Who was the better musician: Layne Staley or Kurt Cobain
Layne Staley (Alice In Chains)
53.1% (34)
53.1% (34)
Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)
46.9% (30)
46.9% (30)
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Poll: Layne Staley vs. Kurt Cobain

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Since the two are - perhaps unfairly - linked as rock-and-roll martyrs, both being "grunge" (though AiC drew more on metal and Nirvana on punk):

I fully expect Cobain to win, owing to the size of his fanbase, but...

... in my opinion, Staley by far. To begin with, Staley could actually sing. Even at the height of his productive heroin addiction, in 1996, Staley was able to take part in the creation of the single best "Unplugged" album in MTV historiy, "Alice In Chains Unplugged":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dVz2D1xS-0

His rendition of "Down In A Hole" in particular is just heartwrenching, and even his fuck-up on "Sludge Factory" is endearing.

Cobain on the other hand, was a better guitarist. He was a worse lyricist and singer. I also feel that Staley was one of the few authentic voices in the 'grunge' scene. Vedder could emote, and Cornell could wail, but Staley genuinely felt the pain he sang about. And he died because of it.

I'd go Cobain. I'm a bit of a fanboy I guess (I was born on April 6th 1994, which probably started it), but I like Kurt's honesty in his lyrics, he wasn't afraid to talk about things like his childhood. I just like a lot more Nirvana songs too, I think he was a pretty damned great songwriter. Not that I don't think Staley wasn't awesome too.

Eddie Vedder on the other hand, is awful.

TheRightToArmBears:
Eddie Vedder on the other hand, is awful.

No doubt. Pearl Jam is pretty awful. It says something about your band when one of your derivatives - namely, Stone Temple Pilots - is better than you are.

But, in my view, nobody ever topped Alice In Chains. A perfect combination of absolute honesty, to the point of self-denigration, and heaviness.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwggcsUpcdY

I quite enjoy Pearl Jam. I don't think they are as good as Alice in chains but I don't think they are awful. I could never get into Nirvana, which might have been because in high school all the people I hung out with was listening to them and I just got fed up with them. My brother on the other hand loves Nirvana and dislikes Alice in chains which always makes for fun discussions when I see him and we get into discussions about music :)

I actually liked Bleach.

On the other hand I haven't really found an AiC song I like. I haven't really looked for one, but eh.

So I guess Cobain wins for me.

SmashLovesTitanQuest:
On the other hand I haven't really found an AiC song I like. I haven't really looked for one, but eh.

Therein lies your problem.

DisasterSoiree:

SmashLovesTitanQuest:
On the other hand I haven't really found an AiC song I like. I haven't really looked for one, but eh.

Therein lies your problem.

I wouldn't call it a problem. I'm doing just fine without AiC.

Pearl Jam are great. Soundgarden are great. Alice are fuckin great.

Nirvana, on the other hand, I find entirely overrated. The others out of the Seattle Four managed to each do their own unique thing within the context of 'grunge'. Soundgarden fused it with out-there time signatures. Alice fused it with metal. Pearl Jam fused it with classic rock. All of them had a sound that was distinctly theirs. Nirvana, on the other hand, I've always felt sounded like a Pixies tribute band. And I was never a fan of the Pixies to begin with.

So yeah... Layne Staley by far. He had a far more powerful voice with more range and control than Cobain ever managed (and in my opinion, Staley's voice outdid Vedder and Cornell as well). And his lyrics actually meant something. Cobain just strung together random sentences, and threw in vague references to various points in his life. Staley actually took all the pain and suffering drugs inflicted on his life, and threw them into his lyrics with complete honesty and emotion.

Just listen to the control Staley shows over his voice in this one song:

The vibrato during the main verse is insane. His voice is wobbling up and down with perfect precision, in a way most classical singers would struggle to match. And if that's not enough, his vocal range means he hits some ridiculous octaves during the chorus, all while bellowing at a volume that would shred the vocal chords of lesser singers. Or listen to the vocal harmonies during Down In A Hole- he keeps hitting notes with utter precision that would make Cobain break down and weep.

