My 10 Favorite Chris Cornell Tracks
I’m not entirely sure why I waited so long to write an article about Chris Cornell. When I heard the news that he had passed away just hours after a Soundgarden show in Detroit this past May, I was as devastated as I was confused. While no one can fully understand someone else’s depression, a large majority of Cornell’s loved ones and fans saw an incredibly openhearted and approachable guy who would never think about taking his own life. I remember first discovering Soundgarden back when I was in middle school. I was with my dad in the car, scrolling through my favorite stations on Sirius XM, eventually stopping at Lithium, where I read “Black Hole Sun,” Soundgarden.
At that point, I was familiar with a number of songs by other Seattle-based grunge/alternative rock groups like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, to name a few, but “Black Hole Sun” was something else, a seductively haunting gem in every sense of the word. My introduction to Soundgarden persuaded me to come across other Chris Cornell projects like Temple of the Dog, which consisted of Cornell and several members of then-relatively-unknown Pearl Jam, the Los Angeles rock supergroup Audioslave, and his work as a solo artist.
While Cornell now belongs to an unfortunately large group of vocalists that suffered from addiction and depression and died way too young, he will forever remain an icon of the grunge era and be remembered as one of the most affable guys in rock music. Without further ado, here are my ten favorite tracks featuring the storied musician.
“All Night Thing” - Temple of the Dog | Temple of the Dog (1991)
The closer off of Temple of the Dog’s only studio album, “All Night Thing” is instrumentally different from the remainder of the album, as it consists of drums, organ, and vocals, but the lyrics are intimate and quite compelling. This track is widely interpreted as a love song that is about a girl who, after spending a night with a guy, is unsure about whether or not she wants to start a relationship with him. This track demonstrates that heavy music comes in several forms, and Cornell certainly used that to his advantage throughout his career.
“Black Hole Sun” - Soundgarden | Superunknown (1994)
Arguably Soundgarden’s most widely recognized song and definitely one of their most radio-friendly today, “Black Hole Sun” surely stands out from an instrumental perspective when you compare it to the rest of Superunknown. The band’s use of a Leslie speaker produces an almost psychedelic guitar riff that complements Cornell’s vocals and Matt Cameron’s slow, heavy drumline beautifully. In addition, the chorus is actually quite catchy both melodically and lyrically, and Kim Thayil’s guitar solo...
“Blow Up the Outside World” - Soundgarden | Down on the Upside (1996)
There is an effective barrier between Cornell’s voice and the microphone during the verses, but once the chorus comes around, we hear how gifted the singer was. “Blow Up the Outside World” consists of yet another slow, deep drumbeat and big, powerful chords throughout. In addition, the outro reminds me of the outro of Nirvana’s “All Apologies,” as Cornell slowly repeats the phrase “Blow up the outside” eight times before the end of the track.
“Fell on Black Days” - Soundgarden | Superunknown (1994)
This track creates a bleak, dreary mental picture. Still, there seems to be perfect chemistry between the vocals and instrumentals. Despite its meaning, “Fell on Black Days” has a motor that has stuck with me since I first listened to it. The backbeat is certainly one of my favorites from Soundgarden’s entire catalog, and Cornell’s voice when he sings “How would I know / That this could be my fate?” is quite chilling.
“Nothing Compares 2 U” (Prince cover) - Chris Cornell | Live @ Sirius XM // Lithium (2015)
Covering an artist like Prince is no easy task, but Cornell, despite how far outside we believe this love song is from his comfort zone, absolutely nails it here. No, it is not a Chris Cornell song, but it is definitely one of the most moving performances I have watched in recent memory. If I had to guess, this was the most popular Chris Cornell video out there following his death, and it is not at all difficult to see why.
“Outshined” - Soundgarden | Badmotorfinger (1991)
“Rusty Cage” is a superb opener, probably my favorite opener in Soundgarden’s entire discography, but Cornell’s vocal part on the track that follows is quite extraordinary. Whenever “Outshined” comes on the radio, I can’t help but try my best to sing along to the chorus; “Show me the power child / I’d like to say / That I’m down on my knees today / It gives me the butterflies / Gives me away / Till I’m up on my feet again / I’m feeling outshined, outshined, outshined, outshined.”
“Say Hello 2 Heaven” - Temple of the Dog | Temple of the Dog (1991)
Temple of the Dog was perceived by Cornell as a tribute to his deceased friend Andrew Wood, the former lead singer of bands Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone, and the opening track, “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” was written directly for Wood. It became one of the group’s most commercially successful track, along with “Hunger Strike.” Despite this ballad’s meaning, Cornell’s vocals and the instrumental evenness make it somewhat uplifting for me.
“Searching With My Good Eye Closed” - Soundgarden | Badmotorfinger (1991)
This song may be relatively unknown to casual Soundgarden fans, but it has a killer guitar intro, making it one of the group’s most popular openers for a performance. Like “Black Hole Sun,” “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” displays elements of psych rock. Also, the bassline drives the song exceptionally.
“Seasons” - Chris Cornell | Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1992)
A contribution to the soundtrack for the romantic comedy Singles, “Seasons” was the first time anyone ever heard Cornell outside of Soundgarden. The exquisite guitar work here, along with a beautiful hook, make this track one of Cornell’s most unique songs.
“Ty Cobb” - Soundgarden | Down on the Upside (1996)
While not directly about the former baseball player, the title makes a lot of sense here. Cobb was arguably the best hitter of his generation and is undoubtedly an all-time great, but he also obtained a notoriety for racism, violence, and, in simple terms, not giving a fuck, hence the lyrics “Sick in the head sick in the mouth / And I can’t hear a word you say / Not a bit, and I don’t give a shit.” Cornell’s yells and Cameron’s energetic drumming make this track quite the adrenaline booster, and I also love that there’s a mandolin in here.