The A – Z Of Grunge: Everything You Need To Know About The Seattle Sound That Shook The World

Check out the most important bands, moments, trends and locales.
  • 1 A Is For Alice In Chains
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    Whether or not they were part of the punk-influenced indie rock scene or metal interlopers is irrelevant. The Seattle band made some of the most haunting hard rock of the era thanks to Layne Staley’s sullen yet powerful vocals and Jerry Cantrell’s memorable guitar riffs.

  • 2 B Is For Big Muff

    This archaic 1970s fuzz pedal found favor among grunge bands for its dated graphics and sickly saturated distortion and was immortalized in the title of Mudhoney’s debut EP, Superfuzz Bigmuff.

  • 3 C Is For Chris Cornell
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    One of his generation’s greatest singers, the Soundgarden frontman also made the ladies swoon thanks to the luscious locks and hunky physique he displayed in his often-shirtless performances.

  • 4 D Is For Drop D Tuning
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    This alternate guitar tuning – where the low E string is tuned down to the note D – was one of grunge’s sonic hallmarks and gave the music an extra heft and melodic otherness. According to legend, Melvins main man Buzz Osbourne taught the tuning to Kim Thayil who then passed it onto Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell and voila, a sound is born.

  • 5 E Is For 8-Way Santa
    Sup Pop

    The breakout album for these Sub Pop heavyweights landed the band in hot water when the white trash cover models, whose photo was acquired at a Seattle thrift store, sued for unauthorized use of their image being used.

  • 6 F Is For Flannel
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    These affordable, heavyweight plaid shirts (seen here on indie rock legend Mike Watt, whose band fIREHOSE issued an album titled Flyin’ the Flannel) were practical clothing for Pacific North Westerners used to the region’s cold, damp weather, but in the media frenzy surrounding grunge they were seen as a major fashion statement.

  • 7 G Is For Green River
    Sub Pop

    The Yardbirds of the Seattle grunge scene, this mid-‘80s band featured future members of Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam and recorded early for the fledgling Sub Pop label.

  • 8 H Is For Hole
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    Though hailing from Los Angeles, the band that brought the world Courtney Love came up through the same indie rock circuit as the grunge bands and rode their crest of excitement into a major label contract and commercial success.

  • 9 I Is For Independent Labels
    Sub Pop

    Prior to corporate takeover, the groups that led the grunge explosion flourished thanks to the support of regional independent record labels such as Seattle’s Sub Pop, Black Flag’s SST in Los Angeles and Minneapolis noise rock trouble makers Amphetamine Reptile. After years of groundwork touring and indie releases, major labels came calling.

  • 10 J Is For Jazzmasters and Jaguars
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    These well-made but undervalued used Fender guitars were thrift shop fixtures and popular with indie rockers like Dinosaur Jr. or Sonic Youth (pictured here) and prices of vintage examples went up overnight following the success of the grunge bands.

  • 11 K Is For Kurt
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    Calling Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain the “Voice of his generation” sounds a bit grandiose, however there’s no denying he was the most accomplished songwriter of the early ‘90s grunge and alt rock bands and his emotionally vulnerable lyrics and alternately plaintive and pained vocals are why the band still finds fans with each successive generation.

  • 12 L Is For The “Lexicon Of Grunge”
    The New York Times

    In 1992 a New York Times reporter called the Sub Pop offices and spoke to then-receptionist / current-VP Megan Jasper to find out what hip slang grunge rockers were using. Her hilariously absurd made up grunge speak poked fun at grunge’s perceived stoner culture.

  • 13 M Is For Melvins
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    Founded in 1983 in the small town of Montesano, WA, this long running band was the first in the state to tune down the guitars & slow down the tempos, influencing not just grunge but sludge metal & stoner rock as well. Kurt Cobain “co-produced” 1993’s Houdini album, their 5th out of 19 and counting, and they still command a dedicated following.

