Soundgarden

Playlist: Remembering Chris Cornell

Last month we lost one of the best voices in rock, Chris Cornell. The news came as a shock to fans and those who knew him best. Many are still trying to make sense of the situation and come to terms that he’s gone. He may no longer be with us, but at least we have the gift of his unforgettable music. Not only did he make wonderful music with Soundgarden and on his own, he recorded various covers throughout his career. Whether with Soundgarden or solo, Cornell gave us some of the most chilling and unforgettable covers reminding us why he was a phenomenal singer. To remember Cornell, let’s look at some of his best cover songs.

“Come Together” – Beatles cover from 

Soundgarden takes this psychedelic Beatles song and turns it into a gritty, dirty affair. They bring in the down tuned guitars, sludgy riffs, and screeching guitars, slowing things down and making everything heavy as hell. They manage to turn the song into a bonafide rocker making you want to bang your head and stick up those devil horns. If you didn’t know anything about The Beatles, you’d be convinced Soundgarden were the originators. It may be gritty, yet Cornell’s vocals keep the soulful vibe of the original.

“Whole Lotta Love” – Led Zeppelin cover from Guitar Heaven The Greatest Guitar Classics of All Time

When you get one of music’s greatest guitar players along with one of rock’s greatest vocalists, you know you’re in for something good. In 2010, Carlos Santana and Chris Cornell teamed up for a rousing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta love.” While it’s very true to the original, you can’t deny how much it just fucking rocks. Santana lights up the guitar making the iconic riff sound sweeter and sexier. Cornell easily gives Robert Plant a run for his money. He hits every note perfectly reminding you what a great singer he was. The Led Zeppelin version will always be great, but Cornell and Santana almost have them beat with their cover. Why didn’t they do a whole album together?

“Billie Jean” – live Michael Jackson cover

Lots of artists cover this Michael Jackson hit, but no one else brings you to tears with it like Chris Cornell. With only his vocals and an acoustic guitar, his rendition is absolutely haunting. Cornell manages to bring out the underlying darkness of this song that you often forget once you hear that iconic beat. He sings the song as if he’s been through this hell himself. His vocal delivery is so powerful and so intense, it would bring tears to your eyes before his untimely death. Not to mention the violent way he plays the guitar rousing a great reaction from the crowd. It’s not only a memorable performance, it shows how versatile he was as a musician.

“Girl U Want” – Devo cover from “Outshined” single

For the b-side on the “Outshined” single, Soundgarden covered this frantic Devo track. They suck all the bouncy energy and fun vibe out of it and turn it into a sludge fest. Everything is slowed down and played heavily as if the guitar’s a sopping wet with mud. Their version is heavy and somewhat dark with the haunting way Cornell delivers the lyrics. It’s a far cry from Devo’s version; if it wasn’t for the guitar riff you wouldn’t even know they were the same song. They definitely stamped the song with their gritty, raw rock sound.

“Nothing Compares 2 U” – live Sinead O’Connor cover

Cornell had a knack for making his covers sound haunting and somber. So it’s surprising that he managed to make this Prince song sound even sadder. That’s not to say it isn’t lovely. The acoustic rendition is as beautiful as the original and Cornell’s gruff vocals are perfectly suited for the song. There’s even a country vibe to it at times, but it doesn’t last long. Since the instrumentation is subdued, it gives you the chance to hear his singing, which is mesmerizing. It’s enough to give you chills, especially with his untimely passing.

“Imagine” – John Lennon cover from Songbook

The thing about Cornell’s covers is they’re straightforward and simplistic, but it’s his voice that makes them outstanding. It’s no different with this John Lennon classic. This song always had a melancholic mood to it, but when Cornell sings it, it’s enough to break your heart. Here we get the best of both worlds; he gives us a taste of his gruff, powerful vocals he’s known for, but we mostly hear his softer, gentler crooning, which is beautiful. Again, he doesn’t try to make the song his own. Rather he adds his chilling vocals for an unshakeable effect.

