Today we sat down in the office and started discussing the best grunge songs of all time. It was an intense, hair ripping affair, that may or may not have resulted in someone being temporarily fired for trying to suggest Smells Like Teen Spirit was the best, using some ludicrous argument about how it “broke” grunge into the mainstream.
Nevertheless, we are all still alive, although some people’s egos have been seriously damaged, and thus we present to you, in no particular order — because we couldn’t possibly come to an agreement on that either — our 10 favourite grunge songs:
1. Alice in Chains – Would (Dirt, 1992)
This one should be a crowd pleaser, given that it’s probably the band’s best known song. Would, by Alice in Chains, starts out with a deep, driving bass line, followed by a light beat and the band’s classic guitar sounds. The music builds throughout the verse, breaking into what can only be described as an epic chorus. Layne Staley’s vocals rip through your soul as he sings, “Into the flood again, same old trip it was back then, so I made a big mistake, try to see it once my way.”
The song was written by Jerry Cantrell, the band’s guitarist and second vocalist, about their friend, Andrew Wood, who had died two years earlier. The song encapsulates a nihilistic darkness and despair that can so often be found — to varying degrees — in classic grunge tunes.
2. Green River – Come On Down (1985)
Green River are often overlooked by fans of late grunge (meaning grunge from the late 80s), yet they perhaps the grungiest grunge band of all time. A perfect fusion of heavy metal and punk rock, the two musical branches that gave rise to grunge.
And Come on Down, record in 1985, pretty much sums up the genre in one track. The song begins with random distortion noises before a scream and a couple of prolonged, heavily distorted guitar notes invite the band to start playing. A catchy guitar riff, simple punk-style vocals, and heavy drums and bass characterise the song. And it’s hella good. If you love old-school grunge, that is.
3. Babes in Toyland – Bruise Violet (Fontanelle, 1992)
Bruise Violet is a heavy, hard-hitting, grunge anthem that has been severely overlooked. Brought to us by Riot Grrrl act, Babes in Toyland, the song is raw, in-your-face, and uncompromising.
Kat Bjelland switchs between guttural screams and girlish simpers throughout the song, demonstrating the bands understanding of dynamics and putting it to good use. Unlike a lot of grunge music, this is a song you can really rock to.
4. Nirvana – Heart Shaped Box (In Utero, 1993)
There are a lot of songs we could have chosen for Nirvana. After all, this is the band that dragged grunge into the mainstream, pretty much single handed. Lithium seemed like a good first choice, the song showcases many of the bands essential elements: dynamics, distortion, epic drumming, and catchy, albeit indistinguishable lyrics.
But in the end we settled on Heart Shaped Box, a song that contains all the above components but which also demonstrates a certain musical and emotional maturity that was generally lacking on Nevermind.
5. Hole – Violet (Live Through This, 1994)
From Kurt Cobain to Country Love; no grunge related list would be complete without an honourable mention of one the most successful female-fronted rock bands in history: Hole.
Controversy and wild speculation aside, Hole were a great grunge band and Love certainly learnt a thing or two from Cobain, because the second Hold album, Live Through This, exhibited a Nirvana like understanding of dynamics and distortion. On top of that, Courtney Love possess an impressive vocal capacity and a poetic lyricism that beats many of her contemporaries.
Violet showcases these characteristics in their full glory. The song starts out softly, gently even, before Love lets loose on the word “no,” and then the distortion kicks in. “Go on, take everything, take everything, I want you to,” sings Love in the chorus. Desperation, anger, distortion, throaty roars, Violet has everything a good grunge song should.
6. TAD – Wood Goblins (Salt Lick, 1990)
While TAD are undeniably a grunge band they veer more towards the heavy metal end of the spectrum than the punk rock end. Wood Goblins has a distinctly heavy metal vibe but with all the classic grunge guitar sounds and a catchy, punk style chorus where Tad Doyle sings, “Wood [pause] Goblin,” over and over.
7. Mudhoney – Touch Me I’m Sick
Mudhoney is essentially the reincarnation of Green River minus several of the original band members. The band moved slightly further towards the punk rock side of life than Green River and their debut single, Touch Me I’m Sick, is a catchy tune that heavily influenced the rest of the Seattle grunge scene.
But Touch Me I’m Sick isn’t on this list because of its historical importance. No, it’s here because it’s a great grunge tune that sticks in your head and makes you wanna dance around the room.
Love grunge music? Why not check out our History of Grunge article for an in depth account of the genre.
Disagree with our choices? Let us know in the comment section.