Yo, this be Reuben. I’m still in love with grunge music and I don’t think I can stop listening to it, so I thought I might as well top ten (wait, no! Fifteen!) the genre while I’m on it. The ‘grunge’ tag is a controversial one to some, I appreciate, but it’s a good way to categorize the Seattle music scene of the late 80’s to early 90’s, and the music all definitely came under a similar vein and there was a whole lot of awesome music that came from that time and place.
As Tenacious D said, grunge tried to kill the metal, but it failed. In some ways I’m glad grunge died before it got too over-saturated, and I think it’s short-lived explosion on the mainstream was just right for it. It needed it’s spotlight in the big time, but if it got much bigger for much longer it could have been ruined.
Now, grunge is not just Nirvana. Kurt Cobain is not the only face of it. Sure, Nirvana were probably the biggest band to come out of it and they were the ones pushing it forward, but Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, particularly, were all huge contributors to the Seattle scene, and, personally, I feel like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam were the soul of the movement and they are the bands I connect most with.
I kinda consider Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Alice in Chains as the big four of grunge as Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax are to thrash metal. And, honestly, others like Mudhoney, Stone Temple Pilots and Hole just aren’t quite so good. So, this list will be only made up of songs from that ‘big four’. Soz and all.
You know, just ignore most of the nonsense I just garbled; here’s the list (it’s fifteen instead of ten because I couldn’t bare to leave out five of ’em):
15. Nirvana – In Bloom (Nevermind, 1991)
Milo will be well happy. I’ve managed to sneak his favourite Nirvana song into the list, but only just, mind you, considering its competition. This is just good, no nonsense, fun. It’s heavy, it’s groovy, it’s catchy, all with an easy tempo. What make the song are the rolling bass and the brilliant pounding drums, as one of Dave Grohl’s very best fills keeps on turning up and every time it’s awesome, and Novoselic’s pounding bass drives through the whole thing.
14. Pearl Jam – Corduroy (Vitalogy, 1994)
I could listen to this song on repeat for hours. It’s light, listenable, but at the same time it’s got a grungy kick, so it’s relaxing but also energising – a potent mix indeed. The musicianship on show in Corduroy is fantastic, as all three guitarists contribute to create a sound wall, with the acoustic guitar giving it that lightness while the electrics give it some heaviness and variation, as along with the bouncy bass-work the song has a layered sound. And, to top it all off, of course, are Vedder’s amazing vocals and lyrics, these being some of the best he’s contributed to Pearl Jam.
13. Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun (Superunknown, 1994)
EMOTIONS. That’s what this song brings. It already kinda did, but since Chris Cornell’s passing it’s become a real goosebump provoker, as his haunting and brilliant vocals and lyrics make the song a mystical, emotional rollercoaster, and a fitting anthem for Soundgarden. It’s an ever-memorable song as any one moment in the song can stick out as a highlight, as the verses and the chorus are equally special. It’s also an interesting one instrumentally as with its odd time signature and slow, brooding drums.
12. Alice in Chains – Rooster (Dirt, 1992)
Rooster is slow, somewhat depressing but incredible cool, epitomising what it means to be an Alice in Chains song. Its dark, emotional lyrics tell a war-torn story, and Layne Stayley delivers them perfectly, with passion and finesse. Instrumentally, Rooster is an absolute powerhouse, as Stayley’s strong melodies are given a backbone of heavy bass, drums and oh-so-cool guitar licks. This is a song you will not soon forget.
11. Pearl Jam – Rearviewmirror (Vs., 1993)
As with most else on Vs., Rearviewmirror has a quick beat and is infectiously energetic — you can tell that the band loved recording it, and as a listener, I can’t help but love the music they made, and it never fails to energise me. And, as with most else Pearl Jam, it’s got an emotional edge, as Eddie Vedder’s passionate vocals and lyrics are on display even more in this track than in Corduroy, and he never fails to charm me. Plus, I think I’ve listened to this one more on repeat than that track, which is A LOT.
10. Soundgarden – Outshined (Badmotorfinger, 1991)
This song is just cool. C-O-O-L. It drives along like a steamroller in your ears with its PHAT riff and all-round chunky instrumentals, with Chris Cornell’s howling, deep vocals giving the track its edge – this being one of my favourite vocal tracks by him. The song is soaked in Black Sabbath-like riffage and heavy mid-tempo, but also has some of Kim Thayil’s per-nicety guitar patterns and Cameron’s casual yet complex drumbeats, along with the whimsical melodies and lyrics.
