After the news of Chris Cornell’s tragic passing broke yesterday morning, tributes and remembrances steadily appeared throughout the day. Whatever angle they took, almost all of them noted things that were core to Cornell as an artist. His voice, of course — with its impressive range, and his impressive ability to go to so many different places with it. The nakedness and vulnerability in so many of his lyrics. The fact that he was one of the most unique and talented songwriters of his generation, in ways he still doesn’t always get credit for and in ways that garnered him respect from his predecessors and contemporaries alike.
Understandably, many of these tributes focused primarily (or solely) on Cornell’s work with Soundgarden. There’s no getting around that band’s importance here — they were one of the seminal bands of their time, a group that helped define a generation’s sound and ethos and concerns, and will at some point sit comfortably in the classic rock lineage they drew upon in ways both clearer and more creative than some of their peers. Those are the years where Cornell did his best work, when his songwriting could expose the deepest inner demons and also suggest other worlds, when his voice could go from the unearthly wail of “Jesus Christ Pose” to the soulful darkness of “Fell On Black Days.”
Along the way, Cornell had plenty of other projects. During Soundgarden’s first run, there was also Temple Of The Dog and the odd solo track. Then there were full-fledged solo albums, a James Bond theme, and Audioslave, the band where he teamed up with Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford from Rage Against The Machine. There’s no way to get around the fact that those weren’t always consistent or successful projects. Soundgarden’s first run is nearly perfect, and the different directions Cornell explored in subsequent years sometimes worked brilliantly, sometimes not-so-brilliantly.
Within all that, though, what was consistent was Cornell’s status as one of the last great rock frontmen from the end of rock’s era of popular dominance. He was built in a different mold, but worked differently within the context of his generation. He had the presence, the voice, the look, the creativity — the stuff that makes people say “They don’t make them like that anymore.”
As part of our tributes to Cornell, we decided to take a look at all the other stuff outside Soundgarden, to highlight lost gems and look at the other places those talents took him over the course of a three-decade career.
Temple Of The Dog – “Say Hello 2 Heaven” (from Temple Of The Dog, 1991)
If you’re reading this article, you probably already know the story — Temple Of The Dog was the one-off collaboration between Cornell, his Soundgarden bandmate Matt Cameron, and most of Pearl Jam. (Or all of Pearl Jam if you consider that Cameron would become their drummer later that decade.) As a tribute to their late friend Andrew Wood (the singer of Mother Love Bone, the band Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard were in before Pearl Jam) after his death, there are some heart-wrenching moments, like opener “Say Hello 2 Heaven.” I feel like someone’s going to cover this in tribute to Cornell at some point, and I don’t know whether that’ll be moving and somehow provide closure — the idea of someone paying tribute to Cornell with a song he wrote in tribute to his deceased friend — or whether it’ll be too saddening and uncomfortable.
Temple Of The Dog – “Hunger Strike” (from Temple Of The Dog, 1991)
We all know this song. It’s as much a signifier of the grunge era as any number of slightly more famous songs by Pearl Jam or Soundgarden or Nirvana. The Temple Of The Dog album came out in April of 1991. In August, Pearl Jam released their debut Ten, and Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger in October. Ten made Pearl Jam superstars eventually; Badmotorfinger kicked off Soundgarden’s mainstream breakthrough and set the stage for Superunknown’s rock radio dominance. “Hunger Strike” caught Cornell and Eddie Vedder and the rest of the guys together, just before all of their lives were about to change forever. The context of it is just wild, hearing two iconic frontmen duet shortly before they’re about to become icons. It rightfully lives on as one piece of the origin story for ’90s rock music.
