Today marks the three-year anniversary of the tragic suicide of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. So, with him in mind, we are remembering the great talent he was at by visiting his heart-wrenching isolated vocal performance on ‘Black Hole Sun’.
Cornell is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock singers of all time and he truly had a distinctive tone. It helped Soundgarden gain a jutting prominence and alongside some rather wonderful songwriting, stood them out from their contemporaries. The band formed in 1984 but it wasn’t until the ’90s when they would breakthrough as part of the grunge movement and gain rich successes.
Soundgarden’s 1994 record ironically called Superunknown would go straight to the top of the charts in America, Canada and Australia which made the band into arena rockers in the process. The record sold a staggering 310,000 copies in the first week of sales alone and it has gone on to be purchased more than nine million times as of date.
A large part of the record’s success was the breathtaking single ‘Black Hole Sun’ which managed to please the band’s hardcore fanbase who had followed them for the previous decade as well as turning a lot of people on to Soundgarden who had never heard them before without compromising on their credibility.
‘Black Hole Sun’ would go on to win a Grammy for ‘Best Hard Rock Performance’ — listening to Cornell’s isolated vocal performance this is no surprise with the frontman providing gripping vocals of the finest calibre which is even more poignant when isolated.
Chris Cornell got the idea for this song while driving home from Bear Creek Studio, near Seattle, where Soundgarden was recording at the time. He recalled the drive to Uncut in August 2014: “I wrote it in my head driving home from Bear Creek Studio in Woodinville, a 35-40 minute drive from Seattle. It sparked from something a news anchor said on TV and I heard wrong. I heard ‘blah blah blah black hole sun blah blah blah’. I thought that would make an amazing song title, but what would it sound like? It all came together, pretty much the whole arrangement including the guitar solo that’s played beneath the riff.”
“I spent a lot of time spinning those melodies in my head so I wouldn’t forget them,” he continued. “I got home and whistled it into a Dictaphone. The next day I brought it into the real world, assigning a couple of key changes in the verse to make the melodies more interesting. Then I wrote the lyrics and that was similar,a stream of consciousness based on the feeling I got from the chorus and title.”
Cornell also reflected on the song’s lyrical content: “What’s interesting to me is the combination of a black hole and a sun,” he said. “A black hole is a billion times larger than a sun, it’s a void, a giant circle of nothing, and then you have the sun, the giver of all life. It was this combination of bright and dark, this sense of hope and underlying moodiness.”
“I even liked the way the words looked written down,” Cornell added. “I liken it to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, where there’s a happy veneer over something dark. It’s not something I can do on purpose but occasionally it will happen by accident.”
Pour one out in memory of Cornell and enjoy this gripping vocal performance of ‘Black Hole Sun’.