Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Yack's Top 25 Songs of the Grunge Era

This post started as part of a twitter conversation between quite a few people, and it took me almost a month to begin putting this list together. Its interesting to see where people "rank" certain songs and bands of that era- which as I define it, started when Pearl Jam's "Ten" was released (8/27/1991), and ended with the release of Third Eye Blind's debut album (4/8/1997). Putting a ranking order on these was extremely tough, in light of the magnitude of music from this era, and how these songs (and others) defined that time in my life. "Wow, that was pretty deep, Yack...." 

I've left off some songs and bands that I'm sure others would include, but this is what it is- my 25 personal faves. Feel free to grill me for the songs and/or bands I left off, that you most passionately feel should be included. Here goes:

25. Third Eye Blind "Graduate"
A good way to close out the Grunge era, and from what I can tell- and I've seen this band 5 or 6 times and I have their entire catalog- it's the most guitar heavy song in their arsenal. I think this was the song that made me eventually go out and buy their CD, after I think I was initially luke warm to the pretty poppy 'Semi Charmed Life'. Also, Stephen Jenkins- IMO, is one of the best song writers to emerge on the music scene in the last 20 years. Don't sleep on: "Motorcycle Driveby" and "Losing A Whole Year" from the same debut album.

24. Nine Inch Nails "Closer"
I'm not the biggest NIN fan, but Trent Reznor certainly made his mark on music during this time, and I think this list would be a fraud if this particular song was not on it. Its sound, lyrics, and even its video, were a staple of the Grunge Era. Trent Reznor telling the world that he was going to "fuck you like an animal" was almost as anti-establishment as Kurt Cobain's dirty blonde lockes and ripped jeans. Don't sleep on: "Wish" from the Broken album.

23. James "Laid"
The first of two English bands to make this list, the song tells of a guy's girlfriend who can only achieve orgasm when she's on top of him. Most impressive aspect of this song: lead singer Tim Booth's yoddle-like singing and emphasis on the word 'pretty'.

22. Filter "Hey Man, Nice Shot"
Richard Patrick of Filter took a cue from Trent Reznor and went all industrial/guitar rock here, and it turned out pretty well. Contrary to urban legend, he did not write this about Kurt Cobain's suicide, but it was about another dude who blew his brains out- Pennsylvania state official R. Budd Dwyer, who did so on live TV, while holding a news conference regarding his bribery conviction.
                                             Filter's inspiration

21. Rage Against The Machine "Bulls On Parade"
This song put Tom Morello's wah-pedal on the map. And as far as I know, RATM- after performing this little diddy, are the only band to be kicked off SNL prior to performing their second song. A grunge "rocker", for sure. Don't sleep on: "Killing in the Name" and "Freedom" from the Rage Against The Machine album, "Revolver" from the Evil Empire album.

20. Toadies "Possum Kingdom"
Toadies front man Todd Lewis liked to write lyrics about murders and stalking women. Yeah, I'll admit that is pretty fucked up, but the dude at least did so while implementing them into guitar heavy, catchy Grunge songs. This song, as well as the very underrated and under-heard "Tyler", could be the soundtrack to the Ted Bundy Story. Don't sleep on: "Tyler" from the Rubberneck album.

19. Porno For Pyros "Pets"
From somebody who was never that jazzed by Jane's Addiction, and also being in the minority with my opinion that Dave Navarro's best work was on the Red Hot Chili Peppers' One Hot Minute album, I too think Perry Farrell's best work was elsewhere- specifically with this song. I love how quiet and "well mannered" the music is in this song, yet the lyrics are pretty damn dark, and fucked up, and depressing- hence, grunge era classic.

18. Pavement "Cut Your Hair"
This song is the epitome of grunge, as it almost tells a story of that entire era. The lyrics talk about the crazy music scene, a drummer drowning, and cooperate intervention into music-which Kurt Cobain loathed so much. "Songs mean a lot, when songs are bought..." And this performance embedded below, is an absolute (grunge) classic, right down to the very end, when a a younger, dorkier Jay Leno causes Pavement front man Stephen Malkmus to drop his guitar.

