Grunge music, also known as the Seattle Sound, emerged in the mid-80's from the US Pacific Northwest, mainly from Seattle and Olympia, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. The term grunge is said to have been coined by Mark Arm, the frontman of Seattle's Green River band, and later of Mudhoney. The word comes from US slang of the time, and means "dirty".
Grunge originated from punk, indie and alternative rock, with the deep, dark and powerful feeling of heavy metal. The Melvins, Led Zeplin, The Pixies, Black Flag, The U-men and many others have been credited as influential to the rise of the grunge sound.
History- The Rise and Fall
During the 80's Seattle and the region in general were almost completely isolated in cultural terms, with almost major bands touring in the area, due in part to the constant rain which prevented large outdoor performances. The result was an underground music scene full of local friends who got together in basements and formed bands to pass time and wait for the rain to stop. Yeah, it rains a whole lot up in Seattle. The bands formed small gigs by themselves, with audiences made up mostly of other bands, playing in tiny venues or clubs. Small, independent local record companies started making handshake deals and producing vinyl records, which were cheap and abundant.
The famous Sub Pop record company began spreading the word on the Seattle grunge scene outside of the northwest, attempting to draw mainstream audiences. The small (at the time) local bands like Soundgarden, Melvins, Nirvana, Tad, Green River, Mudhoney, Silverfish, Tar, Helmet, Surgery and plenty of others put out singles through Sub Pop, and the US underground was buzzing with news of the Seattle Sound. But many local bands hated the attention, and in the early nineties Sub Pop was in a tough financial situation. Grunge seemed on the verge of dying off. Then in September of 1991, from the small quite logging town of Aberdeen, a band completely unknown outside the Seattle underground came out with an album they named "Nevermind". This was Nirvana's second album, and it carried no high expectations. But when MTV played the single "Smells Like A Teen Spirit", it became an instant overnight hit, which some now describe as the anthem of a generation. This instant success suddenly made Nirvana's frontman Kurt Cobain a spokesman for what was being called generation x. With the fame came commercialization. The local record companies lost their grip on the scene as record giants snapped up every band they could find, in search of the next hit. Nirvana's contract was purchased by Geffen Records, Pearl Jam signed with Epic and Alice in Chains with Columbia. Grunge became a global phenomenon, but those who created it were disgusted with the commercialization. Vanity fair created a grunge fashion line, bands were moving to Seattle to try to imitate the local sound in hopes of riches and fame, gossip was spread and band members were haunted with celebrity fame. Many of the founding bands began distancing themselves from the "grunge" title. In the words of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, "when commerce is involved, everything changes". The craze around the grunge movement was massive, and generally unwelcome.
On April 8th 1994, Kurt Cobain was found lying on the floor of his Seattle home, having committed suicide. The spokesman of generation x, who is considered to be as influential to his generation as John Lennon was to the 60's, was dead. Ironically, Cobain was known to protest the hype around grunge by wearing a shirt with the print "grunge is dead". But it was his death that began a decline in grunge mainstream popularity. Soon afterwards Pearl Jam began a boycott of ticket vendor Ticketmaster over unfair business practices, which, having boycotted all Ticketmaster venues, prevented them from playing in the US for the next three years, with only several exceptions. In 1996 Alice in Chains performed for the last time with their ailing, estranged lead singer Layne Stanley (who in 2002 died of heroin overdose), and the same year Soundgarden and the Screaming Trees released their final studio albums, with Soundgarden breaking up the year after.
Grunge may have lost mainstream popularity, but its influence on the generation cannot be denied.
Top Grunge Bands:
Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Melvins, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Temple of the Dog, Malfunkshun, Soundgarden, Green River, Mother Love Bone, Skin Yard, Tad, Hole , Babes in Toyland.
I may have missed one or two, but these are most of the top grunge bands. For those who are wondering why the Stone Temple Pilots are not on the list, it's because I view them as somewhat imitations of grunge(as do many critics then and now), despite their success.