Black Hole Sun

Last updated on 21 August 2017

"Black Hole Sun" is a song by the American rock band Soundgarden. Written by frontman Chris Cornell, the song was released in 1994 as the third single from the band's fourth studio album Superunknown (1994). It is arguably the band's most recognizable and most popular song, and remains a well known song from the 1990s. The song topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, where it spent a total of seven weeks at number one. Despite peaking at number two on the Modern Rock Tracks, "Black Hole Sun" still finished as the number-one track of 1994 for that chart. It failed to hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart due to the rules of a physical/commercial release of the single at the time, but it still peaked at number 24 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart and number nine on the Mainstream Top 40 chart. The song was included on Soundgarden's 1997 greatest hits album A-Sides and appeared again on the 2010 compilation album Telephantasm.

Black Hole Sun.jpg
Black Hole Sun.jpg

Origin and recording

"Black Hole Sun" was written by frontman Chris Cornell. Cornell said that he wrote the song in about 15 minutes.[3] He used a Gretsch guitar to write the song, and commented, "I wrote the song thinking the band wouldn't like it—then it became the biggest hit of the summer."[4] Cornell came up with the song while using a Leslie speaker. Guitarist Kim Thayil said that the Leslie speaker was perfect for the song as "it's very Beatlesque and has a distinctive sound. It ended up changing the song completely."[5] Thayil said that the song "wasn't safe as milk, but it wasn't glass in someone's eye either. It was the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Now it's the 'Dream On' of our set."[6] The song was performed in drop D tuning. Drummer Matt Cameron called the song "a huge departure". Credit is due to Michael Beinhorn and Brendan O'Brien, producer and recording engineer, respectively.

Appearing on The Pods & Sods Network in July 2017, Michael Beinhorn detailed the process of recording Soundgarden’s 1994 album Superunknown. And he shares his reaction to first hearing Black Hole Sun during that time, “I think for the rest of my entire life, until I draw my last breath, I’ll never ever forgot how I felt when they started playing that song. From the very first few notes, I felt like I’d been hit by a thunderbolt. I was just absolutely stunned. What in the world is this? I get goosebumps thinking about it now.”[7]

Lyrics

Regarding "Black Hole Sun", Cornell stated, "It's just sort of a surreal dreamscape, a weird, play-with-the-title kind of song."[8] He also said that "lyrically it's probably the closest to me just playing with words for words' sake, of anything I've written. I guess it worked for a lot of people who heard it, but I have no idea how you'd begin to take that one literally."[9] In another interview he elaborated further, stating, "It's funny because hits are usually sort of congruent, sort of an identifiable lyric idea, and that song pretty much had none. The chorus lyric is kind of beautiful and easy to remember. Other than that, I sure didn't have an understanding of it after I wrote it. I was just sucked in by the music and I was painting a picture with the lyrics. There was no real idea to get across."[10] Commenting upon how the song was misinterpreted as being positive, Cornell said, "No one seems to get this, but 'Black Hole Sun' is sad. But because the melody is really pretty, everyone thinks it's almost chipper, which is ridiculous."[11] When asked about the line, "Times are gone for honest men", Cornell said:

It's really difficult for a person to create their own life and their own freedom. It's going to become more and more difficult, and it's going to create more and more disillusioned people who become dishonest and angry and are willing to fuck the next guy to get what they want. There's so much stepping on the backs of other people in our profession. We've been so lucky that we've never had to do that. Part of it was because of our own tenacity, and part of it was because we were lucky.[12]

Release and critical reception

"Black Hole Sun" was released in the summer of 1994 and became the most successful song from Superunknown on the American rock charts and arguably the band's most recognizable and popular song. It appeared on Billboard magazine's Hot 100 Airplay chart, reaching the top 30. The following week it debuted on the Top 40 Mainstream, where it peaked at number nine in its eighth week and remained on the chart until its 20th week. The song peaked at number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number two on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. The song spent a total of seven weeks at number one on the Mainstream Rock chart. At the 1995 Grammy Awards, "Black Hole Sun" received the award for Best Hard Rock Performance and received a nomination for Best Rock Song.[13]

Outside the United States, the single was released in Australia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In Canada, the song reached the top ten on the Canadian Singles Chart. It remained in the top ten for three weeks and became the band's highest charted song in Canada. "Black Hole Sun" reached the UK Top 20 and was the last single from the album which charted in the UK Top 20. The song remains the band's highest charting single in the United Kingdom to date. "Black Hole Sun" debuted at number ten in Australia but quickly descended the chart, however widespread airplay and a promotional visit to Australia stimulated a resurgence of interest in Superunknown. "Black Hole Sun" would peak at number six on the Australian Singles Chart. "Black Hole Sun" reached the top 30 in Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, and was a top ten success in Australia, France, and Ireland. It was a moderate top 20 success in Sweden. The single has sold over three million copies worldwide.[14]

