Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden: 50 Best Grunge Albums – Rolling Stone
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50 Greatest Grunge Albums

From Mudhoney to Mother Love Bone and beyond — the finest releases from the maladjusted new breed that remade rock

grunge list

We count down the 50 greatest grunge albums, from multi-platinum classics to underground essentials.

Photographs in illustration by Kevin Mazur/WireImage, 2; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic; Mick Hutson/Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago, Kurt Cobain predicted that grunge would become corny. “Grunge is as potent a term as new wave,” he told Rolling Stone. “You can’t get out of it. It’s going to be passé.” At the time, Eddie Vedder was on the cover of Time, fashion designer Marc Jacobs was dressing models in flannel and even The New York Times was questioning, “How did a five-letter word meaning dirt, filth, trash become synonymous with a musical genre, a fashion statement, a pop phenomenon?” Although the word has fallen out of vogue, the music from the time remains vital.

That’s because, whether the bands liked the term or not, grunge was a movement. In less than a decade, Nirvana and a handful of bands from the Seattle area had crawled out of obscurity and commandeered pop culture, rebuilding it in their own image. They pinned their hearts to their sleeves in their lyrics, they created an inclusive environment for women and others marginalized by the poofy-haired rock mainstream of the Eighties, and — taking a cue from punk rock — they did away with the artifice of rock stardom. Their music was a hybrid of hard rock, metal and punk (with a sprinkle of Neil Young here and there), which gave them a wide enough swath of flannel for each band to have its own unique snarl. Soon, bands from all over the world were getting widespread recognition after years of duking it out on indie labels. But within a few years of reaching critical mass, it all seemed to fade away quickly, as nu-metal became rock’s shiny new object.

That’s not to say that grunge died, since scene standouts like Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains and Melvins still release critically acclaimed and/or commercially successful albums, but it has become a part of America’s cultural fabric. The genre’s influence still resounds in hip-hop (Jay-Z appropriated the chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for his 2013 song “Holy Grail”) and magazines like InStyle are reporting on a resurgence of grunge fashion. And younger acts like Bully, Metz and Speedy Ortiz and even Juice Wrld continue the genre’s traditions of brittle guitar riffs and throat-shredding honesty.

Because 1994 was the last time grunge dominated the mainstream — it was the year that Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana and Pearl Jam all had Number One LPs, and, tragically, it was also the year that Kurt Cobain died by suicide — we’ve decided to mark the 25th anniversary of that year by reflecting on the best albums of the era. To capture the breadth of the genre and prove that the music never became passé, our editors have selected records by bands that topped the charts, as well as ones by unsung heroes like Paw, the Gits and the U-Men, and even the odd grunge forefather. And we’ve left off a few records that were once huge, by Bush, Candlebox and Silverchair, for instance, that just haven’t stood the test of time.

So snuggle into your best thrift-store sweater, lace up your Doc Martens and let your hair hit your shoulders, so you can properly enjoy the 50 Greatest Grunge Albums.

50 greatest grunge albums
47

The U-Men, ‘Step on a Bug’ (1988)

The U-Men emerged out of the same Seattle underground that birthed grunge, but the quartet were more Pere Ubu and Captain Beefheart than Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. One of the city’s best live acts in the mid-Eighties, the U-Men followed a string of cherished seven-inch singles with 1988’s frenetic Step on a Bug, their lone studio album and 30 minutes of jagged riffs, discordant rhythms and singer John Bigley’s caterwauled vocals. Strains of U-Men’s “2 + 4” and “Flea Circus” are heard in Nirvana’s first demo cuts like “Beeswax” and “Hairspray Queen,” where Kurt Cobain’s delivery, like Bigley’s, shifts from guttural yelps to post-nasal mumble from verse to verse. “I would classify them as art rock. Classic art rock,” Cobain once told Narduwar of the U-Men. The group impacted not only the emerging grunge bands of the era but also Texas noise-rock acts like Scratch Acid and Butthole Surfers; the former morphed into the Jesus Lizard, while the latter recorded “The O-Men” as a tribute. Following the release of Step on a Bug, “[The U-Men] became increasingly disenchanted with the direction the Seattle underground was heading and called it quits in 1989,” Mudhoney’s Mark Arm wrote in the liner notes of a recent Sub Pop retrospective. “The U-Men had nothing to do with grunge. They were their own unique thing. I loved them and I still miss them.” D.K.

