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Black Hole Sun

"Black Hole Sun" is a song by the American rock band Soundgarden. Written by frontman Chris Cornell, the song was released in 1994 as the third single from the band's fourth studio album Superunknown (1994). It is arguably the band's most recognizable and most popular song, and remains a well known song from the 1990s. The song topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, where it spent a total of seven weeks at number one. Despite peaking at number two on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, "Black Hole Sun" finished as the number-one track of 1994 for that listing. Worldwide, the single reached the top 10 in Australia, Canada, France and Ireland.

"Black Hole Sun" was included on Soundgarden's 1997 greatest hits album A-Sides and also appeared on the 2010 compilation album Telephantasm.

Origin and recording

"Black Hole Sun" was written by frontman Chris Cornell. In 2014, Cornell explained the song's origins to Uncut Magazine:Cornell said that he wrote the song in about 15 minutes. He used a Gretsch guitar to write the song, and commented, "I wrote the song thinking the band wouldn't like it—then it became the biggest hit of the summer." Cornell came up with the song while using a Leslie speaker. Guitarist Kim Thayil said that the Leslie model 16 speaker was perfect for the song as "it's very Beatlesque and has a distinctive sound. It ended up changing the song completely." Thayil said that the song "wasn't safe as milk, but it wasn't glass in someone's eye either. It was the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Now it's the 'Dream On' of our set." The song was performed in drop D tuning. Drummer Matt Cameron called the song "a huge departure". Credit is due to Michael Beinhorn and Brendan O'Brien, producer and recording engineer, respectively.

Appearing on The Pods & Sods Network in July 2017, Beinhorn detailed the process of recording Superunknown and shared his reaction to first hearing "Black Hole Sun": "I think for the rest of my entire life, until I draw my last breath, I'll never ever forgot how I felt when they started playing that song. From the very first few notes, I felt like I'd been hit by a thunderbolt. I was just absolutely stunned. What in the world is this? I get goosebumps thinking about it now."

Lyrics

Regarding "Black Hole Sun", Cornell stated, "It's just sort of a surreal dreamscape, a weird, play-with-the-title kind of song." He also said that "lyrically it's probably the closest to me just playing with words for words' sake, of anything I've written. I guess it worked for a lot of people who heard it, but I have no idea how you'd begin to take that one literally." In another interview he elaborated further, stating, "It's funny because hits are usually sort of congruent, sort of an identifiable lyric idea, and that song pretty much had none. The chorus lyric is kind of beautiful and easy to remember. Other than that, I sure didn't have an understanding of it after I wrote it. I was just sucked in by the music and I was painting a picture with the lyrics. There was no real idea to get across." Commenting upon how the song was misinterpreted as being positive, Cornell said, "No one seems to get this, but 'Black Hole Sun' is sad. But because the melody is really pretty, everyone thinks it's almost chipper, which is ridiculous." When asked about the line, "Times are gone for honest men", Cornell said:

It's really difficult for a person to create their own life and their own freedom. It's going to become more and more difficult, and it's going to create more and more disillusioned people who become dishonest and angry and are willing to fuck the next guy to get what they want. There's so much stepping on the backs of other people in our profession. We've been so lucky that we've never had to do that. Part of it was because of our own tenacity, and part of it was because we were lucky.


Release and critical reception

"Black Hole Sun" was released in the summer of 1994 and became the most successful song from Superunknown on the American rock charts and arguably the band's most recognizable and popular song. It appeared on Billboard magazine's Hot 100 Airplay chart, reaching the top 30. The following week it debuted on the Top 40 Mainstream, where it peaked at number nine in its eighth week and remained on the chart until its 20th week. The song peaked at number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number two on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. The song spent a total of seven weeks at number one on the Mainstream Rock chart. At the 1995 Grammy Awards, "Black Hole Sun" received the award for Best Hard Rock Performance and received a nomination for Best Rock Song.

