Let’s travel back to 1992, the year that alternative music was just rearing its grungy head in public and gangsta rap was beginning to live out the fantasy of its lyrics in the actual lives of its stars. Where 1991 represented a milestone year for groundbreaking music releases, 1992 represented a changing of the guard in music. All of a sudden, Baby Boomers were whining about this new music that the Gen Xers were listening to, calling the music of their youth in a self-congratulatory manner indicative of seeing themselves as the center of the universe “Class Rock”, all the while labeling the Gen Xers as lazy and self-indulgent and giving their music a passing “Alternative” label. You see, throughout the Eighties, the Boomers raped the environment and the economy in order to live out their yuppy dreams, leaving the members of Gen X to raise themselves and teach themselves important lessons such as trust no one but yourself.
In 1992, the real danger resided in the music and art popularized by Generation X. But, there was so much timeless music released during this time period that someone could run a “Classic Alternative” XM station, and it would make big bucks. But, in 1992, a movie, written and directed by former Rolling Stone wunderkind Cameron Crowe, was released. Today, the movie, called Singles, is remembered as something of a precursor, albeit a darker version, to the milestone television show Friends. The movie follows the lives of four late twenty-somethings to early thirty-somethings trying to “grow up” in Seattle, Washington. Since Crowe was living in Seattle with his former wife, Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson, he was very familiar with the burgeoning music scene there. So, he filled his movie’s soundtrack full of artists from this grunge scene.
Early in 1992, Grunge was beginning to make commercial inroads, much like disco was making in the days leading up to the release of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Nirvana rode “Smells like Teen Spirit” into the Top 10 on the Singles Chart, while their seminal album, Nevermind, knocked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album from the top spot on the Top 200 Albums Chart. A tribute album to the late lead singer of Mother Love Bone, Andrew Wood, recorded by an ad hoc group of members of Mother Love Bone, who was about to become Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden recorded an album as the group Temple of the Dog, which was finding its way into the Top 10 on the Album Chart. Additionally, other Seattle bands were finding commercial success, such as Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.
But, all of that changed when Cameron Crowe’s movie soundtrack, called Singles, was released in advance of the movie. All of a sudden, the Seattle sound, now called Grunge, was blowing up. Singles soundtrack peaked in the Top 10 at number eight. Now, the CD, which many critics now refer as the greatest grunge music compilation, was proving to the world that the world of alternative music was going to make some people a bunch of money.
Ironically, Crowe did NOT make this soundtrack a total grunge-fest. His genius was to mixed many of the stalwarts of the Seattle scene with some excellent songs from some alternative acts who were outside of that scene. He had the foresight to include Paul Westerberg, who had just left his band The Replacements, on the soundtrack by allowing two of his most recent songs (“Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody”). He also included a song from Chicago’s up-and-coming band Smashing Pumpkins (“Drown”). And, to acknowledge important Seattle natives, the soundtrack included a song by Jimi Hendrix (“May This Be Love”) and his wife and sister-in-law’s Heart spin-off band called the Lovemongers, which included some of the artists from the grunge scene, who chipped in with a cover of the Led Zeppelin standard “Battle of Evermore”.
Yet, the rest of the soundtrack belongs to the up-and-coming members of the Seattle grunge scene, with Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, a solo Chris Cornell, and Screaming Trees all included on the album. The Singles soundtrack gave a commercial boost to every artist on it. For instance, Pearl Jam’s Ten had been on the charts for nearly a year when all of a sudden it caught fire and became lodged in the nation’s consciousness. Alice in Chains, arguably the heaviest and darkest of the grunge bands were growing in popularity. Even the two lesser bands on the soundtrack, Mudhoney and Screaming Trees, released their biggest selling albums in the wake of Singles.
Still, one act was conspicuous by its absence: Nirvana. The band who knocked down the door for this whole grunge thing to happen was Nirvana, but I have read that they were not even considered for the soundtrack. There have been a couple of reasons for this snub. The first reason given was that no one really expected Nirvana to have developed so quickly into a world-class rock band like they did. At the time, Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, released in 1988 had not sold very well and was not yet considered the over-looked classic that it is known as today. Also, the other bands considered Nirvana to be more of a pop band than a rock band that all the other bands had considered themselves to be. So, Nirvana was actually considered NOT to be part of that famous Seattle scene. Whatever the reason, could you imagine what the impact of a Nirvana song included on this soundtrack would have been? I envision the presence of one song by Kurt Cobain’s band to have elevated this timeless soundtrack into quite possibly one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. Sure, that’s nitpicking, since Singles is a classic album and a culturally significant album in that it blew the whole alternative nation into musical and commercial forefront.
Can you honestly believe the Singles soundtrack turned 25 years-old last year? I still think of the alternative music of the Nineties as being a new sound that today’s music has yet to catch up to. Singles is just as culturally significant to the whole alternative rock scene of the Nineties as Saturday Night Fever was to the whole disco scene in the late Seventies. Few albums can stake that claim, while even fewer soundtracks have been that important. And that why Singles can stand on its own.
Long live the newly recognized King of the Soundtracks: Singles!