#371: The Birth of Grunge


#371: The Birth of Grunge


The pendulum of rock music was swinging back to heavy. The world had tired of Poison, Warrant, and even the once mighty David Lee Roth. His latest album (A Lil’ Ain’t Enough) had tanked and the tour poorly attended. On the other hand, Metallica were transforming from the little thrash band that could into a worldwide juggernaut. Change was in the air, but what we didn’t expect were the dark clouds blowing in from Seattle.

I had been aware of a few newer bands. Soundgarden for example had some airplay with “Loud Love”, but I wasn’t impressed. There was another new group called Temple of the Dog that had a music video with two singers. “What’s up with this new band, Temple of the Dog?” I asked my highschool friends. They shrugged. “Haven’t heard of ‘em.”  Highschool ended and I began a new adventure at Wilfrid Laurier University, majoring in History. And that’s when I saw “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Because the schism of grunge and metal had yet to occur, it was played on the Pepsi Power Hour, where Temple of the Dog had also debuted. I had even read a Nirvana concert review in an early issue of M.E.A.T Magazine, but they weren’t really on my radar. I thought the singer had a great voice even though his ratty old sweater was pretty lame. I thought he kind of looked like a dirty Sting. The singer’s voice and the drummer’s chops were the best part of this band that otherwise didn’t click for me.

Some other singles and videos trickled onto the airwaves: “Jesus Christ Pose”, “Alive”, and more. It all happened so quickly. In a matter of months, a new crop of darker, detuned bands had replaced the likes of Van Halen on the charts. These new bands didn’t concentrate on an image, which in itself became their image. Shaggy beards, unkept hair, shorter do’s – these new rock bands didn’t look much like the old. Even their onstage personas were different. Where bands used to try to entertain and give bang for the buck, these new ones seemed to take a page out of shoegazer bands’ books. Layne Stayley from Alice in Chains was noted for standing still in one place on stage much of the time. Pearl Jam replaced lights and flashbombs with jams and crowd surfing. Worst of all to me was the disrespect this new crop had for the old, just like in the punk days of old. Krist Novoselic of Nirvana said on television that he hated heavy metal because it all sounded like with was spat out of a computer. The fact that heavy metal fans were buying his albums by the hundreds of thousands didn’t seem to click with him. Mudhoney were talking about beating up Sebastian Bach. It was getting crazy and a huge split happened within heavy rock music.

It was hard to keep up with the rapid changes. What was in a few months ago was deader than dead. What never would have had a chance of charting in 1990 was now #1. Artists that once looked cool suddenly looked ridiculous. But most importantly, the fun was disappearing from rock and roll. It was no longer enough to sing about cars or girls. Now you had to have something from your soul to confess, or a social issue to address. It was a lot less fun to sing, “Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies, oh he don’t know so he chases them away,” than it was to sing, “I got it bad, got it bad, got it bad, I’m hot for teacher.”

I resisted the change. I owned no grunge albums until late ’92, when I was finally drawn in by the song “Would” by Alice in Chains. The Dirt album took some getting used to, but it was at least built upon metal riffs. Pearl Jam and Nirvana remained all but incomprehensible to me. A couple years later, Soundgarden managed to suck me in with “Spoonman”. I had to admit that these bands had a lot of talented players: guys like Matt Cameron and Jerry Cantrell were earning mainstream respect among musicians. As these bands grew in popularity, I would always advise kids to keep an eye on the rearview mirror. “Yeah, Soundgarden are great. But have you ever heard original Black Sabbath? They were the original Soundgarden.” I didn’t want the roots (and my roots!) to be forgotten.

Grunge and I had an uneasy relationship for a few years, but soon it no longer mattered. Other types of music were coming to the forefront now, even more heinous and evil: pop punk, boy bands, and the post-grunge onslaught. I slowly grew to enjoy Pearl Jam and some Nirvana. I even own a Stone Temple Pilots CD or two. But my heart will always remain with the music that grunge nearly destroyed forever – hard rock!

Hard rock went into a sort of hibernation for a while, but it could never be killed.  Not even by something as all-consuming as grunge was.  Today, hard rock is back in business again.