Outside the United States, the single was released in Australia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In Canada, the song reached the top ten on the Canadian Singles Chart. It remained in the top ten for three weeks and became the band's highest charted song in Canada. "Black Hole Sun" reached the UK Top 20 and was the last single from the album which charted in the UK Top 20. The song remains the band's highest charting single in the United Kingdom to date. "Black Hole Sun" debuted at number ten in Australia but quickly descended the chart, however widespread airplay and a promotional visit to Australia stimulated a resurgence of interest in Superunknown. "Black Hole Sun" would peak at number six on the Australian Singles Chart. "Black Hole Sun" reached the top 30 in Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, and was a top ten success in Australia, France, and Ireland. It topped the Icelandic Singles Chart for a week, and was a moderate top 20 success in Sweden. The single has sold over three million copies worldwide.

Greg Prato of AllMusic called the song "one of the few bright spots" of the summer of 1994 when "the world was still reeling from Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain's suicide the previous April". He said, "The song had a psychedelic edge to it (especially evident in the verse's guitar part), as the composition shifted between sedate melodicism and gargantuan guitar riffs. The lyrics were classic Chris Cornell—lines didn't exactly make sense on paper but did within the song." Jon Pareles of The New York Times said, "The Beatles' techniques—fuzz-toned low chords, legato lead-guitar hooks and lumpy Ringo Starr-style drumming...are linked to Lennon-style melody in 'Black Hole Sun'." J.D. Considine of Rolling Stone stated, "With its yearning, Lennonesque melody and watery, Harrison-style guitar, 'Black Hole Sun' is a wonderful exercise in Beatleisms; trouble is, it's not a very good song, offering more in the way of mood and atmosphere than melodic direction." Ann Powers of Blender proclaimed that "Cornell's fixation with the Beatles pays off with the hit single 'Black Hole Sun' ".

The solo for "Black Hole Sun", performed by Thayil, was ranked number 63 on Guitar Worlds list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Solos", and number 56 on Total Guitar's list of the "100 Hottest Guitar Solos". The song was included on VH1's countdown of the "100 Greatest Songs of the '90s" at number 25. It was also included on VH1's countdown of the "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs" at number 77. According to Nielsen Music's year-end report for 2019, "Black Hole Sun" was the ninth most-played song of the decade on mainstream rock radio with 125,000 spins. All of the songs in the top 10 were from the 1990s.

Music video

The surreal and apocalyptic music video for "Black Hole Sun" was directed by British video director Howard Greenhalgh, produced by Megan Hollister for Why Not Films (London, England), shot by Ivan Bartos, and features post-production work by 525 Post Production (Hollywood, California) and Soho 601 Effects (London). The video follows a suburban neighborhood and its vain inhabitants with comically exaggerated grins, which are eventually swallowed up when the Sun suddenly turns into a black hole, while the band performs the song somewhere in an open field. In the video, Cornell can be seen wearing a fork necklace given to him by Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon. In an online chat, the band stated that the video "was entirely the director's idea", and added, "Our take on it was that at that point in making videos, we just wanted to pretend to play and not look that excited about it." Thayil said that the video was one of the few Soundgarden videos the band was satisfied with.

The video was released in June 1994. After several weeks of airplay on MTV, a second version of the video was substituted containing more elaborate visual effects than the original, including the addition of a computer-generated black hole. The music video for "Black Hole Sun" became a hit on MTV and received the award for Best Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. In 1995, it received the Clio Award for Alternative Music Video. The video is available on the CD-ROM Alive in the Superunknown. As of April 2020, the music video has received more than 150 million views on YouTube.

In 1999, British alternative rock band Skunk Anansie did a homage of the video for their single "Lately". The video was also directed by Greenhalgh.

Accolades

The information regarding accolades attributed to "Black Hole Sun" is adapted in part from Acclaimed Music.

Track listing

All songs written by Chris Cornell, except where noted: Promotional CD (US) #"Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18 #"Black Hole Sun" (edit)  – 4:31

CD (Europe and Germany) #"Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18 #"Like Suicide" (acoustic)  – 6:11 #"Kickstand" (live) (Cornell, Kim Thayil)  – 1:58 #*Recorded live on August 20, 1993 at Jones Beach Amphitheater in Wantagh, New York.