Greg Prato of AllMusic called the song "one of the few bright spots" of the summer of 1994 when "the world was still reeling from Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain's suicide the previous April". He said, "The song had a psychedelic edge to it (especially evident in the verse's guitar part), as the composition shifted between sedate melodicism and gargantuan guitar riffs. The lyrics were classic Chris Cornell—lines didn't exactly make sense on paper but did within the song."[15] Jon Pareles of The New York Times said, "The Beatles' techniques—fuzz-toned low chords, legato lead-guitar hooks and lumpy Ringo Starr-style drumming...are linked to Lennon-style melody in 'Black Hole Sun'."[16] J.D. Considine of Rolling Stone stated, "With its yearning, Lennonesque melody and watery, Harrisonstyle guitar, 'Black Hole Sun' is a wonderful exercise in Beatleisms; trouble is, it's not a very good song, offering more in the way of mood and atmosphere than melodic direction."[17] Ann Powers of Blender proclaimed that "Cornell's fixation with the Beatles pays off with the hit single 'Black Hole Sun' ".[18] The solo for "Black Hole Sun", performed by Thayil, was ranked number 63 on Guitar World's list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Solos",[19] and number 56 on Total Guitar's list of the "100 Hottest Guitar Solos".[20] The song was included on VH1's countdown of the "100 Greatest Songs of the '90s" at number 25.[21] It was also included on VH1's countdown of the "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs" at number 77.[22]

Music video

The surreal and apocalyptic music video for "Black Hole Sun" was directed by Howard Greenhalgh,[23] produced by Megan Hollister for Why Not Films (London, England), shot by Ivan Bartos, and features post-production work by 525 Post Production (Hollywood, California) and Soho 601 Effects (London). The video follows a suburban neighborhood and its vain inhabitants with comically exaggerated grins, which are eventually swallowed up when the Sun suddenly turns into a black hole, while the band performs the song somewhere in an open field. In the video, Cornell can be seen wearing a fork necklace given to him by Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon.[3] In an online chat, the band stated that the video "was entirely the director's idea", and added, "Our take on it was that at that point in making videos, we just wanted to pretend to play and not look that excited about it."[24] Thayil said that the video was one of the few Soundgarden videos the band was satisfied with.[25]

The video was released in June 1994.[26] After several weeks of airplay on MTV, a second version of the video was substituted containing more elaborate visual effects than the original, including the addition of a computer-generated black hole. The music video for "Black Hole Sun" became a hit on MTV and received the award for Best Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards.[27] In 1995, it received the Clio Award for Alternative Music Video.[28] The video is available on the CD-ROM Alive in the Superunknown.

In 1999, British alternative rock band Skunk Anansie did a homage of the video for their single "Lately". The video was also directed by Greenhalgh.

In popular culture

Media

"Black Hole Sun" is a playable song in the 2007 video game Rock Band.[29] The song is also available in the 2008 video games Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore[30] and SingStar 90s, for the PlayStation 2.[31] Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock features the song in its downloadable content library, and it is a playable track in the TV mode of Guitar Hero Live.[32] Also, a section of the Nintendo DS 2008 role-playing video game Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is titled "Black Hole Sun", a very likely reference to the song. The video is also featured in season 5 episode 1, "Held Back", of Beavis and Butt-Head, in which Butt-Head gives a succinct description of a black hole.

Cover versions

"Black Hole Sun" has been covered by numerous artists. Among the most notable versions is Peter Frampton covering the song on his 2006 instrumental album Fingerprints, joined on the track by Pearl Jam/Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready.[33]

"Black Hole Sun" has also inspired a few parodies. "Weird Al" Yankovic included the song in "The Alternative Polka", a polka medley entirely made up of alternative rock songs, from the 1996 album Bad Hair Day.[34]

In 2002, Bob Rivers wrote a parody called "Ass Hole Son".[35]

In 2008, a 23-minute arrangement of the song was covered by the Brad Mehldau Trio in their album Brad Mehldau Trio Live.[36][37]

In 2011, Mateo Messina's arrangement appeared on the soundtrack to the film Young Adult.[38]

The trailer and end credits for the 2014 film A Walk Among the Tombstones features a cover recorded by Swann, featuring singer Nouela.[39]

Christian parody band Apologetix parodied a version of the song titled "God's Own Son" on the 2014 album, Apoplectic.[40]

In 2016, Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox released a vintage-themed cover on their YouTube channel, featuring singer Haley Reinhart.[41]

