Even after his passing, Chris Cornell will always remain a legendary figure within the rock world. His distinctive vocal howl helped to define an era of music, while his colorful lyrical passages remain engrained in any rock aficionado’s mind. Cornell’s legacy spanned across four decades: he obviously contributed his genius to the grunge monolith Soundgarden, but also to the alt rockers of Audioslave and to the short-lived yet ever indelible Temple of the Dog. In recent years, Cornell had revitalized all three of these acts and was touring quite actively. There were even rumors that a seventh, full-length Soundgarden album was in the midst of production. Hopefully, listeners will be treated to a posthumous release at some point in the future. Until then, here is a look back at some of the most memorable moments from Chris Cornell’s exceptional career.
Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” music video
(Contributed by Chris Fastiggi)
The one and only album project of Temple of the Dog was formed in response to the death of Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone. Chris Cornell formed the group with other members of Mother Love Bone and their eponymous debut featured special background vocals from another grunge icon, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. The best remembered track of the self-titled album is Vedder and Cornell’s duet “Hunger Strike.” The then unknown Vedder had just auditioned for the lead singer role in Pearl Jam – before the grunge explosion of the core-four Seattle bands Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. He hopped up to the microphone as Cornell was trying to sing the track and put his spin on the low vocals of the track. Thus a duet was born.
The song speaks of the upper class who indulge and take advantage of those who are less fortunate. The meaning still resonates, with heartfelt lyrics such as, “I don’t mind stealing bread / from the mouth of decadence / but I can’t feed on the powerless / when my cup’s already overfilled.” The iconic riff that begins the song is still played around the world by guitar enthusiasts. The original album did not have too much recognition until, in 1992, when it was marketed harder by A&M Records after they realized they had Pearl Jam and Soundgarden on one single. “Hunger Strike” peaked at number 4 on the Billboard US Mainstream Rock chart and the album went platinum.
Now considered a supergroup of the ’90s, Temple of the Dog put out one album and the band separated to focus more on the main bands that their members are known for now. They recently toured around the country for the first time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Temple of the Dog. Overall, the track is one of the most popular songs that Cornell wrote and the duet between him and Vedder is a classic among grunge fans.
Temple of the Dog’s “Say Hello 2 Heaven” and “Reach Down”
(Contributed by Cervante Pope)
If the pain Chris Cornell experienced isn’t apparent enough through his emotional and expansive vocal quality, it could definitely be deciphered through his lyrics. Often obscure and requiring of deeper thought, Cornell was somewhat perplexing in his lyricism, with every act he was involved in. However, there was one message that was seemingly clear as day: the transparency in the songs he wrote of his former roommate Andrew Wood.
Wrought with hurt and confusion, Cornell wrote two tracks while on tour with his band Soundgarden in Europe. “Reach Down” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven” were his way of expressing the sadness he felt after Wood passed away from a heroin overdose. Cornell initially wanted to release the pair as Soundgarden singles but a lack of confidence shuttered the idea. As soon as Wood’s Mother Love Bone bandmates Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament caught wind of the songs, Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron joined the three in recording the tracks for Andrew.
Temple of the Dog formed shortly thereafter with the addition of Mike McCready, and Cornell’s pair of tributary songs landed on the band’s only studio album. “Reach Down” is the heavier, near-doom grunge track, while “Say Hello 2 Heaven” has been perfectly described as an “alternative rock power ballad.”
Cornell drifted between the powerful falsettos and steady mid-ranges he’s always been known for on “Say Hello 2 Heaven,” but little did we all know his opening phrase, “please, Mother Mercy / take me from this place,” was so much closer to home than initially anticipated.
Soundgarden’s “Outshined” music video
(Contributed by Steve Bonitatibus)
In 1991, Soundgarden rode the Seattle grunge wave to superstardom via their third album, Batmotorfinger. While it maintained the same unabashed, raw heaviness of their previous two releases — Ultramega OK and Louder Than Love — it offered a slightly more refined sound. Singles “Rusty Cage” and “Outshined” were able to reach mainstream audiences, receiving considerable airtime on alternative rock radio stations. The latter song has since become a hallmark of Soundgarden’s catalog. Its sludgy guitar riffs, pounding drums and angsty vocal warbling perfectly embody the early ’90s alt rock scene. Furthermore, the song’s use of unorthodox meter (7/4 time) and haphazard transitions proved that the band was not willing to merely settle into a radio-tested sound.
