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Touch Me I'm Sick: 20 Classic Grunge Songs

Mike Grindle is a freelance culture writer with a love for film, music, and literature.

Fender guitars and foot pedals were key features of the grunge sound.

Fender guitars and foot pedals were key features of the grunge sound.

The Seattle Sound

Originating from the Seattle music scene of the late 1980s before taking over the airwaves in the early '90s, the grunge era was admittedly short-lived. But while it was never made with the mainstream in mind, it undeniably changed rock, alternative, and pop culture forever.

For those looking to return to the days of plaid flannel, long hair, cheap smashed guitars, and brilliant tunes, here are twenty classic grunge songs from twenty of rock's heaviest hitters.

20 Grunge Masterpieces

  1. Green River – "Swallow My Pride"
  2. Temple of the Dog – "Hunger Strike"
  3. Pearl Jam – "Go"
  4. Alice In Chains – "Would"
  5. Soundgarden – "Flower"
  6. Mother Love Bone – "Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns"
  7. Tad – "Leafy Incline"
  8. L7 – "Pretend We're Dead"
  9. Melvins – "Honeybucket"
  10. Mudhoney – "Touch Me I'm Sick"
  11. Nirvana – "Lithium"
  12. Hole – "Miss World"
  13. Screaming Trees – "Nearly Lost You"
  14. Stone Temple Pilots – "Interstate Love Song"
  15. Mad Season – "River of Deceit"
  16. Silverchair – "Israel's Son"
  17. Local H – "Bound for the Floor"
  18. Jerry Cantrell – "Bargain Basement Howard Hughes"
  19. Skin Yard – "1000 Smiling Knuckles"
  20. Dandelion – "Weird Out"

1. Green River – "Swallow My Pride"

  • Year Released: 1985
  • Album: Come On Down (EP) and Rehab Doll (1988)
  • Highest Chart Position: N/A

This early grunge favourite is a warning against unbridled patriotism and borrows heavily from Blue Öyster Cult's "This Ain't the Summer of Love."

"Even though we're headed for war
This nation's prouder than ever before
Yes, there's a spirit in the air
We're more American than anywhere"

2. Temple of the Dog – "Hunger Strike"

  • Year Released: 1991
  • Album: Temple of the Dog
  • Highest Chart Position: #4 on the US mainstream Rock chart

This track is notable for being Eddie Vedder's first featured vocal performance on record, which was the result of a moment of spontaneity during rehearsals that left Chris Cornell suitably impressed.

"I don't mind stealin' bread from the mouths of decadents
But I can't feed on the powerless when my cup's already overfilled"

3. Pearl Jam – "Go"

  • Year Released: 1993
  • Album: Vs.
  • Highest Chart Position: #3 on the US Mainstream Rock Chart, #2 on the New Zealand Chart

The blistering opener of Pearl Jam's second album certainly feels like a statement of sorts, but what the song is about has remained a mystery. Though Eddie Vedder has joked that the lyrics ("please, don't go on me") are a reference to his pickup truck.

"I swear I never took it for granted, just thought of it now
Suppose I abused you just passing it on"

4. Alice In Chains – "Would"

  • Year Released: 1992
  • Album: Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Dirt
  • Highest Chart Position: #31 on the US Mainstream Rock Chart, #19 on the UK Singles Chart

One of Alice In Chains most haunting tracks concerns the death of Mother Love Bone vocalist Andrew Wood, but was more specifically directed towards those who pass judgments on the life decisions of others.

"Know me broken by my master
Teach thee on child, love hereafter"

5. Soundgarden – "Flower"

  • Year Released: 1988
  • Album: Ultramega OK
  • Highest Chart Position: N/A

This early grunge favourite was the title track and only single from Soundgarden's debut album, Ultramega OK.

"She would do a dance; a painful masquerade
Spinning you into her web along her vain parade"

6. Mother Love Bone – "Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns"

  • Year Released: 1989
  • Album: Shine (EP), Apple (1990), and Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1992)
  • Highest Chart Position: N/A

Mother Love Bone's most acclaimed track is actually two songs sequenced together and relate to lead singer Andy Wood's relationship with his fiancée, Xana La Fuente.

"Talkin to my altar, life is what you make it
And if you make it death, well, rest your soul away"

7. Tad – "Leafy Incline"

Year Released: 1993

Album: Inhaler

Highest Chart Position: N/A

Early grunge-metal pioneers Tad never quite obtained the worldwide success of their peers, but this broody slice of alt-rock showcases their surprising penchant for producing catchy as hell tracks.

"No voice to speak about, no movement in the trees
No lovers struggle for release on the fallen autumn leaves"

8. L7 – "Pretend We're Dead"

  • Year Released: 1992
  • Album: Bricks Are Heavy
  • Highest Chart Position: #8 on the US Alternative Airplay, #21 on the UK Singles chart

By the band's accounts, producing the music video for "Pretend We're Dead" proved to be a challenging experience that saw a crane failure injure guitarist Suzi Gardner.

