The Singles Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: A Coming Together of the Early Seattle Grunge Scene and Pop Culture

The 1992 Cameron Crowe film Singles, along with its soundtrack, effectively helped catapult early Seattle grunge into mainstream pop culture. That alone is pretty cool. I mean, making an entire movie based upon the romantic escapades of some young Gen X'ers who also happen to be aspiring grunge musicians? Sounds like all of my teenage dreams come true (my adult dreams as well, if I'm being completely honest). However, the best part is that this isn't a random movie soundtrack composed of some no-name budding musicians. In fact, you may have heard of a few of the album's contributors: Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains to name a few. Not only is it mind-boggling to me that these pillars of the grunge scene were all able to come together simultaneously to work on the movie and its soundtrack, but they also wrote original songs for it and tested out their acting chops to boot. In fact, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament portray the fictional band Citizen Dick in the movie, along with Matt Dillion,who plays main character Cliff Poncier:


Seriously, how often does that happen? This begs the question: Why aren't we talking about this all the time in the alternative music world? Sure, all of this happened almost thirty-two years ago at the time of this writing, but I for one am still not "over it". Far from it. In this blog, we'll discuss the album track-by-track and talk about each band's contributions to the movie and, primarily, the soundtrack. But first, a brief history lesson:

The Singles Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: History/Background

The Singles soundtrack was released on June 30, 1992, nearly three months before the movie itself. The album primarily features bands from the early 90s Seattle grunge scene, which was really beginning to evolve into the style and sound that we associate with it today. The musicians/bands involved with the original soundtrack were: Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden/Chris Cornell, Paul Westerberg (who is from Minneapolis, but the soundtrack contains his first solo material after leaving The Replacements), The Lovemongers (not grunge, but an informal acoustic group composed of Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson, the latter being married to Cameron Crowe at the time), Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Jimi Hendrix (not grunge of course, but he is a Seattle native), and The Screaming Trees. 

The Singles soundtrack was incredibly well received, selling over two million copies in the United States. In fact, it was so well-loved that a deluxe edition was released in May 2017 that includes eighteen additional tracks. The album helped to facilitate the growing popularity of the Seattle grunge scene in the early 90s, allowing it to breakthrough into mainstream pop culture. 

The Original Soundtrack Track-by-Track

1. Would - Alice in Chains

This song was written by Jerry Cantrell as a tribute to Andrew Wood, vocalist of Mother Love Bone, who died in 1990. Jerry sings the verses of Would and Layne Staley performs the chorus. The song was first released on the Singles soundtrack, and later appeared on Alice in Chains' second studio album, Dirt. Alice in Chains actually makes a cameo in the Singles movie, performing their song, It Ain't Like That. While in the studio recording Would for the movie, the band decided to take advantage of the studio time and record some new material. The result was Sap, a primarily acoustic EP featuring guest vocals from some other Singles soundtrack contributors: Ann Wilson, Chris Cornell, and Mark Arm of Mudhoney. 

I'm certain that I don't have to explain the merits of Would? to you, but there's a reason why it continues to be one of Alice in Chains most popular songs. Those haunting vocals from Layne Staley combined with the relatable yet gut-wrenching lyrics will always tug at your heart. Of course, there's something about the "If. I. Could. Would. You?" at the end of the song that will never fail to give me goosebumps, no matter how many times I've heard it. 

2. Breath - Pearl Jam:

Breath (not to be confused with another Pearl Jam song called Just Breathe) actually went through a lot before making its appearance on the Singles soundtrack. The song started as an instrumental piece written by Stone Gossard during his days in Mother Love Bone, titled Doobie E. It later became an outtake on the Pearl Jam album Ten, on which it was called Breath and a Scream

We all know that Pearl Jam has certainly created a lot of music over the years, and I am utterly in love with the greater majority of their work. That being said, Breath has always been in the top tier of my favorite Pearl Jam songs. Of course, the chorus is incredibly catchy ("Oh-oh reach the door, and a la la la yeah..."), but I always found the omission of the word following "breath" in the chorus to be very cool ("Life ain't what it's worth, a breath and a -"). Almost like a fill-in-the-blank opportunity for the listener. My brain always wanted to use the word "prayer" there, but now I actually think I like "breath and a scream" better. Screaming, in my experience, is often much more effective. 