50 greatest grunge albums
46

Veruca Salt, ‘American Thighs’ (1994)

When BFFs Louise Post and Nina Gordon first assembled as a band, they were on track to become Chicago’s own take on the Indigo Girls — instead, they traded in their unthreatening folk act for some fuzz pedals and founded Veruca Salt. Sardonically titling their 1994 debut after a line from AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” the band recorded the LP with local producer Brad Wood, who had just wrapped up Liz Phair’s landmark album, Exile in Guyville. Both headstrong singer-guitarists, Post and Gordon traded soul-baring harmonies with the punk-rock brattitude of their Willy Wonka namesake— and in their slower-burning ballads, a not-so-punk sincerity — which made for all-around delectable pop songs. Their hard-rock bubblegum breakthrough, lead single “Seether,” was a deceptively sweet introduction; yet like the feral, feminine rage personified in its title, it also had a bite. (“Can’t fight the seether,” sang Gordon of her inner firestarter, “I can’t see her till I’m foaming at the mouth.”) The band would eventually open stadium shows for Hole, PJ Harvey and Bush, and their punchy themes went to soundtrack the chronicles of fictional Nineties anti-heroines like Tank Girl and the murderous mean girls of Jawbreaker. But the spirit of the band waned after Gordon and her brother, drummer Jim Shapiro, left the band for personal reasons in 1998: “We just kind of broke each other’s hearts in a way,” said Gordon, following their reunion 20 years later. “We were like a shooting star, so to speak,” said Post. “Ejected into space and then suddenly … the floor dropped out. We had to find our way back to Earth.Like many other grunge bands came to find, perhaps the real seether was their all-too-rapid rise to stardom. S.E.

50 greatest grunge albums
45

The Stooges, ‘Fun House’ (1970)

When a trio of Seattle all-stars — Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and Screaming Trees’ Barrett Martin — teamed up with Guns N’ Roses bassist and fellow Emerald City native Duff McKagan for a hometown gig in 2015, you might have expected them to run through a set of grunge chestnuts. Instead, they just played a bunch of Stooges songs. Three of those came from Fun House, an album regarded as a holy grail not just by the Pacific Northwest elite but by pretty much any alt- or underground-rock luminary you could name. Although the Stooges’ first album brought a sleazy Midwestern leer to British Invasion–style rock, their 1970 follow-up — named after the band’s debauched Ann Arbor clubhouse — upped the aggression, with guitarist/drummer sibling team Ron and Scott Asheton and bassist Dave Alexander honing their sound into a harsh, insistent throb and purging any remaining vestiges of the groovy Sixties. Iggy Pop, meanwhile, with his masterful array of wordless grunts, whoops and yowls, as well as his sneering delivery on raucous sex anthems like “Loose” and “TV Eye,” emanated from the speakers like a laser beam of pure id. The album’s second half pushed beyond rock, adding squalling post-Coltrane saxophone from Steve Mackay on the title track and, on closing track “L.A. Blues,” imploding in a conflagration of cacophonous, free-form noise-jazz. The architects of grunge in its ugliest, most unapologetic form were certainly paying attention. “It’s pure, well thought out thug music, an animalistic, crude and savage terror trip whose beauty will never be matched,” Melvins frontman buzz Osborne said of the album in 2009. “The Rolling Stones at their absolute zenith couldn’t even lick the balls of these guys.” H.S.

