On Thursday night, Scott Weiland was found dead on his tour bus at the age of 48. Throughout a two-decade-plus career with Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver and various solo ventures, the singer became just as well known for his personal demons as for his obvious musical talents, but his recorded legacy stands strong. Weiland’s signature baritone delivery, glam-derived swagger and way with a tender hook made him one of the standout voices of the Nineties and beyond. Here are 20 essential songs from his sizable catalog.
Even a year after Pearl Jam's "Jeremy," "Sex Type Thing" registered as a strong statement, especially for a then-unknown band releasing its debut single. Inspired by the rape of his onetime girlfriend, the song finds Weiland pouring himself into a creepy role-playing exercise, repurposing his natural machismo as stylized menace. Musically, the song established one of Weiland's signature moves — singing low on the verse and high on the chorus — that would serve him well throughout his career. You certainly didn't want the narrator "[getting] next to you," but you still felt tempted to wail along with his depraved monologue.
"Plush" remains one of STP's most recognizable and biggest hits, with even a stripped-down, acoustic version performed on Headbangers' Ball doing well on radio. Weiland's vocals soar along with the track's melody and are almost catchy enough to make it possible to miss the incredible darkness of the lyrics. "The lyrics to this song were inspired by a true story," Weiland said during an episode of VH1 Storytellers. "A girl was kidnapped and then later found tragically murdered back in the early part of the Nineties. So it gave me fuel to write the words to this song. However, this song is not about that, really; it's sort of a metaphor for a lost, obsessive relationship."
Weiland and his band captured a delicate balance of grit and raw emotion on this quintessential grunge ballad. The heavy single, off the band's 1992 debut, Core, finds a young Weiland contemplating how he's "half the man [he] used to be." Above the slow-moving crunch of the band, the singer's voice melts into a country twang as he shifts from his typically urgent delivery to a more drawn-out, careful assessment of time and depression.
Almost 25 years after the fact, good luck trying to decipher what "I am smelling like the rose that somebody gave me on my birthday deathbed" actually means. But one thing's certain: Anyone who came of age in the early Nineties can sure as hell mimic Weiland's a cappella delivery of the line, which kicks off not only "Dead and Bloated," but also STP's debut as a whole. To this day, the churning, grunge-y anthem remains one of the band's most well known tunes — so much so that on Weiland's most recent solo tour, "Dead and Bloated" was one of a handful of STP tunes that he included in his set. And while he kicked the tempos up a bpm or three, he kept the iconic megaphone-assisted opening intact.
Weiland grapples with innocence and innocence lost on the Core track "Wicked Garden." "I'm gonna burn, burn you to life now/Out of the chains that bind you," he sings on the track, which demonstrates how powerful the band could sound when blending the rhythm section's fluid sense of groove with the frontman's magnetic swagger. "Wicked Garden" proved to be such a standout from the album that even though it was never officially released as a single, it still climbed up the charts
Nobody wielded a megaphone quite like Weiland. While the prop became nothing more than a crutch during his tragic recent solo performances with the Wildabouts, in the STP heyday, fans cheered when Weiland reached for the implement and lit into "Crackerman." An album cut on their debut Core, "Crackerman" quickly became a live favorite, with its distorted "gotta get away" refrain. Even Velvet Revolver added the propulsive jam to its set list, with Weiland flailing about, megaphone always in hand for the duration of the song.
Weiland and his bandmates settled nicely into mainstream success, returning from Core in even stronger form on their sophomore album, Purple. Driving, efficient second single "Vasoline" examined the darker parts of Weiland's fame, especially his worsening addiction that he hid from his loved ones. "['Vasoline'] is about being stuck in the same situation over and over again," Weiland wrote in his memoir, Not Dead and Not for Sale. "It's about me becoming a junkie. It's about lying to Janina [Castaneda, Weiland's first wife] and lying to the band about my heroin addiction."
Stone Temple Pilots were the kings of the Nineties power ballad, putting their own exquisitely gloomy spin on the style perfected by the Seventies arena gods and the Eighties glam masters. The band had several classic examples of the style to its name, but "Big Empty" deserves special distinction for the way it turns what should be a hackneyed quiet-loud conceit into something truly epic. The track is a perfect showcase for Weiland's versatility: He's a sensitive-guy folkie during the verse and a brooding belter on the chorus, selling head-scratching anti-poetry ("Time to take her home/Her dizzy head is conscience-laden") like it was Cole Porter.
Few songs are more aptly titled than this, possibly STP's single most enduring radio hit and, yes, one of the great driving songs of all time. The song is everything that the band's first wave of singles were not: Upbeat, care-free, even jaunty. And Scott Weiland carries the mood, putting his gravelly pipes to work on a series of sunny, poignant hooks. "Interstate Love Song" marks the moment where the singer no longer seemed to be forcing it — as a frontman, he'd learned to ease back and let the song do the work.
One year after STP released Purple, Weiland stepped out on his own with the Magnificent Bastards (named for a U.S. Marine Corps battalion). The short-lived project's first offering was "Mockingbird Girl," a song that was something of a magnificent bastard itself, with shimmery, lilting verses that give way to a positively infectious chorus splattered with garage-glam distorto guitars and Weiland's sweet vocal harmonies. The tune, which initially appeared on the soundtrack to the 1995 flop Tank Girl, was a harbinger of the more adventurous musical path Weiland would take on his own; when he released his solo debut, 12 Bar Blues, three years later, a reworked "Mockingbird Girl" was included in the track listing.
