Starting from last year and up until now, it´s no wonder that some of us have been feeling a bit down and extremely uninspired. That caused some to search for new ways towards creativity and fresh inspirations; however, on the other side of the coin, there are a few like me who have found their inspirations way back in time. Time and again, ´90s music has always been there to save me from pitfalls of despair and quite ironically that is just grunge for me. So I thought I might shake things up a bit, take a break from new releases and lay down this top -10 list for you guys that´s yearning for the simpler times! 🙂 I know there are definitely more less-mainstream grunge bands & albums out there that were very influential from the 90s naming a few from Gruntruck, Green River, Tad, Days Of The New, Skunk Anansie, Candlebox, Melvins, Screaming Trees, and Mother Love Bone but then again the records below helped shape how I learned about the whole scene and helped shape eventually who I am as a big fan of the tunes and the times.
10. Bush – Sixteen Stone
One of the many debut albums that reached huge success in the 90s and made them one of the pillars of the grunge scene from then onwards. Surprisingly from England, Bush released their debut studio album in 1994. Grunge having made a huge impact in the US, the band spent most of their time touring across the US though during the 90s. Gavin Rossdale dating Gwen Stefani from No Doubt in the 90s also made them somehow visible in the US scene. First I had heard Comedown off the album and fell in love with it. Machinehead, Glycerine also gained heavy rotation on the radios. The latter song has ended up being one of the anthems of those distinct times. Check this record if you haven´t heard what grunge is like from the UK.
9. Mad Season – Above
Layne Staley, Mike McCready and Barrett Martin from Screaming Trees formed this supergroup for just one record only during their probably dormant time in 1994. “Above” definitely attracted some cult following at the time and still has a great place carved in the halls of fame of grunge. River Of Deceit, Wake Up, I´m Above and I Don´t Know Anything are the shining diamonds from the album. The sound of the record leans toward a more bluesy mood in general even though I Don´t Know Anything is an instant grunge classic with sleazy riffs and a grunge-y rhythm and Staley´s trademark whinging, haunting vocals. It´s definitely one of the rare supergroup records that left its dent in grunge history. There is one more of those albums in this list and it´s just right up.
8. Temple Of The Dog – s/t
If I just wrote down the names of these songs; Hunger Strike and Say Hello To Heaven, most of us would probably be moved to tears or stricken with grief due to Chris Cornell´s sudden and unexpected death by suicide. This album was written and dedicated to Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone by his friends in 1991 after his overdose that caused his death, and now you can´t possibly listen to this record without thinking of Cornell that made him share the same fate with Andy Wood… He was a close friend of Cornell and Eddie Vedder´s roommate. Hence the duo created the duet dedicated to him; Hunger Strike that is now such a classic and it´s famous for the unattainable vocal performance (by Cornell) attempted by most cover artists. You should check out legendary last live performances of the song by Cornell and Vedder on Youtube before Cornell´s death in 2017. All of the tracks on this album are absolute classics in my opinion, Call Me A Dog, Times of Trouble, All Night Thing and Your Savior to name a few. I guess we can count ourselves lucky to have been blessed with many various projects of Cornell he left us before his death like this one.
7. Pearl Jam – Ten
Okay, “Ten” is probably the most prominent album of the ´90s next to Nirvana´s “Nevermind” that left its mark and became absolutely iconic for its style and sound. I don’t know, it´s hard to explain what PJ did to become so iconic in the ´90s but I can say they definitely captured the zeitgeist whether unintentionally or not. Maybe it´s Vedder monkey-climbing on stage sets and then his infamous stage dives? 🙂 It´s even more fascinating when you think about this is a debut album and absolutely one of the most successful debuts ever in history. Jeremy capturing the most attention and success, Even Flow, Alive and Black became the cult classics they are today. Whenever grunge is mentioned either as a style or sound, you can´t really skip Pearl Jam and their “Ten”!
