Soundgarden, arguably the most important band of the late 80s/early 90s Seattle music scene, first formed in 1984, but the roots of the band can be traced all the way over the Park Forest, Illinois in 1981. Kim Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto moved to Olympia, Washington to attend Evergreen State College, but eventually decided to move to Seattle instead, where they enrolled in the University of Washington.
Written and Compiled by: Devin
Last Updated: 2005-01-10
SOUNDGARDEN - BRIEF OVERVIEW:
The earliest incarnation of the band that would become Soundgarden was the local (and short lived) cover band the Shemps. The original lineup consisted of Hiro Yamamoto on bass, local Seattleite Chris Cornell on drums and Kim Thayil's roommate Matt Dentino on guitar. Hiro would later quit the band, being replaced by Thayil. After the Shemps broke up, Hiro and Chris (who had since become roommates) decided to form a band together with Thayil. Originally featuring Chris singing and playing drums, the kit was eventually taken over by Scott Sundquist briefly before he was replaced by the legendary Matt Cameron.
Soundgarden went on to record the Sub-Pop classics Screaming Life and Fopp, quickly inspiring many of the bands and musicians who would become the faces of the "Grunge Movement." After their first full length, Ultramega OK, was released on the Greg Ginn-founded SST label, they signed onto A&M, where they stayed the rest of their career. They released the first grunge album on a major label, Louder than Love, but shortly after original band member Hiro Yamamoto decided to quit and return to school. After a brief stint with Nirvana's former guitarist Jason Everman, Ben Shepherd became the permanent replacement. In 1991, the breakthrough year of grunge, three legendary albums were released by the three biggest Seattle bands. Nirvana's Nevermind, Pearl Jam's Ten and of course, Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger. Then in 1994 their legendary album Superunknown was released, which would sell over 5 million copies worldwide. Featuring the hits Black Hole Sun and Spoonman it became an instant classic.
Unfortunately, shortly after the tour for their final album, Down on the Upside, Soundgarden shocked fans around the world when they announced they would be breaking up on April 9, 1997. The reasons behind their breakup are still unknown today, although some of the band's last performances suggest internal conflict, possibly stemming from the always short tempered Ben. With a long, incredible and legendary 13 year career, Soundgarden will always be one of the greatest hard rock bands ever, as well as my personal favorite band of all time.
The Line-Up (with personal commentary on each member):
Chris Cornell - Lead Vocals and Rhythm Guitar; Drums very early on: Chris Cornell is one of the greatest vocalists ever. He possesses a huge range, amazing emotion, great versatility and unbelievable power. He is an excellent lyricist with mastery of the metaphor, and one of the greatest rock songwriters ever. The mastermind behind most of Soundgarden's songwriting (although Soundgarden has a lot more input from the other members than most people realize), his amazing and intricate songwriting on Superunknown make it the most complex album in their discography and very easily the best album of the 1990s. Sadly, Chris Cornell died by suicide May 18, 2017 after a concert in Detroit.
Kim Thayil - Lead Guitar: Kim Thayil isn't an over the top guitarist with supreme technical skill and jaw dropping solos, but he remains a very good player and my personal favorite member of the band. His early Soundgarden writing (he wrote almost all of the first SG tunes), while not as complex as Cornell's songwriting, is full of great riffing and creative solos. He also wrote several later songs which are all great, like 'Limo Wreck', 'Never the Machine Forever', 'Superunknown' and 'Kickstand'. Some of his solos ('Tighter & Tighter', 'Like Suicide', 'Spoonman') are unrecognized classics. Not to mention he's possibly the coolest looking guitarist ever!
Hiro Yamamoto - Bass Guitar from 1984 to 1989: Not an exceptional musician, but his bass work is solid and he has written some of Soundgarden's best early work with songs such as 'All Your Lies', 'Nazi Driver' and 'I Awake'.
Jason Everman - Bass Guitar from 1989 to 1990: He doesn't appear on any studio material with Soundgarden or Nirvana (although he's the major figure of the Bleach cover), he only played with the band during the 'Louder than Love' tour. No one likes him.
Ben Shepherd - Bass Guitar from 1990 to 1997: By far the best bassist of Soundgarden's three, he is an underrated bassist who has some excellent bass lines in songs such as' The Day I Tried to Live' and 'Burden in My Hand'. Ben is also probably coolest member of Soundgarden to watch live, he plays with his bass strap lower than anyone I've ever seen, and has a tendency for flipping out and spitting on audience members. He'd also prove to be the 2nd greatest songwriter within the band. His writing includes 'Half', a strange little tune but the PERFECT introduction to the amazing closer 'Like Suicide', the experimental and excellent 'Head Down' and the high energy 'Ty Cobb', which served as the band's final single (making "hard headed, fuck you all" their musical epitaph).
