1999 essentially marked the end of the alternative dream floated by punk bands in the ’80s, sold by record companies in the ’90s, and eventually rebooted in the Garden State ’00s.

Five years earlier, alternative-minded Gen-Xers made Woodstock ’94 their own by throwing mud (Green Day) or wearing mud (Nine Inch Nails). Woodstock ’99 was, in turn, its Altamont, marked by sexual assaults, wanton destruction, macho aggro-rock and greed. Lollapalooza was benched for a second summer. The focused anger of Rage Against the Machine birthed the unfocused anger of nü–metal. Grunge had been watered down to something unidentifiable. The electronica boom had performed nicely but hopes of faceless knob-jockeys being the next Nirvana in America had long been dashed. Moby released Play, which would be licensed all over—a move that was criticized at the time but would ultimately prove to be the new normal. Napster began the internet’s two-decade quest to explode genre entirely. Boomer icons like Santana, and covers of classic rock nuggets like “Another Brick in the Wall” and “American Woman,” were appearing on the Modern Rock chart. What was alternative or modern about Buckcherry? Why was Axl Rose on the cover of SPIN? Even Pavement broke up.

If alternative rock is going to be indistinguishable from regular rock, you might as well learn to love it like a pop fan. Here are the best 69 songs that charted in the Modern Rock Top 40 in 1999, running the gamut from “brilliant” to “actually enjoyable” to “this website is clearly staffed by millennials.”

69. Lenny Kravitz – “American Woman”

Lenny Kravitz’s cover of the Guess Who’s iconic 1970 single “American Woman” is glossy, big and fun—more reflective of how people remember the ’60s and ’70s than how they actually were. Kravitz’s edition was tied to the Austin Powers sequel The Spy Who Shagged Me, complete with a video featuring the film’s co-star Heather Graham. Its easy to get on Kravitz’ case for gesturing at a sort of idealized, empty vision of classic rock, but his charm and ability to craft a stylish, enigmatic pop record is impressive. Sometimes being fun is enough. — ISRAEL DARAMOLA

68. Everlast  “Ends”

“Ends,” the second single from Everlast’s debut solo album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues, is transparently a second-rate replica of the former House of Pain member’s own “What It’s Like,” the first single from that album and the one Everlast song that everyone knows. In both songs, Everlast sketches a catalog of down-and-out characters, sing-rapping about their travails over plodding acoustic guitar. “What It’s Like” was a plea for empathy for its pregnant teens and alcoholic beggars, and “Ends” begins that way too. But it soon devolves into finger-wagging, framing each character’s downfall as the result of their own avarice or hedonism. In the second verse, Everlast indulges in the misogynistic cliche of a woman who uses sex to fund a flashy lifestyle she can’t otherwise afford: “Shopping sprees get her on her knees… if you’re broke she’ll spit, and if you’re rich she might swallow.” By the third, he can’t even be bothered to come up with a satisfactory ending for his “two homeboys who made a lot of noise,” announcing abruptly after eight bars that “one disappeared and one got robbed.” The chorus is all about the various nasty things people will do “for the ends,” with a little twist in its last line. “So before we go any further,” he sings, “I want my ends.” Maybe that’s the one good thing you can say about “Ends”: for a few brief moments, Everlast recognizes that he’s no better than the people he’s singing about. — ANDY CUSH

67. Smash Mouth – “All Star”

The second hit single from a band who seemed destined to be one-hit wonders, “All Star” exploded in 1999, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was originally conceived when the label sent the band back to the drawing board when they didn’t hear a single off second LP Astro Lounge. “One night I sat Greg [Camp, guitarist] down, opened up a Billboard magazine, and said, ‘Dude, let’s just go through this. I want a little piece of each one of these songs.’” The band’s manager, Robert Hayes, told Rolling Stone in a recent oral history. “The Top 50, at this time, was Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind, Vertical Horizon, Barenaked Ladies, Marcy Playground, Chumbawamba. He left, and two days later he walks into my office with a cassette tape.” “All Star,” famously, was propelled to another level of omnipresence by the success – and eventual meme-ification of – 2001’s animated ogre biography Shrek. It has since gone on to have a life of its own, transforming, as few songs do, into its own kind of cultural artifact. — TAYLOR BERMAN

