Top 10 best grunge songs

With Saint Kurt gone for 18 years now, it's important to remember grunge wasn't just Nirvana. It was a movement, and though each year it seems a little bit sillier than it did the last, it was important. Most of the bands (and sadly many of the people themselves) didn't stand the test of time, some did and many of those songs are still as enjoyable to listen to now as they were then -- maybe even moreso now that they're a bit easier to hear above the din of down-tuned, sludge-filled rock that permeated everything for a few years in there.

Mark Lanegan comes to the Cedar tonight as one of the few still-vital survivors from the grunge era, operating at a high creative level and winning new fans that don't view him through a lens of diffused, detached irony, as often happens when a genre is "rediscovered." In honor of Lanegan's return -- and it should be noted that his old band, Screaming Trees, made this list and is still very much listenable -- here are ten grunge-era songs that are still just as good now as they were then.

10. "My Wave" - Soundgarden
Soundgarden had two not-so-secret weapons: Chris Cornell's instantly recognizable, fantastic voice and Kim Thayil's inventive guitar work. "My Wave" was the fourth song they released from Superunknown and it, along with "Fresh Tendrils," are by far the best tracks on what is arguably the best album to come out of this era. Every song on this album has merit, but "My Wave" with it's clean, almost shiny sound did much to prove that grunge wasn't limited to being mopey and/or a raging drug addict. There was vaguely sunny hope there, too.

9. "Aneurysm" - Nirvana
There was nothing new for their record company to release for Christmas in '92 so they gathered up some odds and sods and released Incesticide for the fans who couldn't wait for what was next. Looking back, it's more hits than misses and this is unquestionably the best song Nirvana ever committed to tape. Like the audio equivalent of a fever dream, it starts one way, ends in completely different landscape and in between you question why someone so talented chose such a destructive path for himself.

8. "Alive" - Pearl Jam
The story this song tells is still compelling and while Pearl Jam was a little less grungy overall then the rest of their Pacific Northwest peers, they fit the bill nonetheless. This song, along with much of Ten, is both distinctly of its time as well an all-time classic, and while "Jeremy" was a bigger hit for them, that song doesn't make you want to be a better person the way "Alive" does.

7. "Malibu" - Hole
Grunge was on a down slide by 1998 but Courtney Love proved there was still some fuel left in the tank with this gem. Listening to it now is different somehow than it was then. It makes you question who you are, who you could be, and why you would or should want to be either of things. Above all, though, it encourages you to live your life the way you see fit and not to listen to anyone else when they question your motives.


6. "Kid Candy" - Seaweed
Along with a couple of others on this list, "Kid Candy" is a near perfect example of grunge. Distorted guitars, mumbled lyrics that seem deep at first but make little sense once you see them in print and so on. This is probably the least well-known song on the list but listen to it once, then try not to immediately listen to again. It has a hook worthy of a pop song hidden in that muddy mess and it's a great one.

5. "Suck You Dry" - Mudhoney
Lead singer Mark Arm is credited with coining the term "grunge," something he claims to this day isn't true. However, "Suck You Dry" with its simple, throttling guitar licks and Arm's off-kilter, off-key voice illustrate grunge so well within the song's first 30 seconds it's astonishing. If you aren't trying to start a mosh pit by the end of this song, have someone close by check for a pulse because like the song says: no time like the present to get ripped apart.

4. "Nearly Lost You" - Screaming Trees
Grunge was always at its best when there were other elements mixed in besides just a squalling guitar and drums that sounded like they were in the process of being dismantled. With the Trees it was neo-psychedelica but they turned the extraneous noodling down to almost nothing and Mark Lanegan's voice is one for the ages that has kept him busy with various projects ever since. Put this on the next time you're at a party and everyone who remembers it will sing along to every word; those who don't will wonder aloud why they've never heard it before.


3. "Rooster" - Alice In Chains
One of the saddest entries into the genre and considering what that statement means, this song is nothing to be taken lightly. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell wrote it about is father who served in Vietnam and suffered its harrowing effects upon his return home. If you didn't know better you'd think he had returned in a pine box, honestly. To say this song is dark is an understatement of mammoth proportions but it's grim, gritty realism still hits as hard now as it did twenty years ago.

2. "Interstate Love Song" - Stone Temple Pilots
STP were always grunge's red headed stepchild, but if you were to compile a list of the best songs of the '90s regardless of genre, the list would be incomplete without this song on it. Scott Weiland always seemed to be aping Eddie Vedder a bit more than was necessary, though this song finds him using what can be assumed is something closer to his own voice throughout. There are the songs which people use to court the opposite sex and there's this one, which should be used almost exclusively to do so but rarely is, if at all.

1. "Pretend We're Dead" - L7
The sludgiest song on an album awash in it, this song epitomizes the grunge movement in a way that's almost comically obvious. You can barely make out the chord changes there's so much distortion. Lead singer Donita Sparks elected to speak the lyrics in a low register rather than sing them. But despite that initial assessment, this song is a '90s classic and any list discussing grunge is required to include it. Grunge wasn't exactly a girls' game (not enough angst and a different set of patriarchal issues, maybe), but these four pushed their way in the door and made the party a little more fun than it could have been.

Mark Lanegan. With Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss. 8 p.m. Friday, May 18 at Cedar Cultural Center. Click here.

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