The 10 Best Stone Temple Pilots Songs
Scott Weiland died last night at the age of 48, the end of a life defined by rock ‘n’ roll excess at its most triumphant and destructive. In one sense, it’s amazing that a man who lived that hard managed to live this long. On the other hand, I had come to think of Weiland as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards rolled up into a single person, one of those freaks of nature who would outlive all of us no matter how badly he treated himself. Now he’s finally gone, and all we have left is his music.
It’s great music! For a variety of good and bad reasons, Stone Temple Pilots never quite got their due as one of the finest rock bands of the ’90s, something I explored when revisiting 1994’s Purple upon its 20th anniversary. But their discography is littered with genius, and each one of their first five studio albums holds up. (Yes, even Shangri-LA DEE DA!) Writing for The A.V. Club in 2008, rock critic Steven Hyden made a strong case for STP’s excellence, beginning with this opening blast:
There ought to be some things all rock ‘n’ roll fans — no matter what subgenre or trend you’re currently aligned with — can agree on: Mixing Black Sabbath with the Beatles and glam-era Bowie is good. Big, dumb drums are good. Bombast, if it’s catchy and melodic, is good. If we can agree on these things, can we all finally agree that Stone Temple Pilots are awesome?
A big part of that awesomeness was the expert craftsmanship of Dean and Robert DeLeo and Eric Kretz, the power trio that provided STP’s musical muscle. But Weiland’s cavernous vocal range and superhuman swagger were crucial components of the band’s success — watching him swirl and traipse with reckless abandon was a breathtaking experience — and anyone who’s heard his solo albums 12 Bar Blues and “Happy” In Galoshes realizes he probably played a part in STP’s stellar songwriting too. Their albums spanned the spectrum from hard rock to glam to psych to grunge to pop to jazz to folk, all of it coalescing into a recognizable band identity thanks to the undeniable chemistry of men who sometimes drove each other mad. And while Weiland made some bangers with Velvet Revolver, his work with STP is what will stand the test of time.
Let’s celebrate the best of them. This is by no means an exhaustive list of worthwhile Stone Temple Pilots music; STP recorded several dozen amazing songs in their day, something you might not realize if you’re only familiar with their radio hits. So the omission of popular singles such as “Plush” and “Big Empty” is not an indictment of those songs so much as an acknowledgement of the STP catalog’s overflowing riches. From the hair-grunge of Core to the raspy psych of Tiny Music to the power-and-finesse brilliance of No. 4, these guys spent a decade kicking serious ass.
10. “Dead & Bloated” (from Core, 1992)
Trendmongering 1992 debut Core was Stone Temple Pilots’ biggest album, but despite its thick selection of rightful rock radio standards, it wasn’t close to their best. Still, the album’s knuckle-dragging opener was always a highlight of STP’s live shows, Weiland hollering through a megaphone and preening like a sloshed demigod as his bandmates piled on the sludge.
9. “Sour Girl” (from No. 4, 1999)
“Sour Girl” was the only STP song to ever crack Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, which makes sense: It’s the band’s most conventionally pretty hit, and they got Cruel Intentions-era Sarah Michelle Gellar to be in the video. The midtempo ballad about the end of Weiland’s first marriage is impressive on its own terms, but even more so for demonstrating that STP’s basic hard-rock tropes worked just as well when toned down to a soft-rock dynamic.
8. “Vasoline” (from Purple, 1994)
A song built for shimmying, “Vasoline” harnessed the power of repetition through a simple hammer-on riff and an intense staccato chorus. The basic ingredients are almost rudimentary, but they sound far from amateurish thanks to the instrumentalists’ impeccable skills and Weiland’s elemental charisma. Kretz deserves a special shout-out for nailing the shifts between skipping, stuttering verses and those breathless ballistic refrains.