66. Ben Folds Five – “Army”

In his commercial glory days, Ben Folds’ potty mouth and irreverent whine distinguished him from the baby boomers’ unfashionable piano men—this was our edgy ivory tickler, who sang about punk rock, getting wasted and being totally pissed at ex-girlfriends! However, when Folds lapses into raconteur mode, pounds a baby grand and sings from the perspective of a slacker bitching about joining the army it does veer a little close to Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack.” “Army,” with its modernistic chord changes and ragtime dream sequence, is Ben Folds’ most musically ambitious single—the ethos is prog as much as anything—and also one of his best. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON

65. Taxiride – “Get Set”

One of the year’s most uncontroversial, prettily harmonized, Savage Garden-y, shamelessly Beatlesesque hits—right down to an extended, gratuitous sitar intro. The edgiest these Australian rockers get on “Get Set” is a mumbled verse, or perhaps its spot soundtracking nihilistic Tammy from Election. “Get Set” sets a very specific aim, to be genial, and at that it succeeds. — KATHERINE ST. ASAPH

64. The Living End – “Prisoner of Society”

Australia’s the Living End were clean, pretty, and professional punks. “Prisoner of Society” snuck a bit of rebellion (however clean, pretty, and professional) into a radio chart dominated by Dudes With Shitty Attitudes. Their debut single has more fist pumping hooks per minute than should be allowed. — SEAN MALONEY

63. Marvelous 3 – “Freak of the Week”

The members of this Atlanta power-pop band had been around rock’s block by the late ’90s, with stints in bands of varying renown, including Headbangers’ Ball C-listers Southgang. Marvelous 3 kept that band’s sheeny, anthemic choruses intact, adding chunky riffs and low-slung grooves as well as, in this particular case, a bridge that had the oh-so-’90s one-two punch of distorted vocals jokingly singing about sellouts. “You’d have to be a Nazi not to like it,” frontman Butch Walker joked when SPIN asked him to describe the song’s appeal in 1999. — MAURA JOHNSTON

62. Sevendust – “Denial”

After the 21 months of touring and the slow-building success of their 1997 debut LP, Sevendust rushed out their second record, Home—yielding “some songs that will never get played again,” as they told CMJ New Music Monthly. But Home also spawned what may be the band’s signature hit, the churning, soaring “Denial,” a pure charge of Korn-gone-Stevie-Wonder adrenaline in an era where their peers were getting by with disco-metal or Eighties covers. “Denial,” the band told MTV News, is based on an argument that guitarist Clint Lowery recorded at a show. Many of its lyrics come straight from the tape. — CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

61. Our Lady Peace – “One Man Army”

Toronto quartet Our Lady Peace were narrowly edged out by Barenaked Ladies as the biggest Canadian band to cross over to the American alt-rock scene in the ’90s. At the end of the decade, they faced the challenge of following up their most successful album, 1997’s Clumsy. The song they chose to come back with, “One Man Army,” had a rubbery bass-driven groove and a nasal, high-pitched vocal that would do fellow Canadian Geddy Lee proud. “The chorus was kind of like this weird anti-chorus,” frontman Raine Maida told Asbury Park Press in 1999. “We really fought for that song to be the first single because of that.” While it wasn’t one of their biggest hits, the gutsy single choice gave the band one of its signature songs, befitting the lyric’s call to maintain your individuality. — AL SHIPLEY

60. Harvey Danger – “Save It for Later”

The 1982 hit “Save It For Later” by second wave ska innovators the Beat (or the English Beat as they were known on this side of the pond) is one of the greatest alt-rock songs ever written, covered by the likes of Pete Townsend, Pearl Jam, and Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs. Harvey Danger of “Flagpole Sitta” fame scored a minor hit with a string-heavy version of the introspective classic, which the band recorded for the quintessentially late-’90s ensemble flick 200 Cigarettes— MAGGIE SEROTA