6. Nirvana – In Utero
Perhaps many of grunge fans would include “Nevermind” in their top 10 grunge albums list from Nirvana and the name “Nirvana” is almost eponymous with grunge and anything by Nirvana should have been #1 in this list but this is unfortunately a highly personal opinion-piece 🙂 So here it is; “In Utero” made my cut not solely because Heart-Shaped Box that is, to me, one of the most beautiful songs ever written, but because tracks like All Apologies, Dumb (unplugged versions), Rape Me and Scentless Apprentice shaped my high school years before I got into the whole Nu Metal thing. “In Utero” summarizes Nirvana for me and highlights the times that I was discovering Nirvana chronologically in reverse.
5. Silverchair – Frogstomp
Silverchair is the only Aussie grunge act in this list and maybe the only one ever in the grunge genre? “Frogstomp” is released in 1995 and it is their debut album which the band members have recorded in 9 days at the age of 15. It´s unreal at the times if you think about it… However, the band mastered their art quite admirably and had themselves taken seriously in the scene because of their sound, songwriting and great grunge vocals of Daniel Jones. They toured extensively because of it in Europe and North America during the 90s. Frogstomp clearly took inspirations from the likes of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and it shows on the tracks such as Israel´s Son and Faultline. Of course the star of this album is Tomorrow and with that track I fell in love with Silverchair. This album rocks and I absolutely still love it after 26 years of its release.
4. Stone Temple Pilots – Core
So many debuts on this top-ten! And this is definitely one of the bests; Core. DeLeo brothers structured this gem of a record in 1992. The lyrics were also written by the bombastic singer and infamous frontman Scott Weiland. STP might not be considered “grunge” by some, they have always been on my most fave grunge bands line-up. Can you even believe that with this debut, Weiland was compared to Eddie Vedder of PJ even though, in my opinion, he carries no similarities neither in style nor regarding his vocals? They were definitely the love child of the 70s boheme rock and sluggish 90s. Plush, Wicked Garden, Dead & Bloated and Crackerman are the absolute bangers of the album. Creep is such an underrated song. It is a gift when feelings are numb and when you just need to feel something. Piece of Pie riffs got inspired from heavier tunes and happened to be an inspiration to many upcoming renowned metal riffs, I´m sure. This is a banging record all around.
3. The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
“Siamese Dream” was the sophomore record by The Smashing Pumpkins after a very mature debut “Gish”. I don´t know why but most of my favorite bands have the most mature debuts of all time. And with this record Corgan trademarked his signature guitar tuning that started with his very distinct “Gish” sound. These guys were, if not the most infamous band with such distinctive members like the frontman Billy Corgan and great guitarist James Iha and the stylish bass player D`arcy Wretzky. Just watch one of their music videos from this era, you´ll know what I mean. And Butch Vig having produced this record also speaks volumes about the era and the sound style; smells like the 90s rock indeed! e.g. : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nevermind. If I do not talk about a few of my favorite songs ever, this will be in vain. Hummer, Soma and Mayonaise. They really encapsulate the era for me with their emo input of mood through lyrics, Corgan´s unique voice, and meticulous production sound that each instrument is so clear especially bass and even every note of the distorted guitars. It´s said that Corgan was so stuck on perfection on this album that he, at one point recorded every single instrument himself cause he didn´t like the band version! That sounds like Billy. These 3 tracks I have just mentioned are not even released singles but they are the most amazing ones off the record in my humble opinion. Just perfection. Thank you Butch Vig, Corgan and his OCD 🙂
2. Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger & Superunknown
This is a bit unusual but rules are for breaking, right? My Top 2 are shared by 2 separate albums by the same band. God knows, I debated it whether SG or AIC should be the runner up, but that´s how ordinal numbers go so here it is;
When you hear Soundgarden, you simply cannot help thinking of the 90s and the eerie music video of Black Hole Sun. Cornell´s harrowing and tasteful screeches definitely make Soundgarden. I know Kim Thayil is a world-class guitarist and Matt Cameron is impeccable everytime but we should talk about how Chris Cornell is the most amazing singer of all time. Yes, he is originally a grunger and a great musician but have you ever heard his solo stuff? He proved again and again he was a great singer-songwriter too just like his buddy Jeff Buckley whom he admired so much.
