Friday, July 11, 2008

The 40 greatest grunge songs (40-36)

For the next couple months of Music Friday, I bring you...

The 40 greatest grunge songs of all time! Please try to contain your excitement!

[UPDATE: Click here for the whole list.]

People always say the music that's popular when you're an adolescent makes the biggest impression on you. I think that's overstated -- a lot of people who were born in the early '80s (like me) seem at least as heavily influenced by music from the '60s as they are by music from the '90s or '00s. But there's something to the theory.

For better or worse, the grunge rock of the '90s inevitably shaped me as a guitarist. That's the teenage me with my Les Paul up there. And this was my life in high school:


With that out of the way, let's get to the list.

Whenever you see one of these "top [#] _______s of all time" lists in the MSM, they purport to be objective, but you can tell they've imposed a bunch of arbitrary restrictions. As a blogger, I have no need to be objective and can admit that this list is a mix of my own taste, quasi-objective judgments, and arbitrary restrictions.

One restriction is that for the sake of variety, I'm going to generally have just one song per band, with a few choice exceptions.

And then there's the question of what "counts." My basic definition of grunge is music that was made mostly in the '90s, drawing on the early punk and heavy metal of the '70s-'80s as far as dynamics and tone quality (namely, loud and distorted), but drawing more on the songwriting of the '60s. There's usually a loose, lazy, "Anyone could play this" vibe, and there are rarely any instruments other than guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.

Some of these songs will fit those criteria better than others. Another feature of grunge is an "I don't really care" attitude, so it would be un-grunge-like of me to worry too much about the labels. Anyway, I'm more interested in music that pushes against the confines of a genre than music that politely stays within them.

[UPDATE: Case in point: a commenter complains that this list isn't "strict grunge." Strict grunge? Isn't that an oxymoron?]

Huge thanks to the people who answered my question on AskMetafilter in preparation for this list.

Here we go... This week, the first 5 of the top 40:

40. The Flaming Lips - Turn It On

Sheer grungy joy in a laundromat, without a trace of angst.

When you ain't got no relation to all those other stations...

39. Tool - Sober

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, this is about as dead-serious as rock music gets. I have no idea what they're so upset about, but they rock. And wow, what a video!

38. Daisy Chainsaw - Love your Money

Obligatory novelty song.

37. Dinosaur Jr. - Feel the Pain

Deceptively simple. Great use of tempo changes. Remember the World Trade Center!


36. Bush - Everything Zen

I always thought the unfortunately named Bush was a pale imitation of Pearl Jam. But "Everything Zen" endures.

Soon after I first saw this video on MTV's 120 Minutes, I went and saw them play one of the most exciting shows I've ever seen: a band right on the cusp of their commercial breakthrough, but just obscure enough to be playing a small, intimate club in Madison, Wisconsin (the Paramount, which, like the band, no longer exists).


(Photos of me by my mom, Ann Althouse.)

UPDATE: My mom links and reminisces.

>>> Go to #35-31 >>>


Nihimon said...

I was 20 when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was released (and if that doesn't top your list, I'll have serious doubts about you!) and I always thought that the moment I heard that Kurt Cobain had killed himself would stand out for me the way older people remembered Kennedy's assassination. Would that that were so...

John Althouse Cohen said...

As far as "Smells Like Teen Spirit"... I don't want to give anything away, but I'll just say that Nirvana was the #1 band I had in mind when I said, "I'm going to generally have just one song per band." That rule will naturally be unfair to Nirvana.

At the end of all this, I'm going to close with some thoughts on the darker side of grunge, of which your comment about finding out about Cobain's suicide is an eerily prescient foreshadowing. Be sure to stop back in two months!

Zachary Sire said...

Be sure to stop back in two months!


I forgot about Bush. Great pick. As I just said over on Althouse...I'm skeptical of an 8-week list about the top-40 grunge songs...but so far so good.

chuck b. said...

My favorite Turn It On.

zdwyatt said...

It's looking like the list is going to be more about "alternative" music than strict grunge. I am sure the list will be good, as it's off to a good start, but it's not grunge, per se.

John Althouse Cohen said...

If anyone thinks a more genre-confined list of 40 songs would make for more interesting reading and listening, they're free to make their own list of 40 songs with commentary on each one, blog it, and send it to me. I'll gladly link to it.

As for me, I don't think the list would be improved by having the narrowest possible definition of grunge. Also, I address all this in the commentary in between the photos and the list itself.

rumetzen said...

I wonder what #1 will be... nirvana perhaps?

Anonymous said...

I love Nirvana, don't get me wrong. It's just to bad that most of "Nirvana's" best songs, were Vaselines and Meat Puppets covers.