20. My Hero – Foo Fighters (1997)
“There goes my hero. Watch him as he goes…”
The Foo Fighters were looking to bring a new vibe to a damaged culture that was in constant shock and still grieving after the loss of one of it’s most beloved heroes. In true Grunge character, frontman Dave Grohl wrote an inspiring ode to his hero then sidestepped the question about the true meaning of the song. For those invested in the cause it was an ironic summary of what the movement was all about, since hero worship is widely shunned. “My Hero” is the third single released from the album The Colour and the Shape.
19. Possum Kingdom – The Toadies (1994)
“Don’t be afraid, I didn’t mean to scare you, so help me Jesus.”
One of the most refreshing tunes of the era, “Possum Kingdom” pulls no punches lyrically with its pointed and passionate melodies while it soothes with choppy yet tasteful guitar riffs. A story of brutal honesty in romance takes you on a trip through a dark soul and brings you out safely on the other side. The hit song still appeals to children of the 80’s and 90’s who have long since hung up their flannel shirts and tattered jeans. “Possum King” was the second single released from the album Rubberneck.
18. No Rain – Blind Melon (1993)
“All I can say is that my life is pretty plain, I like watchin’ the puddles gather rain…”
There is no way to hear this song without picturing the “tap dancing bumblee girl” who exploded across television sets during the MTV music video craze and stole the attention of many starry eyed teens. Blind Melon took advantage of the apathetic mood sweeping the country with their laid back and self loathing lyrics and created a tune that is hard to resist and even harder to get out of your head once it makes you smile. “No Rain” received a Grammy nomination for best performance by a duo or group with vocals.
17. Comedown – Bush (1994)
“I don’t wanna come back down from this cloud. It’s taken me all this, all this time…”
Just two years after becoming a band, Bush hit the scene with a different kind of swagger and sound than what most fans of Seattle Grunge were used to. The group never made it big in their home country of England but Americans sure seemed to be in awe of their British bravado. Musically and lyrically “Comedown” didn’t have the same edge as some of the other songs from the era but it showed that Grunge music could come in different forms and still drive home the same raw edge. “Comedown” was the third single from the album Sixteen Stone.
16. Rape Me – Nirvana (1993)
“Hate me, do it and do it again, waste me, rape me, my friend.”
Most people probably remember exactly where they were the first time they heard it. Kurt Cobain’s pleading voice made it hard to ignore or forget. It is still a common reminder of an era where it was not only okay but popular to say exactly what you feel. That day and age is gone but the legacy lives on. Cobain explained the lyrics as belonging to someone confident and defiant enough to withstand a would be attacker. “Rape Me” reached number 32 on the UK Singles Chart after being the second single from the album In Utero.
15. Touch Me I’m Sick – Mudhoney (1996)
“Come on baby, now come with me. If you don’t come youll die alone…”
This tune was a major hit with the indie crowd long before it was officially released. It deals with formerly taboo issues like disease and violent sex in a straightforward, yet, light hearted way. The angry vocals, dirty guitar riffs, straight forward baseline and persistent drumming paved the way for many of these other musicians and created the sound that was in their heads when they took it mainstream. “Touch Me I’m Sick” was released as Mudhoney’s debut single.
14. Tomorrow – Silverchair (1994)
“There’s no bathroom and there is no sink, the water out of the tap is very hard to drink…”
The members of this Australian based band were only fifteen years old when they released their hit song and were often compared to the major acts of the Grunge era, although, they also had a unique sound of their own. Lead singer Daniel Johns explained the reason for writing the song. “”I saw on SBS once this documentary about a poor guy that takes a rich guy to a poor persons’ hotel to experience what it’s like being a poor person and that. And the rich guy is complaining to get out and that, and he has to wait ’til tomorrow to get out of the hotel”. “Tomorrow” was a part of the album Frogstomp.
13. River of Deceit – Mad Season (1995)
“My pain is self-chosen, at least, so the prophet says…”
The post-punk era wasn’t always filled with boisterous guitars, angst filled voices and crowd surfing. Sometimes the music could be quiet and even sad. “River of Deceit” the biggest hit of the supergroup formed by members of Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees, took it’s fans down that road with sorrowful sounds and thought provoking lyrics and gained a lot of praise in the meantime. The band met a tragic end with the death of bassist John Baker Saunders but the song has left an enduring mark on the movement. “River of Deceit” reached number two on the Billboard Rock Tracks chart after being released as the first single from their debut album Above.
12. Hunger Strike – Temple of the Dog (1991)
“I don’t mind stealin’ bread from the mouths of decadence…”
Legend has it that Chris Cornell was practicing the song that he had written as a statement to major labels that he was “staying true to what he was doing regardless of what comes of it” when a guy named Ed who was trying out for a band that would later be named Pearl Jam, stepped up to the mic and started singing the low notes on the chorus and the rest is history. The song hit its peak later when the movement was already in full swing and has become a lasting piece of Seattle folklore. “Hunger Strike” was the first single from the album Temple of the Dog and was Eddie Vedder’s first featured vocal on a record.
11. Jeremy – Pearl Jam (1991)
“Jeremy spoke in class today…”
Based on a news story taken from a magazine, “Jeremy” tells the tale of a troubled sixteen year old highschool student who took his own life in front of his English class. The song was the third single off of Pearl Jam’s debut album “Ten” and the topic of discussion for teenagers all over the country. The fact that lead singer, Eddie Vedder, who also penned the song, had experienced something similar in his childhood is very apparent in the empathetic sadism that rings from his voice.
