The 90s pushed to the forefront several genres of music, including grunge and hip-hop, but by far, the most popular was alternative rock. Here are five female-fronted bands of the 1990s that somehow slipped under the radar but deserve more exposure (with emphasis on bands of the alt-rock genre, but also ska and pop.) (A side note: Bands that almost made this list include Veruca Salt, Belly, The Breeders and the many acts of Juliana Hatfield).
Number Five: Save Ferris.
Save Ferris is a ska/punk/pop band, consisting of past and present members Jesse Tunnell, Steve Cordero, Adrienne Knoff, Oliver Zavala, Steve “Baby Bird” White, Evan Kilbourne, Brian “T-Bone Willy” Williams, Mark Harismendy, Eric Zamora, Bill Uechi, Brian Mashburn, José Castellaños, Denny Weston Jr., Alex Burke, Erik Hughes, Patrick Ferguson, Joe Berry, Gordon Bash and lead vocalist Monique Powell. The band name comes from the 1986 movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
After their 1996 EP, Introducing Save Ferris, the band created their debut album, It Means Everything (1997.) This album features songs like “Everything I Want to Be” (which was featured in an episode of Daria), “The World is New” (which was featured in 1998’s The Big Hit) and “Goodbye” (a personal favorite of mine.) The band also covered Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen” as a single.
Their second album, 1999’s Modified, features tracks like “I’m Not Cryin’ For You,” “Angry Situation,” “Mistaken” and the beautiful “Let Me In” (a personal favorite of mine that was also featured in the TV show Roswell). They also appeared and performed in the 1999 movie, 10 Things I Hate About You, with the song, “I Know.” Save Ferris made this list because they are one of the lesser-known, female-fronted ska/pop bands of the 90s.
Number Four: K’s Choice.
K’s Choice is an alternative rock band, consisting of past and former members Erik Verheyden, Jan van Sichem Jr., Bart van der Zeeuw, Reinout Swinnen, Koen Liekens, Thomas Vanelslander, Eric Grossman, and siblings Gert and Sarah Bettens. Although the band released three albums in the 00s (2000’s Almost Happy, 2010’s Echo Mountain and 2011’s Little Echoes), the music they created in the 90s is perhaps their most well-known (and my personal favorite). The band’s debut album, 1994’s The Great Subconscious Club, contained the singles “Breakfast,” “Me Happy,” “The Ballad of Lea & Paul” and “I Smoke a Lot”; the latter song is a prime example of Sarah’s often silly, flippant approach to songwriting.
The band’s second album, 1996’s Paradise in Me, is by far the band’s most popular work to date. Besides containing the prime single “Not an Addict,” a song about drug addiction which reached #5 on the US Modern Rock Tracks Chart, the album as a whole reached #121 on the US Billboard 200 Chart, and also contained the singles “Wait,” “A Sound that Only You Can Hear” and “Mr. Freeze.” “Not an Addict” is worth mentioning again here, in that it displays Sarah and Gert’s ability to write deep, introspective and sensitive lyrics; in the case of this song, they wrote perhaps the most simple and accurate portrayal of a drug user in denial. This song is beautiful.
The third album by K’s Choice, 1998’s Cocoon Crash, went platinum in Belgium, has sold over a million copies since its release, and contained the singles “If You’re Not Scared,” “Believe” and “Everything for Free.” In 1999 the band appeared and performed in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and their song, “Virgin State of Mind” was featured on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Album (This particular song has some dark undertones if you examine the lyrics). Even though K’s Choice achieved some fame, especially through their second and third albums, they still remain unknown to many when talking about great female-fronted bands of the 90s.
Number Three: Letters to Cleo.
Letters to Cleo is a band that you probably have heard a song by before, yet they belong on this list because they deserve even more exposure than they received in the 90s. Over the years, the band consisted of members Kay Hanley, Stacy Jones, Michael Eisenstein, Greg McKenna, Tom Polce and Jason Sutter. After releasing an EP called Sister in 1991, the band created their debut album, Aurora Gory Alice n 1993 on CherryDisc Records, however the album was rereleased in 1994 when the band signed with Giant Records (the album seems to be a play on “aurora borealis”).
The band’s second single, “Here & Now,” received a lot of exposure, partly because of its placement on the Melrose Place soundtrack (On the Billboard Modern Rock Singles Chart, the song reached #10). The band’s second album, 1995’s Wholesale Meats and Fish, reached #188 on the Billboard 200, while the song “Awake” reached #17 on the Modern Rock Tracks. The band’s third album, 1997’s Go!, contains songs like “I Got Time,” “Sparklegirl” and “Co-Pilot,” while 1998’s album Sister is a time capsule, containing seven tracks from the band’s demo tape and four tracks that were b-sides; one of these b-sides is cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”
Letters to Cleo is perhaps most well-known for their contribution to television and movie soundtracks. Besides “Here & Now” being featured on the Melrose Place soundtrack, the band covered “Dangerous Type” (The Cars) for The Craft soundtrack in 1996, while starring and performing in 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You. For this film, the band contributed two covers on the soundtrack (Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” and Nick Lowe & Ian Gomm’s “Cruel to Be Kind.”) Also featured in the film were the songs “Come On” (which was released as an MP3 download) and “Co-Pilot” (which was featured on 1997’s Go!).
