10 Best Alice in Chains Songs
It’s not an easy task choosing the 10 best Alice in Chains songs, especially with their stellar history, but we’re giving it a shot. Pearl Jam and Nirvana may have gotten a little more glory in the early ’90s but it’s hard to pick a band that was more influential on hard rock music for the next two decades than Alice in Chains. The group cranked out one of the most impressive catalogs of any band during the ’90s, with several memorable hits. Sadly, the drug addiction and ultimate death of singer Layne Staley put Alice in Chains’ standout career on hold for much of the next decade, but an impressive return with William DuVall joining the band in 2009 has shown that their second era will be able to continue the success of the first. So, without further adieu, let’s count down the 10 Best Alice in Chains Songs.
‘No Excuses’ may be the most radio-friendly track in the band’s catalog, but it’s no less of a stellar tune and deserves to be counted among Alice in Chains’ best songs. This track, from the ‘Jar of Flies’ EP, was penned about the changing relationships in the band, especially that between guitarist Jerry Cantrell and singer Layne Staley. It also showcases drummer Sean Kinney, with the syncopated drumming that kicks off the song.
‘Check My Brain’
Following Staley’s death in 2002, Alice in Chains checked back in with new singer William DuVall. The single ‘Check My Brain’ is a trudging rocker of a track with a little bit of Cantrell’s sarcasm thrown in for good measure. The sober Cantrell penned the song about his move to California after years in Seattle where he began his drug habit and finding the irony of loving his new home despite its obvious temptations.
‘Down in a Hole’
‘Down in a Hole’ may not have been an obvious Alice in Chains song, in fact Jerry Cantrell almost didn’t present it to the band, but it is definitely one of their best. The dreamy opening strains, the mid-tempo melancholy, and the perfect blending of harmonies between Cantrell and singer Layne Staley make this love song a crucial part of the Alice in Chains catalog. It’s also one of the most covered tracks the band has ever done.
The second era of Alice in Chains continued their successful streak with ‘Hollow,’ the lead single off their ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ album. This trudging rocker features a perfect vocal blend between Jerry Cantrell and William DuVall while Mike Inez and Sean Kinney keep the track chugging along with grungy goodness.
Layne Staley’s primal scream, Jerry Cantrell’s forging guitars, and that chorus which seemingly does and doesn’t fit with the rest of the track are part of what make ‘Them Bones’ one of the best songs in Alice in Chains’ arsenal. The song itself was borne out of Cantrell’s thoughts on the afterlife, realizing that the beautiful experiences of life leave with death and all that’s left is “them bones.”
Who knew how true the lyric “And yet I fight this battle all alone / No one to cry to, no place to call home” from ‘Nutshell’ was at the time when the song appeared on the ‘Jar of Flies’ EP. The downtrodden track was penned upon returning home from the road to find themselves evicted from their residence after failing to pay rent. So they moved into a studio and picked up acoustic guitars to pass the time and completed an unscheduled disc as a result.
‘Rooster’ has to be one of the 10 best Alice in Chains songs due in part to the powerful story told. Layne Staley’s mix of cool and melancholy with his later aggression in the track tells the story of Jerry Cantrell’s father, a Vietnam vet, reliving some of the horrors of war. The video for the song is also significant as it would feature Cantrell Sr., whose nickname was “The Rooster.” The clip would also be the last featuring original bassist Mike Starr.
‘I Stay Away’
Alice in Chains with strings? It seemed odd at the time, but it only enhanced the power of ‘I Stay Away,’ a ‘Jar of Flies’ favorite. The song is a significant one for Alice in Chains as it marked the first time they had written with bassist Mike Inez. Cantrell stated, “He plays the nastiest, darkest s—, but he’s got the sweetest heart in the world.”
‘Would?’ is the track that broke Alice in Chains to a larger audience, due to its inclusion on the ‘Singles’ soundtrack prior to the release of ‘Dirt.’ The dark music tone and stinging commentary of the track came from Jerry Cantrell, who posed the titular question at those who make judgments about the lives of others without knowing them. In this case, Cantrell was mourning the loss of friend Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone to a heroin overdose.
‘Man in the Box’
It’s hard to argue against ‘Man in the Box’ as the best Alice in Chains song. It was the track that put the band on the map, and guitarist Jerry Cantrell, who used a talkbox as part of the distinct sound, stated that the “whole beat and grind of that is when we started to find ourselves. It helped Alice become what it was.” Layne Staley chalked up the lyrical content to his take on censorship in mass media.