Like many who spent their 20s listening to the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots, Thursday morning’s news that Chris Cornell had died sent shock waves through my body, as I have always loved his music, his lyrics, and especially his voice, which I consider to be one of the greatest in rock history.
Soundgarden is one of the more influential bands of the 1990s. Cornell and his bandmates helped break the Seattle scene, influencing and helping the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. In fact, Eddie Vedder’s first major recording was a duet with Cornell on Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike”. It was his first venture with Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, and Jeff Ament — as well as future PJ drummer Matt Cameron.
Cornell’s lyrics were filled with despair, but also hope — a paradox that made his music accessible to so many people. He had an uncanny ability to write both blaring hard rock songs and touching folk songs, a rare mix in a world dominated by bubble gum pop writing.
After listening to a lot of Cornell’s catalog the last day or so, including Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, and his solo work, I have come up with my 10 essential Chris Cornell songs. If you loved Cornell, you know these already. If you have never heard of him, these songs will give you a great entry point into his brilliance and versatility. These are in no particular order:
“Hunger Strike” — This song was written long before Temple of the Dog was formed for a tribute album for Cornell’s friend, Andrew Wood, who died of an overdose. However, Cornell didn’t think the song had the feel for Soundgarden. Cornell said of the song: “[It] is a statement that I’m staying true to what I’m doing regardless of what comes of it, but I will never change what I’m doing for the purposes of success or money.”
“Outshined” — This was most of the country’s introduction to Soundgarden, and it made an incredible impression. Cornell has said it was one of his first forays into introspective writing, which led to the brilliant line: “I’m looking California/and feeling Minnesota”, which refers to the concept that we often hide what we are feeling on the inside. One of my favorite Cornell tracks, it is one of the best hard rock songs ever recorded.
“Rusty Cage” — A unique-sounding song that features driving guitars and bass, but it’s brilliant lyrics were often overlooked until Johnny Cash covered the song. A fiery declaration of independence, it is one of my favorite Soundgarden tunes.
“Seasons” — Cornell penned this song based upon a fictionl cassette tape that a fictional character (Cliff Poncier) released in a movie (Singles). It was a glimpse into the versatility of Cornell’s songwriting that would become more evident later in his career.
“Cochise” — The supergroup Audioslave, which combined the talents of most of Rage Against the Machine with Cornell’s vocals, broke onto the scene with this song in 2002. The lyrics are brilliant, and the music only adds to it. One of my favorite songs to listen to prior to (or during) any athletic competition or activity.
“The Day I Tried to Live” — A soulful and powerful song that again showcases Cornell’s versatility, “The Day I Tried to Live” is another deeply contemplative song. I love the lyric, “One more time around might do it.”
“Black Hole Sun” — A psychedelic, dream-like song that Cornell said was inspired by him mishearing a news report, “Black Hole Sun” is arguably Soundgarden’s biggest crossover. Like most of the Superunknown album, the influence of Led Zeppelin is evident on this track.
“Blow up the Outside World” — Cornell’s influences were varied, ranging from Muddy Waters to Zeppelin to Cat Stevens to The Beatles. The influence of the latter of which is displayed on this track, which uses a quiet verse to lead into a loud and hypnotic chorus.
“Say Hello 2 Heaven” — This song, the opener of Temple of the Dog’s tribute album to Andrew Wood, always was heartbreaking, but even more so now. The lyrics, “Now it seems like too much love/is never enough, you better seek out
another road / cause this one has ended abrupt” has taken on new meaning the last two days.
“Spoonman” — A weird yet awesome song inspired by a Seattle street musician (who actually played the spoon solo on the track),it was Soundgarden’s true introduction the mainstream. It’s one of my favorite songs from the band and again demonstrates the uniqueness of Cornell.