Chris Cornell’s appearance, acting and performance in the Cameron Crowe movie Singles
(Contributed from Erin Vierra)
Cameron Crowe’s 1992 movie Singles was considered an unsuccessful failure – this according to Crowe himself. Since then, it has become a cult classic, a snapshot of Seattle’s music scene with a legendary soundtrack. The movie stars Matt Dillon and Bridget Fonda, but also features classic cameos from today’s favorite music legends — legends that include Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. His screen time, though short, doesn’t limit the impact he had on the film. He played an important role to the film as a music advisor and contributing artist. Crowe, in an interview with Rolling Stone, had this to say about Cornell: “Chris Cornell was another guy who was close to us when we were making the record, and still is a good friend. I really loved Soundgarden; they were my favorite band. I originally thought Chris could play the lead, but then I think that turned into too big of a commitment for everybody and so he became the guy he is in the movie, but in the course of making the movie he was close to all of us. He was always the around.”
The guy Cornell portrays in the film certainly has one of the coolest scenes. It starts off with Dillon’s Cliff Poncier, who arrives with a surprise for his girlfriend, Janet (Fonda). He, like a sweet boyfriend, has installed a built-in stereo in her car. After she greets him outside her apartment, he turns the speakers on. The second the music starts, Cornell pops out of his own apartment as though the music drew him outside. Cornell, sporting hair that screams ’90s, trudges down the steps towards the newly-formed crowd. The music pouring out of the car resonates with Cornell’s character as he nods with the beat. As the sound from the stereo becomes too much for the car to handle, windows begin to shatter and Janet’s car is destroyed in front of everyone.
Afterwards, Cornell rocks out on stage as he performs “Birth Ritual” with Soundgarden. Though just one of many live performances despicted throughout the movie, Cornell’s performance is a memorable one. Music plays a significant role in Singles, as it does in everything Crowe does. Singles was his valentine to Seattle’s music scene, and though it may be a bit too sentimental and sappy at times, it is thoroughly redeemed by the iconic mixtape that was the Singles soundtrack. In a recent interview, Cornell called Singles and its soundtrack “kind of a key factor in what was referred to as the Seattle scene and the Seattle movement.” When the original soundtrack came out in June of 1992, it was a smash hit selling more than two million copies and helping to bring the idea of the “Seattle scene” to to the mainstream.
Now, short of 25 years later, Cameron Crowe will be releasing a deluxe edition of the soundtrack on May 19th. The new edition not only features the original songs, but also unreleased tracks performed by Chris Cornell, Mudhoney, Paul Westerberg and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, as well as rarities including Cornell’s 1992 EP Poncier (named after Matt Dillon’s character in the film). And “Seasons” still remains a heartfelt highlight from the original soundtrack, a perfect song to listen to with the windows rolled down and the stereo at full blast.
Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” music video
(Contributed by Alex Muñoz)
“Black Hole Sun” is arguably Soundgarden’s most recognizable song, and it has certainly withstood the washing away of time to be remembered as a grunge staple. Beyond just its influence in the 90s, the song has found a new young audience with exposure through the first Rock Band. This, along with other repurposing such as the recent appearance of the song on the player piano in Westworld, has cemented “Black Hole Sun” as not just a grunge staple but a universal song that speaks to those who don’t understand their pain and why they want it to go away.
Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” written by Cornell, was released in 1994 while the world was still mourning Kurt Cobain’s death. A time noted for tumult, including Cobain’s death, as well as riots and racial tensions, Cornell himself spoke on the song and its frustration with the world’s penchant for dishonesty: “It’s really difficult for a person to create their own life and their own freedom. It’s going to become more and more difficult, and it’s going to create more and more disillusioned people who become dishonest and angry and are willing to fuck the next guy to get what they want.” Such an empathetic view of the world is one all too common in the world’s most prolific artists, and Cornell was no different.
Game of Thrones’ and Westworld composer Ramin Djawadi summed up the emotional power of “Black Hole Sun.” He used songs such as this and “Paint It Black” in Westworld, since describing the power of popular music to elicit emotional reactions from people that goes beyond orchestral music. What Djawadi describes is that there is an undeniable human touch to music such as “Black Hole Sun” that cannot be erased.
