9 Great '90s Rock Covers You Have To Hear

Up-and-comers and legends transform your favorites

With ’90s nostalgia in full effect, covers of the soundtrack to our lives are popping up everywhere. Miley Cyrus did “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in concert in 2011 and now calls the Flaming Lips some of her closest friends. A suburban family sang Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” in a Honda commercial. Let’s also recall the massive market for tribute bands.

We compiled nine remakes of ’90s rock songs that gave the originals a run for their money. Check them out below and let us know at our Facebook page which are your favorites.

Craig Owens: Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl”

When males such as troubadour Ryan Adams recreate female-written works, they run the risk of being accused of “mansplaining.” However, Craig Owens’ homage to Bikini Kill’s seminal riot-grrrl battle cry is pure admiration. The Chiodos front man donated 100 percent of song proceeds to Equal Rights Advocates and Girls Rock Camp Alliance. Plus, his version infuses synths into the grainy mix, harkening to the Julie Ruin, a dance-punk group formed by BK alumni Kathleen Hanna and Kathi Wilcox. Watch the video for Craig Owens’ “Rebel Girl” at Alternative Press

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: James’ “Laid”

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - James' Laid
Melissa Bobbitt

We can imagine this 2015 redux on the soundtrack of a future My So-Called Life remake. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart crank up the reverb and trade Tim Booth’s Mancunian lilt for Jen Goma’s self-assured vocals. It’s an interesting gender flip that speaks to the sexual fluidity of today’s youth. POBPAH’s “Laid” appears on the Hell EP, which also features a Felt cover and one original track. Listen to the Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s cover of James’ “Laid” at Soundcloud.

Bleeding Through: Hum's "Stars"

Though it preceded the rise of screamo by about four years, Hum’s “Stars” had a beefy, heartfelt structure that lent itself well to the genre. Orange County’s Bleeding Through treated it reverently for their contribution to the Punk Goes ’90s compilation. The guitars whines and crunches courtesy of Scott Danough and Brian Leppke complemented Brandan Schieppati’s deep, consoling voice. The subject matter, seemingly about mental destruction and decay, fit well into a screamo agenda.

Courtney Barnett: The Breeders' "Cannonball"

A match made in lo-fi heaven. Aussie mumblecore artist Courtney Barnett took on the Breeders’ biggest hit for an A.V. Club series in 2014. The rising star said of the landmark Last Splash: “I put that album on the first day of recording to psyche me up.” She certainly channels Kim and Kelley Deal on 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. See her perform a faithful rendition of “Cannonball” at A.V. Club. 

Panic! at the Disco: The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight”

When Panic! at the Disco first hit the scene in 2005, they couldn’t be categorized. Sure, they hung with the Warped crowd, but Brendon Urie and his bandmates had a bombast that loomed over their peers. The same could be said of the Smashing Pumpkins, who released an ambitious double album mid-career. Panic! covering SP was a natural step, and their version of the 1996 single “Tonight, Tonight” is just as magnificent as Billy Corgan’s. Urie’s upper register gives us chills. Watch a 2007 live Panic! performance of “Tonight, Tonight” at YouTube.

The Applicators: Sleater-Kinney’s “Good Things”

Cornerstone Recording Arts Society

Doing proper service to Corin Tucker’s unique warble is a hefty task. Yet the women of the Applicators went for it and rocked in their 2001 cover of “Good Things.” The Apps’ version is punkier and spunkier, as though the Go-Go’s wrote the song of longing. The Texans are still kicking ass and taking names, and SK got back together in 2014 after almost a decade apart. Check out the Applicators’ take on “Good Things” at YouTube.

Sugarland: Pearl Jam’s “Better Man”

UMG Nashville

Eddie Vedder is one of the most vivid storytellers in rock music— so much so that he could rival country music’s best yarn spinners. This became evident when the twangy group Sugarland covered “Better Man” on their 2009 live album. The faint banjo offers a homier perspective, and Jennifer Nettles’ vocals make the tale of giving up on Prince Charming more palpable. Hear Sugarland’s version of the powerful Vitalogy track at YouTube.

Santana: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”

Santana Guitar Heaven

Carlos Santana paying his respects to John Frusciante and crew is like Steven Spielberg remaking a Danny Boyle film. Both are legends in their own right; both bring their own flavor to their genres. In 2010, Santana unveiled Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time, which also included hits by AC/DC, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Listening to his “Under the Bridge” recalls another awesome moment from Frusciante: his warp-speed outro on 2006’s “Dani California.” Dig Santana’s intense pedal work in this YouTube audio clip.

Glen Campbell: Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”

Glen Campbell
Steve Snowden / Getty Images

Already a solemn song when it became massive in 1997, Green Day’s “Good Riddance” took on an even more bittersweet connotation when this country treasure covered it in 2008. Three years later, Campbell would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, turning the lyrics into an unsettling prophesy. “Tattoos of memories and dead skin on trial / For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while,” he sang joyfully at the time. Now, as the immortal struggles with his “photographs and still frames in (his) mind,” it’s hard not to hear his version without an aching heart.