Temple Of The Dog – “Times Of Trouble” (from Temple Of The Dog, 1991)
Over the years, Cornell explored a lot of different sounds, but it’s easy to forget that at the very beginning of the ’90s, Soundgarden were still a very heavy, sludgy band. They didn’t do organic, pretty stuff. With hindsight, Temple Of The Dog makes plenty of sense as a genesis point in the whole Alt Nation thing — sonically, thematically, narratively. But a song like “Times Of Trouble” was showing a completely different side of Cornell than what had been glimpsed up until that point. (The existing Soundgarden albums at the time, Ultramega OK and Louder Than Love are gnarly, growling things.) Flipping the script from lost love to personal strife, “Times Of Trouble” is like a power ballad for the grunge era.
Chris Cornell – “Seasons” (from Singles Soundtrack, 1992)
Cornell’s solo contribution to the Singles soundtrack remains a fan favorite, and deservedly so. Though it came a little later, it’s similar to “Times Of Trouble” in that it showed a side of Cornell not yet glimpsed through his work in Soundgarden. An ethereal acoustic track descended from Led Zeppelin’s mystic folk detours, it’s still one of the most beautiful songs Cornell ever wrote.
Chris Cornell – “Can’t Change Me” (from Euphoria Morning, 1999)
Between Soundgarden’s breakup and the introduction of Audioslave, Cornell released a solo album called Euphoria Morning. Not all of it has held up as well as some of his other work, but it’s still a cool entry in his catalog, finding him still in his ‘90s vein of songwriting, but incorporating more pop and psych influences into the mix. “Can’t Change Me” almost sounds like a glimpse of where Soundgarden might’ve gone had they made another record right after Down On The Upside — it’s a tumbling psych-pop track, dressed up with slightly more sheen for Cornell’s solo outing.
Audioslave – “Cochise” (from Audioslave, 2002)
When we talk about the ‘00s these days, especially on this website, we tend to talk about the rise of the NYC rock revival in the early part of the decade, and then the rise of Williamsburg and indie’s burgeoning mainstream presence as the decade closed. During those earlier 21st century years, I was a pre-teen/teen in a small town in Pennsylvania. I knew who the Strokes were, and I liked them. But my early musical forays were aided by a local radio station that, somewhat inexplicably, played nu-metal and grunge and hair metal and some classic metal alongside each other. Velvet Revolver, Audioslave, Foo Fighters — this was the new stuff that penetrated that little bubble. Big-budget mainstream rock. It would take a few more years for me to start paying attention to blogs and to explore My Bloody Valentine and Blur and St. Vincent and the National. First, there was a chunk of time dominated by seeing Audioslave videos on Fuse, and hearing their singles in my mom’s car.
By the time the first Audioslave album came out in 2002, I already knew and liked Soundgarden. But it was still pretty early in terms of my music obsessive days, and though I’d sort of forgotten it, Audioslave was definitely an early pillar. The idea of Rage Against The Machine music plus Cornell vocals was inherently a strange marriage, and one that didn’t always work. But, man, it worked on “Cochise.”
In that video, the song’s tension-building beginning soundtracks the band heading up to the top of some metal structure in the middle of nowhere. And then that massive riff, and Cornell’s ragged, roaring vocals, erupt as fireworks shoot off behind the band throughout the video. Can you imagine a band putting something out like this now? It’d be ridiculous. And I guess it was ridiculous, but the kind of ridiculous that scans as completely awesome when you’re twelve years old and, at least in the instance of this song, still does in my mid-20s. This was a hell of a way to introduce a new band.
Audioslave – “Like A Stone” (from Audioslave, 2002)
Earlier on, the distance between the RATM guys’ disposition and Cornell’s was… pretty evident. “Like A Stone” is a lot different than the big riff-rockers that dominate most of Audioslave, and it also turned out to be their most famous song. It’s a thing of simple, understated beauty — dramatic without anything forced or huge, content to stride along meditatively. The way Cornell delivers the chorus — “In your house, I long to be/ Room by room patiently/ I’ll wait for you there, like a stone/ I’ll wait for you there, alone” — is one of the most vulnerable, longing melodies he ever recorded.
