This has been a week of alternative rock and grunge bands. Right from Nirvana to Tool, Soundgarden. Today, I am looking back to yet another Grunge band I loved, none other than Alice in Chains (AIC) that was formed way back in 1987 by Jerry Cantrell (guitarist) and Sean Kinney (drummer).
Alice in Chains became popular back in the 90s. In this article, we will also look at why AIC was ranked among the most popular rock bands back in the 90s.
Alice in Chains’ successes included two NO. 1 Album and 18 Top 10 songs back the early 90s. The band took a hiatus until 2005, following the death of the lead vocalist Layne Staley in 2002. Since then they’ve released three studio albums with William Duvall, who replaced Stanley as the lead singer.
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AIC was among the first bands to bring grunge into the mainstream. But despite the fame and fortune, the band had a fair share of disasters. Thanks to an array of dram, unfortunate events and rock star excesses.
As the song writer, guitarist and song vocalist, Jerry Cantrell is responsible for much of what makes Alice in Chains great. Cantrell has his share of personal tragedies. He lost his mother and grandmother when he was just 20 years old. The same story applies to the other co-founders of the band. But before we delve into their individual lives, lets first travel back in time with a brief history of the Alice in Chains band.
Background of the Alice in Chain Band.
Alice in Chains (AIC) is an American rock band from Seattle that was formed back in 1987 by guitarist-vocalist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney. Around the same year, they recruited Mike Starr (bassist) and Layne Staley (lead vocalist).
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In 1993 Starr was replaced by Mike Inez. The band’s name came from glam metal band Alice N’ Chains in which Staley was a member. The band is famously know for grunge music with heavy metal elements.
Cantrell began playing as a lead vocalist for the band in the 1992 acoustic EP Sap which later made Alice in Chain to be a two-vocal band. The band is known to have a unique vocal style, mostly consisting of harmonized vocals between Staley and Cantrell. After Staley’s death, DuVall took his place as a vocal together with Cantrell.
Alice in Chains and other Seattle bands like Nirvana, Perl Jam, and Soundgarden became globally renowned as part of the grunge movement of the early nineties. The albums Facelift (1990), Alice in Chains (1995), Dirt (1992), and EP jar of files succeeded during this era and made AIC to be the most popular band in the early through to mid-90s. There popularity even extended to the later 90s to the 2000s with their music being accepted by all generations.
While Alice in Chains was never formally dissolved in 1996, the fact that Staley was immersed in drugs which led to his death in 2002 led the band into a prolonged period of inactivity. The new release from the band is the album Black Gives Way to Blue; which was released in 2009 followed by the Devil Put Dinosaurs Here that was released in 2013. Later on in 2018, they released Reinier Fog. The band made a grand tour in 2006. During the tour, DuVall had taken the position of the lead vocalist.
AIC has been named the 15th best live band by Hit Parader. The band was ranked 34 by the VH1’s 100 Best artists of Hard Rock. During this time, Alice in Chains had over 18 top 10 Songs on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. This enabled them to get 11 Grammy Award nominations.
Since it was formed, Alice in Chains has produced 6 studio albums, 3 Eps, 3 live albums, 4 compilations, 2 DVDs, 43 music videos and 32 singles.
How it all started: The formation of Alice in Chains.
Layne Staley was the first vocalist of Alice in Chains. He received support from his stepbrother Ken Elmer. The guitarists Johny Bacolas and Zoli Semanate were other members of the at the time. They were also joined by bass player Bryon Hansen and James Bergstrom (drummer).
In the course o the rehearsal at the studio, Staley met Jerry Cantrell a party around August 1987 in Seattle. A few months before that Cantrell had been at a Staley’s concert with the band Alice N’ Chains, at the Tacoma Little Theater in his hometown and was impressed by his voice.
Alice N’ Chains soon broke up, and Staley joined a funk band. Cantrell’s band Diamond Lie broke up and he was ready to start a new band, so Staley gave him Melinda Starr’s phone number. Starr was Sean Kinney’s girlfriend. Cantrell talked to her, set up a meeting and listened to Cantrell’s demo. Cantrell said they needed a bass player at the time. Kinney called Starr who later joined them at the music bar. Now all they lacked was a singer.
The funk band that Staley was a member had a guitarist at thist time, and Staley requested Cantrell to be a sideman, provided Staley joins his band, Cantrell agreed. Since Cantrell, Star and Kinney wished Staley to be their lead singer, they auditioned bad lead singers in order to send a message.
Staley joined them and they started playing gigs immediately as a band. They played a few gigs in Pacific Northwest while calling themselves different monikers, including the band Diamond Lie, the name of the previous Band of Cantrell and the name“Fuck”. They later adopted the Staley’s previous band name Alince in Chains. Stanely talked to his former bandmates about using the name. Nick Pollock was against the idea and thought that they should look for their own name. But later on they (him and Bergstrom) agreed to let Staley use the name.
Randy promised to fund the group for demo recordings. The last demo was done in 1988 and was called The Treehouse Tapes, which was also called the Treehouse Tapes. This demo was created by the music manager Kelly Curtins and Susan Silver, who were also in charge of the band Soundgarden in Seattle. The band was nevertheless cut off during a major raid on cannabis. Curtis and Sliver handed over the demonstration to A&R representative of Columbia Records, Nick Terzo. Based on the Treehouse Tapes, Terzo singed a new three-month demonstration on Alice on Chains to Columbia in 1989.