Scott Sunquist - Drums early on: Very little material with Scott drumming exists, such as the songs on 'Deep Six'. Not much to say about him.
Matt Cameron - Drums 1986 - 1997: What can you say about Matt Cameron, a brilliant drummer and musician. His sense of rhythm, use of ghost notes, technical skill and mastery of odd time signatures make him one of the best drummers in rock music. He's also a great songwriter who's written what is one of my favorite Soundgarden songs, 'Fresh Tendrils', along with such greats as 'Rhinosaur', 'Mailman' and 'Limo Wreck'.
THE STUDIO ALBUMS (ranked in order of greatness):
1. Superunknown (1994) The greatest album of the 90s, I can't say enough about it. The musicianship is superb, the songwriting is unrivaled and the track order is PERFECT. Although this album is definitely best listened to as a whole, standout tracks include Black Hole Sun, Spoonman and Like Suicide. If you don't own this album, purchase it immediately.
2. Badmotorfinger (1991) Soundgarden's heaviest album, it starts off incredibly strong, but overall it isn't as consistent as Superunknown. This is Soundgarden in their prime of musicianship, with Jesus Christ Pose, arguably the band's greatest song, showing off both Cornell's amazing vocal ability and Matt's great talent behind the drum kit. Outshined is the best riff Chris ever wrote, as well as one of the best riffs ever. The line "I'm looking California, and feeling Minnesota" remains one of the greatest rock music lines ever.
3. Down on the Upside (1997) DotU has a more modern/alternative rock sound then their other albums. This is Soundgarden's last album and is a great demonstration of the bands overall talent, featuring lots of contribution from all the members of the band. It features Kim Thayil's only song for which he wrote both lyrics and music, Never the Machine Forever, as well as classic songs Tighter & Tighter, Pretty Noose and Burden in My Hand. This album is also a great example of when vocal distortion doesn't have to sound idiotic (another great exception being Southern Man by Neil Young).
4. Ultramega OK (1988) The bands first full length album, it's not as good as their later material, but songs like Beyond the Wheel truly are amazingly well done. The band is punkier, younger and full of energy.
5. Screaming Life/Fopp (1990) A 1990 reissue of the band's first two EPs on one disk, you can really hear the band's potential. These records are early and poorly produced, and the band would eventually evolve into a much more complex band, but these early records still just genuinely kick ass. Its interesting to me how little actual punk bands succeeded on truly capturing the punk spirit like the MC5 had done on Kick Out the Jams. But these two early, incredibly important Seattle EPs are two of the best examples of a band truly capturing the spirit of punk without restricting themselves to the Sex Pistols' bland style of music.
6. Louder than Love (1989) The band's first, and grunge's first, major label release is unfortunately lacking something that their other records have. It doesn't capture the raw energy of the records before it and lacks the great songwriting of the records after it. However, the riffs are good and the lyrics (many of which mock 80s metal) are entertaining. "Big Dumb Sex" and "Full On Kevin's Mom" make fun of 80's metal better than any parody ever could.
RELATED ALBUMS (in order of relevance):
1. Temple of the Dog - Temple of the Dog (1991) Do I really need to say much about this legendary Seattle side project? This beautiful tribute to Andrew Wood features both Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron of Soundgarden. Cornell is the major figure, having written all of the album's lyrics and most of the songs. Cornell also shines above the other musicians with some of the best vocals he ever sang. This is essential listening for fans of grunge, Soundgarden, vocals or music in general.
2. Euphoria Morning - Chris Cornell (1999) Don't expect another Soundgarden album, but anyone who enjoys Temple of the Dog should also enjoy Cornell's single solo album. Some beautiful vocal performances (Steel Rain) and great songwriting (Sweet Euphoria) combine for a moody, spectacular solo effort. Also check out Chris Cornell's stunning version of Ave Maria for the compilation, A Very Special Christmas 3.
3. Deep Six - Various Artists (1985) Legendary early grunge compilation featuring songs from Soundgarden, the Melvins, Green River, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard, and the U-Men. Heretic is the only Soundgarden song not available on one of the studio albums, but it's a great song, and the rest of the album is essential listening for anyone who claims to know anything about the Seattle scene.