Audioslave – “I Am The Highway” (from Audioslave, 2002)
Another slow-burner on Audioslave, “I Am The Highway” is a suitably dusty song that, true to its name, conjures up images of rambling through the desert in search of whatever. A lot of Cornell’s more dramatic or beautiful songs hinged on big catharses one way or another, but there’s something special when he would dial it down into the understated beauty of a track like this one.
Audioslave – “Hypnotize” (from Audioslave, 2002)
“Hypnotize” is a deep cut from the first Audioslave album, a song that found both the Rage guys and Cornell exploring slightly different territory compared to their past work. It’s a fast, dance-y song that’s nimble where Audioslave usually preferred to be swaggering or stomping. It’s also catchy in a low-key, subtle way, with Cornell using his lower register croon to build suggestion until the choruses flare up, or until the song’s climactic layering of vocals and guitars.
Audioslave – “Doesn’t Remind Me” (from Out Of Exile, 2005)
Cornell almost never wrote songs quite like “Doesn’t Remind Me.” I’m sure some old-school rockist-type grunge fans hated this thing when it came out, but the sorta-nonsensical sing-song nature of the verses is still pretty charming.
Audioslave – “Revelations” (from Revelations, 2006)
Audioslave ended abruptly not too long after their third album, 2006’s Revelations. Who knows if there was more for them to do, necessarily, but the album’s title track suggested they were really starting to click as a unit, with the music and Cornell’s approach melding together into something new. As great as “Cochise” is, it totally sounds like a Rage Against The Machine song with Cornell singing instead of Zack De La Rocha rapping. “Revelations” doesn’t sound like that. It stacks various pieces together into a song that’s relentlessly catchy, with a groove that’s lighter and more dexterous than much of what they’d toyed with before.
Audioslave – “Wide Awake” (from Revelations, 2006)
Much of the same can be said for “Wide Awake” — a heavy, angry song that sounded equal parts Cornell and RATM. A pointedly political song in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, its conclusion has some of the most bracing and climactic Cornell wails of the Audioslave years. Also, I remember going to see Michael Mann’s Miami Vice remake because it prominently featured new Audioslave songs from Revelations. The mid-‘00s were weird.
Audioslave – “Moth” (from Revelations, 2006)
I had forgotten about this song until Cornell’s death led me to dig back through the Audioslave albums. “Moth,” the closer on their final album, is heavy and destructive in the way of like, Godzilla destroying Tokyo. (I don’t know, maybe the name “Moth” reminds me of Mothra.) It’s a rare moment in Audioslave’s run where it sounded like Cornell might half-miss Soundgarden. It isn’t hard to imagine his old band playing this song similarly. Either way, Cornell screaming “I don’t fly around your fire anymore” as the song whips further into a frenzy is a great way to end an album.
Chris Cornell – “You Know My Name” (from Carry On, 2007)
Chris Cornell recorded a Bond theme. And it was for the first of the gritty Daniel Craig reboot movies in the series, 2006’s Casino Royale. That’s pretty awesome.
Chris Cornell – “Scream” (from Scream, 2009)
Cornell’s ill-advised and ill-fated 2009 collaboration with Timbaland, Scream, mostly deserves its reputation as a complete blunder. It doesn’t make any sense on paper, and somehow even less in execution, with Cornell often singing lyrics that just seem totally out of character. (When you look at the videos, it’s enough to make you think this was a full-blown artistic identity crisis, not a mis-guided attempt at experimentation.) That being said: however much the album was a failure or however much Cornell’s solely rock-oriented fans might’ve considered him a traitor, the album’s title track is a lost gem from the era. The Timbaland production is still odd underneath Cornell’s voice (and now sounds pretty dated), so it’s tempting to imagine it with different textures (or different instruments entirely). But at the core of it is evidence of Cornell’s deft skill as a songwriter, as the song glides through brooding and into anguish, each of its melodies hard to shake.