Top 10 Best Alice in Chains Songs that will Never fade
Alice in Chains was the band that introduced me to grunge and spurred my romanticism with hard metal. These Tens songs gives me goosebumps anytime I listen to them. The nostalgia of these songs is too strong to resist thinking how good life and music was back in the 90s.
AIC was introduced the rock fans to the grunge music genre. This set the way to success for other brands like Nirvana, and Pearl Jam when their debut album Facelift made millions of US sales ahead of Nevermind and Ten’s releases.
Disabled by the unwavering allegiance to the troubled lead singer Layne Staley in the mid-90s, Alice in Chains went on a hiatus in 1996, and formally disbanded in April 2002 when the 34-year-old Staley was found dead in his Seattle home.
In 2008, with William DuVall taking on the front man role, the band was reborn and are working on the follow-up to the Devil Put Dinosaurus Here Album (2013).
Here are the 10 songs that I consider the best from the band. I can listen to them on loop for the whole day without getting bored:
1. Would? – Most emotional track by the AIC band.
The song Would? By Alice in Chains is the most emotional grunge song I have ever listened to. The emotional high point on one of the 90s biggest rock albums, the melancholic Would? It was written by Jerry Cantrell in homage to his friend Andrew Wood (Lead singer of Mother Love Bone), who died in March 1990 following a heroin overdose.
First featuring on Cameron Crowe’s Singles as the opening track on the soundtrack, the song is the best example of the beautifully harmonized vocal interplay that became an AIC hallmark between Cantrell and Staley.
2. Rooster (1992): Based on a true story
Rooster, an excellent highlight of the Dirt song, is the effort by Jerry Cantrell to make sense of his relationship with his estranged father, Jerry Cantrell Senior, referring to the psychological harm his father experienced in the Vietnam War as a soldier. Like every young person does in a situation where a parent is not around or a family is separated, I definitely had resentments.
3. Angry Chair (1992): Best song by Layne Staley
Angry Chair is one of the songs by Alice in Chains that is credited exclusively to the late Layne Staley. It portrays strongly the pain of addiction, with lyrics such as “Loneliness is not a phase of pain, is where I graze, is far away/saw my reflection and cried. The lyrics to this song are so strong and directed to those who may be addicted to drugs like Layne was.
4. Alice in Chains – Got Me Wrong (1992)
This mostly accosted Sap EP, recorded as grunge erupted globally, showed that there was more to Alice in Chains than riffs and bad attitude. It was written about the annoyance of Jerry Cantrell with a girl he was dating, after its inclusion in the 1994 cult comedy Clerks, this low key but affecting song later on became a hit single for the band.
5. AIC – Man in The Box (1991)
Man In The Box sounded like nothing else when it was first released on the radio in 1990, the first proper single lifted from the Facelift album with its distinctive talkbox guitar, down-turned riff and doomy, portentous lyrics (Jesus Christ, deny your maker), ironically, it was also the last song Alice In Chains ever performed live with Layne Staley.
6. AIC- Them Bones (1992)
Jerry Cantrell’s eerie meditation on mortality is the second single from Alice In Chains’ grim, influential second album Dirt: writing in the liner notes for the 199 Music Bank box set, the guitarist confessed “thinking that all the beautiful thigns and knowledge and experiences you’ve been through when you end up scaring me, the thought that it’s gone forever when you close your eyes for good”. This are very strong and touching lyrics from the song.
7. AIC – No Excuses (1994)
The Jar of Flies EP wasn’t conceived with an official release in mind, but rather as a way of incorportatin new bassist Mike Inez into the songwriting process, it was scripted and recorded in under a week in Sept 93, when the band holed up in Seattle’s London Bridge sudios after being evicted from their shared home.
Nevertheless, No excuses became an Alice in Chains standard, with the lyrics of Jerry Cantrell providing an insight into his sometimes strained relationship with Staley.
8. AIC – Choke (2013)
On one hand, the closing song of the hit song The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here from 2013 can be read as a requiem for a broken relationship, but the insightful lyrics of Jerry Cantrell can also be read as a deiant kiss-off to critics who have rejected the second act of AIC as less true than their original work, not least when he sings “Go then, if you don’t feel right living in our home....”
9. AIC- Black Gives Way to Blue (2009)
This is another hit song by Alice in Chains that I love so much. The eerie, bitter-sweet title track of Alice in Chains’ 2009 comeback album, was specifically written about Layne Staley, is notable for a guest appearance by Elton John, who, after receiving an email from Jerry Cantrell explaining the meaning of the song, agreed to record piano on the track. The first concert that Staley attended asa kid was, by odd coincidence, an Elton John gig.
10. Alice in Chains: We Die Young (1990)
After witnessing 9- and 10-year-old kids selling drugs in Seattle, the song that brought Alice in Chains to the world was written by guitarist Jerry Cantrell about gang abuse. We Die Young was covered by Stone Sour on their 2015 EP. Meanwhile Burbank was the title track of AIC’s debut EP, with a foot in both the hard rock and heavy metal camps.
I get goosebumps every time I listen to Layne singing. He was truly a legend, too bad his life was cut short by drugs. May the soul of Layne Staley Rest in Peace (RIP). He was the best lead vocalist the band ever had.
Which was your best song from Alice in Chains? What does it remind you of?