During the 1990s, Nirvana led the grunge scene, Whitney Houston blossomed into pop stardom, and Tupac Shakir and The Notorious B.I.G. helped bring rap music to prominence, but punk was very much alive and thriving.
While the late 70s and early 80s were considered the golden years for punk and the early 2000s were remembered as the pop-punk renaissance, the 90s are known as the punk revival period and were excellent years for punk fans, with a huge number of punk bands becoming mainstream.
In this article, I will go over 22 of the best 90s punk bands and break down why they deserve to be on the list. Let’s get rockin’!
Guttermouth was a very influential band that helped form the mid-90s punk scene. Guttermouth is the epitome of obscene punk music with wild lyrics such as: “It’s my chemical imbalance, yeah. My head is stuffed with drugs, Zoloft keeps me even…”
The band was formed in 1989 and released their first full-length album in 1996. The band is known for its intentionally offensive and shocking lyrics and behavior that are meant to be humorous.
That said, Guttermouth has gotten itself into some trouble because of its behavior. In 1998, the band was arrested and banned from playing shows in Canada after the lead singer stripped entirely naked at an all-ages show. Guttermouth is still active, but the only original member still in the band is lead singer Mark Adkins.
Fugazi has a unique sound, and pinning the band down to a single genre is difficult. The band can best be described as a mix of post-hardcore, punk, and experimental. In 1989, the band dropped their first full-length album aptly titled 13 Songs, this album pushed the band into the limelight, and they became one of the most influential punk bands of the 1990s.
The members of Fugazi are known for their musicianship, which sets them apart from other punk bands. Punk is typically more about pumping out loud power chords than playing complex guitar riffs. But the band has complex experimental songs blended with traditional punk themes.
Fugazi is a straight-edge band, meaning the members do not use illegal drugs or consume alcohol. The straight-edge punk scene was founded by the hardcore band, Minor Threat. In 1983, Minor Threat broke up, and lead singer Ian MacKaye went on to form Fugazi.
20. The Get Up Kids
The Get Up Kids are considered to be one of the founders of modern emo, a subgenre of punk. This band has influenced major names in emo, such as Jimmy Eat World, Fall Out Boy, and Saves The Day.
Although they were a relatively unknown band, their influence has cemented them in history. The Get Up Kids released their first LP, “4 Minute Mile,” in 1997, which helped kickstart their fame. But it wasn’t until their second album, “Something To Write Home About,” was released in 1999 that The Get Up Kids really came to fruition.
This album single-handedly expanded the emo genre to become more mainstream. The Get Up Kids sold nearly 150,000 copies of Something To Write Home About and toured continuously for 3 years.
Lagwagon was formed in 1989 in California and has a similar sound and style to other punk bands of the era, such as the Offspring, Green Day, Rancid, and Blink 182. While Lagwagon never reached the same pinnacle of success as some of the other bands on this list, they were one of the major pop-punk players in the 90s.
Lagwagon was heavily influenced by early punk bands such as the Ramones and The Descendants, which can really be heard in their music. Their first hit album, Trashed, released in 1994, was a moderate success but was eclipsed by 2 other major punk albums released the same year, Dookie by Green Day and Smash by the Offspring.
The band has never shown much interest in gaining the massive popularity that other punk bands of their era had. But they continue to have a devoted fan base and strived to produce authentic punk music without ever “selling-out”.
18. Bikini Kill
Bikini Kill was formed in 1989 and was one of the founders of the Riot Grrrl feminist movement. The Riot Grrrl movement originated in Washington in the early 1990s and is a style of punk music that addresses political and social issues that affect women, such as domestic abuse, sexism, and the wage gap. While the band was not overly popular during its 7-year run, they had a tight-knit fan base and have inspired many female punk and even pop bands such as Sleater Kinney, L7, Fiona Apple, and Alanis Morrisette.
Bikini Kill’s biggest hits were “Rebel Girl”, “Carnival”, and “Double Dog Dare Ya”.
17. Reel Big Fish
Reel Big Fish is a ska punk band that has been making waves in the punk music scene since its formation in 1991. The Reel Big Fish music style is best described as a blend of ska, punk, and pop, with catchy hooks, upbeat rhythms, and humorous lyrics. The band incorporates trumpets and trombones into their music which is very unique to the ska genre.
