20. Inside “Hazel”
Long Island’s Inside broke the rules of emo by having a singer who can actually hold a tune. Lyrically it gets a little cheeseball though. “I hate the moonlight when it brings out your eyes” is verging into some high school breakup letter histrionics but we’ll forgive it because it’s preceded by some solid riffage and screamage.
19. Knapsack “Katherine The Grateful”
Sergie Loobkoff who played guitar in Samiam was also in this band and you can tell. His catchy guitar hooks are all over this. Samiam didn’t make it to this list because we don’t fully consider them to be an emo band but they deserve to be mentioned here.
18. Jimmy Eat World “Claire”
You’re probably thinking “Hey, what’s this normie shit doing in this supposed ‘real emo’ list?” You’re right to question it and yes only a few years after this Jimmy Eat World became literally the biggest band in the world but this song goes hard on the emo. Also, I read in a book (actually I just read something online about someone reading the book) that they only got their major label deal because Christie Front Drive turned one down and suggested the Jimmy’s to Atlantic. A story like that’s GOTTA be true.
17. American Football “Never Meant”
I’ll be honest, this band kinda loses me on the songs where they have a trumpet. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the instrument but unless you’re in a mariachi or swing band you should leave it the fuck out of your music. Luckily this song is trumpet-free. These guys had a short run in the late ‘90s only to reform 15 years later but I would argue this opening track on their 1999 self-titled album is their best.
16. The Anniversary “All Things Ordinary”
We’ve got male-female vocals here once again but with this one, the male vocals are doing a sing-talking thing like an emo version of The B52s. There’s also a Moog which in 1999 still was a bit of a novelty that had the right amount of retro vintage caché.
15. Split Lip “Sleep”
With a name like “Split Lip” you probably think you’re going to get some fat-necked dudes in basketball jerseys who are here to open up this fucking pit. I’m guessing this is why they eventually changed their name to Chamberlain and then started playing boring-ass alt-country.
14. Cap‘n Jazz “Oh Messy Life”
With both Mike and Tim Kinsella and also Davey von Bohlen from The Promise Ring on the roster this is like an emo supergroup. I know I’ve harped on vocals a lot on this list so far but here is another example of sour notes being belted out all over the place but yet it still works somehow.
13. The Van Pelt “His Steppe Is My Prarie”
This is driving-with-the-windows-down-on-a-road-trip-because-you’re-young-and-carefree-and-the- weight-of-adult-life-hasn’t-crushed-your-soul-yet emo. The vocals are perfectly questionable and the guitar licks are hot as shit.
12. Lincoln “Benchwarmer”
We haven’t talked about drumming yet probably because there hasn’t really been much to talk about honestly. The drummer for Lincoln though has some chops. And not in a Neil Pert-esque over-compromising sort of way either. I know the Pert passed and away and, no disrespect, but I never understood the hype. Anyway, these guys only put out a handful of songs and then disappeared which sucks because we could’ve really used a full-length from them.
11. The Get Up Kids “Don’t Hate Me”
This album was infamously rushed in recording and we’re guessing that’s the reason why some of the vocals are as flat as their home state of Kansas — BURN! But there’s no denying the catchy hooks here and the group’s lasting influence on the genre. Also, keyboards!
10. Christie Front Drive “Radio”
Well, we’ve hit the top ten, and looky what we have here. Criminally underrated Christie Front Drive is the emo band and that influenced the emo band that influenced your favorite emo band. We mentioned that story about how they got Jimmy Eat World their record deal, right?
9. Breakwater “Five”
A seven-inch cover with an old-timey photo of a small child no less with typewriter font, screamy vocals buried in the mix that repeat the lyrics “Home is where the heart dies.” THIS is how you fucking emo, people.
8. Texas Is The Reason “Back And To The Left”
Naming themselves after a line from a Misfits song was an odd choice but it does give them some punk cred. These guys seemed like they could’ve gone the major label route and given the world a disappointing too-polished second album but luckily that didn’t happen because nothing they would’ve done would top this song.
7. Planes Mistaken For Stars “Copper and Stars”
Both the band name and song have “stars” in them so you know this is some real emo shit. Their later work got away from melody and became more aggressive but they really had it dialed with this early release. RIP Gared O’Donnell. RIP Matt Bellinger.
6. Jawbreaker “Kiss The Bottle”
I bet some jabroni kook would try to convince you that “Accident Prone” or “Chesterfield King” are Jawbreaker’s emo songs but real ones know it’s “Kiss The Bottle.” Even though a song about a guy who lost a girl because he’s always drunk seems like you’re treading into country territory this is still emo. But seriously, “Accident Prone” is good too.
5. The Promise Ring “A Picture Postcard”
There was no way were going to have a top 50 emo list of the ‘90s and not include these guys in the top 10. You could probably choose almost any of their songs to fill this spot but for me this is them at the height of their emo prowess.
4. Ordination of Aaron “Eli”
This song has one thing a lot of others on this list don’t which is something I’ll call the “head nod factor.” It is almost impossible* not to nod along to the groove these cats lay down. And then about halfway through they give you a quiet instrumental changeup and hit you with an even harder groove. *Any neck injuries incurred listening to this are not the responsibility of The Hard Times™ or its subsidiaries.
3. Mineral “Gloria”
Oh man, if you really wanted to devastate someone with a post-breakup mixtape this was a must. The wailing guitar bursts, the strained vocals, the quiet to loud parts, you are just drowning in the emo right now. A few of these guys formed The Gloria Record but honestly it never quite reached the level that this song did.
2. Sunny Day Real Estate “Seven”
Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary” was a watershed moment for emo. With a more polished production than most and some pop sensibilities thrown in the mix, it opened the door for mainstream success that many emo bands would see a few years later. And yes, I just used the word “watershed” like a hack but we’re forty-nine songs into this I’m getting too lazy to look in a thesaurus so chill.
1. Indian Summer “Woolworm”
Holy fucking shit! This is the perfect emo song. It starts off with a sample of some vintage bluesy lady singing that leads into twinkling guitars with spoken word poetry that is a slow burn to guitar harmonics and screaming vocals about being an “angry son.” It is also seven and a half minutes long which is the exact maximum time of music that can fit onto one side of a seven-inch. The cover is hand-stamped chipboard and their name is “Indian Summer.” What more do you want? Are you not emo-tained?