59. Shootyz Groove – “L Train”

Shootyz Groove were a sticker band: Go to enough record stores, all ages venues, or skateparks, and you could spot their tribal wildstyle logo from a hundred yards. It was an underground ad campaign, a trail of evidence proving that SG were one of the hardest working bands to emerge from the early-’90s NYC underground. By 1999 these ambitious aggro-fusionists had gone from DIY band to major label act to indie act and back again and, like many of their peers, they were wrestling with pop vibes and corporate expectations. Those pressures certainly polished the edges off their sound, but left us with this chart-anchoring earworm, a love letter to pre-avocado-toast Brooklyn. — SEAN MALONEY

58. Filter – “Welcome to the Fold”

“You think you’re precious / and I think you’re shit.” Fair enough, Richard Patrick! After the success of the Nine Inch Nails alum’s first album, Patrick’s Filter moved beyond being the type of band that was perfect for projects like the Spawn and The Crow: City of Angels soundtracks. The debut single from their sophomore album Title of Record split the difference between TRL-friendly nü-metal and the less-compromising work of former mentor Trent Reznor. The key to its modest charm is the dichotomy between the soaring chorus melodies and the strangled screams of the verse. Title of Record’s second single, about Patrick blacking out on an airplane, would make Filter known far beyond the sphere of alternative rock radio the following year. But it was “Welcome to the Fold” that set the course toward bigger things. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON

57. Smash Mouth – “Then the Morning Comes”

The third single from Smash Mouth’s smash Astro Lounge was a shimmying cocktail-rock about the tour grind. “Well, the first thing you hear is an alarm clock, then it’s like Groundhog Day,” guitarist Greg Camp told SongFacts. “You open the door to your bus and you walk out into the club or an arena or whatever it was, and try to figure out where you are and what you did the night before and with who. So that’s what that song is, just sort of a circus feel.” — CHRISTOPHER R. WEINGARTEN

56. Semisonic – “Secret Smile”

The Minneapolis band’s warm and buttery third hit single is nearly forgotten in the states, lingering in the shadow of “Singing in My Sleep” and the indelible “Closing Time.” “Secret Smile” supposedly came to lead singer Dan Wilson in a dream. The song—a UK juggernaut—is probably about what it seems to be about: a dodgy, self-pitying sort of bloke in need of validation from an absent lover. With a different beat and more soulful vocal melisma, it could have been Jamiroquai’s handiwork. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON

55. Godsmack – “Whatever”

As Seattle grunge spread across the country throughout the ’90s, it reached decade’s end in a somewhat different place, both geographically and spiritually. A quartet of Massholes from a suburb of Boston, Godsmack named themselves after one of the bleakest Alice in Chains album tracks about heroin, but wrote macho songs about whiskey. Still, their debut single “Whatever” was an irresistible hard rock jock jam with screeching guitars and vocalist Sully Erna bellowing “go away!” As guitarist Tony Rombola told Loudwire last year, the lyric was, “Sully’s answer to his girlfriend when we were going through the whole struggle between rehearsing five nights a week, and trying to keep a relationship going at the same time.” — AL SHIPLEY

54. Jimmie’s Chicken Shack – “Do Right”

Alt-rock also-rans Jimmie’s Chicken Shack of Annapolis, Maryland, started off by making vaguely antisocial funk-metal in the vein of early Incubus, before shifting to the more affable slacker-party-guy vibe on their second album. “Do Right,” their lone brush with radio airplay, is a charming sing-along about disappointing your loved ones—leader Jimi Haha wrote it about his then-girlfriend years before it was recorded for Bring Your Own Stereo—and the auditory equivalent of a lager with a lime shoved in it. In the Annapolis area, “Do Right” has had an extended life at backyard parties, and as a go-to cover for the sort of bands whose lead singers wear shorts and play Ovation acoustic guitars. For everyone else, it probably passed through your life briefly and unmemorably, but not unpleasantly. There are worse things in the world than Corona Light.  ANDY CUSH

