That unmistakable voice. Those unforgettable lyrics laced on top of doom-influenced guitar riffs that were enough to make the likes of Saint Vitus and Black Sabbath proud. There was no other band quite like Soundgarden, and no other frontman could have ever done the job better than Chris Cornell.
On the morning of Thursday, May 18, 2017, the rock world awoke to the grim news of one of its most devastating losses in recent memory; Chris Cornell, lead vocalist/guitarist of Soundgarden, was found dead shortly after a show the band had played in Detroit, MI. Cornell was found unresponsive at the MGM Grand Hotel just after midnight, with preliminary reports calling it an “apparent suicide” – later ruled a suicide by Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office. He was just 52 years old.
A man of many talents, Cornell first formed Soundgarden (originally on drums and vocals) in 1984 in Seattle, WA, along with guitarist Kim Thayil and bassist Hiro Yamamoto. After the first year, Cornell moved from behind the drum kit (with the band originally bringing in Scott Sundquist to take his place, before adding current drummer Matt Cameron in 1986) to become it’s full-on frontman. Along with contemporary Seattle acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains, Soundgarden would help shape the sound of an entire new genre known to the world as “grunge.”
In the late ’80s, the band put out their first two EP’s through Sub Pop Records – Screaming Life (1987), and Fopp (1988). They followed these with their first full-length album, Ultramega OK (also in 1988, this time through SST Records) and 1989’s Flower EP. These early releases were arguably the most “metal” sounding records the band would release throughout their career.
In 1989, the band released their major-label debut on A&M Records, Louder Than Love, which saw them gaining their first taste of mainstream success, charting for the first time on the Billboard 200 album chart. Starting with one of the strongest opening track’s in the band’s catalog (and my personal favorite song by them to this day), “The Ugly Truth,” the album’s still widely remembered for the song Guns N’ Roses would later cover on 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident, album, “Big Dumb Sex.”
Cornell and Cameron appeared alongside Pearl Jam/Mother Love Bone members on the sole studio album released by offshoot band Temple of the Dog in early 1991, which served as a tribute to late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood (Cornell’s friend and former roommate). The singles “Hunger Strike” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven” remain mainstays on rock radio to this very day.
1991’s Badmotofinger (Soundgarden’s first with bassist Ben Sheppard, and their last to feature a lineup change) is the album that made them a household name. Fueled by such hits as “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined,” the album was nominated for a Grammy in 1992, and saw the band supporting such acts as Faith No More, Skid Row, and Guns N’ Roses, as well as playing the 1992 Lollapalooza tour.
But it was 1994’s Superunknown that most fans will point to above all. With five hit singles and widespread critical acclaim, the album reached number one on the charts and was nominated for several awards. It was a staple in the ’90s that nearly every kid into rock music owned alongside the likes of Nirvana’s Nevermind or Pearl Jam’s Ten.
1996’s Down on the Upside would be their last album of new material for over a decade, with the band abruptly calling it quits in 1997. Cornell would go on to release several solo albums, as well as front the highly-successful “supergroup” Audioslave, with whom he would release three albums with between 2002-2006.
When Soundgarden finally reunited in 2010, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope that things were once again “right” in the world of rock music, releasing their first (and what would now appear to be, last) effort since their ‘90s heyday, 2012’s King Animal. Cornell’s last solo album, 2015’s Higher Truth, will now sadly be remembered as the final piece of music he gave to the world.
Somewhere buried deep in my closet is a Superunkown t-shirt that I’ve owned since said album came out; that shirt will remain just one of the many small reminders of the lasting impression that Chris Cornell made while he was here. It’s unfortunate that the first time I ever write about him is centered around his death, yet I’m both honored to be writing this piece, and thankful for the memories this article brought back to me personally in the process. It’s with a heavy heart I say goodbye to a man who left this world far too soon. Cornell was filled with talent that many of us could never even dream of touching, forever enshrined as one of the best of his kind. Rest in piece Mr. Cornell, your legacy will not soon be forgotten.