Top 10 Underrated Chris Cornell Songs

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Edited by Brett Buchanan

All over social media, people are calling May 18th the day the music died. As much as it still hurts nearly three weeks later to accept that Chris Cornell is gone, the music will never die. He graced the world with his voice and words.

Sales of Chris Cornell’s music have increased 550% since his shocking death. Having fronted three bands and put out several albums as a solo artist over his career, he has a very large catalog of songs. There are many ‘Top Chris Cornell Songs’ lists circulating the internet, so Alternative Nation wanted to dive a little deeper and bring more of his underrated tracks to light.

While Cornell has performed many beautiful covers, sometimes even beating the original, this list consists of all of his own works. Lyrical complexity and vocal performance are the two major qualifiers for this list.

10. Dandelion

“Dandelion” is a sweet Audioslave song. Cornell has stated, particularly while performing the tune during his solo acoustic tours, that he wrote it for his daughter before she was born. This song stands out from much of Audioslave’s catalog as it is an emotional song written out of a father’s love for his little girl.

9. When I’m Down

This song is off Cornell’s first solo album Euphoria Mourning, released in 1999. The instrumentation is gentle and quieter, giving his voice the spotlight. It’s blatantly a song about love, but most of the best songs come from love and heartache, and this emotion is reflected through his baying. The beginning of the song almost seems to come off as insulting to whoever he is singing it to “I only love you when I’m down,” until later when he admits that he’s “down all the time.” Oh, romance.

8. Let Me Drown

Superunknown is known as Soundgarden’s breakthrough album, as many of their most famous tracks were spawned from it. Overshadowed by tracks like “Black Hole Sun” and “Fell on Black Days” are several hidden gems as well. “Let Me Drown” is the opening song on the album and has a very upbeat tempo for such a gloomy title. In addition to the catchy rhythm, the lyrics are uniquely poetic: “So give up to greed, you don’t have to feed me/Yeah, give up to fate, you don’t have to need me.”

7. Wide Awake

Featured on Audioslave’s third album Revelations, “Wide Awake” is a politically-inspired song about ignorance, mainly directed at the Bush administration after Hurricane Katrina. Cornell expresses his disappointment with the government, “I find you guilty of the crime of sleeping in a time when you should have been wide awake.”

6. Zero Chance

Down on the Upside was Soundgarden’s final album of the 90’s before they disbanded until 2010. “Zero Chance” is a gloomier song off of it, and it has an eerie sound, but it’s beautiful at the same time. Cornell always had a way of making the worst emotions somehow sound pleasant, while connecting with his listeners and reminding them that it’s okay to be down. The lines “born without a friend/and bound to die alone” take on a whole new meaning now.

5. Black Rain

“Black Rain” was Soundgarden’s first song to be released since 1996’s Down on the Upside. It was featured on the Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock video game, and for very good reason as the guitar riffs are eccentrically fascinating. Additionally, Cornell screams the entire song, proving that the old Soundgarden was back in action and his vocal chords hadn’t fallen victim to age (while many vocals on the track were recorded in 1991, there were new vocals as well) – as those of most musicians with a similar style of singing tend to do. While this song’s message isn’t entirely clear because the word choice is quite unique, you can’t help but be intrigued by lines like “You can’t stutter when you’re talking with your eyes.”

4. Exploder

Audioslave’s signature pounding tempo along with Cornell’s screaming makes “Exploder” an absolute powerhouse of a song. The structure of the lyrics is also unique as well: the verses are in narrative form while the choruses seem to be a reflection based on those stories. The lines in the chorus are what I find the most alluring because he talks about being disciplined and right-minded as if it’s a bad thing – “If you’re free you’ll never see the walls/If your head if clear you’ll never free fall/If you’re right you’ll never fear the wrong/If your head is high you’ll never fear at all,” and it’s true. Experience is what makes us wise.

3. Murderer of Blue Skies

Higher Truth would end up being the last album Cornell put out before his passing. A collection of softer, mostly acoustic songs, the whole record focuses on his everlasting strong vocals. We don’t quite know who or what inspired such lyrics as “I can’t wait to never be with you again/I can’t wait to lead a life that you’re not in,” but we know this is probably the nicest sounding “fuck you” song we’ve ever heard.

2. Call Me a Dog

As Cornell was mainly focusing on heavier grungey riffs with Soundgarden in the 90’s, his side project Temple of the Dog gave him the chance to show his sensitive side. Inspired by the passing of Cornell’s former roommate Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone, Temple of the Dog released a single album in 1990 and composed several songs about the passing of the late Wood. “Call Me a Dog” stands out as a heart-aching song that discusses a hypocritical relationship with sorrowful, echoing vocals, and a slow beat. As it progresses it has a more dramatic buildup where we hear his signature screams that we only wish we could imitate.

