Chris Cornell's Primal Scream: The grunge icon's 10 essential songs
He was pioneer of grunge — with one of the most recognizable caterwauls in music. Since he formed Soundgarden in 1984, Chris Cornell created a towering opus of rock and roll with his first band — as well as with the ’90s supergroup Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and as a solo artist. With the devastating news that Cornell died on Wednesday at 52 years old, EW is revisiting just a few of the songs that made him such a force.
“Hunted Down,” (1987)
Cornell’s formidable voice isn’t in full effect on the first track from Soundgarden’s debut EP — but it is how he officially announced himself to the world (and also what reportedly sparked interest from major labels).
“Sub Pop Rock City,” 1988
Soundgarden’s label at the time, Sub Pop, released a monster compilation of local bands titled Sub Pop 200 in 1988. And one standout is this shambolic, punkish tribute to the band’s place in a burgeoning grunge mecca.
“Say Hello 2 Heaven,” 1991
Chris Cornell formed the grunge supergroup Temple of the Dog in the early-’90s to honor the life of Mother Love Bone’s Andrew Wood, a close friend and roommate of Cornell’s who died from a heroin overdose in 1990. The band’s only studio album, Temple of the Dog, might be best remembered for “Hunger Strike,” where Cornell duetted with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. But the power ballad “Say Hello 2 Heaven” deserves shine too — it’s Cornell’s deeply felt tribute to his pal and his vocal acrobatics at the 5:30 mark are absolutely hair-raising.
“Birth Ritual,” 1993
The band contributed this searing anthem to the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe’s romantic comedy Singles. And it has all the hallmarks of peak Soundgarden: Kim Thayil’s guttural, chugging guitar riffs; drummer Matt Cameron’s crisp pummeling; and Cornell’s glass-shattering squealing. The band rarely performed this cut live — but it did start appearing once again in setlists in 2015.
Cornell’s other contribution to the Singles is this devastating ballad of loneliness and heartbreak — just the chiming thrum of a 12-string guitar and that singular voice.
The second single from the band’s third album, Badmotorfinger, starts with a sludgy heavy-metal groove, glides into a bright, fist-pumping pre-chorus, then divebombs back to the Earth’s core — but it’s Cornell’s insane wailing that keeps it all together.
“Black Hole Sun,” 1994
Cornell told EW in 2014 that he never thought this would be a hit — whoa, was he wrong. This Superunknown standout captures Cornell’s huge range, from his brooding baritone to his operatic shrieking. The track was also a staple on MTV, thanks to a post-apocalyptic visual directed by Howard Greenhalgh.
The single from 1994’s Superunknown was actually written years earlier when Cornell worked up an acoustic version to be included on the soundtrack Singles. In fact, it was Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament who conceived of the song title: The bassist, who played in the fictitious Singles band Citizen Dick, was designing a faux record package for that band and “Spoonman” was one of the tracks. For Cornell, he told EW in 2014 that he was also inspired by a local Seattle man named Artis the Spoonman. “His business card was these little disposable wooden spoons you get with ice cream,” he said. “But the song was an ode to an imaginary person in my head because I didn’t know him yet. When the song became a reality, we got Artis to actually play spoons on the song.”
“Fell On Black Days,” 1994
Perhaps his most revealing and emotionally raw song ever—this Superunknown tune chronicled Cornell’s battles with depression. As he told Melody Maker in 1994, “You’re happy with your life, everything’s going well, things are exciting—when all of a sudden you realize you’re unhappy in the extreme, to the point of being really, really scared. There’s no particular event you can pin the feeling down to, it’s just that you realize one day that everything in your life is f—ed!”
The debut single from Cornell’s other band, Audioslave, finds his voice sounding grittier and more textured — but “Cochise” is still an undeniable sorcher of arena rock. And his out-of-control shriek at the 3-minute mark is one for the ages.