The band reunited in 2007, creating the album When Did We Do That? (1998,) while the band also appeared on shows like Parks and Recreation. Lead vocalist Kay Hanley went on to create one EP and two solo albums, as well as providing playback vocals for several Disney projects and the 2001 movie Josie and the Pussycats.
While Letters to Cleo is considered alternative rock, it’s their power-pop edge that they’re known for. Although they remain underrated, they’ve achieved a cult following thanks to the films/projects they’ve been associated with.
Number Two: Skunk Anansie.
Skunk Anansie is a British rock/pop band, consisting of past and current members Robbie France, Mark Richardson, Richard “Cass” Lewis, Martin “Ace” Kent and lead vocalist Skin (Deborah Anne Dyer.) Although they created two albums in the 00s (2010’s Wonderlustre and 2012’s Black Traffic), some of the band’s best work came from the three albums they produced in the 90s.
The band’s debut album, 1995’s Paranoid and Sunburnt, featured four commercially released singles: “Selling Jesus,” “I Can Dream,” “Charity” and “Weak” (the last two tracks are some of my personal favorites.) The band’s second album, 1996’s Stoosh, contained tracks like “Brazen (Weep),” “She’s My Heroine,” “Twisted (Everyday Hurts)” and “Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good).” The latter song, another one of my personal favorites, also happens to one of Skin’s favorite lyrical tracks as well; she stated in a magazine, “[The song] is so simple but says so much.
As a band, you are forced into so many situations where you are pushed to just have a good time all the time, and you sometimes have to take a step back and see what success is doing to you.” Skunk Anansie’s third studio album, 1999’s Post Orgasmic Chill, peaked at #16 on the UK Albums Chart, and features songs like “I’m Not Afraid,” “Lately,” “You’ll Follow Me Down” (a personal favorite) and “Charlie Big Potato” (which was featured in 2000’s Hollow Man). By far the best track on this album, however, is the seductive “Secretly,” which can also be found on the 1999 soundtrack to Cruel Intentions.
Skunk Anansie is one of the most underrated bands in existence; not just because they are talented, but because their song-roots are deep in controversy, involving politics, religion, sex and relationships. They speak their truths through their music; now all we have to do is listen.
Number One: Throwing Muses.
Throwing Muses has technically been around since 1983, when the two front-women of the band, stepsisters Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly, decided to create music. Future band members would include Fred Abong, Elaine Adamedes, Becca Blumen, Bernard Georges, Leslie Langston and David Narcizo. Although the band created three albums in the 80s (Throwing Muses [1986,] House Tornado  and Hunkpapa ), and two albums in the 00s (Throwing Muses  and Purgatory/Paradise ), arguably their best work came from the four albums they created in the 90s.
The Real Ramona (1991) was a special album in that it was the last to feature vocalist Tanya Donelly before she left to start her own band, Belly. While Throwing Muses is considered alternative rock, Donelly contributed doses of pop melody to songs like “Honeychain” and “Not Too Soon,” the latter which was the band’s second single; the first single off of this album was “Counting Backwards,” which reached #11 on the US Modern Rock Charts. However, the best song on this album is the beautiful “Two Step,” which was the only song written by all members of the band. On this track, Hersh takes lead vocals while Donelly’s vocals float overhead. The lyrics are so simple yet remain a riddle to everyone but the band; personally this song reminds me of someone who never quite fit in, who could never keep up with the pace of friends, society or the world.
Red Heaven (1992) contains songs like “Pearl,” “Backroad” and “Firepile,” the latter which hit #46 on the Official UK Singles Chart. “Dio” features the vocals of Bob Mould (former Husker Du and Sugar band member). University (1995) contains the band’s most popular single to date, “Bright Yellow Gun,” which reached #20 on the US Modern Rock Charts, and with the help of radio airplay, the single helped the band to get noticed by popular magazines like Rolling Stone.
Also off of this album came the sultry song “Snakeface,” which was featured in 1995’s Empire Records. Limbo (1996) features songs like “Buzz,” “The Field,” “Mr. Bones” and “Shark,” the latter which reached #53 on the Official UK Singles Chart. After this album, the band broke up, with Kristin Hersh continuing a solo career. Of course, the band got back together for their two albums of the 00s, as mentioned previously. Throwing Muses is an underrated band because no matter what direction they go in, no matter how misleading their lyrics can be, by the end of each song listeners feel like they witnessed something complete and veritable.