CD (Europe) #"Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18 #"Jesus Christ Pose" (live) (Matt Cameron, Cornell, Ben Shepherd, Thayil)  – 7:19 #*Recorded live on August 11, 1993 at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City, South Dakota. #"My Wave" (live) (Cornell, Thayil)  – 4:34 #*Recorded live on August 20, 1993 at Jones Beach Amphitheater in Wantagh, New York. #"Spoonman" (Steve Fisk remix)  – 6:55

Box Set (UK) #"Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18 #"Beyond the Wheel" (live)  – 5:56 #*Recorded live on August 18, 1993 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Canada. #"Fell on Black Days" (live)  – 4:45 #*Recorded live on August 16, 1993 at Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan. #"Birth Ritual" (demo) (Cornell, Cameron, Thayil)  – 5:50

CD (Australia and Germany) #"Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18 #"Jesus Christ Pose" (live) (Cameron, Cornell, Shepherd, Thayil)  – 7:19 #"Beyond the Wheel" (live)  – 5:54 #*Recorded live on August 18, 1993 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Promotional CD (US) #"Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18 #"Beyond the Wheel" (live)  – 5:53 #*Recorded live on August 18, 1993 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. #"Spoonman" (Steve Fisk remix)  – 6:55

7" vinyl (UK) and cassette (UK) #"Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18 #"My Wave" (live) (Cornell, Thayil)  – 4:34 #*Recorded live on August 20, 1993 at Jones Beach Amphitheater in Wantagh, New York. #"Beyond the Wheel" (live)  – 5:54 #*Recorded live on August 18, 1993 at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Promotional 12" vinyl (France) #"Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18

Jukebox 7" vinyl (US) #"Black Hole Sun"  – 5:18 #"Spoonman"  – 4:06

Charts and certifications

Weekly charts

Year-end charts

Decade-end charts

Certifications

Cover versions

"Black Hole Sun" has been covered by numerous artists.

  • Possibly the first commercially released cover was by Japanese duo Cibo Matto whose 1995 French-language version evoked the era of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic included the song in "The Alternative Polka", a polka medley entirely made up of alternative rock songs, from the 1996 album Bad Hair Day.
  • In 1997, a cover version orchestrated and sung by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme was included on Lounge-A-Palooza, a compilation album by Hollywood Records
  • In 2002, Bob Rivers wrote a parody called "Ass Hole Son".
  • Peter Frampton covered the song on his 2006 instrumental album Fingerprints, joined on the track by Pearl Jam/Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready.
  • In 2008, a 23-minute arrangement of the song was covered by the Brad Mehldau Trio in their album Brad Mehldau Trio Live.
  • In 2011, Mateo Messina's arrangement appeared on the soundtrack to the film Young Adult.
  • The trailer and end credits for the 2014 film A Walk Among the Tombstones features a cover recorded by Swann, featuring singer Nouela.
  • The American deathcore band The Acacia Strain covered this song on the 2016 split EP The Depression Sessions.
  • Christian parody band Apologetix parodied a version of the song titled "God's Own Son" on the 2014 album, Apoplectic.
  • In 2016, Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox released a vintage-themed cover on their YouTube channel, featuring singer Haley Reinhart.
  • Also in 2016, a player piano cover version is featured in the pilot episode of the HBO's television series Westworld.
  • Five days after Cornell's death on May 18, 2017 following a Soundgarden concert at Detroit's Fox Theater, on May 23, Norah Jones performed a jazz-tinged solo version at the Fox Theater.
  • After Cornell's death, Ann Wilson also performed the song as a tribute to him on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Choir! Choir! Choir! recorded a version of the song, Ryan Adams, Cody Jinks, Metallica, Guns N' Roses and more performed the song in concert in tribute of Cornell.
  • Paul Anka included a version on his 2005 album Rock Swings.
  • Youtube musicians Dan Avidan and Super Guitar Bros recorded a version for their 2020 collaboration album

    In popular culture

    "Black Hole Sun" is a playable song in the 2007 video game Rock Band. The song is also available in the 2008 video games Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore and SingStar 90s, for the PlayStation 2. Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock features the song in its downloadable content library, and it is a playable track in the TV mode of Guitar Hero Live. Also, a section of the Nintendo DS 2008 role-playing video game Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood is titled "Black Hole Sun", a very likely reference to the song. The video is also featured in season 5 episode 1, "Held Back", of Beavis and Butt-Head, in which Butt-Head gives a succinct description of a black hole.