Why Chris Cornell Is The King Of Grunge


Edited by Brett Buchanan, photo by Dustin Halter.

If there is anyone who deserves the current title of the “king of Grunge,” or “king of rock and roll,” – it’s Chris Cornell.

Perhaps one of the most distinguishable voices in rock and roll history, Chris Cornell has outdone his contemporaries in several ways.

His Range

First and foremost, his range. It’s incredibly extensive, and he implements it into many of his songs by growling deeply and belting high. “Beyond the Wheel” by Soundgarden is a great example of this, especially the live version. While Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Scott Weiland, and Layne Staley were the other main signature voices of the Grunge era and all have their own distinct vocal styles, Cornell’s range and crisp sound make his the most extraordinary.

His Lyrics

Not only is he an outstanding singer, but a gifted and poetic songwriter. From social issues to sweet songs about his daughter and family, none of his verses sound forced or nonsensical like many other singers.

He Put Grunge On The Map

Lastly, his success with multiple projects. He founded Soundgarden in the mid-80’s and they got a major label deal only a few years later, ultimately making them the first band to establish the Seattle Grunge scene, contrary to the arguments of many Nirvana fans. In 1990 he also formed Temple of the Dog to honor the late Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone. They put out one self-titled record in 1991.

His Second Act With Audioslave

After five studio albums, Soundgarden broke up in 1997, and Cornell pursued a solo career. He put out Euphoria Morning in 1999, and then founded the supergroup Audioslave with members of Rage Against The Machine in 2001. Audioslave’s overall vibe was not as dark as Soundgarden’s, but instead was energetic and aggressive rock and roll. Cornell utilized much more distortion in his singing to give the sound a more raw style, as heard in songs like “Cochise.” The pounding riffs and his iconic vocals established Audioslave as one of the most popular bands of the 2000’s. They put out three records before calling it quits in 2007.

He’s Still On Top Of His Game

After his split with Audioslave, Cornell put out two more solo records: 2007’s Carry On and 2009’s Scream. In 2011, he released the popular live album Songbook, which featured his acoustic solo performances that he still does to this day. Soundgarden reunited in 2010, and went on tour in 2011. 2012 saw the release of King Animal.

Since 2015, Chris Cornell has done more for rock than any musician in years. He fronted Mad Season’s Sonic Evolution reunion show in Seattle, he put out another solo record, Higher Truth, in the fall of 2015, touring extensively behind it for the next year, until he went on tour with Temple of the Dog in the fall of 2016 to honor 25 years of their sole album. With only eight dates, the tour sold out in minutes.

Additionally, A series of Soundgarden festival performances were announced toward the end of the year for 2017 in which will also feature bands like Metallica, Def Leppard, and Korn. Last week saw Audioslave’s first performance in twelve years, when they performed a reunion set at Los Angeles’s Anti-Inaugural Ball. And finally, Soundgarden plans to release a new album at the end of 2017.

Cornell has also done collaborations over the years with artists like Slash, Carlos Santana, Zac Brown Band, and more over in recent years.

Chris Cornell has explored various styles of rock music throughout his career, and he has made it clear that he isn’t finished yet. With over fifty singles at 52 years old, his voice, which is still going strong, prove that he is Grunge and rock’s modern king.

  • Great article about a great man!

  • Eddie Yarler

    I’m grateful him and Vedder are still around but no one dethrones Cobain. He’s not my favorite 90’s musician, but without him no one would care about Grunge. Whether he wants to be or not, he is the king of Grunge.

  • Lucky Neko

    And he still has that hair! Nice one, thank you 🙂

  • Billy

    To this day one of my fave things is to try to sing along with any of his albums, it is a great lesson in humility.
    Another reason he is the King of Grunge was that he had his stamp all over it. Cobain stated Soundgarden as an influence, Cornell produced a Screaming Trees album, he recorded with AIC (right turn), he did Temple.
    He’s had an amazing career, can’t wait to see what he has in store next

  • azhog

    All you have to do to know that he is, and so to is Soundgarden, is listen to Badmortorfinger. That album digs up sludge that no one knew was there, or even wanted to find out about. It is genius.

