I had flannel shirts in 1991, but I didn’t wear them to be cool (they were probably from The Gap). I wore them when I went to visit family north of the Mason-Dixon line. I was weaned on the bands my father enjoyed, which was mostly The Beatles, and some other British Invasion bands, like Gerry & The Pacemakers, Peter & Gordon, and harder ones like Cream and, of course, Led Zeppelin, along with a dash of Jackson Browne, CSN and the original Father John Misty—Mr. Warren Zevon—so I was nowhere near prepared for what happened in September 1991: the album Nevermind appeared. The video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an ear- and eye-opener and, really, there isn’t anything I’ll be able to write with my limited abilities that will correctly echo what others have written before me. Nevermind turned me on to music in a whole new way, with just the right amount of aggression for my taste. I grew up with plenty of high school friends who listened to punk rock, and a slim few who listened to jam bands, so I was knowledgeable about Fugazi and Phish, but neither ever felt exactly right at the time; one was too aggressive (no musicianship, my father would say) and one was too passive. The grunge movement was a reset button for music when I was in 10th grade. There were other great groups that existed before these bands, but I didn’t learn about them till I saw that video with the slam dancing and the punk cheerleaders
and decided to learn how to play “Breed” on guitar.
I know that’s a long intro with a lot of adolescent nonsense that doesn’t mean anything to you. And this piece isn’t even about Nirvana, directly. If it weren’t for Nevermind exploding onto and off store shelves that fall, it might’ve been Soundgarden’s third album, Badmotorfinger, that sparked my interest in October 1991. (Full disclosure: Pearl Jam’s Ten dropped in August 1991, but I don’t remember that either. Think of that, though … those three albums in a three-month span.) At first, Soundgarden wasn’t as much my cup of tea as was Nirvana. They were a little more rock and roll, they went on tour with Guns N’ Roses, they just had that sort of metal vibe I didn’t like. But as I look back, I realize Soundgarden did some things so much better than their grunge counterparts. And lucky you, you can go see them do these things at Metropolitan Park on April 29, as part of the hard-rockin’, fist-raisin’ Welcome To Rockville festival that’s gained some real traction in these parts. Soundgarden, despite a hiatus in the late ’90s, has had the staying power many of their grunge contemporaries—save for Pearl Jam—have not been able to maintain. Soundgarden also had the greatest vocalist to emerge from grunge (all apologies to the late Layne Staley) in Chris Cornell. His range was (and I’m quite sure still is) top-notch. That range—and guitarist Kim Thayil’s dark, dropped-D tuning—is what initially tricked me into thinking Soundgarden was too rock or metal. I was wrong, they were and are rad.
Soundgarden has had tons of hits and multiple albums. Founded in the mid-’80s, the band actually had two albums before Badmotorfinger about which I know nothing (feel free to look them up). They had massive hits with “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoon Man” off 1994’s Superunknown, but I want to focus on Badmotorfinger. To me, that particular album is what I’m looking for from Soundgarden: loud, fast, sick, dark and tight. “Jesus Christ Pose” is a perfect example of those qualifiers, with a driving beat, shrill, hammered notes from Thayil and Cornell’s crooning. It has the social commentary of Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” but with more head-banging than nodding. “Rusty Cage” is another awesome example of Soundgarden’s ability to meld their hard rock influences with punk/grunge. “Rusty Cage” sounds like Black Sabbath and the melodic punk rock from the mid-’90s. “Outshined” is probably the most popular track of the album, and compared to the previous two, it’s a dirge instead of a breakneck two minutes of speed. But it has that recognizable opening riff and, again, Cornell gets to open up on the chorus, fully displaying his range (I’m guessing that’s why he gets the good part on Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike”). Other Badmotorfinger songs for concert-goers to scream out requests for the band to play at WTR include “Holy Water” and “Face Pollution.”
I do what I do semi-regularly because of bands like Soundgarden and albums like Badmotorfinger. Sure, The Beatles my dad introduced to me are still in my library, but without bands like Soundgarden (and the Melvins, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains), I wouldn’t have found L7, Lush, Smashing Pumpkins, Suede, The Lemonheads, Weezer, Blur or any of the other great alternative bands of the late ’80s/early ’90s. Badmotorfinger is one of those albums, like Nevermind, that reflects a certain moment in my life. And it has awesome riffs; play it loud as shit in the car on your way to the concert.