Radiohead Lollapalooza 2008 flickr user ajasonalaynefoto via Creative Commons

As Lollapalooza kicks off tomorrow in Chicago, I took a look back at the previous 15 festival lineups to pick my top five. As you’ll notice, most of my choices are from the 1990s, probably in large part because I was too young to see many of these bands in their primes.

5. 1996

Devo played this year! As did Soundgarden, Rancid, Screaming Trees, Sponge, the Melvins and Waylon Jennings. The only rap group was the Wu-Tang Clan, but if you're going to invite just one, that seems like a reasonable decision.

Metallica played, and this was absolutely the last year it made any sense to care about anything they did musically (with this year's release of "Load," even diehards were quickly becoming apostates). But the most important performer of Lolla '96 was the Ramones. They only played one more gig after this tour, and Joey died five years later.


Many superb '90s bands were invited in '93, performing at the peaks of their careers: Dinosaur Jr, Rage Against The Machine, Tool, Sebadoh, Fishbone, Royal Trux. Arrested Development, the Atlanta rap outfit who dominated the radio (and MTV) with their hits "Tennessee" and "Mr. Wendel" were there, too.

In perhaps the most left-field booking decision in the festival's history, Free Kitten (the noise-rock duo of Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Harry Pussy's Julie Cafritz) performed. And one of the big headliners was Alice In Chains, my personal favorite band from the grunge years.

3. 2008

This year there was a solid roster of great indie-rock bands, including Broken Social Scene, Battles, Wilco, Grizzly Bear, Bloc Party and Black Lips. They also brought back some veterans, like Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against The Machine (not to mention Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus, who returned vindicated with his new band the Jicks).

Rappers Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco were invited, both Chicagoans, so that made sense. Oh, and Perry Ferrell showed up to do a duo with a special guest who turned out to be the guitarist Slash of Guns N' Roses. Most importantly, this was the year Radiohead made their first (and last?) Lollapalooza appearance.

2. 1995

Many of the highlights this year were very noisy art-rock bands, namely Sonic Youth, Jesus Lizard, Yo La Tengo, Blonde Redhead and the Dirty Three. Also, one of the most underrated bands of the '90s, Hum, was along for the ride, as was a then little-known rap outfit called The Roots. Having just released "Mellow Gold," and the instant-classic anthem "Loser," Beck was there, too.

Perhaps the most interesting decision, though, was to invite Pavement, who were making a much sloppier, slacker-y version of indie-rock that directly challenged your typical radio-friendly alt-rock bands and their hair-metal roots. As a result, the fans booed and threw rocks at them in West Virginia. Remember how the audience reacted that time Bob Dylan plugged in? It was similar. Pavement was ahead of its time, and the Lollapalooza audience wasn't ready for them.

1. 1994

This was the same year as Woodstock '94, so Lollapalooza had to step up its game to compete. It's also one of the most diverse lineups in the festival's history, with popular alt-rock bands like the Breeders, radio stars like Black Crowes, indie pioneers Guided By Voices, outsiders like Nick Cave, and rappers such as A Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde, Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill sharing the stage.

One of the main attractions, though, was the Smashing Pumpkins, who were riding high after the previous year’s release of "Siamese Dream," one of the best rock albums of the '90s. (Nirvana was supposed to headline this year, but Kurt Cobain's body was found days after they officially cancelled.)

Follow Elliott Sharp on Twitter @ElliottSharp for more news and updates.



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