9. Nirvana – Heart-Shaped Box (In Utero, 1993)
It’s a somber and energetic track at the same time, paced perfectly. The somber side can be heard in the progressive and subdued verses, which with all the metaphors in the pondering lyrics make for the strangest reading love song ever — and an attack on dat annoying media in the chorus. It’s a song of two contrasting parts: the verses as described, and the aggressive, heavy and oh-so-catchy chorus, and it works fantastically, making this one of Nirvana’s very best songs.
8. Soundgarden – Burden in My Hand (Down on the Upside, 1996)
This is lighter stuff from Soundgarden, but one of their very best songs, and one of them that I can connect with most – it just brings out the feels, dude. It’s about as magical and whimsical as rock music can sound, with the flowing vocals and winding guitar parts, but it is grounded by a solid beat, so it’s easy listening too. It’s also got those incredible lyrics, punctuated by Chris Cornell’s emotional delivery, which along with those river-like instrumentals make the song sound profoundly beautiful.
7. Nirvana – Come As You Are (Nevermind, 1991)
This song is special for me and it’ll always be my favourite Nirvana song because of that (along with being one of the very best songs from a genre that I love so much). But still, musically, it’s worthy of the top spot. It’s laid-back, yet infectious, as it controls its energy with the steady instrumentals and Kurt’s slurred, almost lazy vocals, but it still has great heaviness as it builds to its climax and has that hard-hitting middle eight. And, as with In Bloom and all else on Nevermind, it’s just so damn listenable.
6. Pearl Jam – Even Flow (Ten, 1991)
“As soon as that bass slide opens the track, I’m always at total “yeeeeaa boi” mode. This song just flows. So, so nicely. It’s got such a bouncy groove, such a fun atmosphere, it’s something just to stick on to sing along to and enjoy. As always, Eddie Vedder’s vocals are phenomenal, so it’s pretty hard to imitate his voice, but, yunno, I always have as much fun as he is in that video. Of course, Eddie’s not the only guy in the band, and he’s brilliantly accompanied by the rest of the band as the groovy bass and wig-out guitars wind through the track, carried along by the casual drums, to make for a river-like flow — but a really rockin’ one, rest assured.”
I’m lazy so yeah, you get what I wrote about it in my RRR a few months back. I still agree with what I said.
5. Soundgarden – Like Suicide (Superunknown, 1994)
Like Suicide is essentially the logical conclusion of Black Hole Sun, as it has a similar effect and style to that track, but to a more impressive degree, managing to get itself into my top five. Sometimes I think this is the best Soundgarden song, sometimes I don’t, but every single time I listen to it I get about a billion goosebumps. Chris Cornell’s lyrics in this one are thought-provoking and emotional, whilst his delivery is one of his strongest ever. He is the driving force of the song, yes, but without the brooding, progressive instrumentals and instantly recognisable drum track, it wouldn’t be so memorable. This song is the best album finisher ever, and easily deserved of its place at number five.
4. Soundgarden – Superunknown (Superunknown, 1994)
I have sung this song’s praises a few times on this website already. I’ve said it’s got “immense varied guitar work, a brilliantly fast tempo, perfectly performed vocals and variation in every section of the song” and that it is “one of the best rock songs of all time”, and to this day I agree. From the very first time I heard this song, I’ve loved it, almost the most out of any song I’ve ever heard. Every single time, it blows me away. It’s immensely energetic, incredibly impressive in terms of musicality and vocals, and one of the best psychedelic trips you’ll ever enter.
3. Soundgarden – The Day I Tried to Live (Superunknown, 1994)
Oooooo, this is the one. This top five has been really hard to order and I love all of the songs in it pretty much equally, and I’m not actually sure if I prefer this to Superunknown or not, but oh well, here it is at number three. This song contains Chris Cornell’s best vocal performance ever, and the fact that he was still singing it so well into his later years will never cease to impress me, let alone the fact he sang it so well in the first place. This song truly cements his status as a legend. Other than his performance, the song is amazingly powerful and with those rolling drums, bass and that guitar it’s so, so recognisable, and it’s as awesome as it is at the start the whole way through. Also, a billion goosebumps, again.