1. Beyond the Wheel

“Beyond the Wheel,” from Soundgarden’s debut album Ultramega OK, is one of the best songs the band ever performed live. The thundering guitar intro, the creeping drumbeat, and Chris Cornell’s vocals that go from a bellowing growl to a wailing scream. While I assume most Soundgarden fans know this song, the rest of the world needs to as well. The first time I heard this live was the first time I had heard it at all, and I was so amazed by his singing. He was 48 at the time, and this performance settled in my mind that he was the best rock and roll singer – ever. April 29th was the last time I would hear Chris Cornell sing live, and all I hoped for throughout the entire set was to hear this song. After an hour and a half, he approached the stage and said, “We got one more for you. This is called ‘Beyond the Wheel.’” Thanks for giving me the opportunity to hear it one last time, Chris.

  • Sergio Karakenio

    *Like*

  • RUFKM?

    Couldn’t agree more with 1, 2, 8, and 9. I would also offer up “Tighter and Tighter”, “Boot Camp”, “Disappearing One”, and “Bones of Birds”, among others.

  • Keith.

    So many great songs but I’d have to add Wooden Jesus and Gun somewhere to the list. Beyond the Wheel is a great number one and for your sake am glad you got to hear it one last time. I did, too, unexpectedly, a couple years back in Atlanta.

    • nomad

      I love Wooden Jesus!

  • Billy

    many lists could be made from his body of work, here are some more:#1 Zero, Taree, Shadow on the Sun, Ghosts, Ordinary Girl, Pillow of your Bones, Through the Window, Uncovered, Mood for Trouble, Misery Chain

    • larry cornwater

      Shadow On The Sun fa sho.

      This scene from the movie Collateral: https://youtu.be/0DKX-2pa-UE

      Probably one of my favorite uses of rock music in a film ever.

      • Billy

        i’ve given it a lot of thought over the years and Shadow is my all time fave song. From the haunting start to the soul shattering screams at the end, it is a masterpiece, but i do prefer Tom’s solo on the Civilian demo over the final version

    • Frodo’s Finger

      Mood for Trouble is really great, so is Little Joe… there are just so many. I find it to be an insurmountable task, ranking them in my mind – when I often find myself surfing through his body of work almost entirely based on my mood. Then there’s the great number of covers throughout his career both in front of a band and as a solo artist, the greatest covers to ever grace my ear I think.

      The sentiment is nice with this #10 list but these are easily among their most recognised and accepted tracks, far from being underrated, nearly the opposite. Not that I don’t love them just the same or that I don’t appreciate the tribute on its face.

      His cover of Terry Reid’s version of Stay With Me Baby is pretty special, and I recently heard his rendition of Going to California, his nth Zeppelin cover, in a clip from his Higher Truth tour which was also nice.

      • Billy

        he also did a cover of All i have to do is dream with Rita Wilson. He sings backup and his voice is so subdued, it’s gorgeous. I really wish he had done more duets

        There are 100’s of songs that he performed and almost every gamut of emotion covered, truly one of the most talented musicians ever

    • #1 Zero is fucking great!

  • Lore

    *Great, thanks*

  • Stone Gossardish

    Exploder is awesome, but there’s no doubt the all time overrated CC song, Black Hole Sun. As many know, it’s a nice song but not nearly his/their best work.

  • larry cornwater

    Those 2 are probably my favorites off Audioslave’s first 2 albums. Dandelion is just such a rad, uplifting tune. And then Exploder’s all “met a man who had a face that looked a lot like me, met him in the mirror and I fought him in the street, and when he turned away I shot him in the head, then I came to realize I had killed myseeellllfff”

    Damn. RIP.

  • nomad

    All good stuff. I really need to check out more Audioslave. I didn’t listen to them much. I also feel like a total idiot for not appreciating Higher Truth more! I was more in the mood for face peeling Soundgarden music when it was released so I just didn’t give it a chance. Now I am full of regret because I think it is loaded with great songs. Don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone I guess.

    • Vassago Gamori

      You are in for a bittersweet treat; hadn’t revisited my Audioslave discs in almost a decade–found many forgotten treasures and new appreciations. Also, re-invigorated about his solo stuff; easy to get lost among the vast garden of his sound now…

  • T Thomas

    Back in the day, after eagerly opening up the cassette tape of Superunknown and pushing play, the second I heard the riff of “Let Me Drown”, I knew it’d be an awesome album. 23 years+ on, that song along with rest of the album remains a sonically satisfying experience. RIP CC!

  • Hutttrash

    This is his best cover. https://youtu.be/7mVZyPSaYug