It sounds weird, but this is the music I grew up on. It's amazing to me how dated it seems only fifteen years later -- the shaggy yet carefully-coiffed hair, the Doc Marten boots that went halfway to the knee, the closets full of nearly identical flannel shirts and ripped, stonewashed jeans -- and the guttural snarl and overprocessed guitars. Yep ... grunge. It also happened to be the era, in my humble opinion, when MTV really started to come into its own; perhaps one day we'll remember Grunge by its dark, frenetic music videos the way we remember the Civil War by its blurry daguerreotypes. Now here they are, grunge's ridiculous, according-to-us best-of:
Alice in Chains: "Man in the Box"
In this rough-edged gem, the Grim Reaper stalks the barnyard. No one captured the brooding self-loathing of grunge quite the way Alice in Chains did. They never wrote a happy song, and this is certainly no exception.
Temple of the Dog: "Hunger Strike"
This grunge-rock supergroup featured Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and soon-to-be Pearl Jam rockers Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready. In this video for their big hit, they're all standing on the same wheaty island (let's assume it's off the coast of Seattle), but they're all standing apart from one another: typical "in my own Hell"-style grunge rock isolationism. (Kids in the Hall's movie Brain Candy featured a right-on-the-money grunge parody song, the lyrics of which go something like "Some days it's dark / Some days I work / I walk alone ...") These guys definitely walk alone.
Mother Love Bone: "Stardog Champion"
Mother Love Bone's Andrew Wood would've ruled the grunge scene had he not OD'd in 1990. If he hadn't, however, band members Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard might not have gone on to form Pearl Jam, and then where would my childhood be? But seriously: MLB sounds like Robert Plant if Robert Plant was born in Singles-era Seattle.
Primus: "Tommy the Cat"
Is Primus grunge? Inasmuch as they defy easy classification, I'd argue that they're also very much a product of the grunge era, though their downright silly style stands in sharp contrast to the constant grimace worn by most grungers from 1989-1994. It's just a shame that Tom Waits, who voices "Tommy," declined to be in the video. (Secret fact: I bought a fretless bass in high school because of this song.)
Stone Temple Pilots: "Wicked Garden"
Sporting the weirdest band name in grunge, "STP" was initially just the letters -- like the motor oil -- until the guys decided they needed more than an acronym. They played as Stereo Temple Pirates for awhile, until their label pressured them to change it (though singer Scott Weiland does sound a little like a pirate ... "I wanna run through your wicked gaaarrrden!")
Soundgarden: "Black Hole Sun"
Is this an ad for Botox? Seriously, though: while the effects may look a little tame by today's standards, the "Black Hole Sun" video was really a watershed moment for MTV (and for grunge), marking the beginning of serious computer-generated special effects in videos, and signaling a move toward shiny, hypercolor creepiness rather than dark, gritty creepiness (a la the "Man in the Box" video, for instance). And by the way, that little girl still gives me nightmares. (Then again, most do.)
Pearl Jam: "Jeremy"
Unique among the videos portrayed here -- with the possible exception of "Heart-Shaped Box" -- "Jeremy" doesn't feel dated. Perhaps it's because, other than being a rockin' tune, in it Vedder portrays someone besides himself feeling angry and isolated; it's got a nice specificity to it where other grunge songs feel general. The video reflects that.
Nirvana: "Heart-Shaped Box"
Santa on the cross! Mechanical crows! Krist Novoselic's impossibly lavender pants! Maybe the best song of the grunge era, and certainly the best video. It takes the saturated colors and freaky religious imagery of "Black Hole Sun" and makes it into art rather than just a freakshow.