Ten Best Grunge Bands of All Time
Hard rock hasn't been the same since grunge came along
Grunge is a form of hard rock – or alternative rock, if you prefer – that began in the Seattle, Washington area in the mid 1980s. Whether by design or otherwise, it seems safe to say that grunge musicians aren’t dressed to impress. Their music doesn’t have lots of frills either, and their performances are no more spectacular than the average garage jam. Yes, they are positively “grungy,” hence the term.
As for grunge singers, they tend to be mocking, sarcastic and derisive. They want you to feel their angst, misery and disillusionment, and if these states of being include self-destructive tendencies, so be it! They don't seem the most romantic guys around either. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain sang, “I love you so much – it makes me sick.” And when referring to his love interest, Courtney Love, he sang, “I’ve been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap, I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black.”
Would ballad-crooning pretty boys utter such lyrics?
Musically, grunge is relatively simple. Perhaps the most distinctive component of grunge is the soft verse, hard chorus. The musicians start in an acoustic mode, slowly revving up, and then at the chorus they wail away, the distortion, fuzz and feedback ripping at your ears.
Even though we may be in the so-called post-grunge period, let’s hope the essence of grunge sustains like power chords cranked up on amplifiers set at ten or eleven.
Please read the list of the Ten Best Grunge Bands of All Time:
10. Green River
Green River is considered one of the first grunge bands, forming in the Seattle area in 1984. Along with bands such as Soundgarden, the Melvins, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard and the U-Men, Green River developed a new genre of hard rock known as the Seattle sound or grunge. Green River’s first album was Come on Down, a modest effort at best, but hey it was a start. Their next album, Dry as a Bone, released by the new label Sub Pop, was much better, particularly the tune “Unwind.” Steve Huey of Allmusic called the album Green River's "strongest individual release, perfecting their sleazy, raucous fusion of '70s hard rock and post-hardcore punk.” With creative differences sending members in opposite directions, Green River broke up late in 1987, afterwards seeding other grunge bands with their members. Then the band reunited in 2008 and continues to tour.
9. My Sister’s Machine
My Sister’s Machine formed in 1989, the following year receiving the Best New Band Award from the Northwest Music Association. Three years later, their first album, Diva, garnered much critical acclaim. Mike Boehm of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Diva moves at a more rapid gait than either Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, and it dispenses with the leaden grunge that characterized the Seattle sound until a year or so ago (recent efforts out of the city, including, Diva, tend to be far more melodic and better written). In 1993, the band released another album, Wallflower, while touring with the bands Pantera, Kings X and White Zombie. Then My Sister’s Machine disbanded for many years and eventually reunited for the Layne Staley Tribute in August 2010.
8. Screaming Trees
Screaming Trees came together in 1985, eventually becoming one of the so-called Godfathers of Grunge. The band’s roots firmly entrenched in hard rock and psychedelic components, it soon recorded with the indie label, Velvetone Records, which released their debut album Clairvoyance. In 1990, Screaming Trees finally signed with a major record label, Epic Records, soon producing Uncle Anesthesia. After finding a new bass player and drummer, Screaming Trees produced Sweet Oblivion, their breakout album, which included the hit single “Nearly Lost You.” The song peaked at number five on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and the video did well on MTV. For the next several years, band members such as vocalist Mark Lanegan embarked on solo projects, leaving the band in the lurch through the late 1990s and beyond.
7. Mother Love Bone
As was often the case in those days, Mother Love Bone was initiated with members from other bands, namely Green River's Jeff Ament, Bruce Fairweather and Stone Gossard, Skin Yard drummer Greg Gilmore and Malfunkshun’s Andrew Wood. In 1989, the band produced its first album, Apple, released on the major label, PolyGram. The band seemed destined for stardom until frontman Andrew Wood overdosed on heroin. Without Wood’s charismatic input, the band folded. However, continuing the tradition of cross-fertilization in the Seattle area, the remaining members formed Temple of the Dog. Then shortly thereafter Gossard and Ament brought together the spectacular assemblage, Pearl Jam. Surviving members of the Mother Love Bone had a reunion concert in April 2010.
