By now, most ’90s rock music fans have heard of the passing of one of the era’s greatest frontmen, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame.
Cornell was highly instrumental in the ’90s grunge rock music scene and took the band Soundgarden to the top of the Billboard album and rock charts with hits like “Black Hole Sun,” “The Day I Tried To Live,” “Spoonman,” “Burden In My Hand” and others.
In all he had a No. 1 album with Soundgarden, another No. 1 album with Audioslave and many top ten rock chart singles, including six No. 1s.
So, with all of those rock music credentials behind him, you might be surprised that Cornell stepped outside of his comfort zone and covered songs by three of the biggest R&B and pop music icons in history…Michael Jackson, Prince and Whitney Houston.
Sadly, like Cornell, whose death was a suspected suicide on Thursday, all three of those figures died tragic deaths in the past eight years, with Prince’s coming just 13 months ago.
But Cornell, who was an undisputed heavyweight in his own hard rock genre, took on songs made famous by those pop icons, either by virtue of their songwriting (Prince), their singing (Whitney), or both (Michael).
Cornell covering Prince (“Nothing Compares 2 U”) isn’t so much of a stretch, not with Prince himself being considered somewhat of a rock music god and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Even Michael, himself a Rock Hall of Famer (twice – once with his brothers, once solo), is understandable, with the King of Pop having forayed into rock a few times in his career (“Beat It,” “Come Together,” “Dirty Diana”).
But the Soundgarden leader covering Jackson’s “Billie Jean”? Never would’ve predicted it.
Yet Cornell does, and he gives an interesting, guitar-driven take on the classic dance-pop tune in which Michael sings of a nefarious woman’s attempt to claim his paternity for her child. It was a song whose lyrics and original keyboard riff Cornell admired as “brilliant” and “poetic, “as told to Rolling Stone magazine in a 2009 interview following Jackson’s death.
The real stretch here is Whitney Houston (or if you want to be technical, country superstar Dolly Parton – which is still a stretch). Cornell puts his own spin on Houston’s remake of Parton’s classic “I Will Always Love You.” Cornell’s tribute to Whitney below was recorded just four days after Houston’s death in 2012. Who knew that a song could morph from country to soul/pop to hard rock so easily?
Cornell pulled off all three superbly, with his own unmistakably dark, grunge-like singing and playing style in full effect.
Check out the videos for all three below, then let me and others know what you think either here in the comment section or on the djrobblog Facebook page.
First, “Billie Jean”:
Then, “Nothing Compares 2 U”:
And finally “I Will Always Love You”:
Check out this tribute to Cornell, courtesy of djrobblog.