That's the other thing about Staley: his vocal work with Jerry Cantrell in Alice produced some of the most celebrated vocal harmonies of any rock band ever. One guitar magazine article (Guitarist magazine, I believe) went on record as saying they had the most perfect harmonies since Lennon and McCartney. And they're not wrong.

Chris Cornell probably had the largest vocal range of any of the Seattle Four, but none of them had the same sense of power, emotion and technical control that Staley exhibited in his vocals.

SmashLovesTitanQuest:

DisasterSoiree:

SmashLovesTitanQuest:
On the other hand I haven't really found an AiC song I like. I haven't really looked for one, but eh.

Therein lies your problem.

I wouldn't call it a problem. I'm doing just fine without AiC.

But not without Layne Staley.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aV4tnB2ZPQ

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

You absolutely nailed it. I'm not all that much a fan of technically precise vocals - you inevitably lose some of the feeling when you aim for cold, clinical precision - but Staley's was the best of both worlds: technical excellence while remaining fully emotive and relatable.

I in no way feel comfortable calling someone a better musician. I grew up with Nirvana and related to his music and loved his voice. I personally like Cobain better, music is all about personal preference.

I don't mind Alice in Chains, but I never really got into them majorly. I never found them as grungey.

Rose and Thorn:
I in no way feel comfortable calling someone a better musician. I grew up with Nirvana and related to his music and loved his voice. I personally like Cobain better, music is all about personal preference.

Bleh. There's more to it than that. Music is a technical artform, and therefore you can judge it to an extent based on the quality of components that make up any song or piece. Things like technique, melody, chord structures... these are all things that can be analysed in a musical fashion.

For instance, from a technical perspective, Staley had a better voice than Cobain. He had a broader vocal range (his voice could cover more octaves), he had more control over it (he was able to use vocal techniques like vibrato effortlessly), and he was simply able to project his voice better. Whether you prefer Cobain over Staley is irrelevant. From a technical standpoint, Staley had the voice with more range and technique.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

Nirvana, on the other hand, I find entirely overrated. The others out of the Seattle Four managed to each do their own unique thing within the context of 'grunge'. Soundgarden fused it with out-there time signatures. Alice fused it with metal. Pearl Jam fused it with classic rock. All of them had a sound that was distinctly theirs. Nirvana, on the other hand, I've always felt sounded like a Pixies tribute band. And I was never a fan of the Pixies to begin with.

I'm not sure I agree with you there. I'm a big Pixies and Nirvana fan, I'd say Nirvana have a much more punk-influenced sound than the Pixies. There's definitely a bit more Melvins-ey sludgeyness in there as well, which is always a good thing.

I'm going to go ahead and say Eddie Vedder, because I don't care for Cobain or Nirvana and I've not listened to Alice in Chains. I have a feeling that a grunge verses thread such as this is definitely going to end in a flame war.

TheRightToArmBears:

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

Nirvana, on the other hand, I find entirely overrated. The others out of the Seattle Four managed to each do their own unique thing within the context of 'grunge'. Soundgarden fused it with out-there time signatures. Alice fused it with metal. Pearl Jam fused it with classic rock. All of them had a sound that was distinctly theirs. Nirvana, on the other hand, I've always felt sounded like a Pixies tribute band. And I was never a fan of the Pixies to begin with.

I'm not sure I agree with you there. I'm a big Pixies and Nirvana fan, I'd say Nirvana have a much more punk-influenced sound than the Pixies. There's definitely a bit more Melvins-ey sludgeyness in there as well, which is always a good thing.

But The Pixies themselves were hugely influenced by Punk music. Frank Black says that Iggy Pop was one of his big influences, and Joey Santiago says the same for Black Flag.

I think The Pixies were certainly a little more upbeat, but I'd still say that Nirvana's musical dynamic was pretty similar. Downbeat verses, punky choruses with snarled vocals and thrashy guitars.

Cobain for me. Staley was the better vocalist but Cobain was a better musician, song-writer and lyricist. This isn't to say Staley was terrible but, in AiC, you have to remember that Cantrel was also a big part of the song-writing process while Nirvana was very much Cobain's band.

