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Who is the greatest grunge and alternative rock vocalist of the 90s?

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The 90s was an incredible decade in music history. Not just rock but even hip hop and rave became prominent genres across the world. New sub genres like grunge and alternative rock came to the fore. They spoke about the current societal struggles, political unrest, the frustrations and rebellion of the youth.

The Grunge and Alternative Rock Era

“Here we are now, entertain us”

screamed Kurt Cobain.

The song, Smells Like Teen Spirit, is arguably the song of the decade. It became an anthem. Nirvana burst on the scene with their unique sound which was then labelled as grunge or alternative rock. Kurt with his fierce, crying for help, straight to the point lyrics and singing became the voice of Generation X. He would not categorise as a skilled singer but he delivered the message perfectly.

Eddie Vedder

Another polarising alternative rock band to emerge in the 90s was Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder wrote and sang about the plight of broken homes, depression, suicide and gloom. The songs didn’t paint a very pretty picture but that was the aim. Eddie with his powerful baritone became one of 90s’ most recognisable voice. With his wide vocal range, he could sing up to the 5th octave.

Chris Cornell

A vocalist who could sing the dictionary and make it sound great was Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. From volcanic screams to melancholic baritone, Chris had it all. The best examples would be ‘Black Hole Sun’ and ‘Spoonman’.

His vocal prowess was again on display in Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike”. Be it with Soundgarden, Audioslave and even his solo projects, Chris was one of the front runners to grab Eddie’s throne. He really needs to explain the album with Timbaland though.

Woman Power

The 90s also witnessed the rise of woman power in rock music. Over decades there had been some great female vocalists in rock music but 90s witnessed an upsurge.

Shirley Manson

With her style, rebellious attitude, and distinctive voice Garbage’s Shirley Manson rose to prominence with their first album. She joined Garbage after her earlier band Angelfish broke up. Her low vocals could convey a wide range of emotions without sounding melodramatic. Shirley could sway between being slick to sensual. Her vocals on ‘Queer’ are a perfect example of this.

Dolores O’Riordan

Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries was the darling of alternative rock in the 90s. One could interpret her voice as powerful or loud as per preference. Singing with her thick Irish accent, Dolores’ voice could make even the softest song sound strong and the heavier ones could cause panic. Her wails and bleats in ‘Zombie’ still ‘Linger’ in your mind hours after you hear the song. Her fan following was largely split in two parts. The ones who liked ‘Zombie’ and the others who loved ‘Dreams’. The Cranberries remain one of the most influential alternative bands to come out of Ireland.

Alanis Morissette

While Ireland gave us the anti-war/politics queen in Dolores, Canada produced the ‘Queen of Alt-Rock Angst’ Alanis Morissette. She began as a pop singer but failed to produce a commercial hit. Alanis began working with a new manager and released Jagged Little Pill in 1995, an alternative album. The album was a massive success and earned her numerous Grammy’s. Her unique and recognisable voice can be termed as ‘hard to tame’. It carried a natural rebellious tone and could change textures from lower range to husky at will.

Gwen Stefani

That Gwen Stefani was a part of a punk/alternative band at a time would be hard to believe for the younger ones. Gwen became an icon with No Doubt’s album ‘Tragic Kingdom’. Her poppy and addictive voice added texture to the band’s music. Gwen’s colourful voice has more or less remained the same over the years and genres.

Vocalists and their traits

There were other vocalists whose characteristic traits set them apart from the rest. However they did not carry these traits at the cost of their vocal prowess.

Stone Temple Pilot’s vocalist Scott Weiland was known for possessing a throaty voice which reeked of vengeance. Scott played with multiple musicians over the years. He was known to carry a megaphone on stage and sing through it on the mic. Inspired by Kurt Cobain, Daniel Johns of Silverchair started out with grunge but ultimately went glam.

Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley’s melancholic voice created the quintessential sound of Seattle. Staley could be soft and soulful while not drifting away from the genre. Green Day is largely credited for the revival of the punk rock scene in the 90s. Billie Joe Armstrong has an amazing voice, and a distinctive ‘roar’ that is perfect for the band’s sound. Billie might not be the best vocalist but the uniqueness of his voice sets him apart. Then we had ‘crooners’ like Liam Gallagher the lead singer of the rock band Oasis, and later as the singer of Beady Eye.

 

The decade belonged to grunge and alternative rock. The heavy metal/rock bands of the past decades continued to enjoy fandom by reinventing their sound. The 90s is the last of rock music’s glorious run. By the turn of the millennium emerging genres like hip hop, electronic music and dance/pop gained ground. Hip Hop and Pop are currently the ‘most streamed/listened to genres’. Though pushed into the background in the new millennium, rock music reinvented itself and remained relevant. New genres emerged and classic bands still toured to packed houses.

