HOHOHO! Whadda we have here? Reuben’s done himself a little top 15 grunge songs, eh? Well, that sucker probably knows what he’s talking about actually, he has been kaning grunge for the past few months. However, I’ve been listening to it for a very long time, so I thought I’d better chime in with my picks. That, and I feel like I should be putting out content other than copious amounts of MMMs.
Like Reuben, my list will majorly contain work from four bands, though I swapped Hole for Alice In Chains. Apart from that, it’s pretty much the same deal. God, I’m so original!
15. Alive – Pearl Jam (Ten, 1991)
Let’s kick off this badboi strong, with an appearance from Reuben’s man-crush Monday, everyday, Mr. Eddie Vedder. Here, in a single from Pearl Jam’s superb debut Ten, the frontman puts in another great performance, albeit with less of his trademark growling, in my opinion. However, unlike many of the songs on the album, Alive seems to have quite an optimistic tone, with the hook being “Oh I, I’m still alive“. However, I could be wrong and it’s actually about suicide and depression, how cheery! Instrumentally, the song features some brilliant snare work and a wicked guitar solo to close it out. What more do you need, honestly?
14. Let Me Drown – Soundgarden (Superunknown, 1994)
Kicking off Soundgarden’s Superunknown with steel-toed boots, Let Me Drown, from first note, is a feral beast, with wild guitars and a carnivourious rhythm. It’s a song that very much embraces its heavy metal roots and wears it on it’s sleeve. The riff has a filthy groove to it as Cornell breezes through vocal parts that no mortal could possibly accomplish. Superunknown proved to be a complete game-changer for Soundgarden, so its only fitting that it’s opener is a song that signals that.
13. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana (Nevermind, 1991)
Yeah? And what. The quote-on-quote “quintessential” grunge song is at no. 13, deal with it. To be honest, though, it’s a brilliant song, it’s just overdone to all hell. You all know the riff, I gather, it’s probably the most famous one of the 90s, and one of the most famous of all time, and it’s well catchy. Kurt’s raucous screaming in the chorus really capture the primal energy of the movement and helped bring it to the masses. It’s also notable for being the first major exposure recieved by Dave Grohl, whose pounding, animal-like drums were just a mere smidgen of what was to come.
12. Rusty Cage – Soundgarden (Badmotorfinger, 1991)
Meanwhile, while Nirvana were lapping up success, the more metal-influenced Soundgarden were pulling stuff like this. Rusty Cage‘s most defining feature is probably the all-over-the-place riff that winds through much of the song like a snake on too much Peruvian party powder. This is then replaced in the backend of the song with a slow, filthy guitar scraping session, with bass and drums plodding along at criminal pace. This all takes place under frontman Chris Cornell’s astounding vocals, screaming the hook like a battle-cry.
11. Territorial Pissings – Nirvana (Nevermind, 1991)
A hotly-contested one here, with many calling it one of the worst songs on Nevermind. However, to those people I say, embrace it, you puss. That being said, Territorial Pissings is a bit of an odd one. Lacking any kind of musical finesse, the song relies primarily on animal rhythms and melodies, with Grohl wrecking the drum kit. Though I’m not usually one to add live shows over videos, I do believe there is little better way to experience the energy of this song than in their killer Reading ’92 set.
10. Pretty On The Inside – Hole (Pretty On The Inside, 1991)
The underappreciated title track from Hole’s debut record, Pretty On The Inside for me, in its 1:28 runtime, sums up everything about the band. Fuzzy and distorted, the production on this thing isn’t glamorous, nor are Courtney Love’s vocals, as she screams through the hateful lyrics with vemon spitting through her teeth. Instrumentally, the guitars wind and wail as the drums plod along at a spiteful pace. Despite what the title may suggest, this is a very ugly song, but a great one nonetheless.
9. Superunknown – Soundgarden (Superunknown, 1994)
What a trip. After hearing Reuben wax lyrical for a good few months about Soundgarden, I really wasn’t believing the hype until I heard this badboi. Again, the guitar and vocal parts really just make this song for me. The layered, headbanging riffs weave through each other throughout the song, and Chris Cornell’s performance here is easily his finest with the band, bar one. Superunknown really is just one of those songs that can be heard over and over again and is one of the few in Soundgarden’s catalogue that doesn’t depress me, so that’s nice too.
8. Heart-Shaped Box – Nirvana (In Utero, 1993)
However, this song does depress me. Opening with such a riff as this one leaves little place to go than Solemn City. That being said, the delicate guitar work and vocals that give the song such a barren feel are quickly swapped out as the chorus for pounding drums and distressed yells from Kurt. The guitar throughout this song is spectacular actually, flipping between the two moods of the song effortlessly and busting out an effect-laden solo in the middle. For a very long time, this was my favourite Nirvana song and it’s not hard to see why.
7. Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden (Superunknown, 1994)
Sonically in a very similar vein to Heart-Shaped Box, Black Hole Sun is also alike in that it was also my favourite Soundgarden song for a long time. Opening again on a very tight, isolated guitar riff, courtesy of Kim Thayil, this song has a very eerie feel throughout due to the effects put on the guitar in the verses particularly. Because of this, like the video, the song has a dream-like atmosphere, helped along by the surreal lyrics. Making it all the more haunting is the vocal performance that, since Cornell’s death earlier this year, has given the song new, darker connotations for me.