The Four Horsemen: “Back in Business Again”

You never met a man like me
You wouldn’t understand
I’m in the rock’n’roll business honey
I’m in a rock’n’roll band
And we were headed for the top babe
Way back in ’91
Some record business scumbags took it from us
Well they forgot my gun
Well now we’re back in business folks
I’ve come to claim what’s mine
See we’re the Four fucking Horsemen
Back for a second time

I’m a fast talkin’, woman lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, good for nothin’ rock n roll star
In a hell raisin’, trouble lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, mother f***in’ rock n roll band
I make my dirty little fortune
In this rock n roll band
We’re here to entertain you
We’re back in business again

Moron after moron at the meet and greet
They’d do just about anything for a front row seat
When you see me on the stage one thing you’ll understand
It’s what I do, it’s what I am, I’m just a rock n roll man
And you don’t hear me whining about my fame and fortune

I’m a hell raisin’, trouble lovin’, fast talkin’, good for nothin’ rock n roll star
In a trail blazin’, skin lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, mother f***in’ rock n roll band
I make my dirty little fortune
In this rock n roll band
We’re here to rock n roll you
We’re back in business again

Now pay attention
I got a little story here to tell ya
It kinda goes like this
You know I had a couple years off there babe
To kinda take some time
And I heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers
Complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down
I say we gather up all these little bastards
Shove them back to their lil’ nowhere town
See I was born on this stage
And I plan to stick around!



  1. I still remember the first time I saw Nirvana on Headbangers Ball. I recall thinking, this is incredible stuff but no one is going to buy this!!

    At the time I did like Alice and Temple and was intrigued by this music coming from up North. Seemed like a million miles way from what was popular at the time. Say what you will but when freaking lame ass Nelson came out, I thought, this is when Metal jumps the proverbial shark. Its like put long hair on anyone and rip their jeans strategically and you too can be a metal maniac. Enough was enough.

    Yes, I still loved Rush and Maiden and the ‘Ryche and Fates Warning and Primus and Faith No More. This is really where I was at the time. Didn’t seem like this little movement could take over the world. Then a few years later this wimp ass band called Candlebox came out and I said, ok this is where Grunge jumped the shark.

    I’m going to listen to FZ and jazz now. :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nelson! Oh yeah…I don’t even know how they got lumped in with “metal”. The hair maybe. They would be considered a pop band today. They really did jump the shark. They may have written great pop songs and they may have been great musicians, but they didn’t fit with that genre!

      I felt Faith No More were probably the most underappreciated band in the 1990’s.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I fear Zack (and this is just an educated guess) that the musical climate for live, hard, genuine rock and roll won’t swing back for a long time, if ever. I’m very pessimistic about the current state of music given what we see today passing for rock and pop.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of all the comments I’ve ever seen on WordPress, Facebook and twitter, this is the one I like the least!
        How far can the pendulum swing in the direction of crap before we get some decent rock and roll? Man cannot live on Bruno Mars alone!
        I suppose at least there is some cool stuff in the underground. It just sucks having to look harder for it, I’m too lazy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. When we went to see Guns N Roses in June of 91 we seen a add for the Roth/Cinderella/Extreme tour that would be playing Alpine Valley in Milwaukee as well in August of 91….we bought tix….than refunded them as the whole tour got scrubbed ….there was the first sign……2 huge acts a few years earlier(Dave and Cinderella) that could headline on there own than…..collapse!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Before that, Slaugher and Cinderella were coming to my town. We knew there was trouble when they cancelled the Hamilton gig and combined it with the Kitchener gig. Basically a co-headlining tour and they were selling half arenas…not good!


  3. I’m not so certain the lines are so clearly drawn. Popular opinion may swing away from or towards certain styles, but somewhere out there bands are always making the music you want to hear. It just may be harder to find them for a while. Grunge (a label that’s a disservice) didn’t spring up fully formed. Even Cobain’s completely obvious influences like the Melvins, Vaselines and Pixies, to name only a few from the time, were doing their thing long before. Just because Bon Jovi was out and Nirvana was in, though, that was only the main stream. There are always, always, always bands operating along the fringes to appeal to any taste. And major bands too. I’m sure most of your favourite bands were releasing albums during that period.

    Personally I was late to the “grunge” (ugh) thing – you’ll recall I was the jazz kid – but I fell for it pretty hard for a while before moving on again. Just like most other people. It’s a cycle. Your preferred style of rock will come back into the spotlight eventually. But you don’t have to wait for the mainstream to give it to you, you can go find it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well I’m just relaying it as I remember it from all the magazines and TV shows. A lot of old school fans hating on the new. A lot of new school fans mocking the old.

