Chris Cornell performing April 20 at the Fort Rock Music Festival in Fort Myers, Fla.
Chris Cornell, the voice of grunge giants Soundgarden and a fantastic vocalist in his own right, died Wednesday night in Detroit, while on tour, the singer’s representative confirmed to the Associated Press. He was 52.
Cornell was one of the few singers who could scream his heart out for two minutes straight (his vocal range was four octaves) and then ease into a subdued, gentle performance, like it was no big thing. And then he’d scream some more.
He rose to stardom with Soundgarden, one of the darker bands to emerge in the early ’90s grunge movement. Perhaps best known for the ultimate chillout rock anthem "Black Hole Sun," Soundgarden is normally a lot harder to swallow on the first listen, with atypical song structures, irregular rhythms and inaccessible lyrics. Check out a more recent acoustic rendering of one of the band’s songs from the "Superunknown" record from 1994.
To hear some of that denser, deeper, weirder Soundgarden, look no further than "Jesus Christ Pose," taken off the band’s "Badmotorfinger" album, which came out in 1991. Cornell is practically screaming in crazy-high register throughout the entire song, and it’s absolutely amazing.
Of course, even this quick recap of Cornell’s career wouldn’t be complete without "Black Hole Sun." There have been many versions of the song over the years, but we’re still partial to the original, super-weird video, which at one point was absolutely unavoidable on MTV. In parks all around the world, you’ll still occasionally hear a youth armed with an acoustic guitar trying (and often failing) to hit those high notes from the song’s last chorus.
After Soundgarden dissolved in 1997, Cornell released a solo album before surprisingly taking on the role of lead vocalist at Audioslave, a band that otherwise consists of former Rage Against the Machine members. The combo worked, and the band definitely rocked, but it always sounded a little too tailor-made for arenas and stadiums. It had some awesome songs, though; I dare you to try and stay still during the chorus of "Show Me How to Live."
Post-Soundgarden, and especially during his solo days, Cornell was no stranger to taking on a cover, and some of his acoustic renderings of famous songs are among the best ever. Here, he sings a stripped down version of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.
And here’s a double whammy of talent — an acoustic version of Prince’s "Nothing Compares 2 U" sang by Chris Cornell. And you thought that nothing can touch Sinead O’Connor’s version.
Perhaps the best song to wrap up this sadly unexpected recap is another "Superunknown" song, the dissonant anthem "The Day I Tried to Live." The song somehow works as a radio hit despite featuring an odd tuning, a weird time signature, and unusual structure. Of course, the song again features the type of vocal acrobatics Cornell was known for. Perhaps the most amazing thing about that high-pitched rock scream of his, omnipresent on his songs, was how effortless it was.