In the late 80’s there was a sound bubbling up in the underground in the Pacific Northwest that was an amalgamation of metal, punk rock and traditional rock. Underpinned by a desire for authenticity and pureness of art that the music industry by-and-large didn’t cater to nor particularly care to. These mostly flannel-clad groups were all about substance over style and weren’t interested in long-held definitions of mainstream success such as sales and sold-out arenas.
One label in particular was ready to bring this “Seattle” sound, aka grunge, to the masses. That label was Subpop. One of the first major success stories of the label was a group calling themselves Soundgarden.
Releasing their debut album “Ultramega OK” on a small label SST, the group then moved over to Subpop for their EP’s “Screaming Life” and “Fopp” respectively before coming out with their second full-length “Louder Than Love” on major-label A&M in 1990 right before the grunge explosion.
While the group was still growing and evolving they still had one more artistic leap to make. Namely getting a new bassist who would be the missing piece of the puzzle. Enter Ben Shepherd. He’d been around the Seattle music scene for years and he actually considered Soundgarden one of his favorite bands prior to joining their ranks for the all-important third album.
Featuring the thunderous vocal stylings of Chris Cornell, the guitar wizardry of Kim Thayill and the accomplished drumming of Matt Cameron the group took a huge leap forward artistically and commercially with the excellent “Badmotorfinger”.
The album took all of the bands strengths, huge rock sounds layered with Cornell’s powerful vocals in a varied blend of Black Sabbath-meets-Melvins aesthetic that sounded like its own unique province sonically at the time. Rock and alternative radio embraced the band for the first time as “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage” broke through in a major way. While those songs were a good entry point for the band, it was hardly where the good tunes ended. For those who bought “Badmotorfinger” (like Dan and Randy) the entire twelve song cycle was chock-full of revelations upon repeated listenings.
Continued in Part Two…