I don’t think that there’s ever been a moment in music where bands associated in this genre had so much success. Back when grunge was at its peak in its popularity, music fans everywhere where buying labels coming out of Seattle scene. This was something that independent bands of the 1980s, who were all labeled as college rock tried so hard to achieve; getting underground music into the mainstream. So what exactly labels music as grunge anyway? How about heavy metal/hardcore punk mixed with pop lyrics and manages to be radio friendly. Never had there been brand recognition of having a band’s name on a cover could make so many eager to own. It was the time for people to move on from the bland, and tiresome ways of the 80s and move on to the evolution and innovation happening in music at the time. And it’s even more amazing that out of all the part of the music in the 1990s, we’re still discussing about this short-live musical movement. It really was the last ultimate era of music before other musical genres took it’s popularity and mainstream success. After counting down the top 10 best grunge bands of all time, it’s now time to rank the ten greatest albums of the grunge movement!
Number 10. – Fast Stories…. From Kid Coma – Truly
I hope this pick comes as a surprise for most of you that never heard of Truly. If only the band released their debut album during the short-lived grunge hype, I’m sure they’ve would have been mentioned in multiple grunge documentaries and the many who lived it. For some who have witnessed this album might argue that this doesn’t belong in the grunge category but psychedelic rock. I, on the other hand, argue back that it is grunge for it’s janky, heavy rock sound and bringing the listeners to a huge LSD trip that the majority of its contemporaries of the genre is most known for. You can really tell Truly does love both the heavy sounds during the time & the psychedelic 60s classics we all remember. The waves in this album succeeds in putting us as listeners in auto-pilot as each song journeys us in a different world. You know an album is good when it successfully pulls it off that we rarely see in bands do any more. The 1990s rarely has any 1960s songwriting and Fast Stories…. From Kid Coma is some of the few rarities until this style of music returns from the indie scene during the reign of hipsters. Honestly, it manages to enter the bottom of the list for lack of stand out tracks which is why other albums manages to succeed here. But for ignoring the notion that nobody should make a grunge album after the death of the movement and releasing this album should tell you better later than never.
Number 9. – Dirt – Alice in Chains
Dirt is one of the darkest, depressing, harrowing albums ever made. It’s full of so much despair and pain, it contains so much anguish that it’s sometimes really hard to listen to. It’s seen as THE heroin album, because of what Layne was going through and how vivid the lyrics were and the imagery they evoked. The album is definitely about Layne’s addiction, but I think the songs go beyond that. They go much deeper and it isn’t quite as one dimensional as that, even though at the album’s heart it’s about addiction I think the songs deal with deeply personal and emotional issues that go beyond Layne’s addiction. Sometimes, the lyrical content is incredibly vivid and other times it’s so cryptic and hard to decipher. It’s one of the most absorbing albums ever, I feel exhausted and drained after listening to it. The best thing about Grunge, for me, was the different styles the best bands had. From Nirvana’s Punk Rock sensibilities, to Pearl Jam’s classic rock leanings, to The Afghan Whigs’ soul influences. Each band from the scene had something different to offer. Alice In Chains were the band whose aesthetic was closest to Metal and I think Dirt is not only the darkest album to come out of the movement, but it’s one of the darkest albums ever. Admittedly, many of it’s dark subjects are a struggle to sit through and brings in the urge to press skip to the next song, but for the album’s highlights, it’s spectacular. Dirt is Alice In Chain’s masterpiece, their career defining album and it’s one of the best and most essential albums of the decade. It’s actually chilling, Layne invites us into his hellish nightmare and completely changes our perception of music. It’s an album that floors me, it leaves me absolutely speechless.
Number 8. – Houdini – Melvins
One of the most criminally overlooked bands ever, the Melvins have been making quality music since the grunge movement was in its infancy. During the Melvins’s days when grunge was at its peak, they were at their most creative. After their spacy, long album Lysol, Melvins went back to the wild songwriting in Houdini. Just a massive dose of heaviness. The first two songs are a real kick in the face, and “Honey Bucket” is like getting run over repeatedly by a car (but in the “good” way). I’ve just about played those tracks to death and still love ’em, but “Joan of Arc” has become my dark horse favorite. Everything here is great (even “Spread Eagle Beagle,” sometimes), and I still love that look of confusion that people give their CD players when “Pearl Bomb” comes on. I admire how these guys seamlessly combine and defy multiple punk and metal genres, and they have a real wicked sense of humor too. Don’t even get me started on King Buzzo’s cryptic lyrics. Thanks to Mr. Cobain’s string-pulling, the Melvins have found themselves with a Major Label Budget and put it to good use in making their songs sound even clearer and more thunderous than ever before. Everything the Melvins released on the superb Boner label rules (except for Joe Preston, though perhaps I’m bitter that the circumstances didn’t allow for it to be Lori Black instead), but this is one of those examples where major label-funded production and lack of interference allow a band to make their most uncompromising album yet. There were a few underground groups that snuck through and made remarkable albums for the big guys around 1992-96 (back when seemingly everything and anything could be released), but Houdini is one of the best of them all.
