The great Seattle grunge story

In the early 1980s, one of my favourite genres emerged: grunge. While I maybe don’t shout about this angsty sound enough, the movement behind it has shaped music massively. And, frankly, the Seattle grunge scene — which is probably the one most synonymous with the genre — is something I wish I’d been part of. From the ultra-iconic Nirvana to the raw riffery of Pearl Jam, the city was home to the greats. 

Fashion has always been a way to identify with a type of music from a visual perspective. Grunge wasn’t exempt from that — it was an expression of taste in both threads and sounds. From around 1983 onwards, the movement started to rise. While I didn’t get into grunge because of the Melvins, many did, and they also claim they birthed Washington and Seattle’s link to this new, grimy rock. It was almost a sub-genre pertaining to both metal and punk, which didn’t quite fully mesh with one over the other. 

It was from that point on that Soundgarden began to be recognised, along with Alice in Chains. All the while, the general apathy towards conformity was the ideal accessory to flannel shirts, ripped jeans, well-worn Converse — it was all part of the look that went hand in hand with the music. 

Two other major Seattle players were instrumental in the big breaks for these bands and the city’s explosive scene: one, the amount of local clubs, and two, Sub Pop Records. Coffee shops and food joints were often the low-key hangout spots for grunge fans, too. Meanwhile, The Crocodile, which is still going today, hosted Nirvana and Pearl Jam way back when they were starting out. 

Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl made up Nirvana, which remains possibly the most well-known grunge band, as they really brought the genre to the fore. Their debut album, ‘Bleach’, afforded them the opportunity to tap into the mainstream, all while maintaining their image and playing these heavily distorted tracks. They paved the way for Soundgarden and Pearl Jam to also enjoy the spotlight during the 1990s, before Nirvana’s time was abruptly up following Cobain’s suicide in 1994. But, little did people know then, they still went on to be hugely celebrated among popular culture. Ironic, I guess. 

Soundgarden had a lot of success too, albeit as less of a household name to some. If you haven’t heard ‘Black Hole Sun’, I’m surprised but also sad for you. It’s an almost chilled-out now-classic that offers less intensity than a lot of grunge music, and the lyrics stick in your mind. It allowed frontman, Chris Cornell, to develop a solo career much later — remember the Bond film ‘Casino Royale’? Yep, the soundtrack was him. 

For me, my connection with grunge is mostly thanks to another band. Now, I might not fit the stereotype, given that my wardrobe’s pretty colourful and I’m a daily hair-washer, but I’d never leave Pearl Jam off my list of favourites. There’s nothing wrong or clichéd about saying you prefer Nirvana, and it’s certainly understandable if Alice in Chains, Soundgarden or the Melvins are more your bag, but it’s Eddie Vedder’s vocals that get me. And as for the solid drum beats, palm-muted guitar licks, thrashing bass — Pearl Jam presents the full package.

In 1991, they released an album that I can listen to from start to finish and want to immediately play in full again. Rare? I’d say so. It’s certainly the sign of a legendary record. This debut of Pearl Jam’s was ’Ten’. As I’ve said, each track is incredible in almost equal measure, but it would be weird if I didn’t have ones that tipped the scales a little. They all remind me of growing up, but ‘Alive’, ‘Jeremy’, ‘Black’, ‘Once’ and ‘Release’ are top dogs. 

So, although I don’t often post loads about grunge bands on Record Weekly, it’s largely because I look back at the greats. I’m constantly on the hunt for grungy music, but I guess I don’t find it quite as much in abundance among new material. Any tips? Send them in. Until then, I’ll just be rinsing what’s in Seattle’s back catalogue… 


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