The 1990s were the decade when Pinoy Rock really exploded. Much like when Nirvana’s popularity triggered record labels to sign almost every alternative rock band in the US, local labels went after many homegrown acts hoping to discover the next Eraserheads. Because of this, listeners all over the country got to hear original Pinoy Rock in different forms, like grunge (Teeth), metal (Wolfgang, Backdraft), reggae and ska (Tropical Depression, Indio I, Tungaw), punk (Yano, Ex-Presidents Combo), rap-rock (Erectus), riot grrrl (Keltscross, Tribal Fish), and others. 

With the sheer number and range of local rock acts and releases during that decade, it’s tough to choose the best songs of the 1990s, much less narrow them down to ten. For this list, we’ve decided to feature only one song per band — which is equally difficult with prolific bands like the Eraserheads, who released six albums in the ’90s alone. Some important ’90s acts like Parokya Ni Edgar are also absent, but only because we feel they had better output in the next decade (watch out for that list). Nevertheless, here are ten (plus one) excellent examples of Pinoy Rock that came out of the decade when almost everybody was — or wanted to be — in a band.

“Ang Huling El Bimbo”Eraserheads

This one’s a no-brainer — the band most associated with the ‘90s and what is generally regarded as their greatest song. The Eraserheads have countless other timeless tunes — “Alapaap,” “Spoliarium,” or even deep cuts like “Lightyears” — but “El Bimbo” shows the band at the peak of their musical and lyrical poignancy, with Ely Buendia’s best single line ever: “Sa panaginip na lang pala kita maisasayaw” (“Only in dreams will I be able to dance with you”).

“Esem” – Yano

Banal Na Aso, Santong Kabayo” (“Righteous Dog, Saintly Horse”) may be more popular, but this ode to commercialism and being a mallrat with no money hit harder, especially in a decade when supermalls began to rise in every city. We go to the malls to escape the drudgery of daily life, but realize we can’t afford anything after all. “Nakakainis ang ganitong buhay” (“This kind of life is irritating”), indeed.

“Hand Painted Sky” – Color It Red

Cooky Chua was perhaps Pinoy Rock’s earliest prominent frontwoman in a decade that also gave us the likes of Put3ska, Fatal Posporos, the Kitchie Nadal era of Mojofly, Session Road, and others. The title track from Color It Red’s platinum-selling 1994 debut showcases her deep, bluesy voice, a jazzy groove, and stellar lead guitar work from GP Evaristo.

“Bilanggo”Rizal Underground

Although overshadowed by more popular peers like the Eraserheads and Rivermaya, Rizal Underground were a truly accomplished band, with ace drummer Harley Alarcon (later of P.O.T.) and a first-rate songwriter in guitarist Mike Villegas. He takes the lead vocal on “Bilanggo” (“Prisoner”), a rocking power-pop number that appealed to Gin Blossoms fans back then, and is still covered by many artists (like Noel Cabangon and Aiza Seguerra) today.

“Halik Ni Hudas”Wolfgang

This hard-hitting Pinoy metal anthem introduced local rock fans to the sheer fury of Basti Artadi’s voice — intense yet articulate, guttural yet melodic. “Halik Ni Hudas” (“Judas’ Kiss”) also features one of the greatest guitar riffs in Pinoy Rock ever, and a lot of kids cut their teeth trying to get it right in amateur band competitions in those days.

“Moden De”Sugar Hiccup

Nowadays, it’s hard to believe that a niche subgenre like dreampop actually got played on mainstream radio, but it did in the ‘90s, with Sugar Hiccup’s wailing first single “Five Years” and this lush, mid-tempo track with unintelligible lyrics. What’s more, the band’s 1995 debut album Oracle even won an Awit Award for Best Alternative Recording.


The newly-reunited “classic lineup” recently performed this song on live TV as a prelude to their upcoming concert, and somehow it felt like the right song to tease their fans with. Upbeat and exciting, with a chord progression that would later be copped by Kelly Clarkson, “Elesi” is a high point in this particular era of Rivermaya, and continues to be a highlight of their shows, be it of the band themselves or any of their solo offshoots.

“Munting Paraiso”Razorback

These south-of-Manila boys came onto the scene sounding like a hybrid of Led Zeppelin and Rocks-era Aerosmith, with arguably the country’s best guitar duo – Tirso Ripoll and David Aguirre. On “Munting Paraiso” (“Little Paradise”) off their second album Beggar’s Moon, they riff like a well-oiled machine and take turns playing a blazing solo that’s never boring.

“Torpe”Hungry Young Poets

Barbie Almalbis never seems to age, but what’s more notable about her is that she was already a gifted musician from the start. Only 19 when she joined her first band Hungry Young Poets, her knack for crafting hooks and melodies can be heard all over the band’s only album, especially on the enduring hit “Torpe.”

“Shooting Star”Teeth

This defining Pinoy grunge outfit may have had more enduring tunes like “Laklak” (“Excessive Drinking”) and “Prinsesa” (“Princess”) early on, but Teeth truly hit their stride on their third and final album, 1999’s I Was A Teenage Tree. Easily the fans’ favorite, “Shooting Star” shows Teeth finding the perfect formula of melody and grind, earning them Song Of The Year at the following year’s NU Rock Awards, despite being released in a year when nu metal had begun capturing the ears of Pinoy Rock fans.

Honorable Mention: “Pigface” – Greyhoundz

While Pinoy nu metal blew up in the early 2000s, Greyhoundz fired the first shot when they opened the 1998 NU Rock Awards with this blazing salvo of detuned riffage, sticky hip-hop beats, and Reg Rubio screaming “POW-HU-HU-POW-HU-HU-POW,” unintentionally coining the onomatopoeic term kupaw to describe the local acts adopting the subgenre that was already dominating rock in the US. By the following year, Greyhoundz were once again on the NU Rock Awards stage alongside peers Cheese (later Queso), signaling the start of a revolution.