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100 Underrated Indie Rock Songs

Updated: Jan 14


100 Underrated Indie Rock Songs

Pictured - Rilo Kiley (Spotify Artist Profile Image)

One of the main allures of indie rock music, if not the main one, is the extensive catalogue of songs released over a timespan of about 40 years or so. The artistic freedom of indie artists has created an array of catchy, intricate, and diverse music, often unattainable in the mainstream due to record label constraints and artistic modifications. With such a massive collection of music across the indie realm, it's no surprise that many top-notch songs have fallen criminally far under the radar. We have compiled a collection of 100 of our favorite, underrated indie rock songs. These songs are listed in no particular order, although we have selected ten to expand on in detail. For this list, a lot of them are indeed deep cuts, never released as singles, but a handful of them are indeed more popular tracks by these artists that we believe are still underrated. For our criteria, the songs selected are either released from artists either unsigned or signed by indie labels or are generally considered indie rock. Artists more so considered alternative rock than indie rock, such as The Cure, Joy Division, Sonic Youth, or R.E.M., have been excluded, even if they have a portion of their discography released from indie labels. Stay tuned, though, for a broader article of underrated alternative rock songs to be released in the near future. Alongside alternative rock, well-defined genres like grunge, punk rock, Britpop, and ska have been excluded for now. We have included only 100 of many underrated indie rock songs; let us know what other fantastic indie rock songs are also underrated. We have compiled a playlist of the 100 underrated indie rock songs we have featured on this list below.


Carry the Zero - Built to Spill

Released from Built to Spill's fourth record Keep it Like a Secret, Carry the Zero has since been proclaimed by some to be the most underrated song of all time. Written by the iconic indie trio of Built To Spill and produced by the esteemed Phil Ek, whose credits extend across the Pacific Northwest indie scene to include Modest Mouse, The Shins, Band of Horses, and Fleet Foxes, the track is deeply revered in the indie world but remains completely absent in the mainstream. Given how praised the track is among indie enthusiasts, it may sound strange to call it underrated, but with how loved it is by those who know the song, the fact that it remains largely unknown by the masses is indeed a tragedy. Its complex guitar arrangements and thoughtful lyrics make it a standout track, not just on the album, but in the entire rock genre.


Take the Skinheads Bowling - Camper Van Beethoven

Camper Van Beethoven only made a small splash in the rock realm in the '80s, before frontman David Lowery went on to make his presence more heavily known in the mainstream as a co-founder of Cracker. However, in the small mid-'80s American indie scene, the group was certainly adored and equally appreciated. This quirky track from their 1985 debut album Telephone Free Landslide Victory found a bit of love as it played across American college campuses, with Take the Skinheads Bowling becoming the favorite track. The track’s nonsensical lyrical verses, paired with catchy, jangly guitar playing, turned out to be a pretty good recipe for the listeners they did have, and the song has since become an underground staple of early American indie. With a name like Take the Skinheads Bowling, one could assume the track was never intended to be an international hit, which it certainly was not, albeit a damn good song.


Brothers on a Hotel Bed - Death Cab For Cutie

Venturing into the 2000s Pacific Northwest indie scene, no band quite captured the level of admiration of youthful indie kids quite like Bellingham, Washington's Death Cab For Cutie. Listeners are often split between Plans and Transatlanticism for the group's finest album, although the correct answer is Plans. The second to closing track from Plans, Brothers on a Hotel Bed, is one of the group's most beautiful releases with its somber intro and emotional lyrics. This deeply touching song has only made an appearance at about 80 live shows since its release, according to setlist.fm, making it their 55th most-played track live. If it were up to us, the track would be a staple at Death Cab shows. To take it a step further, we scored Brothers on a Hotel Bed as the finest song by Death Cab For Cutie of all time.

NYC - Interpol

In 2002, Interpol shocked the world with their debut album Turn On the Bright Lights, which we scored as the seventh best indie rock album of all time. A handful of tracks from the record have become staples of indie rock or post-punk playlists, like Obstacle 1 or PDA, but this is one of those albums where the deep cuts are just as good. Taking the name of the record from a lyric in NYC, the song is a haunting symphony that doesn't invoke fear, but makes you reflect. The wall of sound effect created by the band, paired with the vocal layering of vocalist Paul Banks, is equally enchanting yet subtle. NYC is worth the listen every time and is one of many criminally underrated Interpol tracks.