Number 7. – Superfuzz Bigmuff –
Back before there was grunge, this garage/hardcore punk band were the innovators of this wave that paved the way for grunge throughout the 1990s. When Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff was first released, in 1988, it was a six-song EP that became an epoch: the record regarded, in hindsight, as one of the first landmarks of grunge. Mark Arm and Steve Turner —Mudhoney/grunge’s founding fathers— had done time in that ultimate neo-grunge outfit, Green River, and after a falling out with the more theatrically/commercially minded future-Pearl-Jam members of the outfit, had gotten back together to start a band that hewed closer to their Stooges-loving roots. With its snarling riffs, Arm’s unreserved caterwauls, and a lyrical bent that dealt in sexual inadequacies, sexually-transmitted diseases, and, y’know, vomit, “Touch Me I’m Sick” delighted in its own spirit of degradation. It was backed with “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More,” in which the descending guitar scuzz and Arm’s reverbed-out screams combined to create an air of audio lechery. Album opener Touch Me I’m Sick is a great reminder that grunge (a word that seemed so edgy then, so dated now) didn’t have to be all darkness and despair. Touch Me I’m Sick has almost a fun jaunt that starts Superfuzz Bigmuff with an almost smile. Superfuzz Bigmuff’ got the nod because every song either on the original release or the 32 song 2008 re-release encapsulates all of the band’s greatest qualities. It starts with ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ kicking off with distorted guitar, an “ooh” and “waaaaaaahhhh”, containing self depreciating lyrics of which Iggy would be proud. ‘Sweet Young Thing’ follows telling the story of a young girl, a prom queen perhaps? submitting to the temptations of alcohol, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to her parent’s horror. ‘Hate the Police’ and ‘Burn it Clean’ keep the momentum going. ‘You Got It’ with it’s machine gun drums and it’s scuzzy guitar has Arm’s screeching vocals seeming to tell the story of a pretty girl too ready to offer her body to others: ”you give it away like a free sample but I don’t want what anyone one can have”… Arm is too righteous to take advantage.
Number 6. – Jar of Flies –
Alice in Chains
I’m still amazing that with the music world focusing on LP’s alone, this still remains the only EP to be in the number 1 in the billboard charts. Alice In Chains hit something of a perfect stride here, an artistic monument unto their own uniqueness. I mean, find any other rock band who puts out a mostly mellowed experience and tell me if its as good. Of course it isn’t. In fact, if this thing contained only “Nutshell” and “No Excuses,” it would still get a perfect rating from me. Those two make up the genius of this EP. Both conjure up the usual atmosphere of Alice In Chains, but without the benefit of heavy guitars they usually ended up employing. I would argue the end result is actually heavier using mostly acoustic work and the seemingly up-beat nature of “No Excuses.” This song here is probably my favorite by the band, the vocal harmonization is golden and possesses some incredibly memorable lead playing. Hard to go wrong with either of those songs. The other tracks featured are no slouches, either. “Don’t Follow” and “Swing on This” are more blues driven and aren’t as memorable, but still good. Don’t forget “Rotten Apple,” which is quite dark and atmospheric, but it works perfectly. This stands to me as Alice In Chains’ definitive work. Even without the heavy guitars its their heaviest work, as ironic as that might seem. Even the more up-beat nature of some of these songs give way to a darker underlining, which runs hand and hand with their more well known full-length albums. A truly amazing piece of work, one that I doubt any of their peers could have possibly surpassed or even replicated.
