The Top 10 Songs by Alice in Chains

It all began back in the late 1980s, Seattle, Washington, grunge was born. As a youngster from this period, I grew up with and loved the music of the grunge era, and Alice in Chains was not just one of my favorite bands, but everyone else’s, it seemed. This ubiquitous group was more metal than punk, unlike Soundgarden, Nirvana, and some of the other grunge bands. But with their Seattle roots, and their dark lyrics, they helped define the sound of the Seattle grunge scene.

The group formed in 1987 shortly after Layne Staley met guitarist and song writer, Jerry Cantrell at a party. They began gigging and performing their original material in Seattle clubs under the name Alice in Chains, “The name derived from one of Layne Staley’s former bands, Alice N’ Chainz. According to Staley, Alice N’ Chains would dress in drag at concerts, and he noted that he felt the name would fit a band that “dressed in drag and played speed metal.” (wikipedia)

So many incredible albums like Dirt (which went Platinum, and still remains the album to crown their success), Jar of Flies, Facelift, Sap, and others tell the story of an incredible career. The snarling vocals and slower guitar riffs came along when the “hair bands” were going out. I have heard many people compare the sound of AIC to Sabbath and even Van Halen, which AIC opened for in the early ’90s.

Although I did not list the single Brother on my top 10, I feel it merits being mentioned because of all the incredible voices lent to its background vocals such as Anne Wilson of Heart, and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. it was also the favorite song of a good friend of mine who died in a car accident a few years ago, so this song always stirs up his memory when I hear it.

I’ll get down to my list, saving the best for last. I’m sure once again, my list will differ dramatically from the ones of my friends, but, that’s good. Let me add that it was difficult listing a “top 10.” Many songs I like very much are not even listed here since AIC had so many great songs.

Man in the Box was a powerful, angry song that I still hear played a great deal to day, and I like it. Some of the lyrics shocked many of our school teachers at the time of its release, but that is what Rock-n-Roll is supposed to do.

One of the several songs about Layne Staley’s heroin addiction, Angry Chair was the band’s 4th single off Dirt. It is also one of the tunes solely penned by Staley. It references the time he spent in rehab, along with paying homage to the Stephen King movie, The Shining. “In the line “I’m a dull boy work all day” which is taken from one of the most famous scenes in the film in which main character Jack Torrence writes “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy” in many different ways on his typewriter.” ( Wikipedia)

Get Born Again is one of my favorites for its haunting lyrics and music. I have certainly played this one over and over, the vocals blend in an unusual harmony, and the hypnotic words leaping out: “Sat suffering, I knew him when, Fair-weather friends of mine….”

Another angry tune written in response to the rumors of the band breaking up as well as to address the rumor Layne Staley had died is Grind, and it truly brings you more of the emotion, power, and feeling for which AIC is so known. Being the first release of the self-titled album, it set the tone of dark, heavy lament.

Got Me Wrong was one of my instant favorites. Like so many AIC songs, the words are daunting, the music unforgettable. It was just one of those songs I couldn’t seem to get out of my head, and I would end up singing it to myself at work.

Them Bones takes me back to my early college days, and is the first release off Dirt. Layne Staley did an amazing job with lead vocals on this bleak and heavy tune. “This song also features a very dirty, loud guitar riff that shows their influence from the Grunge genre. The song is somewhat unusual in that Cantrell’s guitar riff is actually ascending, rather than descending, giving the song a strange positive undertone which contrasts with the depressing lyrics and frightening vocals. Jerry Cantrell on the song, from the liner notes of 1999’s Music Bank box set collection: “I was just thinking about mortality, that one of these days we’ll end up a pile of bones. It’s a thought for every human being, whether you believe in an after-life or that when we die, that’s it. The thought that all the beautiful things and knowledge and experiences you’ve been through just end when you end scares me, the thought that when you close your eyes for good, it’s gone forever.” (Wikipedia)

Would? is a song of dedication to Andrew Wood, of Mother Love Bone, who died of a heroin overdose in 1990. I remember hearing this song for the first time and thinking how incredible and hostile it was. It also makes me think of the 1992 movie Singles, in which AIC also made an appearance.

Some call Rooster the greatest release ever by AIC, off their second album Dirt, and it was written for Jerry’s Cantrell’s father, a chronicle of his Vietnam War experiences. Jerry Cantrell says: “It was the start of the healing process between my Dad and I from all that damage that Vietnam caused. This was all my perception of his experiences out there. The first time I ever heard him talk about it was when we made the video and he did a 45 minute interview with Mark Pellington and I was amazed he did it. He was totally cool, totally calm, accepted it all and had a good time doing it. It even brought him to the point of tears. It was beautiful. He said it was a weird experience, a sad experience and he hoped that nobody else had to go through it.” (Wikipedia)

Put You Down was never a released but it is without a doubt, one of my very favorite AIC songs. It was one shared and admired by all our friends, in which we would try to sing along without running out of breath when the first imposing line would leap out at you: “Heartbreakerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr feeling alright……Body overrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr mind…..”

One song in particular that I associate most with AIC is We Die Young, and it is my favorite of all, without question. The fact that I played it often at home greatly disturbed my mother, who thought the title itself was horrifying. It was the first release from their first full LP Facelift. Jerry Cantrell says he wrote the song following a fight with roomate and bad-mate Sean Kinney, and was in the process of moving out of their apartment. The inspiration for the song is very disturbing: “…….So I was riding the bus to rehearsal,” Cantrell says, “and I saw all these 9, 10, 11 year old kids with beepers dealing drugs. The sight of a 10 year old kid with a beeper and a cell phone dealing drugs equaled ‘We Die Young’ to me.” (Wikipedia)

Alice in Chains never officially broke up, but they continued to be heavily strained through the late ’90s. Layne Staley’s life was going incredibly out of control due to his heroin abuse, and it worsened in 1996 when his girlfriend died from bacterial endocarditis. He then became an almost total recluse, rarley leaving his Seattle apartment. On April 20, 2002, Staley was found dead in his apartment from an apparent lethal overdose of heroin and cocaine. The coroner approximated Staley’s day of death as April 5, which ironically was the same approximate date of Kurt Cobain’s death eight years before.

This year, the surviving band members performed at the VH1’s Decades Rock Live concert honoring Seattle rockers Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, with guest vocalist Phil Anselmo of Pantera . “According to the official Jerry Cantrell website, Alice in Chains has also been confirmed to be playing at several festivals across Europe this summer including Locobazooka! 2006 in Mansfield, MA, the Nova Rock festival in Austria, Rock am Ring in Germany, Rock im Park also in Germany, Milan Gods of Metal in Italy, Donington Park Download Festival in England, the Provinssirock Festival in Finland, and the RDS Download Festival in Ireland.” (Wikipedia)

This is really great news for all of us Alice in Chains fans.

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