“Waiting for the Sun” – Doors cover from Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path

For Soundgarden’s cover of this Doors song, things start out muted and somewhat psychedelic. Cornell sounds like he’s mumbling through the lyrics. Just when you’re ready to nod off, the band kicks into high gear and lets it rip. The distorted guitars, throbbing bass, and pounding drums add a much needed dose of adrenaline to the song. It takes a drug induced classic to something that kicks ass. Whenever you hear that brief pause before everything explodes you’re left waiting in anticipation, waiting for the sweet release. When it finally comes, it’s the most satisfying moment.

“Dear Prudence” – live Beatles cover

Cornell puts his spin on yet another Beatles hit. Cornell is known for his powerful vocals, but for this cover, we get to hear a softer side. With a gentle acoustic guitar setting the mood, Cornell croons this classic never missing a beat. He sounds downright sweet when he hits those high notes at the end of the verses. His quiet, subdued delivery makes the song beautiful. It shows Cornell’s impressive range; he had the chops to make us rock out, but his croons also bring tears to your eyes.

“Cop Killer” – live Body Count cover

Did Soundgarden really cover Body Count’s controversial 1992 song? It sounds too good to be true, but they actually did during one of their Lollapalooza sets. After an impassioned speech from Cornell about exercising your power and not letting others tell you what you can’t do, the band launches into the notorious song. Everything about the performance sounds mad as hell; Matt Cameron beats away at the drum as if trying to break them, while the guitars sound like they’re screeching on their last breath. Cornell gives it his all rallying the crowd for a call to arms. During an unforgettable break, Cornell reassures us the song’s not about killing others, it’s about fighting for your rights. He then launches into a “fuck the police” chant. It’s an exciting, heart-pounding moment that riles you up and gets you ready to fight. Too bad the performance hasn’t been cleaned up and remastered for an official release.

“Hotel California” – live Eagles cover

“Hotel California” is one of those songs everyone knows is good, but no one listens to thanks to the radio playing it to death. Cornell’s acoustic cover makes the song exciting again. It’s a simple, straightforward rendition, but as always, it’s Cornell’s vocals that take it to another level. The grittiness of his vocals makes it sound like he knows what this person’s been through. He adds this harrowing vibe to the song and makes it fresh again. His version reminds you how good the song is. He can’t outdo the original, but his version comes close.

“Thank You” – Sly and the Family Stone cover from John Peel BBC Session 

Soundgarden gets funky for this cover. With a thick bass groove that sounds like it’s summoning Flea, the band lays down a heavy dose of funk mixing it with their heavy, dirty sound. The result is a stellar cover that more people should be talking about. As soon as that opening riff hits and Cornell lets out that wild scream you can’t help but nod your head with an intense feeling of “hell yes!” The band leaves their unmistakable mark on the song, but they manage to keep the soul of the original. And just when you thought the song couldn’t get any sicker, bassist Hiro Yamamoto gives us a hot solo. It’s not only Soundgarden’s best cover, it’s one of the best cover songs out there.

“I Will Always Love You” – live Whitney Houston

You wouldn’t expect a rocker like Chris Cornell to cover this Whitney Houston classic. Performed during a 2012 concert, his version is stripped back with only him and his acoustic guitar. He doesn’t try any fancy tricks with it or even try to make it his own. He just sings it straight. It’s his honest, passionate delivery that makes it so great. Even though the poor audio quality of the Youtube videos, you can hear how amazing he sounds. He holds those soaring notes with ease and his vocals are just as powerful as Houston’s. Though you would expect the cover to make you sad after his death, in a weird way it’s reassuring as if it’s a message to fans and family. His love will always be with us through the music.

Thank you for the wonderful music, Chris Cornell. You won’t be forgotten.

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Singles OST

Release Year: 1992

Rating: 8/10

In the early 90s grunge exploded on the music scene, which meant several companies wanted to cash in on the phenomenon. Fashion shows featuring flannel, “grunge lingo,” and even movies wanted to adapt the genre, which is why we have Singles. It’s a romantic comedy about the lives of people in their twenties blah blah blah. The movie is notable for two things: it has a brief appearance by Alice in Chains and the soundtrack. Look up any best soundtracks of the 90s list and this will most likely make an appearance. But now that every record company isn’t trying to sign the next Nirvana, is it really any good?