Number 5. – Ten – Pearl Jam
Out of all of the major Seattle grunge era bands that came to occupy mainstream popularity, Pearl Jam’s music was probably the most technically, instrumentally accomplished and relied the most on a certain degree of improvisation. Just think of the importance of this album! Eddie Vedder’s deep vocals introduced a whole new generation of singers who tries to replicate his deep, country-rock voice from then to the post-grunge era (e.i Creed & Nickleback). While those bands are all laughed at, Pearl Jam is still respected as the best. This whole Pearl Jam projects started out as a smart business decision of Eddie Vedder taking surviving band members of Mother Love Bone right after Andrew Wood’s heroin overdose. Instead of continuing what Andrew Wood left off, Eddie made lyrics relatable to listeners everywhere and make it all a spiritual experience. Pearl Jam’s appeal was that it went above the griddy, sliminess that many grunge contemporaries are known for. This helps to make “Ten” perhaps the most accessible out of all the breakthrough grunge albums; it strikes a good balance between Nirvana’s abrasion, Soundgarden’s cosmic sensibility, and Alice in Chains’ heady darkness. It must be difficult to be in the band because like many iconic bands (like “Appetite for Destruction” by Guns n’ Roses), they’ll keep trying to make new material but the public will always look back to their debut album as the ultimate measuring stick that can never be topped. Don’t get me wrong, Pearl Jam made so many great classics after Ten after decades of still remaining a rock band, but they’re one of many bands that are incapable to make a better album than what’s offered here.
Number 4. – Temple of the Dog –
Temple of the Dog
Andrew Wood must have been so special to many who were in the Seattle music scene because since his passing, many grunge contemporaries shared so many memories & brought so much tribute to the what-could-have-been biggest rockstar. It was his untimely death of a drug overdose that not only spawned this release but also the formation of Pearl Jam as well. Essentially this is made up of the members of Mother Love Bone but with the vocals of a one Chris Cornell. This is the most passionate and emotionally charged album of the entire grunge movement of the early 1990’s. I don’t know any musical movements in history that ever have done a supergroup projects this successful. Looking back at Temple of the Dog, its not only what is things to come, hindsight-wise it’s the ultimate musical crossover ever placed together. With a handful of guest vocals spots from soon to be Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder there was no way this wasn’t gonna kick so much major ass. Vedder and Cornell sharing the mike is just as moving if not more so than that of Jerry Cantrell and Layne of Alice In Chains. Its a vocal pairing unlike anything I have ever heard before. Moving doesn’t even come close enough to being the right word for description. Without a weak song in the bunch, its really the deserved classic ‘Hunger Strike’ with both Cornell and Vedder sharing the mic that serves as the albums focal point. It might be the best song to ever come out of Grunge. Its perfect and brilliantly conveyed. And as much as I know it would never happen, and for reasons I totally understand and respect, Temple Of The Dog had they remained a group, I feel would have been called the best and most important of all the genre. I mean think about it. This project is loved by many music geeks and those whom witnessed its release. We’re never going to have another Temple of the Dog album and it hurts to never see Pearl Jam & Soundgarden crossover ever again. I’m very sure Andrew Wood have already looked down from heaven with a smile after this project brought him recognition that he never got while he was alive.
Number 3. – Apple – Mother Love Bone
Interesting that Mother Love Bone was at the bottom of the list of the best grunge bands and their one and only LP managed to make it at the top 3 of the best grunge albums of all time. Despite the fact that I enjoy Pearl Jam, I really do wish that Andrew Wood would not have died and Mother Love Bone would have continued making music today. Andrew Wood is an exceptionally brilliant talent and I feel not only him but the band as a whole deserves more credit than they got. This is a truly great piece of music that anyone from an 80’s hair metal lover to a 90’s grunge fan will enjoy. Sure most people expected this album to sound like Pearl Jam or Soundgarden but what they’ve got is a more improved version of Gun n’ Roses. Really more akin to hair metal than the grungy alternative sound of most bands coming from Seattle in the late 80’s, Mother Love Bone is still a respected- even revered- band of grunge culture. Mother Love Bone will forever be remembered as the group that spawned Pearl Jam. However, there was so much more to the story of the short-lived band, that was fronted by the late Andrew Wood, who lost his battle with heroin. Mother Love Bone’s 1990 debut album, Apple, is an overlooked recording, that bridges the ’80s Hollywood big hair band scene to the Seattle grunge movement. With eventual Pearl Jam stalwarts, bassist Stone Gossard and guitarist Jeff Ament, leading the way, following their days in Green River, along with front man Wood, MLB kicked out a killer set of thirteen tracks that comprise Apple. The disc is strong from start to close, with “This is Shangrila”, “Stardog Champion”, “Holy Roller”, the acoustic “Stargazer”, “Capricorn Sister”, and “Crown of Thorns” highlighting the effort. It’s so unfair that an album as good as this one failed to achieve the recognition and success it deserved. I realize that the fact that Andrew Wood (vocalist) died before the album hit the streets was in part a major reason why Apple got so ignored. I truly believed this along with Faith No More’s The Real Thing, Apple was the most perfect transition album between ’80s and ’90s rock.
