The '80s did it better, dark and angry music edition
Maybe someday I'll put together a larger list showing how the '60s - '80s period actually did a better job of making what the '90s and 2000s were comparatively good at. Most people think of Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, etc., when they think of '80s music, vs. Nirvana, Green Day, etc., when they think of '90s music (or My Chemical Romance, etc., for 2000s music).
Clearly what the '90s were good at was the darker and angrier stuff -- their girl bands and boy bands were pathetic, so were their Latin crossovers (except Shakira), and their light or soft rock was abominable. And don't even start me on techno... Still, if you look for the pre-'90s counterparts of the dark and angry music that became more mainstream during the '90s and 2000s, it's a lot better. That only makes sense since the culture was wild rather than tame before the '90s (easiest to see from the homicide rate).
Good pop music requires a certain sociability among the musicians as well as the fans -- there has to be a thriving "scene" for the musicians to get quality feedback (from real-life people!) and to feed off of their energy. From that sociability, there emerges a by now strange characteristic of dark and angry music -- you can actually sympathize with it somewhat and get into it. It's not so over-the-top in intensity that only the musicians themselves can identify with it. There was a respect for the audience, like, "We know you're not us, and so won't feel as strongly as we feel -- I guess we'd better steel ourselves and man up a bit so that you can get into it as much as we can, and we'll all have a blast together." Clearly that sociability and "scene" evaporate when everyone starts locking themselves indoors and behaving themselves.
These few songs are just off the top of my head. Too lazy now to put links in, but they're all on YouTube.
Minor Threat, "Steppin' Stone" (1981)
Tones on Tail, "Go!" (1984)
Big Black, "The Model" (1987)
Love and Rockets, "So Alive" (1989)
Nine Inch Nails, "Ringfinger" (1989)
You get the idea. I hear "Go!" and "Ringfinger" semi-regularly at '80s night, and normal college kids love them. Normal people must find "So Alive" enjoyable enough because Starbucks used to play it in their stores for awhile a few months ago. You can easily dance to all three. Minor Threat and Big Black obviously aren't as palatable to normal people, but compared to the angry noisy music of the '90s and 2000s? They're exercising enough control over their emotions that the average person doesn't find it totally unlistenable.
Next time I'll look at sad and grieving songs.