Green River - Dry As A Bone (1987)

Grunge didn’t start with Nevermind in 1991, but rather ten years beforehand. Made up of Mark Arm (Mudhoney), Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam), Bruce Fairweather (Mother Love Bone, Love Battery) and Alex Vincent, Green River was formed in Seattle in 1984, showcasing from their first EPs an illuminating blend of punk, psych rock and blues all while using distortion effects. The resulting sound portrays the urgency and the grit of the scene in the North-West of America at the time. Produced by Jack Endino at the Reciprocal Recording Studios in Seattle, Dry As Bone gives an insight into what Bruce Pavitt from the Sub Pop label described at the time as “ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation.” Legend has it this is where the term ‘grunge’ originated. The band would go on to split after their first album Rehab Doll a few months later.

Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff (1990)

Within the nonstop and incestuous world of grunge and after Green River’s implosion, Mark Arm recruited the former bassist from Melvins, the drummer from Feast and the guitarist Steve Turner to form Mudhoney, whose name was inspired by a 1965 Russ Meyer movie. With a similar style to Wipers, Mark Arm’s band played a rock that was straight-to-the-point and simple. Having already created one of the defining moments of grunge in 1988 with the B side Touch Me I’m Sick, Mudhoney received an underground success sufficient enough for Sonic Youth to invite them to open their British tour dates. Thus, they became the first grunge band to export their music across the pond, entering the British charts with Superfuzz Bigmuff which was released on the Sub Pop label, the catalyst for grunge music that was created by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman. This favorite of Kurt Cobain’s was more garage than Green River, straddling punk and hard rock and balancing primitive riffs and Stooges-style shouts over a sizzling amp background.

Temple Of The Dog - Temple of the Dog (1991)

On 19th March 1990, Andrew Wood, the singer from Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone died of a heroin overdose at the age of 24, the first of a long succession of similar deaths that would go on to taint grunge’s image as a cursed genre. The following day, his roommate Chris Cornell left to go on tour in Europe and wrote Say Hello 2 Heaven and Reach Down. More tracks were created when the Soundgarden singer contacted Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament from Mother Love Bone, and soon there was enough content for not only an EP but an album. The project saw the addition of Matt Cameron (Soundgarden), Mike McCready (Mookie Blaylock) and especially Eddie Vedder who sings in a duet with Cornell on the highlight of the album: Hunger Strike. Recorded in fifteen days and quietly released in 1991, Temple of the Dog was the only record made by the supergroup, and was subsequently re-edited by the label A&M a year later and would coast off the success of both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. “It was not a sad project. We saw it more as a celebration”, said Cornell. An epic in the form of a tribute that is as frenzied as it is cathartic, Temple Of The Dog is musically somewhere between Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Banjo, harmonica, guitars, Cornell’s plaintive cries and Vedder’s soft touch: it all fuses together with poignant emotion on stretched out jams. While Soundgarden went back to their original iteration, the others would go on to form Pearl Jam with Vedder.

Pearl Jam - Ten (1991)

Released a month before Nevermind on Epic, the first Pearl Jam record shows Eddie Vedder’s band – along with Nirvana – to be the most important figures of the grunge scene and the larger 90s alternative rock scene at the time. However, the success was far from immediate: Ten took an entire year to climb to the eighth position of the Billboard chart. Kurt Cobain may have hated them, and many people consider them to have sold out, but this is largely due to Vedder and his band making the most accessible kind of grunge music: along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam managed to break out of the underground scene and become a household name. Vedder’s powerful voice, the influences from Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, sentimental melodies, lyrics that touch on depression, solitude and suicidal tendencies: the resulting melo-grunge made for ideal consumption on American radio. Carried by singles Jeremy, Alive and Even Flow, Ten reached 10 million copies sold in 2013.

Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)

Simply put: the tidal wave that crashed over 1991, and that would kick start the worldwide obsession for grunge. Sold out in stores within weeks, Nevermind would propel Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl towards rock superstardom. Not knowingly perfect for the radio waves, Nirvana’s second album shattered the frontier between underground and mainstream. All of a sudden, the Seattle kids’ record and Cobain’s raspy tones entered the zeitgeist: schools were full of kids wearing ripped jeans, long, straggly hair and a Nevermind attitude, and even supermodels Carla Bruni and Kate Moss were in full Nirvana mode in Marc Jacobs’ 1993 grunge collection (which would cost him his place at Perry Ellis). Punk hits were played on repeat on MTV, such as Smells Like Teen Spirit (named after the deodorant) and the abrasive Come As You Are and Lithium which borrowed the loud/quiet/loud formula from Pixies. We can’t not mention the lesser-known but still fantastic gems from the album (Territorial Pissings, Drain You) produced by Butch Vig and which became the most important record of the 90s.