6. Jeremy – Pearl Jam (Ten, 1991)
Alright guys, I know it’s getting a bit heavy but at least this badboi’s a cheery lil’ tune! Wait, wah’twas that? It’s about a kid who shot himself in English class? And it actually happened? Well, god-damn. Though they do make you wanna look out of a rainy window in silent depression, the lyrics in this song are some of the best to come out of the grunge movement and their delivery by Vedder is utterly exceptional. As the song builds to its climax near the end of the song, the drumming in particular is really rather good, with tight snarework and desperate cymbal crashes remeniscent of the titular subject’s struggle. It’s a perfect example of how instrumentation can tell a story almost as well as lyrics can.
5. Violet – Hole (Live Through This, 1994)
Little spoiler alert here, but not a biggie, I’m not including Celebrity Skin here. It just ain’t really very grungy. I don’t prefer to this one anyway, just didn’t want ya to be expecting anything on that front. ANYWHOOOOOOOO, Violet takes the bitter edge of Pretty On The Inside and refines it with better production and a more complex structure altogether. The hyperactive drumming really gives the song a much-needed boost of energy, as the bittersweet melodies on guitar lull the listener into a false sense of security. It’s also song that proves that Courtney Love is, while slightly mental, a f*cking badass. Unlike me, who still censors out bad language in fear of my parents.
4. Even Flow – Pearl Jam (Ten, 1991)
THIS IS NOT A TV STUDIO. JOSH. Easily one of the funnest songs to come out of the grunge movement, Even Flow‘s charismatic vocals, groovy-to-all-hell bass, jazzy drums and frantic guitars all make for a blast. From the intro bass slide (always welcome), Vedder’s growls are on full display here as we are treated to “FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEZZZZZZIN’ RESTSHISHEADONAPILLOWMADEOFCONCRETE AGAAAAIN” as an opening line. Similarly, the instrumental isn’t particularly brooding or atmospheric, it’s just a bit of fun. This was, until a few minutes ago, swapped with Jeremy, but grunge is full of emotional rollercoaster songs, so it’s brilliantly refreshing to see something that’s just a bit of a laugh.
Top three time, let’s get a bit flippin’ good.
3. Lithium – Nirvana (Nevermind, 1991)
As this song is undoubtedly gonna be ruined for me as I try to nail the drum parts to a T, I feel like I should enjoy it while I still can, which includes balling about it here. Lithium is just a killer track, there are no two ways about it. Featuring a devilishly-simple hook, this song was made to be belted out as a true anthem of grunge, for me. The song uses the tried-and-tested method of “quiet-loud-quiet-LOUD”, with the verses boasting one of the best overall musical packages I’ve ever heard. The bassline, particularly, being both soothing and foreboding, is one of my favourites of all time, as are the lyrics. I can’t stress how good this badboi is, seriously.
2. The Day I Tried To Live – Soundgarden (Superunknown, 1994)
I mean Reuben really hit the nail on the head with this one. Chris Cornell, without a doubt, was one of the most gifted voices of his generation and this is the song that proves it. As the chorus hits, and that hook is belted out with such passion and vigor, like Reuben said, a billion goosebumps. It truly is astounding that such notes could be hit so easily for him. Other than that though, the rumbling, ominous drum work that pervades through the verses and comes at a crashing release in the chorus really help, along with wailing guitars, to put this song a cut above.
Here be the songs that just ain’t as good as Alive, yet we love them all the same… just not as much.
Outshined – Soundgarden (Badmotorfinger, 1991)
Rape Me – Nirvana (In Utero, 1993)
Sliver – Nirvana (Incesticide, 1992)
Stay Away – Nirvana (Nevermind, 1991)
Come As You Are – Nirvana (Nevermind, 1991)
Polly – Nirvana (Nevermind, 1991)
Pennyroyal Tea – Nirvana (In Utero, 1993)
All Apologies – Nirvana (In Utero, 1993)
Black – Pearl Jam (Ten, 1991)
Spoonman – Soundgarden (Superunknown, 1994)
Kickstand – Soundgarden (Superunknown, 1994)
Doll Parts – Hole (Live Through This, 1994)
Woah, and The Day I Tried To Live wasn’t no. 1??? Damn…
1. In Bloom – Nirvana (Nevermind, 1991)
Here we are, with In Bloom at the opposite end, this time! Way-hay! Seriously though, why I can see why you’d have an emotional powerhouse like Black, a genre-definer like Teen Spirit or something as technically perfect as The Day I Tried To Live as no 1., for me, you can’t beat pure raucous energy when it comes to grunge and no song in the genre grasps that better than this masterpiece of a song. From the first crash of the cymbals, In Bloom, like many Nirvana tracks, has a very ominous tone in the verses, with Kurt’s vocals lulling in the listener’s ear. Then, as the guitar properly kicks in and we are greeted by that familiar scream, it’s just a rocket blast to the senses. However, with all that in mind, the drumming is standout for me. While I retain that the majority of Dave Grohl’s best drumming didn’t come until his time with Queens Of The Stone Age, In Bloom undoubtedly features one of his finest performances, smacking the skins with an anger I didn’t know one could have for an inanimate object. Chuck in a few troglodytic fills and hi-hat work to wear ya wrists to the bone, and you’ve got one of the best songs ever.
Lots of hugs, kisses and lacerations