50 greatest grunge albums
44

Skin Yard, ‘Hallowed Ground’ (1989)

Record label Toxic Shock used to advertise Hallowed Ground as “more dayglo psychosis from Seattle’s own acid-drenched Skin Yard,” but that’s likely because there wasn’t any real terminology for the band’s music at that point. With frontman Ben McMillan’s guttural vocals, guitarist Jack Endino’s impressionistic sound clusters and rhythm-focused arrangements that played up Daniel House’s bass, Hallowed Ground sounds both grittier and seedier than the bands that Skin Yard first appeared alongside on 1986’s Deep Six compilation, a key early grunge document. “[Hallowed Ground is] Skin Yard at our most original,” Endino once said. “[We got] sort of an ex–punk rock kid [drummer Scott McCullum], who … really just lit a fire under us and just raised the energy level tremendously [by not] concentrating so much on careful playing, so we became thrashier and noisier.” Endino recorded the LP on the same 8-track machine he used for Nirvana’s Bleach, but thanks to the band’s ferocity, it couldn’t sound any more alien: It’s a bit like Nick Cave’s first band, the Birthday Party, played through a fuzzbox. “Open Fist” sounds like David Lee Roth fronting Hüsker Dü on bath salts, “Needle Tree” is a rattling headbanger with no real riff, and the title track is rock & roll paired with tribal drums. “To those guys [at Sub Pop], we were a little too much like Black Sabbath or something — not alternative enough,” Endino said. “We were a little too close to heavy metal, I think, from [their] standpoint.” Outside of Skin Yard, Endino engineered or produced grunge-defining albums by Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Screaming Trees, while McMillan, who died in 2008 of diabetes, and McCullum co-founded Gruntruck, whose Push album is one of the scene’s forgotten classics. K.G.

50 greatest grunge albums
43

Black Flag, ‘My War’ (1984)

When Black Flag dramatically overhauled their sound on their second proper LP, punk purists cried foul, but future heroes of grunge — and what would come to be known as sludge metal — rejoiced. The band that surfaced on My War bore little resemblance to the angst-powered battering ram captured on Black Flag’s iconic 1981 debut, Damaged. Side 1 of My War traded that earlier album’s post-adolescent flailings for a queasy midtempo churn. Abetted by Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson, guitarist and band mastermind Greg Ginn alternated driving, aggro riffs with meandering, atonal leads, the perfect complement to Henry Rollins harried rants on backstabbing friends (on the title track, maybe the single greatest Black Flag song, penned by former bassist Chuck Dukowski) and emotional turmoil. But Side 2 was the real line in the sand: a series of three six-minute-plus songs played at torturously slow tempos. Those who liked what they heard were never the same. “It was the Black Flag thing,” Melvins’ Buzz Osborne told Kim Thayil in a 1995 Guitar World article after the Soundgarden guitarist cited Melvins’ own gauntlet-throwing slowdown early on. “They did ‘Nothing Left Inside,’ a super-heavy, draining song, and that really, really hit me, emotionally,” Mudhoney’s Mark Arm said in the biography Mudhoney: The Sound and Fury From Seattle of seeing one of the My War dirges performed live in 1983. “Black Flag relished pissing people off and punk-rock people were very easy to piss off. At that show, there was a contingent of kids really pissed off that Black Flag were playing slow songs. ‘Ooh, they’ve sold out…’ Actually, they were just moving forward and doing whatever the fuck they wanted.” Fittingly, the band’s tour shirts at the time featured the album’s nightmarish Raymond Pettibon cover on the front, and on the back, a simple, declarative “Side 2.” H.S.

50 greatest grunge albums
42

Alice in Chains, ‘Jar of Flies’ (1994)

“Mind if we just jam?” Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell told producer Toby Wright in 1993 after the band booked time at Seattle’s London Bridge studio between tours. Grunge’s darkest group saw massive success the year before with their breakthrough album Dirt. But where that album ratcheted up Cantrell’s brutal, chainsaw guitar, Jar of Flies, recorded in 10 days after the band was reportedly evicted from their apartment, showcased the quartet’s deft, if still deeply bleak, acoustic balladry. “[I] just wanted to go into the studio for a few days with our acoustic guitars and see what happened,” singer Layne Staley told Hit Parader in 1994. “We never really planned on the music we made at that time to be released. But the record label heard it and they really liked it.” The (relatively) hip-swaying groove of “Swing on This” and “No Excuses,” and the string-laden doom of “I Stay Away” helped make Flies the first EP to ever debut at Number One on the Billboard 200. But it’s heartbreakingly gorgeous tracks like “Nutshell” — “That song still gets me choked up whenever I play it,” bassist Mike Inez told Revolver in 2013 — that highlighted the range of one of the genre’s most innovative groups. J.N.