53. Buckcherry – “Lit Up”

By the time 1999 lurched around, grunge had started to curdle into its sullen post-peak form. But the Los Angeles cock-rock revisionists Buckcherry took off in the other direction with their debut single, a riff-heavy paean to getting utterly trashed off yayo (“I love the cocaine, I love the cocaine,” its swaggering—and extremely bleepable—chorus went). “It’s not a song that’s telling people to do a lot of cocaine,” frontman Josh Todd informed SPIN in 1999. “It’s just a song about getting loaded, you know?” — MAURA JOHNSTON

52. Citizen King – “Better Days (And The Bottom Drops Out)”

This Milwaukee, Wisconsin, crew were consistently misidentified on file-sharing services as “Sublime” thanks to their dusty hip-hop drums, breezy acoustic guitars, dancehall-inflected delivery, and the distinct sense that the singer had a bottle opener on the sole of his flip-flop. The song was inspired by leader Matt Sims’ days working at a dollar store. “I decided music had to be all or nothing,” he told Billboard. “Not much has changed though. I’m still pinching pennies.” ANDY CUSH

51. Bare Jr. – “You Blew Me Off”

“You Blew Me Off,” a bubble-grunge sorta-hit about conflicted hetero sexiness, made a minor impact on the charts but major impact on its hometown. The song is a sort-of-blueprint for the hook-heavy garage rock that would elevate Nashville’s underground scene to an international concern in the 21st Century, all shouty chorus and flailing fuzz. Bandleader Bobby Bare Jr., son of country star Bobby Bare, would mentor dozens of musicians over the years, including folks in the liner notes of your favorite new country acts, eventually joining Guided By Voices. Guitarist Mike Grimes would start Grimey’s New & Pre-Loved Music, one of America’s best record shops. The twang-scream “You Blew Me Off” stands as a reminder that Southern Rock was under-appreciated during the Clinton era. — SEAN MALONEY

50. Joydrop – “Beautiful”

This rollicking commentary on beauty and the jealousy from Canadian alt-rockers Joydrop is a clever record of the sort you might expect from a band that named their album Metasexual. “As a woman, I think the song gives a message that we can identify with pretty easily,” Joydrop singer Tara Slone told MTV News. “We’re so socialized to all of this beauty stuff – with all of the magazines and television. I think it’s empowering for women to hear another woman say that it’s OK to be who you are. It’s a subject I feel strongly about.” — ISRAEL DARAMOLA

49. R.E.M. – “Lotus”

After longtime drummer Bill Berry left R.E.M. in 1997, the band started working with keyboards, drum machines, and an occasional session drummer, continuing their departure from the career-defining jangle-rock of Document and Out of Time. Up’s second single, “Lotus,” is about as safe and straightforward as it gets for R.E.M. during their Nineties run. Over a steady pulse of Rhodes chords, Michael Stipe sings about a psychedelic comedown, freely associating about “crowbar spines.” Even in the context of an otherwise eccentric album, the track pales in comparison to the narrative aspects of the bigger hit “Daysleeper.” If anything, “Lotus” is a snapshot of one of the biggest bands in the world at a time when they were still willing to experiment. — ROB ARCAND

48. Static-X – “Push It”

By 1999, nü-metal had pushed alternative into heavier, darker depths, offering commercial opportunities for hard rock bands who’d been kicking around with little recognition during alt’s sunnier summers. Distinctively coiffed singer/guitarist Wayne Static formed this L.A. industrial-pop group after his band Deep Blue Dream broke up—his bandmate, Billy Corgan, had decided to pursue more lucrative musical options. On Wisconsin Death Trip, Static was more of a gonzo goofball than most of the aggro emoters storming modern rock, and the band’s stripped down pummeling made “Push It” a natural fit for video game soundtracks. Its chorus offered as pure a distillation of rock’s covetous id as you could ask: “I see it, I need it.” Sadly, Static died in 2014, but the band’s soldiering on with a 20th anniversary tour for their breakthrough album. — KEITH HARRIS