With the help of Cameron Crowe flick “Singles” soundtrack, Soundgarden started playing countrywide and got into mainstream with Birth Ritual from “Badmotorfinger“. Just go on Youtube and watch the live performance from “Singles” Bluray release, it will transport you directly to a live club in Seattle. Badmotorfinger blessed us with amazing songs like Outshined, Jesus Christ Pose and Slaves & Bulldozers (the last song ever performed live by Cornell). They are heavy, melodic and foreshadowing of an upcoming boom that would be called Superunknown in 1994.
Yeah, Superunknown got the band in the mainstream and with the heavy rotations of MTV, and the trademark music videos. It still rocked so hard with such a unique sound. Superunknown showcased that no band can imitate SG soundwise. Black Hole Sun just might be the biggest grunge hit right alongside with Smells Like Teen Spirit and Jeremy. But it definitely is the most unique out of these three- Fell on Black Days is a 90s depressing classic with amazing belting out by Cornell. Spoonman, The Day I Tried to Live, apocalyptic Limo Wreck and 4th of July just shine bright. Like Suicide might be the only song besides STP´s Creep that gets me down everytime but lifts me up right after because it´s just so good. Bless his soul, Cornell lives forever in our ears as long as humans live on this earth.
1. Alice In Chains – Dirt & Black Gives Way To Blue
While writing this piece, album by album, band by band, I got so stoked for each of them and wrote my reviews ecstaticly `cause I love all those bands but at the same time dreaded this moment so much because there is no other band than Alice In Chains that I get so passionate about that I become speechless, can´t possibly find the proper words to describe my favorite band ever on earth. I am not sure if I used the word “masterpiece” in this article before but it just is the most fitting word for these two records.
“Dirt” was the sophomore record that came after the successful debut “Facelift” (which I also debated if I should include here) which carved the band´s name with bold letters in the history of rock and metal all thanks to the amazing voice of Staley and Cantrell´s out-of-this world quality riffs. There is no grunge scene without Dirt in Seattle, there is no Dirt without the grunge in Seattle. These components are so inseparable from one another. Even it can compete with Nirvana´s “Nevermind” regarding the scale of its impact on the scene and around the world. My faves are, of course, instantly recognizable Would?, the title track Dirt, (gotta love those sludgey guitars), Dam That River and Rain When I Die. These are at least the ones I can listen to without drowning in depression. I cannot simply listen to Down in A Hole and Rooster without feeling so down anymore. It´s a different feeling, I feel like I might be able to listen to them when I finally feel that nothing can hurt me. They are special like that- If you think I probably won´t get this emotional talking about “Black Gives Way To Blue”, please listen to the record again. 🙂
After Staley´s demise back in 2002, the band gathered and decided to include a new member who is the singer and rhythm guitarist William Duvall in 2006 and released a first album without Layne on the vocals in 2009; “Black Gives Way To Blue”. When I think about most songs including the track title was dedicated to Staley, I get even more emotional and words get stuck on my throat, Just listen to Your Decision, Acid Bubble. Private Hell, the title track BGWTB featuring the pianos played by Elton John without tearing up- it´s pretty impossible. Oozy and head spinning Check My Brain was released as a single as well as Your Decision and A Looking in View with music videos. Nick Raskulinecz produced the hell out of this record with such a heavy sludge sound and absolute craftsmanship. Duvall’s vocals blend so well with Cantrell´s. Even though not giving the same vibe as Layne-Jerry overlapping vocals, they are still very good. My very favorites off this record are definitely Lesson Learned, multi-layered Acid Bubble, gut-wrenching Private Hell.