50 greatest grunge albums
41

Soundgarden, ‘Screaming Life’ (1987)

A far cry from “Black Hole Sun,” Soundgarden’s first big release, Screaming Life, is knotty, trippy and sprawling. At the time, guitarist Kim Thayil didn’t riff so much as swirl his lines around the rhythms, bassist Hiro Yamomoto wrung uncharacteristically chiming notes from his instrument and Chris Cornell was a topless howling banshee. Opener, “Hunted Down,” which was also the band’s first single, rattles and lunges unpredictably, as Cornell sings about wearing a “permanent disguise”; “Tears to Forget” boasts harder-hitting rhythms than the version on the Deep Six comp; and “Hand of God” is like a twisted, stuttering heavy-metal funk song (something the band would attempt somewhat more seriously on their bizarre cover of the Ohio Players’ “Fopp,” off the Fopp EP, which Sub Pop has added to Screaming Life). “Prior to Screaming Life, we were kind of angular and jagged,” Thayil once told Rolling Stone. “We did a lot of psychedelic stuff built around the feedback and Hiro’s bass lines. Gradually, that psychedelia made it so I was pushed into doing solos. Then the riffs started getting heavier. You just see how the audience responded to what we were doing, and you flow with that. Our songs started getting a little bit slower and heavier.” The record was pure art-punk, and it showed just how malleable grunge could be. K.G.

50 greatest grunge albums
40

Mudhoney, ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge’ (1991)

“Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” is a cutesy mnemonic device to help music students remember the lines on sheet music in the treble clef, but that title is the only sweet thing about Mudhoney’s second album. “[Soundgarden are] good looking, so they’re probably selling more records than we are, and that’s appealing to the majors,” the band’s vocalist and guitarist, Mark Arm, told Spin in 1991. “But as soon as people see the plastic surgery we’re getting, then things will change.” Whether they look the part or not, the band commands a punky, 43-minute aural assault that owes as much of a debt to garage rock as it does to the hardcore-punk influences of vocalist-guitarist Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner’s previous band, Green River. The single “Let It Slide,” which charted in the U.K., combines stomach-churning riffing with surf-rock guitar slides, while the concert staples “Into the Drink” and “Good Enough” have a sinister beach-rock swagger. The band even busts out some Farfisa organ for “Who You Drivin’ Now” to bring out the song’s go-go-dancer–on–angel-dust vibes. “I think [Every Good Boy] was a redefinition of what we were,” Turner said last year. “We were firing on all cylinders at the time, but also challenging what people thought we were. … We were on a roll back then. A short-lived roll, apparently.” K.G.

50 greatest grunge albums
39

The Gits, ‘Enter: The Conquering Chicken’ (1994)

Originally founded amid the progressive utopia of Ohio’s Antioch College, Seattle transplants the Gits made their mark on the Pacific Northwest fuzz-rock scene with an excitable hardcore-punk verve. Mia Zapata, the band’s prodigiously talented lyricist and vocalist, conjured Patti Smith’s bluesy, weather-worn poetics in otherwise pop-punk–paced songs. The band’s final record, 1994’s Enter: The Conquering Chicken finds her grappling with playing nice in a world where kindness is hard to come by, on tracks like “Bob (Cousin O)” and “Social Love.” (Sam Cooke also gets the Zapata treatment in the Gits’ cover of “A Change Is Gonna Come.”) In the gale-force thrasher “Sign of the Crab,” Zapata muses on being murdered at the hands of a stranger: “Go ahead and slice me up, spread me all across this town,” she sings, “Cause you know you’re the one that won’t be found.”