The band self-released their first album, Everything Sucks, in 1995. This album didn’t have much commercial success, but it became known in the underground punk scene. The next year, Reel Big Fish released their second studio album, Turn The Radio Off, with Mojo Records. This album was a major success as it lined up with the mid-90s ska punk revival with other similar bands like Sublime, No Doubt, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Lit was formed in the mid-90s, releasing their first studio album, Tripping the Light Fantastic, in 1996. However, it was Lit’s 2nd album, A Place In The Sun, that really brought them to fame. “My Own Worst Enemy” is one of the most iconic pop-punk songs of all time. This song was released right at the end of the decade in 1999 and was an instant hit.
The band contributed to the success of pop punk in the early 2000s by blending classic punk with heavy metal, pop, and alternative.
The Descendants are one of the most popular and influential punk bands of all time, forming in the late 1970s during the origins of punk. The band’s first album Milo Goes To College, was named in Rolling Stone’s Top 40 List of the greatest punk albums of all time.
While the Descendant’s golden age was in the 1980s, they reformed in the mid-90s and released their 5th album, Everything Sucks, which became one of their most successful albums. Released more than ten years after their first album, Everything Sucks has a more mature sound yet still retains the youthful punk style.
Sleater-Kinney is another all-female punk band that originated in the Riot Grrrl movement. The band was formed in 1994 by Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, who are the only members of the band who still remain. Sleater-Kinney gained popularity in 1996 with their LP Call the Doctor, and their 1997 release Dig Me Out. The latter of which is the band’s best-selling album, with around 130,000 albums sold in the USA.
Sleater-Kinney’s lyrics are feminist and politically motivated. Carrie Brownstein stated in a 2019 interview, “Music has always been the playground of men’s sexuality. Women have really struggled to claim their own space.”
13. Social Distortion
Social Distortion was formed in 1979 but did not reach mainstream success until they signed with Epic Records in 1989 and released the self-titled LP in 1992.
This album put Social Distortion on the grand stage and set the scene for Orange Country punk rock. Social Distortion’s albums of the 90s influenced many other artists, including The Offspring, Rise Against, Pennywise, and even grunge bands like Pearl Jam.
It can even be argued that Social Distortion is more than just a punk band, as their music is more melodic and “pop” sounding than other punk bands of the era.
Rancid is one of the main bands of the early 90s that helped rekindle the mainstream public’s interest in punk music. In 1994, when Dookie and Smash were released, Rancid started gaining traction with their LP titled Let’s Go. And the following year, in 1995, Rancid released its most successful album …And Out Comes The Wolves. This album had top hits such as “Time Bomb” and “Roots Radicals”. This album boosted Rancid to a massive level of fame, selling more than 1 million copies.
Rancid is an extremely influential punk band that helped shape 90s punk and alternative rock. The band’s footprint can still be seen today in modern punk music.
11. Dropkick Murphys
The Dropkick Murphys is a Celtic punk rock band originating in Boston in the mid-1990s. They didn’t reach major success until the early 2000s, but their die-hard fans know and love the band’s first two albums, Do or Die and The Gangs All Here.
The Dropkick Murphys have a unique style, blending traditional Irish music with 90s punk and alternative rock. They are known for lyrics about union workers, blue-collar Boston working life, and drinking, among other subjects.
10. Suicidal Tendencies
Suicidal Tendencies is a thrash metal/hardcore punk band that formed in 1980. The band is known for its fast, shredding guitar riffs, musicianship, and fusion of different musical genres.
In 1990, the band released Lights…Camera…Revolution, which is considered to be the band’s magnum opus by most fans. This album took things in a completely new direction and strayed away from the band’s classic 1980s sound. The band toured the US for most of 1991, reaching their peak fame between 1991 and 1993.
During this time, Robert Trujillo (current bassist for Metallica) played bass for Suicidal Tendencies. Trujillo is a spectacular bass player who incorporated complex rhythms and themes into Suicidal Tendencies music.
NOFX is one of the most iconic 90s punk bands. Their music style is best described as skate punk, hardcore, and pop punkNOFX formed in the mid-1980s but didn’t rise to popularity until the mid-1990s when bands like Green Day, The Offspring, and Rancid released majorly successful punk albums that exponentially increased the genre’s fanbase.
NOFX’s 1994 album Punk In Drublic is their most successful album, selling more than 500,000 copies.
The band continues to perform live with the three original members, Eric Melvin, Fat Mike, and Erik Sandin.
8. The Offspring
The Offspring originally formed in 1984, but they didn’t have much mainstream success until 1994, when they released their third album, Smash. This album was a huge success, selling over 11 million copies.