According to figures in a Billboard report, the top 10 highest grossing tours of all time, features 7 rock acts. The rock stars may have grayed but their songs still make their fans jump like pre-pubescent youths.

98 thoughts on “Who is the greatest grunge and alternative rock vocalist of the 90s?”

  1. Chris Cornell by a long shot. No one even came close to his vocal range and abilities. And the female fronted bands on this list didn’t come close to the popularity and longevity of Soundgarden.

  2. This is a terrible article. You know little to nothing about 90s music and ‘grunge’ let alone singing. Not insightful. Not informative. Mostly benign drivel.
    The internet has become a refugee for every wannabe journalist with little more than click-bait and a diet thought.

  3. You left out a band that also made grunge. From the guitar riffs and the vocals with amazing lyrics. Yes I’m talking about Guns N’ Roses. That made glam run away scared and had one of the biggest and baddest albums.

    So yeah don’t for get that band

  4. Where is Faith No More? They embody the alternative and experimental rock breaking endless boundaries for music in general. I love them!

  5. Since there was zero mention of Smashing Pumpkins, I’m gonna go with Billy Corgan who put out far more work than any other group you’ve mentioned.

  6. Perry Ferrel of Jane’s addiction, belly, smashing pumkins… others a few more names that need to be mentioned. Live throwing copper. Janes and smashing set the stage for many of these bands.

  7. Chris Cornell, no contest.
    For something a lil’ more Iggy-style, Mark Arm.
    For weirdness factor, yet quite compelling and diverse, Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne.
    For banshee wail, “Kat Bjelland.
    For wild abandon, and oddly literate worsdsmithing, David Yow – the king of punk rock.

  8. Decent lineup of some great singers. I was shocked to say the least that Dave Grohl was not mentioned. He is a member of two of the most influential grunge/rock bands if the 90’s, he’s still relevant and still making great music and his voice is just as distinct as the others.

  9. Layne Staley and Chris Cornell are the greatest 90s vocalist,ask anyone from 90s music era…Kurt Cobain vocals we’re not even average…and Layne,Scott weiland and Chris Cornell we’re the the vocal monster fuck your list …you are in favour of mainstream media …fuck u and your list asshole…don’t feed people nonsense do same research first

  10. How about Andrew Wood??? He’s the one who got Seattle noticed!!!!!!!

    He was Pearljams singer when they were still called Mother Lovebone –
    He died , they got Eddie Vedder & changed name –

  11. Take away the different styles of music and take away the messages in the song and just go by range and the power or feeling put into the performance of the songs I think you have to go with Chris Cornell. I love all the bands and performers mentioned. I put Chris up there with Roy Orbison in rock royalty.

  12. Chris Cornell by far , not just from the nineties but one of the best of all time. Layne and Eddie in the top 5, curt was the face of grunge not the best singer.

  13. Without a doubt, Layne Staley was and IMO, one of the best, not limited to just grunge or Seattle. One of the most unique, heartfelt, and powerful voices of a generation. DO YOU Not Agree? Have you ever seen him perform live? Check out “Love Hate Love” , live on YouTube. Effortless-power coupled with his haunting melodic tones, WITH spot-on accuracy… hands down … one of the top 10 of my lifetime.

    ~Z-Man☆

  14. Chris Cornell, hands down, if we’re talking “greatest vocalist.” That IS what the title of the article says, right? Frontman/performer/vagabond/trendsetter? Scott Weiland.
    Lyricist/poet/philosopher/spokesman for my generation? Cobain.

  15. Eddie Vedder is the Best!! Because he is still alive & going strong!!! He is still writing new music & going on your. He’s the Best because he is still living the American dream by touring & writing new music. Thank You for sticking around Eddie Vedder & letting us enjoy your new & old music masterpieces!!!

  16. The lead singer of candlebox never gets any recognition at all and he has such a powerful voice and no one said anything about tool in the 90s his voice was incredible

  17. Its nice but weird to wrap my head around my son “discovering” and getting into all these grunge and alternative bands i was into in thier hey day. And then he will go “Oh i remember this song mom you used to blast it when we were in the car diving”. Good kid.

  18. Layne stayley was the best, the competition was so close it could fit thru the eye of the needle but for my money he was the best. The overall best was AXL. That i dont think can be argued.

  19. Layne Staley. It’s not even a competition. Have you seen vocal coaches react to his music? To his MTV Unplugged? The fact that he was so Zonked when he did Unplugged and still sang like he was in his prime is…..theres no words for it. That was a man on his death bed, letting people hear his pain and hurt. Layne Staley was one of a kind.

