#TBT: Soundgarden takes dark turn on “Pretty Noose”

In 1996, Soundgarden would release Down On the Upside, their fifth and final album together before they would go on a long hiatus before reuniting in 2010. As grunge moved past its peak, Soundgarden was one of the last bands from the movement to linger. For this edition of #throwbackthursday, I am taking a look back at the lead single from that record, “Pretty Noose”, which dropped 21 years ago this month.

As someone who was born into 1988, I was heavy into the grunge movement largely because I grew up with two older brothers. We all shared one bedroom for many of my younger years, my brothers in bunk beds and myself in a bed that pulled out from underneath. Whatever they listened to or watched on TV, I listened to.

Soundgarden’s Superunknown was one album that I heard on repeat a ton growing up. Soundgarden was one of my favorites, and Chris Cornell easily one of my favorite singers. The anticipation for Down on the Upside was high and “Pretty Noose” was the first taste from the new record.

I remember thinking as a seven-year-old that the opening guitar riff was pretty iconic. The song itself is about a bad girlfriend experience, and the original video was actually pulled before ever airing on MTV due to its controversial nature. In the original video, a woman is dead at the hands of Cornell. You can watch the original video below:

The director of the video, Frank Kozik, recalled the video being pulled shortly after debuting on MTV in May 1996, per an unofficial Soundgarden fan page:

“OK, here’s the inside scoop on the new SG video – We shot it in Seattle over 3 days and went through editing hell in Chicago for 3 weeks. Looks pretty good. It’s going to world premiere on MTV Monday, and is supposed to go into “heavy crush rotation” thereafter. Whatever the fuck that means. ONE LAME THING THOUGH – The dipshits at MTV (Their resident Child Psychologist) decided that the original ending was too heavy (Chris kills the woman) so they are releasing an edited version. The real version exists, and its better, so put the word out and bug A&M records to make it available. Please spread the word to all interested parties, cause they got a dead girl in that lame Stabbing Westward video, so I don’t understand their problem.”

In 2017, it wouldn’t be considered that progressive to pull a video with that kind of content, but in 1996 it was a different story.

Weeks after the alternate “Pretty Noose” video would debut, Soundgarden were the live musical guests on Saturday Night Live. They reportedly agreed to perform because Jim Carrey was hosting and they were big fans. I totally remember watching this episode late at night with my brothers with Carrey portraying a friend of the Night at the Roxbury dudes immediately prior to Soundgarden performing.

Down on the Upside was a darker turn lyrically for the band, which says something given songs like “Black Hole Sun” and “Fell On Black Days” were on Superunknown. It performed pretty well commercially, and “Pretty Noose” even earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rock Performance (losing to Smashing Pumpkins’ “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”). The band would shock the world when they agreed to mutually part ways in April 1997, less than a year following the release of Down on the Upside. Cornell would pursue his solo career before forming supergroup Audioslave with members of Rage Against the Machine.

Soundgarden would reform in 2010 and I finally got a chance to see them — my first show at the Hollywood Bowl in 2014, opening for Nine Inch Nails. They played exactly zero songs from Down on the Upside.