The peak of the Offspring’s popularity was in the late 90s when they released Americana, which contained some of the most iconic pop-punk songs of all time, such as “The Kids Aren’t Alright” and “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)”. Smash and Americana are the 8th and 9th best-selling punk albums of all time!
The Offspring is undoubtedly one of the most iconic punk bands from the 90s. They contributed to the massive popularity of punk throughout the 90s and early 2000s and influenced many modern punk bands.
AFI (stands for A Fire Inside) is a 90s punk band heavily influenced by goth rock and early punk bands such as The Cure, The Dead Kennedys, and Joy Division. Throughout the mid-90s, the band was purely a hardcore punk band. They had a bit of popularity in the mid-90s, but it wasn’t until the band’s 1999 release, Black Sails In Sunset, that they became significantly popular.
The late 90s were a turning point in the band’s sound, where they pivoted from hardcore punk to pop-punk with a goth rock influence. Throughout the early 2000s, the band expanded in creativity and created its own sub-genre of horror punk.
6. Jimmy Eat World
Jimmy Eat World was formed in 1994 and was a moderately popular pop-punk band throughout the rest of the 90s. The band’s most significant release in the 90s was Clarity, which was released in 1999. After the moderate success of this album, Jimmy Eat World decided to employ a record label instead of self-releasing like they previously had. In 2001, Jimmy Eat World released Bleed American, which is by far their best-selling album ever, which featured songs such as “The Middle” and “Sweetness”.
Jimmy Eat World is one of the best punk bands of the late 90s and the early 2000s, influencing many modern rock, punk, and alternative bands.
5. Bad Religion
Bad Religion formed in 1980 and is one of the best punk bands to ever grace the stage. They are known for producing unique 3 part harmonies and melodic instrumental parts. Bad Religion is also known for covering deep topics in its lyrics, such as religion, politics, race, sexism, and society.
Throughout the 80s and early 90s, Bad Religion maintained a consistent fan base but failed to break into the mainstream. But, as with many bands on this list, the 1990s served as the perfect opportunity for the band to become successful. The band’s 1988 and 1989 releases titled, Suffer and No Control are 2 of their most beloved albums that pushed them into the limelight throughout the early 1990s. In 1994, they released Stranger Than Fiction, which was their breakthrough album, even charting #87 on the Billboard 200.
4. No Doubt
No Doubt is a hugely successful pop-punk and ska-punk band from the 1990s. The band is led by Gwen Stefani, who brought unique vocals and energy to the band. No Doubt rode the wave of the punk and the ska resurgence in the mid-90s, releasing Tragic Kingdom, which sold more than 16 million copies worldwide!
This put No Doubt on the world stage as the most successful ska band of all time and one of the most successful punk bands ever. They are currently on hiatus after years of producing amazing music, touring the world, and winning 2 Grammy Awards!
Sublime is another major ska-punk band from the 1990s resurgence of ska. While the band was relatively popular in California during the early 90s, they didn’t gain major traction until the 1996 release of their self-titled album, which was released just 2 months after their lead singer, Bradley Nowell, died of a heroin overdose. Shortly after this, the band broke up. Sublime’s self-titled LP sold more than 5,000,000 copies.
The band had a unique sound, mixing ska, garage punk, and reggae. Sublime’s lyrics talk about Howell’s addiction issues, relationships, and other popular punk topics, such as rioting and breaking the rules.
Blink-182 is one of the most iconic late-90s and early-2000s pop-punk bands. The band’s 1999 album Enema Of The State was their major breakthrough and is one of the best-selling punk albums of all time. This album contained hit singles such as “Adam’s Song”, “All The Small Things”, and “What’s My Age Again”.
Blink-182 was a key player in popularizing pop punk in the early 2000s and helped reshape the genre.
1. Green Day
What a surprise… The most successful, most popular, and best-selling punk band of all time is, of course, Green Day.
Many will remember Green Day’s massive shift to alternative rock ballads in the early 2000s with American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. But the band’s most popular album, which also contributed to the general mainstream success of punk, was Dookie, released in 1994.
Their success led to a domino effect that helped popularize many other punk bands throughout the 90s, making the 1990s one of the best decades for punk music.
The power trio has kept the same lineup since they formed in 1990 and has continued to tour worldwide.
Check out my list of the most fun Green Day songs on guitar to learn some awesome punk rock songs!