Soundgarden’s ‘Badmotorfinger’: 10 Facts Only Superfans Would Know
On Oct. 8, 1991 Soundgarden released their breakthrough album, Badmotorfinger.
Soundgarden weren't rookies by the time they entered the studio to create their third full-length album, but some things were certainly different. Once their new lineup was complete, the whole band collaborated together during the songwriting process more than they had done in the past.The result was a mix of different tunes, ranging from purely aggressive to psychedelic, with some radio-friendly rock stompers in the middle.
"I think there's songs on the new record which are almost more commercially viable because they have that memorable feel to them, and I think if anyone expected us to come out and make something more commercial than Louder Than Love, then I'm glad that they were surprised," frontman Chris Cornell described of the record to Raw magazine in 1991.
Badmotorfinger may have been overshadowed by the explosion of Nirvana's breakthrough, but once people started paying more attention to the Seattle sound, it wasn't too far behind in terms of success. It peaked at No. 39 on the Billboard 200 — which was their highest chart position at that point — and was certified platinum by January of 1993.
To celebrate the release of the iconic Soundgarden effort, here are 10 facts only superfans would know about it.
1. It was their first album with Ben Shepherd.
After original bassist Hiro Yamamoto left Soundgarden, Jason Everman, who had a stint playing in Nirvana, took his place. However, he was fired shortly after.
Ben Shepherd was a big fan of Soundgarden before they even became a quartet, back when Cornell was a singing drummer. According to a 1992 Rolling Stone issue, he auditioned around the same time as Everman to replace Yamamoto, but didn't know the songs well, so he wasn't chosen. After Everman was let go, Shepherd received a call, asking him if he could join.
2. The sound was more representative of them as a live band.
As opposed to sounding pristine and polished, Soundgarden intended to capture their aggression and energy when they were in the studio recording Badmotorfinger.
"I think you go through periods where you learn to get that kind of aggression out of you," Cornell explained to Raw Magazine in 1991. "If you really think about it, it's not that tough to do. On Louder Than Love it didn't really come out in what we did, so we decided we wanted to hear more of it. The new album is very close to us as a live band, but the main problem with most bands is capturing that live sound on record."
3. The "heavy metal White Album."
As Soundgarden were heavily influenced by the Beatles, guitarist Kim Thayil once made a sarcastic comparison that Badmotorfinger was the "heavy metal White Album." His reasoning for the comment was due to the heavy psychedelic components featured throughout the album.
"There's the same trippiness and quirkiness that was on the first couple of records. There's the heavy grind of Louder [Than Love]. It's 12 different ways of approaching the idea of heaviness," the guitarist enthused to Kerrang! "There are a lot more noises, that's the only way I can put it. Noises! That's a lot cooler than reverb. Little squawks, feedbacks, little unplanned performance things that just kinda happen when you turn up loud and play it on 11!"
4. See 'N Say… with my good eye closed.
The beginning of the trippy "Searching With My Good Eye Closed" features a narrator introducing various farm animals, followed by their sounds. Cornell once explained in an interview that he stumbled upon a See 'N Say, which is a children's toy that helps them learn animals.
"I got the idea because somebody, my roommate I think, at some point had a See 'N Say. We pulled on the string and it was like, 'This is a cow, moo. This is a pig, oink oink.' And then we pulled on it and it went, 'This is a [distorted sound].' The voice slowed down, and the animal sound was like [growls]. And I said it out loud, 'The Devil says.'"
5. The title was inspired by a Montrose song.
Badmotorfinger was a play-on the title of a song by Sammy Hagar's pre-Van Halen band, Montrose. The song was called "Bad Motor Scooter," and Thayil came up with the album name because of it.
"I simply like it because it was colorful. It was kinda aggressive, too," he told the Music Paper in 1992.
6. MTV gave two out of three of the videos considerable airtime.
"Rusty Cage," "Outshined" and "Jesus Christ Pose" each received video treatments, however MTV didn't play the latter. While the first two were rotated pretty heavily, "Jesus Christ Pose" was removed from the channel's playlist due to controversy over the subject matter and the video.
"That was our first single off Badmotorfinger, but it never got any airplay because of the references to Jesus," Thayil admitted to Guitar School. "And MTV wouldn't play the video because they didn't like the idea of a girl on the cross."
"It ended up being the first video that MTV wouldn't play on the Beavis and Butthead Show, because it didn't meet their standards," Cornell told Raw magazine. "It turned out that it was the religious imagery that they were afraid of. They don't seem to get uptight about rap bands rapping about killing people and raping women, but religious imagery…"
"Actually, I'd imagine they're even more intense about that in the U.K.," the singer continued. "When we were over there touring, they'd got this poster of a skeleton nailed to a cross all over the place to advertise the single, and we were getting death threats at the shows. If anyone's gonna be sensitive to, or offended by something like that, then I think they're a little too serious about what they believe in."
Soundgarden, "Jesus Christ Pose"
7. Enter Johnny Cash.
Johnny Cash's career took a turn for the better when he started working with producer Rick Rubin. When he went to record 1996's Unchained, Rubin suggested covering Badmotorfinger opener "Rusty Cage."
The producer approached Cornell about writing a new arrangement of the song for Cash. “I sat down and I tried a little bit, but I just couldn't hear it, really. Lyrically I could hear it, but his style of playing and songwriting is really a different genre. As much as I was a fan of his, I just couldn't naturally do it," the frontman told Triple J.
Rubin decided to come up with the arrangement himself, with Jane's Addiction's Dave Navarro on guitar. Cornell revealed that he was relieved he didn't attempt the project.
“I'm glad that I didn't, because what they did with it is so much him,” he clarified. “It sounds like a song he could have written, which is great. That's the way it has to be. I just heard a few months ago that he had done it. They did it much better than I would have done.”
Johnny Cash, "Rusty Cage"
8. One of the songs left off the finished product appeared in a movie shortly after.
The band worked on the song "Birth Ritual" during the Badmotorfinger sessions, but never finished it. Instead, it appeared on the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe's 1992 film Singles, in which the band members make several appearances— including a performance of the song.
"I wanted that song to be on our album, but, unfortunately, we were unable to come up with the chorus until later in the recording process," Thayil told Guitar School. "So we rehearsed it and got it together for the Singles soundtrack."
9. A whole lotta outtakes.
In addition to "Birth Ritual," a few songs that would appear on later albums had been worked on during the Badmotorfinger sessions. "No Attention" was later released on 1996's Down on the Upside, and "Black Rain," which had been completed in 1991 except for the vocals, was finished in 2010 and featured on their compilation album Telephantasm.
"Cold Bitch" was included on the "Spoonman" single later on, which according to M.E.A.T. Magazine was one of Shepherd's favorite songs that they had done at the time. "She's a Politician" was later on the "Burden In My Hand" single.
10. The original masters were destroyed.
When Soundgarden made plans to release a 25th anniversary edition of Badmotorfinger, they were faced with a bit of a challenge. Rolling Stone reported that the original masters were lost in the 2008 Universal Studios fire, so they had to use digital audio tape copies to remaster the album. The band were made aware of the damages to the original masters in May of 2015.