On Wednesday 16th January 2019, thousands of people gathered at the Inglewood Forum in LA to celebrate the life and music of Chris Cornell. These many fans would be treated to nearly 5 hours of music spanning the entirety of Cornell’s back catalogue, as well as a handful of covers and original songs from the likes of Metallica, Foo Fighters, Ryan Adams and many more. As well as these bands, the night saw sets from the most well known of the bands Chris Cornell has fronted: Temple of The Dog, Audioslave, and a very emotional return for the remaining members of Soundgarden, who were sharing a stage for the first time since Cornell passed back in May of 2017.
In the week since, I’ve found myself watching and rewatching videos from the night countless times, and listening to as much of Cornell’s work as possible. His voice was unique, the second you heard it anywhere you knew exactly who was singing. And his songwriting was brilliantly eclectic, often pairing groovy or doomy structures with melancholic or heart-melting lyrics. He was a defining voice of his generation, a major player in the late 80’s/early 90’s Seattle music scene that led to the world changing Grunge genre, and above all else he always came off as a genuinely kind soul who really took time to think about questions and answers in interviews.
Image via http://www.chriscornell.com
Yet, I personally can’t shake the feeling that I wish more people knew MORE of Chris Cornell. In 2019, does your average joe know much about Soundgarden? Do today’s teenagers know that Audioslave were even a thing, considering they disbanded back in 2007? More desperately, should anyone care about these bands in 2019? Well, I think they should. Sure, a good number of people may know ‘Black Hole Sun’, but that’s only 1 song in a career that spanned over 30 years, and I’ve always felt you should dig at least a little deeper when you find a song you like.
My aim today is to share some of the songs that Chris Cornell has had a hand in creating that I think more people should listen to, and hopefully open people’s eyes to an artist they may never have given a second thought about. This is neither a beginner’s guide nor a deep cuts collection. These are songs that maybe didn’t get as much radio airplay, album tracks that I think could have been put forward for the masses, and a couple of singles that are often overlooked. So, if you’ve ever found yourself grooving along to ‘Spoonman’ or headbanging to the outrageous noise of ‘Cochise’ but have never thought to go beyond the songs fed to you on a platter, this might just be the list for you.
When Bad Does Good
Let’s start with the most recent track on my list, ‘When Bad Does Good’. This song was released posthumously in 2018, and it’s a really beautiful track. The lyrics tell the story of a man who posits that he’s going to have to do some bad things to reach the good things he hopes to achieve for himself and those around him. It’s got an incredibly sombre and melancholic tone, and combined with the knowledge that Chris is no longer here, it’s an incredibly emotional listen.
Live to Rise
Let’s jump back to 2012 now, and listen to the first Soundgarden song on this list. ‘Live to Rise’ was the first new material the world got to sink its teeth into following Soundgarden’s revival in 2010, and what better way to re-introduce yourselves to the world than having your first new song in 16 years attached to one of the year’s biggest movies, Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ (or ‘Avengers Assemble’ for those of us in the UK and Ireland). It’s a riff-led hard rocking track, and is often overlooked by most simply because it doesn’t appear on an album.
Set It Off
In 2001, Chris Cornell joined forces with 3 quarters of the band Rage Against the Machine to form Audioslave. Cornell’s voice with the instrumental section of RATM proved to be an incredible fit, and in 2002 they released their debut album, ‘Audioslave’, featuring massive hits like ‘Cochise’ and ‘Show Me How to Live’. I wouldn’t say any of this album is necessarily overlooked, but with the track list being frontloaded with the more radio-ready tracks, some latter tracks could easily be forgotten. ‘Set It Off’ starts off sounding like something you may hear in a Sonic The Hedgehog game, but quickly gives way to a groove-oriented stomper, with a stadium ready chorus that I get stuck in my head regularly.
You Know My Name
This could potentially be the most well-known song on this list, but in spite of that, a good number of people may not even realise the significance of the man singing it. ‘You Know My Name’ serves as the ‘Bond Theme’ for Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond, ‘Casino Royale’, and having only seen the film for the first time very recently, I can say the lyrics fit the film perfectly. This is up there with the very best of Cornell’s solo tracks, and I may be biased, but this is definitely my favourite Bond song (Garbage coming a close second because I’m very predictable). I wonder how many people have heard this song yet have no idea who Soundgarden or Audioslave are?
