After the emotional whirlwind of the 80s, the rock ballads of the 90s were no less moving, always targeting the issues that plagued society. Just as diverse as those from the 80s, the classic rock songs from the 90s reaped the rebellion that flourished in the previous decade!
What makes the best rock ballads from the 90s so special?
Rebellion! The wild children that grew up with the emotion of the 80s now took the stage to show the world that they won’t be taken for granted! Of course, the traditional love song, a trademark of all rock ballads, was also there and was there in style! Here’s the list of the best rock ballads of the 90s!
“Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica
Probably everyone knows the story behind one of Metallica’s most-iconic power ballads. Metallica had been incorporating melody and killer hooks into their brand of thrash since 1984’s Ride The Lightning when they dared to include acoustic guitars in the intro to Fight Fire With Fire. And Fade To Black – another great entry to the list, was the closest thing to a ballad any thrash band had released at the time. Thrash fans, predictably, despised them for it.
Nothing Else Matters was written by band members James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, and Kirk Hammett. According to Papa Het, he composed the song about an old ex-girlfriend, but he can’t remember why he wrote it. Metallica now considers it a song about their fans since nothing else matters to them.
A popular myth is that the song is dedicated to the tragically lost band bassist Cliff Burton. Others claim that Metallica dedicated “The Memory Remains” from the controversial LP “Reload” to him.
“One” by U2
One is considered by many (including Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose) one of the greatest songs ever written. This is a song on disunity set against the backdrop of reunification. At the end of the 1980s, feeling stuck and fatigued by their own success, U2 sought the future in Berlin at Hansa Studios. The studio had been known as “Hansa by the Wall” during David Bowie’s famous tenure there, but the wall has since been removed.
U2’s producers and crew (Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Flood) landed in Berlin on October 3, 1990, the Day of German Unity. On their way to their hotel, they were caught up in the street festivities as Germany reunified after 41 years.
The irony of One’s title is the band wasn’t very close at the time… “We were building our own wall right down the middle of Hansa studios”, Bono famously said.
One raises the fundamental question of whether a song’s meaning is fixed when composed and recorded or whether it may continue to gain new resonances endlessly if it is flexible enough. Who gets to decide what music truly means?
“Silent Lucidity” by Queensrÿche
One of the most psychedelic entries in the list, more in its meaning, than in its sound, Silent Lucidity carries a dark notion for those who listen. It’s one of the most impressive rock songs from 90s.
It would be impossible to come up with just one interpretation of Queensrÿche’s Silent Lucidity lyrics. So much is going on within those words, not to mention that some of the lines have multiple meanings for different individuals. One thing we can all agree on is that the song is about lucid dreaming, which is a condition in which dreamers are completely aware that they are dreaming and have some control over their actions in the dream. What a fascinating song concept!
“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden
A deeply symbolic song of the now-gone rock icon Chris Cornell, Black Hole Sun was released in 1994, the third single from the band’s fourth studio album, Superunknown. The song became the #1 track on the Billboard rock tracks chart. It spent seven weeks there as No. 1. Blacк Hole Sun finished the year as the top rock track of 1994, according to the Billboard charts. It was also Top 10 in Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, and Iceland.
“Don’t Cry” by Guns N’ Roses
The narrative behind Guns N’ Roses’ “Don’t Cry” is that one of its creators, Izzy Stradlin, was dating a girl who happened to be in love with the other, Axl Rose. So, Izzy broke up one day. Following that, she informed Axl that she and he could no longer be associated. This shattered his heart, and he began to cry as a result. And the words of solace she gave him were, “Don’t cry.”
What is interesting here is that Axl is singing from the perspective of that lady, not himself. And the singer is addressing what appears to be a love desire. And what he’s saying to this individual is that he’s decided to take a new path in life, which means he’s no longer romantically connected with her. And the addressee is evidently upset by this news, so he tells her not to cry.
“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith
Probably the most-popular entry amongst mainstream fans, the song is almost entirely associated with the movie Armageddon starring Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, and Ben Affleck, along with a few Oscar nominations.
I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing also marked the grand on-stage return of rock dinosaurs Aerosmith. This was by far the band’s biggest success on the US Hot 100 and their sole chart-topper. It utilized a magnificent production with a 52-piece orchestra. The song reached number one in the United States for four weeks in September 1998, becoming one of the year’s most popular singles. The song received a significant boost from its inclusion in Armageddon, which was the highest-grossing picture globally in 1998.
Don’t Miss to Read: Top 20 Rock Ballads of the 70s
“Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.
If you were listening to the radio in 1991, you were probably bobbing your head to one of the most unexpected Top 40 hits of all time. Between repeats of Jesus Jones’ “Right Here, Right Now” and C&C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” was R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” the song that catapulted the erstwhile college rock kings to international stardom.
There had been previous hits: “Stand,” “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It,” and “The One I Love” all enhanced R.E.M.’s image, establishing them as eccentric alt-rock tastemakers. However, the melancholy, mandolin-fueled “Losing My Religion” served as the pivot for the most unexpected pop music celebrity turn in history.
