The best Soundgarden songs are culled from the band's lengthy and rich history, as they formed all the way back in 1984 and achieved an incredible measure of commercial success during the grunge heyday in the 1990s. The combination of gnarly riffage, pulsating rhythmic dexterity and Chris Cornell's soaring, soulful vocals set them apart from the hard rock pack and elevated them above "just another band capitalizing on the grunge thing" status. They eventually split, but found their way back together, but even if they didn't, we'd still have an extensive catalog to enjoy. The 10 Best Soundgarden songs are hard to choose for several reasons, but mostly because they have assembled an expansive catalog that transcends the "grunge" tag, since they existed as an entity years before "grunge" was a category and term. They also honed their sound, which allowed them continued success as grunge and all its offshoot bands began to wane in popularity. Check out our list of the 10 Best Soundgarden Songs below:
'Hands All Over' 'Louder Than Love' (1989)
'Hands All Over,' the second single from 'Louder Than Love,' was written by guitarist Kim Thayil, and is able to maintain a sense of dynamics despite being erected upon a simple, repeated riff. It reminds us that rock music needn't be complicated or esoteric to be good. Cornell's vocals have a raw, unrefined quality, but here, we get a sense of the powerhouse he'd become.
'The Day I Tried to Live' 'Superunknown' (1994)
A melancholic opening riff, push and pull rhythms, tense verses relieved by epic choruses and Cornell's rasp and somewhat bluesy delivery comingle perfectly on 'The Day I Tried to Live.' The song's sturm und drang tension is dark and it's definitively Soundgarden.
'Pretty Noose' 'Down on the Upside' (1996)
Wah wah riffery is the opening salvo of 'Pretty Noose,' combined with moody, gloomy tones that mimic a rainy Seattle day and a heady solo, make this first single from 'Down on the Upside' one of the 10 Best Soundgarden Songs. The way Cornell sings "And I don't like what you got me hanging from" with gritted teeth sounds more like a battle cry than an admission of defeat.
'Fell on Black Days' 'Superunknown' (1994)
'Fell on Black Days' traverses moody, murky, terrain, so much that it's almost a ballad. We said almost. It retains an edgy toughness, all the while remaining wholly contemplative. It's another example of Soundgarden's ability to exhibit a myriad of musical personalities and moods, often within the space of a single song.
'Rusty Cage' 'Badmotorfinger' (1991)
'Rusty Cage' represents the height of the initial Lollapalooza era and grunge's dominance in alt rock, but it's heavier and more soulful than a lot of alt rock of the period, yet it's just as dissonant and provocative. It's also one of the fastest Soundgarden jams. When Cornell sings, it's coming from deep within his core. Plus, the legendary Man in Black aka Johnny Cash thought it was cool enough to cover. 'Nuff said. All those factors combined are why 'Rusty Cage' is one of the 10 Best Soundgarden Songs.
'Blow Up the Outside World' 'Down on the Upside' (1996)
'Blow Up the Outside World' rocketed to No. 1 on the mainstream rock charts, thanks to lots of distortion, barely bipedal rhythms that erupt in the bridge to the chorus, cage rattling riffage and emotionally resonant lyrics and delivery from Cornell. It's the complete and total package, not to mention the hook embeds itself in your memory. It also boasts that signature sonic grey haze that tints much of the band's music, too.
'Outshined' 'Badmotorfinger' (1991)
The influence of Black Sabbath is felt on 'Outshined,' with its hefty and sludgy riffery. If Ozzy and the boys had been reared in the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest, as opposed to England, and if they started the band a few generations later, they might have written 'Outshined.'
'Spoonman' 'Superunknown' (1994)
The song's inspiration, street musician Artis the Spoonman, actually plays his spoons during the instrumental bridge of the song. But that's not the only utensil that is utilized on the song; drummer Matt Cameron smashes away on pots and pans, adding an extra layer to the song's overall clang and clatter.
'Jesus Christ Pose' 'Badmotorfinger' (1991)
More sludge from Soundgarden, along with screamy, creeping riffs and some ominous chugga chugga guitars. But Cornell's soulful vocals ground the song. The irony of the song is that it was penned about the people who align themselves with those who were persecuted for religious purposes, yet Cornell's look at the time was emblematic of Jesus Christ himself, thanks to his long hair and beard. Even so, the song pretty much slays. The metallic riffing makes it one of Soundgarden's best.
'Black Hole Sun' 'Superunknown' (1994)
'Black Hole Sun' would go on to be Soundgarden's biggest hit of their career, and with good reason. The song owned radio airwaves and the eerie video was in constant rotation on MTV. It also won the Hard Rock Performance Grammy because it was the marriage of edgy, quirky and well-constructed. It's easily one of the 10 Best Soundgarden song since it straddles the line between the band's grungy origins and beyond, to its more polished offerings.