17. Blind Melon "No Rain"
Another one of the songs in this era that will be remembered as much for the video as it will be the song itself. The song was elegantly trippy, behind the unique vocals of the late Shannon Hoon. Wanna download a money cover? Go to iTunes and purchase Blind Melon's cover of Steppenwolf's "The Pusher".

16. Smashing Pumpkins "Muzzle"
This band makes the first of its two appearances on this list, with what is my favorite song from the very excellent double disc, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and even bands like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, generally get most the credit and kudos for Grunge. However, the Smashing Pumpkins were brilliant, and Billy Corgan's song writing was second to none. Don't sleep on: "Where Boys Fear to Tread" and "1979", both from the same Mellon Collie... album.

15. Stone Temple Pilots "Sex Type Thing"
This song is the closer for almost every STP show, and deservedly so. Up tempo, silly guitar riffs, junkie lead singer running around half naked screaming, "here I come, I come, I come!" Scott Weiland was the grunge era epitome of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Don't sleep on: "Dead and Bloated" and "Plush" from the Core album.

14. Temple of The Dog "Hunger Strike"
A song that features both Eddie Vedder's baritone and Chris Cornell's high notes?  Where do I sign up? I personally didn't care for much of the other stuff on this Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Mother Lovebone collaboration, but this song is epic.
                           These two guys are pretty good singers

13. Soundgarden "Spoonman"
Inspired by a guy who played spoons on the streets for money, this song pretty much put Soundgarden on the main stream map. And Chris Cornell has some serious range. I was fortunate enough to see this band (for the first time, no less) this past summer at the Patriot Center, and it was unreal. Don't sleep on: "Outshined", "Slaves and Bulldozers", and "Searching with my Good Eye Closed" from Badmotorfinger, "The Day I Tried to Live" from Superunknown.

12. Beck "Jackass"
I bought Beck's Odelay CD at the PX at Aviano Air Force Base, Italy, in 1996 while on deployment. And the songs on it-specifically this one, remind me of being on deployment in the Mediterranean that same year. This song is so far detached from Beck's "Loser", it's frightening. Don't sleep on: "Novacane"  from the Odelay album, and "Pay No Mind" from the Mellow Gold album.

11. Collective Soul "Shine"
You could make a pretty good argument that the guitar riff from this song takes the cakes for all guitar riffs from this era. Ok, I just did. Maybe its not the best, but its pretty damn good. And this band has a silly catalog of songs. Don't sleep on: "The World I Know", "December", "Bleed", and "Reunion" all from the Collective Soul album.

10. Live "I Alone"
This is a great song, off of one of the best Grunge Era albums. Live's sound seems to be one extreme or another- rocking their balls off with songs like this one, "White Discussion", and "Dam At Otter Creek", or that soft ballad mode with songs like "Lightning Crashes" and "Dolphin's Cry". I prefer the "rocking out, loud" Live, like this one here. On a side note, I'd also say this was one of the more memorable Grunge Era videos. Don't sleep on: "White Discussion" from the same album, and "Lakini's Juice" (another balls out rocker) from the Secret Samadhi album.

9. Weezer "Undone-The Sweater Song"
I've always felt Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo was Kurt Cobain minus the drug habit and the whore for a wife. They both write/wrote very simple pop songs. And since Cobain was infamous for his ugly cardigans, I feel this song completes the comparison nicely. I love the conversation going on at the beginning of this song about "the party", and I love the guitars crescendo at the end. Don't sleep on: "Surf Wax America" and "Say It Ain't So" from the Weezer album.

8. Beastie Boys "Sabatoge"
For starters, me and my boys' high school days were spent emulating the Beasties- ala "Licensed To Ill"- from shotgunning Budweisers to ripping off the VW emblem off cars, so that we could wear it around our necks. Yes, we were fucking losers, but this grunge era Beasties classic is not. And the video was a straight up 70s cop show classic, yo. Don't sleep on: The entire Beasties catalog.

