Happy Birthday Chris Cornell: Remembering the Late Rock Legend With 5 of Our Favorite Songs

by Jim Casey

Rock legend Chris Cornell would have been 57 years old today. Oh, man. This one’s gonna hurt.

Christopher John Cornell was born on July 20, 1964. Of course, Cornell, 52, died on May 18, 2017. On the four-year anniversary of his death this year, I still couldn’t bring myself to write anything about him. Cornell was is my favorite vocalist—of any genre. And while I routinely cover the country music beat for Outsider, I stop the presses for Chris Cornell. Since birthdays are for celebrating, let’s celebrate Chris Cornell today.

Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, solo work? Pick any one of the aforementioned and dive into the catalogs. Don’t come up for air until you’ve listened to everything. Cornell was the all-around frontman. He was an amazing songwriter and rhythm guitarist. He was an other-worldly vocalist (despite not making Rolling Stone‘s 2008 list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time).

For those of us who grew up in the 1990s during the height of the “Grunge” era, Cornell resided on a pedestal. For me, Cornell superseded all of his contemporaries. I know that’s blasphemy to many, especially with legends like Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and Layne Staley, among others. No disrespect intended, but, for me, the conversation of “greatest” begins and ends with Chris Cornell.

When I go on vacation or sit around the campfire, there is a mandatory Cornell hour (sometimes multiple hours) via playlist. At home, Cornell frequently gets the vinyl treatment. Two newer LPs I highly recommend: 2018’s Chris Cornell and 2020’s No One Sings Like You Anymore.

In honor of Chris’ 57th birthday today, I thought I’d expound on a handful of my favorite Cornell tunes. For diehard Cornell fans, it’s nothing you haven’t heard. But perhaps you aren’t familiar with Chris’ extensive body of work? These five tunes are great jumping off points to explore more from Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and his solo work. Enjoy.

Soundgarden – ‘Outshined’

Penned by Cornell, “Outshined” was featured on Soundgarden’s 1991 album, Badmotorfinger. What an album (it also included must-listen “Rusty Cage”). While the band had more success on the charts (and won two Grammy awards) with subsequent singles “Spoonman” (No. 3) and “Black Hole Sun” (No. 1), “Outshined” was where my Cornell adoration started. It holds a special place in my musical heart.

Temple of the Dog – ‘Hunger Strike’

Penned by Cornell, “Hunger Strike” was featured on Temple of the Dog’s self-titled, one-off album in 1991. The group, which consisted of Cornell, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, and Matt Cameron with vocals from Eddie Vedder, was assembled at a tribute to the late Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone. “Hunger Strike” was released as a single in 1991 without much fanfare. However, in the summer of 1992, the album got a jolt of renewed attention thanks to the success of Soundgarden’s Badmotofinger and Pearl Jam’s 1991 debut album, Ten. Since “Hunger Strike” was basically a duet between premier vocalists Cornell and Vedder, the tune became a Top 5 jam in 1992.

Audioslave – ‘Like a Stone’

Cornell penned “Like a Stone” with fellow Audioslave members Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford, and Tom Morello (all of whom had been former members of Rage Against the Machine). The band really peaked with their third and final album, 2006’s Revelations. But Audioslave’s self-titled 2002 debut album featured standout vocals from Cornell on “Like a Stone,” with perfectly subdued backing by a band that raged on the majority of the album’s tracks.

Chris Cornell – ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’

Penned by Prince, “Nothing Compares 2 U” became a smash for Sinéad O’Connor in 1990. Cornell put his vocal chops on the tune live at SiriusXM in 2015. Every time I hear Cornell’s rendition, I’m floored. It’s a vocal masterpiece. Strength. Soul. Balance. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe it. Totally blown away. Thankfully, the song was included on the 2018 posthumously released compilation album, Chris Cornell.

Chris Cornell – ‘You Never Knew My Mind’

In 1996, Johnny Cash recorded a rendition of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” on his 1996 Grammy-winning album, Unchained. Chris Cornell returned the favor two decades later by recordings Cash’s poem, “You Never Knew My Mind,” for the tribute album, Johnny Cash: Forever Words. The song represents one of Cornell’s final recordings. And it feels like a full-circle moment—in terms of both the Cash-Cornell connection and Chris’ life as an artistic genius.