Last week, the music world lost one of its best voices, as Soundgarden/Audioslave/Temple of the Dog lead singer Chris Cornell died of an apparent suicide in his hotel room after a Soundgarden concert in Detroit.
It's always bittersweet when a rock star commits suicide. So many people dream of being a rock star, becoming famous, and being able to share their thoughts and talent with millions of strangers. And then, for a whole host of potential reasons, when some people achieve their dreams, it either doesn't end the pain that drove them to become a musician or creates a plethora of other issues that lead down a dark path. I suppose the only saving grace is that, even if someone dies too young, there will always be an aural transcript of his or her contributions to the world. Still, fuck suicide.
But I digress. Cornell, of course, gained fame as the frontman of Soundgarden. I always thought of Soundgarden as a little different than most grunge bands (and I know the band didn't always appreciate being labeled "grunge"). Yes, they were from Seattle, but their sound was definitely more metal-inspired than your typical grunge band, and Cornell's voice definitely aligned more with metal than grunge. Basically, they were just a kickass hard rock band that happened to be from Seattle. Between 1988 and 1996, Soundgarden put out five albums and several EPs -– highlighted by 1994's Superunknown, which hit #1 on the Billboard album charts and has gone platinum five times in the US -- before breaking up in 1997. Cornell then teamed up in the early 2000s with former Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tom Commerford to form Audioslave –- a pretty damn good hard rock band. They put out three albums, before breaking up. Soundgarden then reunited in 2010 and put out a new album in 2012. They were working on recording another album over the last year or so. Hopefully, they recorded some of the material before Cornell died, so that we can hear it at some point. I'm just glad I got to see Soundgarden at Lolla a few years ago.
Simply put, Chris Cornell's voice was amazing. He could give you a low snarl or he could soar as high and powerfully as anyone. I'd certainly consider him the best of the grunge-era singers, and it's not even close. Here are my eleven favorite Chris Cornell songs, in alphabetical order, with the name of the band, album, and year.
1. "Black Hole Sun" (Soundgarden, Superunknown, 1994)
Arguably Soundgarden's most-recognizable song, "Black Hole Sun" became a huge hit in 1994, thanks in part to its super creepy, carnival mirror-inspired video. This is one of those songs that takes me right back to high school whenever I hear it.
2. "Face Pollution" (Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, 1991)
With its machine gun beat, wicked guitars, and howling vocals, this could have felt right at home on a New Wave of British Heavy Metal album.
3. "Hunger Strike" (Temple of the Dog, Temple of the Dog, 1991)
Grunge supergroup Temple of the Dog was comprised of members of Soundgarden and future members of Pearl Jam, the latter of whom were in Mother Love Bone with Andrew Wood, the lead singer of Mother Love Bone who died after ODing on heroin. Cornell put together Temple of the Dog to pay tribute to Wood. The band made only one album, which was released in early 1991, before Pearl Jam released Ten and before Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger. "Hunger Strike" was the group's biggest hit, and basically the world's introduction to Eddie Vedder. I've always thought this song was awesome, particularly the way that Cornell and Vedder play off of each other.
4. "I Am The Highway" (Audioslave, Audioslave, 2002)
"I Am a Highway" is a slower acoustic song, with kind of a Western feel to it, but I've always enjoyed it.
5. "Non-State Actor" (Soundgarden, King Animal, 2012)
When the group released its first album in 16 years in 2012, I bought it with a mix of anticipation and trepidation. On one hand, it's Soundgarden, so I assumed it would be good. On the other hand, what if it wasn't? Thankfully, it was. The King Animal album is full of rocking tunes that do right by the Soundgarden name. My favorite song off the album is "Non-State Actor," which has a great guitar intro and, of course, great vocals by Cornell.
6. "Rusty Cage" (Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, 1991)
Commonly and mistakenly believed to be a Johnny Cash song, The Man in Black covered this one in the mid '90s, but the original was all Soundgarden. The guitar sound is very cool on this one, the bass line is sneaky good, and the song rocks from start to finish.
7. "Say Hello 2 Heaven" (Temple of the Dog, Temple of the Dog, 1991)
This is a nice, heartfelt tribute to Andrew Wood, assuming heroin addicts go to heaven.
8. "She's a Politician" (Soundgarden, Satan Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas, 1992)
Released on the SOMMS EP in 1992, this was the only original new song on the EP (which featured three covers and a live version of "Slaves & Bulldozers" off of Badmotorfinger). It's a short, brooding, metal groove, with some great, wailing vocals by Cornell. It reminds me of mid-'70s Sabbath (although it would be five minutes longer if it was a Sabbath song).
9. "Show Me How To Live" (Audioslave, Audioslave, 2002)
"Show Me How To Live" really showcases Cornell's vocal range. He starts out low in the verses before unleashing his vocal chords in the choruses, showing us not only how to live, but that he's a better singer than any of us will ever be.
10. "Spoonman" (Soundgarden, Superunknown, 1994)
How can you not love "Spoonman"? The song was inspired by a street performer who played spoons and originally written in acoustic form for the Singles soundtrack. The band decided to do an electric version for Superunknown, and it's a classic, with the Spoonman himself contributing that spoon solo in the song.
11. "The Day I Tried to Live" (Soundgarden, Superunknown, 1994)This song gets kind of lost behind the weight of "Black Hole Sun," "Fell On Black Days," and "Spoonman" when you think of Superunknown, but it deserves a spot alongside those three songs. The band used some strange time signatures on the song, and switches between time signatures, which gives the song an odd feel, but not necessarily in a bad way. Cornell's vocals are as powerful as ever.