4. SUB-POP-200 - Various Artists 20 song compilation similar to Deep Six, its full of songs from early Sub-Pop bands, from lesser known artists like the Fluid to Nirvana, the face of the 90s. Soundgarden only contributes one song, Sub-Pop Rock City, but its an excellent and funny song, I recommend searching for some live versions which are truly excellent.
5. Live on Two Legs 2000/2003 official live bootlegs, Binaural,
Riot Act, Lost Dogs, and Live at Benaroya Hall - Pearl Jam
As everyone knows, Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam after Jack Irons was forced to leave due to health complications. Matt Cameron continues his career as an amazing drummer with Pearl Jam. The live albums are recommended over the studio albums for drumming quality. Note that Lost Dogs is a collection of B-Sides from throughout Pearl Jam's career, so Matt Cameron does not appear on every song. Matt Cameron also provides a lot of his songwriting skill to Riot Act, Lost Dogs and Binaural.
Side Projects/New Projects (in alpha. order):
1. Audioslave (Chris Cornell) 2. Dark Load (Kim Thayil) 3. Hater (Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd) 4. M.A.C.C. (McCready, Ament, Cameron, Cornell)
One shot deal that covered Hendrix's 'Hey Baby' (Land of
the New Rising Sun) for the 'Stone Free' tribute album. 5. Pearl Jam (Matt Cameron) 6. Pigeonhed (Kim Thayil) 7. Temple of the Dog (Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron) 8. The No W.T.O. Combo (Kim Thayil) 9. Tone Dogs (Matt Cameron) 10. Truly (Hiro Yamamoto) 11. Wellwater Conspiracy (Matt Cameron, w/Ben Shepherd on 1st album)
10 GREATEST SONGS:
1. Jesus Christ Pose 2. Black Hole Sun 3. Spoonman 4. Outshined 5. Rusty Cage 6. Fell on Black Days 7. Burden in My Hand 8. Pretty Noose 9. Beyond the Wheel 10. Slaves & Bulldozers
PLACEMENT ON DDD LISTS (as of 01/2005):
Greatest Grunge Bands - #1 Greatest Rock Artists of the 90s - #4 Greatest Live Rock Artists - #94 Greatest Rock Guitarists - Kim Thayil #176 Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Guitarists - Kim Thayil #112 Greatest Rock Guitar Riffs
- Outshined #24,
- Rusty Cage #43,
- Spoonman #137 Greatest Rock Guitar Solos - Black Hole Sun (Kim Thayil) #180 Greatest Rock Drummers - Matt Cameron #19 Most Skilled Drummers - Matt Cameron #73 Greatest Rock Drum Performances (all Matt Cameron)
- Jesus Christ Pose #11,
- Spoonman #80,
- Pretty Noose #89,
- She Likes Surprises #128,
- Face Pollution #194, Greatest Rock Bass Guitarists - Ben Shepherd #90 Greatest Rock Basslines - The Day I Tried to Live #53 Greatest Male Rock Vocalists - Chris Cornell #3 Greatest Rock Vocal Performances (all Chris Cornell)
- Say Hello To Heaven (TOTD) #3,
- Jesus Christ Pose #13, Slaves & Bulldozers #40,
- Hunger Strike (TOTD/with Eddie Vedder) #52,
- Beyond the Wheel #68, Steel Rain (Solo) #90,
- Limo Wreck #189 Greatest Rock Music Ensembles - #61 Greatest Rock Lyricists - Chris Cornell #36 Greatest Lyrical Performances (both Chris Cornell)
- Say Hello To Heaven (TOTD) #190,
- Outshined #291 Greatest Rock Songwriters - Chris Cornell #44 Greatest Frontmen of Rock - Chris Cornell #39 Greatest Rock Albums - Superunknown #44 Greatest Rock Guitar Albums
- Badmotorfinger #104,
- Superunknown #143 Greatest Alternative Albums - Superunknown #35 Greatest Rock Albums of the 90s
- Superunknown #1,
- Badmotorfinger #15,
- Down on the Upside #79 Greatest Rock Debut Albums - Ultramega OK #84 Greatest Metal Albums - Badmotorfinger #63 Greatest Rock Songs of the 90s
- Jesus Christ Pose #1,
- Black Hole Sun #24 Greatest Rock Songs - Jesus Christ Pose #92 Greatest Rock Anthems - Outshined #94, Sup-Pop Rock City and Rusty Cage in Honorable Mentions