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The Top 100 Alternative Albums of the ’90s

When the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve at the beginning of 1990, Phil Collins had the No. 1 album in the world. The following week, it was Milli Vanilli. Those facts alone should be enough to convey the sorry state of music after the ’80s was done with it.

But within the next four years, the top of the Billboard 200 would be occupied by the likes of Nirvana, Beastie Boys, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots. Obviously, a much needed sea change occurred. Although nobody’s ever been able to clearly define what makes a band “alternative,” the ’90s is the decade that brought it to the mainstream. While the seeds were planted in the indie underground during the ’80s by acts as disparate as Hüsker Dü, XTC and the Jesus and Mary Chain, the first shot of the alternative revolution in the mainstream rang out with opening four chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

During the course of the decade, alternative music would come to include everything from the ska-tinged pop-punk of No Doubt to the intricate and atmospheric arrangements of Radiohead – making it a daunting task to select just 100 of the decade’s best alternative albums. While you might be outraged that R.E.M.’s biggest album didn’t rank higher than No. 96, keep in mind that a vast number of amazing records didn’t make the list at all. It’s a testament to how innovative and incredible music was during the final decade of the 20th century. After all, if it weren’t for the ’90s, we might all be wearing Genesis T-shirts right now – and that’s an alternate timeline almost too horrible to imagine.

Check out our list in the gallery above and then sound off with your own picks in the comments section below.

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