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Singles

Singles was the second movie written and directed by Cameron Crowe. It’s an amiable rom-com starring Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick, and some say a great movie, but is most notable because it was filmed and set in Seattle, 1991, just as that city’s musical subculture was about to explode.

In the book Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History Of Grunge, Crowe says that the March 1990 heroin-related death of Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood — and the community that came together after his death — served as something of an inspiration for the film. Said Crowe, “It made me want to do Singles as a love letter to the community that I was really moved by.”

That community is represented to an insane degree in the movie. Crowe started production on Singles a year after Wood’s death, in March 1991 — months before the release of Nevermind or Ten (in fact, when he started work on Singles, Pearl Jam was still called Mookie Blaylock) — and one of the film’s narrative threads follows Matt Dillion as the leader of a fictional Seattle rock band called Citizen Dick. Rather than cast actors to play the rest of Citizen Dick, though, former rock journalist Crowe gave the parts to three members of Mookie Blaylock: Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament; much of Dillon’s wardrobe in the film was borrowed from Ament. Singles is loaded with such ultra-specific references and cameos. More impactful than all of them combined, though, was the movie’s soundtrack.

Singles, the movie, came out on 9/18/1992. The soundtrack predated the film by months: It was released on 6/30/1992. That’s not some random error or idiosyncrasy: Between March 1991 and June 1992, Seattle’s grunge scene had grown from commercial nonentity to globally dominant force; by that point, Pearl Jam was one of the hottest bands in the world — coincidentally, the band’s label, Epic, was also releasing the Singles soundtrack, and surely they saw a prime opportunity to cash in. Moreover, two of the bands on the soundtrack, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, were scheduled to play the Lollapalooza tour that summer, which would kick off July 18 of that year. (To give an idea just how quickly Pearl Jam’s star had risen, when they were booked for Lollapalooza, they were scheduled to play second — preceding five other bands, sandwiched midday between openers Lush and the Jesus And Mary Chain. By the time Lollapalooza hit the road, Pearl Jam were, at worst, the second biggest draw, with headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers their only competition.)

The Singles soundtrack climbed into the Billboard Top 10 and eventually went platinum (surely it would have shifted three times as many units had virtually every song here not been made available elsewhere), but it also helped galvanize the Seattle scene in the mainstream. More ignobly, perhaps, it changed the way soundtracks were compiled and packaged for years to come, leaving countless record stores to contend with used bins full of Reality Bites and Threesome soundtracks. But Singles stands apart from and above those, with each song worthy of attention. So, since we’re just swingin’ on the flippity-flop here, let’s look at those songs, one by one:

01. Alice in Chains – “Would?”

You could make a convincing case that any one of a half-dozen Alice In Chains tracks — maybe a dozen, even — is the band’s single best song, period. For me, they never crafted anything better than “Would?” The Singles soundtrack was released two years after AIC’s excellent debut album, Facelift, but “Would?” suggested that the band had made remarkable strides during that time: It’s a coiled, taut track and a breathtaking listening experience, particularly when vocalist Layne Stayley unleashes his devastating low tenor on the chorus. Three months later, AIC released their second full-length, Dirt (where “Would?” also appeared), which lived up to the promise of that song, though never quite equaled it.

02. Pearl Jam – “Breath”

“Breath” is first of two Pearl Jam songs included on the Singles soundtrack; it was originally written by guitarist Stone Gossard when he was still in Mother Love Bone and allegedly the first song ever demoed by Pearl Jam. The version of “Breath” included here was one of the earliest PJ recordings to feature drummer Dave Abbruzzese (who had replaced Matt Chamberlain soon before the release of the band’s debut album, Ten, in August 1991). Like all the songs to come from the Ten sessions, the band’s songwriting chemistry here is at its very strongest (things got worse as Eddie Vedder took more control), and while there is a lot of excellent material on Singles, the two exclusive Pearl Jam cuts probably drove about 95 percent of the album’s total sales.