The title is a play on the Southern phrase “lost my religion,” which means that something has questioned your beliefs to the point where you may have to abandon them. The song has nothing to do with religion. The title comes from the saying: “to lose your religion” meaning you are losing faith in that person and doubting your connection.
“Wonderwall” by Oasis
If you’re searching for a high point in the career of Oasis, those rough-and-tumble, rough-and-ready BritPop bastions, be sure that’s “Wonderwall .”In fact, it’s the pinnacle of that entire musical movement, which encompassed bands like Blur and Pulp and dominated the roost for a brief, euphoric period in the mid-’90s. The song, which appeared on the band’s virtually faultless second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, not only thrilled the band’s native fans, reaching number two in the United Kingdom, but it also introduced the band to the American pop audience, reaching number eight on the Billboard charts.
“And what’s a wonderwall, anyway?”
It was a fair question posed by Fran Healy of Travis on their 1999 single “Writing To Reach You” in response to Oasis’ unforgettable 1995 hit “Wonderwall.” In some respects, it’s a question that fans of the song have asked for the past 20 years since Noel Gallagher penned it and his brother Liam delivered it in inimitable form.
“Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls
“Iris” is one of those songs that would be on a list of the greatest love songs of all time or the greatest heartache songs of all time. The song’s melancholy guitar start makes you feel as though you’ve truly lost something and are looking for it.
The song was published in 1998 and has approximately half a billion views on YouTube today. It was featured on the album Dizzy Up the Girl, featuring other well-known songs such as “Slide” and “Black Balloon.” However, “Iris” was not explicitly composed for Dizzy Up the Girl.
Although formed in 1986, the Goo Goo Dolls did not achieve widespread recognition until 1995, when they released their breakthrough hit “Name.” Three years later, they released their most well-known song, “Iris.”
“Black” by Pearl Jam
Black is the heartfelt centerpiece of Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten (1991). Pearl Jam is believed to have performed the song 500 times since first performing it live on October 22, 1990 (the band was still called Mookie Blaylock) at Seattle’s Off Ramp Café.
Stone Gossard, the guitarist who created the demo in 1990, first called the ballad in the key of E simply E Ballad. On the other hand, its arrangement is quite similar to the finished song: the clean-channel entrance, both guitars, the bass, and the minimal drum track, as well as the acoustic guitar switching between E-major and E-minor chord progressions.
In the Pearl Jam Twenty book, Eddie Vedder noted that this song is about first relationships and letting go. He also stated that it is highly unusual for a relationship to resist the Earth’s gravitational pull, where it will lead individuals, and how they will evolve.
“Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve
The Verve was an English rock band founded in 1990. The band, led by vocalist Richard Ashcroft, gained prominence with the hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony” from the album Urban Hymns in 1997.
On June 16, 1997, “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was released. It was the band’s debut single from their album Urban Hymns.
The song, however, is based on an excerpt from Andrew Loog Oldham’s symphonic rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.” As a result, there was a lot of legal wrangling over a plagiarism accusation involving the strings sample that drives the song.
That album became one of the best-selling records in UK history. Its popular track was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Song. However, the band separated in 1999 due to internal disagreements ranging from squabbles to drug problems and lawsuits. The band reformed in June 2007, even going on tour.
“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
RHCP’s songs are known mostly for one thing – the remarkable story behind them. And the great storytellers they are – they made one of the greatest songs out of the story.
A popular myth, proven true, states that this is Anthony Kiedis’ purest song. He began singing to himself about his emotions of loneliness while driving home from rehearsals one night. He thought about how drugs had badly impacted his relationships with loved ones.
According to his biography Scar Tissue, producer Rick Rubin used to contact him to check on him and critique his stuff. While going through his work, he came across a poem called Under The Bridge and begged Kiedis to expose it to the rest of his band. He hesitated because he thought the song was too mild for the Chili Peppers, who had a highly dynamic, funk-based style. The vocalist, however, recalls that after singing the words to Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, they just got their instruments and found the rhythm by themselves.
“High and Dry” by Radiohead
“High and Dry” by Radiohead is told from the perspective of a random guy speaking to a friend who just got 15 minutes of fame on a motorcycle. The narrator appears skeptical of his friend’s ability to remain calm. Yorke is in the opposite situation in life. He is the one who struck gold and is quite well-known. Is he acknowledging that he has changed? Is it unavoidable?
Thom Yorke’s voice easily switches from falsetto to a normal tone throughout the song. Ironically, when grunge first became popular in the 1990s, people wondered if rock was dead. Songs like these demonstrate that rock was alive and well back then; you just had to know where to look. Whether you like them or not, Radiohead is the finest rock band of the 1990s.
This exquisite acoustic piece, which mocks macho ego, was never planned for the album, according to Q magazine in April 2008. Thom Yorke of Radiohead condemned it as “not bad… it’s terrible”. But because of its perceived commercial appeal, it was eventually featured on The Bends.
“Creep” by Stone Temple Pilots
This is a song from Stone Temple Pilots’ debut album, Core. The album went on to sell over 8 million copies and became a cornerstone of ’90s rock. Still, many critics were unimpressed, likely fearful that STP was merely a Pearl Jam clone that got a record contract because they had a similar sound.
