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Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Songs of All Time

Updated: Mar 29

Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Songs of All Time

(The Strokes - 2002 Roger Woolman Photograph)

An Explosion of independent record labels across The US, Canada and The UK in the early 80’s hugely changed the boundaries for entry in the music industry. In diving into the realm of indie rock yet again, we found the genre had a relatively slow start in the early 80s before taking off in the 90s. A handful of indie rock tracks from the 80s were selected for the list but the vast pool of indie rock tracks was primarily found in the '90s and 2000s, as the genre grew. Similarly, to our other recently posted list Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of all time, for the purposes of this list we’ll stick a bit closer to the original definition of indie meaning songs released from independent labels. Artists who may have signed over to a major label but either spent a large portion of their career on an indie label or are primarily considered indie rock over any other genre have been included. Alongside that, artists who were signed to indie labels in one country, but major labels in another country may also be included if they are primarily aligned with the indie scene over anything else. Alternative rock bands who are generally not considered indie rock, or post-punk bands established before the coining of the term indie rock (Radiohead, Queens of the Stone Age, Coldplay, The Killers or R.E.M., Joy Division, The Cure) have been excluded as well along with all punk rock and pop-punk bands to keep the spirit focused around indie. Alongside indie rock; indie pop, and indie folk have been included on a case-by-case basis, primarily focusing on tracks released from albums considered indie rock, or if the song has substantial rock undertones. Most of the songs that have been included are the singles from these artists, although some ground-breaking non-single tracks have been included along with 25 honorable mentions. For a narrower look at indie rock post 2000, be sure to check out our ranking of the Top 100 Indie Rock Songs Post 2000. Check us out on Instagram @melophobemusic for new articles, releases, reviews, pictures and more!

1. Where is My Mind? - Pixies

Released from the smashingly influential debut album by Pixies, Surfer Rosa, Where is My Mind stands as one of the most instantly recognizable songs in the entire indie rock lexicon. Whether a listeners first exposure to this song was in Fight Club, college radio, or an indie rock playlist, Where is My Mind has resonated with millions and millions of listeners since its 1988 release. With the massive influence of Pixies and their ear for catchy, yet introspective and often dark music, Where is My Mind sits atop the large and impressive pixies catalogue while simultaneously topping any other indie song ever released.

2. This Charming Man - The Smiths

The sixth track from what many listeners consider the first definitive indie rock album has become a staple not only in the indie rock genre but also in the broader rock music landscape. This Charming Man introduced many listeners to the musical brilliance of The Smiths, and more specifically, the innovative guitar work of Johnny Marr. Marr took popular jangle-pop guitar playing and turned it on its head, creating a sound unlike anything that had come before. While among Smiths fans, there may have been a song or two that shone brighter than This Charming Man, in the grand scheme of indie rock, it's about as good as it gets.

At Melophobe, we've never hidden our admiration for the second and final studio album by Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The title track of this record is just one of the ten or so fantastic album tracks, all of which initially fell on deaf ears upon release. As time has progressed, this album has come to be regarded as one of the finest in the indie rock genre, with its title track shining as the star-child of frontman Jeff Mangum's peculiar creativity. With an irresistible hook that kicks off the track and a plethora of unusual instruments, the title track leaves an indelible impression and holds a special place in the hearts of pre-post-punk-revival indie fans.

4. Cut Your Hair - Pavement

Although it was the Pavement debut album, Slanted & Enchantment, that left the largest mark on indie rock, most of Pavement's most popular songs came from the string of acclaimed albums which followed the debut. Cut Your Hair stands at the forefront of a long list of iconic Pavement songs. Although Pavement fans will forever be debating the best Pavement song, similar to the vein of This Charming Man, in the grand scheme of indie rock songs, Cut Your Hair stands among the best of all time.

In our list, Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Songs Post 2000, we crowned Last Nite as the number one song. With the massive success of the band's debut album, Is This It, The Strokes forever changed indie rock, solidifying their status as arguably the greatest indie rock band of the 21st century. Alongside Last Nite, other iconic songs like Someday, Hard to Explain, and The Modern Age enhanced their newly formed legacy. By revolutionizing the indie scene with the launch of the post-punk revival, The Strokes effortlessly earned their place in music history, with Last Nite serving as the cornerstone of their sonic accomplishment.

6. Just Like Honey - The Jesus and Mary Chain

Released as the opening track of their influential 1985 album Psychocandy, Just Like Honey has made appearances in various media, from American Horror Story to the closing scene of Lost in Translation. Beyond being a classic for long-time indie listeners, Just Like Honey has become the sole song by The JMC to achieve broad recognition outside the realm of alternative and indie fans. By blending traditional pop formats with heavy distortion, feedback, and reverb, this style of songwriting came to the forefront in the '90s with the rise of noise rock and slowcore.

7. New Slang - The Shins

Among all the wonderful songs that The Shins have contributed to the indie world since their 2001 debut, New Slang stands as one of the finest indie songs of all time. With its instantly recognizable infectious intro, the song epitomizes the gentler side of beautiful indie rock. In a post-Pavement era, The Shins embraced subtlety and grace, wrapped together in a lo-fi package. While many other indie bands were chasing angst and power, The Shins ventured in a completely different direction with New Slang, and the indie world welcomed it with open arms.