But it wasn’t just the subject matter that resonated with people. Dave Grohl himself is noted for speaking on the melodic sophistication of the song and how it raised the bar for all of Soundgarden’s peers. Cornell often spoke of his drawing on classic artists like The Beatles when writing the song, and favored a different guitar amp sound than the one that the band had been utilizing at the time. Different thinking allowed “Black Hole Sun” to stand out from the crowd, as well as successfully insert itself into a pantheon of classic sounding music, where it still influences the current young generation.
The contorted smiling faces on the suburban archetypes from the music video have remained iconic, and the apocalyptic dreaming of the lyrics have transcended the genre to become a crucial voice to those who have similar feelings of depression and disenfranchisement from the world. Sometimes a black hole to obliterate everything sounds like just what the doctor ordered, and it is thanks to writers like Chris Cornell that this sentiment will continue to resonate with listeners.
Soundgarden’s “Burden In My Hand” music video
(Contributed by Steve Bonitatibus)
While Down on the Upside may not have received the same commercial and critical acclaim as its predecessor, Superunknown, it remains a cult classic, a gritty and emotionally-charged reminder of a bygone era. By the album’s release in ’96, grunge was in its waning days. However, as many of the genre’s icons struggled with creative barriers and drug addiction, Cornell and company proved to audiences that the movement was not fully extinct, as they managed to infuse their new record with the same raw energy that characterized their earlier work. Songs like “Never the Machine Forever” and “Ty Cobb” reminded listeners of the Soundgarden’s ability to throttle eardrums with overdriven guitars, screamed vocals and breakneck percussion. Yet other numbers showcased a different, slightly more subdued side to the band, as Down on the Upside often employed acoustic guitar and much slower rhythm sections — at least by Soundgarden standards.
The album’s second single, “Burden In My Hand,” was particularly noteworthy for its use of a mostly acoustic backdrop, colored by Kim Thayil’s spellbinding, open C-tuned guitars. Meanwhile, the song’s lyrics offered a strong narrative, marking a departure from the mystifyingly abstract lyrics usually penned by Cornell. They tell the unsettling story of a man who takes his significant other out into the desert before murdering her, featuring a powerful vocal refrain: “I shot my love today, would you cry for me? / I lost my head again, would you lie for me? / I left her in the sand, just a burden in my hand.” The song remains an example of both Cornell’s prowess as songwriter and the group’s tightly-meshed sound. And, while grunge may now be considered an ancient relic of the past, Down on the Upside reminds us why it achieved such immense popularity during its height.
Chris Cornell performs “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” with Maynard James Keenan during the one-time Axis of Justice concert
(Contributed by CJ Brown)
Chris Cornell was hands down one of the greatest rock singers from the transition into the new millennium. He knew the level of talent that he carried and had a great sense of who would mix well with his own style. This openness led to a collaboration of rock giants, covering a song originally penned by Elvis Costello. Tool’s Maynard James Keenan was recruited to sing alongside Cornell at the Axis of Justice concert in July of 2004. In this version of “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding” the two complemented each other immensely. Though one was brought up in the style of grunge and the other was steeped more in industrial music, the harmonies created when their voices overlapped came naturally and resonated profoundly.
Audioslave’s “Like a Stone” music video
(Contributed by Ashlyn Ramirez)
Arguably the most powerful song from Audioslave’s debut album, the 2002 hit “Like a Stone” was equipped with Cornell’s quintessential, grungy vocals along with chilling lyrics that are striking and compelling. The song topped US Billboard Rock charts and hit several mainstream charts as well, becoming the group’s biggest US hit. Nominated for a Grammy and two Billboard awards, who would’ve known that this very song was going to further define him as one of the most influential musicians in modern rock music?
“Like a Stone” was like a bone-dry outline of the way Cornell approached music. Minimalistic and poignant, the stripped down guitars gave room for Cornell’s voice to shine in every possible aspect and the guitar solo complements the stagnant sadness of the song. Even the music video, which was very simple, resonated the emptiness one might feel when thinking about death. He sung low and quiet, before his voice turned into a beautifully mournful wolf’s howl. His heart was completely in the song and it shows. It could have been taken as a symbolic ballad, or it could have been taken as a shred of foreboding.