For me the best AiC songs are among some of my favourite of all-time but they also had quite a few hokey and ham-handed songs as well. Nirvana didn't hit the same heights as them, in my view, but didn't come anywhere near their lows. So that also gives Cobain the edge.

Interesting to see someone boldly state AiC unplugged is the best unplugged from the 90s - I happen to agree but I just don't hear it very often.

Chris Cornell, cmon the guy looks like Jesus, and he pretty much sings like the son of god.

Hipster Choice: Andrew Woods from the reflectively obscure Grunge and Glam Rock crossover band Mother Love Bone. Such a brilliant singer. It's a shame that he died so young too.

I always found out the more obscurer Grunge was much better than Cobain and his crew.

I kinda grew out of the AIC phase (I was suffering from a huge depression a couple of years back), but i still think Jar of Flies is possibly the best EP ever made.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

Rose and Thorn:
I in no way feel comfortable calling someone a better musician. I grew up with Nirvana and related to his music and loved his voice. I personally like Cobain better, music is all about personal preference.

Bleh. There's more to it than that. Music is a technical artform, and therefore you can judge it to an extent based on the quality of components that make up any song or piece. Things like technique, melody, chord structures... these are all things that can be analysed in a musical fashion.

For instance, from a technical perspective, Staley had a better voice than Cobain. He had a broader vocal range (his voice could cover more octaves), he had more control over it (he was able to use vocal techniques like vibrato effortlessly), and he was simply able to project his voice better. Whether you prefer Cobain over Staley is irrelevant. From a technical standpoint, Staley had the voice with more range and technique.

In terms of chord structure and melody, there's nothing in it... not that Staley could claim full credit for that shiz in the AiC songs anyway. It's basic stuff on both sides.

If you want to compare voices and claim that's why Staley is better, you should consider the vocal range that Mariah Carey(opera singers even more so) has. I'm guessing you don't rate her despite it. Which opens the door to the idea that the intangibles of a musician are very-very important, and very open to personal interpretation.

I choose Cobain, but I would be wary about saying he's "better". To my mind, he wrote better stuff, and his lyrics never made me cringe.

For the record. Everybody is wrong. Dexter Romweber is the most rockingest mofo to ever walk the walk.

Sexual Harassment Panda:

In terms of chord structure and melody, there's nothing in it... not that Staley could claim full credit for that shiz in the AiC songs anyway. It's basic stuff on both sides.

I think you need to give Alice a little credit here. While none of their songs are exactly Dream Theater, they have some surprisingly intricate songs.

Them Bones, for instance, a song based around a quite fiendish riff in 7/4.

As well as that, the vocal harmonies between Staley and Cantrell were always done with an incredible sense of musicianship. They didn't just harmonise all the lead vocals by a fifth, they actually varied the harmonisations based on the context of the songs.

I

f you want to compare voices and claim that's why Staley is better, you should consider the vocal range that Mariah Carey(opera singers even more so) has. I'm guessing you don't rate her despite it. Which opens the door to the idea that the intangibles of a musician are very-very important, and very open to personal interpretation.

Actually, I've got a lot of respect for Mariah Carey. I can't stand her music, but I cannot fault her ability at all. She has got a truly outstanding vocal range, so purely on ability, I do rate her quite highly. Doesn't mean I have to like her, but I can certainly respect her...

And I have to be honest... a lot of the time when people talk about the 'intangibles' of music, in my experience, they're talking about stuff they're projecting onto the music. Music is not some out-there intangible thing. It's a thing we created. We took soundwaves, attributed mathematical principles to them, and voila, we got the 12 interval chromatic scale. Having jammed with a lot of musicians in my time, the ones who talk the most about the 'intangibility' of music are generally the ones who know least about it, and tend to be the ones who are no fun to jam with at all.