7. “Days Of The Week” (from Shangri-LA DEE DA, 2001)
One dimension of STP’s repertoire that never got much play was their knack for exquisite little power-pop gems like “Days Of The Week.” Although the predominant image of the band involves a shirtless Weiland doing his best Jagger/Bowie/Iggy/Rollins impression while the band roars behind him, they were just as adept at channeling the Beatles and Big Star. Released on the historically ignored Shangri-LA DEE DA at the peak of nü-metal as STP’s career was stalling out, “Days Of The Week” was always destined for obscurity, but in another era it might have been as huge as it deserves to be.
6. “Lady Picture Show” (from Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop)
Speaking of Beatles-inspired STP songs: “Lady Picture Show” glides with a grace most pop songwriters can only grasp at. It’s one of those songs that feels simple and effortless despite its meticulous construction, a feat best exemplified by Robert DeLeo’s all-star bass parts. The guy always had a faultless intuition for when to play it straight and when to pepper STP’s songs with clever low-end flourishes. Like Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood, his playing is never intrusive, but you almost always end up humming his parts.
5. “Pruno” (from No. 4, 1999)
STP were always masters of the churn. So many songs in their catalog combine guitar, bass, and drums into this gnarly undertow for Weiland to swirl around in. “Pruno” is one of the finest examples of its kind, an absolute crusher that shows off so many of this band’s strengths. The rhythm section interlocks with that crunchy blooz-rock riff in just the right way to accentuate its power, then Dean DeLeo shimmers into the background on the verses to let deeply musical drum and bass parts take the lead. As with so many of the best STP songs, it feels like a building in a constant state of collapse and reconstruction. And atop the controlled chaos, there’s Weiland delivering elegant (ahem) falsetto, bellowing heartily, and belting out one of the most wildly infectious hooks of his career.
4. “Big Bang Baby” (from Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop, 1996)
An undeniable “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” ripoff — and an undeniably great “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” ripoff. As Weiland mumbles one of his most memorable vocal melodies, a buzzsaw power-chord riff snakes through the handclaps like fire burning through a fuse. When the explosion hits, good luck keeping yourself from grooving like Weiland, especially once the chorus branches out into that euphorically chiming “Nothing’s for free!” bridge. By the time it’s all over, they’re bashing out that initial riff with amps to 11 and Weiland is howling about a hole in your head where the birds can sing along and it’s the most exhilarating nonsense you can imagine.
3. “Down” (from No. 4, 1999)
The heaviest, rawest, most brutal song in STP’s arsenal, and — considering the person asking, “Will you follow me down?” — one of the most terrifying. This thing feels like a pile of bricks landing on you for four minutes straight, but you come out the other side feeling like a superhero.
2. “Interstate Love Song” (from Purple, 1994)
Besides one of the most memorable guitar riffs this side of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” — a wiry cascade that splashes into a wide-open chord progression like a cliff diver plunging into the ocean — Purple’s easy-riding highway anthem boasts STP’s most irresistible groove, nimble yet unobtrusive bass work, and some of Weiland’s most resonant lyrics. It’s a tune about literally moving on from someone who broke your heart, trying to escape heartbreak by hopping in a vehicle and getting as far away as possible. Yet from the beginning, “Interstate Love Song” felt like home.
1. “Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart” (from Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop, 1996)
Like the rest of Tiny Music, “Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart” actually sounds like it’s made out of paper. There’s a weird brittle quality to the music that makes that album feel decades older than it really is. Yet the almost lo-fi sound does nothing to diminish the album’s power, especially on this song, its climax and crown jewel.
Nothing else in STP’s catalog speeds along at such a brisk pace, with such a furious sense of purpose and regret. The verses practically boogie, so it’s a shock when the air-raid siren guitars show up, the minor-key chorus sets in, and Weiland tears into some of his most anguished outbursts on record. Here he grapples honestly with his bad reputation, his heroin addiction, his selfish behavior, and the all-too-real prospect of an early death. Never before or after did the chaos of Weiland’s real life seep into his rock-star posturing with such electricity. It always struck me as a gripping ellipsis; from now on, it will be something else.
Listen to the playlist on Spotify.