Unless your mom was punk-rocking when you were in the womb, your love for the genre likely required an external (and unwitting) push. These are the bands that totally enabled your eventual, wonderfully subversive addiction.
These guys were like the kings of happy-sounding rock that was all about depressing subject-matter. They clung to the classic 4-chord mantra of punk proper, and birthed a watered-down post-grunge cocktail that landed just inside the domain of the commercially palatable. They were probably the heaviest band you would ever hear playing at Starbucks, wedged between Fiona Apple and Björk tracks, and they were the least weird non-pop band that preppy high school girls would still sing along to. All in all, Everclear was laying the circuitry for an ear that responded positively to the punk sound.
4) The Presidents of the United States of America
I have no recollection of when I first heard their whimsical super-hit “Peaches”, but I and every other kid in 4th grade was obsessed. The song “Lump” was equally good, and helped round out their style as weird and funny, but not adversarial. The lyrics were so innuendo-laden that they occupied that bizarre space of appealing to smirking adult listeners while somehow remaining kid-friendly. PUSA had attitude and rocked, but did both with tasteful moderation.
It’s rare that a band subsumes as many distinct musical genres as Sublime did, and not only effectively, but, well…sublimely. Levity aside, their catchiness, authenticity, and apparent dedication to having a good time regularly drew an otherwise incompatible spectrum of fans into the same venues, beach parties, and frat houses. And while what hooked them was probably the clever, biting lyrics, and the feel-good, carpe-diem-y sentiments espoused therein (“What I Got”, “Smoke Two Joints”, etc.), fans still found themselves bobbing heads to Bad Religion covers (“We’re Only Gonna Die From Our Own Arrogance”) and full-blown, nose-grind ska tracks (“Date Rape”). Sublime succeeded at attaching the good feelings of vice and abandon with a sound that was tacitly punk.
Weezer was somehow just avant garde enough to be embraced by the artsy/indie community. What this really meant was that they were a gloriously heavy, poppy-sounding rock band that, in liking them, revealed you to be of refined taste, and as someone who probably also listened to the Flaming Lips, or maybe even the Violent Femmes. But in truth, Weezer had a lot going for them. Their Blue album–which is short enough to be enjoyed in entirety during one’s commute to school–is nearly flawless. They utterly own their sound, and do so under a banner of iconic simplicity and passion–there is no mistaking a Weezer song for a song by someone else. They are pithy, succinct, and just counter-cultural enough to be cool.
1) Weird Al Yankovic
What you have to understand here is this: a lot of kids heard Weird Al’s parodies of songs before they ever heard the original songs themselves. That said, a lot of the songs Weird Al parodied (particularly in his polka mash-ups) were by artists that many younger kids simply hadn’t heard of yet, and that were probably deemed inappropriate for young listening. But Weird Al wasn’t inappropriate. Weird Al was for kids. Thus, you were 9 or 10 years old and passively discovering artists like Green Day, Nirvana, Coolio, The Offspring, Soundgarden, NIN, PUSA (see above), TLC, Puff Daddy, and many, many more. Hearing parodies of these artists sparked a natural curiosity about what the “real” song sounded like, thereby prompting many a kid to seek out music by the original artists, which was no easy task in 1996. Did the release of Weird Al’s Bad Hair Day prompt a sales spike for Green Day’s Dookie among 9 to 11-year-olds? I don’t know. But yes. It did.