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 like Subpop. 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. – Temple of the Dog –
Temple of the Dog
While formed and set to be a tribute to fellow Grunge rocker and fellow Junkie, Andrew Wood, the former lead vocalist of Mother Love Bone. 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 Chriss Cornell. This is the most passionate and emotionally charged album of the entire grunge movement of the early 1990’s. Its also one of the decades greatest releases over all. With a handful of guest vocals spots from soon to be Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder there was no way this wasnt gonna kick so 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 avocal pairing unlike anything I have ever heard before. Moving doesnt 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. Stone Gossard wa sand still is the most talented guitarist and all around musician to emerge from Seattle since Hendrix. With Cornell singing, there is nothing those two couldnt do.
Number 9. – 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. A testament to this are Mike McCready’s blazing solos and Dave Krusen’s crackling drum fills. McCready is something of a secret weapon as he bridges the stylistic gap between the album’s modern rock and classic rock influences. 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. he album was so inviting to so many people that the band later regretted having such a produced sound and reissued a stripped down version of the debut in 2009. However, Parashar’s production is one of the many essential idiosyncrasies of the album that, for better or worse, made it WORK, and gained the band recognition beyond its wildest dreams. After “Ten”, Pearl Jam were arguably never so natural and unselfconscious on record ever again. There is little to no affectation in the music, which is what helps to solidify the album’s status as a true 90′s classic.
Number 8. – Vitalogy – Pearl Jam
Vitalogy, along with Soundgarden’s “Superunknown,” was really the last big album before the short-lived Grunge movement went to shams. But for only those three years of such a musical phenomenon shows how special this time of music really was. In fact Vitalogy contains some of Pearl Jam’s strongest songs in their entire catalog. It’s a good Pearl Jam album that just barely falls short of greatness. This is an unremittingly dark, harrowing, atmospheric record. It’s also fantastic – as Pearl Jam started to navigate away from their “grunge” roots, they also expanded their musical palette, allowing for the sort of restless experimentation they’d employ to terrific effect on later albums. Vitalogy gets a lot of flak for its left-field tracks – the minute-long chant “Pry, To”, the ominously funky “Aye Davanita”, and particularly the closing sound collage, “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me”. I’d argue that not only are these tracks instrumental in establishing the album’s feel and success, they never drag down the flow – the only one of any real length is “Foxymophandlemama”, and that’s tidily shunted off to the end of the album, should you decide to, I dunno, stop the record before it’s creepiest and most challenging track commences. In the meantime, PJ contribute some of the best tracks of their career – you’ll get the band’s best punk rave-ups in “Whipping” and the astonishing “Satan’s Bed”, eviscerating rockers with “Not For You” and “Corduroy”, and even some of the band’s best ballads (“Nothingman” is the most beautiful song this band’s ever recorded, bar none). A triumph in Pearl Jam’s discography, laden with searing invective and gallows humor, and far more richly textured than anything they’d released prior.
Number 7. – 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 6. – 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. 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 5. – Superunknown –
I was absolutley floored by the music I was hearing on this thing: a relentless assault comprised of no less than 15 songs and over an hour of pure, apocalyptic aggression that, for me, launched Soundgarden from the languishings of “forgettableness” to the unquestioned stratosphere of rock greatness, all thanks to one album! THAT’S how good this recording is, ladies and gentlemen. 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. The easiest way to break down an album of 15 tracks is to divide it up evenly into thirds. This works pretty well for “Superunknown.” The first five tracks are flat-out stunning. By the time you get to “Head Down,” the start of the 2nd third, you’re almost out of breath. This “second section,” if you will, contains probably the most popular songs, songs which I mentioned before: “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” (tracks 9 & 10) 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. “Superunknown” is an achievement that few bands have matched and one that rightfully places them among the greatest bands of the 1990’s.
Number 4. – 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 3. – 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 2. – 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 number 2 of the best grunge albums of all time. Despite the fact that I enjoy Pearl Jam, I do wish like hell that Andrew Wood would not have died and Mother Love Bone would have continued making music. Andy Wood is an exceptionally brilliant talent and I feel not only him but the band as a whole deserves more credit than they get. 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 1. – 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. 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) strived to accomplish what Nirvana succeeded. Kurt and the band started this musical movement called Grunge that 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 wether you hate it to shit, are indifferent, or love it like a child with his/her lullabies. Nevermind was 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.