      It was always possible to buy new hard rock, but many bands were breaking up because demand had dried up. The bands that didn’t fold lost key members. When the money dries up, bands crumble…Sebastian Bach has weight a few times about it.

      But thankfully today finding the music you like is easy. Back then MEAT magazine was my only real route for finding new music that I liked in the grunge era. And then they folded in 95 and went Alternative!!

      You can see how frustrating this period was for a Rock fan like I.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha yeah sorry, my reply was more in reply to your response to Zack’s comment than it was on the actual article. I get it, bands struggling when the popular opinion changes. But that’s where I myself struggle with it a bit – I understand that it’s nice to be playing the big mega-dome for 60,000 people every night, and ego and that all or nothing thing (“I’m a star! I demand millions!”) takes over and they’d rather split up than keep playing (just in smaller venues). That’s pretty weak. All they’d have to do is wait out the new thing, keep playing, and watch for the next shift that brings back they thing they’ve always done (and it always does).

        I do understand your frustration. I forget things like that when, for myself, I’m all over the map in my listening. I don’t usually notice when one style or another goes away, so much, because I usually have about eight genres on the go, at any one time.

        You make a good point about not having the access, back then, as we o now. With no internet, it was difficult. But I always found that record shops (and good record shop employees – and I include you in this) always help finding a new (or new-to-you) thing to try. They recommend one band, that sends you down other avenues and before you know it time has passed and you’re listening to all sorts of great tunes.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Good point! My guy in town for that was Al King at Sam’s. I also just heard cool tunes a few times, walking into a store like Encore. Kitchener at least had a bunch of places to choose from. Dr Disc (2 locations I think), Sam, Encore, a ton of mall stores like HMV. And us…although we were a small time player in the early 90’s!


      2. At least you had all of that! Until I moved out at 18, I lived in a farming community town of 300 people. We had to drive over an hour to get to your town, or anywhere with options like that. And yet I still found lots to listen to.

        I feel like I should Google the cycle of musical styles. I’m sure there’s a whack of PhD papers out there on how and when things happened (and why). But I think reacts like Bach’s boils down to expectation. Bands can say they’re in it for the music all they want, but when they hit it big, they enjoy it (and who wouldn’t). And when things shift and that joyride goes away, they quit because their new standard of living is affected? True colours, man. I can’t blame someone for wanting their band to be huge, but that old chesnut about playing the same for 25 people or 25,000 people because This Is Your Job is more to my liking. Just keep playing.


        1. Gotta say I agree with that, even if it isn’t always the attitude taken by some bands I like.

          Some artists just kept giving er. Marillion thrived in the 90s as they found new ways for reach fans. Others too. Much better than calling it a day!


      3. There ya go. Good music that you want to hear will always be made, even if it’s not selling out the mega-domes all the time. And don’t worry, the cycle will swing back around. There’s always a reaction to the crap popular stuff, and it’ll be the bands that stuck with it, not the one whose prima donna attitudes prevented them from staying with it. Mind you, there will always be new crap pop music too, always be a boy band or three, etc. They’ll never go away either, because lots of people buy that too. Chacun son gout.


  4. I loved it and fell for it as soon as I started reading about it, I think it cleansed the palate of a lot of kak – the good stuff and the strong artists all came back. Of course everyone was suddenly jumping on the gravy train and it became just as much, if not more, of a pose than cock rock ever had been… and then the good stuff and the strong artists won out again.

    I liked the way you suddenly got a lot more emphasis on feminism and the abundance of sweary ladies; whilst simultaneously bemoaning the lack of bewbs on LP covers and in videos. I’m a complex kinda guy!

    I loved the dirty Sting comment – so true!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It did cleanse the palate, and it did get ride of a lot of the sexist lyrics. Not all, but a lot.

      I just felt that there were better bands than Pearl Jam, putting out better albums in the early 90’s, that nobody was paying attention to. Motley’s 94 album blows away anything Pearl Jam has released to date.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m with you 100% on PJ, apart from a few singles and the Benaroya LP; my dad loves ’em though! Maybe it’s a generation gap thing!

        I’m glad the sexist lyrics went, but why’d the sexist LP covers all have to go too? I didn’t get to vote on that.


