Band: Various
Album: Singles
Best song: “Birth Ritual” and “Would?” are classics.
Worst song: “Waiting For Somebody” is so so dumb.

Part of being old is the mistaken belief that the thing from one’s youth are the best things to have ever existed. I’ve written about it a million times, but — if I can pat myself on the back here for a minute — I do try to buck that trend. Balancing the “everything new is the best” with “everything from my youth is the best” is a tough road to hoe, but here we are.

As such, I experience a lot of music from the 1980s and 1990s and say “holy crap, that’s garbage” when I try to listen to it again. Indeed, it’s not often that the records from your youth hold up.

But, holy crap the Singles soundtrack holds up. Well, mostly.

First: The film itself does not hold up. It represents a certain place in time — 1992, Seattle — and it represents a certain strain of popular culture in that place and time (grunge). That’s not to say I didn’t worship the film when I was 12 and 13 (about a year after it came out and I fell in love with grunge), because I absolutely did. I, particularly, loves this bit from the film:

My dad left home when I was eight. You know what he said to me? “Have fun, stay single.[long pause] I was eight.

Part of that is because my dad gave me similar advice when I was 12 or 13 (“Get a dog and an apartment, Ross. Don’t get married.”), but it’s also the kind of humor that resonated with me.

Of course, my entree into the film was the superlative soundtrack. I got the soundtrack because Jimi Hendrix, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam — shut up, I was a stupid kid — were on it and there’s a good argument that the best songs from two bands — AIC and Soundgarden — are on the record.

“Would?” is the kind of grunge record that defined the genre’s place in the mainstream. The genre’s unsung hero was the bass guitar with Krist Novoselic driving much of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and AIC’s best work being worked around the bass. The bass rolls through the song as the steadying force — that’s the bass’ role in rock music, after all — while Jerry Cantrell’s guitar adds accents. Layne Staley’s vocal is low and mournful — befitting a song about forgiveness and death. There are arguments to be made for “Man in the Box” and “Down in a Hole,” but “Would?” is the best AIC song, as far as I’m concerned.

There’s also a very good argument to be made for “Birth Ritual” as the best Soundgarden song. Let’s get “Black Hole Sun” out of the way first; that song is not very good and has been so overplayed that it’s kind of silly. The holy trinity from Badmotorfinger (“Jesus Christ Pose,” “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage”) all have a claim, while a good half of Superunknown could make that claim, too. “Birth Ritual,” though, is the band at its best as individuals and as a unit.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the best description of (specifically Sub Pop-connected) grunge to me was always “Black Sabbath meets Black Flag” is best encapsulated with Soundgarden and “Birth Ritual” adds and element of progressive noodling to that mix. The song’s driving rhythm shows why Matt Cameron has been an in-demand drummer since he joined the band, while Kim Thayil’s palm muting accents said drumming like the best Sabbath riffing. He then turns the solo into a rollicking, modal masterpiece because Kim Thayil is a bad motherfucker.

And oh man. Chris Cornell has the best rock voice around. The heights he hits on the word “ritual” at the end of every chorus while switching rhythms is the reason to listen in the first damned place. If there’s a better hard rock singer, I’ve yet to hear him or her.

Singles is a nostalgia piece, no doubt. The Lovemongers’ cover of “Battle of Evermore” is wonderful, though the Wilson sisters hardly add much to the Zeppelin classic (other than getting Robert Plant’s ass out of there). Mother Love Bone was more cause and important influence than great band and lord knows Pearl Jam’s music is garbage. “Nearly Lost You” is a classic, as is “May This Be Love,” because Seattle was the place to be in 1992.

It’s a monumental record for me. I don’t love all the songs like I did when I was 12, but that doesn’t take away from the memory.

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

    You can contact me at rjgianfortune at gmail dot com.

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