10 Greatest Grunge Vocalists of All Time


A black and white photo of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana is one of Audio Ink Radio’s greatest grunge vocalists of all time – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Ken Settle

Audio Ink Radio presents our list of the 10 greatest grunge vocalists of all time

One of the great tragedies of the grunge genre is how many vocalists passed away way too soon. In fact, today, only a handful of the genre’s most recognizable names are still alive and making music. The death of in 1994 Kurt Cobain was a huge shock to the world, but he wasn’t the first grunge vocalist to pass away too early. Before Cobain, Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone died in 1990 after a heroine overdose. These were all among the greatest grunge vocalists of all time.

But, tragedies aside, there was just something very charismatic about the vocalists of the grunge era. Perhaps it was the fact that most of them seemed to do music for the art of it, not the fame and flash, which was often the case with band members of the hair metal era. It was a refreshing change, and it drew in the audience.

Here’s Audio Ink Radio’s list of the 10 best grunge vocalists of all time. Get in touch with us with your picks for the best vocalists in grunge via social media.

10. Mark Lanegan – Screaming Trees

Mark Lanegan was a seminal figure in the grunge movement as the frontman of Screaming Trees. While the band didn’t reach the acclaim and popularity of some of the other bands during that era, they were a key part of the movement. Moreover, Lanegan had a powerful, wispy, unique baritone voice that made him a very distinct singer.

9. Andrew Wood – Mother Love Bone

Mother Love Bone is a band that bridged the gap between hair metal and grunge. As one of the earliest grunge bands, it’s easy to hear, and see, a strong hair metal influence in singer Andrew Wood’s flashy vocalist and larger-than-life stage presence. The sky could have been the limit for Wood, but he sadly passed away for a heroine overdose before Mother Love Bone got off the ground. Wood had a true rockstar persona and could have been one of the best.

8. Thomas Andrew Doyle – Tad

Tad vocalist Tad Doyle was one of the earliest superstars in the grunge genre. Tad were contemporaries of Nirvana and toured with the band in Europe, before “Nevermind” broke big. The band’s 1991 Sub Pop release, “8-Way Santa,” is a classic. It really showcased Doyle’s fun-loving vocals and high-energy singing. Tad didn’t quite hit the bigtime like Nirvana, largely due to some bad luck and lawsuits, but Doyle remains one of the best grunge vocalists of all time. Find Audio Ink Radio’s interview with Thomas Andrew Doyle via this location.

7. Mark Arm – Mudhoney

Mark Arm was the frontman of Mudhoney, but he actually had a much bigger role in the formation of grunge. Arm also headed up Green River, a band responsible for the creation of the “grunge” music label. Arm was a key part of the grunge scene in the 1980s and 1990s, especially during its formative days. While Mudhoney never made it to the popularity level of Nirvana or Pearl Jam, they had an important place in grunge history, as did Arm.

6. Courtney Love – Hole

Sure, the legacy of Hole vocalist Courtney Love is often wrapped up in the fact that she was the widow of Kurt Cobain. But, she was much more than that. As the leader of Hole, Love proved that girls could rock grunge music just as much as the guys. Feminism, in fact, was a key part of the grunge movement, and Hole was central to that. She was really a crucial feminist model in the 1990s music scene.

5. Scott Weiland – Stone Temple Pilots

Not all grunge came from Seattle. Stone Temple Pilots hailed from California, and boy, they got heat for it. Critics often dismissed Stone Temple Pilots as grunge wannabees. But, they were anything but wannabees, as they had their own, distinct sound. Scott Weiland was the quintessential rock frontman. He was gifted, talented and tortured, with a history of drug addiction. He’s another vocalists gone way too soon.

4. Layne Staley – Alice in Chains

Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley had the ability to make the listener truly feel what he was feeling. Often, those seemed to be dark emotions, wrapped in beautiful grunge rock music. Staley had a yearning, soulful voice that made Alice in Chains’ music really stand out. He also incorporated a little hair metal slant to the band’s music, making them a sort of gateway band into the grunge movement. While people often remember Staley for his drug problems, he should really be remembered for his artistry.

3. Chris Cornell – Soundgarden, Audioslave

People often say Chris Cornell was the greatest rock vocalists of his era. That’s not hyperbole, either. Cornell had a powerful, emotion-drenched voice that was singular and magical. With Soundgarden, he crafted epic songs such as “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman,” bringing a hint of Black Sabbath-like heavy metal to the mix. Cornell is another grunge singer who passed away too soon. I’ll never forget hearing that he died in my own town, Detroit, back in 2017. The music world deeply misses him.

2. Eddie Vedder – Pearl Jam

As the last standing frontman from the “Big Five” of the grunge genre, the music world needs to protect Eddie Vedder. Sadly, the vocalists from all the other major grunge bands passed away at an early age, leaving Vedder the sole remaining one. With Pearl Jam, Vedder combined glorious grunge music with social commentary. He also had a very unique drawl and voice that made Pearl Jam’s music instantly recognizable. He’s absolutely one of the best grunge vocalists of all time. Aside from Vedder, the only other vocalists from this list who are still alive are Love, Arm and Doyle.

1. Kurt Cobain – Nirvana

It would have been difficult to put anyone else at the top of this list. Without Kurt Cobain, it’s possible the entire grunge movement would have stayed underground, only for a niche audience. But, something about Cobain resonated with an entire generation. He, in a way, was the hero of Generation X. He brought a style and attitude to music that was totally missing in the 1980s. Cobain also had the power to captivate listeners with his dark, introspective lyrics and low-key singing style. For his undeniable influence on not only grunge but music, in general, Cobain is No. 1 on our tally of the greatest grunge vocalists of all time.

Find Audio Ink Radio’s list of grunge bands that should have been bigger here.

Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Grunge, Music, Rock