Chris Cornell was one of the strongest musicians in rock. He was an incredible singer, a multi-instrumentalist and a prolific songwriter.
After a life fronting Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave, as well as releasing several solo albums, Cornell left behind an extensive catalog of songs. However, he's also covered many works written by other artists, some of which even became hits for him.
To celebrate the life and talent of the late vocalist, we've compiled a list of some of his absolute best covers. Many of them were done live, some were studio performances. Some were while he was onstage with his bandmates and others were done solo. They aren't in any particular order, either, because face it — it's hard ranking someone's performances when they're pretty much always stellar.
(And check out the previously unreleased cover of Guns N' Roses' "Patience," which just got released today, here.)
"Nothing Compares 2 U" - Prince
Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" was made famous by Irish vocalist Sinead O'Connor in 1990, but Cornell's acoustic version offers a chilling emotion not heard on the aforementioned ones. Like many others, Cornell was profoundly impacted by Prince's legacy.
"Prince's music is the soundtrack to the soulful and beautiful universe he created, and we have all been privileged to be part of that amazing world," he wrote on social media after the death of the icon. "Sadly, now his own lyrics in this song could not be more relevant than at this moment, and I sing them now in reverence as I pay tribute to this unequaled artist who has given all of our lives so much inspiration and made the world so much more interesting."
The same goes for him now, too.
"One" - U2 + Metallica Mash-up
This was one of Cornell's most innovative covers. Before he covered U2's "One," he looked up the lyrics and accidentally memorized the words to Metallica's "One" instead. He ultimately ended up performing to the melody of the U2 song, while singing Metallica's lyrics.
"So when the Metallica lyrics came up, I thought, 'Well fuck, let's see what that sounds like.' So I figured it out and this is what it sounds like," he explained at the beginning of the video.
He performed the mash-up at many of his solo acoustic shows.
"Thank You" - Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin were another big influence on Cornell, especially with Soundgarden. Robert Plant's range and raspy texture made him one of the first really great rock singers, and Cornell certainly followed in his footsteps. "Thank You" was featured on the 1969 album Led Zeppelin II, and its acoustic nature was perfectly suited for Cornell's solo shows.
"To me, it was kind of almost uncharacteristic of other stuff off that album. It sounds like a '60s pop song to me, the way they have it arranged," Cornell said on the Howard Stern show. "It's almost as if with any other band, that would've been their biggest hit. But because it was Led Zeppelin and the album was so unbelievable... you almost kind of passed over it."
"Redemption Song" - Bob Marley and the Wailers
Cornell covered Bob Marley and the Wailers' "Redemption Song" often throughout his solo tours, but the version with his younger daughter Toni was a highlight. She was obviously gifted with his vocal talent, and their harmonizing sounds nearly perfect. She has since released some of her own original music.
"I Will Always Love You" - Dolly Parton
"I Will Always Love You" is probably one of the more difficult songs throughout music history to tackle, but if anyone was good for a vocal challenge, it was Cornell.
Written and originally recorded by Dolly Parton in 1973, it was Whitney Houston's 1992 rendition that made it become one of the best-selling singles of all time. According to Setlist.fm, Cornell only performed the song twice live, but he delivered it with the same power he did any other.
"Come Together" - The Beatles
Cornell often cited the Beatles as a major inspiration for him, so it's no surprise that Soundgarden covered several of their songs live when they toured. "Even at age nine, they had a big impression on me, and later on my writing, without me realizing it," he told Ultimate Classic Rock.
Soundgarden's cover of "Come Together" gives the song a rougher edge, and young Cornell showcases sheer vocal ferocity in the video below.
"Waiting for the Sun" - The Doors
If the Doors were the experimental rock group of the late 1960s, Soundgarden were definitely the equivalent three decades later. So it's no surprise, with songs like "Black Hole Sun" and "Searching With My Good Eye Closed," that the group would cover a song like "Waiting for the Sun."
While the original version features Ray Manzarek's organs and Jim Morrison's soft crooning, Soundgarden's cover is much more powerful both musically and vocally. Cornell takes Morrison's lines a few octaves higher and delivers with a more powerful punch.
"War Pigs" - Black Sabbath
"War Pigs" is one of the most iconic songs ever, so wouldn't it make sense that a musician like Cornell would want to sing it? He performed the song with Temple of the Dog, as seen in the video below, on their 25th anniversary tour in the fall of 2016. Black Sabbath are some pretty big shoes to fill, but it's fair to conclude that Temple did a great job.
"Billie Jean" - Michael Jackson
Cornell wrote a long piece for Rolling Stone about Michael Jackson after he died in 2009. The King of Pop made a big impact on a young Cornell when he saw him on the television as a child.
"The brilliance of 'Billie Jean' came to me when I was reading the lyrics for the first time," he wrote. "I thought well, who would be the least likely artist for me to attempt to cover and the first name that popped into my head was Michael Jackson. I liked 'Billie Jean' because it had that little keyboard line in it, which I thought I could turn into an electric guitar line."
"The lyrics are brilliant, and the way that the way the lyrics are put together. The story isn’t spoon-fed to you, it’s poetic," he added.
John Lennon's hit "Imagine" is one of those songs that's been covered by just about everyone. Cornell was a big advocate of social justice and spreading peace and love, so it was the perfect type of song for him to put his own twist on. As usual, he took the vocal aspect to levels that no one else had, giving it a new strength.
"Stargazer" - Mother Love Bone
Mother Love Bone never achieved the success they deserved, especially due to the passing of frontman Andrew Wood before their sole album Apple was even released. Cornell was roommates and good friends with Wood prior to his passing, which inspired the entire Temple of the Dog side project and album.
When Temple of the Dog reunited for a brief tour 25 years after the release of their self-titled album, they threw some deep cuts from the Seattle scene into their sets to pay tribute to their lost friends, including "Stargazer" by Mother Love Bone. The song was written by Wood for his fiancée Xana La Fuenete.
"Whole Lotta Love" - Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin, we meet again. But this time, the energy was greater, and Plant sang in a higher-register throughout the whole song. When it came time for Carlos Santana to recruit a vocalist to collaborate with on the track, he knew these would be big shoes to fill.
"The groove of 'Whole Lotta Love' has a hard edge, like hip-hop from the ghetto," the guitarist told ExploreMusic's Jeff Woods. "So [Cornell] had to come up and do that energy, because I purposely wanted Tupac Shakur – if he was here – or Nas to do that song. It’s a wonderful way to start the CD because it has a very effervescent energy.”
"River of Deceit" - Mad Season
This performance in particular was special because it was with with McCready, Martin and Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses on bass. They played the song with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and it was the perfect way to honor the late Staley, as well as several of their other fallen friends from the Seattle rock scene.
"A Day in the Life" - The Beatles
Another frequent number among Cornell's solo setlist was the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," which he gave a sentimental and chilling performance of.
"Cop Killer" - Body Count
We know that Cornell was capable of singing over rock songs both hard and gentle in nature. But what about stepping outside of the genre? Well, Soundgarden performed a cover of Body Count's "Cop Killer" a few times live, particularly at the end of their own Louder Than Love song "Gun." Cornell's brash vocal delivery works perfectly with the subject matter of the song, which was obviously one of anger and protest.