On May 17, 2017 the music world was shocked to hear about the passing of singer-songwriter Chris Cornell, who was the frontman of first generation grunge band Soundgarden as well as the supergroup Audioslave, among other projects. Cornell also had a successful solo career. Through these different musical outlets, Cornell was integral in defining the sound of rock throughout the 1990s and 2000s with his unique songcraft, existential lyrics and four-octave vocal range. To put it simply, Cornell deeply influenced and altered the course of music history. Here are five ways Chris Cornell changed music.
Chris Cornell and his band Soundgarden were on the vanguard of the burgeoning Seattle grunge scene of the late 80s and early 90s along with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. Soundgarden, however, were the first Seattle grunge band to achieve commercial success. Formed in 1984, Soundgarden climbed the record label ranks first signing with Sub Pop in 1986 and releasing two EPs; switching to SST Records for their 1988 debut album Ultramega, which garnered the band their first Grammy nomination; the Grammy nod landed Soundgarden with A&M Records, becoming the first grunge band to sign with a major label. In many ways, Soundgarden was the first grunge band.
Having an amazing four-octave vocal arrange aside, Chris Cornell’s vocal style was probably one of the most copied voices of the 1990s. Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder seems to have been heavily influenced by Cornell, perhaps while they were in the supergroup Temple of the Dog together in the early 90s. You can hear Cornell’s influence in 90s rock lead singers from Live’s Ed Kowalczyk to Creed’s Scott Stapp and more.
Although the Rolling Stones recently made headlines with their 2016 concert in Havana, Cuba, they weren’t the first rock band to play in Cuba. Rock music has been banned in Cuba under the Castro regime, which basically spans the entire rock era. On May 6, 2005 Audioslave—Cornell with Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk—played a free concert in Havana. At the time Cornell remarked, “Hopefully his concert will help to open the musical borders between our two countries." Considering The Stones would play Cuba 10 years later, it seems Chris was right.
4. Bond Theme
In 2006, Cornell, along with composer David Arnold, was tasked to write the theme song for the Bond film “Casino Royale.” The songwriting duo produced the song “You Know My Name.” Singing the song himself, Cornell became the first American male to sing a Bond theme song. “You Know My Name” was also nominated for an Oscar in 2008.
5. Collaboration with Timbaland
While rock and rap collaborations are nothing new, it was what hip-hop producer Timbaland had to say about working with Chris Cornell on the latter’s 2009 solo album Scream that stands out. Timbaland reportedly said that the collaboration was “The best work I’ve done in my career,” with Cornell calling it a “highlight” of his own.