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Top 100 Greatest Alternative Bands/Artists of All Time

Updated: May 23


Pictured - R.E.M (Italy - 2003)


Alternative music has been a driving force in the music industry for decades, giving rise to some of the most innovative and influential bands in history. From the punk rock and new wave pioneers of the 70's, to the indie darlings of today, alternative music has continued to push boundaries and inspire new generations of musicians and fans. This list of the 100 greatest alternative bands of all time celebrates the diverse range of artists who have contributed to the genre's legacy, showcasing the artists who have shaped the sound of alternative music and left an indelible mark on the musical landscape. Although what defines “alternative music,” is subject to much debate and always will be, the bands included in the list are those who are considered alternative rock, new wave, post-punk, jangle-pop and indie. For a comprehensive breakdown of criteria, methodology, artist scores, and the full spreadsheet of the rankings check out our comprehensive methodology article. Along with the Top 100 Greatest Alternative Artists, we also ranked the Top 100 Greatest Alternative Albums featuring many artists on this list.


1. Pixies

If you ask any fan of alternative music who the best alternative band of all-time is, personal opinions aside, the answer more often than not will be The Pixies. The Boston quartet released two of the best rock albums of the 80’s Surfer Rosa and Doolittle right in a row kicking off the golden age of 90’s alternative rock. Although The Pixies are not really considered grunge, they are often credited with being a massive influence on the grunge scene of the 90’s. The influence The Pixies had on indie and alternative rock truly can not be overstated.


2. Radiohead

Throughout the 90’s and into the early 2000’s, it seemed as if Radiohead was only capable of releasing perfectly crafted records with OK Computer often being cited as the one of the best albums of the 90’s (if not the best album of the 90’s). Although their entrance into the alternative world may be a bit later than a lot of bands high on this list, their impact was about as big as could be. Apart from the impact Radiohead made on rock music, their level of talent, innovation and their songwriting ability was truly massive.


3. The Smiths

Often cited as one of the first indie-pop bands, The Smiths crafted a unique blend of new wave, post-punk, jangle-pop and catchy guitar hooks establishing what would be considered indie-pop for the next 40 years. The impact of The Smiths can be heard in just about every indie band post The Queen is Dead , which is often cited as the finest indie rock album of all time. The Smiths changed the game for alternative music and put a popular, fresh face to indie music.

4. R.E.M.

No band is more synonymous with college radio than R.E.M. Throughout their rise to fame in the 80’s, R.E.M was one of the first bands to make alternative music popular eventually crossing over into unworldly levels of mainstream success by the late 80’s. With a stream of albums getting better and better, the band hit their peak in 1992 with Automatic for the People, lauded by fans and critics alike putting R.E.M. on top of the world.


5. Talking Heads

Taking hints from art-rock pioneers of the 70’s David Bowie, Patti Smith, and Frank Zappa, Talking Heads put a fresh face to a very creative style of music while adding elements of new wave, post-punk and dance-rock to the mix. Talking Heads added a tasteful amount of weirdness paired with a vast amount of musical talent and showmanship to an ever-changing new wave sound a bit outside of what was in the mainstream.


6. The Velvet Underground

Although their level of commercial success was essentially abysmal (as are many artists high on this list), The Velvet Underground is often credited as being the first alternative rock band. The group mixed lyrics of an avant-garde lifestyle with other elements of experimental rock and art-pop into what would now be considered alternative rock. In terms of innovation, and barrier breaking, The Velvet Underground are second to none.


7. The Cure

Few bands on this list had the amount of commercial success as The Cure and had an equal amount of longevity and influence. The Cure was one of the first gothic rock bands if not the first, mixing darker elements heard in late 60’s bands like The Doors with the post-punk sound and the glam rock visuals akin to David Bowie. With quite a long time in the limelight, The Cure influenced later acts from Smashing Pumpkins to Interpol.


8. Pavement

Likely no band more influenced the sound of modern indie than Pavement. Sticking with only independent labels throughout their influential run in the 90’s, the group not only helped craft the iconic indie sound, but what it meant to be a band without a major label behind you. Although the band flew under the radar for most people in the 90’s they established a dedicated cult following and were constantly praised by critics adding to their everlasting musical legacy.


9. The Smashing Pumpkins

Meshing elements of gothic rock, shoegaze and progressive rock, The Smashing Pumpkins developed an iconic sound largely popularizing the growing alternative rock sound. Whereas other more grunge-esque bands of the early 90’s spawned offshoots of themselves, no one was really ever quite able to sound like the Pumpkins, although their influence was massive for bands like Blink-182, Third Eye Blind and My Chemical Romance.


10. Sonic Youth

Fitting in a similar indie rock style as other groups like Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth expressed a bit more of an experimental attitude utilizing room filling noise and unorthodox sounds. Just as much as they were loved by their fans, their albums have received an immense amount of retrospective praise and accolades. With a strong influence from The Velvet Underground, the unusual guitar tunings utilized by the band allowed for a plethora of alluring noise revitalizing the noise rock sound.

11. Red Hot Chili Peppers

12. Joy Division

13. The Replacements

14. The Jesus & The Mary Chain

15. Arctic Monkeys

16. Jack White

17. Ween

18. The Strokes

19. Rage Against the Machine

20. Belle & Sebastian

21. Death Cab For Cutie

22. Fugazi

23. Bjork

24. The Pretenders

25. B-52's

26. New Order

27. PJ Harvey

28. Elvis Costello

29. Echo & The Bunneymen

30. INXS

31. Yo La Tengo

32. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

33. Siousxie & The Banshees

34. Beck

35. Dinosaur Jr

36. XTC

37. Black Keys

38. Phoenix

39. Muse

40. Arcade Fire

41. Jane's Addiciton

42. Wilco

43. Bauhaus

44. Joe Jackson

45. The Jam

46. Yeah Yeah Yeahs

47. Public Image Ltd.

48. Flaming Lips

49. The Shins

50. Spoon


51. Iggy Pop

52. Guided By Voices

53. Depeche Mode

54. Sebadoh

55. Hüsker Dü

56. Vampire Weekend

57. My Bloody Valentine

58. New Pornographers

59. Primal Scream

60. Bloc Party

61. Libertines

62. Wire

63. The English Beat

64. Interpol

65. The The

66. Neutral Milk Hotel

67. Squeeze

68. Minutemen

69. The Stone Roses

70. Modest Mouse

71. Cage the Elephant

72. Kate Bush

73. TV On The Radio

74. Slint

75. Broken Social Scene

76. Franz Ferdinand

77. Sufjan Stevens

78. Dandy Warhols

79. Built To Spill

80. 10000 Maniacs

81. The Kooks

82. The Stranglers

83. Butthole Surfers

84. Sleater-Kinney

85. The Killers

86. The Feelies

87. Buzzcocks

88. No Doubt

89. Cocteau Twins

90. Wolf Parade

91. Galaxie 500

92. The Only Ones

93. Talk Talk

94. Band of Horses

95. The Housemartins

96. Billy Bragg

97. Portugal The Man

98. Gang of Four

99. MGMT

100. Elliot Smith


Top 100 Greatest Alternative Albums


For a comprehensive breakdown of criteria, methodology, artist scores, and the full spreadsheet of the rankings check out our comprehensive methodology article. For a broader ranking of rock bands including grunge, punk rock, classic rock and more, check out Top 100 Greatest Rock Artists of All Time. Be sure to check out the expanded Spotify Playlist including many artists on this list below!



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2000's alternative & indie rock playlist cover 2.JPEG
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