7. Oasis "Don't Look Back in Anger"
As dickish and immature as Liam Gallagher and the rest of these ass hats acted, and as blatant as they were with their attempt to rip off and look like The Beatles, I must say these blokes made some pretty god damn good music. At the end of the day, I opted to go with this piano and guitar heavy, concert sing-along,  diddy. Not as radio or pop friendly as "Wonderwall", but a more preferred classic rock element to its sound. Don't sleep on: "Columbia" and "Supersonic" from the Definitely Maybe album, "Hey Now!", "Cast No Shadow", and "Champagne Supernova" from the Morning Glory album.

6. Alice In Chains "No Excuses"
I love the sound, I love the lyrics, and every time I hear this song, I'm on Hampton Blvd. in Norfolk, delivering pizzas for Chanellos between ODU and the Norfolk Naval Base. The duet style singing by Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell is top notch here. And ironically, (according to Wiki) Cantrell wrote this song about his unstable relationship with Staley. Don't sleep on: "I Stay Away" and "Nutshell" from the Jar of Flies album, "Down in a Hole" and "Angry Chair" from the Dirt album, "Heaven Besides You" and "Again" from the Alice in Chains album.

5. Cracker "Low"
I was crucified on twitter for saying I thought this song was a "Top 3 or 4" Grunge song, but I must remain true to my convictions,  even though I'm compromising just a bit. To me, this was a classic rock song- which is another music era I love, implanted into the Grunge rock era. The lyrics are cool, the guitar riff is original, and David Lowery's voice is epically underrated. Don't sleep on: "Eurotrash Girl" from the same Kerosene Hat album.

4. Nirvana "Heart Shaped Box"
I know, I know- Kurt Cobain and Nirvana defined this era, specifically with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and its video, so how can I not have them and it number 1? Remember, this is my preference, and personally I don't even think "Teen Spirit" is the best or second best song on the Nevermind album. The music and guitars on "Heart Shaped Box" just sound like Cobain's impending death, and along with the lyrics- very dark and creepy. And the music video looked like it could've been shot by a "in his prime" Stanley Kubrick. Don't sleep on: "Lithium", "On a Plain", and "Teen Spirt" from the Nevermind album, "All Apologies" and "Scentless Apprentice" from the In Utero album.

3. Stone Temple Pilots "Interstate Love Song"
Another grunge era song that feels/sounds a lot like a classic (Southern) rock era song. In my humble opinion, STP's greatest song. This song, along with the acoustic version of "Plush", were the songs that put Scott Weiland's superior vocals on the map. Don't sleep on: "Vasoline" and "Unglued" from the Purple album, and "Tumble in The Rough" and "Trippin On a Hole In a Paper Heart" from the Tiny Music...Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop album.

2. Smashing Pumpkins "Cherub Rock"
Possibly the most recognizable opening drum sequence since Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks", building until the collision of Billy Corgan and James Iha's guitars. Just an awesome opening track from what might be the best album of the era. Don't sleep on: The entire Siamese Dream album.

1. Pearl Jam "Alive"
If "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is the song that opened up the floodgates for Grunge and the Seattle music scene, then this song was the powerful water that flowed thru once those gates flew open. Great guitars and awesome vocals by Eddie Vedder. As far as the Grunge Era goes, I personally like bands like STP and Smashing Pumpkins better, but the music Pearl Jam put out from their 1991 debut thru 1998's Yield, was unbelievably good. Seriously, show me another band in the history of rock music, whose first five albums were as strong as Pearl Jam's. I'm not sure there is one. In fact, show me the number of bands who even make five albums, let alone, that much quality music. There are not many.  Don't sleep on: "Porch", "Oceans" and "Release" from the Ten album. The entire Vs. album, and most of Vitalogy and No Code.

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