Chris Cornell, Soundgarden and Audioslave Frontman, Dead at 52
Songwriter behind such hits as 'Black Hole Sun,' 'Like a Stone.'
Chris Cornell, best known as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for ’90s grunge rock band Soundgarden, was found dead around midnight May 18 in a Detroit hotel room. According to the Associated Press Cornell’s death was ruled a suicide on Thursday by the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s office, which reported that the singer had hanged himself. He was 52.
Cornell, who founded Soundgarden in the early ’80s, was one of the true musical talents that rose above the noise floor in the ’90s. Along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains, Soundgarden was the final member of Seattle’s Four Horsemen of the grunge rock apocalypse—the bands that rose to the greatest heights of popularity during the era and spawned countless wannabes in the coming decades. (In ’91, Cornell also formed Temple of the Dog, a grunge supergroup featuring members of Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam; the band scored a surprise top 10 single with “Hunger Strike”—see below.)
With his signature howl and penchant for writing guitar rock songs in dropped-D tuning, Cornell possessed an almost otherworldliness compared to his contemporaries. Unlike the scraggly Kurt Cobain or moody Eddie Vedder, he was nothing short of a chiseled rock god—equal parts Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Metropolitan Opera, and Black Sabbath.
After Soundgarden disbanded for the first time in ’97, Cornell went on to enjoy a bountiful solo career, which saw him produce five albums and score a smattering of hits. He also landed the coveted gig of co-writing and recording a James Bond theme, “You Know My Name,” which ran during the opening credits of 2006’s big Bond franchise comeback movie, Casino Royale. (The track would also appear on his 2007 solo record, Carry On.)
And, of course, to younger fans, Cornell stepped into the shoes of lead vocalist once again for hip-hop/rock supergroup Audioslave, which featured three members of ’90s political hard-rock band Rage Against the Machine. The band played to sold-out shows around the world and scored a few hits along the way, too.
In late April of this year, Soundgarden, reunited since 2010, embarked on an 18-date tour, with Cornell playing his final show at the Fox Theatre in Detroit last night. The band was said to be recording a new album at the time of his death.
Below, we’ve put together a short list of Cornell’s greatest accomplishments in sound (and one, on screen). Listen to them and mourn with the rest of the rock world.
“Outshined” – From Soundgarden’s 1991 breakthrough album Badmotorfinger, although the song never charted in the U.S., it made its way onto MTV and can still be heard on hard-rock stations all around the world.
“Hunger Strike” – The lone hit from Cornell’s ’90s grunge supergroup Temple of the Dog, the song features a call-and-answer between the singer and recent Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.
Singles Cameo – Who can forget the spoof ’90s band, Citizen Dick, in the Cameron Crowe–directed film Singles? One of their fake songs was an early version of “Spoonman” (see below). Cornell made a memorable appearance in the movie as a guy aptly named, “Chris.” (The film’s soundtrack also featured songs written and performed both by Cornell and Soundgarden.)
“Spoonman” – The catchy first single from Soundgarden’s bestselling album, Superunknown, it featured one of the ’90s greatest dropped-D guitar riffs—not to mention a bridge featuring someone playing actual spoons.
“Black Hole Sun” – Maybe Soundgarden’s greatest feat—and a No. 1 single to boot—Cornell was quoted as saying he wrote the song in just 15 minutes. The song also has one of the creepier music videos you’ll ever see.
“Can’t Change Me” – The lead track on Cornell’s debut solo album, Euphoria Morning, its can’t-miss Middle Eastern–y guitar riff and snaking melody are the singer at his best. And fans responded, making it a top 10 song on the Billboard charts.
“You Know My Name” – Recording a James Bond theme is a bit of a curse; it opens your music to a much wider swath of fans, ones rabid for the British spy and the lore accompanying it. But Cornell was a deft choice for the honor, as he provided a song that didn’t fit the usual Bond theme mold, because it had just as much him in it as it did Bond.
“Like a Stone” – About as non-complex a song, melodically, that Cornell ever co-wrote—but maybe one of his most prescient. It deals with what one would want in an afterlife.
“One” – Ever the experimenter, Cornell played a version of “One,” using U2’s music and Metallica’s words. The rendition immediately went viral.
“Black Hole Sun” (live) – Here’s video of Cornell’s final performance in Detroit, singing his band’s greatest song.