#1 Hit Song - Minutemen

Released in 1984 from the now heavily praised 45-song long double album Double Nickels on the Dime, #1 Hit Song was anything but a #1 hit song. The song, along with the record, fell largely on deaf ears, at least to mainstream listeners upon release, but has since become a deeply praised track by listeners and critics alike. The song's driving, catchy guitar riff and monotonal, nihilistic vocal delivery, both delivered by D. Boone, are top-notch. The track sits at about 11 seconds under two minutes, but the trio certainly gets their point across. American DIY musical spirit just would not be the same without Minutemen tracks like this. Sadly, this is just not one of those songs a lot of people know, as good as it is.


Mr. Grieves - Pixies

In the late '80s, Pixies turned the American indie scene on its head, becoming adored in the American underground while barely scraping the surface of the mainstream music scene. Pixies' sound was so unlike anything anybody had ever heard before that it would take years for the band to get the credit they deserved. Releasing two back-to-back near-perfect albums, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle — with the latter edging out the former for the top spot — Pixies ignited not only the '90s indie scene but even the '90s grunge scene. Mr. Grieves, released off Doolittle, starts with an eerie intro, a staple of Pixies' sound, but transitions into an upbeat, danceable indie rock track, another staple of Pixies' sound. A handful of tracks from Doolittle have crossed over into mainstream rock radio with the passage of time, most notably Here Comes Your Man and Monkey Gone to Heaven, but the record holds a ton of memorable tracks beneath the surface, like Hey and Gouge Away, to name a few. Upon release though, unless you were listening to college radio somewhere near Boston, Pixies probably weren't too high in the queue.

It's a Hit - Rilo Kiley

Not only is It's a Hit one of the most profoundly underrated indie rock songs of all time, by our metrics it is indeed one of the best indie rock songs of all time. In terms of early 2000s female indie rock vocalists, Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis was the gold standard. Jenny was graced with an anomalous voice, equally seductive as it was captivating. Jenny became a dream girl figure for countless young indie kids, with Rilo Kiley finding a solid footing in the indie scene. Released from the band's sensational 2004 album More Adventurous, the track is generally known by fans and longtime indie listeners, but aside from that, not many people have heard this lovely track, which sits with about three million Spotify streams. Aside from Jenny's vocal delivery, Blake Sennett's subtle guitar riff was one of the best riffs of the decade — so subtle, yet so deeply pleasing.

Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others - The Smiths

Morrissey has built a legacy as a vocalist in a way that no one else quite has. He has expertly used humor, snarkiness, and passion in a way that no one has ever been able to quite replicate. Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others is no exception to that, with the song's meaning being pretty hard to track down but is generally believed to be simply about randomness. What makes this song so special, though, is the guitar playing of Johnny Marr. Marr created one of his catchiest and most danceable riffs to accompany Morrissey's sophisticated jargon. Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others closes out a record which we have praised more than any other album, The Queen is Dead. Following a string of deeply breathtaking songs, the track closes out the record in a perfect way. Why this song is not celebrated more heavily in the indie world remains a mystery to me.


Raised Eyebrows - The Feelies

Of all the bands on our list, the most underrated would have to be The Feelies. Their 1980 debut album Crazy Rhythms was released to a whisper in the US, aside from the band's home turf of Northern New Jersey. In the years since, the record has received substantially more praise for its unique take on jangle pop through its technical guitar work, sparse yet momentous lyrics, and ensemble-level assorted percussion. "The sound we were after was a reaction against the punk scene [...] Being a little older, we felt it had all been done before. We wanted the guitars to be cleaner, and we started experimenting with a lot of percussion," said lead guitarist Glenn Mercer, speaking about the band's sound. Raised Eyebrows is one of many great tracks from the debut which have yet to be exposed to a substantial number of listeners.


