The 90’s Blog
The term “Grunge” describes the new type of music firstly that appeared in the early 80’s. Grunge is a Sub Genre of Alternative rock and was very successful in a commercial way in the early 90’s.It had and still has a great influence on bands.
The origins of Grunge are in Seattle. Seattle is based in the north western part of the USA and is very isolated. Popular bands avoided playing in Seattle. The area of Seattle is very cold and has a big logging community. This is very important for the development of fashion in the Grunge genre. Significant for the fashion were flannel shirts and ordinary fashion. The musicians of the Grunge movement had an unkempt (dirty and untidy) appearance, which was part of the lazy attitude of the Grunge genre. This is very important for the development of Grunge and how to understand it.
Grunge invented itself as a trend against the very successful Glam Metal scene with bands like W.A.S.P. or Twisted Sister. The Grunge scene was able to replace the Glam Metal scene in a commercial way in the early 90’s. One main difference between Grunge and Glam Metal was the attitude. While Glam Metal Bands made a bigger show on stage and dressed up the Grunge attitude was kind of go on stage have fun and make a lot of noise!
Another very important factor for the success of Grunge was the independent label Sup Pop. It was founded by Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt in 1986. It helped young Seattle musicians to spread their music.
The word Grunge or “grungy” was used to describe the sound of this new Genre. Typical was a rough, raw and heavy sound. A lot of distortion was very common in use. Typical was an easy chord structure along with a simple song structure. In contrast to their influence Metal, Grunge music was more slowed down. Quiet verses and loud choruses were typical for the song arrangement of Grunge. This was mainly introduced by Nirvana. It is important to say that they were influenced by The Pixies who used this technique before.
The lyrics in the Grunge genre were most deeply, introverted like Alice in Chains “I am inside” or “Angry Chair”. Some lyrics also claim for freedom, but some lyrics use irony or satire like Nirvanas “Polly”. Also a good sense of humour was common like in Tad’s “Jack Pepsi”.
Significant artists were definitely Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam along with Mother Love Bone, Tad and Mudhoney.
Important albums of the time were Nevermind (Nirvana, 1991), Ten (Pearl Jam, 1991), Badmotorfinger (Soundgarden, 1991) and Facelift (Alice in Chains, 1990).
Grunge had various influences. On one hand it was heavy influenced by Punk and Hardcore Punk with 70’s and 80’s Punk bands like The Ramones, Black Flag, The Melvins or 10 Minute Warning. Punk influenced Grunge insofar that Grunge used the Power chords and the simple song structure as well as a lot of feedback and a sludgy guitar sound. The musical influence is definitely seen in songs like “Paper Cut” by Nirvana which is heavy influenced by The Melvins in case of slow and sludgy guitar. The influence of Black Flags methods which means fast Tempos, screamed lyrics and Power Chords is seen in Nirvanas “Polly” or “Territorial Pissings”.
On the other hand it was heavily influenced by Heavy Metal, with Bands like Motörhead, Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin. One of the most common influences of Metal was the sound, which was raw, aggressive and grungy because of a lot of distortion. Also melodic or fast lead lines and heavy riffs are typical for the influence of Metal to Grunge. For example Black Sabbaths heavy Metal riffs had an influence on Alice in Chains. This is shown in “Man in the Box” or “Them Bones”. Led Zeppelins Blues Rock influence on Soundgarden is shown in Songs like “Big Dumb Sex” or “Rusty Cage”.
Another very important influence on Grunge was Neil Young. What he has in common with Grunge musicians was that he wasn’t a very good singer and the use of alienated, distorted guitar sound. Songs like “Cinnamon Girl” or “Barstool Blues” sound very similar to the 90’s Grunge sound. Another good example for his influence is shown in Kurt Cobains Suicide Note, where he quoted Neil Young’s song “My My, Hey Hey”. Because of this he is called “Godfather of Grunge”.
As the years passed by there was a huge melting pot of different variations of Grunge music. A non musical influence is “Chaos”. This is shown in the energetic shows and the songs, but especially in the life style. They were either self destructive or, in a general meaning, destructive to their surroundings. A part of the Attitude was: skip school, smoke pot, listen to music like Kurt Cobain said.
Grunge still has a big influence on Bands like Foo Fighters, The Offspring, Placebo and Creed. A heavy influence of Grunge is seen by the Band Seether. They cover Nirvana songs, Seether has a similar sound to Nirvana and Shaun Morgan (middle) even looks a bit like Kurt Cobain:
The Foo Fighters are influenced by Nirvana, which is obvious, because Dave Grohl was the Drummer for Nirvana. The track “For all the cows” has the same idea as typical nirvana songs: quiet verse loud chorus, but influences can still be heard today on Foo Fighters Songs like “Best of You”.
As a conclusion Grunge influenced Post Grunge and modern Rock bands in the way they played songs, quiet verse and loud chorus, and the typical grungy and sludgy distorted guitar sound.
Grunge had a big impact on the culture of the time. After the release of Nirvanas “Nevermind” the media became aware of Seattle and Grunge and made a big hype about Grunge and Seattle. Grunge becomes so influential that it had a big impact on the youth. The musical Seattle, barely mentioned before in the media, became omnipresent, e.g. in adverts. It also had a big impact on fashion. All over America teenagers wore totally overpriced flannel shirts and chucks. The pressure of success including being famous and known, which means giving autographs, interviews, going to photo shoots et cetera can be very destructive. It ruined Kurt Cobains live and unsettled most of the famous bands. Many Grunge musicians didn’t feel comfortable with the hype about Grunge and them. This lead to a heavy heroin abuse in the Seattle Grunge scene. It even leads to the death of Layne Stanley (Alice in Chains) and Andrew Wood (Mother Love Bone). The hype about Grunge and Kurt Cobain lead to Kurt Cobains suicide on the 8th April 1994. His death had a great impact on the genre and it declined the end of Grunge. So the musicians started a kind of movement against their movement, because a lot bands moved to Seattle in hope of getting signed by a label. These were the times Grunge became Post Grunge with all the copies of the successful bands. As a conclusion the heavy success was responsible for the disappearance of Grunge.
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