4 Chris Cornell cover songs that prove he was a mad, music genius
In an interview last year following the death of David Bowie, Soundgarden lead singer Chris Cornell talked about how music artists often aren’t fully appreciated until after they’ve died. Talking to Rolling Stone, he said, “You don’t know how important someone is to you as an artistic influence until suddenly they’re gone. I’ve certainly been having that experience. It’s kind of equal parts sad and celebratory to think, ‘Awesome. What an amazing career he had and what an amazing legacy he’s left for everybody.’”
I bring this up because I’ve been wanting to write a little post on what a mad genius Cornell is. My hope was that I’d write it and get him to notice it on Twitter, where’s very active. I thought he’d like to know that at least one fan genuinely appreciated his musical genius and went to lengths beyond a like or retweet to show it.
Sitting in my Gmail inbox for the last 18 months or so as a reminder has been a message with four links to videos I managed to come across on YouTube that really highlight what a talented musician Cornell is. When I saw them, they blew my mind. Due to being busy with work and everything else, I just never got around to writing it up. But on the day he died at the age of 52, doing it now seems like an appropriate tribute.
Obviously, I’m a huge fan of Cornell — all of his stuff has resonated with me for decades. And he is one of the founding fathers of alternative music — there are plenty of articles today focusing on his place in the rock pantheon. Soundgarden was his wheelhouse, but he had a host of beautiful solo songs and his work with the super group Audioslave is able to grab you by the throat as well as sit beside you like an old friend and comfort your soul.
Cornell also displayed a real talent for covering other people’s songs. I think one of the key measures of a great musician is how well they can cover someone else’s song, particularly if the song is a smash hit. How many times have you heard cover songs that just do the original no justice whatsoever, or even disrespect the song. Not the case with Cornell. He was among the best at covering the works of others, and putting his own unique signature on them. And he took things a step further. Cornell would often go way out of his grunge rock comfort zone. He did so in collaborations, like joining the Zac Brown Band on “Heavy Is The Head” and he did it in his solo work.
Below are four examples of just totally unexpected risks Cornell took that, perhaps, no one else could’ve pulled off. Most hard rockers would never perform one of music’s biggest love ballads, or one of its most famous pops songs. Cornell ran headlong into such a challenge. And he did it all by himself, with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a microphone.
- The Dolly Parton / Whitney Houston ballad “I Will Always Love You”. Talk about taking a huge risk, a manly rocker singing a country love song, that enjoyed a massive second life in the early 1990s when it was revived by Whitney Houston.
2. Rock songs “One” by Metallica and U2. Cornell had a SNAFU with Google, but didn’t let that stop him from covering two songs at once. The result is musical fusion like you’ve never heard before.
3. 1980s smash hit “Billie Jean”. Cornell interprets King of Pop Michael Jackson’s Grammy-winning 1982 track from Thriller. He recorded a studio version of it, and it’s a much darker, downtempo and textured arrangement than what was popularized by MJ. Haunting. Perhaps only someone as brooding as Cornell could imagine such a quintessential pop song in this way.
4. Prince and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”. About six months before Prince died, Cornell performed this cover of the 1990 song Sinead O’Connor made famous. Once again, he explores angles of this song that otherwise never would’ve been revealed.
We lost a great one today. Rest in peace, Chris.