03. Chris Cornell – “Seasons”

Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell was given a list of fictional Citizen Dick song titles, and took it upon himself to craft actual songs based on those titles, among them the delicate, plaintive acoustic ballad “Seasons.” Like his work on the 1991 Temple Of The Dog album, it gave Cornell’s insane multi-octave range a much brighter, clearer context than Soundgarden’s drop-D grunge-metal. Another Citizen Dick song title adopted by Cornell, “Spoonman,” would later show up on Soundgarden’s 1994 album, Superunknown. (An early acoustic version of “Spoonman” can be heard in the background during a scene in Singles.)

04. Paul Westerberg – “Dyslexic Heart”

One of two non-Seattleites here, Westerberg had broken up the Replacements only a year before the release of the Singles soundtrack; in fact, these were his first two post-Mats solo songs. Overproduced and loaded with goofy puns, “Dyslexic Heart” is one of the cheesiest songs in the man’s catalog, although it kind of makes sense here: Singles is a lighthearted romantic comedy, and “Dyslexic Heart” is totally the type of song you’d expect to hear during a lighthearted romantic comedy (it plays over the credits during the movie). The Replacements were an important influence on the grunge bands of Seattle, but “Dyslexic Heart” is neither Singles’ nor Westerberg’s finest moment.

05. The Lovemongers – “The Battle Of Evermore” (Live)

Until 2000′s Almost Famous (another Cameron Crowe-curated soundtrack, oddly), Led Zeppelin had famously never licensed one of their performances to a soundtrack. I kind of wonder if this version of “The Battle Of Evermore” (performed by The Lovemongers, aka Ann and Nancy WIlson, the latter of whom was married to Crowe) was basically an end run around Zep’s policy — this version is true enough to the original as to make it redundant at best. Tonally and thematically, though, it’s a fit: The Lovemongers are from Seattle, and Zeppelin was a huge influence on elements of the scene (more so Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam than Mudhoney and Nirvana).

06. Mother Love Bone – “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns”

Of course Mother Love Bone was no longer in existence by the time Crowe was producing Singles, but if the passing of Andrew Wood did indeed affect the director’s vision for the film, he doubly honored the man by including “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns” at the heart of the soundtrack. Wrenching, gorgeous, and otherworldly, it is far and away the best song in MLB’s very limited catalog — eight-plus minutes of total emotional upheaval, at turns somber and joyous, delicate and raucous. I’d venture to say that it’s also the best song on the soundtrack (though “Would?” is a solid 1A), which is no small achievement given the field. It’s a totally essential gem, and if you don’t know it, seek it out.

07. Soundgarden – “Birth Ritual”

By ’92, Soundgarden was coming off their then-best album (’91′s Badmotorfinger) and arena tours with Guns N’ Roses and Skid Row, respectively, although they’d gone from the biggest band in Seattle to the third biggest. “Birth Ritual” is a mid-level Soundgarden track — neither a career highlight nor a throwaway. Chris Cornell has a cameo in Singles, and Soundgarden is featured performing “Birth Ritual” in the film. This is one of the things that makes Singles such an exciting movie: It not only has an incredible amount of great music specific to Seattle in the early ’90s, but it collects so many of the most important artists from that scene and features them without fanfare (Tad Doyle and Alice In Chains can be spotted in there, too).

08. Pearl Jam – “State of Love And Trust”

The second of two Pearl Jam songs featured here, and the better song, too, “State Of Love And Trust” is PJ at their absolute best — roaring on all cylinders, with a ferocious vocal from Eddie Vedder and a monster chorus. It’s been a fan favorite for two decades, with good reason. It was written by Vedder, Ament and Mike McCready (where most PJ songs at that stage featured Gossard among the credits) and recorded during the same sessions as “Breath.”

09. Mudhoney – “Overblown”

Not surprisingly, the most cynical moment on the Singles soundtrack — the only cynical moment, in fact — comes from Mudhoney. “Overblown” is basically just a snide dismissal of the media and industry frenzy that was infesting Seattle in the early ’90s (and hadn’t even peaked when Mudhoney wrote the song). Mark Arm’s lyrics are bitter and sarcastic, and the song closes with him muttering, “It’s all over and done.” It wasn’t, of course. Not by a longshot.

