The 1990s were a great time for guitar-driven rock music. While there were some fantastic songs released in the early and late parts of the decade, the middle is often considered the golden age of 90s guitar songs. This was when grunge and alternative rock were at their peak, and some of the biggest names in music were churning out hits.
If you’re a fan of guitar songs or a guitar student looking for some easy 90s songs to learn, this list is for you. We’ve compiled a mix of both well-known hits and deep cuts, so there’s something here for everyone.
From Nirvana to Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins to Scorpions, these are some of the greatest tracks from the decade that you need to know. So crank up the volume and enjoy!
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit is one of those guitar songs that defined a generation and changed the musical landscape forever. Grunge was born, and Alternative Rock would never be the same.
Since the death of Kurt Cobain, the song gained more popularity and has become one of the most successful and influential records of Nirvana. The main thing to focus on when playing the song is to get the perfect grunge sound that you can achieve by using power chords and string muting techniques with a little bit of help from overdrive.
2. Losing My Religion – R.E.M.
R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion is one of the defining songs of the early 90s, and it’s easy to see why. The song’s infectious guitar music and catchy melody made it a radio staple, and the band’s use of mandolin with electric and acoustic guitars gave the song a unique sound that set it apart from other guitar-based hits of the era.
The real star of the show, however, is lead guitarist Peter Buck. His playing is deceptively simple, but it’s laced with subtle embellishments and fills which really bring the song to life.
3. Californication – Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Chili Peppers’ seventh album is full of hits, but this is the one that stands out the most. A slow burner of a song that is deceptively complex with a catchy melody and a memorable guitar work by John Frusciante.
It became the band’s most popular song and one of the most performed live songs with over 500 performances.
4. Wind Of Change – Scorpions
Though it’s been nearly three decades since its release, the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change” remains one of the most iconic guitar songs of the 90s. And though it wasn’t the first time the band had written their own music, it was definitely a departure from their usual sound.
Lead guitarist Matthias Jabs’ simple, yet masterful performance perfectly complements Klaus Meine’s emotive lyrics, creating a truly unforgettable track. Though the Scorpions were definitely a skilled band before “Wind of Change,” this song really showcased their talent and propelled them to new levels of success.
5. Always – Bon Jovi
“Always” is a guitar-driven ballad by Bon Jovi that was released in 1994. Though it’s not one of the band’s more guitar-heavy songs, the guitar work is still an important part of the song’s arrangement.
The verses feature a simple strumming pattern that helps create a sense of momentum, while the chorus features some more complex guitar work. Despite the complexity, the song became a favorite among guitarists of all skill levels.
6. Creep – Radiohead
Radiohead is one of the most innovative and respected bands of all time, and “Creep” is their signature song. It’s a dark, atmospheric track that has some interesting guitar work and if you’re an alternative rock fan, then this is a must-hear.
The guitar work of this song is beginner-friendly, based on only four chords -G, B, C, and Cm – which are played using a combination of barre chords and power chords.
7. More Than Words – Extreme
For a song that’s so often used as one of the easiest 90s acoustic guitar songs, More Than Words is actually quite challenging to play. That is largely due to Nuno Bettencourt’s virtuoso performance – his use of harmony and counterpoint is simply breathtaking.
The other half of the equation is Gary Cherone’s impassioned vocal, which sells the heartfelt sentiment of the lyrics perfectly. It’s a song that remains hugely popular to this day, and it’s easy to see why.
8. Wonderwall – Oasis
Love them or hate them, it is impossible to deny that Oasis was one of the greatest bands of the 90s. And one of the standout tracks from their 2nd studio album is Wonderwall, a song that has become synonymous with Oasis.
It’s a beautiful ballad with a catchy chorus, and it’s easy to see why it has become such a massive hit. If you can do the strumming right, it’s the perfect acoustic guitar song to sing along to when you’re feeling nostalgic.
9. The Unforgiven – Metallica
American heavy metal band Metallica’s self-titled fifth album (often known as The Black Album due to its plain black cover) was a commercial and critical triumph. It propelled the band to success and cemented their position in the mainstream audience.
While the album as a whole is excellent, it’s The Unforgiven that really stands out. It is a slow burner of a track that gradually grows in intensity until it reaches a huge crescendo, complemented by an unforgettable Kirk Hammett solo.
10. Everlong – Foo Fighters
There’s something about Dave Grohl’s songwriting that just seems to strike a chord with everyone who hears it. Maybe it’s the fact that his music isn’t pretentious and heart-filled, or maybe because he knows how to craft a damn good hook.
Whatever the reason, the Foo Fighters have become one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, and Everlong is one of their defining tracks. It is the perfect song to rock out to, and it will always be remembered as a 90s classic.
Related Articles: If you're looking for older songs, then check our articles about 60s guitar songs and 70s acoustic guitar songs.
11. Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers
The guitar work on this track is not so simple, but it is the perfect complement to Anthony Kiedis’s emotive vocal performance.
The verses feature Hendrix-style chords with a simple arpeggio pattern, but the chorus features a more complex pattern that will also be challenging for mid-level players.
The bridge is where things become more interesting, however, with a beautiful guitar work that is worth learning, even if you are not a fan of the Chili Peppers.
12. Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
If you want to write a truly iconic guitar riff, you have to do two things: Make it catchy like hell and make it memorable. Lead guitarist Kim Thayil accomplishes both things with ease on Black Hole Sun.
Thayil’s solo for this song was ranked both in the “100 Greatest Guitar Solos” and “100 Hottest Guitar Solos” by Guitar World and Total Guitar. The song is dark and brooding, with a real sense of menace lurking beneath the surface.