Also in 2016, a player piano cover version is featured in the pilot episode of the HBO's television series "Westworld".[42]

After Cornell's death in 2017, Ann Wilson performed the song as a tribute to him on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Choir! Choir! Choir! recorded a version of the song, Norah Jones, Ryan Adams, Cody Jinks, Guns N' Roses, Metallica and more performed the song in concert in tribute of Cornell.[43][44]

Track listing

All songs written by Chris Cornell, except where noted:

Promotional CD (US)
  1. "Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18
  2. "Black Hole Sun" (edit)  – 4:31
CD (Europe and Germany)
  1. "Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18
  2. "Like Suicide" (acoustic)  – 6:11
  3. "Kickstand" (live) (Cornell, Kim Thayil)  – 1:58
CD (Europe)
  1. "Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18
  2. "Jesus Christ Pose" (live) (Matt Cameron, Cornell, Ben Shepherd, Thayil)  – 7:19
  3. "My Wave" (live) (Cornell, Thayil)  – 4:34
    • Recorded live on August 20, 1993 at Jones Beach Amphitheater in Wantagh, New York.
  4. "Spoonman" (Steve Fisk remix)  – 6:55
Box Set (UK)
  1. "Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18
  2. "Beyond the Wheel" (live)  – 5:56
  3. "Fell on Black Days" (live)  – 4:45
  4. "Birth Ritual" (demo) (Cornell, Cameron, Thayil)  – 5:50
CD (Australia and Germany)
  1. "Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18
  2. "Jesus Christ Pose" (live) (Cameron, Cornell, Shepherd, Thayil)  – 7:19
  3. "Beyond the Wheel" (live)  – 5:54
Promotional CD (US)
  1. "Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18
  2. "Beyond the Wheel" (live)  – 5:53
    • Recorded live on August 18, 1993 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
  3. "Spoonman" (Steve Fisk remix)  – 6:55
7" vinyl (UK) and cassette (UK)
  1. "Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18
  2. "My Wave" (live) (Cornell, Thayil)  – 4:34
    • Recorded live on August 20, 1993 at Jones Beach Amphitheater in Wantagh, New York.
  3. "Beyond the Wheel" (live)  – 5:54
    • Recorded live on August 18, 1993 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Promotional 12" vinyl (France)
  1. "Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18
Jukebox 7" vinyl (US)
  1. "Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18
  2. "Spoonman"  – 4:06

Chart positions

Chart (1994) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[45] 6
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[46] 5
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[47] 13
France (SNEP)[48] 10
Germany (Official German Charts)[49] 26
Ireland (IRMA)[50] 7
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[51] 3
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[52] 22
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[53] 19
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[54] 12
US Radio Songs (Billboard)[55] 24
US Mainstream Top 40 (Billboard)[56] 9
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[57] 1
US Alternative Songs (Billboard)[58] 2

Certifications

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[59] Gold 35,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[60] Silver 200,000double-dagger

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Accolades

The information regarding accolades attributed to "Black Hole Sun" is adapted in part from Acclaimed Music.[61]

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Guitar World United States "100 Greatest Guitar Solos"[19] 2007 63
VH1 United States "100 Greatest Songs of the '90s"[21] 2007 25
VH1 United States "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs"[22] 2008 77
Kerrang! United Kingdom "100 Greatest Singles of All Time"[62] 2002 49
Q United Kingdom "The 1001 Best Songs Ever"[63] 2003 543
Total Guitar United Kingdom "100 Hottest Guitar Solos"[20] 2006 56
The Movement New Zealand "The 100 (+300) Greatest Songs of All Time"[64] 2004 80
The Movement New Zealand "The 77 Best Singles of the 90s"[65] 2004 32
Pure Pop Mexico "The 100 Best Singles of All Time"[66] 2003 100
Spex Germany "Singles of the Year"[67] 1994 15
Rock & Pop Chile "Rock&Pop 20 Años 200 Canciones"[68] 2013 174
Preceded by
"Shine" by Collective Soul
Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks number-one single
July 16 – September 2, 1994
Succeeded by
"Vasoline" by Stone Temple Pilots

References

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  5. ^ Gilbert, Jeff. "Sleepless in Seattle". Guitar World. May 1994.
  6. ^ Brambarger, Bradley. "The Modern Age", Billboard. June 8, 1996
  7. ^ https://podsodcast.com/2017/07/25/em54/
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  9. ^ Crisafulli, Chuck. "Rogues Gallery". Request. June 1996.
  10. ^ Clay, Jennifer. "Soundgarden: Painting Beautiful Pictures". RIP. June 1996.
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  31. ^ Miller, Greg. "SingStar '90s Track List Revealed". IGN. February 1, 2008.
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External links

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