Mandatory Metal: 5 Essential Soundgarden Songs

Soundgarden, 1992; photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage

Heavy music is full of legendary bands boasting deep catalogs stacked with iconic songs — sometimes it can be hard to know where to start, or what to consider their best. With that in mind, we present the “Mandatory Metal” lists, which collect what we consider to be the definitive tracks from various members of the metallurgic pantheon. Up today, Soundgarden, those Seattle grunge pioneers who fused Chris Cornell’s Robert Plantian pipes and earworm melodies to forward-thinking weirdo-rock riffage and off-kilter time signatures to make some of the greatest heavy-music anthems of all time. Cornell died in May 2017, and while he and his most famous band have many classic cuts to their name, these songs — and there are some admittedly surprising picks — are their most essential, in our opinion. If you disagree, sound off on The Pit Facebook page.

“HUNTED DOWN”
ALBUM: SCREAMING LIFE

A behemoth of a riff, high-pitched vocals, and an earful of guitar skree: grunge is born.
Sample lyrics: “Your narrow escape/Has wiped the smile right from your face/Those starved dogs howling/Run to hunt you down.”

“GUN”
ALBUM: LOUDER THAN LOVE

This vicious dirge sports some of the heaviest grinds the band ever assembled in one song.
Sample lyrics: “I got an idea of something we can do with a gun/Sink load and fire till the empire reaps what they’ve sown.”

“RUSTY CAGE”
ALBUM: BADMOTORFINGER

Distorted bass drives this track into a head-on collision with a stupifyingly heavy, molasses-thick breakdown.
Sample lyrics: “You wired me awake/And hit me with a hand of broken nails.”

“FELL ON BLACK DAYS”
ALBUM: SUPERUNKNOWN

A raw, brooding sing-along that speaks to deep despair, this Superunknown hit rings especially poignant and prescient after Cornell’s suicide.
Sample lyrics: “Whomsoever I’ve cured, I’ve sickened now/And whomsoever I’ve cradled, I’ve put you down/I’m a searchlight soul, they say, but I can’t see it in the night/I’m only faking, when I get it right, when I get it right.”

“TY COBB”
ALBUM: DOWN ON THE UPSIDE

This punk burner pretty much used up the last remaining fumes Soundgarden had left in their tank — before their 2010 re-formation, at least.
Sample lyrics: “Sick in the head sick in the mouth/And I can’t hear a word you say/Not a bit, and I don’t give a shit.”