As frontman of Soundgarden, Chris Cornell was a key part of the grunge movement. As frontman of Audioslave he gave three former members of Rage Against The Machine new purpose. And as a solo artist Cornell provided some absolute tunes of his own. These are the 10 best songs from across the late musician’s 33-year career.
10. ‘Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart’
The lead single from Cornell’s fifth solo album, 2015’s ‘Higher Truth’ unleashes his soaring vocals over some unexpected mandolin, with casually tragic lyrics like: “Every single feeling tells me this is leading to a heart in broken little pieces.”
9. ‘Fell On Black Days’
From Cornell’s heroically grungy days in Soundgarden, ‘Fell On Black Days’ is taken from the band’s breakthrough album ‘Superunknown’. Drawing comparisons between depression and imprisonment, Cornell mourns: “Just when every day seemed to greet me with a smile / sunspots have faded and now I’m doing time.” When it was released, Cornell told Melody Maker it’s about “a feeling that everyone gets. You’re happy with your life, everything’s going well, things are exciting – when all of a sudden you realise you’re unhappy in the extreme, to the point of being really, really scared.”
8. ‘Be Yourself’
Cornell could only write this sensible, adage-loaded track with the perspective that age brings. “10 years ago I would’ve been embarrassed to put it in a song ’cause it is so simple,” he said on its release in 2005. “But there it is.”
The opener from Audioslave’s self-titled 2002 debut begins with a slowly brimming swirl of noise and breaks out into an awesome bassline from former Rage Against The Machine man Tim Commerford. Cornell sounds furious on the track – “Save yourself and take it out on me,” he roars – and he later said the track is “me yelling at me, looking in the mirror.”
6. ‘Rusty Cage’
1991’s ‘Badmotorfinger’ spawned this frenetic stormer about escapism and Johnny Cash covered it acoustically in 1996. In 2015, Cornell started including Cash’s acoustic version in his solo sets, but there’s nothing quite like the bubbling fury of the riff on the original.
5. ‘Show Me How To Live’
Listen right until the end of this existentialist blowout for a taste of just what Cornell was capable of doing with his voice. In the final moments of this third single from 2002’s ‘Audioslave’, Cornell hits his throat with the side of his hand while he sustains an insanely long final note. With each hit from his hand, his vocal cords change shape, altering the note his voice lands on. It’s trippy and brilliant.
4. ‘You Know My Name’
Possibly the last great Bond theme – co-written with frequent Bond composer David Arnold for 2006’s Casino Royale – this was Cornell’s biggest solo hit, on which he attempted to mix the bombast of Tom Jones’ ‘Thunderball’ with the punch of Paul McCartney’s ‘Live and Let Die’. “I wanted to write a song in its own universe,” Cornell said at the time. “I knew I’d never have it again — a big orchestra — so I wanted to have fun with it.” And that he did. The track was included on his 2007 solo album ‘Carry On’, but not on the soundtrack: “It was a decision of mine not to have it on the film soundtrack,” he told the BBC. “I wanted it to be mine.”
This one is dedicated to the Seattle-based spoon artist Artis the Spoonman – whose spoon-playing you can hear in the song and see in the vid – but when Cornell wrote the song he hadn’t met Artis yet. Soundgarden’s 1994 hit has a weird 7/4 time signature – and Cornell says the lyrics are “about the paradox of who he is and what people perceive him as.”
2. ‘Like A Stone’
Another one from ‘Audioslave’ here. Three things to look out for: Tom Morello’s high-flying guitar solo; Jimi Hendrix’s old mansion, where the video was shot; and Cornell’s plea to enter heaven: “In your house I long to be / Room by room patiently / I’ll wait for you there / Like a stone“.
1. ‘Black Hole Sun’
“If I write lyrics that are bleak or dark,” Chris Cornell said of ‘Black Hole Sun’, “it usually makes me feel better.” It’s a plea for apocalypse would almost certainly appeal to Muse. Cornell said he wrote it in 15 minutes and liked its “combination of bright and dark – this sense of hope and underlying moodiness.” And so did everyone else – it’s by far and away Cornell’s most famous song.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think of the list in the comments.