That's just my philosophy though. It don't think it hurts the beauty of music one iota to recognise that it is a tangible, man-made thing based on mathematic and theoretical principles. If anything, I think it makes it even more beautiful. I listen to the way artists and bands as diverse as Mozart, Miles Davis, Yes, Pink Floyd and AiC have taken the 12 interval chromatic scale and done so many wonderful things with it, and I think to myself "That's something we created as a species." Music is an entirely human invention, and the fact that it is able to offer so much beauty and emotion reflects only the best things about human ingenuity and craft.

Both are great, IMO, but Staley wins this bout.

Cobain was awesome, no doubt; but Staley was a fuckin' poet on the mic. Not to mention the immense power he had when he sang. Just unreal.

RIP both Layne and Kurt. And for that matter, all musicians who died young.

There's one thing everyone is forgetting something important... Alice N' Chainz...<.<

image

Honestly though... as inconsistant Kurt's vocal performances were, I just found his lyrics more relatable, his penchant for simple pop melodies a lot more inviting, despite the screaming snarling vocals, and all of the imperfections in his voice just gave him more character and sincerity, in my opinion... The fact that he's singing like he has no idea how to sing just grounds him a lot more... <.<

Though, honestly I like both bands and both singers... being a grunge fan... but I've always loved Kurt's voice... even though Nivana aren;t my favorite band, just the way it builds from this wimpy crackling whisper into a gravely barely understandable scream... always powerful...<.<

Besides it doesn;t really matter anyway, because no one compares to Lou Barlow...

Oh, Lou Barlow... I'm glad you finally learned how to sing... xD

Though, can;t exactly say the same for J...<.<

Layne Staley, without a doubt. I love Kurt and Nirvana, but this has been one of my favorite songs ever since I was a small child.

And for good reason. Jerry and Layne's harmonies give me chills.

Layne Staley any day of the week.

Really depends on what sort of a mood I'm in.

I was lucky to see them both perform live (no pun intended). Both were smacked out of their brains, but Staley's voice suffered for it, particularly during Rooster. Cobain on the other hand put in a good vocal performance. The guy barely moved an inch the entire gig, but at least his voice held up.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:

Sexual Harassment Panda:

In terms of chord structure and melody, there's nothing in it... not that Staley could claim full credit for that shiz in the AiC songs anyway. It's basic stuff on both sides.

I think you need to give Alice a little credit here. While none of their songs are exactly Dream Theater, they have some surprisingly intricate songs.

Them Bones, for instance, a song based around a quite fiendish riff in 7/4.

As well as that, the vocal harmonies between Staley and Cantrell were always done with an incredible sense of musicianship. They didn't just harmonise all the lead vocals by a fifth, they actually varied the harmonisations based on the context of the songs.

I

f you want to compare voices and claim that's why Staley is better, you should consider the vocal range that Mariah Carey(opera singers even more so) has. I'm guessing you don't rate her despite it. Which opens the door to the idea that the intangibles of a musician are very-very important, and very open to personal interpretation.

Actually, I've got a lot of respect for Mariah Carey. I can't stand her music, but I cannot fault her ability at all. She has got a truly outstanding vocal range, so purely on ability, I do rate her quite highly. Doesn't mean I have to like her, but I can certainly respect her...

And I have to be honest... a lot of the time when people talk about the 'intangibles' of music, in my experience, they're talking about stuff they're projecting onto the music. Music is not some out-there intangible thing. It's a thing we created. We took soundwaves, attributed mathematical principles to them, and voila, we got the 12 interval chromatic scale. Having jammed with a lot of musicians in my time, the ones who talk the most about the 'intangibility' of music are generally the ones who know least about it, and tend to be the ones who are no fun to jam with at all.

That's just my philosophy though. It don't think it hurts the beauty of music one iota to recognise that it is a tangible, man-made thing based on mathematic and theoretical principles. If anything, I think it makes it even more beautiful. I listen to the way artists and bands as diverse as Mozart, Miles Davis, Yes, Pink Floyd and AiC have taken the 12 interval chromatic scale and done so many wonderful things with it, and I think to myself "That's something we created as a species." Music is an entirely human invention, and the fact that it is able to offer so much beauty and emotion reflects only the best things about human ingenuity and craft.

