Chris Cornell, who tragically passed away Wednesday age 52, was one of the greatest rock vocalists (or vocalists, period) ever to pick up a mic. A Robert Plant for the grunge generation, he was named rock’s greatest singer by Guitar World and fourth-best singer in heavy metal history by Hit Parader, and he came in at No. 9 on Rolling Stone’s “Best Lead Singers of All Time” list. Whether fronting Seattle heroes Soundgarden and supergroups Temple of the Dog and Audioslave, or belting out an epic Bond theme with a license to thrill, Cornell’s iconic voice was always louder than love.
Cornell performed for Yahoo Music twice over the years — the first time in 2006, solo and acoustic while promoting Audioslave (the band he formed with Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk). At the time of his visit he was recently sober, and he told us, “There have definitely been some dramatic changes over the years. I think I’ve changed a lot through just the experience of, what’s going to be a 20-year recording career? The most dramatic change of all has just been sobriety over the last few years. From the time I was 12, I was experimenting with things on a regular basis… I had never done this really completely sober, or completely just focused on music, without mind-altering stuff going on at some point. That’s a big change — probably a personality change. I’m not sure how much or what it is, because, you know, I’m not looking at footage of myself from before. If I’m different, don’t tell me!”
Cornell then proceeded to perform a stripped solo version of Soundgarden’s biggest hit, the psychedelic ballad “Black Hole Sun,” and he proved nothing had changed when it came to his instantly recognizable voice, wowing the small number of lucky crew members and employees in the room.
“We had the pleasure of having Chris Cornell play at Yahoo Studios once, over a decade ago now, and all I can remember is the eight or so of us fortunate enough to be there, watching with our mouths agape in awe of the effortless power of his vocals,” recalls Howard Stein, Yahoo Music’s head of original programming and production from 2001-2008.
Cornell’s second performance for Yahoo Music was full-band and electric, at a private concert for superfans as part of our Live Sets series, during which he unveiled his now-famous “Billie Jean” cover (which would go on to inspire American Idol winner David Cook) and thrilled all onlookers with his radical sludge-rock remake of Michael Jackson’s Thriller classic.
Check out Cornell’s stupendous Yahoo Music performances here, which showcase the man at the peak of his vocal and creative powers.