Well, folks, the third of grunge's Holy Quadrinity has passed away. After Nirvana's Kurt Cobain (suicide or murder) and Alice In Chains' Layne Staley (drug overdose) , Soundgarden's Chris Cornell has killed himself as well. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder remains, alone in sadness.
In the Greater Scheme of Seattle Rock, they themselves all joined James Marshall Hendrix (drug overdose), Mother Love Bone and Malfunkshun's Andrew Wood (drug overdose), The Gits' Mia Zapata (rape and murder) and Hole's Kristen Pfaff (drug overdose), Hendrix, Pfaff and Cobain even making it on the infamous 27 Club list of celebrities who died before their 28th birthday. Cornell was 52.
Much has been and will be said about this, and there will be much over-analyzing. I cut ties with them as favourites after two awful days in 1994 culminating in an awful show at the Verdun Auditorium (a venue where both Pearl Jam and Nirvana had wowed me the year before, among other great shows I've seen there), but they have created fine pieces of music in their careers and were good musicians. And despite Nirvana and Pearl Jam getting the credit for putting grunge on the map, Soundgarden (with Green River, which featured future members of PJ, Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney) was the oldest of its generation, having formed in 1984, with its "classic" incarnation dating back to 1990.
You definitely saw a change in the band's music and Cornell's singing style when Pearl Jam made it big, moving away from their metal roots and high-pitched vocals into more angst-riddled, bass-heavy territory, brooding melodies and a growling baritone. The evolution is extremely clear from the Screaming Life (1987) and Fopp (1988) EPs to Ultramega OK (1988) to Louder Than Love (1989) to the apex of their metal years, Badmotorfinger (1991), to the super-grungy Superunknown (1994) to its rehash/copy Down On The Upside (1996, which did have more Alice In Chains-y tones in the music), but Cornell's PJ-lite-ness really came through on all three Audioslave records. I'm surprised they didn't catch more flak than they did, because it would have been easy to categorize Audioslave alongside Better Than Ezra, Candlebox, Creed, Stone Temple Pilots and so many others as just Pearl Jam wanna-bes.
Still, on this day, I thought perhaps I could rank my favourite Cornell songs. It's hard, because all of his projects except Temple Of The Dog (created in memory of former roommate Wood) - even the solo albums - involved other songwriters, so it's difficult to pinpoint his actual involvement in many tracks, but I will omit songs such as Fresh Tendrils (a Matt Cameron number) and Head Down (written by Ben Shepard), for example, off Superunknown.
10B. BIG DUMB SEX (Soundgarden, Louder Than Love, 1989)
10A. SPOONMAN (Soundgarden, Superunknown, 1994)
9. BLOW UP THE OUTSIDE WORLD (Soundgarden, Down On The Upside, 1996)
8. COCHISE (Audioslave, Audioslave, 2002)
7. THE DAY I TRIED TO LIVE (Soundgarden, Superunknown, 1994)
6. JESUS CHRIST POSE (Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, 1991)
5. PRETTY NOOSE (Soundgarden, Down On The Upside, 1996)
4. RUSTY CAGE (Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, 1991)
3. OUTSHINED (Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, 1991)
2. HUNGER STRIKE (Temple Of The Dog, Temple Of The Dog, 1991)
1. 4TH OF JULY (Soundgarden, Superunknown, 1994)
I'm not too fond of Spoonman's lyrics, but the guitar riff ranks as one of the best in rock history. I'd say the rest are all solid rock songs in their own right, and perhaps TOTD's Say Hello 2 Heaven would have warranted inclusion somewhere in there as well; I'm also surprised two songs from Down On The Upside made it here, seeing as I've always been critical of it in the past 20 years.
And maybe I could have included Black Hole Sun as #10B instead of Big Dumb Sex, as it is their biggest hit, and I still listen to it at times, but I tried to look at it objectively, which ones ring truest to my heart and have done so since they came out, and those are the eleven that came to mind right away.
Here's Black Hole Sun anyway, with the famous video directed by Howard Greenhalgh, featuring a critical view at suburban life in the same vein as David Lynch's Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet:
In any event, R.I.P.