10. Paul Westerberg – “Waiting for Somebody”

The second Westerberg song featured here (Westerberg scored the film as well), the infectiously catchy “Waiting For Somebody” is superior to “Dyslexic Heart” if only because its lyrics are not quite so cringe-inducing (although they trade goofiness for vagueness, which is not necessarily a great bargain). To be fair to Westerberg, both these songs suffer as much due to their production as their construction. If these tracks had been on Mono or Stereo — and recorded with that same lunatic-in-a-basement feel, they would probably go over a lot better.

11. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “May This Be Love”

Seattle’s favorite musical son, Jim Hendrix, was represented in Singles via this gorgeous ballad, the first track from the second side of Are You Experienced? Like Westerberg and Zeppelin, Jimi was an influence on the grunge scene (listen to McCready’s lick from “Yellow Ledbetter”), and “May This Be Love” is a total classic that fits pretty seamlessly among the newer songs here.

12. Screaming Trees – “Nearly Lost You”

In 1991, the Screaming Trees released their very good major label debut, Uncle Anesthesia, but they jumped three or four levels on its follow-up, Sweet Oblivion, which was released in March ’92, a few months prior to the Singles soundtrack. The band had evolved from their raw psychedelic roots into something much more refined and thoughtful, yet more powerful. “Nearly Lost You” was originally featured on Sweet Oblivion, but its inclusion on the Singles soundtrack surely helped the Trees’ album to greater commercial heights (it eventually sold more than 300,000 copies).

13. The Smashing Pumpkins – “Drown”

The second of two non-Seattle-specific artists here, the Smashing Pumpkins were often conflated with the grunge scene in the early part of their career, even though they were tangentially connected at best (the Pumpkins were from Chicago, although Billy Corgan did date Courtney Love before she married Kurt Cobain). The two disparate groups had different ambitions and influences, but “Drown” is a glorious closing moment, written by Corgan when he was seemingly incapable of producing anything less than sheer brilliance. It was written soon after the release of the band’s debut, Gish, and has a similarly acid-stained, washed-out beauty. Corgan was reportedly dissatisfied with the label’s treatment of the song. “We wanted it to be a single, we were pushing for it,” Corgan told Impact Magazine in 1994. “I was even willing to make it a video. Radio stations were playing it. And when it came time for the third single, they said, ’Screaming Trees.’ And I was like, ’Screaming Trees?’ But what label is Alice In Chains on and what label are the Screaming Trees on? Epic, which is the label that put out the soundtrack. And that’s what killed the song.”

. . .

The band most notably absent from the Singles soundtrack is, of course, Nirvana — the band that “put Seattle on the map” and opened the door for everything else. That omission was not intended by Crowe — the working cut of Singles included “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but when it came time to license the music, that song was a massive hit internationally, and thus reportedly out of Crowe’s price range. When interviewed on the subject, though, Kurt Cobain (who allegedly hated the movie) claimed that he had been asked to contribute to the movie but flatly refused.

On some level, it is perhaps due to their absence that Nirvana has remained at a degree of remove from the rest of the grunge scene, even years after such associations should have been rendered meaningless. Surely that distinction would bring some measure of satisfaction to Cobain. But it’s been 20 years now and the Singles soundtrack still resonates, still crystallizes a sound born of rain and junk, metal and punk — a sound that grew up in Seattle moments before the Internet took over the city and the planet, a sound that never could have taken hold in any other era, or any other town.

Are you a Singles fan? What’s your favorite scene from the film/song from the soundtrack? Get nostalgic in the comments…

Comments (64)
  1. Absolutely amazing soundtrack. Love the thorough background on the era, movie and scene. Cheers! Also, this was featured on our ‘Early 90s Grunge/Alt-rock Comps’ mixtape… some other gems on there as well: http://cryogenichusk.com/2011/08/08/early-90s-grungealternative-comps/ Great trip down memory lane! Kudos!

