Part 4: Nirvana & The Arrival of Grunge
When the hardcore punk scene of the early 1980s formed around various regions across the U.S., one of the cities that was inspired by this movement was Seattle, Washington. With bands that was forming around that time like the Melvins from Montesano, Washington, there was a new scene that was different from the hardcore punk scene in the U.S. Inspired by acts like Black Flag as well as Black Sabbath and Neil Young, the music that would be grunge would emerge through early Seattle bands such as Soundgarden and Green River. The latter of which featured future members of bands like Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone.
The 1986 compilation Deep Six that featured early recordings of Green River, Soundgarden, and the Melvins provided a buzz in the local music scene as things started to develop in the Pacific Northwest. The new wave of bands from these areas led to the formation of Sub Pop Records by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman as they released a lot of singles and EPs from bands of the area. The small successes the label had along with other labels exposing the Seattle music led to Soundgarden signing a major deal with A&M Records in 1989. With other new bands such as Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains, Tad, and Mother Love Bone coming around with their first albums. It was clear something was happening as even the British music press took notice.
By 1991, the music scene was starting to become bigger than ever as bands like Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains were getting attention. Alice in Chains had released their debut album Facelift in August of 1990 that featured the song Man in the Box that became their breakthrough hit as it was a huge hit for rock radio and MTV. Mudhoney and Soundgarden would release their own breakthrough albums that each showed different sides of the music. Mudhoney’s Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge was considered to be their best album as they had a sound that was more inspired by punk. Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger in August of 1991 that showed a more hard rock sound to their repertoire. Though many thought Mudhoney would be the band to break through, it would be another band that would capture the attention of the music scene.
Unlike the hypnotic metal of Alice in Chains, the psychedelic rock of Screaming Trees, the garage-punk of Mudhoney, and the blazing hard rock sound of Soundgarden, Nirvana stood out among its contemporaries with its blend of punk, rock, and pop. While Nirvana proved to be a very noisy band, the band’s vocalist/guitarist/lyricist Kurt Cobain had a love for pop music from acts like the Beatles to the Vaselines as he often covered songs by the latter. Though their 1989 debut Bleach was a minor hit with college radio, the band wanted to move forward as they met an up-and-coming producer named Butch Vig in April of 1990.
The sessions with Vig would prove to be a turning point as the band were seeking a new drummer as they met Dave Grohl from the Washington D.C. hardcore band Scream. Once Grohl came into the picture, Nirvana became a very different band as they went into the studio in mid-1991 to record what would be their breakthrough called Nevermind. The album sessions was followed by a tour of Europe with the legendary noise-rock band Sonic Youth that was documented for the 1992 documentary 1991: The Year that Punk Broke that also featured the noise-rock band Dinosaur Jr., riot-grrl trio Babes in Toyland, and punk legends the Ramones. The album’s release in September 24, 1991 proved to be a landmark moment as it was followed by the release of the single Smells Like Teen Spirit.
The song and its accompanying music video started off slow but those who saw it requested it as it marked a change into the rock landscape. By the end of the year, Nevermind was becoming big as it was selling more than what David Geffen’s DGC label expected. Then on January 11, 1992, the unthinkable happened when Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous out of the number one spot of the Billboard 200 album charts. It was the moment the entire musical landscape would change forever though for a band like Nirvana. Success wasn’t easy to handle as they were on the covers of many magazines and were getting lots of attention which proved to be too much for Kurt Cobain. Cobain’s own issues with his dependence on heroin, stomach illness, and other personal issues would lead to his suicide on April 5, 1994.
While the release of Nevermind proved to be a big moment for the music scene, it would put away attention from other releases from other bands from Seattle. Yet, it also brought some attention to bands like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, and Screaming Trees where Seattle was the new capital of cool in 1992. Another band that had just came out with their first album but less than a month before the release of Nevermind was the album Ten from Pearl Jam.
Pearl Jam was a band that came from the founding members of Green River in guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament. After Green River disbanded in 1987, Gossard and Ament formed Mother Love Bone as they were set for a breakthrough until the death of singer Andrew Wood in 1990 just before the release of their only full-length release Apple. After some time off tour mourn, Gossard and Ament met guitarist Mike McCready where they worked on a project with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron for a one-off project called Temple of the Dogs. The project included an unknown vocalist named Eddie Vedder as the album was released in April of 1991.
Gossard, Ament, McCready, and Vedder along with drummer Dave Krusin formed Pearl Jam as they went to record their debut album Ten in the spring of 1991. Though its release was initially slow, the band was able to gain steam through touring as they opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Smashing Pumpkins in the fall of that year. Then came the single Alive that proved to be their breakthrough hit. While Pearl Jam was becoming popular, they were accused by critics for riding off the success of Nirvana that many later said was unfair. Yet, Pearl Jam would end up proving to be the more influential band as Ten provided the template for rock music in the years to come despite the band’s reluctance to go mainstream. Still of all the bands of the grunge music scene, they would prove to be the one to last long despite a revolving door of drummers until Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron joined the band in 1998.
The end of 1991 saw Seattle becoming the place of where it’s at as the music scene was changing. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains would become the forces to lead this new wave of rock music emerging as the next year saw them become big despite their reluctance to be mainstream. Yet, it gave rock listeners something new as it would wipe out everything mainstream rock was at the time and told all of hair bands of the 1980s to go home. The arrival of grunge and its inception towards the pop charts would help usher in the era that was known as alternative music. Yet, there was something else that year that proved that there was lot more to alternative than just grunge.
© thevoid99 2011