Hello, it’s a grungy theme this week! I got into the mood for some of the 90s and 80s best grunge tracks, and not surprisingly, I’ve been playing the hell out of them. Here’s some faves this week.
6. Heaven Beside You – Alice in Chains
Probably my favorite Alice in Chains song, I don’t necessarily think this is indicative of their signature sound, nor is it the best representation of grunge. But this is the direction that post-grunge started going around 1994 and beyond. More melodic, not afraid to be haunting or complex. The production is a lot cleaner, the distortion is less prominent, if existent at all. The main riff sounds bluesy and rootsy. It’s not in your face punk rock metal sludge; instead, it becomes grunge-influenced, instead of the products that influenced grunge into existence. I think this song in particular helps the transition along really well, the passing of the grunge era into a world of Seether, Nickelback, Staind, and Puddle of Mudd that was forthcoming.
I first heard this on the radio when I was 16. I hadn’t had my license very long, and I was driving around town for something. I didn’t know who Nirvana was yet, but I was about to be launched into a 2-year-long obsession with them that would involve buying rare items on eBay and every piece of music the band ever released. This song really struck an angsty, apathetic chord with me in my teenage years. The “yeah” chorus/non-chorus felt sarcastic. The bassline was dope. Cobain’s vocals sounded subdued, but then full of tension and grit on the chorus and bridge. The soft and loud dynamic of the song was really interesting to me. I thought the lyrics were silly. It was that moment that my love-affair with Nirvana began. They’re no longer my favorite grunge band–I relinquished that title to Soundgarden eventually–but I’m still very fond of this song, and it’s easily one of my favorite from the band. Nirvana will always rule. We have them to thank for a lot of what happened in the grunge scene, if not the majority of it.
4. “Stardog Champion” – Mother Love Bone
Early grunge with bluesy notes and 80s glam rock bombastic drums and vocals–could you imagine that combo working based on that description? Of course not. But hear and you shall believe. Flamboyant vocalist Andrew Wood does his best Axl Rose impression on most of MLB’s songs, which adds to anthemic, bigger-than-life sound the band was going for. Almost more at home with arena rock of the 80s, the band was still one of the formative grunge bands, before grunge even really had a name. They incorporated some sludgy, distorted guitar, as well as blues elements. Whether you see Mother Love Bone as an 80s glam rock act that’s trying to go heavier and darker, or a grunge band trying to infuse their sound with big 80s hair metal, I don’t think you’re wrong.
3. “Interstate Love Song” – Stone Temple Pilots
Honestly, I should just do a review and track rankings on STP’s iconic album Core because I love it so much. I surely had my choice of songs from that album to put here, but I chose this one instead, from Purple, because of the famous riff and the nostalgic feeling the melody gives me. I was not cognizant of grunge when this song was popular in 1994/1995 because I was 5. However, it still got radio play as I got older, and there’s something evocative about the riff and presentation of the song that makes you wistful and a little sad.
2. “Say Hello 2 Heaven” – Temple of the Dog
Formed as a one-off project in the wake of Andrew Wood’s death, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell wrote this song as a tribute to the former Mother Love Bone singer. If you skipped over that link, you should definitely click it and take a look at the terribly old-fashioned, almost unworkable, totally unreadable website. But back to the song. It very directly confronts death, grief, and missing someone set to the backdrop of a soaring rock ballad. This song definitely came to mind and rang mournfully true for me, and many others I’m sure, when Chris Cornell met his own untimely death in 2017 (holy shit, it’s been 5 years). Hearing his vocals on this track can summon a demon army from the flames of hell, and I mean that in the best way.
1. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” – Smashing Pumpkins
Also known as “Rat in a Cage” to people who have probably never cared to find out the real title. It’s me. I’m people. Easily my favorite Smashing Pumpkins song, though I guess that’s not saying much since I don’t care for their songs in general. It’s still a behemoth of a grunge track. Holy shit, the Mellon Collie album came out in 1995? Forget everything I said in the “Heaven Beside You” entry. I don’t know anything. This track sounds like it was much earlier in the grunge movement though because of all the raw power and emotion it utilizes, in both the production style and the musical composition.
The song opens with this fantastic lyrical couplet: “The world is a vampire, sent to drain / Secret destroyers, hold you up to the flames”. No music intro, just jumps right in, and the music kicks in shortly after. The verse builds up to the powerful chorus with Billy Corgan screaming about his helplessness, and the murky, indistinguishable guitar notes blending together in the main riff. The bridge is Corgan screaming “I still believe that I cannot be saved”, and yeah, I feel that. The whole grunge movement did, or what was left of it by 1995.
If you liked this, you may or may not like my last playlist of songs that I can’t get enough of. It’s lacking in grunge songs, but has two fucking Disney songs on it.
I haven’t posted nearly enough about my favorite grunge music on here, but I did write this Ode to Soundgarden in the infancy of this blog. It’s a little outdated in its format, and my writing has gotten somewhat better since then, but a lot of my key points still stand.