Through the past couple of months, and particularly after Chris Cornell died, I haven’t been able to stop listening to this song. It’s just incredible.
2. Pearl Jam – Jeremy (Ten, 1991)
“This is even better than Even Flow (and everything else before it on this list, April me!). Yes, the former is the coolest laid back party ever released, but Jeremy is incredible for different reasons. It’s almost as emotional as Black, but I don’t think anything can match that song on that level, but even so, this comes damn close, because it’s based on something so real and tragic that you can’t help but get some goose-bumps. So, lyrically, it’s immensely strong, and, obviously, ol’ Eddie is incredible with his vocal output. Musically, although not as infectiously energetic or overtly fun as Even Flow, is potent in its pounding drums and subtle guitar and bass progressions, which build to crashing climaxes in the song’s bridges and chorus. Jeremy is catchy, atmospheric and emotional all at the same time. It’s a special one, this. It’ll stick in your head for a long time.”
Also from my RRR. Yea boi.
‘ere be the Honourable Mentions, AKA the ones that didn’t quite get in:
Searching With My Good Eye Closed (Badmotorfinger, 1991)
Mind Riot (Badmotorfinger, 1991)
Tighter & Tighter (Down on the Upside, 1996)
Fresh Tendrils (Superunknown, 1994)
Spoonman (Superunkown, 1994)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nevermind, 1991)
Lithium (Nevermind, 1991)
All Apologies (In Utero, 1993)
Rape Me (In Utero, 1993)
Alice in Chains:
Man in the Box (Facelift, 1990)
Rain When I Die (Dirt, 1992)
Down in a Hole (Dirt, 1992)
Hollow (The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, 2013)
EVERY OTHER SONG ON TEN. But also…
Animal (Vs., 1993)
Daughter (Vs., 1993)
Temple of the Dog:
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog, 1991)
1. Pearl Jam – Black (Ten, 1991)
Here we go. This is the big one. The best one. This song is special to so many, and it is to me in a huge way. I couldn’t not put this song at number one. Because, well, it’s the best. It’s powerful, memorable, instrumentally and lyrically strong each to the highest degree, and, well, this one brings a trillion goosebumps. Among all of the fierce competition on such a perfect album as Ten, Black manages to come up top. It’s catchy, powerful, and climatic, the best rock ballad you’ll ever hear. But what’s important is that it never fails to lift me up, and for that it has to win. It truly is a song you won’t forget soon, and it’s one that I will never forget, as long as I live.
Bringing redundant opinions for scrollers everywhere,
7 thoughts on “Top Fifteen Grunge Songs – Reuben”
If you’re interested in trying a dozen Grunge Songs that aren’t by the big 4 you could do worse than
1. Hunger Strike – Temple Of The Dog (technically half of the big 4 but…)
2. Drown – Smashing Pumpkins (they bought a pinch of goth to the grunge scene)
3. Dollar Bill – Screaming Trees (Mark Lanegans first band. The B-Side is a Sabbath cover)
4. Machinehead – Bush (British 2nd wave grunge wannabe’s with some serious tunes)
5. Mudhoney – In N’ Out Of Grace (I know you’re not keen. but this is magnificent and influence Primal Scream)
6. Old Address of the Unknown – Fastbacks (Girl fronted grunge that isn’t Riot Girrrl)
7. Volcano Girls – Seether (Girl fronted grunge that IS Riot Girrrl)
8. Vaseline – Stone Temple Pilots (2nd wave grunge with a pinch of cock rock)
9. Pretend Were Dead – L7 (the finest 7 inch single of the 90’s grunge movement)
10. Stardog Champion – Mother Love Bone (Pearl J before Eddie were a cock rock band)
11. Together We’ll Never – Green River (furious noise from Mudhoney & Pearl Jam to be)
12. Breeders – Last Splash (Because you can’t just dance to grunge)
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Cool, I’ve heard of a few of ’em but I’ll have to try any of those I haven’t heard.
I was going to say ‘where’s black’ then realised there was still one more song to go. I lived through the grunge years and loved it all, even though I was quite young. Crazy times, never forgotten.
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I wish I could’ve!!
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