Soundgarden went from a grumbling, sludgy hard rock band to a radio powerhouse within a decade. But in addition to their many hits, they have several underappreciated early treasures and deep album cuts among their greatest hits. So, with that in mind, I present my list of the ten best songs by Soundgarden.
Soundgarden’s “Outshined,” the band’s debut single, caught the Seattle foursome in a transitional sound phase between their early grungy metal rock and later polished hard rock. Chris Cornell’s incredible voice is featured prominently in the song, displaying his ability to alternate between terrifying and entrancingly commanding wailing and shouting.
With ‘Hands All Over,’
Led Zeppelin is one of the few bands that influenced Soundgarden and has been overlooked. On the other hand, anyone who has heard Soundgarden’s 1990 album “Hands All Over” will immediately recognize the debt they owe to the iconic ’70s, hard rock band. The six-minute “Hands All Over” shows that Soundgarden always aspired to write songs that could fill a stadium with a strong sound and a sweeping melody.
However, despite Soundgarden’s melodic prowess being on full show during its most commercially successful period, the band remained an even more terrifying musical force. Cornell shouts into the void, the guitars smash through the walls, and Matt Cameron’s drums hold everything together with Brontosaurus fury in the “Superunknown” album’s title track. “Superunknown” sings of a terrifying hyper-reality that “snatches your head/and then it steals your soul,” but its musical high is so compelling that you’ll gladly give up your mind and soul to enjoy it again after a time.
‘A Thousand-Year-Old Room’
Why didn’t this song become a big hit? In “Room a Thousand Years Wide,” Chris Cornell gets psychedelic while reciting the mantra “tomorrow begat tomorrow” over pieces about a mysterious criminal in his head. It begins with a scream of a guitar and ends with a flurry of horns, hinting at Soundgarden’s upcoming album, “Superunknown.”
To put it another way, this pose is called Jesus Christ.
A fantastic exception to Soundgarden’s lack of overt social critique is this “Badmotorfinger” track. Cornell slams a pious acquaintance in “Jesus Christ Pose” for trying to impose his religious views on the singer. An incoming helicopter-like sound is heard on Kim Thayil’s guitar as the song nears its grim climax.
Even if “Flower” lacks the snappy production of many of the band’s subsequent tunes, it is still a wonder as an early example of the band’s potential. There are lots of loud guitars and drums on “Flower,” which is a prelude to the grunge style later explored by Nirvana on their debut album, “Bleach.”
Said to have ‘Fell on Dark Days’
Superunknown’s “Fell on Black Days” is the album’s most clear depiction of the album’s fundamental theme: learning how to live with an unimaginable dread. While “Fell on Black Days” may appear to be nothing more than a lovely (albeit darkly textured) radio song, the growing dread that permeates the melody has an almost mesmerizing hold on the listener.
‘Demolish Everything Around You,’
On “Blow Up the Outside World,” Soundgarden pushes to extremes, alternating between a sluggish, sad verse and an explosive, fuming chorus. With the opening lyric, “Nothing/Seems to kill me/No matter how hard I try,” Cornell establishes the situation. It then becomes a tour of the split-personality emotions accompanying the sense of defeat. There are moments when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and die, and other times when all you want to do is scream.