Go Outside - Viola Beach

Viola Beach was an indie rock group formed in England in 2013, whose time on this planet was cut short by a tragic 2016 car crash, killing all four members along with their manager Craig Terry. Before the group's tragic end, they had released one album which topped the charts in the UK. The self-titled debut was a crisp mix of bright guitar work, catchy pop hooks, and danceable vocal delivery. A handful of tracks from the record have lived on to a certain extent, such as Boys That Sing, Swings and Waterslides, and of course, our favorite, Go Outside. The band made a bit of a splash upon the release of their debut, with British listeners thinking Viola Beach might be the next big thing in British synth-pop, but the world was never to experience what was to come. Go Outside remains a true earworm of indie rock, with a fast, clean guitar hook and its memorable and equally singable chorus.

Heavy Metal Drummer - Wilco

Meet Me in the Bathroom - The Strokes

A Promise - Echo & The Bunnymen

Drawerings - Dinosaur Jr.

Sick Muse - Metric

Happy When it Rains - The Jesus and Mary Chain

Sitting on a Fence - The Housemartins

I Get Along - The Libertines

Florida - Modest Mouse

Alone, Together - The Strokes

Web in Front - Archers of Loaf

Your Bones - Of Monsters and Men

I Will Dare - The Replacements

Turn On Me - The Shins

Obstacle 2 - Interpol

Good Guys and Bad Guys - Camper Van Beethoven

Blues from a Gun - The Jesus and Mary Chain

Girl Sailor - The Shins

Son of a Gun - The Vaselines

Turn it On - The Flaming Lips

People - Silver Jews

Things I Don't Remember - Ugly Casanova

The High Road - The Feelies

Dance Song '97 - Sleater-Kinney

L.A. - Elliott Smith

Griselda - Yo La Tengo (Originally by: Michael Hurley, The Unholy Modal Rounders, Jeffrey Fredericks & The Clamtones)

Tyrants - Catfish and the Bottlemen

You Wouldn't Like Me - Tegan and Sara

Lounge (Closing Time) - Modest Mouse

The Body Says No - The New Pornographers

I Don't Think So - Dinosaur Jr.

Awake - Electric Guest

The Party's Crashing us Now - Of Montreal

Spiked - Bilk

Public Pervert - Interpol

Tart Tart - Happy Mondays

The Gentry Cove - Dirty Pretty Things

My Valuable Hunting Knife - Guided By Voices

Vaporize - Broken Bells

Halo - Cage the Elephant

Anything - Catfish & The Bottlemen

The City - Dismemberment Plan

Mayfly - Belle & Sebastian

Calamity Song - The Decemberists

Hello, My Treacherous Friends - OK Go

Filmore Jive - Pavement

Fortress - Pinback

Waiting For a Superman - The Flaming Lips

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle - The Smiths

You're Not the Only One I Know - The Sundays

Center of the Universe - Built to Spill

Charity - Courtney Barnett

Unbearably White - Vampire Weekend

Nowhere Fast - The Smiths

Cigarettes In the Theatre - Two Door Cinema Club

She's Hearing Voices - Bloc Party

Never Talking to You Again - Hüsker Dü

Making Breakfast - Twin Peaks

Small Stakes - Spoon

Elevate Me Later - Pavement

Please, Please, Please - The Shout Out Louds

Modern World - Wolf Parade

Magnet's Coil - Sebadoh

Invisible Man - The Breeders

French Navy - Camera Obscura

7 - Arctic Monkeys

Sukie in the Graveyard - Belle & Sebastian

AT&T - Pavement

New York, New York - Ryan Adams

Bye Bye Badman - The Stone Roses

Minnesoter - The Dandy Warhols

Cause = Time - Broken Social Scene

Matchbox - The Kooks

Crazy Rhythms - The Feelies

Bastards of Young - The Replacements

Harrison Lesser - The Reytons

Oblivious - Aztec Camera

Max Ernst - Missions of Burma

Then - The Charlatans

Rome - Yeasayer

A Circle of One - The Lemonheads

Sink/Let Sway - Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

Hearts of Oak - Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Streets of Your Town - The Go-Betweens

Dope on a Rope - The Growlers

You've Got Everything Now - The Smiths

Month of May - Arcade Fire

Not My Girl - Tokyo Police Club

(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister - The Stone Roses

I Got - Young the Giant


 All of the picks from this list have been compiled into a streamable Spotify Playlist below entitled Underrated Indie Rock. For a broader look at indie be sure to check out The Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Songs of All Time.

Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Artists of All Time

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