The first single off STP's third album, Tiny Music … Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop, "Big Bang Baby" is a compact bit of raw power. Propelled by a chugging riff and Eric Kretz's Tarzan drumbeat, the song found Weiland, like many rock stars before him, dissecting his fame and anticipating the inevitable fall. "Sell your soul to sign an autograph," he wails, before acknowledging in the outro that "nothing's for free." The chorus may be nonsensical, but Weiland delivered it with unbridled energy and agility. In the end, the song stands as one of the best representations of the group in the studio.
Consider this Weiland Unplugged. For "Sour Girl," off the band's No. 4 album, STP relied on mainly acoustic instruments and simple production. Gone were any affectations too in Weiland's voice; it's his most straightforward vocal of the first four LPs. As such, it was also one of the group's biggest hits, charting in Billboard's Hot 100, a feat not matched by any other Stone Temple Pilots single. The emphasis on crisp, clean singing, as opposed to the megaphone-assisted tricks on Core, would inform Weiland's solo work too — especially his entirely sincere 2011 Christmas album, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
It's easy to lump Stone Temple Pilots in with the grunge gang, but the band also drew heavily from Seventies glam, especially by the time Shangri-La Dee Da was released in 2001. "Days of the Week," off their fifth album, was all jangly guitars and harmonies, with Weiland detailing his daily descent into relationship hell. Thanks to his infectious, sing-songy delivery — no easy feat, considering the song doesn't really have a chorus — "Days of the Week" was impossible to forget. Ironically, that wasn't the case for the band, who jettisoned it from their live show the year it was released.
STP returned to their grunge roots with this moody rocker, released on the 2003 greatest-hits LP Thank You. There's little of the layered vocals that distinguished the group's best singles — e.g., "Interstate Love Song," "Big Bang Baby" — but what "Suit" lacks in finesse, it makes up for with muscle. This is Stone Temple Pilots circa Core, all chunky chords and ominous bass. The difference between the songs on their 1992 debut and this single, however, is a lived-in skin. While Weiland's river-deep vocal on "Plush" may have been initially called out for aping Eddie Vedder, the growls and sneers on "All in the Suit That You Wear" are unmistakably him.
Weiland took a glam turn with supergroup Velvet Revolver. With three former members of Guns N' Roses — Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum — and guitarist Dave Kushner, the singer helped create refreshingly fun, sexy hard-rock albums in the early 2000s. The smooth "Slither" was their biggest hit, featuring an instantly recognizable McKagan bassline, iconic Slash solo and one of Weiland's finest vocal performances. For an added bonus, the song's video showed the singer going full Mick Jagger–via–Sid Vicious, sporting dark, spiky hair, gold pants and his trademark serpentine moves befitting of the song's title.
This hit power ballad was in the finest Guns N' Roses tradition, soaring but tough. When the core of GN'R formed Velvet Revolver with Weiland, he didn't just provide the band with a deep voice, he imbued their music with some harrowing autobiography. The song is about how his addiction to heroin forced a separation with his wife Mary: "It's been a long year since you've been gone/I've been alone here/I've grown old." That year, Weiland told Rolling Stone about the breakup: "She sat on my chest and said, 'I don't need a fucking kid, I need a fucking man.'" "Fall to Pieces" became Velvet Revolver's biggest hit: The song was fueled by Weiland's all-too-real pain. And the video, prophetically and disturbingly, showed Weiland overdosing while on tour.
While Velvet Revolver were working on their second album, Libertad, Weiland's younger brother Michael died of heart complications following years of drug abuse. The singer wrote the lyrics to this song as a tribute to his late sibling, but the result was no weepy ballad. Rather, the dark, cowbell-assisted rocker channels not only Weiland's grief ("Angel, your wing was always broken"), but also his anger ("Your time has receded/Wasted"). Today, sadly, those words would seem to apply just as readily to the singer himself.
This power ballad off the second Velvet Revolver album, Libertad, is a sonic cousin to "Fall to Pieces." But its subject matter is even darker, as it nods to the OD death of Weiland's brother Michael in between the recording of VR's two albums. Weiland sings lyrics about time healing "burned-out bridges," but his pained vocals make it hard to imagine he really believed it. Instead, he's consumed by the titular fight — his own ongoing battle with addiction. But that's what makes the song so undeniably moving, as it builds to an anthemic Bowie-like chorus. Weiland was waging war against his demons, and in "The Last Fight," it was clear the struggle was far from over.
Weiland's second solo effort, 2008's "Happy" in Galoshes, is where his Seventies glam influences shone brightest (indeed, he covers Bowie's "Fame" here), and nowhere was this more apparent than on the album's opener, "Missing Cleveland." A Technicolor burst of glitter-pop crunch, the song explodes out of the gate with a positively "Ziggy"-esque chord progression. The Bowie references are further hammered home by Weiland's accompanying lyrics about Martian chimpanzees — a sly play on the Spiders From Mars.