Happy 25th Anniversary to the Singles soundtrack, originally released June 30, 1992.
After four sleepless, drug-fueled days in Los Angeles followed by four flight delays, I made it back to Austin, TX, to find my friend from Philly (who played in my punk band from ‘93-94) asleep in my house. And then my 90-year-old grandfather came to visit (he’s been here for four days and I have to carry around a stepladder to get him in and out of my vehicle). So it seems only fitting that I’m sitting down now to pen a tribute to an album from 1992—the soundtrack to the film Singles.
Oddly, it’s a movie I have only watched with girlfriends in that 25-year period since its release, but it’s still a brilliantly crafted film with a superb soundtrack that truly encapsulates the “grunge era” of my teenage years. So, let’s break out the flannel shirts and nose rings and get down to business.
The album kicks off strongly with “Would?” by Alice in Chains. I had heard them before, but this was the first of their songs that I ever wanted to learn on guitar. Fortunately, a month before the release of the film, the tablature had come out in Guitar Player magazine, so I already felt like a cool kid. [Side note: a dear friend once had dinner with Layne Stayley’s grandmother in a Seattle nursing home and toured with Chris Cornell, but more on Chris in a moment.]
We then slide into “Breath” by Pearl Jam—without a doubt an iconic band in the public’s eye when it came to the “Seattle Sound,” yet that is why I quickly grew to hate them. I was a punk rock kid with an affinity for grunge, but suddenly every jock on the football team was blasting Ten out of their pick-ups in the parking lot because they had discovered something that wasn’t a Mötley Crüe or Grateful Dead album. Plus, I blame Eddie Vedder for the “mumblecore” version of rock and roll that fostered generations of bands who just growl their way over a crappy pop song (see: Puddle of Mudd), and I think he claims to have written this song while meditating on his surfboard, which is some sappy bullshit, if true. That said, the band appears again later on the soundtrack with “State of Love and Trust” which still rocks my socks off.
“Seasons” by Chris Cornell is especially haunting given his recent death. But a beautifully simple song nonetheless, with only two vocal tracks and three layered acoustic guitar tracks. It represents a Cornell that was (super?)unknown to me because I only knew the churning of Soundgarden, who also appear on the soundtrack and in the film with their chugging freight train of “Birth Ritual,” a song that won’t make you drive too fast, but it will cause you to blow through a few stop signs so that you don’t lose pace.
And then, for some reason, Paul Westerberg shows up. Not only did he do the ancillary score for the film, but like Cornell he also has two tunes on the soundtrack. The first is the blissfully poppy “Dyslexic Heart” which, according to urban legend, was written in a back room at a studio on the day he was supposed to record the song (also, Jeremy Piven inexplicably is in the official video). But we also get “Waiting for Somebody,” again, out of place with the cranked amps of the grunge junk-addicts that litter the soundtrack with its pop sensibility. But fuck it…dude was in The Replacements. He gets a pass.
Speaking of junkies, we then roll into “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns” by Mother Love Bone, a band that quite possibly epitomizes the heroin epidemic in the Seattle scene. Lead singer Andrew Wood wrote these lyrics about a stripper he was dating and how she later tried to get him to kick smack. His death resulted in the creation of the one-album, one-off tribute band Temple of the Dog, which also featured members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. If you haven’t heard their eponymous 1991 LP, get it. I can only hope that my friends make an album about me when I pass. But let’s get the morbidity out of here because this is a great song for heavy petting in the back of a car. Trust me on that one.
And then we step into the pile of goop that is Mudhoney with their track “Overblown.” Fast, sloppy, and an ode to how the “Seattle Scene” was getting co-opted by assholes. An odd choice for a film which idolizes said city and scene, but I can only assume that the song’s inclusion was an additional grungy “fuck you” to the world.
We get some of Hendrix’s “May This Be Love” up next. Of course, we all know he’s buried in Seattle and there was the great scene where Matt Dillon is playing a shitty version of “Hey Joe” on Jimi’s gravestone. But this song was in the scene where a romance was budding as Steve Dunne (Campbell Scott) is going through his records with Linda Powell (Kyra Sedgwick)—a ritual for any record collector looking for love. John Waters once said, “If you go to someone’s house and they have no books, don’t fuck them.” I feel the same way about rekkids.
And then the thunderous drums of “Nearly Lost You” by Screaming Trees roll over, sung by one of my favorite vocalists, Mark Lanegan, and interestingly placed in the track listing given that it implies a sense of resolution. And yet it is then followed up with “Drown” by the Smashing Pumpkins – a curious juxtaposition if only for the song titles, but I can’t fucking stand Billy Corgan’s voice (which sounds to me like an angry 12-year-old soprano girl having intimate relations with a scouring pad).
I don’t listen to a lot of soundtracks, though the works of Ennio Morricone, Angelo Badalamenti, and John Williams will always astound me. The Singles “soundtrack” is more like a really awesome mixtape that a friend gave you in 1992 before you knew shit about music. And if you’re an old fart like me, it brings back a lot of high school memories.