The album is pretty much a compilation of the big Seattle bands along with some underdog players of the grunge scene. Some of the tracks were written for the LP while others were featured in the movie. It begins with Alice in Chains’ “Would?” their dedication to Andrew Wood, who died of a heroin overdose in 1990. Similar to most of their songs, this one is great, even a little haunting thanks to Layne Staley’s eerie echoing vocals. It would later appear on their amazing album Dirt. Pearl Jam make two contributions here with the first being “Breath.” I’ll admit, I’m not their biggest fan, but I thought this song was pretty cool, though typical for the band. “State of Love and Trust” is the more interesting of the two since it’s surprisingly upbeat and makes you want to dance. It’s pretty fun to listen to and catchy, especially when the mindless “hey na na na na” singing comes in. This track was apparently inspired by the events of the film itself.

Chris Cornell is featured a couple times too both solo and with Soundgarden. “Seasons” is a slow, acoustic song that has a sense of foreboding. The music is soft, yet is not comforting and you can’t understand why. The song works really well because you can hear the awesomeness and power of Cornell’s voice. “Birth Ritual” is one of the best on the album. With clashing music, a heavy vibe, and Rob Halford-esque vocals from Cornell, the song is intense as fuck. Again, Cornell shows his vocal range while hitting some pretty high notes. If all you listen to is Superunknown, you may not’ve known his voice could reach those heights. Mudhoney’s contribution “Overblown” is guaranteed to make you smile since it takes the piss out of the grunge hype. With shaky groovy music, Mark Arm sings about everybody loving their town and how it’s getting creepy. He talks about how the Seattle scene went from friends playing music together to being a mainstream thing. Even though he’s rebelling against the whole thing, it’s kind of ironic that the song appears on soundtrack made to appeal to the masses. Or maybe that was the point.

The rest of the tracks are pretty solid and none of them are what I would call bad. “Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody” both by Paul Westerberg, are upbeat, melodic, and have sing song qualities to them providing some uplifting moments on the album. Lovemongers AKA Heart provide an excellent cover of the Led Zeppelin epic “Battle of Evermore” and the fantastic “May This Be Love” by Jimi Hendrix adds a bit of classic Seattle history. One of the most powerful and moving songs here is “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns” by Mother Love Bone. It starts out sounding like the typical piano ballad, but Andrew Wood’s vocals add this grittiness and edge to it that keeps you listening. As the song goes on the music keeps building with slight changes to keep away from cheesy ballad territory. By the end, everything clashes at the end of the bridge and everything turns up until you reach the harrowing end. It’s beautiful, yet kind of eerie considering the many references to death Wood drops.

The album closes with “Drown” by Smashing Pumpkins. It’s a slower number from the band with soft light music that sounds like it’s lulling you to sleep. The music is very dreamy with a hint of psychedelia, something Smashing Pumpkins does well. What keeps it from getting dull is when a single electrified note rings out in the middle of the song signifying things are about to kick up followed by heavy, energetic music. Billy Corgan sounds like he’s flying as he sings “ I wish, I wish, I wish/I could fly.” The solo that closes the track sounds out of this world with it’s harsh notes and stark vibe, but it goes on a bit too long.

Final verdict? Yeah, it’s a good soundtrack. All of the songs are enjoyable with some that definitely stand out from the others. The line up is solid, though with most of the grunge Big 4 featured, you gotta wonder where Nirvana is. The album is like grunge for beginners, but it’s a nice mix of the big name acts along with some underground ones. If someone asked me where they should start with grunge music, I would probably point them to this album. I still think the soundtrack and the movie were made solely to cash in on the Seattle trend, but it at least helped to push grunge into the mainstream, which could be good or bad depending on who you ask.

