These days, emo is a term that many people use as a catchall. It’s an umbrella word that describes music we listened to as kids or music that we associate with the scene. While it evolved to represent bands like My Chemical Romance or Fall Out Boy, it started as something very specific, and the first and second generation/wave of emo bands remains something that I hold very dear to me.
Now that the Emo Revival that took place over the past few years has come and gone, it’s a great time to look back at a few of the bands that started it all. Here are my favorite emo bands of the late 80s through the early 2000s.
Husker Du is one of those bands that many genre purists argue over. Is it post-hardcore? It is alternative rock? Is it punk? I say it’s all of those things and it’s emo. Husker Du’s Zen Arcade is arguably their most famous album, and certainly their most critically acclaimed. As we look back on the annals of emo rock history, we know that Husker was one of the first to put storytelling to hardcore sounds.
Favorite album: Zen Arcade (1984)
Favorite song: “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely”
Rites of Spring
One thing I love the most about music is how certain bands or songs impact subcultures, and how they can form the foundation or basis of one. For example, what would goth be without Bauhaus? The music informed the subculture which informed the aesthetic which then informed the music. The self-fulfilling cycles of alternative subcultures are some of the most fascinating things and this band is no stranger to setting the tone for future impacts. Rites of Spring only had one album, but that album was more than enough of a ripple in the pond that is emo and post-hardcore music.
Favorite album: Rites of Spring (1985)
Favorite song: “Drink Deep”
Another band with only one album, you can find Cap’N Jazz’s entire collected works on Analphabetapolothology. Certainly one of the more emo bands on this list, Cap’N Jazz has the perfect amount of whine to their lyrics and just a touch of emo narcissism that I adore. A staple on any of my emo party playlists, they’re both catchy and fun to listen to.
Favorite album: Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards In The Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We’ve Slipped On And Egg Shells We’ve Tippy Toed Over (1995)
Favorite song: “Little League”
Sunny Day Real Estate
When many emo fans think of the early titans of the genre, this band is simply one of the first that comes to mind. Sunny Day (in my opinion) embodies everything great about the emo genre. Melancholy lyrics and electrically poetic guitars, Sunny Day is the perfect band to listen to on a sad rainy day.
Favorite album: How It Feels To Be Something On (1998)
Jimmy Eat World
The early 2000s served as the end of many different eras and saw the start of completely new ones. Gone were the days of sad hardcore boys screaming over soft guitar notes. Instead we saw young men who dressed like skaters singing about girls to 4onthefloor beats. Faster guitars, faster drums, and more zany lyrics coupled with outfits that made little sense outside of the scene, pop punk had evolved into an untamable beast.
This is the era that is characterized by the intermingling of pop-punk and emo that eventually would take over in the 2010s. My favorite band from this early era is Jimmy Eat World. Not only is there massive nostalgia for the early albums, but I think they’re a great reflection of emo at the time.
Favorite album: Bleed American (2001)
Favorite song: “23”
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