Seattle is a mecca for music lovers. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Jimi Hendrix are just a few of the names that come to mind. But the rainy city by the sea has more to offer than just crunchy guitar riffs and grunge rock. This playlist of the city has independent hip-hop, jazz and even Pulitzer Prize winners. This soundtrack is perfect for exploring the musical heritage of the city.
1. Crazy On You – Heart – 1975
Formed in 1973 by Bellevue natives Ann and Nancy Wilson, Heart wouldn’t achieve commercial success until the release of their debut album Dreamboat Annie. Originally recorded and released in Vancouver, Canada, the album featured the multi-layered sounds and intricate guitar work that the band would later find fame for.
2. Sagaba – Blue Scholars – 2004
The 2000’s were a golden age for Seattle hip-hop. Going against the grain of mainstream rap at the time, groups such as the Blue Scholars emphasized community, independence and social progressivism with unique sampling and raw, honest lyrics. Releasing their debut album in 2004, the Blue Scholars helped pave the way for future generations of Seattle hip-hop groups.
3. Bold As Love – Jimi Hendrix – Axis: Bold As Love – 1967
Few artists are as identifiable in Seattle as Jimi Hendrix. The guitar virtuoso and musical trailblazer has landmarks all over the city. There’s the statue in Capitol Hill, a bust in Garfield High School and a memorial in Greenwood Memorial Park. But perhaps the most striking memorial is in Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture that features an entire exhibit dedicated to Seattle’s guitar god.
Bold As Love features the mesmerizing guitar riffs and hair-raising solos that earned Hendrix universal acclaim as the greatest guitarist of all time.
4. Float On – Modest Mouse – 2004
With their bizarre lyrics, odd titles and avant-garde style, Modest Mouse typified the devil may care attitude of indie music of the 2000’s. Formed in nearby Issaquah in 1992, Modest Mouse would later find a national audience and mainstream success with their 2004 album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News.
5. The Story – Brandi Carlile – 2007
Hailing from rural Ravensdale just outside Seattle, singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile is one of the city’s most prolific and popular musicians. Carlile has released six albums, and garnered as many Grammy nominations as well, including for Best Album. The Story features the piercing introspection that became her songwriting hallmark over a career that’s crossed into three different decades.
6. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana – 1991
While originally from Aberdeen, Kurt Cobain’s Nirvana would come to embody Seattle and the city’s place as the epicenter of grunge rock. Their landmark album Nevermind would sell more than 30 million copies world-wide as well as cementing Cobain as the “spokesperson” of Generation X. Cobain’s tragic death would not diminish the band’s popularity or influence.
Seattle is awash in Nirvana memorials, from his last residence in Viretta Park, to Linda’s Tavern, the last place he was seen alive. Another point of interest worth visiting is the headquarters of Sub Pop, the first label to pick up Nirvana and a continuing player in alternative music.
7. Alive – Pearl Jam – 1991
Formed in 1990, Pearl Jam was an all-star of the Grunge Rock movement and one of the most popular bands of the 90’s. Their attitude epitomized Seattle’s counter-cultural movements with practices such as refusing interviews, music videos or even attempting to sue Ticketmaster over the prices of tickets to their concerts.
Seattle is full of Pearl Jam landmarks and one of the most popular is Easy Street Records. The cozy record store was one of the band’s favorites, and was even chosen as a location for one of their live albums.
8. Blue Ridge Mountains – Fleet Foxes – 2008
As indie bands and labels grew into a mainstream force in the early 2010’s, one of the most popular bands to make the transition was Seattle’s Fleet Foxes. Combining multiple vocal arrangements and harmonies with stripped down instrumentals, Fleet Foxes found widespread popularity in both the United States and Europe.
9. Winter Takes All – Common Market – 2008
Formed in 2005 by MC RA Scion and the Blue Scholar’s Saba Mohajerjasbi, the duo released two albums and toured widely. With their aggressive lyrics and subtly stylish samples, Common Market was one of independent hip-hop’s most popular groups of the late 2000’s.
10. Honeybee – The Head and the Heart – 2019
The Head and the Heart were formed in Seattle in 2009 following the train of indie-folk bands that streamed out of the city in the late 2000’s. Honeybee comes off their most recent album Living Mirage and features the unique instrumentality and complexity that underscores their music.
11. Would? – Alice in Chains – 1992
There are only a few names in Grunge bigger than Alice in Chains. While many bands of the genre didn’t survive the end of the 90’s, Alice in Chains managed to keep it going by incorporating more of metal and hard rock into their sound.
12. Soul Meets Body – Death Cab for Cutie – 2005
Technically from Bellingham, Death Cab for Cutie was one of the most popular indie bands of the 2000’s. Their combination of unique vocals and soft instrumental melodies would help them on their way to releasing nine separate studio albums.
13. Open Air – Lemolo – 2012
Local indie darling Lemolo burst to fame in the early part of the decade with appearances on KEXP and other indie radio programs. Started by Northwest native Megan Grandall in 2009, Lemolo has released three albums featuring the lushy textures, layered instrumentality and sensitive lyrics that Grandall has come to be known for.
14. The Funeral – Band of Horses – 2006
While they would later move to South Carolina, Ben Bridwell’s Band of Horses was originally formed in Seattle in 2004. The band would go on to achieve both critical and commercial fame, best encapsulated in their 2010 Grammy nominated album Infinite Arms.
15. Everlong – Foo Fighters – 1997
Formed by Dave Grohl after the death of Kurt Cobain and eventual dissolution of Nirvana in 1994, Foo Fighters rebirthed a sound reminiscent to Nirvana. Foo Fighters would sell more than twelve million records in the ensuing decades as well as win four Grammy Awards for Best Rock Album.
16. Another Shot of Whiskey – The Gits – 1992
The Gits were a prominent member of the Seattle music scene of the early 1990’s. Opening for bands like Nirvana, The Gits were known for their fiery and widely praised live performances. In Another Shot of Whiskey, the energy, enthusiasm and unique vocals of Mia Zapata are clearly evident.
Sadly, the band would dissolve after the tragic murder of Zapata in 1993. Her death would forever alter the city’s music community and tributes to her memory are dotted through the city.
17. Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden – 1994
Along with Pearl Jam and Nirvana, Soundgarden helped to create the Seattle Grunge Rock scene of the 1990’s. One of the most popular and commercially successful bands of the 90’s, Soundgarden would sell more than 25 million albums world-wide, as well as headlining countless global tours.
While in Seattle you can tour the original Seattle Soundgarden at Magnusson Park that the band used for their name.
18. Otherside – Perfume Genius – 2017
Mike Hadreas began performing music as Perfume Genius in 2008. His unique layering of sound produces ethereal textures and tones that explore his struggles with Crohn’s disease, sexual discrimination and domestic violence.
19. Can I Go On – Sleater-Kinney – 2019
While technically from Olympia, Sleater-Kinney is a staple of the Seattle indie scene. Formed by Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, Sleater-Kinney is the contemporary child of Olumpia’s riot grrrl and feminist rock scenes.
20. The Town – Macklemore – 2009
No other Seattle hip-hop group would achieve the same commercial success as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis did in 2012. Their independently released The Heist would sell over a million copies as well as winning several Grammy Awards including for Best Rap Album.
The Town features Macklemore’s earlier work. Before his mainstream success, The Town chronicles the nostalgia and love he feels for his city.
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