10. Doll Parts – Hole (1994)
“I love him so much it just turns to hate, I fake it so real, I am beyond fake…”
Hole definitely wasn’t the only female band on the scene during this period but they were definitely the most visible. Frontwoman Courtney Love has always gotten what she wants no matter the price and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She was going to be the Grunge Queen even if it meant marrying the King. She never let pain or pride stop her from sewing together the pieces that allowed her to shine and this song is the epitome of Love’s desire to be “The girl with the most cake.” “Doll Parts was the second single on the album Live Through This.
9. Creep – Radiohead (1993)
“You float like a feather in a beautiful world, and I wish I was special, you’re so fuckin’ special…”
Insanity and obsession definitely have their place in the Grunge movement and nobody does it better than Radiohead in their debut single. In the chorus, Thom Yorke claims “But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo” in a sincere way that makes it impossible not to believe him and maybe even feel sorry for him. The band refused to play the song for a period during live shows because they believed it caused fans to ignore the rest of their music. “Creep” was the bands debut single and even though it wasn’t an instant chart success it became extremely popular over time.
8. Bullet With Butterfly Wings – Smashing Pumpkins (1995)
“Then someone will say what is lost can never be saved, despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage…”
Pumpkins‘ lead singer Billy Corgan believed that he knew exactly what the public wanted in their music and that he could write a hit single basically on command. “Bullet” seemed to prove that as audiences ate up his witty lyrics and biting vocals. The band wasn’t only musically talented, however, as the “artsy” videos turned heads and garnered a fair share of attention as well. Although, they were not from Seattle and claimed not to be a Grunge band, the Smashing Pumpkins had an extreme influence on the scene. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” was the lead single of the double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and won the Grammy Award for the Best Hard Rock Performance.
7. Even Flow – Pearl Jam (1991)
“Even Flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies. Oh, he don’t know so he chases them away…”
Even Flow, is Eddie Veder’s tribute to the homeless and Stone Gossard’s homage to Stevie Ray Vaughn. “I tried to steal everything I know from Stevie Ray Vaughan and put it into that song. A blatant rip-off. A tribute rip-off, if you will.” Gossard said about his part in creating the music. Veder’s thoughts go a bit deeper, “I thought I’d throw in a bit of street education while you still have an open mind….Right across the street there’s a little homeless community that lives under the bridge. You should just know that those people ain’t all crazy and sometimes it’s not their fault.” “Even Flow” which peaked at number two on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart was the band’s second single from the album Ten.
6. Interstate Love Song – Stone Temple Pilots (1994)
“Leavin’ on a southern train, only yesterday you lied…”
The Stone Temple Pilots were often at the mercy of their wildly flamboyant and charismatic frontman who had a well documented history of drug abuse before succumbing to an overdose which took his life. They were also very dependent on his troubled mind to carry them to success, which he did on more than one occasion. The lyrics of this song are a window into the cravings he chased on a regular basis and the love that always seemed to be just beyond his reach. “Interstate Love Song” sat on top of the charts for 15 weeks and was off of their second album Purple.
5. Man in the Box – Alice In Chains (1990)
“I’m the dog who gets beat, shove my nose in shit won’t you come and save me…”
“I was really really stoned when I wrote it, so it meant something else at the time.” Lead singer Layne Staley said about the song that drew much attention for its lyrical content. He claimed that the song was about censorship and was adamant about letting everyone who heard it to know that it was not about his love for veal. Stanley’s vocals mixed with those of band founder and lead guitarist, Jerry Cantrell, made for and intoxicating duo that powered their band to a place among the greats in the Seattle movement. “Man in the Box” was released on the debut full-length album Facelift.
4. Come as You Are – Nirvana (1991)
“And I swear that I don’t have a gun…”
Nirvana had a way of toying with your mind through their lyrics that seemed so friendly and innocent at first but could leave you frustrated even many years later. Frontman Kurt Cobain who allegedly took his own life with a shotgun just a few years after the song was released, begs us to “Come as you are” but then he immediately counters that with “As I want you to be.” The song has spanned decades and is as popular now as it ever was and still carries a friendly but painful message of sorrow and drug abuse. “Come as You Are” was the second single from the album Nevermind and spent quality time on the charts.
3. Black – Pearl Jam (1991)
“I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky, but why…can’t it be…mine?”
Pearl Jam continues to thrill audiences all across the globe as they are all that’s left at top of the Seattle Grunge movement. They have achieved all sorts of successes and accolades and will go down as one of, if not the most influential group in recent history. Yet, the song that defines them is of first love lost. It is as articulate verbal painting of young lust, desire and heartache. Vedder who portrays extreme emotion while performing the song, later added lyrics that shows that he apparently healed from the experience. “Black” is the 5th track on the album Ten.
2. Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden (1994)
“In my eyes, indisposed, in disguises no one knows, hides the face, lies the snake…”
This song which reveals a distorted reality of blissful destruction and terror appears to be in direct contrast with the soothing voice of frontman Chris Cornell and that may be exactly why it works. The music video was equally powerful and helped change the way songs are perceived and interpreted to this day. Even now, it’s hard to forget the strange lyrics about the snake and the laughable image of barbecued Barbie. “Black Hole Sun” was the 3rd single from the bands fourth studio album Superunknown and found itself atop the charts for seven weeks.
1. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana (1991)
“With the lights out it’s less dangerous, here we are now, entertain us, I feel stupid and contagious…”
Cobain took the title of this song from a message spray painted on his bedroom wall by Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna, which read, “Kurt Smells like Teen Spirit” the brand of perfume worn by the girl who had just recently dumped him. He thought it would be the perfect name for the “ultimate pop song,” he was attempting to write. He claimed to be “disgusted with my generation’s apathy, and with my own apathy and spinelessness.” and that is the vein he used to find the song that would define a generation. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the lead single from the album Nevermind.
Peter Wiseman is the founder/president and lead writer of the Rivalry Sports and Entertainment Network, a devoted father and a fan of all things relating to world culture.