Seattle Decisions: Part 3 - Temple of the Dog
Also: downloading illegally in the 80s and 90s - a primer.
In the first of these posts on the grunge era, I mentioned the cinema, turned music shop in my home town of Cork, Ireland. What was once home to the Pavilion (and a lot of Bond and Disney movies), became home to HMV. Unless you are living in the UK, there’s a good chance that your local HMV has long since closed and this is true in Ireland also. But the 90s was the heyday of that particular retailer. As I recall, the back wall of the store was covered in shelf after shelf of the ‘hottest’ artists of the day. For a time in the early 90s, it was dominated by the Seattle bands.
It was usually tapes that adorned the shelves and CDs were displayed in racks on the centre aisles. CDs were way beyond my budget as a teenager and I could generally only afford a few tapes each year, so choosing an album to buy was a big deal. In my last post I regaled you with my account of how ‘Dirt’ by Alice in Chains was one of my favourite albums of all time. What I didn’t mention was how I pulled a sneaky with it.
Today we have pretty much unlimited options when choosing to listen to music. The streaming services can be accessed for free (with adverts) and almost every artist is available to listen to. Back in the 90s buying an album was a commitment and fraught with risk. What if the album was a dud? We generally only had the singles released to judge the quality of the record and as we all know, not every album is filled with bangers. I shared my concerns with my peers in school. I was given advice of varying quality. Shoplift? For a start this was pointless, as the music shops only put the cassette cases on display. I went with option B. I had nothing to lose really.
So, a week after I purchased ‘Dirt’ by Alice in Chains, I returned to HMV. I told the cashier that I received the album as a birthday present, but I already had a copy and wanted to exchange it. Exchanging the cassette for another one of the same price was perfectly legal and I don’t think any music shop in the 90s or today would have any issue with it.
But I didn’t know that. I was 14 years old.
I was terrified.
I felt like I was committing a crime against the music industry. The Police were probably watching through the security cameras. I literally felt like I was in this scene from one of my favourite movies. By making this request I was about to set off an unstoppable chain reaction involving poisoned darts, pit-traps, and boulders chasing me down tunnels.
The cashier frowned slightly. He looked at the copy of ‘Dirt’. He looked at me. He looked at the copy of ‘Temple of the Dog’ I wanted instead. Space dust coalesced under the weight of nebular gravity, compressed and ignited through fusion into stars, burned bright, collapsed under aeons of spent energy and supernova’d, flaring brightly before echoing radio waves into the nothingness of the seconds that passed, before he said…
At this point I would like to apologise to Alice in Chains, their families, their record label, the people of Ireland, and music fans everywhere. In my defence, I have purchased ‘Dirt’ several times since this incident on CD and digitally. Of course I had also made of copy of it at the time using one of these bad boys.
So there you have it. That’s how us 90s kids downloaded and streamed illegally. Of course, rather than go through the heart-poundingly terrifying ordeal that I had, you could just borrow a tape from a friend and make a copy.
Andrew Wood was the vocalist of Mother Love Bone, who quite possibly would have been the greatest of the Seattle bands. Wood died of an overdose in early 1990, before any of the posthumous acclaim the band received. His friend Chris Cornell (who was in a band called Soundgarden), formed ‘Temple of the Dog’ to record an album in tribute to Andrew’s life. Along with two ex-members of MLB, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, they joined a guitar player called Mike McCready and a surfer dude who could sing, called Eddie Vedder for the project. Temple of the Dog was rounded out by Cornell on vocals, and fellow Soundgarden band mate Matt Cameron on drums. Cameron has since become the drummer for Pearl Jam. Temple of the Dog was unwittingly a super group, made entirely of members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Soundgarden had some success back then. Their third album, Badmotorfinger, was rocking the music channels and radio. Probably as a result of this, the album ‘Temple of the Dog’, did pretty well. 40,000 copies were sold and it charted briefly.
Then a year later, the new band Pearl Jam released ‘Ten’. It was a massive success. ‘Temple of the Dog’ was cleverly re-released by the record label and went on to sell a million copies. The single ‘Hunger Strike’ is a beautiful duet with Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder sharing vocals.
I’m not going to deep dive (too much) into this tune, but if you listen to it and hear the contrast in the two vocal styles you’ll get the appeal. Vedder and Cornell express anguish in their differing, unique, distinctive styles. Vedder’s relaxed, deep mournful singing provides the foil for Cornell’s anguished cries. Given how talented and adaptable both vocalists proved to be on their own records, it would have been interesting to hear them reverse their roles in the song. Vedder’s campfire vibes vs Cornell’s screams of pain into the heavens. The song has a folk-country vibe to it and I would have picked this tune for Johnny Cash to cover on one of his ‘American’ albums. Alas, that never happened.
As a teenager I binged this album (along with ‘Ten’, ‘Dirt’ and the other grunge classics). I genuinely wouldn’t have heard it, if it wasn’t for the meteoric success of Pearl Jam, but I’m so glad I did. It also got me into Soundgarden who I was unsure of until then and I’ll explain my reticence with them at a later point.
It also made me curious about Mother Love Bone and without this album (and the success of Pearl Jam), I doubt anyone outside of the Pacific Northwest would have discovered that great band. Let’s take a look at them in another post.
The rest of the album is filled with other great songs. ‘Say Hello 2 Heaven’ a love letter to Andrew Wood, is all the more poignant after Cornell himself passed away in 2017.
Next post: It's ok to eat fish, coz they don't have any feelings