Number 2. – Nevermind – Nirvana
The one thing that makes Nirvana as popular as they are is that they’ve managed to create alternative rock that blends tremendously well to lullabies that tackles subject matter of rambunctious spirituality & rockstar lifestyle. The song list in this very album is completely legendary and it’s hard to find another alternative rock album that manages to live up to the awesomeness contained in this very album. Sure, hearing another person praise this album is like a cliche, but who cares, that’s why this album still sounds great since 1991! The thing that sucks is when I became a fan of this album, Kurt Cobain already killed himself which is why it sucks to be born too late and never experience them live or get into subjects of his fame when the band was still around. You can’t deny that Smells Like Teen Spirit is hands down the best opening song of all time that forever changed the way we listened to music and all the way to Something In The Way, it leaves you satisfied. Before Nevermind came along, Hair Metal was the most popular rock music in the mainstream, but as soon as this album hit shelves… BAM! The whole industry changed! This is the one album that changed the 1980s to the new era called the 1990s and I thank Nirvana for accomplishing that, despite the band loathes its own success. The band had no idea how much impact they were making for the alternative rock genre that was called back then Grunge. Here we are now, twenty years later and it still entertains the living hell out of us. I memorize all the lyrics on each song and sing them out loud time after time again like a lullaby. I really can’t say the same with that many song list out there. So many alternative rock bands throughout the 1980s (that were considered college rock) strive to accomplish what Nirvana succeeded. Kurt and the band paved the way for millions around the world to get into alternative rock as a whole, and still to this day Nevermind remains an all time great that came out of that genre! Nevermind will always remain on a high belt of music whether you hate it to shit, are indifferent, or love it like a child with his/her lullabies. Nevermind still is revolutionary for what it did with the music industry at the time, but as far as the music goes itself, it’s great, and that’s final.
Number 1. – Superunknown –
I still wonder why Soundgarden still is placed under its grunge contemporaries as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or Alice in Chains because as a grunge band, Soundgarden is the strongest band in the catalog. Chris Cornell started as an underground band who had difficulty to escape the Seattle scene then in 1994 released the pinnacle of 1990s rock music. I was absolutely floored by Superunknown on my first listening and it never diminished its appeal since then. This album is a relentless assault comprised of no less than 15 songs and over an hour of pure, apocalyptic aggression that, for me, launched Soundgarden from being an obscure band to the unquestioned stratosphere of rock greatness, all thanks to one album! Oh sure, Soundgarden never changed its soul-filled, hard-rocking sound and they didn’t need to; the band needed to make hits that got everyone to pay attention. It is a work that became so important to me that I gave it the honor of breaking in my brand new home stereo bought that same year, the stereo I still utilize to this day to play all the great albums from hundreds of legendary bands. One of the many things that so impressed me about the album is how it never lets up. Each track is just at the right length for us to enjoy Cornell’s soulful vocals at the beginning and it’s tasty jams at the end. This works so well for “Superunknown.” By the time you get to “Head Down,” the start of the 2nd third, you’re almost out of breath. Even if you’re out of breath from all the jams, the pacing goes well bringing the listeners to an LSD trip. The second half of the album contains probably the album’s highlight with “Spoonman” and “Black Hole Sun,” two that are not only great hits for Soundgarden, but are truly fine pieces of music as well. But it is perhaps the last two songs of this section, “Limo Wreck” and “The Day I Tried To Live” which combine to produce the most impressive moment of all. These two songs laid side-by-side next to one another are so utterly fantastic that your speakers would be overtly nodding in approval if they were so capable. The very best of Led Zeppelin, Rush and other greats are impeccably called upon here to simmer together nicely for a brew that is tasty beyond measure. Unlike Nevermind having Smells Like Teen Spirit as the best song, Superunknown has tracks from beginning to end that anyone can pick as their favorite of the grunge genre as a whole. Superunknown is an achievement that few bands have matched and one that rightfully places the not only the best grunge album, but the best rock album of the 1990s decade.