  2. ahh. the sound of my youth.

    Though I have to disagree on this Michael –> ” (things got worse as Eddie Vedder took more control)”

    Sorry to say this, but Ten has not aged well. The song Rearviewmirror ( an Eddie song) eclipses every song on Ten.

    • You’re right. Eddie wrote some of PJ’s best songs but I still feel that original chemistry was never replicated once he was the driving force behind the writing — and then, when they made it a more democratic process again, it got kinda muddy. But Eddie definitely has the best ear for a hook.

      • And yes, Ten has aged terribly.

        • Not sure I can agree about Ten not aging well. That’s an incredible collection of songs and it’s still incredible turned up loud, played front to back.

          • I don’t know what it is about Ten that makes me regard it so well behind Vs. & Vitalogy. There are a lot of stone-cold classic songs on there – the big 4 radio singles, “Porch”, “Once” – but I always feel like it’s not the complete album experience that the two successors were, and I like them a lot more for it. These two Singles tracks are definitely up there with their best stuff, though. Just as “Drown” is with SP’s.

            This was my favorite soundtrack all through high school, I and I was in high school at the other end of the 90s from this. I know it inside out and even my little brother probably does just by virtue of having been around me playing it so much when we were younger. But man do I loathe that Lovemongers Zep cover.

          • Vitalogy is the first PJ album that I didn’t love front to back, and still don’t, really. In fact, I can say with 100% certainty at this point that I’ve listened to No Code and Yield far more than Vitalogy.

        • curious as to how Ten has aged terribly…like it sounds like it came from 1991? man, i still can’t get through the solo in Alive without tearing up.

          • I just think it sounds dated, whereas Nevermind and Dirt (and some of the punkier Sub Pop stuff) still sound incredibly current and sharp (to my ear). Didn’t mean to disparage Ten — it’s obviously one of the most important recordings from that time period.

          • nono, that’s what i thought you were saying and i get what you mean. i don’t agree but i see what you’re saying. i personally am glad and like the sound and production as it does what all good production does: complements and enhances the music

        • Ten has only aged terribly because of the shit bands that came after it that all tried to ape its sound. Pearl Jam should not be held responsible for Bush or Creed or Nickelback. Had modern rock radio not decided to dictate a very specific, narrow sound for the last twenty years then I think Ten wouldn’t seem dated to as many people as it now does.

          • i agree that tons of shitty bands copped their sound in way or another but i dont think your argument makes any sense that those bands make an another band’s album age poorly.

    • If you think Ten hasn’t aged well, you may want to check out the Ten “redux” (assuming you haven’t already) that was part of the recent box set. The songs are a little edgier, and if you know Ten inside and out, you might appreciate the differences.

    • 10 has not aged well? I must very politely disagree :) It’s a seminal record and as a debut eclipses most of the records of the 90s, particularly in the grunge movement. Sure other albums had better songs as well, but Black, Jeremy, Alive, Even Flow, even these more single friendly ( no pun intended) songs are just thrilling and astonishing in their raw urgency and power with no affectation from Vedder. Just raw, primal angst. What more could you ask for? The remastering of the album and subsequent remixing might change your mind if you heard that. PJ were very unhappy with the initial mixing which is prob a catalyst for your debate. But just to take a stand for 10. It’s 10 dude! Respectfully, me.

  3. Wouldn’t that have been Dave Krusen on drums on Breath? Could be wrong. Good article.

  4. Drown FTW!

    Props to Corgan for leaving it there for many years.

  5. couldn’t agree more that ‘Would?’ is (of course arguably) their best song. even on their unplugged session it achieves that level of emotion as on the album cut.

    State of Love and Trust…how did this song not make it on to a record? But PJ has always been pretty stacked with B-sides.

    oh and if you guys are PJ and/or Cameron Crowe fans I beseech you to watch PJ20…incredibly insightful, funny, tragic, glorious rock music throughout.