Superunknown 20th Anniversary – Soundgarden

image0021Release Year: 2014

Rating: 6.5/10

For some reason really expensive super deluxe edition of albums are trending. If done well it can be a worth while collectible for those who can afford it, but Soundgarden proves every band can’t pull it off no matter how good the album may be. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their groundbreaking LP, it has been remastered and released on several different formats, including a five disc edition. Anyone looking for hidden gems or a mass of b-sides should turn elsewhere because the super deluxe edition is a waste of money.

This edition features five discs, including the remastered original album. Aside from that disc, the others are completely worthless. Filled with demos, rehearsals, and “outtakes” you’re pretty much listening to the same album five times. The second disc is supposed to be full of b-sides and other rarities from recording sessions, but is mainly filled with live performances of songs like “Fell on Black Days” and “Kickstand” along with some awful remixes of “Spoonman” that no one asked for. The b-sides we do get, “Ghostmotorfinger” and “Jerry Garcia’s Finger” are complete throwaways; they sound they’re being played backwards. It’s easy to see why they were left off the album. While the live renditions of the tracks sound good it’s not what you expect from a disc boasting “rare material.” We get it, Soundgarden sounds great live, but they already have a release to prove this.

The third disc are the demos for the LP, which means you get to hear the entire album again. There really isn’t much difference between the demos and the final cuts aside from poorer sound quality and maybe some acoustic versions. While it is interesting to hear it’s not good enough to listen to over and over again. If anything it just tells you Soundgarden had a lot of the songs hammered out before they laid down the final tracks. And just when you couldn’t get enough of the album disc four are the rehearsals. Yes, that means the same songs yet again. The only difference between this disc and the others is that some of the songs are a little sloppier, you can hear some commentary from Chris Cornell, and he’s not singing with his full range. Again, for a fan it’s interesting to hear maybe once, but definitely not enough for fans to shell out more money on this version.

Disc five is especially confusing. It’s the entire album again, but presented in Blu-ray audio. I guess this one is for extreme audiophiles, but for everyone else there’s nothing different about this disc. Sure, the expensive edition includes a nice photographic book, but it’s definitely not worth the money. If you want to hear the LP five times, just play the standard disc five times. You expect more b-sides, covers, and other rare outtakes from an album like this. It’s really disappointing that the release is extremely lacking. The band would’ve been better off only doing a two disc edition with a remastered disc and a DVD disc featuring live footage, interviews, and music videos from the album’s release.

Overall, the release gets 6.5/10. It’s great that this awesome album was finally remastered and is celebrating its 20th anniversary, but please do not spend your money for the more expensive version. With subpar b-sides, live outtakes, and demos that all end up sounding the same, it’s a very disappointing release. For your sake, just get the single disc, maybe the two disc if you really want to hear those “Spoonman” remixes. Otherwise, it’s not worth your time or money. Hopefully, Soundgarden learns from this and plan their future reissues much better.

Superunknown- Soundgarden

SuperunknownRelease Year: 1994

Rating: 9/10

Whenever any album pops up on a “Top 100 Albums of All Time” list I always feel a little skeptical. I found most of the albums on the list are decent enough, but most of the time I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I expected the same for this record, luckily I was proven wrong. Full of exciting and unique songs that found the band expanding their sound and experimenting with different music styles, this really is one of the best albums of the 90‘s and of any time.

Though the opening song “Let Me Drown” is decent enough, it’s not the most exciting track on the album. The music is good, but it’s so heavy and distorted at times that you can’t even hear Chris Cornell’s vocals. All his singing gets drowned out by the music and it’s pretty annoying, but the song itself isn’t terrible. Things really pick up with “My Wave.” The music here is so good you start moving to it before you know it. The opening guitar riff stands out mostly because of the awesome groove it has. It also shows that it won’t be all distortion on the record. It’s an exciting song that seems to be about expressing yourself even if it’s just expelling your hate.