13. Killing In the Name – Rage Against the Machine
This is the song that shot Rage against the machine to fame and made Tom Morello a guitar legend. It features one of the most iconic guitar riffs of all time, which sounds great but fun to play.
It’s a challenging song to learn for beginners because it uses power chords and you will need a whammy pedal to play the effects-based solo. Also, don’t forget to tune your guitar in Drop D tuning.
14. 1979 – The Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins were one of the biggest bands of the 90s, and 1979 is one of their best-loved songs. It is a perfect example of Billy Corgan’s songwriting prowess, melding together seemingly disparate influences to create something unique and timeless.
The main guitar riff creates a shimmering, ethereal sound that perfectly suits the hazy, nostalgic atmosphere of the song. It’s not an easy riff, but once you’ve got it down you’ll be able to play one of the most iconic riffs of the 90s.
15. Runaway Train – Soul Asylum
Grave Dancers Union was Soul Asylum’s breakout album, which was driven to success by the popularity of the lead single Runaway Train. This power ballad is a melancholic ode to lost youth, with a catchy chorus and some great guitar work by Dan Murphy.
Despite its subject matter, the song has an uplifting quality that has helped it become one of the most enduring hits of the 90s.
16. Loser – Beck
The song is a perfect example of Beck’s genre-bending approach to songwriting, with elements of folk, country, hip-hop, and rock all blended together to create something uniquely his own.
And while the focus is very much on the vocals and lyrics, the guitar playing is an essential part of the track. The main riff is catchy but it’s the little flourishes and fills that help elevates the song and make it truly special.
17. Sabotage – Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys were one of the most fun and inventive bands of the ’90s, and Sabotage is perhaps their most iconic track. It’s a perfect example of their signature mix of punk attitude, hip-hop swagger, and pop hooks, all wrapped up in a package that’s impossible not to like.
The music video of the song – a spoof of ’70s cop dramas – is legendary and features some seriously impressive guitar work from Adam Horovitz, known as Ad-Rock.
18. Save Tonight – Eagle-Eye Cherry
Swedish rock musician Eagle-Eye Cherry’s only hit song, “Save Tonight” is a timeless classic. The song has a catchy melody and simple lyrics that are easy to sing along to, making it a great choice for beginner guitarists.
Despite its popularity, the song is actually quite simple to play. Learn some of the beginner chords in Am-F-C-G, switch them around and you’ll soon be rocking this one. If you’re looking for fun and easy 90s guitar songs to learn on guitar, this is a great choice.
19. Iris – Goo Goo Dolls
The Goo Goo Dolls are best known for their massive hit “Iris,” which was featured in the film City of Angels and spent 18 weeks at number one in the Hot 100 Airplay charts. The song was included in the band’s album, Dizzy Up the Girl, and quickly became a global sensation.
“Iris” is a beautiful ballad with a catchy melody and simple chord progression. The intro of the song is a bit tricky to learn but the verses and chorus of the song are relatively easier for a beginner.
20. Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton
In early 1992, Eric Clapton performed at Bray Studios for MTV Unplugged where the result was one of the most emotionally charged and beautiful live sets ever captured on tape, with Tears In Heaven standing out as the emotional centerpiece.
Clapton’s guitar playing is nothing short of exquisite throughout, with his soulful vocals complementing the raw emotion of the lyrics perfectly.
21. Alive – Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam’s first album was an instant hit, and this particular first single was one of the main reasons. The intro riff is now one of the most instantly recognizable in all rock music and drives the whole song with a simple but effective groove.
Eddie Vedder’s anguished vocal performance pulls you in and doesn’t let go, making Alive a 90s guitar song that has truly stood the test of time.
22. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day
Who would have thought that one of the sweetest and most sentimental songs of the 1990s would come from one of the biggest punk bands around?
Green Day’s Good Riddance is a masterclass in how to write a simple but effective acoustic guitar melody, using just a few basic chords – G, C, D, and Em – to create a tune that is both instantly memorable and easy to play.
23. You Oughta Know – Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know is a searing break-up anthem that hit the airwaves in 1995 and quickly became a global phenomenon. The song is full of raw emotions, and Morissette’s powerful voices are accompanied by an equally impressive guitar work.
The verses are played with simple power chords, while the chorus features a catchy riff that’s not too difficult to learn. If you’re a 90s rock guitar fan, it’s a song you need to know.
24. Learning To Fly – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
On this album, Petty experimented with different sounds and styles, including country, blues and even funk, but the only constant was his excellent songwriting.
This lead single is a fantastic example of Petty’s knack for writing catchy hooks and memorable melodies, all wrapped up in a classic rock sound.
25. Interstate Love Song – Stone Temple Pilots
The Stone Temple Pilots were one of the most successful pop/rock bands in the early 90s, partly due to their radio-friendly sound and catchy hooks. Interstate Love Song perfectly encapsulates everything that was great about the band.
The song also features excellent lead guitar work from Dean DeLeo, with his solo going down as one of the most memorable of the 90s. If you are looking for a song to show off your guitar skills, this is definitely it.
26. Hurt – Nine Inch Nails
If you’re looking for a song that’s both deeply emotive and features some excellent guitar playing, then look no further than Hurt by Nine Inch Nails.
Hurt was written by lead singer Trent Reznor, the lyrics are both heart-wrenching and deeply personal. Although fans and admirers establish two main interpretations of the song, the general meaning of the song is controversial.
27. You Belong To Me – Bob Dylan
I’m including this song anyway because it’s a criminally underrated Dylan track that deserves far more attention than it gets. It also happens to be a great song for beginners to learn, as there’s no real lead guitar work to speak of.
The focus is squarely on the songwriting, which is some of Dylan’s best. The lyrics are deceptively simple, but they pack an emotional punch that belies their apparent simplicity.