Cornell said that the song was about “finding God through means other than the traditional monotheistic way of thinking.” The lyrics were plain as day referencing someone who is coming to terms with wherever afterlife ends up taking them. Basically, heaven is what you make it. No matter what one does in life, everyone bows out the exact same way. This song, in his passing, was truly telling of Cornell’s train of thought. It was painful, morose and far more than an outstanding, iconic track. It was a wretched call from a tortured man who felt completely lost, even when he was aware of every outlet.
Audioslave’s “Show Me How to Live” music video
(Contributed by CJ Brown)
Released in December 2002 as the second single in support of Audioslave’s self-titled release, “Show Me How To Live” was a testament to the rock ‘n’ roll mentality. It was an anthem for the misunderstood, the part of society that was tired of being marginalized. Along with “Cochise,” it was a sonic assault led by Cornell’s larger-than-life vocal range and supported by Tom Morello’s guitar wizardry.
The video itself began with a monologue that ended with a powerful quote that could be applied to Cornell: “The question is not when he’s gonna stop, but who’s gonna stop him?” This set the mood for the vintage man-versus-authority theme used throughout the video. At its conclusion, the band chose death over capture and after a spectacular explosion the camera panned to the vintage Dodge Charger they were driving riding off into the distance. Though it was over, they were free.
Life is fleeting and we should give thanks to Chris for showing us how to live it during the time he shared the earth with the rest of us.
Audioslave’s “Shadow of the Sun”
(Contributed by James Schiff)
The pairing of Chris Cornell’s voice and Tom Morello’s guitar, both haunting in their own ways, was what always separated “Shadow of the Sun” as one of the best songs off of Audioslave’s self-titled LP. Morello’s dark riff opens up, walking hand in hand with Cornell’s groaning voice. Together, they build off of each other. After Tom rips through a psychedelic, interstellar, laser war of a guitar solo, it’s Cornell’s voice that brings us back to reality. But the calm doesn’t last long. Eventually all we hear is his screaming, aching, burning voice tearing at us while repeating the title, “Shadow of the Sun.”
It’s a fitting end to the song. After all, the brightest stars have the darkest shadows.
Chris Cornell’s music video for “You Know My Name,” from the James Bond movie Casino Royale
(Contributed by Ashlyn Ramirez)
The 2007 single “You Know My Name,” from Cornell’s second solo album, ended up being the perfect addition to the James Bond: Casino Royale movie soundtrack. What has been dubbed by other media as a mix of adult contemporary and alternative rock, Cornell blended songs like this one in a way that drew a pretty stark contrast from previous releases. Mature in tone and lyrically stoic, a moment of experimentation pushed the song, along with the album, Carry On, onto the US Billboard 200 and US Top Rock Albums.
The grunge that Cornell was known for was stripped away down to just the basic throttle of his vocal range. His skills as a lyricist shone again as he managed to construct a song that fit perfectly with the movie. His voice was so strong that it was damn near soul-piercing. Cornell further solidified himself as a rock powerhouse, even years after the pinnacle of grunge. The song struck a melancholic note, a common theme among his work. Even the upbeat rhythm of the guitars and drums couldn’t hide Cornell’s influence on the track, which seemed to be the feeling of either loneliness or emptiness. Notably, the song was nominated at the Grammys for Best Song Written for Visual Media.
Chris Cornell Joins Yusef / Cat Stevens on Stage for “Wild World”
(Contributed by Erin Vierra)
During Stevens’ sold out show at Hollywood Pantages Theater in October of 2016, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden made a surprise appearance. When Cornell walked on stage, he was greeted by a roar of fans. Lending his vocals, the two legendary singers launched into a delicate rendition of Cat Stevens 1970 classic, “Wild World.”
After Yusuf tackled the opening lyrics, Cornell dove into the second part with his trademark vocals: “But if you want to leave, take good care / Hope you have a lot of nice things to wear / But then a lot of nice things turn bad out there.” As well as providing background vocals, Cornell also broke down the second verse with such ache in his voice, “You know I’ve seen a lot of what the world can do / And it’s breaking / my heart in two / ‘Cause I never want to see you sad girl / Don’t be a bad girl.” Fans cheered and sung along to words they know as the duo outshined each other on stage. Whether you are a fan of Cornell or Stevens, the performance of “Wild World” will surely make you smile.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Fried