Welcome to Grunge Week at BlindedBySound!
It's a series within a series this week as I do my Top 5 songs from my Top 5 Seattle bands of the '90s. I'll first unveil the bands and then each day this week you'll get my Top 5 songs by them and your chance to give me yours! The bands you'll be reading about this week are Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, and Soundgarden and Alice is batting leadoff.
Longtime readers know I lived in the Puget Sound area at a time when these bands were becoming big in the area and moved to Alabama just as Nirvana took the scene international. I loved most of those bands and still do and at any given time, any one of them could have been my favorite but my default answer was and is Alice in Chains.
One thing that stands out about Alice compared to those other bands is the number of songs they recorded that were native acoustic rather than retrofitted for an Unplugged appearance. Only Pearl Jam rivals them in that regard and that didn't really come until later in their career, something that tragically wasn't to be for AiC.
That brief discography helped me narrow my list down to five, although there are great songs missing. This is what I've got. What would your list look like?
- Angry Chair: Dirt is their masterpiece and several songs are filled with hellish imagery of addiction and the sound of disintegration and despair and this may be the best of the bunch. This is also one of Layne Staley's few solo writing credits.
- Rotten Apple: Only the casual were surprised that Alice sounded so good when they played MTV Unplugged. Those of us who had been paying attention knew how great they could be when they went acoustic and this is one of my favorites. Alice didn't need electric guitars or volume to plumb the depths and you uncomfortable. This is a sprawling, twisted song with detuned harmonies and some seriously great bass work from Mike Inez, making his recorded debut.
- Get Born Again: Alice at their cynical best. It makes me so sad to think this could have been the first song on a new album but this was the last time Layne was strong enough to sing. There is sinister magic in the vocal potion of Jerry Cantrell and Staley, like an underworld version of The Everly Brothers or Simon and Garfunkel, and that black magic is potent on this track cut for the Music Bank box set.
- Grind: The self-titled album is Alice at their most "alternative." Facelift was glam, Dirt was grunge, and Alice in Chains is weird, indulgent, and messy. That suits "Grind" well, other songs not as much. There was something foreboding about Staley, voice distorted, chiding us not to plan the funeral before the body died. We all feared we knew how his story would end, and yet he lived in shadow for years after this recording.
- Would?: Alice at their most powerful? I think so. Staley and Cantrell trade lines in the verse and Layne delivers wicked coolness in the chorus. The shuddering bass line is perhaps Mike Starr's greatest contribution to the band and Sean Kinney is deceptively active and propulsive behind the kit.