In a shattering twist of fate, the song would play itself out how Zapata described, and just days after she recorded it. In the summer of 1993, her body was discovered in Seattle’s Central District, where she had been raped and strangled to death after a show at the Comet Tavern. Authorities would fumble with the case for years; many of Zapata’s male friends were cornered for DNA samples, stirring mistrust in the scene. That tension turned productive once Gits’ protégés 7 Year Bitch called meetings for community safety; these would result in Home Alive, an organization devoted to teaching self-defense and violence prevention. Fellow grunge stalwarts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden rapidly raised funds with a compilation LP, and 7 Year Bitch would commemorate Zapata’s life with their 1994 LP, ¡Viva Zapata! (See number 34 below.) It would be another 10 years before Zapata’s killer, Jesus Mezquia, was identified and charged; he began serving his 37 year sentence in 2009. S.E.

50 greatest grunge albums
38

The Fluid, ‘Purplemetalflakemusic’ (1993)

Although the Fluid are best known for their Sub Pop split single with Nirvana, their grungiest release was their final offering, Purplemetalflakemusic. Members of the punk group Frantix (“My Dad’s a Fuckin’ Alcoholic”) formed the group Madhouse in the early Eighties and eventually changed their name to the Fluid. The band’s early influences were the Stones, the Stooges and the Pebbles series of garage-rock comps, and their early Sub Pop albums were loose and almost poppy. When they signed to the Disney-owned Hollywood, though, they started writing rawer, heavier music that still had Stooges-style shake appeal. Purplemetalflakemusic’s “One Eye Out” is a heavy beach rocker, while “She Don’t Understand” has a hummable, power-pop vocal line that’s paired with the sort of direct guitar riff Kurt Cobain would have killed for. The band famously turned down Tony Visconti as the producer for the album, but it’s safe to assume that he would have put a little too much Bowie-style glam on already catchy songs like “Pill” and “On My Feet.” Nevertheless, the record didn’t sell well and the band imploded in 1994 making for what guitarist James Clower told Spin was a “pretty pathetic end to a great rock band.” Years later, frontman John Robinson reflected on what went wrong. “The Fluid, for better and often for worse, wouldn’t take any advice like that about anything, you know? We were an extremely stubborn and headstrong bunch,” he said in 2008. “And for the most part, that served us well.” K.G.

50 greatest grunge albums
37

L7, ‘Smell the Magic’ (1990)

When L7 began recording their second album in 1989, they were one of the few non-Seattle bands signed to Sub Pop. Heady first single “Shove” was a line in the sand. The song’s roiling, Black Sabbath-esque intro seemed to announce that these abrasive L.A. art-punks wouldn’t conform to the self-serious stylings of their labelmates, tour partners and peers like Soundgarden and Nirvana. “We are separated from those bands because we crossed over — we were in the heavy metal magazines, too,” guitarist and songwriter Suzi Gardner told Rolling Stone. “But we’ve always been a hard rock band with lots of different influences and a punk sensibility.” Upon its release in 1990, Smell the Magic was an electric shock in a sea of grey. From Donita Sparks and Gardner’s snarling guitars on “Till the Wheels Fall Off” to the Motörhead-style careen of “Broomstick” and “Packin A’ Rod,” the LP exploded the parameters of what a grunge band could be and sound like in 29 breathless minutes. L7 were hellbent on proving (often to their management’s horror) that rock bands could be formidable and funny, political and potty-mouthed. And of all their albums, Smell the Magic is also the one most widely cited as an inspiration by the next wave of punk and riot grrrl bands, from Garbage to Veruca Salt, because of songs like “Fast and Frightening,” which felt feminist without making gender a selling point of the music (“She’s got so much clit she don’t need no balls,” Sparks sings) — a concept many in the music industry still haven’t fully mastered. S.G.