Back to 1996 now, and Soundgarden’s fifth studio album ‘Down on The Upside’. This was a more experimental album for Soundgarden, and fused their grungier tones and odd time signatures with different instruments and genres to make a collection of songs that can be seen as uneven or brilliant, depending on your taste. Several of my favourite Soundgarden songs appear on this album, the main of which is ‘Ty Cobb’, one of the bands most Punk-influenced offerings. It lulls you into a false sense of security with an intricate and lovely mandolin and mandola based intro, before knocking your head clean off with the immediate thrash and speed of the guitars when they suddenly arrive. I implore any of you not to hear the chorus’ ‘Hard headed, F**k you all’ refrain and not want to mosh your brains out.
By Crooked Steps
In late 2012, Soundgarden released their long-awaited comeback album, ‘King Animal’. At the time it garnered mostly positive reviews, but in the years since it appears to have been forgotten by a good number of people. Personally, I really like it, and I think most of the songs sit comfortably in Soundgarden’s catalogue without too many raised eyebrows. The standout song for me on this album is ‘By Crooked Steps’, a song which is lyrically rather dark, whilst musically is rather up-tempo. On top of this, the song lends itself to one of my favourite Soundgarden music videos, which shows a sense of humour the band weren’t particularly known for having, let alone showing, probably brought about by the video’s director, Dave Grohl.
Doesn’t Remind Me
This is one of the most straight forward Rock songs that Cornell ever had a hand in. ‘Doesn’t Remind Me’ appears on Audioslave’s 2005 album ‘Out of Exile’, and is a song that never fails to put me in a good mood. It’s boasts a blistering guitar solo from Tom Morello and lyrics that are just crying out to be to sung along to. For my money, it’s one of Cornell’s best vocal performances; whereas he is perhaps better known for being able to wail like a demon, it’s in how reserved and held back the delivery is here that the song really finds its grounding.
Pushin’ Forward Back
In 1991, Chris Cornell formed the band Temple of The Dog with members who were about to go on and form Pearl Jam, and they released a self-titled album full of songs Cornell had written in the wake of his roommate’s death the year before. It’s an album that isn’t known by a large amount of people in 2019, but it’s really good and I’d recommend the whole thing to anyone willing to listen. Songs like ‘Hunger Strike’ and ‘Say Hello To Heaven’ may be more widely regarded nowadays, but my favourite has always been ‘Pushin’ Forward Back’, a track that’s just built for budding bands to cover and jam to in their garage.
Searching with My Good Eye Closed
Assuming singles are off the table, if someone came up to me and asked me to give them a song that best represented Soundgarden’s overall sound, this is the one I would give them. Across its 6-and-a-half-minute runtime, you get an extended intro featuring farmyard animals, groove laden verses, soaring vocal lines attached to Cornell’s customary lyrical style that requires a bit of thinking to dig into, and a masterclass in Soundgarden’s approach to instrumentation. Some people have told me this is a bit much for them, and I think it’s mostly down to its runtime. But that aside, I think it’s a pretty easy song to listen to in a catalogue that often features songs that aren’t as user-friendly.
Not to be confused with the song ‘The Promise’ by Cornell himself, this is a song that features on the 2010 solo album by renowned guitarist Slash. Slash wrote the music here, but not having a singer for his band lined up, he opted to bring in a bunch of guest vocalists to write vocals and sing. ‘Promise’ is Cornell’s guest turn on the album, and features a beautiful lyric on the subject of empowerment, and is a standout treat on an album that is frankly full of brilliant guest turns.
Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart
The final song on my list comes from Cornell’s 2015 solo album ‘Higher Truth’, an album that held a much more stripped back and acoustic sound, and also turned out to be the last studio album he would release across all of his bands. It’s ostensibly a song about bitterness in the aftermath of a relationship, and how every time you think you’re nearly over it, something reminds you of the time and the bitterness comes back all over again. Cornell is on brilliant form here, and it’s yet another example of bittersweet/melancholic lyrics sitting happily on top of upbeat and catchy music.
There we have it, 11 songs from across Chris Cornell’s various projects that I think anyone interested to dive into his work a little more should check out. I hope you’ve enjoyed most, if not all, of these songs and are inspired to go and listen to even more from the many albums his name is attached to. Across the diversity of his many bands and solo work, one thing remained constant – Chris Cornell, duh! But as obvious as it is to say that, his uniqueness elevated everything he did, his voice shone bright over every song he was a part of, and it’s likely that never again will there be a voice quite like his again. RIP Chris Cornell, and thank you for the music.
By Matt Dobbie