3. Seasons - Chris Cornell

I didn't think that the story of Alice in Chains' Sap EP ultimately coming to fruition because of the Singles soundtrack could be topped, but Chris Cornell's contributions are probably the most interesting of all. As mentioned earlier, there's a fictional band in the movie called Citizen Dick. They also had a fictional cassette tape with five song titles on it (you may recognize a few of them): Seasons, Nowhere But You, Spoonman, Flutter Girl, and Missing. Chris Cornell was originally asked to play the lead role of Chris Poncier in Singles, but due to being occupied with the recent release of Soundgarden's wildly successful album Badmotofinger, Cornell was understandably too busy to accept. So, Cornell actually wrote songs for each of the titles on that fake cassette tape, with the goal of recording them as the Chris Cornell version of how Poncier would have done it. He presented the result to filmmaker Cameron Crowe, who, of course, was floored with the material. This "tape" became the Poncier EP and was released as promotional material for the movie under the fake label "Real Clever Records". Of course, Spoonman was ultimately recorded and released by Soundgarden, but Seasons made it to the movie soundtrack. All of the songs on the Poncier EP eventually made their way to Cornell's solo albums or a Temple of the Dog album. 

Seasons is a rather bluesy acoustic song that is made infinitely more soulful by gorgeous vocals as only Chris Cornell can provide them. It's a song about being left behind, lonely, and confused while life kind of goes on without you. My favorite lyrics are the following:

"Dreams have never been the answer
And dreams have never made my bed
Dreams have never made made my bed
And I'm lost, behind
The words I'll never find
And I'm left behind
As the seasons roll on by, yeah"

4. Dyslexic Heart - Paul Westerberg

Now, this song is not my cup of tea, but I felt like I had to say something about it since it's on this amazing soundtrack. I did a bit of research on the song, and one of the first things I found was the following quote from a Reddit user: 

"Dyslexic Heart by Paul Westerberg has some of the stupidest lyrics I've ever heard in my life."

Do with that what you will. Here's the song, though:

5. Battle of Evermore - The Lovemongers

While Heart isn't a band that I listen to, I certainly have a healthy amount of respect for them, and therefore for Ann and Nancy Wilson as well. Covering a Led Zeppelin song is an imposing task, to say the least, and I actually think this Heart side project did a really good job. 

6. Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns - Mother Love Bone

This song was also featured in the 1989 Cameron Crowe film Say Anything..., but didn't make it to the film's soundtrack. It did find a much-deserved place on the Singles soundtrack, however. This is essentially a grunge ballad, so it would be absolutely criminal to have a dramedy about grunge kids and not include this song. Pearl Jam, which includes former Mother Love Bone members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament, has covered Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns at their live shows many times. 

This may be a bit of an unpopular opinion, but Mother Love Bone always reminded me of a grunge Guns N' Roses. So, Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns is kind of like Mother Love Bone's November Rain; the songs are even similar in run time and structure. I mean that in a good way, of course. A heartfelt, melodic, epic such as this is not what you'd expect from a grunge band. 

I always liked the lyrics:

"And this is my kinda love, it's the kind that moves on
It's the kind that leaves me alone"

7. Birth Ritual - Soundgarden

Birth Ritual isn't what you'd expect from a Soundgarden song. Instead of having a classic grunge sound, this one takes on a more 80s/traditional heavy metal feel with a simple and crunchy, yet wildly infectious riff. Those old school metal vibes combined with Chris Cornell's powerful voice make for a very fun listen; so much so that I've recently began insisting upon playing Birth Ritual on repeat for my own birthday. My neighbors love it. 

The Soundgarden album Badmotofinger includes the studio outtake version of Birth Ritual, but I strongly prefer the Singles soundtrack version, without all the vocal effects, bells, and whistles. 