Ok.

I'm really thinking "intangible" - ▸ adjective: hard to pin down or identify ("An intangible feeling of impending disaster"). I don't at all think it's weird or magical, just that it's hard to explain why some things are so damn good.

You don't need to sell AiC to me, I give them full credit for being awesome... I just don't in turn give Layne full credit for that awesomeness. Kurt was known to be chief architect of Nirvana's output, I'm certain I've seen him be pouty about that in an interview at some point.

You playing with anyone these days?

Good to see this thread is still going.

I notice a few people wanting Cornell to be considered. Personally Soundgarden was (and still is) my favorite of the grunge bands. I loved Cornell on the albums but always found him inconsistent with his vocals in a live setting - sometimes he nails the songs but usually he drops an octave and doesn't sound as dynamic as on the albums (which makes sense considering a touring schedule can play havoc with vocal cords). I've seen him solo, with Soundgarden and with Audioslave so I've heard him live quite a bit.

I actually never saw either Nirvana or AiC live so I am wondering what people thought of them (please weigh in if you have actually seen them or have information from someone who has been; not the "friend of a friend of a colleague" sort of thing).

Considering I have an undying hatred for Cobain and what he has done to todays modern rock music, I'll go with the guy I have never even heard before until now.

A lot of that 'pain' can be attributed to Heroin use. Still Layne takes my vote.

(Nice Stirner avatar OP)

Imthatguy:
A lot of that 'pain' can be attributed to Heroin use. Still Layne takes my vote.

(Nice Stirner avatar OP)

Thankee, thankee. :-)

Nevermind is probably one of my favorite albums of all time. Id go Cobain for songwriting. When you are in that kind of band, I dont really think being the best singer really matters all that much. I enjoyed the songwriting of Cobain over the singing of Staley.

Also, to note, Nirvana didnt have a dedicated singer anyways.

Jazoni89:
Chris Cornell, cmon the guy looks like Jesus, and he pretty much sings like the son of god.

Hipster Choice: Andrew Woods from the reflectively obscure Grunge and Glam Rock crossover band Mother Love Bone. Such a brilliant singer. It's a shame that he died so young too.

I always found out the more obscurer Grunge was much better than Cobain and his crew.

I kinda grew out of the AIC phase (I was suffering from a huge depression a couple of years back), but i still think Jar of Flies is possibly the best EP ever made.

You do know that Pearl Jam IS Mother Love Bone but with a different lead singer (since he died of course)?
You probably already did, but unknown thru your post :)

Rose and Thorn:
I in no way feel comfortable calling someone a better musician. I grew up with Nirvana and related to his music and loved his voice. I personally like Cobain better, music is all about personal preference.

I don't mind Alice in Chains, but I never really got into them majorly. I never found them as grungey.

A lot of their stuff is very similar, it's just with Alice in Chains you need to put them through a bigger filter since some of there stuff sucks. Don't get me wrong I love Cobain before the... shotgun, but they are just as grungey, in fact some songs like "Your Decision" is indistinguishable from Nirvana's I find (although not done by Staley), in fact sometimes I hear a really good song and I don't know it's Alice in Chains until I look it up.

Although Kurt could sing other peoples songs and make them better something I haven't heard Staley do so I have to give it to Cobain.

Nirvana is better if you ask me, but Cobain deserves no honours for anything. Dude killed himself while he had a child. If you have kids, taking your own life is quite simply no longer an option, and the guy's a selfish asshole that he did anyway.

well hes a thread by someone trying to maintain his opinion is right over others.

I only like a couple AiC songs, so nirvana wins for me.
I thought Ten was a brilliant album, just because you don't like a band doesn't mean they suck.

Blablahb:
Nirvana is better if you ask me, but Cobain deserves no honours for anything. Dude killed himself while he had a child. If you have kids, taking your own life is quite simply no longer an option, and the guy's a selfish asshole that he did anyway.

Give the guy some slack if I was married to Courtney Love I'd want to kill myself to, that is of course assuming that "She" didn't do it.

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