  • Tanner Hower

    Great article. Cornell doesn’t often get the recognition he deserves

  • kfahymusic

    He utilized more distortion in his singing? huh?

    • IrregularJohn

      Yeap, that was an eye-roll moment for me too. More like his voice was so abused by that point that he sounded crappy. He sounds way better now than he did with Audioslave.

  • drew a

    Yes absolutely we should no longer refer to Chris whatsoever by his name and call him the king of grunge. He should wear a crown and anytime referencing him we should reference him as such. Example: “Wow the king of grunge was amazing in Temple of the Dog last night!” or “did you hear about the king of grunges’ new solo tour?” Or possibly the artist formerly known as Chris Cornell could go by a symbol of a crown and flannel shirt!

  • Eddie Yarler

    Haha I know, I pretty much just blew off the author. I don’t deny that at all. Chris is way more talented than Cobain, and Vedder and Grohl for that matter too. However, Nirvana is and always will be what people think of when they think of alternative rock. I don’t think that will, or ever should change. Soundgarden got there first, but Nirvana gave people a reason to look.

    • IrregularJohn

      Grohl is more talented than Cobain when it comes to drumming – that’s certain. When it comes to songwriting not so much. And I’m not even a fan of Nirvana. Out of the Seattle’s Big Four I don’t even count Nirvana as part of the four, to me it’s AIC, PJ, SG and Screaming Trees and Mark Lanegan in no particular order.

      • Eddie Yarler

        Any specific reason why you don’t count Nirvana? I’m glad you put Screaming Trees. Even though they weren’t tight friends with the other five bands mentioned, I think Candlebox should be referred to as a ‘pure’ Grunge band being they were actually from Seattle.

        • IrregularJohn

          Not for any specific reason, to me Nirvana had a handful of good songs but as a whole is just not interesting to me as it was kind of gimmicky (i.e. sudden “loud-quiet” vocal changes and loads of guitar distortion) but from a song-writing standpoint I don’t think it was very good. In fact their MTV Unplugged where they played mostly covers I think is their best record.
          Screaming Trees on the other hand is just more up my alley, besides Lanegan was a part of Mad Season and QOTSA, both bands that I love.

          • Eddie Yarler

            No harm in that. Red Hot Chili Peppers are pretty much to me what Nirvana is to you. The public really hypes up the talent for certain bands. Mad Season’s Above is perfect. I’ve just started checking out Queens. They will have a great legacy.

          • IrregularJohn

            Indeed. RHCP is another perfect example. Queens was great when it was this sort of ensemble cast of familiar and frequent faces, namely when it had the foundation of Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri and Mark Lanegan and I felt it was the best with the first 3 drummers they had – Alfredo Hernandez on the Self-Titled debut record, Gene Trautmann on Rated R and Dave Grohl on Songs For The Deaf.

            Although I like Lullabies a lot and like most of Era Vulgaris it’s not the classic QOTSA. It’s a shame Josh didn’t get Gene back after Songs For The Deaf when Dave had to get back to Foo Fighters. And sacking Nick Oliveri – man that was a huge mistake, the band lost its balls and mojo right after.

            In my mind you can’t compare what Josh is to QOTSA with Trent Reznor being the mastermind behind NIИ. It’s just not the same. QOTSA has always been a group effort whereas with NIИ you got Trent pulling the strings and just replacing live members from time to time.

  • IrregularJohn

    Ever since his acoustic set in Sweeden in 2006 and his cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” I started to think he’s the only one who could team up with Jimmy Page and actually could do Led Zeppelin material justice when Jimmy Page and JPJ were going to tour with Jason Bonham. Too bad it didn’t materialise.

  • Trovoid

    Best vocalist, songwriter, and lyricist out of that scene in my opinion. Soundgarden has the most colorful catalog and not many other bands have had such an impact on me.

  • dakotablue

    Yes he’s great but why is Chris the King of Grunge? Because King Kurt and King Layne are dead.
    As far as Soundgarden being first to put Seattle Grunge on the musical map, Bleach was right on the heels of Ultramega OK. I call a tie.