We’ve already discussed who the pioneers of grunge were in the Pacific Northwest throughout the 1980s, and we’ve already gone into detail about what made grunge grunge. Now, we’ve come to 1991 — the year that grunge exploded.
The general consensus among rock fans seems to be that it was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that really made things blow up for Seattle, but a scene doesn’t just get picked up by the mainstream overnight. “It was more of a 10-year overnight success,” legendary artist manager Susan Silver told us.
As Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil and several other members of the Seattle music scene point out, there were several events and artists that really helped open the doors for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” That was just the final switch that needed to be ignited in order to really set things off.
But, as with all stories, this one wasn’t free of tragedy. Mother Love Bone were one of the most promising acts in Seattle. Many locals were expecting them to become the next big band, but just before the release of their debut album Apple in March of 1990, frontman Andrew Wood was found unresponsive in his home. He spent a couple of days in a coma in the hospital, but by the end, his condition was worsening and his loved ones decided to say goodbye.
Chris Cornell had been living with Wood at the time of his death, and he took it really hard. He channeled his emotions into a couple of songs that weren’t quite a fit for Soundgarden, so he approached some of the members of Mother Love Bone — Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard — and they went into the studio to flesh them out. By the end of the 11 days they spent there, they’d created an entire album, Temple of the Dog.
A singer from San Diego, who sang with Cornell on one of the album’s songs, “Hunger Strike,” went on to join Ament and Gossard in their new band. His name was Eddie Vedder, and the band called themselves Mookie Blaylock after the basketball player. Of course, they later changed it to Pearl Jam after signing with Epic Records. They released their debut Ten on Aug. 27, 1991 — the same day “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released as a single to radio stations.
In Episode 3 of 30 Years of Grunge, you’ll hear stories from a variety of guests, including Silver, Thayil, Matt Cameron, Myles Kennedy, The Pretty Reckless’ Taylor Momsen, Seether, Shinedown’s Brent Smith, Melvins’ Buzz Osborne, Mother Love Bone’s Greg Gilmore, Dorothy, Dirty Honey’s John Notto, Matt Pinfield, Spotify’s Allison Hagendorf, Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman, and Seattle-based photographer Charles Peterson and radio personality Cathy Faulkner.
Watch below to hear about the events that made grunge explode in 1991.