  6. Hmm. I was just sitting here, eating lunch, and wondering what crushing fact reminding me that I’m fucking old would bear its weight upon me. Thanks, Stereogum.

  7. Sounds pish

  8. I love the movie – yeah, it’s kind of cheesy, but if you compare it to any romantic comedy of the last 10 years or so, it’s pretty much Citizen Dick. I mean, Kane. And since I was 16 when the soundtrack came out, this was a huge album for me. I already liked Pearl Jam and Nirvana, but it converted me to a fan of Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Screaming Trees. And I still love all those bands.

  9. Great article, and a true snapshot of 1991 where ya had everyone really firing on all cylinders with perfect timing (including Crowe who was on the brink of film success post Say Anything & pre Jerry MafuckinGuire) This was a cassette that was playing in my ’89 Stanza as loud as I could. I can still smell the bong water next to my dorm couch while listening to Chloe with my eyes shut.

  10. I’m sorry…I don’t agree with you dear Micheal Nelson.
    Things didn’t get worse with Eddie Vedder…maybe they changed but didn’t get worse!

    • To Andri; Allow me to represent the many general Stereogum forum peeps and simply state that Ten is a outstanding album today, and will be in 20 years. Maybe you meant Matt Dillon has not aged well. Yes. I’m sure thats what you meant. Whew, now lets go give Porch another listen and put all this silly talk behind us and move on..

    • ttly agree. See Yield and Binaural for supporting evidence.

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  12. My dad brought me up with this album (plus many other great grunge bands and older) and made me the music listener I am today. I will always regard this as my favourite soundtrack, mostly because it is so damn good and reminds me of my childhood. Glad others love it just as much.

  13. Man, I forgot how much I love Seasons, State of Love and Trust, Dyslexic Heart and Nearly Lost You. Probably a reason why I’ve never sold this CD when it’s the only thing remotely like it in my entire music collection.

  14. Can I put it out there that Drown is the best thing Smashing Pumpkins ever released?

  15. This Soundtrack is still a great listen. Though I feel Breath is a much better song than SOLAT. Anyone remember the ‘Breath Campaign of 98′…

  16. remember how singles and sleepless in seattle’s release dates were really close?

    that shit was nuts

  17. I think my favourite after moment from Singles was seeing Smashing Pumpkins at Lollapalooza ’94 and they played Drown. I hadn’t heard it for a couple of years and had honestly kind of forgotten about it. Fell in love with it all over again at that moment.

  18. I love the scene where Bridget Fonda eating her single gal salad crumples up the paper towel. “If I make this shot, I’ll call him.” She misses…”wait did miss mean not to call?” And she calls Clivv (or who she thinks is Cliff) anyway….

  19. Nice article. Surprisingly I agree with most Nelson’s assessments on the soundtrack and movie. “Singles”(& “Swingers”) actually hit on inherent truths about what it was like to be in a relationships in the 90′s. And both do it with a self-effacing sense of humor. As far as the soundtrack goes, those Westerberg songs should be ignored compared to his other masterpieces, but they do work in the context of the film. I will say that I was a big Mother Love Bone fan before Pearl Jam and it’s a shame that Stone has stepped aside to let Eddie turn the band into what it is today(don’t get mad Ed fans). Gossard’s side project Brad has put out more interesting music than Pearl Jam lately. Whatever the case, great movie and soundtrack. BTW… That Nirvana interview clip is great.

  20. “…to play second — preceding five other bands…”

    Does this make sense?

  21. To Jonian,

    I wouldnt say im an Ed fan per se, but if you look at the albums after Vitalogy, the songwriting credits have been balanced between band members. so i dont know why you say Ed is responsible for how the band is now.

    On a side note, Drown was a the first smashing pumpkins song i learned on the guitar. The feedback at the end, fucking superb!

  22. i think it’s important enough to note that the westerberg/mats connection started with say anything, “within your reach” featuring prominently

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  24. Killer soundtrack. Would. State of Love and Trust. Nearly Lost You. Seasons. Chloe Dancer. Drown. That’s a whole lot of first-rate songs. This is when rock music was good.

