The 1990s were the pinnacle for alternative rock. After all, the very name of the genre is owed to the fact that these sorts of bands were seen as the alternative to the prevailing rock music of the late ’80s, when hair metal still reigned supreme. There was grunge, post-grunge and other bands that had no associations with grunge. It was a weird time; you look back at some of the songs that became hits, and realize that the mainstream is probably never going to be that idiosyncratic again. Indeed, while some of the era’s bands were able to find a great deal of lasting success and create a lasting influence on the rock music that came after them, some weren’t able to sustain anything beyond a single hit. We’re here to honor the latter.
Our process for putting this list together was highly scientific. (Not really.) Basically, we considered any band a “one-hit wonder” if they had only one song ever crack the Billboard Hot 100. Even then, we made a couple of exceptions for bands that never had a top-100 hit, and for bands that had another song barely crack the Hot 100 if that song has since become a cultural afterthought. (See if you can guess which bands had more than one Hot 100 song in the comments.) Once we got our 20, we used a loose formula of chart and sales success, cultural influence, lasting impact and our own personal tastes to come up with the rankings you see below. Of course, we’re sure you’ll tell us where we went wrong in the comments.