Of course fan favorites “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman” are on the album. The former song is a trippy classic that paints a bleak picture of Armageddon, while the latter is kind of upbeat, I always found it to be a humorous song just because it’s odd to sing about someone who plays spoons. Also, I love the way Cornell screams “Spoonman!” during the chorus. The song is also memorable because it actually features Artis the Spoonman playing his signature instrument. Hearing all the rhythm he can get out of those is actually pretty amazing and it’s cool that the band let’s the listener experience it for a while. Even though these songs are great, there are many others here that are classics in their own right.

With 15 tracks, it’s hard to talk about every song here, especially because they’re all so good. I usually don’t like long albums because the songs seem to get dull after awhile, but the entire record stayed exciting all the way through, but there are certain songs that stick out in my mind. “Kickstand” is a short, sweet, rock n roll tune that for some reason reminds me of the Foo Fighters. It seems to have more of Soundgarden’s early punk influences with the speeding guitars and the general fast pace of the song. “4th of July” starts out really eerie with heavy crunching guitars and Cornell sounding hypnotized as he sings. According to the band, the song is about LSD, but the descriptions of sparks in the sky made me think it was about the end of the world, but all the explosions made it look like the 4th of July.

What makes this album interesting is that the band expands their sound here. During this time and even afterwords, they were pegged as a grunge band, but after hearing this record it’s hard to stick them in any one place. Sometimes the sonic change is as simple as including more heavy metal influence in the music like on “Mailman,” or having psychedelic elements reminiscent of the 60’s sound like on “The Day I Tried to Live.” But the oddest track here is the Middle Eastern inspired “Half.” This song sounds like nothing else on the record; if anything it sounds like a genuine Middle Eastern song even down to the singing. It took me a while to realize that Ben Shepard was actually on vocal duty. Up until then I thought it was a sample from an exotic song. It may not be the best track on the album and it may have worked better as a b-side, but it’s a great example of how the band was willing to experiment with their sound.

With titles such as “Like Suicide,” “Fell on Black Days,” and “Fresh Tendrils” it’s no surprise that most of the songs deal with dark themes. Many of the tracks make references to suicide, death, and insecurity. On “Head Down” not only does the music sounds really creepy, but Cornell sounds demented as he sings about life taking away the simplest pleasures, like smiling. Just that idea is unnerving. And “The Day I Tried to Live” is one of the most depressing tracks on the album since it seems to be about someone contemplating whether or not it’s worth it go on another day.

Overall, the album gets 9/10. Thanks to the diverse sound, the musical complexity, and Cornell’s unique vocals really makes this one of the best albums ever. Not only is every track great, but it’s held up really well over the years. It also shows why Soundgarden was one of the most exciting and promising bands of their time. If all you know about the band is “Black Hole Sun,” do yourself a favor and get a copy of this album. It’s something you’ll want to listen to over and over again.

Reader’s Choice! (Poll Closed)

Since I’ve been working, I don’t always have the time (or the energy) to get around to all the albums I want to do, so I’m asking for your help. You now have the chance to pick what will be the next album I listen to. Below are some records I’ve been meaning to get to or that I’ve been thinking about reviewing, but haven’t gotten around to for one reason or another. It’s simple: pick which one you’re most interested in or if none of the choices interest you, feel free to pick “other” and type in an album you think I might enjoy. Don’t worry, if the album you want doesn’t get picked this time, I’ll most likely do it some time later on. The poll will be open for one week. At the end, whichever has the most votes will be the one I will review for the following week. Vote as many times as you want and hey, even if you like one of the choices in the poll, feel free recommend an album to me via comments. Also, check out the videos below for a taste of each album if you’re having trouble choosing. What are you waiting for? Start voting!

Update: The poll is now over and it looks like The Raconteurs are the winners! Look for that review next week. Thanks voting guys and don’t worry, the other albums that were listed will get reviewed soon. Also, thanks for the other suggestions, I’ll make sure to check them out. If you liked this idea, let me know and I’ll do it again in the future. Thanks again!

“Black Hole Sun” from Superunknown

“Dead Souls” from The Crow Soundtrack

“Audience Killer Loop” from Vulgar

“Killing in the Name of” from Rage Against the Machine

“Salute Your Solution” from Consolers of the Lonely