90s Alternative Rock: the Best B-Sides and RaritiesBy Joseph Oliveto
The 90s gave us some of the purest rock music ever, and it’s a testament to the quality of those bands that they were able to record dozens of solid albums and still have plenty of great rare material lying around. What follows is a list of some of the best B-sides, rarities, obscure tracks, and special releases from eight definitive 90s rock bands. Enjoy the flashback.
8. “Get Born Again” by Alice in Chains
Recorded late in the band’s career and originally released on the boxed set Music Bank, “Get Born Again” highlights Layne Staley’s incomparably creepy vocal style. While it lacks some of the punch of songs like “Man in the Box,” it makes up for it with atmosphere.
7. “Cold Bitch” by Soundgarden
Available on the single for “Spoonman,” “Cold Bitch” sounds like Black Sabbath’s self-titled track via the mind of an acid-tripping madman. Kim Thayil’s doom and gloom guitar tones complement Chris Cornell’s unparalleled vocal range. That “rare, unreleased track” that they recently slapped on their greatest hits album was a fluke; they have a lot of lesser-known material that’s just as good as the classics.
6. “So What!” by Jane’s Addiction
Recorded specifically for the compilation release Kettle Whistle, “So What!” is an obscure Jane’s Addiction tune that is notable for featuring the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea on bass duties. His seductive rhythms provide the groove, while Dave Navarro’s psychedelic guitar tones and Eastern melodies ensure that Perry’s lyrics—“Life is for pleasure”—sound very, very appropriate.
5. “Fatal” by Pearl Jam
Of all the 90s alternative rock bands, Pearl Jam has had some of the greatest success when it comes to staying relevant, and when you write enough material to release a B-sides album, Lost Dogs, that consists of two discs, it’s pretty easy to see why. “Fatal,” an outtake from the Binaural era, sounds simultaneously defiant and resigned, gentle and brutal. In strictly Pearl Jam terms, it is the middle ground between “Jeremy” and “Daughter,” featuring dark lyrics, acoustic guitars, heavy rhythms, and some of the most haunting vocal work Eddie Vedder has ever delivered.
4. “Search and Destroy” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Found on the “Give it Away” single, this cover of “Search and Destroy,” originally written and performed by Iggy and the Stooges, highlights the punk rock intensity that characterized the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s early years while maintaining their unique funk sound. The rough sound of the recording makes perfect sense for the song choice.
3. “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Rage Against the Machine
Bruce Springsteen was inspired by The Grapes of Wrath to pen this tune on economic inequality, and Rage Against the Machine was inspired by his socially conscious lyrics to cover it in their distinct rap-rock style. They did such a good job with it that, although originally released as a rare single, it ended up charting anyway. Zack de la Rocha’s voice is as angry as ever, and Tom Morello runs his guitar through so many effects pedals that you wonder how he made sense of what he was doing. Either way, it works, and the song was popular enough that another recording of it was made available on the band’s post-breakup cover album, Renegades.
2. “Molly’s Lips” by Nirvana
Found on the Incesticide collection, “Molly’s Lips” is a cover of a song originally performed by The Vaselines. While the original recording features shimmering guitars, it’s a slow, forgettable tune that sounds a little too hollow to love. The aggressive approach that Cobain and company took with the song transforms it into a classic and represents what made Nirvana so successful: they played catchy tunes while sacrificing none of the ferocity of their punk rock roots. Not only was Cobain a superb songwriter, but he could pick out an already decent song—“The Man Who Sold the World” also comes to mind—and make it much, much better.
1. “Starla” by Smashing Pumpkins
Originally released on the “I Am One” single and made widely available on Pisces Iscariot, a collection of B-sides, demos and covers that kept fans pacified during the recording of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, “Starla” is a monster of a song, clocking in at just about eleven minutes in length.
Prior to branching out with arrangements, electronic beats, and synthesizers, frontman Billy Corgan was all about creating the trippiest guitar sounds he could. The result is a track that begins with a gentle, clean riff and culminates in a five minute long solo featuring layers upon layers of fuzzed out electric guitars. It’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” for the slacker generation.
Did you like what you heard? Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!