47. Bush – “The Chemicals Between Us”

Gavin Rossdale had a talent for arriving late to the party: Flowing locks, hair metal balladry, whiskery Cobain timbre, Steve Albini—the Bush singer-songwriter acted as if he could drink everyone else’s beers, not caring that he didn’t bring any. Realizing that everyone from Madonna to Smashing Pumpkins had started programming their beats and calling the results “electronic,” Rossdale and crew released The Science of Things in 1999, a critically panned, commercially underperforming record that didn’t even sound as fresh as David Bowie’s two-year-old drum’n’bass record. However Science did boast a decent ringer in “The Chemicals Between Us,” a Garbage-style grungetronica anthem. A nifty chord change announces the part where he quotes T.S. Eliot. — ALFRED SOTO

46. Limp Bizkit – “Re-arranged”

“Re-Arranged,” Limp Bizkit’s only No. 1 on the Modern Rock chart, was the perfect slithering, brooding follow-up to the tantrum that was “Nookie.” The same ex-girlfriend that inspired that song was still Durst’s muse. “We broke up, like, two years ago,” Fred Durst told Spin in 1999. “But I’m hurt, and I kind of can’t get over it.” The video was a bit more playful, with the band on trial for inciting riots, a nod to their role in the Woodstock ’99 debacle. Matt Pinfield, in the greatest music video cameo of the MTV vet’s career, plays the judge who sentences the band to death by drowning in milk, for some reason. — AL SHIPLEY

45. Train – “Meet Virginia”

“Meet Virginia” does not have the effortless intergalactic liftoff of “Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me),” which would leave its indelible mark on our culture a few years later, nor does it quite betray how remarkably annoying this band would become a decade into its existence circa “Hey Soul Sister.” Instead, it’s mostly a signpost marking alt-rock’s journey from grunge to adult contemporary. Singer Pat Monahan, whose voice evokes the specific feeling of being on hold, sings about a bewitching rebel girl with messy hair, his voice straining to break free from the chorus’ sludgy guitars. It’s a nice enough tune, but even without the benefit of hindsight, you get the sense that the launch sequence is still only in its planning stages. — JORDAN SARGENT

44. Third Eye Blind – “Anything”

A string of singles kept the San Francisco quartet’s eponymous debut on the charts well into 1999. A better-than-average ear for hooks and singer Stephan Jenkins’ gentle sneer distinguished Third Eye Blind from the competition. “Anything,” the first single from followup Blue, was a tease: four seconds of acoustic love-buzzed twaddle (“Anything for you / Turn my castles blue”) before launching into a 1:56 of sun-blasted Cali punk, Go-Go’s style. — ALFRED SOTO

43. Khaleel – “No Mercy”

New York City native Bob Khaleel, a.k.a. Bronx Style Bob, was a breakdancer and fixture in the ’80s downtown NYC art and club scenes before he collaborated with the likes of Ice T, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Melle Mel. After years of touring the world in various hip-hop groups, funk bands, and breakdancing crews, he tried his hand at writing radio-friendly pop songs, and scored a hit with “No Mercy,” a dreamy, steel drum-heavy, sadly prescient meditation about a world on the precipice of an environmental disaster. — MAGGIE SEROTA

42. Lit – “Zip-Lock”

Lit were SoCal anti-heroes whose sawtooth hair defied gravity, who enjoyed jumping three feet into the air to windmill their guitars when their choruses hit. Dressed like dirtbag show-offs haunting your local bowling alley, they were always the coolest guys at MTV Spring Break. “Zip-Lock” was the connective tissue between breakthrough pop single “My Own Worst Enemy” and 2000’s “Miserable,” which gained traction with its stuttering wordplay and a video featuring the band as Incredible Shrinking Men traipsing all over giantess Pam Anderson. It was the year of Blink-182, and in an expert cross-branding exercise, Lit featured them in the video for “Zip-Lock”—a song that Mark, Tom and Travis could easily have recorded themselves. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON

41. Chris Cornell – “Can’t Change Me”

The late Chris Cornell’s remarkable career included fronting three platinum bands, recording a handful of classic soundtrack cuts, and performing plenty of scene-stealing guest vocal turns. Yet his four solo albums remain the most unsung part of his career. Even Euphoria Morning, the debut he released in 1999 during the gap between Soundgarden’s breakup and Audioslave’s formation, got a relatively muted response from the public. That might be due to the Beatlesque vibe of the lead single “Can’t Change Me,” which Cornell told SPIN in 1999 was “a conscious decision to break with the Soundgarden sound.” Still, the chorus “She’s going to change the world/But she can’t change me” is a very Nineties battle cry of a romantic slacker who knows he’s going to let down a woman he doesn’t deserve. — AL SHIPLEY

