1990s: Nirvana

Challenge any music lover to recall the first time they heard Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and you'll find that they can retell the tale in vivid detail. It was such a pivotal moment in music that it's unlikely to ever be matched again. The reaction? Jaw-dropping shock and awe - and a widespread lack of certainty on how to react. The trio lasted only long enough to produce two studio albums, but in that time, they chewed up and spit out the course of musical history, ushering in an entirely new genre - and fashion statement (grunge) - and completely ignoring nearly every documented musical rule in the process.

With the exception of Guns N' Roses, the '80s had generated little of substance in the genres of hard rock and heavy metal, instead producing a fad led by bands like Poison and Warrant that relied more on hair and makeup artists than on a producer. But hair metal's heyday was crashing hard by 1990, and Nirvana was its deathblow. The band's meteoric rise was quick and relentless, striking at the heart and ears with a shockingly creative combination that turned metal, indie rock, and postpunk sludge into a novel musical Molotov cocktail. The world was ready for a new sound, a new fashion, and a new movement, and grunge, led by Nirvana and its band of brothers (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains), delivered - and with a shell-shocking thud.

Kurt Cobain took a misguided and punk-rock-ridden adolescence and turned it into a musical war cry rife with disgruntled angst and introspective pain and suffering and let it loose through a microphone and a guitar. While the band's distorted mix of genres past melted the minds of the musical cognoscenti from the moment "Smells Like Teen Spirit" debuted on MTV, Cobain found himself in the uncomfortable position of being the most notorious antirock star the world had ever seen. In 1994, a combination of antihero syndrome, drug addiction, and gun collecting proved to be his demise. It's a safe bet that any music lover remembers that day with crushing clarity as well.

Our Signature Track: "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

The Underdogs: (Translation: You may or may not have heard of them; either way, they weren't as famous [or as rich] as the group above. But they were just as cool.)
Idlewild, "A Film for the Future"
Catherine Wheel, "Phantom of the American Mother"
Mercury Rev, "Opus 40"