It would be tragic not to share the epic live version from the movie, so here ya go:

8. State of Love and Trust - Pearl Jam

This is one of my favorite songs of all time; everything about it encompasses an entire mood, a state of mind, a mantra, and an era. Lyrically, State of Love and Trust seems a bit dark in comparison to its jaunty, music-festival ready instrumentals. According to Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, Eddie Vedder composed the lyrics based on his interpretation of the Singles film. "I think he probably took a heavier angle on what the movie was about than a lot of people will, but that's Eddie, which is a beautiful thing," Ament said. 

I cannot listen to this song without just kind of...losing it, for lack of a better word. I'm utterly compelled to dance, sing/scream my lungs out, put on my Doc Martens, and jump into the pit at Lollapalooza. 

"State of love and trust as I busted down the pretext
Sin still plays and a-preaches, but to half an empty court, uh-huh
And the signs are passin', grip the wheel, cannot read it
Sacrifice receiving the smell that's on my hand, yeah
And I listen for the voice inside my head
Nothin'. I'll do this one myself."

Here's a really rad live version of State of Love and Trust, as I think it best encapsulates the energy of the song:

9. Overblown - Mudhoney

Mudhoney's Overblown, in spite of it's upbeat, surfer/retro-rock feel, lyrically tackles the band's distaste for the Seattle grunge scene's movement toward the mainstream:

"Everybody loves us
Everybody loves our town
That's why I'm thinking lately
Don't believe in it now
Hey Hey Hey
It's so overblown"

Singer Mark Arm's vocals perfectly convey his annoyance and disdain, ranging from nearly apathetic at times to the sarcastically peppy "Hey hey hey hey's" in the chorus. 

10. Waiting for Somebody - Paul Westerberg

Paul is back at it again with another song. That's really all I have to say about that. 

11. May This Be Love - Jimi Hendrix

May This Be Love comes from the 1967 Jimi Hendrix Experience debut album, Are You Experienced. In contrast to Jimi Hendrix's best-known work, May This Be Love is a short, serene, atmospheric ballad with introspective lyrics. Definitely a fitting inclusion on this soundtrack, considering both the plot of the movie and the immense contributions of Jimi Hendrix to rock music as a whole. 


12. Nearly Lost You - Screaming Trees

Nearly Lost You is a grunge classic from one of my favorite bands in the genre, Screaming Trees. This song was first released as a single in support of the band's 1992 album, Sweet Oblivion (my personal favorite Screaming Trees album). The inclusion of Nearly Lost You on the Singles soundtrack helped Screaming Trees to become a well-known name in grunge. 

Final Thoughts

Man. What a time for music, and what a time to be a young adult. I'm quite proud to be part of a generation of people who, taking a note from the flower children who came before us, was able to express our feelings and concerns with unbridled honesty, particularly through our music. Grunge is a genre that may seem depressive or disgruntled at face value. However, it has historically been a way for Gen X'ers and older millennials to feel less alone in the world and more comfortable in expressing themselves, or speaking out against the injustices they see around them. Along those same lines, grunge often lyrically tackled important issues such as mental illness and addiction. Of course, like any other genre of music, grunge also addresses everyday life experiences, such as the trials and finding and losing love, as we see in the Singles movie. 

I'm fully aware that seeing the words "early Seattle grunge scene" and "mainstream pop culture" together in the same sentence will make the skin of some old school grunge fans crawl with disgust. I get it. Grunge was originally something for the outcasts of the world. But, when you think about it, there are outcasts everywhere who really got something out of this music, and wouldn't have heard it had it not been for mainstream media making it more visible and thereby, accessible. 

Of course, we also have to mention the bands themselves. I can't help but wonder, if Singles hadn't been there to shine the Hollywood spotlight on the grunge scene, would some of the bands involved have been as successful as they ultimately were? Or perhaps it would have taken them much longer to achieve that success. The way I see it, there's selling out, and there's growing and evolving in your sound as a band. There's "going mainstream", and there's actually getting the attention (and financial compensation) you deserve for your hard work and dedication to your art. And those are things that you will never hear this die-hard underground music fan complaining about. 


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