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Music

Soundgarden icon Kim Thayill picks his favourite grunge albums of all time

@SamWKemp

Soundgarden are synonymous with grunge. They helped define the sound of the era-defining genre, taking elements of punk, metal, and classic rock and blending them to create something both politically-charged and introspective. But, how did the Soundgarden members feel about the grunge scene? Well, here, Kim Thayill gives us a clue, picking his favourite grunge albums of all time.

Soundgarden formed in 1984. With the likes of Tina Turner, Kenny Loggins, and Van Halen dominating the charts, the group’s blend of psychedelic punk stood in stark contrast to the musical status quo of the day. But even their early tracks, such as ‘All Your Lies’ from Ultramega OK betray the technical and imaginative brilliance that would see Soundgarden usher in a new age of alternative rock music within the space of a few years. At first, they relied on Chris Cornell’s stunning vocal ability, before introducing the warped time signatures and metal-infused riffs that would eventually become staples of Soundgarden’s songcraft.

Following the modest success of Louder Than Love in 1989, Soundgarden began their rise to worldwide acclaim, first with Badmotorfinger, which caused a huge amount of controversy both in the US and in the UK for its lead single ‘Jesus Christ Pose’. Singles like ‘Rusty Cage’ and ‘Outshined’ saw Soundgarden dominate alternative music charts. The release of Superunknown in 1991 only solidified their status as one of the most refreshing rock acts to emerge for a decade.

All of this success trickled back into the underground scene where Soundgarden had been born, leading to the gradual formation of a unique sound that was eventually labelled grunge. As the first grunge band to sign to a major label, Soundgarden paved the way for their peers and came to form the very centre of an increasingly popular scene, one that would soon take over the world of rock. But, as Kim Thayil recalls, the ‘grunge’ label was never really that appealing: “I think for a number of years, most of the Seattle bands avoided the term’ grunge,'” he began. “It’s kind of hard to recall what might be considered grunge or what might have been referred to as metal or pop or punk. I think the easy way to define it would probably be: ‘Seattle-area music of a particular community and genre during a particular period of time from the mid-Eighties to the mid-Nineties.'”

For Thayill, one of the most important albums of that era was Nirvana’s 1989 album Bleach, a record that seemed to imply a gloriously chaotic, fuzz-drenched future. For the guitarist, the strength of the album lay with “Negative Creep,’ “I also love the riffs on “Blew” and “Swap Meet”; I’d listen to those over and over,” he continued. “That record was so popular with our band when we were touring. We’d play Fugazi, Margin Walker; Meat Puppets II; Neil Young, After the Gold Rush; and Nirvana, Bleach, all the time on a cassette player in our van.”

Thayill’s choices suggest that grunge was a success because it flourished in a relatively small, healthy, and collaborative scene. As Thayill said of fellow Seattle natives Skin Yard, whose album Hallowed Ground (1988) also made his list: “I don’t think any of us [in Soundgarden] really liked the first Skin Yard record, but we liked them as people and the uniqueness of what they were trying to do. Then they became heavier, more in the mould of Soundgarden or Tad, and they started making better records that were kind of fun. By the time they put out Hallowed Ground, they were getting into the groove and had the rock idea going.”

Thayill’s selection also clarifies that the boundaries of the so-called Seattle scene were pretty permeable and undefined. Grunge thrived off the influence of a huge number of bands from various scenes. As the guitarist said of Alice In Chains’ 1990 album Facelift: “Alice in Chains came from a different scene, but then started playing with us and Pearl Jam, and they played some shows with Nirvana on Facelift. I think of a song like “It Ain’t Like That,” and I love the groove. When I would play with them onstage, they’d ask me what song I want to do, and that was the one. [Sings the opening riff] I love that riff and that song. I wish I’d written it, and that’s why I love that album — just because of that song. It’s easy to fall in love with something when you think, “Why the fuck didn’t I think of that?” The whole record has great stuff on it.”

Kim Thayill’s selection of his favourite grunge records suggests that the grunge scene was actually a lot richer and far more complex than we give it credit for. Often we restrict the genre to a few major names when in reality, those names are just the tip of a shrieking, bedraggled iceberg. Make sure you check out Thayill’s full selection below.

Kim Thayill’s favourite grunge records:

  • Bleach, Nirvana (1989)
  • Dry As A Bone, Green River (1987)
  • Gluey Porch Treatments, Melvins (1987)
  • U-Men EP, U-Men (1984)
  • Another Pyrrhic Victory, Malfunkshun (1989)
  • Hallowed Ground, Skin Yard (1988)
  • Superfuzz Bigmuff, Mudhoney (1988)
  • God’s Balls, Tad (1989)
  • Clairvoyance, Screaming Trees (1986)
  • Facelift, Alice in Chains (1990)
  • Ten, Pearl Jam (1991)