8. I Will Dare - The Replacements

Found on The Replacements 1984 masterpiece Let It Be, I Will Dare emerged as a beacon of indie rock brilliance, offering a non-Smiths take on the genre. This track, with its infectious guitar line and jangle-pop charm, exemplifies the band's unique blend of punk attitude and pop sensibility backed by their small, Minneapolis based label. In an era marked by rebellion, this song fearlessly dares to be different, securing its place as an enduring favorite among indie rock aficionados and earning its reputation as an iconic classic.

The earworm of a song that is 'Float On' has persisted for nearly 20 years since its 2004 release on the fourth Modest Mouse studio album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News. This track has left its mark well beyond the indie world, with its samples cropping up across the hip-hop scene, and its instantly recognizable melody reaching anyone who has been listening to music in the last two decades. By infusing the guitar with a jangly style and featuring a sing-along chorus, 'Float On' hit the mark as one of the finest songs released in the 21st century.

In 1989, The Stone Roses took the world by storm with their self-titled debut album. The band introduced a regional hybrid mix of jangle-pop and indie dance called Madchester to the rest of the world, resonating with listeners on unprecedented levels. I Am the Resurrection served as the closing track on the UK release of the album in 1989, starting as a more traditional indie rock track before seamlessly transitioning into a full-fledged, four-and-a-half-minute indie dance party. By blending indie rock with dance music, The Stone Roses ventured into virtually untouched waters and did so with remarkable finesse.

13. Loser - Beck

15. Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying - Belle & Sebastian

16. 1901 - Phoenix

17. Feel the Pain - Dinosaur Jr.

18. Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes

19. Wake Up - Arcade Fire

21. How Soon is Now? - The Smiths

22. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Pt. 1 - The Flaming Lips

24. Cannonball - The Breeders

25. Carry the Zero - Built to Spill

27. Chicago - Sufjan Stevens

28. Harness Your Hopes - Pavement

30. Between the Bars - Elliot Smith

31. Movin' On Up - Primal Scream

32. Do You Realize? - The Flaming Lips

33. Happy Hour - The Housemartins

34. Jerk it Out - Caesars

35. Electric Feel - MGMT

36. It's a Hit - Rilo Kiley

39. Maps - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

41. Jesus, Etc. - Wilco

42. Anthems For a Seventeen Year-Old Girl - Broken Social Scene

44. Head On - The Jesus and Mary Chain

46. This is the Day - The The

48. Metal Heart - Cat Power

49. Zürich is Stained - Pavement

50. Alex Chilton - The Replacements

55. E-Pro - Beck

56. Streets of Your Town - The Go-Betweens

58. Sing Me Spanish Techno - The New Pornographers

59. Such Great Heights - The Postal Service

61. Breadcrumb Trail - Slint

62. Kids - MGMT

63. Transatlanticism - Death Cab For Cutie

66. Wolf Like Me - TV on the Radio

67. The Underdog - Spoon

68. Devils Haircut - Beck

69. Ain't No Rest for the Wicked - Cage the Elephant

70. Step On - Happy Mondays

71. The Boy With the Arab Strap - Belle & Sebastian

72. Hate to Say I Told You So - Hives

73. First Day of My Life - Bright Eyes

74. The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness - The Feelies

76. Home - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

78. License to Confuse - Sebadoh

79. Dig Me Out - Sleater-Kinney

80. Bohemian Like You - The Dandy Warhols

81. Red Eyes - War on Drugs

83. Simple Song - The Shins

84. Autumn Sweater - Yo La Tengo

85. Dance Yrself Clean - LCD Soundsystem

86. Fell in Love With a Girl - The White Stripes

87. The Modern World - Wolf Parade

88. Gold Soundz - Pavement

89. Dashboard - Modest Mouse

90. Unbelievers - Vampire Weekend

91. The High Road - Broken Bells

93. Valerie - The Zutons

94. Random Rules - Silver Jews

95. Brimful of Asha - Cornershop

96. Game of Pricks - Guided By Voices

97. This Night Has Opened My Eyes - The Smiths

99. A.M. 108 - Grandaddy

100. Waltz #2 (XO)- Elliott Smith


Just Outside the Top 100

101. Once Around the Block - Badly Drawn Boy

102. Can't Hardly Wait - The Replacements

103. Piazza, New York Catcher - Belle & Sebastian

104. Evil - Interpol

105. Tenderness - Parquet Courts

106. Norgaard - The Vaccines

107. Mass Romantic - The New Pornographers

109. Jumping Fences - The Olivia Tremor Control

110. Take the Skinheads Bowling - Camper Van Beethoven

111. Not if You Were the Last Junkie on Earth - The Dandy Warhols

112. Girlfriend - Phoenix

113. Boy's That Sing - Viola Beach

115. The Mariner's Revenge Song - The Decemberists

116. Let's Go - The Feelies

117. The Only One I Know - The Charlatans

118. Funeral - Band of Horses

119. Novacaine For the Soul - Eels

120. Dramamine - Modest Mouse

122. Little Dark Age - MGMT

123. Range Life - Pavement

125. A Life of Possibilities - Dismemberment Plan

Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All time

For a broader look at many iconic indie albums be sure to check out Top 100 Greatest Indie Rock Albums of All time. For a more expansive collection of songs from this list be sure to check out the accompanying playlist. Be sure to check us out on Instagram @melophobemusic for new articles, releases, reviews, pictures and more!

1 Comment

Jan 09

This comes off as the top 100 according to the author as opposed to the actual top 100 of all time. I know its all subjective but there are some glaring "nope's" on this list and some head scratching and bewildering absences.

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