Today, the music world lost one of the biggest musicians of his era, a man whose distinct voice helped define Seattle's dominance on American rock in the 1990s. Below, CBC Music writers reflect on Chris Cornell's essential songs.
‘Jesus Christ Pose’
Bare-chested, arms out, face raised to sun in the middle of the desert — that image from the video of “Jesus Christ Pose” was the physical approximation of the voice that emanated out of Chris Cornell. That song, musically, was little more than a heavy jam, but Cornell’s delivery lifted it out of the jam space and into the stratosphere. While the video terrified both MTV and MuchMusic for its religious imagery, that vision of Cornell became one of the band’s most iconic ones.
— Mitch Pollock (@mitchellblack)
"Loud Love" was a perfect song to close out the '80s and set the stage for what was to come. The dissonance in the opening, the lyrics calling for volume and that incredible voice — a vocal punch that would change a generation. "Loud Love" wasn't the breakthrough moment for Soundgarden, but it was one of the crushing kicks to the door of a rock scene that needed to crash to the ground. Chris Cornell helped make it real again. What a loss.
— George Stroumboulopoulos, The Strombo Show/House of Strombo (@Strombo)
‘All Night Thing’
Temple of the Dog, the early '90s side project conceived of by Cornell and featuring members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, was a labour of love and grief. A group of Seattle musicians grieving the passing of their friend and contemporary, Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone), began to write songs and gather together to record an album of musical tributes. At the time that the Temple of the Dog project began to take shape, Pearl Jam still hadn’t formed. Vocalist Eddie Vedder had made a trip to Seattle from his home in San Diego to audition for Mookie Blaylock — the band that would eventually morph into Pearl Jam — and found himself lending vocals to the sets biggest song, “Hunger Strike.”
Temple of the Dog's musicians had no way of knowing that they were all on the verge of worldwide success. The Temple of the Dog album was released a little more than a year after Wood’s death, and it would be another year before it began to get attention in the wake of the success of Pearl Jam’s first album, Ten, and the increased attention on Seattle’s music scene, which was soon to become the epicentre of American rock music. Recorded in just 15 days, the history of Seattle’s music scene in the early '90s can’t be told without this act.
— Julian Tuck
One of the essential rock collaborations of the '90s, and maybe ever, “Hunger Strike” is a powerful duet between Cornell and Eddie Vedder. Cornell originally wrote the song, but had trouble with the vocals at a practice, so Vedder decided to step in and take the mic — and that’s when it all clicked. As Cornell once said, “History wrote itself after that.” While “Hunger Strike” is a simple, yet beautifully composed track on its own, it’s the chorus that really cements it as one of the best songs Cornell has ever put together.
— Melody Lau (@melodylamb)
‘Like a Stone’
Audioslave was one of the few supergroups that was able to forge an identity all its own, and this is the song that helped it. The band — which consisted of Cornell and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk — released three albums in six years, but it’s "Like a Stone" that is still Cornell’s highest-charting song.
— Jesse Kinos-Goodin (@JesseKG)
This song started as a fictional one written by Matt Dillon's Cliff Poncier, the grunge-rock musician in Cameron Crowe's 1992 film Singles. Pearl Jam's Jeff Ament, who had a cameo in the film, created a list of fictional song titles for Cliff's solo cassette, and Cornell — who also had a cameo in the film — took the tracklist and ran with it. He created a full cassette for Cliff, and then Crowe got a hold of it.
"Holy shit, this is Chris Cornell, as Cliff Poncier, recording all of these songs, with lyrics, and total creative vision, and he has recorded the entire fake, solo cassette," Crowe recently recalled in a Rolling Stone interview. "And it's fantastic. And 'Seasons' comes on. And you just can't help but go, 'Wow.' This is a guy who we've only known in Soundgarden. And of course he's incredibly creative, but who's heard him like this?" And he was right. You'll actually be able to buy Cornell's Poncier EP this Friday, when the deluxe edition of the Singles soundtrack is released.
— Holly Gordon (@hollygowritely)
When Cornell made that cameo in Singles, I couldn’t believe it. One of my favourite rock stars, in a movie? It was just about the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Not only does Cornell appear in a scene headbanging on the sidewalk while Matt Dillon blew out the windows in Bridget Fonda’s car with the new stereo, but Cornell then appears in the next scene, shirtless, howling this Soundgarden classic onstage at the club. Such a memorable cameo in an incredible movie, accurately capturing Seattle's music scene at the time.
— Pete Morey (@cbcpetemorey)
‘Fell on Black Days’
“Fell on Black Days” is a dark, ominous song about the glimpses of severe depression that can hit everyone, even when everything in life seems to be going OK — “Just when everyday seemed to greet me with a smile,” as Cornell sings. Ultimately, it’s also about getting through them. — JK-G
‘Black Hole Sun’
Anyone who grew up in the '90s probably has a distinct memory of seeing this twisted and unsettling music video on their TV screens. It was a Technicolor nightmare and its images were seared into our memories. But that’s not the only reason “Black Hole Sun” was one of Soundgarden’s biggest hits. While Cornell admitted that the song was written with no ideas in mind — he described it as just “playing with words for words’ sake” — there’s still something so beautiful about the way he organically strings together the lyrics to create a sombre mood underneath all those epic guitar parts. — ML
This is the song that turned Soundgarden into a revered local act in Seattle’s grunge scene to one of the biggest bands on the planet. It was originally written for the Singles soundtrack, but ultimately appeared on the band's fourth album, Superunknown, and was released as the first single. — JK-G