere of fun and not-so-gentle ribbing. It’s still held in high esteem to this day, and it’s often considered to be a major influence on Britpop, a catchy form of alternative rock that dominated Britain in the 90s thanks to bands like Oasis, Blur, and Suede.

#3: “Nevermind” (1991)

What can be said about “Nevermind” that hasn’t already been said? “Nevermind” was Nirvana’s second studio album, and the first to feature Dave Grohl. No one expected the album to be a big hit, but it turned out to be a massive success thanks to its overall quality and lead single “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which dominated MTV in the early 90s. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and the album as a whole, propelled Nirvana to superstardom and arguably pushed alternative rock and grunge into the mainstream. Many alt rocks bands of the 90s owe a significant debt to Nirvana and “Nevermind.”

#2: “Doolittle” (1989)

At the time of recording “Doolittle,” the Pixies was an inconsequential band. Their debut album, “Surfer Rosa,” was ignored by pretty much everyone, and they recorded demos for “Doolittle” in the basement of a hair salon. Pretty humble origins for a band that ended up changing an entire genre of music. “Doolittle” was released in April 1989 and many critics and aspiring musicians took notice. It ended up being an enormous influence on further alt rock gods, including Kurt Cobain, who heavily modeled “Smells Like Teen Spirit” after the musical style of “Doolittle.” Its influence is long-ranging and undeniable.

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

“The Stone Roses” (1989)
The Stone Roses

“Funeral” (2004)
Arcade Fire

“Definitely Maybe” (1994)

#1: “OK Computer” (1997)

Let’s be honest here - basically every Radiohead album is something new, exciting, and hugely influential. But “OK Computer” is something else. The band didn’t really impress anyone with “Pablo Honey,” and while “The Bends” received a better reception, it didn’t have an iota of “OK Computer’s” impact. Not only is it often considered to be one of the greatest albums ever, it completely obliterated the popular Britpop genre and pushed British music into an entirely new, more complex direction. It spawned a host of imitative acts, including Travis and Muse, while also re-popularizing prog rock and concept albums. No one can replicate Radiohead, but that certainly didn’t stop them from trying.