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Our Favorite Alternative Songs of All Time, Ranked

The Strokes havin fun when they were in their early days.

Oof. Ranking music is always a doozy, since taste is so subjective and there will always be detractors for the biggest hits, as well as proponents for the biggest flops. This especially rings true for alt rock, since fans of the genre tend to get … territorial.

That’s why, for this particular ranking, I’m not aiming for generalities like I’ve done in the past. Instead, I’m working from my own personal opinions on a variety of bands in this genre, and if you have any that you’d like to add, you’re super welcome to leave a comment with suggestions. Hopefully, this will introduce the kids to a new variety of music they probably won’t find on TikTok.

In this instance, I’m considering “alternative” as anything that isn’t traditionally rock, but may have some other wiggly qualities regarding genre definitions. I have no doubt that some people might disagree with how I classify “alternative” in this list, but like I said, you’re welcome to share your thoughts in the comments.

9. “Deceptacon,” Le Tigre

This song is like a drug. I really and truly cannot get enough of it, even after all these years. You’d think that after listening to it on repeat every day during my late-teen riot grrrl phase, I’d get sick of it … but no, I just can’t.

For reference, the lead singer here is Kathleen Hanna, who also plays in the legendary riot grrrl band Bikini Kill. I personally think Bikini Kill has the better overall discography, but ultimately, nothing really touches “Deceptacon.”

8. “Add It Up,” Violent Femmes

Everyone knows “Blister In The Sun,” which is also a great song, but I’d argue that “Add It Up” capitalizes on the Violent Femmes’ strengths the best. It’s lyrically seductive, musically badass, and just overall the sort of song that floors you the first time you listen to it.

7. “Only Shallow,” my bloody valentine

“Loveless” is considered an essential album for getting into the shoegaze genre—that specific subset of alt rock that relies on droning, borderline caustic guitar sounds and soft, dreamy lyrics. For this list, I’m sharing the very first song on the album, “Only Shallow,” because holy shit, it hooks you. Some openers struggle to capture your interest, but “Only Shallow” dives in with everything it’s got and sets the stakes for the rest of the album. Weirdly enough, it’s a great workout song, too.

6. “Violet,” Hole

One of my biggest music pet peeves is how afraid some women are of putting their whole voice on the line in their songs. Many femme singers don’t take it further than a growl. But Courtney Love always let the world know that there was a deep, lasting rage within her, and she made sure to let it out—and I’ll always love her for that. “Violet” is a song that every woman I know has listened to, because who else has screamed our rage quite like this?

5. “Someday,” The Strokes

Did we all have a Strokes phase in high school? Were we all that insufferable? I sure hope so, because it was one of the best phases of my life. “Sometimes” in particular captures a specific feeling that takes you somewhere in your life, whether or not you’ve even lived it yet. It might be one of the best songs that encapsulates the joy of youth.

And honestly, I think that with so many bands out there now, we sometimes forget just how musically talented the Strokes were. Yes, they’re largely nepo-babies. Yes, Julian Casablancas has a chaotic social media presence. But I can forgive them for giving me so much happiness when I was younger.

4. “Loser,” Beck

Oh, Beck. Beck is so odd. Not necessarily as a human being, but as an artist. He went from being a folk-blues artist to being an “anti-folk” artist, before paving his own eclectic roads through rock and roll. But “Loser” will always be one of the coolest—if not the coolest—examples of his distinct artistic vision. I’m still waiting for a chance to flex how hard I’ve memorized this song.

3. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” Radiohead

So I knew I had to pick at least one Radiohead song for this list, but let me be clear for all the super fans: I’m not saying this is their “best” song. I just think it really and truly deserves a shoutout on this list. “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” has so much going on within it, and it all works so absolutely beautifully. Then again, I am biased toward In Rainbows over OK Computer, so there’s that.

2. Pale Blue Eyes,” The Velvet Underground

Considering how fundamental The Velvet Underground was in establishing modern alternative music, I had to put at least one of their songs on this list. And for the sake of fairness, I had to limit myself to just one song. That’s tough, guys! The VU is one of the best bands of all time in my opinion, and picking only one song from their discography is like choosing between good sex and a good night’s sleep.

Ultimately, I chose “Pale Blue Eyes” because it makes me weak every time I hear it. It’s at once a love song and a ballad of resignation. It says everything we want to say but seldom get the chance to. I love it to bits.

1. “Do You Realize??,” The Flaming Lips

This is a song I can’t listen to very often because it always makes me cry. It was written with death and addiction in mind, and I’ve found that even when I think I’ve moved on from a thing, listening to “Do You Realize??” makes me realize I may need to take some more time with my grief than I thought.

The rest of the album is really cool and experimental, but this song blows everything else out of the park.

(featured image: Anthony Pidgeon, Redferns)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer and dog mom. She aims to use her writing to positively represent mixed-race people like herself, and is currently working on a novel. However, when she isn't writing, she's either battling insomnia or taking too many naps. You can read her stuff at