by Amy Morrill
Grunge, a category of music derived from punk rock, was the biggest music trend of the ‘90s. What started as a small movement deep within Seattle has now become known as one of the most impressive revolutions in music. When many hear the word “Grunge,” they think of plaid shirts, Seattle, and Kurt Cobain. The latter, the face of the era, committed suicide in 1994, effectively ending “pure” grunge–the bands that would follow were all corporate versions of the original thing.
But Grunge is so much more than what it’s best known for. When I recently started listening to it, I realized that Grunge’s popularity came, not only from the innovative sounds that bands put forth, but also from the innumerous talented musicians that proudly called themselves grunge-musicians. Just a few years before, the radio had been plagued by unchanging rock, complete with rambling guitar solos, predictable chord progressions, and boring lyrics. But Grunge artists were able to step outside of the carefully set boundaries of the ‘80s, by creating a rawer, less produced sound. When you listen to songs like “In Bloom,” a classic Nirvana song of their first album Nevermind, it is clear that the artists left it all on the table. They put out their work, and said “this is us, and this is what we have to say.”
The most well known Grunge band is, of course, Nirvana. Nevermind was the breaking point for the genre, rising in the charts until it became number one in 1992; with it Grunge became popular. I had heard bits and pieces of the album before from my dad, but when I went back to listen to it on my own, I was surprised by how genuinely I liked the songs. Unlike the heavy-metal music that greatly influenced them, Nirvana has a melodic element to all of their songs that make them–at the risk of sounding cliché–magical. I found their music just angry enough to really strike me, and just melodic enough to be beautiful. Nevermind begins with the band’s most famous song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Right from the opening guitar lick, you can here the power coursing through the song. When the drums and second, more distorted, guitar kick in, it creates a wall of sound, not unlike punk music, that envelops the listener. Cobain’s voice, which in a way became the shared voice of rebellion during the 90s, transforms the song into an anthem. He is able to push louder and louder without ever losing the thread of the melody.
My favorite songs of the album were “In Bloom,” which shows the indifference of the band by actually making fun of their shallow fans, “On a Plain,” in which the full range of the style of the band is shown (the piece is somehow able to be raucous and beautiful at the same time), and “Breed.” The latter shows just how loud and angry the band can get, with a cymbal-heavy, driving drum beat, and a loud angry guitar lick. However, unlike some songs, it doesn’t go too far. The last song on the album, “Endless, Nameless,” was probably my least favorite, at the risk of offending die-hard fans, mostly because it seems to be made up of needless noise, as opposed to noise for the sake of improving the song. Cobain screams as the guitar and drums pound in the background. However, on the whole, Nirvana is able to balance their anger with a melody.
Another great Grunge band, which incidentally some mark as the first of the era, was Soundgarden. Their first truly perfected album, Badmotorfinger, was released in October of 1991. It opened with “Rusty Cage,” a frantically fast-paced number that, armed with seriously distorted guitar and a 2/4 beat, could get anyone’s head nodding along. Lead singer Chris Cornell’s larger-than-life voice captures the spirit of rebellion as he sings, “I’m going to break my rusty cage and run.” I especially loved the guitar lick towards the middle of the song when the guitar comes in with slightly dissonant chords that make the song sound even more exciting.
All in all, I discovered what may be my new favorite genre in Grunge. I really enjoyed listening to the guitar-heavy songs that were produced in this era. I would recommend that anyone who is interested in a little noise and anger in their music should definitely check out some of the classic Grunge artists. If you’re anything like me, you won’t be disappointed.
Beginner Grunge Playlist:
For those of you that are interested in listening to Grunge, here are some songs you should start with!!
- In Bloom – Nirvana
- Rhinoceros – Smashing Pumpkins
- Even Flow – Pearl Jam
- Drain You – Nirvana
- Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana (the most well known grunge song)
- Deep – Pearl Jam
- Breed – Nirvana
- Black – Pearl Jam
- On a Plain – Nirvana
If you’re looking to go a even further into the genre:
- Territorial Pissings – Nirvana
- Slaves and Bulldozers – Soundgarden
- Let It Slide – Mudhoney