  5. Hurrah! for ‘grunge’. I honestly think that it was the best thing to happen to real music … giving heavy rock / metal the shot in the arm it needed. Much of the comments from those bands (particularly Nirvana) was aimed at what those bands had become. I can understand that. The 80s saw all these great bands caught up in gimmicks and excess. Not to mention excess gimmicks. I don’t think ‘grunge’ was about not having fun, but having something to say at a time when MTV and the label money men dictated content and folks couldn’t relate to it. Most of them acknowledge the influence of those ol’ hard rockers (Stone Temple Pilots with Kiss and Aerosmith) …

    But yeah, it’s a conversation I have with friends fairly regularly and a great subject for a post (nice one, by the way). Rock could do with another shot in the arm …

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nirvana could very well be the band I hate the most. Of all rock bands, that is. Never heard anything good coming out of them at all. But I was never in with the whole grunge movement, I hated it from day one. It took all the fun out of rock and roll and made is miserable and depressive. I want to have fun when I listen to music and the last thing I need is some doped up millionaire complaining and whining about how miserable their lives are.
    That said, I think the word grunge is as bad and wrong as the word hair metal. Really, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden didn’t sound the same and neither did Tesla, Skid Row, Europe and Cinderella…
    But I must say that Alice In Chains’ both comeback albums are damn brilliant and so are the two latest Pearl Jam records. And Soundgarden’s reunion album. I still can’t stand their early stuff.

    The Four Horsemen was a killer band!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WOW that brings back memories. Yeah, that’s something else.

      Sebastian Bach once claimed that Stone Temple Pilots were once a glam band and that Rob Afuso was their drummer. I never found any proof of Afuso being in the band.


        1. I heard plenty of the Will 2K album in the store, but since then I’ve really only been aware of his movies! Just watched MIB3 and was happy to find it better than MIB2.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Yeah, that’s how I came to know his music. Apart from ‘The Fresh Prince…’, MIB was one of my favourite childhood movies. My Mum used to play his song “Men in Black” all the time in the car when I was kid.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. My earliest memories of The Birth Of Grunge were as a student at a local community college I noticed everyone, and I DO MEAN EVERYONE, started listening to “Nevermind” in the mid-to-late-fall/early-winter of 1991. Not far removed from the high school most just graduated from, all the “cool kids” were listening to it on their Walkman/Discman, as well as the nerds, the jocks, the preps, and most shockingly, the long-hairs that I knew were fans of everything from Sabbath to Warrant! I knew a seismic shift was happening before our higher-learned eyes!
    I still remember during the Winter Semester of 1992, during one of those mildly-awkward “Getting to Know Each Other In Class” Introductions, that ended up being just as awkward, a fresh-scrubbed suburban cheerleader-type (not that there’s anything wrong with that), all beautiful-hair-and-skin-and-tasteful-clothes introduced herself as “My name is Amy (or something like that), and my favorite music’s ALTERNATIVE”.
    That’s when I knew this new-fangled Alternative was already no longer “Alternative”!


  8. Late to the party again (as was grunge but seemed just in time fer some), but this and subsequent comments an interesting read.

    Personally I too was reluctant to ebrace the change but much like Mike succumbed to the sound of Spoons Chains and also some Candlebox. While there were plenty bands I couldn’t care less about getting heaved up and spat out the Seattle back door, there were however far too many quality acts that were unfairly swept up from the sidelines caught in the mix.

    We each have our lists but to my ears bands such as Saigon Kick, Spread Eagle, War Babies to name just a few, could have and ‘should’ have continued to thrive had they been afforded the same label support that these so-called grunge bands had. Some bands that did persevere and survived turned toward the dark side and released sub par records while others (point in case the already mentioned Motley Crue self titled) released great material, but ultimately those that were dropped and not given a look in is what bothered me most about the change.

    But, change was indeed needed and while plenty of that eras records remain some of this fans most loved records, the OTT media and label driven jumping ship resulted in too many unnecessary tragedies.

    My 2c, a good post Mike :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah you know what, the change was needed. It kicked rock and roll in the ass, made it dangerous again. There was nothing dangerous about Poison.

      It’s fun to look back and analyze. If only I had known that guy in the green sweater in the Teen Spirit video would be the biggest rock star in the world.


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