The late frontman of Soundgarden, Chris Cornell, was one of the most captivating musicians of his generation and of all time. Cornell’s style contained a more visceral edge that pushed him to new levels, possessing a primal form of vocal delivery that surpassed the likes of Robert Plant. The Seattle native delivered an incredible number of influential cuts over his career, which all did their part to cement his place in the book of rock legends long before his tragic passing in 2017.
Not only was he blessed at birth with an unworldly pair of lungs, but Cornell’s talent was also augmented by his gift as a songwriter. Taking his cues from a mix of acts that included The Beatles, David Bowie, Bauhaus, XTC and Siouxsie and the Banshees, these primary influences helped to give his songwriting its most memorable trademarks, from its hooks to its atmosphere. This allowed Cornell to be cherished by hipsters and the mainstream alike, as his music contained an authenticity that has the power to appeal to all walks of life.
Never labelled a one-trick pony, as well as being the frontman of the grunge legends, Cornell was also the leader of the supergroup Audioslave, whom he established with former Rage Against the Machine trio Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk. Together, they effectively fused the respective sounds of their former bands into a new one that packed one hell of a punch.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking Cornell was solely a rock musician. Across his career, he veered into the blues and neo-soul, experimented with expansive textures and dynamic instrumentation, and was also a lifelong proponent of the acoustic number. A genuine talent who never failed to be prolific, without his effort, the world of music would be a very different place today.
Given that he was such a powerhouse join us as we list Chris Cornell’s six best vocal performances.
Chris Cornell’s six best vocal performances:
Soundgarden – ‘Room A Thousand Years Wide’ (Badmotorfinger, 1991)
In truth, every track on Soundgarden’s masterful third album, 1991’s Badmotorfinger makes a solid claim to rank amongst Cornell’s best vocal moments, including the timeless numbers ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ and ‘Rusty Cage’. However, a personal favourite is the heady ‘Room A Thousand Years Wide’, which just so happens to feature one of the band’s best riffs.
As for Cornell’s vocal performance, it is best described as mystical. Perfectly capturing the atmosphere of the music, whether it be the haunting reverb-drenched scream that opens the track or when he extends “tomorrow” in an intense growl at the 2:43 mark, across the song, Cornell displayed almost every facet of his vocal talent, and it truly is remarkable.
Soundgarden – ‘Slaves and Bulldozers’ )(Badmotorfinger, 1991)
Another highlight of Badmotorfinger, to many, the six-minute-long ‘Slaves and Bulldozers’ is not only Soundgarden’s best moment, but it is also Cornell at his finest. The frontman’s performance is best described as ice-cool here, with his shifting timbre and styles another stellar example of how much control he had of his diaphragm. Whilst there are many memorable parts of his performance, look no further than the chorus, with the end of the first one awe-inspiring as the sludge of the rest of the band carries it along with their pulsating grooves.
Soundgarden – ‘Black Hole Sun’ (Superunknown, 1994)
No list of Chris Cornell’s best vocal performances would be so with what is his most iconic song, the crossover hit that is the disconcerting ‘Black Hole Sun’. A slow-burner, complete without Cornell’s catchiest chorus, it sees Cornell reel it in with an almost soulful performance before he lets rip towards the end of proceedings as the dynamics and instrumentation ramp up. Added to his brilliance are those raspy memorable backing vocals echoing the title as things get more intense.
Audioslave – ‘Cochise’ (Audioslave, 2002)
Everyone remembers the introduction to this track, as the video was ubiquitous on rock music channels from MTV 2 to Scuzz during the 2000s. Drummer Brad Wilk creates tension with his thunderous tom thuds that carry the tense noise of Tom Morello and Tim Commerford before it gives way to that massive riff. Augmenting the muscular music is Cornell’s equally as powerful performance, which is also his most gravelly, and the part when the music cuts out and he delivers that unearthly roar is timeless. This was Cornell at his most unapologetic, so there’s no wonder it was such a success.
Chris Cornell – ‘You Know My Name’ (Carry On, 2007)
The long-awaited return of James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale in his more modern, gritty Daniel Craig iteration was a resounding success, saving a franchise that had been choking in a vat of cheese for years. It needed an equally potent soundtrack to mark this stellar new chapter. The choice of Chris Cornell might have been slightly surprising at first, but it proved perfect. Hard rocking but also featuring a majestic string section worthy of James Bond, it is maintained by Cornell’s moody vocal performance, which confirms it as one of the greatest-ever Bond soundtracks.
Chris Cornell – ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ (2016)
Showing Cornell’s more tender side was his 2015 cover of the Prince song made famous by Sinéad O’Connor, one of his many brilliant reworks. A downbeat, swooning number, this is the most touching performance Cornell ever gave, and in truth, any description doesn’t do it justice. His vocals here are enough to bring even the most unyielding stoics to their knees, a testament to the power he possessed in just his voice.