Bush is a British grunge band (these days considered by some to be post-grunge) that formed in London in 1992. Their first album, Sixteen Stone, released in 1994, was very successful, going six-time, multi-platinum. The album included the hit single “Everything Zen.” Later, in 1996 they produced Razorblade Suitcase, which hit number one in the Billboard rock charts. They’ve also produced numerous top ten singles. Around the turn of the century, Bush produced The Science of Things, which departed from the grunge sound by including electronic elements and more danceable styles, the group thereby incurring the post-grunge label. The band separated in 2002, the members embarking on solo careers or joining other bands, but regrouped in 2010, playing live performances.
5. Stone Temple Pilots
Stone Temple Pilots (the name refers to ancient aliens) is a San Diego band that formed in the early 1990s. Their first album, Core, released in 1992, was a smashing success, going eight-time platinum. Their list of accolades became long, as they won a Grammy in 1994 for Best Hard Rock Performance for the song “Plush.” Stone Temple Pilots has also produced numerous top ten singles and the band was listed as # 40 on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock, compiled in 2005. Beginning as a grunge, or at least hard-rock band, the Stone Temple Pilots were either loved or hated, many critics calling them a pretend grunge band, while others loved their unique sound. Over the years STP has transcended genre boundaries, creating whatever music they fancy at any particular time. Subsequently, the band broke up and then reunited in 2008.
4. Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains, another Seattle product, was brought together in 1987 by guitarist Jerry Cantrell and vocalist Layne Staley. In 1990, Alice in Chains released its first album, Facelift, which included their first big hit, “Man in a Box,” a metal radio favorite. (Grunge was hitting its stride at this time with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, which topped the Billboard 200 chart.) The band produced in 1992 its second album, Dirt, which Chris Gill of Guitar World called "huge and foreboding, yet eerie and intimate, sublimely dark and brutally honest.” Sadly, in the mid 1990s, Layne Staley developed an addiction to heroin, stalling the progress of the group, and then finally succumbed to addiction, dying in April 2002. The band broke up until 2005, and then reunited with William DuVall on vocals. Over the years, Alice in Chains has received much critical acclaim and many bands have covered their songs.
If there’s a quintessential grunge band, perhaps Nirvana is it. Led by misfit genius Kurt Cobain, Nirvana became famous with the release in 1991 of their second album, Nevermind. The album’s hit single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” is considered one of the greatest rock tunes of all time. Because of the band’s success, Cobain became the “spokesman of generation X,” a title he wanted about as much as a case of genital herpes! Nevermind sold over eight million copies and is considered one of the best rock albums ever, even though – strangely - the first side is twice as good as the second. In comparison, Nirvana’s third album, In Utero, which includes the hits “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Rape Me,” may be better from start to finish. Nirvana might have ended up higher on this list if Cobain, the obvious leader of the group, hadn’t died of a self-inflicted shotgun blast in April 1994.
Soundgarden grew from a band called The Shemps in the early 1980s. Another Seattle band, Soundgarden signed with Sub Pop in 1987, soon releasing the single “Hunted Down.” Steve Huey of Allmusic succinctly said of their music: “Stooges/MC5 meets Zeppelin/Sabbath sound.” Then, in 1989, Soundgarden became the first grunge band to sign with a major label – A&M Records, which pissed off some of their loyal fans, who thought they had sold out, even though on the current tour they opened for Guns N’ Roses! The band really scored in 1994 when they produced Superunknown, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. The album comprises numerous singles, including “Black Hole Sun,” certainly one of the band’s greatest hits and that of grunge as well! Soundgarden broke up in 1997 and then reunited in 2010, eventually producing their first live album, Live on I5, in March 2011.
1. Pearl Jam
Spawned from the demise of bands such as Green River and Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam formed in 1990. Led by vocalist Eddie Vedder and lead guitarist Mike McCready, Pearl Jam quickly rocketed to fame after creating their first album, Ten, arguably the band’s best and perhaps the greatest of grunge as well, eventually elevating to 13-time multi-platinum. However, many contemporaries, including Kurt Cobain, claimed the band was too commercial to be considered grunge. But if rebelliousness constitutes “grunginess,” Pearl Jam certainly qualifies, as the band, often vocalized by frontman Vedder, has refused to make videos and eschews interviews and TV appearances; and the band has feuded with Ticketmaster over ticket prices and venue monopolization. In spite of the turmoil, Pearl Jam continues to lead a Grateful Dead-like fan following that will probably continue until it passes on to that rock 'n' roll bone yard.
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© 2011 Kelley Marks