Seattle may be the birthplace of hipster loving Starbucks, but this rainy city was once ground zero for several breakout grunge bands from the late 80s that exploded into the mainstream rock scene in the early 90s. The “rain city renaissance” was a wave of underground bands that were catapulted into the spotlight where even lesser known bands were deemed as trailblazers. They did their own thing, spoke to a younger generation, not realizing that their cryptically honest lyrics were going to change the course of rock forever.
Green River (1984 – 1988)
Green River may not have been a band for long but they were one of the first, if not the first, pioneering bands of grunge rock. The quintet was composed of lead vocalist Mark Arm, bassist Jeff Ament, drummer Alex Vincent (aka Alex Shumway) and guitarists Stone Gossard and Steve Turner, who was later replaced with guitarist Bruce Fairweather. Green River may have been a small part of the rebellious rock movement, but they definitely were an important link in the chain with members later dispersing to create some of the more well-known bands like Mudhoney and Pearl Jam.
Mother Love Bone (1987 – 1990)
Three former members from Green River, bassist Jeff Ament, guitarists Bruce Fairweather and Stone Gossard, combined their musical talent with drummer Greg Gilmore and frontman singer Andrew Wood. This band may have been the closest to the hairband glam rock n’ roll scene that people were used to considering they were on the cusp of the late 80s at their peak. However, the band’s career was cut short after Wood’s tragic death from a heroin overdose. Mother Love Bone had a promising sound that could have left a bigger stamp on rock than they did, but they still contributed to the plethora of bands that emerged during their era.
Tad (1988 – 1999)
Tad did not have a gallery of iconic music but they did offer, “Grease Box,” a more grunge-metal blend that helped transition rock in the early 90s. Formed by Tad Doyle, Tad, was a band that was more heavily influenced by 70s metal than punk, but they ultimately got to open up for Nirvana, further solidifying their status as a grunge band.
Mudhoney (1988 – present)
Former bandmates from Green River, Mark Arm and Steve Turner, reunited to give music another shot. They were joined by drummer Dan Peters and bassist Matt Lukin to create Mudhoney; the band that social media spectators arguably say was Nirvana before Nirvana existed. This band pulled from almost every rock subgenre to create their sound and were unforgivably honest throughout their performances and lyrics.
Temple of the Dog (1990 – 1992)
When all the stars align, magic happens. Temple of the Dog was that magic. However, it was bittersweet magic that originated from Chris Cornell‘s mourning of former roommate and Mother Love Bone’s lead vocalist Andrew Wood. Cornell and Soundgarden‘s Matt Cameron collaborated with the remaining members of Mother Love Bone to form Temple of Dog to create music as a tribute to Wood. They produced an album together in Wood’s honor and as Cornell described, “Temple was about making an album simply for the joy of doing it. We weren’t concerned what anyone outside of our group of friends would think of it. It was the first and maybe only stress-free album that we all made.”
Soundgarden (1984 – 1997; 2010 – present)
One of the biggest bands to transpire from the Seattle phenomenon was Soundgarden. The band included Chris Cornell as lead vocalist and guitarist, lead guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Scott Sundquist, Hiro Yamamoto, and Jason Everman on bass in their early days. With Sundquist’s, Yamamoto’s and Everman’s departure, drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepard joined the band to solidify the band’s iconic lineup. In 1994, their album Superunkown thrust Soundgarden into the spotlight and their popularity continued to grow in the years following until their hiatus in 1997. Reuniting in 2010, Soundgarden went on tour and became the headlining act for the major music festival, Lollapalooza. This opportunity scored them one of the highest compliments a band can receive, in which “the Chicago Tribune hailed Soundgarden as ‘one of the last great hard-rock bands to emerge in the last 25 years.’” Soundgarden had a sound of their own and despite Cornell’s devastating death in 2017, their music continues to influence listeners and will live on to be one of the greatest bands to come from Seattle.
Pearl Jam (1990 – present)
Over 25 years later, and Pearl Jam is still touring with ten albums under their belt. They are undoubtedly one of the most successful bands to come out of the rainy city with a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2017 to add to their resume. This grunge rock band was created by seasoned musicians, who may sound a bit familiar. Bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard, both from Green River and Mother Love Bone, joined frontman Eddie Vedder, drummer Dave Krusen and lead guitarist Mike McCready, who also played in Temple of the Dog and multiple other projects to create Pearl Jam. Krusen was later replaced by Soundgarden’s drummer Matt Cameron, in which only strengthened Pearl Jam’s sound. One can only wonder if Pearl Jam would even exist if their pioneering grunge bands did not break up, but luckily the world does not have to live in a world where this is no Pearl Jam.
Alice in Chains (1987 – 2002; 2005 – present)
Alice in Chains did not represent a pure grunge band because they were heavily influenced by metal, but they were one of the more iconic rock bands to come from Seattle. They fall under grunge because there was no band like them prior to their existence and like the rebellious connotation associated with grunge rock, lead vocalist Layne Staley had a rebellious sound that he carried over from his previous experience in a metal band. Sharing bills with Mother Love Bone in their early days, it was not hard for Alice in Chains to flourish in Seattle’s grunge rock scene. Despite the band’s success, members were rumored to have drug addictions and one of those rumored deemed to be true when Staley’s life came to an abrupt end in 2002 from an overdose. Staley’s death caused the band to dismember but reunited in 2006 for a tour when they hired William DuVall from Comes with the Fall as Staley’s replacement. Alice in Chains was not fully grunge, but they may have not been as successful without the grunge breakthrough that exposed them to the right audience at the right time.
Nirvana (1987 – 1994)
Grunge would not be its own genre without Nirvana and as “overplayed” or “overrated” “Smells like Teen Spirit” may be, this song paved the way for grunge rock to become a mainstream genre. Generation X was over the flamboyant craziness of 80s rock and their misunderstood urge for something new came when Nirvana burst onto the music scene with their garage band, relaxed look. “This is the first American generation that will make less than their parents will. It’s a tough time to grow up in and I think the band, Kurt Cobain, in particular, reflect that angst,” said Michael Azerrad from MTV news. A lyrical genius, Cobain was able to sound relatable to the youth while producing hit after hit without wanting the celebrity that follows fame. Nirvana redefined what rock was at the time and without Nirvana, grunge may have never made it above ground.
Each band made history and should be praised for their individual contributions to rock, but every band from Seattle became a stepping stone for each other and rock may not be where it is today if these bands did not collaborate and contribute to each other’s success. Great bands come from all over the world, but great grunge bands come from Seattle.
I am a former section editor for Coog Radio and had written for the organization for a little over a year. I am a broadcast journalism major graduate and intern at ESPN 97.5 where I have voiced and edited over 100 scripts. I love learning about my field, new people and the world, so feel free to contact me on any of the sites provided below.