40. Luscious Jackson – “Ladyfingers”

By 1999, Beastie Boys offshoot Luscious Jackson had shed keyboardist Vivian Trimble and released their album Electric Honey as a trio before quietly disbanding in 2000. The band, known for their hypnotic basslines, entrancing harmonies, and hip-hop beats, struggled to find a lasting place in the broad musical landscape that, by decade’s end, consisted of boy bands, pop stars and nü-metal acts with questionable chin braids. Luscious Jackson’s last hurrah was “Ladyfingers,” Electric Honey’s seductive, understated lead single, which carved out a prominent place in VH1’s rotation and was featured in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode—a high honor for any ’90s band. — MAGGIE SEROTA

39. Fountains of Wayne – “Denise”

On “Denise,” Fountains of Wayne rhyme “Liberty Travel” with “heart made of gravel,” pausing mid-line as if to remark at the sheer cleverness of the writing. That is the litmus test for “Denise,” or really Fountains of Wayne in general, and maybe power-pop as a whole: Does such a songwriting trick capture your heart? Or fill it with stone so leaden one wishes it were just gravel? That line is also, as the band admitted, pretty much the reason “Denise” was written. But the rest is no-brainer stuff: a gushing homage to ’80s power-pop and women with offbeat quirks (here, a lavender Lexus, which, of course, rhymes with “Texas”). The band would refine this dynamic further with “Stacy’s Mom” a few years later. — KATHERINE ST. ASAPH

38. 311 – “Come Original”

“Come Original” marks the moment when the cool kids stopped caring about 311 and 311 stopped caring about the cool kids. After a decade of grinding it out as your favorite skater’s favorite rap-rock band, 311’s fifth album, Soundsystem, traded slam dancing for noodle dancing and never looked back. Now, 20 years after 311 jumped the S.S. Alt Rock for Hippy Island, they are elder statesmen of their own reggae-rock subculture and one of the only bands on this list that managed to age gracefully. — SEAN MALONEY

37. Beth Orton – “Stolen Car”

Beth Orton’s career is a bit of an anomaly. After breaking out as a vocalist with the Chemical Brothers and William Orbit, she carved out a vaguely folk, downtempo, and alt-rock niche that never totally resembled her singer-songwriter peers, whether poppy fare or Lilith Fair. But Beth Orton definitely didn’t resemble the sweatier, bro-ier stuff on the Modern Rock charts that “Stolen Car” cracked. Why is this here alongside the Bizkits and Bawitdabas? Even Orton was bemused, as she told Billboard: “[Ben Harper’s part] is a nice piece of guitar, and Americans love guitar, right?” It is a nice piece of guitar, processed and fuzzed to sound uncannily like a cello even during its solo; it lends its own kind of rock heft to an otherwise placid folk track, going big by getting wistful. And Orton’s line, while precisely observed—”it’s little things like this that matter to me,” is the opposite of 75% of this list—has plenty of its own forward momentum and internal percussion. — KATHERINE ST. ASAPH

36. Pearl Jam – “Last Kiss”

A band whose quixotic impulses endeared them to fans, Pearl Jam was, by 1999, nevertheless shedding the mass audience that had made Ten the best-selling rock album of the Cobain Era. A quickie Wayne Cochran cover recorded for a Kosovar refugee benefit album became their first—and only —Top 5 hit. “You can try album after album to write a hit and spend months getting drum sounds and rewriting lyrics,” guitarist Stone Gossard told The Boston Globe, “or you can go to a used record store and pick out a single and fall in love with it.” Like Bruce Springsteen recording “Dancing in the Dark” out of pique – a hit that also peaked at #2 – Pearl Jam were convincing under pressure. When Eddie Vedder wonders, “Where, oh, where, can my baby be?” it trembles with an adolescent yearning that’s the match of Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” also a hit that summer. — ALFRED SOTO


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