  20. Layne Staley hands down #1. Rest in peace brother I miss the times we had so very much. It hurts to just think about the moment I was told you were gone…
    My son born on your birthday
    7 yrs. Later… How about those odds bud…. ; )

  21. Oh Christ ,who was bellend responsible for this?? anyone with the hearing of van Gogh will tell u Kim deal best female vocalist of 90s and probably any decade!!

  22. Aiming for the most Gen X of Gen X commentary, two things. One: I’m actually proud that my all-time champion of grunge vocals, Layne Staley, was accomplished enough to be mentioned but wasn’t popular enough to get his own header (while of course being secretly, righteously resentful of the latter).

    Two: So it’s like, whatever, man, you know.

  23. Agreed on most of the names here, but any article discussing the best 90s grunge/alternative rock vocalists that doesn’t even mention Mike Patton is flawed. Patton’s voice is an amazingly versatile, refined, and powerful instrument, and he was one of the hardest working musicians throughout the ’90s and ’00s, with collaborations spanning from Dave Lombardo to Dan the Automator, and a little bit of John Zorn and Diamanda Galas thrown in for good measure.

  24. Loving MOST genres of music, I’ve seen & heard a pattern. Those who we’ve lost, maybe WARNED us, of their demise. If we LISTEN closely, there’s a message. We need to be vigilant and those who ‘entertain us,’ may need our help, lyrics speak to us and we NEED TO LISTEN! There are a LOT of brick walls and MANT have run “head-on,” while we’ve sat back and watched. HELP IS OUT THERE?

  25. Are you kidding me Layne voice was so intense top to bottom one of the best and you just barely talked about him same on you

  26. We’re going to have to go with the singles they put out, because outside their singles or hits, almost any one of them can do totally Outstanding, so, I must go with Eddy Vedder. Then Chris, Dolores, then a few more.

  27. So Gwen stefani shows up in a ‘greatest grunge vocalist’ tally. Those ‘retro grunge look’ photos are current, if that was one of the sources this poorly researched article relied on.
    FWIW she rejected the “aggressive” sound and asthetic of grunge (which was rad back for back in those days).
    Hate to say this but the woman power bit of this ‘essay’ has only its sincere tone to its merit, artists mentioned barely fit the grunge tag, basically leaving the rights ones out.
    But don’t really matter coz this is no rolling stone.
    Though must say Hardik writes well, writes from the heart.. appreciate that.

  28. Layne Staley of Alice in Chains hands down. The fact that some people are throwing in Billie Joe Armstrong makes me sick. As well as Gwen Stefani and the lead singer of The Cranberries and lead singer of Garbage is a joke. And whoever that person is that said Axl Rose should get credit Should be ashamed of yourself. The album Appetite for Destruction came out 1986. So no they did not send glam-rock Running Away. Nirvana did. As a matter of fact Guns and Roses started doing ballad rock with crappy songs like November Rain, so miss me on all that BS. Alice in Chains all day long Jerry Cantrell was underrated as well.

  29. Horrible article if Layne Staley is not at the top of the list. Of course Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder should get their credit. But please leave out Billie Joe Armstrong, Gwen Stefani and the lead singer from garbage. That is just terrible.

  30. Horrible article if Layne Staley is not at the top of the list. Of course Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder should get their credit. But please leave out Billie Joe Armstrong, Gwen Stefani and the lead singer from garbage. That is just terrible.

  31. I dont believe you can put a label on ANY of them. Everybody mentioned here and in every comment are the LAST true amazing rock artist. Love them all and I could never pick between any of them. Why pick just rock out to all of them where they are here or gone. RIP to the ones who have gone. And thank you to the ones gone and here

  32. This is my era, and im a huge alice n chains fan. While layne is by far my favorite singer, cause he sings from his heart n soul, chris Cornell is in a league of his own. I saw him rt before he died. Just him and a acoustic guitar, stripped down, and nothing can compare. They r both the best of that era, (blow away eddie Vedder) and sadly gone way to soon.

  33. Layne Staley is my choice for number 1. He had the most unique voice. Just amazing. When he sings the actual words “IIIII stay awayyyyy” in that sing it gives me chills. So Fing powerful !!! It’s just so sad listening to the lyrics of a lot of AIC songs, such as “Down in a Hole”, “Nutshell”, and many other’s, knowing Staley lived those words.
    I’m a HUGE Vedder and Cornell fan, but the emotions Staley can deliver are on an entirely different level.

  34. Most of these resonses here come from idiots ! Grunge is the main topic ! Where the hell does Gwen Stefani fit or any of these others mentioned ! Chris, Layne, Eddie, Kurt, and Scott, Are and were the Grunge era ! You people need to get a clue !

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