"Cramping styles is the plan
They've got us in the palm of every hand"

9. Melvins – "Honeybucket"

  • Year Released: 1993
  • Album: Houdini
  • Highest Chart Position: N/A

The lead single from the Melvins major label debut, Honey Bucket, has since been covered by multiple bands, including Dillenger Escape Plan in 2005 and Burn The Priest in 2018.

"Tri-Jack it, black it for more
Handcuffs with special keys
Triple locked and been down defiled
It's a V. S. I."

10. Mudhoney – "Touch Me I'm Sick"

  • Year Released: 1988
  • Album: Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles (compilation)
  • Highest Chart Position: N/A

Arguably the first true hit the Seattle scene produced, "Touch Me I'm Sick" served as the early anthem for grunge and remains an all-time classic.

"Well, I won't live long and I'm full of rot
I wanna give you girl everything I've got, c'mon!"

11. Nirvana – "Lithium"

  • Year Released: 1992
  • Album: Nevermind
  • Highest Chart Position: #11 on the UK charts, #63 on the Billboard hot 100, #1 on the Finland Singles chart

This quiet/heavy anthem is one of Nirvana's most enduring hits. And in 2021, it was chosen as the goal song for Seattle's NHL team, the Kraken, for their inaugural season.

"I'm so happy 'cause today I found my friends
They're in my head"

12. Hole – "Miss World"

  • Year Released: 1994
  • Album: Live Through This
  • Highest Chart Position: #13 on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks

The first single from Hole's second album contrasts one of the sweetest-sounding hooks you'll ever hear against lyrics that deal with substance abuse and self-image issues.

"I make my bed, I lie in it
I make my bed, I die in it
I make my bed I cry in it"

13. Screaming Trees – "Nearly Lost You"

  • Year Released: 1992
  • Album: Singles: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Sweet Oblivion
  • Highest Chart Position: #12 on the US Mainstream Rock chart

Another band that were around for grunge's beginnings but never quite broke into the mainstream. Still, this 1992 single from the Singles soundtrack—and later included on Sweet Oblivion, their sixth album—scored the band their first and only hit.

"Did you hear the distant cry calling me back to my sin?"

14. Stone Temple Pilots – "Interstate Love Song"

  • Year Released: 1994
  • Album: Purple
  • Highest Chart Position: #1 on the US mainstream rock chart

Vocalist Scott Weiland wrote the lyrics to this tune. They tell a story from the point of view of his girlfriend and refer to secrets he had been keeping from her at the time.

"Waiting on a Sunday afternoon
For what I read between the lines: your lies"

15. Mad Season – "River of Deceit"

  • Year Released: 1995
  • Album: Above
  • Highest Chart Position: #2 on the US Mainstream Rock Chart

The lyrics of this 1995 track were written by Layne Staley and inspired by a 1923 book called The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. However, the music was composed during band rehearsals before Staley joined the group.

"A head full of lies is the weight
Tied to my waist
The river of deceit pulls down"

16. Silverchair – "Israel's Son"

  • Year Released: 1995
  • Album: Frogstomp
  • Highest Chart Position: #11 on the Australian singles chart, #12 on the New Zealand singles chart

Though it didn't bother the charts quite as much as the lead single "Tomorrow," the lead track and third single from Silverchair's debut album showcased that the then-teenage rockers were far from one-hit wonders.

"Hate is what I feel for you and I want you to know that I want you dead"

17. Local H – "Bound for the Floor"

  • Year Released: 1996
  • Album: As Good as Dead
  • Highest Chart Position: #10 on the US Mainsteam Rock Chart

Local H's signature song has undoubtedly done the rounds on pop culture media. For instance, the song was featured in the 1997 film Blackrock, the 1998 film No Looking Back, and the 2006 film Big Nothing.

"And you just don't get it, you keep it copacetic
And you learn to accept it, you know you're so pathetic"

18. Jerry Cantrell – "Bargain Basement Howard Hughes"

  • Year Released: 2002
  • Album: Degradation Trip
  • Highest Chart Position: N/A

Written and recorded during a turbulent time in his life, the tracks off Jerry Cantrell's Degradation Trip are some of the moodiest of his career, which this track showcases.

"Enigma wrapped in riddle
Your life I belittle
Dignity I'd steal
Now I know how it feels"

19. Skin Yard – "1000 Smiling Knuckles"

  • Year Released: 1991
  • Album: 1000 Smiling Knuckles
  • Highest Chart Position: N/A

Soundgarden fans will likely appreciate this classic rock-influenced belter from Seattle's most underappreciated band.

"I don't really believe the power can really hide
With one thousand smiling knuckles smiling for the fight"

20. Dandelion – "Weird Out"

  • Year Released: 1995
  • Album: Dyslexicon
  • Highest Chart Position: N/A

We finish here with what is arguably the least well known group on this list. But whether you've heard of them or not, this track is certainly worth a listen if you need some more grungy tunes in your life.

"I fill the pothole in my life
Sounds strange I know, but I feel better
Fill the last bowl of the night
It's not much, I know, but it's a start"

© 2022 Mike Grindle