50 greatest grunge albums
36

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, ‘Ragged Glory’ (1990)

In April of 1990, before anybody outside of the tiny Seattle rock scene even heard the term “grunge,” Neil Young gathered with Crazy Horse at his California ranch and banged out a perfect grunge album in a matter of weeks. It came naturally to him, since he’d been making proto-grunge albums for years, such as Rust Never Sleeps, with its skronking “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” and acoustic counterpart “My My, Hey Hey,” which has the unfortunate distinction of being quoted in Kurt Cobain’s suicide note. On Ragged Glory, songs like “Love and Only Love” and “Fuckin’ Up” are built around long, feedback-drenched jams and easily stand up to his strongest works from the Seventies. “I purposely wanted to play long instrumentals because I don’t hear any jamming on any other records,” he told Rolling Stone at the time. “There’s nothing spontaneous going on on records these days, except in blues and funkier music. Rock & roll used to have all that.” Little did he know that a musical revolution was brewing, spearheaded by artists that grew up on his music. Soon enough, Pearl Jam were playing “Fuckin’ Up” at their own shows and the media was calling him the Godfather of Grunge. Young only played into that by enlisting Pearl Jam as his backing band on the 1995 LP Mirror Ball. A.G.

50 greatest grunge albums
35

Paw, ‘Dragline’ (1993)

In early ’92, Lawrence, Kansas’ Paw were one of countless bands being courted by the majors in the immediate aftermath of Nevermind. “It’s really asinine and out of control,” drummer Peter Fitch told Newsweek that year, after navigating the A&R-infested waters of South by Southwest. “We’re just a bunch of scumbags from Kansas in ripped jeans, and we’re sitting in the best restaurant in Austin, eating $35 entrees. That’s not reality.” Yet there was nothing artificial about Dragline, the group’s eventual major-label debut. Amid plenty of chunky, period-apt riffing, Fitch, his guitarist brother Grant, bassist Charles Bryan and vocalist Mark Hennessy gracefully wove in rootsier touches — a lovely pedal-steel break on MTV-featured single “Jessie,” a fireside folk outro on “Sleeping Bag” — that made their music feel distinctly Midwestern. Hennessy’s earthy drawl, which often rose to a ragged roar, and lyrics that painted vivid portraits of childhood — “Yeah, Poppa bought a pickup truck/With bottle tops and that’s enough/A beat up piece of Chevrolet/Blue and white rustin’ away” — added to the sense that, trends aside, this was a band stubbornly following its own down-home muse. H.S.

50 greatest grunge albums
34

7 Year Bitch, ‘¡Viva Zapata!’ (1994)

By 1990, very few rock bands had driven home the true precariousness of womanhood as militantly as Seattle four-piece 7 Year Bitch. Not quite grunge and not quite riot grrrl, the band suffused the local punk scene with righteous rage in feminist revenge fantasies “Dead Men Don’t Rape” and “Gun.” But in 1992, on the eve of their debut release Sick ‘Em, real life horror struck: Guitarist Stephanie Sargent died suddenly, presumably from a fatal cocktail of alcohol and heroin. Less than a year later, the band’s muse and mentor, Gits frontwoman Mia Zapata, was found strangled to death outside a beloved music venue. Both events would trigger their Jack Endino–produced sophomore LP, ¡Viva Zapata!: an unflinching tribute to the luminaries they lost. Backed by the menacing chug of Elizabeth Davis’ bass guitar, frontwoman Selene Vigil-Wilk asks in “M.I.A.,” slam-poet style: “Does society have justice for you? Well if not, I do.”

Drummer Valerie Agnew would follow through by calling community grief meetings — which would evolve into self-defense trainings — and eventually become the anti-violence non-profit, Home Alive. “We were thinking in the modes of self-defense,” Agnew later noted: “Wishing we were all fucking ninja bitches.”

Yet despite its sobering subject matter, ¡Viva Zapata! was not without its playful indulgences: In their most popular song, “The Scratch,” the band set aside their politics for two minutes of catchy, devil-may-care hedonism. (The band famously performed the song live in the 1995 teen Bonnie and Clyde drama, Mad Love, starring Drew Barrymore.) “You better watch out what you’re wishing for,” Vigil-Wilk warns; “I will have my cake and I will eat it too just like you!” S.E.

