The late Chris Cornell was a master of his craft, and in the years since he left us, his presence has been sorely missed in music. Cornell was more than just a rock frontman, he was also a specialist at delicately covering others as a solo artist as these five tracks showcase.
Cornell didn’t just look like the archetypal rock ‘n’ roller, but he also had the songwriting muscle to back up his appearance and a voice which captivated millions. In short, the late Soundgarden singer was the full package and one of the most pivotal figures in the history of the grunge scene.
He formed Soundgarden in 1984, and it wasn’t until the grunge boom of the early ’90s that the group finally began to gain mainstream recognition. After their fifth album, Down on the Upside, in 1996, they parted ways, and Cornell went on to launch his solo career with his delightful debut record, Euphoria Morning.
Following Zach De La Rocha’s departure from Rage Against The Machine, Cornell founded Audioslave with the group’s other members. They released three records together before the frontman finally returned home to Soundgarden in 2010.
However, we’ll be revisiting his tender moments as a solo artist in this piece, which celebrates his five most impassioned stripped-back covers and Cornell at the peak of his powers.
Chris Cornell’s five best covers:
Sinead O’Connor – ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’
When Cornell appeared on The Howard Stern Show in 2015, he delivered a gorgeous acoustic cover of Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. Famously, the track was penned by Prince, who gave it to the Irish singer who popularised it, but Cornell’s version is the ultimate one.
Cornell performed ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ frequently in his concerts, and his soulful vocals rejuvenated a song already held in such high regard. Additionally, in 2021, his daughter Toni also covered the track as a tribute to her late father, which shows how important Cornell’s version remains to his family.
Bob Dylan – ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’
Bob Dylan was somebody who Cornell unsurprisingly greatly admired and covered on many occasions with his innovative ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’, his finest Dylan moment. Although the sentiment of his version is the same as the original, he updated the lyrics to make them appropriate for the modern world.
Introducing the cover in 2015, Cornell said: “It is a song I think of when I think of the Civil Rights Movement, I think of folk music and that moment in time when the world was changing so fast that nobody knew what the fuck was going on. I realised recently it really needed to be updated in light of everything going on with the guy with the combover.”
Led Zeppelin – ‘Thank You’
This performance is again from another appearance on The Howard Stern Show, and Cornell beautifully reinvents Led Zeppelin’s ‘Thank You’ into a delightful solo effort straight from the heart. It’s packed full of stirring emotion, and he leaves you hanging on to his every note.
Explaining why he decided to take on ‘Thank You’ out of everything in Zeppelin’s back catalogue, Cornell said: “To me, it was kind of just uncharacteristic of other stuff off that album, it sounds like a ’60s pop song to me, how they have it arranged. With any other band, that would have been their biggest hit, but because it’s Led Zeppelin, their first album was so unbelievable, people kind of passed over it.”
The Beatles – ‘A Day In The Life’
Covering a song like ‘A Day In The Life’ by The Beatles is almost impossible because you will never better the original. However, you can pay tribute to it, and Cornell beautifully excels at that during his one-man acoustic cover.
His Seattle drawl adds a new dimension to the classic Beatles track, differentiating his version from the one that appeared on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 while keeping the arrangement as similar as possible.
Whitney Houston – ‘I Will Always Love You’
Similarly to Cornell, Whitney Houston died in tragic circumstances when she was far too young in February 2012. Following her death, the Soundgarden frontman performed a heartrending cover of her signature track ‘I Will Always Love You’, which is capable of making a grown man cry.
Although the track was originally performed by Dolly Parton, who famously wrote it on the same day as ‘Jolene’ when Houston took it on for the soundtrack for 1992’s The Bodyguard, the ownership of ‘I Will Always Love You’ instantly changed. Cornell’s cover was a touching salute to her and is a testament to his character.