Just a few days ago, we were shocked to learn of the tragic and untimely passing of Chris Cornell, at age 52. A beloved figure in the world of rock music, Cornell and the numerous bands that he had performed in were some of the most influential in recent decades, with countless bands of today considering him one of the most prominent influences on their work.
While the body of work that Chris leaves behind is vast and immense, there’s almost no way to remember him without leaving out some of the hundreds of songs he’s recorded, dozens of albums he’s featured on, and the countless live shows he’s performed. So we’ve decided to go back through Cornell’s history and pick out some of the very best moments that made fans from all over fall in love with him.
Soundgarden were arguably one of the biggest grunge bands of the ’90s. Alongside Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains, they were one of ‘The Big Four’ of the Seattle grunge bands. Forming in 1984 with Chris Cornell as the singer and original drummer, joined by Kim Thayil and Hiro Yamamoto on guitar and bass, the group released their first record, the brilliant Ultramega OK in 1988. Following 1989’s Loud Like Love, the group blew the minds of fans everywhere with tracks like ‘Rusty Cage’, ‘Outshined’, and ‘Jesus Christ Pose’.
Just a month before grunge’s biggest name, Kurt Cobain, passed away, Soundgarden released their seminal work, the phenomenal Superunknown. With a number of singles being released from the album, including ‘Fell On Black Days’, ‘Spoonman’, ‘The Day I Tried To Live’, and what would become their signature song, ‘Black Hole Sun’, the group saw some of the biggest success of their career. Following a lukewarm reception to 1996’s Down On The Upside, they disbanded the following year. 2010 saw the group finally reform, using the opportunity to record their final record together, King Animal in 2012, and touring Australia as part of both Big Day Out and Soundwave festivals.
Temple Of The Dog
In 1990, Chris Cornell started a band which would pay tribute to his friend Andrew Wood, famously known as the singer for influential rock group Mother Love Bone. The lineup was completed by former Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, who were at that time also members of Pearl Jam, as well as other Pearl Jam members Mike McCready, and Matt Cameron, who also drummed for Soundgarden.
While Temple Of The Dog’s self-titled debut didn’t receive much publicity until Pearl Jam’s Ten hit the big time, singles such as ‘Hunger Strike’, which was a duet with Eddie Vedder, have continued to receive constant airplay on classic rock stations of the era. The group broke up in 1992, but the ensuing years saw a number of reunion performances, including a tour last year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their record.
Chris Cornell’s cameo in ‘Singles’
Singles was one of the most well-known movies that took a look at the Seattle grunge scene in the ’90s. Sure, it wasn’t exactly filled with the authentic, no-name actors that you’d need to make a movie like this seem a bit more believable, but it featured an absolutely killer soundtrack that contained some of grunge’s biggest names, and was in fact the main reason that Alice In Chains’ ‘Would?’ got so popular.
One of the film’s most memorable scenes actually featured a small Chris Cornell cameo. While Matt Dillon was too busy showing off the uh, ‘features’ that were added to Bridget Fonda’s car, it starts to basically destroy itself. Cue Chris Cornell’s long-haired presence ambling out onto the street to see what’s going on. It wasn’t a role that was going to win Cornell an Oscar, but his complete ambivalence to the events going on just seemed to perfectly capture that stereotypical Gen X attitude towards everything.
Chris Cornell & Johnny Cash
In 1996, Johnny Cash released the record Unchained. It was his second record for the American Recordings label, run by Rick Rubin, and featured Cash taking on a number of well-known songs in addition to his own material. Apart from his original tunes, Cash decided to give songs such as Beck’s ‘Rowboat’, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ ‘Southern Accents’ his own personal touch. Another song he decided to cover was Soundgarden’s seminal hit, ‘Rusty Cage’.
If you think about it, it almost sounds like a bad joke. An ageing country musician trying to retain his credibility by tackling one of grunge’s favourite hits certainly doesn’t sound like a good idea. But Cash couldn’t care less; he tackled it, and knocked it out of the park. In fact, Cornell himself was so impressed by Cash’s interpretation of the track that he even started to perform it in that same style, much in the same way that Bob Dylan attempted to imitate Jimi Hendrix’s cover of ‘All Along The Watchtower’.
With both Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine having decided to take some time off, the members of Rage who weren’t Zack De La Rocha teamed up with Cornell to form Audioslave. On paper, it was one of the best sounding rock supergroups of all time, and thankfully, they backed it up with some of the greatest rock anthems of all time. With tracks such as ‘Cochise’, ‘Like A Stone’, and ‘Show Me How To Live’, their self-titled debut has gone down in history as one of rock’s greatest debut records.
2005 saw Audioslave release Out Of Exile, with which they managed to recreate the success of their debut only four years prior. With ‘Be Yourself’ gaining massive airplay around the world, the group were unstoppable. The next year saw the group release their final record, Revelations. While it didn’t see as much success as previous albums, it served as a fitting finale for the group. Cornell left the group in early 2007, but the group finally reunited only four months ago as part of the Prophets Of Rage Anti-Trump festival.
The ‘Casino Royale’ Theme
When the makers of Casino Royale brought Daniel Craig in to star as the world’s most beloved secret agent, James Bond, they knew they had to make his entrance pretty special. That’s why, when they needed to find a song for that highly-anticipated opening credits scene, they picked a song sung by none other than Chris Cornell.
‘You Know My Name’, was the chosen song, making Cornell the first American male to be in charge of the theme song. Something about the song was just intoxicating. It featured Cornell’s brilliant vocals, delivered with almost effortless style, and it managed to make the film’s beginning something that both fans of grunge and spy movies would never forget. To this day, it is still considered one of the best opening themes for any James Bond movie yet, which is pretty nifty considering that list includes Adele, Jack White, Alicia Keys, and Shirley Bassey.
His cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’
Let’s be fair, Michael Jackson and Chris Cornell couldn’t be any more different. While Jackson made brilliantly slick dance-pop music, Cornell was busy perfecting his ability to bare his emotions through a rough, yet popular new genre of music. This is basically why no one ever they would read the words ‘Chris Cornell covers Michael Jackson in a sentence’, but of course, it did.
When Cornell’s second solo record, Carry On, was released in 2007, it featured a track right in the middle that didn’t sound like it should be there if you read the track list. That song was a cover of Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’, and it was pretty amazing. Cornell would perform this track live as well, replacing the synthesisers and drums of Jackson’s original with a sparse acoustic accompaniment, and rough, howled vocals. Arguably one of the best cover versions you’ll ever hear.