  • 14 N Is For Nevermind
    DGC Records

    In 1991, the second Nirvana full-length was the watershed release of the alternative rock movement & is considered one of the greatest rock n’ roll albums of all time. Produced by Butch Vig & featuring the band debut of drummer Dave Grohl, singer-songwriter Cobain delivered songs that are seldom less than great, including the epochal “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

  • 15 O Is For Olympia
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    The Yin to Seattle’s Yang, Washington’s state capital is home to the ultra-liberal Evergreen State College and its music scene rivaled its neighbor to the North in importance. Kurt Cobain briefly lived there, Bikini Kill (pictured) and the Riot Grrl movement got its start there and the town was also home to esteemed indie label K Records.

  • 16 P Is For The Perry Ellis Grunge Collection
    Marc Jacobs

    The creation of famed designer Marc Jacobs, this 1993 women’s collection featured outfits that made use of grunge’s stylistic motifs of plaid flannel, faux thermal underwear and skullcaps. Reviled by scenesters as more mainstream co-opting, the collection was a hit with fashion critics.

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    This moody hard rock band is keeping the alternative rock banner waving and has strong ties to the ‘90s scene. Band leader and former Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme filled in for Ellensburg, WA’s Screaming Trees, whose singer Mark Lanegan was also a parttime QOTSA member, alongside Nirvana / Foo Fighter vet Dave Grohl.

  • 18 R Is For Reciprocal Recording
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    This small recording studio, owned by C/Z Records boss Chris Hanzsek & run by grunge producer extraordinaire & Skin Yard guitarist Jack Endino, recorded the lion’s share of early Sub Pop releases including Nirvana’s album Bleach which was famously recorded for the sum of $606.17.

  • 19 S Is For Seattle
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    Home to strong coffee, incessant rain, Sub Pop records and the majority of the original grunge bands, this Pacific North West city will forever be synonymous with the genre, so much so that the term grunge itself is commonly referred to as the “The Seattle Sound.”

  • 20 T Is For “Touch Me I’m Sick”
    Sub Pop

    Funny, ugly, stupid and memorable. From its title to its main riff, the debut single from Sub Pop standard bearers Mudhoney is truly the ultimate grunge song and was the release that put Sub Pop and the Seattle scene on the map.

  • 21 U Is For The U-Men
    Big Bad Music, Bomb Shelter

    Grunge before grunge. This early ‘80s Seattle band blended gnarly punk and rock influences, inspiring many of the first generation grunge bands and appearing on the historic Deep Six compilation alongside Soundgarden, Green River and The Melvins.

  • 22 V Is For Eddie Vedder
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    Though not a North West native, the singer became one of the era’s key figures and a Time magazine cover model thanks to his work with Temple Of The Dog and Pearl Jam.

  • 23 W Is For The Wipers
    Park Ave.

    This trailblazing Portland, Oregon punk power trio’s dark, driving anthems were a major influence on Kurt Cobain, who would cover their songs “D-7” and “Return of the Rat” with Nirvana.

  • 24 X Is For Generation X
    Universal Pictures

    Much was made at the time of grunge and alternative rock being the ultimate cultural expression of Generation X, those people that grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s on a steady diet of television and family dysfunction in the Baby Boomer’s wake. Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites tried to capture the zeitgeist of apathy and dread that hung over young ‘90s malcontents.

  • 25 Y Is For Yarling
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    An inside joke amongst Seattle scenesters, the term “Yarling” refers to the macho, melodramatic vocal style common among grunge singers. At its best, Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder were prime examples. At its worst, one word: Creed.

  • 26 Z Is For Mia Zapata
    C/Z Records

    Though The Gits landed in Seattle after the first wave of bands and musically were more punk rock than grunge, the singer’s powerful vocals and magnetic personality made them Seattle favorites before her tragic murder in 1993. The hunt for her killer became a cause celebre among musicians there and helped bring attention to the blight of violence against women.