  25. State of Love and Trust should be in the hook-chorus textbook when someone writes the hook-chorus textbook

  26. ”I’ll replace the windows” still favorite scene http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7J5H8YzfARE

  27. “Until 2000′s Almost Famous (another Cameron Crowe-curated soundtrack, oddly), Led Zeppelin had famously never licensed one of their performances to a soundtrack.”

    “Kashmir” in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”? (Also written by Cameron Crowe.)

  28. I love Dyslexic Heart. So do a couple of friend’s of mine. Perhaps it’s the fact that we’re in our early 30′s and weren’t around for the Replacements at their prime, but that is just a catchy ass tune with a great melody, and just clever enough lyrics. In fact, it’s Costello-ian when he sings “Is that your name or a doctor’s eye chart,” which could of fit right into a track off of Armed Forces (I’m specifically thinking of Chemistry Class).

    I was surprised to see that song getting dumped on so badly, considering that it’s easily one of the best tracks on that soundtrack. Then again, I could care less for Chris Cornell, Alice in Chains, etc. Pearl Jam started strong, and Nirvana was great, but shy of that, most of the alternative rock we now bucket into the “grunge” genre just hasn’t held up to the test of time. Whereas, the weirder acts of the period (Flaming Laps, Beck, Pavement, GBV, Sonic Youth, etc.) have held up just fine.

    I think everyone’s just getting a bit too nostalgic for high school or college when it comes to grunge.

    • I have always liked the Westerberg tracks s well, they’re just good old fashioned power pop, nothing wrong there.

      But there most of the big Seatle bands were in fact really good – Soundgarden, PJ, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney AiC (who I listen to a lot less these days, but still), and then if you add in the early Pumpkins it’s a pretty awesome batch of artists.

      Have the “indie” acts of the time aged well, too? Sure, but it’s not one or the other.

    • Pearl Jam has stayed consistently good-to-great on record and their live shows have done nothing but get better. A great Pearl Jam show is one of the best concerts you’ll ever attend. Methinks you haven’t been paying attention in class.

  29. the scene when Matt Dillon puts the stereo in Brigette Fonda’s car as a peace offering and it blows the windows out as he turns it up….awesome. Pretty sure Cornell is nodding his head in approval.

  30. I’ve always been kinda glad Nirvana didn’t wind up on there, by the way. And not for any defense of Nirvana’s sterling integrity or anything.

  31. Singles is also what i like to call the stereogum staff. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHH

  32. pretty horrible movie BUT still a good bookmark in time for the 90s MUSICALLY, Would? is definitely the MVP as is their live clip in the movie playing It Ain’t Like That.

  33. Now I really feel old. Growing up in Seattle, I listened to Breath and State and Love and Trust on repeat throughout my freshman year in high school. A really good couple of years for music.

  34. I agree with most of the track-by-track breakdowns in the article, with two exceptions: Breath and Dyslesic Heart. These are two of my favorite songs on the soundtrack, and each is better than the other songs by the same artist (i.e. Breath is better than State of Love and Trust, and Dyslexic Heart is better than Waiting For Somebody). I’m surprised to see the article single those two songs out for negative comments.

    Oh well…It’s a classic soundtrack, either way. As for the movie: it’s not my favorite or anything, but it’s a charming, enjoying little film anyway. It’s also is much, much better than pretty much any rom-com of the last decade or two. Look at, for example, the films of Katherine Heigel (sp?)….Compared to stuff like that, or movies like Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, etc, Singles looks like a masterpiece.

    • Edward, I don’t think I was hard on “Breath” at all! I did say “SOLAT” is the better song, but aside from that, I think I was pretty complimentary!

      I was hard on “Dyslexic Heart,” I admit. I dunno man. I’m a pretty big Westerberg fan and to me this is really his nadir. I feel like so much of what he does in “Dyslexic Heart” showcases all his weaknesses and plays down (or just ignores) all his strengths. It’s probably not a bad song, objectively speaking, but for Paul Westerberg, I think it’s pretty weak.

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