In 2015, Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell made a surprising return to the top of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart as a guest vocalist on Zac Brown Band’s “Heavy Is the Head,” a crunchy rocker from the group’s sprawling Jekyll + Hyde. Cornell died at age 52 on Wednesday night, in an apparent suicide.
“Chris Cornell touched so many & we were fortunate to have worked w/ him,” said Zac Brown Band via Twitter. “He was a true talent & gentleman. Our thoughts are with his family.”
Opening with jagged, distorted bass guitar, “Heavy Is the Head” blooms into a muscular mid-tempo groove that recalls Radiohead’s “The National Anthem.” Cornell’s voice is the first one you hear, singing the chorus hook: “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Brown takes over the verses, doing his best to compete with Cornell’s bluesy howl while the song shifts through several iterations of prog-influenced, technical guitar work.
Uncharacteristically for ZBB, it was pushed to rock radio, going on to become their first and only chart-topper on the rock side. Its success makes them just one of two groups (the other being Bon Jovi) to have chart-topping singles on the Mainstream Rock and Country Airplay charts. It was also the final Number One for Cornell, who joined the group to perform the song live during their March 2015 appearance on Saturday Night Live.
Jason Aldean also collaborated with the grunge pioneer, teaming up for a one-off performance of Aldean’s single “Just Gettin’ Started” at the 2014 CMT Artists of the Year special. “I only got to work with Chris once, but he was a true rock star,” Aldean tells Rolling Stone Country. “He was a badass onstage and a class act off stage.”