The Soundgarden song Chris Cornell likened to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd

There’s an ongoing debate when it comes to finding the influences that most directly affected Soundgarden. The musical hints are there that Chris Cornell’s voice owes a debt to Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin, while Kim Thayil’s angular guitar riffs are as if Black Sabbath made music like Devo. But one side of the Soundgarden equation that doesn’t get enough attention is the psychedelic element of their style.

Perhaps no song better represents the band’s psychedelic tendencies quite like ‘Black Hole Sun’. The band’s signature track fuses their heavier elements with swirling effects-heavy guitar lines and impressionistic lyrics that can often feel more San Francisco than Seattle. According to Chris Cornell, the song first came to him while driving into a studio session after watching the news.

“I wrote it in my head driving home from Bear Creek Studio in Woodinville, a 35-40 minute drive from Seattle,” Cornell recalled to Uncut. “It sparked from something a news anchor said on TV, and I heard wrong. I heard ‘blah blah blah black hole sun blah blah blah’. I thought that would make an amazing song title, but what would it sound like? It all came together, pretty much the whole arrangement, including the guitar solo that’s played beneath the riff.”

“I spent a lot of time spinning those melodies in my head so I wouldn’t forget them,” he continued. “I got home and whistled it into a Dictaphone. The next day, I brought it into the real world, assigning a couple of key changes in the verse to make the melodies more interesting. Then I wrote the lyrics, and that was similar, a stream of consciousness based on the feeling I got from the chorus and title.”

That feeling was something that could have easily turned into a heavy riff-rocker like ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ or a lumbering experimental track like ‘Slaves & Bulldozers’. Instead, Cornell was more interested in a softer direction, one that didn’t have to be dependent on thunderous drums, pulverising distortion, and screeching lead vocals. Ironically, the darkness at the heart of ‘Black Hole Sun’ eventually led to its lighter approach.

“What’s interesting to me is the combination of a black hole and a sun,” Cornell added. “A black hole is a billion times larger than a sun, it’s a void, a giant circle of nothing, and then you have the sun, the giver of all life. It was this combination of bright and dark, this sense of hope and underlying moodiness.”

“I even liked the way the words looked written down,” Cornell added. “I liken it to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, where there’s a happy veneer over something dark. It’s not something I can do on purpose, but occasionally, it will happen by accident.”

Check out ‘Black Hole Sun’ down below.

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