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.
“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.”
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.