Song Review by

Soundgarden were picked by many as the Seattle group that was going to open the floodgates for other similarly styled bands during the early 1990’s. But this proved not to be the case, as both Nirvana and Pearl Jam beat them to the punch. Soundgarden’s 1991 release, Badmotorfinger, did the job of introducing the band to a much wider audience (as it crept past gold certification in the U.S.), but the group needed that one special song to take them to the next level. That song turned out to be “Spoonman.” Although it was issued in 1994, the track has a history that stretches a few years beforehand. While Cameron Crowe was filming the 1991 Seattle-based movie, Singles, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament made up a list of song titles for the fictional band in the movie, Citizen Dick, one of which was “Spoonman.” The song title came from the name of a Seattle street performer, ‘Artis the Spoonman,’ who would bang out complex patterns using spoons and other metallic objects rather than conventional percussion. When Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell spotted the list of song titles, he went ahead and penned real songs to fit each title (who along with Ament, had a brief role in Singles). Originally acoustically based, a clip of the early Cornell version actually made a fleeting appearance in the film as background music, but when the other members of Soundgarden heard the song, they convinced Cornell to recycle it for the group’s upcoming studio album. Soundgarden used a summer long tour opening for Neil Young during 1993 to fine tune the song (playing it almost nightly) – working up a full band version that the group recorded with producer Michael Beinhorn. Early 1994 saw a huge buzz building around the forthcoming Soundgarden album (now titled Superunknown), which led to the group’s record company, A&M, issue the single for “Spoonman” almost a full month prior to the release of the full length album. Accompanying the single was a striking video that only featured the group’s band members in black and white photographs, while the song’s inspiration, Artis, performed throughout – becoming arguably Soundgarden’s most popular video/single up to this point (but would be eclipsed soon after by “Black Hole Sun”). Based on a meaty and shifting guitar riff, the song also features a ‘break down’ section in the middle, which features Artis banging out clanking rhythms – resulting to a few comparisons in the press at the time to a similarly styled classic rock standard from the ‘60s, The Who’s “Magic Bus.”

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
No Image 1994
Superunknown 1994 A&M / Interscope 4:06
No Image 1994
Various Artists
No Image 1995 Tribute
A-Sides 1997 A&M 4:08
Pure Rock [Universal] 2009
Various Artists
Universal Music Group 4:05
Telephantasm 2010 A&M / Geffen 4:08
The Classic Album Selection 2012 Geffen / Universal Music 4:23
100 Hits: Driving Rock [2013] 2013
Various Artists
Ultimate Collection / Union Square Music 4:08
Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path 2014 A&M / Polydor 6:58
Beyond This Mortal Coil: A Live Tribute to Chris Cornell 2017 Goldfish / Golf 3:54
Pure Rock, Pt. 3
Various Artists
Universal 4:06
The Best of Musical Idea
Various Artists
Universal 4:10