grunge rock

Grunge Match : Pearl Jam vs. Soundgarden vs. Alice in Chains

Which band is best :

  • Pearl Jam
  • Soundgarden
  • Alice in Chains

Which band had the best song, and what was it?

Which band had the best album, and what was it?

–       AA in Rochester Hills, MI

I cannot tell you…how excited I am…that you asked this question.  I love talking and/or debating about music, and being a fan of rock who just can’t quite get as excited for contemporary rock bands as I could for those of my young adult years – well, this is just in my wheelhouse.  I’m sure a significant amount of my bias is good old “it was better in my day” generationalism, but the Murderers Row of albums we are about to look at, released within only four years of each other, would fare well stacked against a similar cross-section at any point of rock history.

First, to parse out some ground rules needed to answer the very open-ended questions.  I’m going to presume that in this case we are NOT talking about total career merits – because in that case the answer is obvious :

  1. Pearl Jam, because they have never stopped making music, are still somewhat relevant, and have an overwhelmingly stronger catalogue
  2. Alice in Chains, because although the singer has changed [you really need to see the new guy to believe him], they still tour and put out some credible music
  3. Soundgarden, in last place because Chris Cornell did this.

So I’m going to arbitrarily set start and end points to the competition, which admittedly coincides with a very influential and angsty time in my life, and possibly yours.  Based on the release timing of popular albums, we will look only at the window from 1990-1994 to answer the questions above.  This means that the first two Soundgarden studio albums – “Ultramega OK” (1988) and “Louder Than Love” (1989) are not considered; they may have been influential, but they weren’t especially relevant in the mainstream rock conscious.

The window also cuts off one album from each band while they were still largely popular, but these albums were clear commercial and critical dropoffs from the albums that preceded them for each band :

  • Pearl Jam “No Code” (1996)
  • Soundgarden “Down on the Upside” (1996)
  • Alice in Chains “Alice in Chains” (1995)

Looking only at the studio albums from this time frame, we will answer the questions above.  Note that although they were technically EPs, the Alice in Chains releases “Sap” and “Jar of Flies” are included in the evaluation.

The methodology is this – going track-by-track through each eligible album, worthy tracks are classified as “Notable” or “Great”, or not at all.  Although this is obviously subjective and open to all kinds of error, the guiding idea behind a track being called “Notable” is that most fans of this kind of music from this point in time will be able to recognize and name the song.  A track is called “Great” if, in addition to the aforementioned criteria, it would – if played in a bar with a large amount of thirty-somethings – cause at least one person to say “great song.”  Yes, that’s actually the criteria.









So, there you have the answers, which no one could ever possibly ever ever dispute.

Best Band :

Pearl Jam

Best Album :


The best song, well, that will clearly need to be picked from the 24 songs noted as “Great” above, but that one is completely up to each individual.  Since it’s my mailbag, you’re getting my list.  Feel free to comment on your choice!

Best Song :

“Would?”  Alice in Chains



Finally, as an editorial  addition to the question, I’ve always bristled at the assumption that Nirvana was the “best” or “leader” of the grunge music era.  They certainly produced its defining song – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and you could argue they produced the best album in “Nevermind” – although “Ten” rates higher using the method above; but their body of work in the window defined actually puts them second or third of the four – definitely above Soundgarden definitely below Pearl Jam, and essentially a coin toss against Alice in Chains.


I honestly believe that if you swapped the timing of the tragic fates of Layne Staley and Kurt Cobain, the retroactive view of their standing in the genre swaps as well.


5 thoughts on “Grunge Match : Pearl Jam vs. Soundgarden vs. Alice in Chains”

  1. I believe this list to be a true and relevant list as pertaining to the 3 bands listed. Although all 3 bands have their own loyal following, I think it can be factually stipulated that anyone who owns an album from anyone of the aforementioned artists owns an album from all of the aforementioned artists. With that being said I do believe the Ten will go down as one of the best musical albums ever released.

  2. I would sadly have to say that your method isn’t credible at all, and is obviously extremely biased. As soon as I read the comment on soundgarden being placed third because of one video Chris made with Timbaland, I realized immediately that whatever results you had weren’t going to be listed very well. Obviously you like Pearl Jam a lot more then the others, because you put FAR more songs as “great,” on his albums, when a soundgarden fan like myself would have put almost every soundgarden song as “great,” and vise versa with an AIC fan… Though, we could both agree that music is an opinion and that no one could %100 agree on this list no matter how it would be arranged. My personal list of favorite bands:
    1> Soundgarden
    2> AIC
    3> Probably any “Grunge,” band; Nirvana, Pearl Jam, RHCP, etc.

  3. As this post is now 6 months old, I hope I’m not too late to make the first (somehow??!) comment on a good blog.

    Your way of summarizing great and notable songs is a nice idea, but it doesn’t give a very nuanced impression of the greatness of an album (judging from the sarcasm you already know this). Great songs should have a greater significance on the overall score IMO.
    I therefore decided to add some nuance to the method, adding a weight (eg. 1.1) to the amount of great songs on an album (only when summarized with the amount of notable songs). I got these results from my own musical taste:

    The top 5 albums of the 3 bands:
    1. Superunknown (N+G=90,7%) (G=40%)
    2. Dirt (N+G=88,5%) (G=38,5%)
    3. Badmotorfinger (N+G=77,5%) (G=25%)
    4. Ten (N+G=65,5%) (G=18,2%)
    5. Facelift (N+G=60%) (G=16,7%)

    My top 3 favourite songs:
    1. Alive (PJ)
    2. Man In The Box (AIC)
    3. Superunknown (Soundgarden)

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