Radiohead did not intend to release “Creep,” and it was recorded at the producers’ request, Sean Slade and Paul Q. Kolderie, while they were working on other tracks. Kolderie persuaded their record company, EMI, to release their song “Creep” as a single. It wasn’t a big hit at first. Still, it got a lot of airplay in Israel and became popular on American alternative rock radio. It was republished in 1993 and became an international smash, compared to alt-rock “slacker anthems” like Nirvana’s ”Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Beck’s “Loser.” “Creep” received largely good reviews.
“Lightning Crashes” by Live
“Lightning Crashes” is a lyrical meditation on the cycle of life, death, and reincarnation. The song’s concept for Kowalczyk was a hospital emergency department where people died, and babies were born, a never-ending exchange of life force.
Only a few years prior, Kowalczyk came upon the teachings of Indian spiritualist Jiddu Krishnamurti, whose idea of living life from a place of selflessness and humility affected both the singer’s songwriting process and the band’s creative attitude.
On April 24, 1994, Throwing Copper was released. “Selling The Drama” was the album’s first single, “I Alone” being the second. When Live’s drummer, Chad Gracey, introduced “Lightning Crashes” to record executives, he was informed the song would become a hit “over their dead bodies.” The record company believed the song was too lengthy at roughly five and a half minutes. Kowalczyk explained that he never thought this would become his band’s most significant hit, yet it did!
“Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum
Dave Pirner, the lead vocalist of Soul Asylum, penned this song about despair. It took him several years to finish the song; initially, it had different lyrics with a refrain of “laughing at the rain,” which he recognized was too close to Neil Sedaka’s song “Laughter In The Rain.” Pirner had the music in his brain, but it wasn’t until he was going through a difficult period that the runaway train/depression metaphor struck him. He composed the words in a single sitting.
“Runaway Train” helped propel Grave Dancers Union to multi-platinum status and earned Grave Dancers Union a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 1994. Its music video is renowned for displaying pictures of missing persons, mostly young children, and teens.
“Wind of Change” by Scorpions
Probably the most-recognizable song of German rock veterans Scorpions, Wind of Change perfectly captures the vibes of the early 90s. Putting a highlight on the fall of the Berlin Wall as the starting line of the new world upon us, the song sings of world peace, love, and prosperity.
In an interview, Klaus Meine stated that the period 1988-1989 in the Soviet Union was marked by the sense that the Cold War was ending and that music served as a unifying force amongst the people. The music video for the song also transports you back to that period. Meine was inspired by the Scorpions’ performance at the Moscow Music Peace Festival on August 13, 1989, at Lenin Stadium in front of around 300,000 spectators.
“Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots
A second entry by STP, “Plush” by Stone Temple Pilots, is inspired, at least in part, by a real-life tale circulating at the time of its creation about an abducted girl who was later discovered dead. The lyrics were inspired by the tracking dogs used by police enforcement to locate missing individuals.
The song “Plush” does not appear to have garnered Stone Temple Pilots any awards. However, it should be noted that, despite the tune being a single, Atlantic Records chose not to sell it on its own in the United States. The label did this to entice fans to buy the complete, more costly record. That said, the fact that this tune is a proven hit cannot be ignored. This point is reinforced by the fact that it won a Grammy in 1994. It took home the award for Best Hard Rock Performance.
“More Than Words” by Extreme
Extreme lead singer Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt wrote the song. “More Than Words” is about a boy and a girl who love each other, but he wants her to show it by doing more than simply saying, “I love you.”
Though rock music was their mainstay, the band composed songs in various forms. Because “More Than Words” and “Hole Hearted” were so successful, many listeners assumed they were typical of Extreme’s sound. They were surprised when they purchased the album or attended a gig.
Nuno Bettencourt explained that they wanted to compose something nice, not just a love song or a ballad. He was upset that the term “love” had become overused. For “More Than Words,” they thought to write something about showing it, not just saying it or singing it in a song. The song had nothing to do with a specific person or relationship; it was simply their conviction.
“White Dove” by Scorpions
Another entry by Scorpions and, once again – about hope. The band that rocked us like a hurricane in the big city nights in the 80s made a successful transition toward a more mature, wholesome style. It’s one of their classic rock ballads in the 90s.
White Dove is a cover of a rock anthem of the 70s – Gyöngyhajú lány (or The Girl with the Pearls in Her Hair) by Hungarian powerhouse Omega. Completely changing the song’s meaning – from a love sonnet for a mythical creature to providing hope to those in need, Scorpions created a second masterpiece in the span of just two albums.
To wrap it up with our 90s rock ballads list…
The 90s rock scene cannot be framed in just a list of 20 rock ballads. The decade was rich in world–shaking events that inspired some, while others – like Metallica, made a significant shift in their style and tried to incorporate more ballads. The 90s gave way, along with the dominating grunge, to a wave of rebels, mainly from Great Britain, pouring their thoughts and feelings on the rock stage.
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