50 greatest grunge albums
33

Babes in Toyland, ‘Fontanelle’ (1992)

Following their debut Spanking Machine, Babes in Toyland flirted with mainstream success, signing to Reprise Records and joining Sonic Youth on their 1990 Goo tour. (Thurston Moore once wryly described the band, along with L7 and Hole, as “foxcore.”) But after frontwoman Kat Bjelland’s ex-bandmate and rival, Courtney Love, courted Kim Gordon to produce Hole’s 1991 debut, Pretty on the Inside, Bjelland kicked into overdrive writing her grotesque comeback, Fontanelle — which she co-produced with Sonic Youth drummer Lee Ranaldo. Although Bjelland swore off rumors that opening track “Bruise Violet” was a jab at Love, the video suggests otherwise; chameleonic photographer Cindy Sherman plays Bjelland’s blonde, babydolled doppelgänger, whom Bjelland strangles by the end. (“You see the stars through eyes lit up with lies!” Bjelland shrieks, as drummer Lori Barbero pounds roaring thunder from her tom-toms and bassist Maureen Herman rumbles ominously below.) Bjelland’s spitfire sometimes aimed further beyond her female competitors; “You’re dead meat, motherfucker/You don’t try to rape a goddess,” she snarls in “Bluebell.” But for every gratuitous “bitch” in twisted nursery rhyme “Handsome & Gretel,” Bjelland gains rope in her lifelong tug-of-war with the women in her life — from the mother who abandoned her to the many girls who tried to imitate her, blurring the lines between love and obsession. Bjelland would make amends with Love before Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and even co-wrote “I Think I Would Die” from Hole’s 1994 record Live Through This. But if Love was grunge’s tragic pageant queen, Bjelland embodied something way more primordial: Perhaps Truth incarnate, emerging from the bottom of her well and screaming her curses. S.E.

50 greatest grunge albums
32

Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Gish’ (1991)

When the newly formed Smashing Pumpkins gathered at Butch Vig’s Wisconsin recording studio in December 1990 to record their debut, no one expected the sessions to be strenuous. Billy Corgan pushed his young band to the brink by spending hours scrutinizing every detail, from tuning instruments to even playing most of the parts himself. “I could never do it over again,” recalled bassist D’arcy Wretzky in the 1995 MTV Rockumentary on the band. “I don’t know how we survived it.” Gish featured 10 dense, ornately crafted tracks — from the intensity of “Siva” and “Tristessa” to the subtle, surreal build-up of lead single “Rhinoceros” — that showcased the band’s musical ambition. “I was trying to say a lot of things I couldn’t really say in kind of intangible, unspeakable ways,” Corgan told MTV. “So I was capable of doing that with the music, but I don’t think I was capable of doing it with words.” Though they were a Chicago band, the Pumpkins would soon align themselves with the Seattle scene. Soundgarden would recommend the band to Cameron Crowe for inclusion on his Singles soundtrack, after the two bands played a show together, making their honorary grunge status official. A.M. 

50 greatest grunge albums
31

Tad, ‘8-Way Santa’ (1991)

With his bulky 300-pound frame and scraggly beard, Thomas “Tad” Doyle looked more like a biker (or a butcher, his one-time job) than a typically scrawny indie rocker. His band’s second and meatiest album matched that vibe: Roaring-down-the-highway tracks like “Jinx” and “Trash Truck” occupied the space between unkempt indie and lumbering metal, propelled by singer-guitarist Doyle’s burly roar and unhinged lyrics (“I’m thinking/I’m God’s son/I’m drinking/And I’m driving”). “We were definitely fascinated with deviant behavior, the underbelly of American society,” said Doyle. “We got sick and tired of hearing another love song, essentially. And we wanted to shock people and have fun doing it.” Tad toured with Nirvana when the latter released Bleach, and each band clearly impacted on the other; walloping 8-Way Santa tr