“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 Modern Rock Tracks, “Black Hole Sun” still finished as the number-one track of 1994 for that chart. It failed to hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart due to the rules of a physical/commercial release of the single at the time, but it still peaked at number 24 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart and number nine on the Mainstream Top 40 chart. The song was included on Soundgarden’s 1997 greatest hits album A-Sides and appeared again on the 2010 compilation album Telephantasm.
“Black Hole Sun” was written by frontman Chris Cornell. 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 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, Michael Beinhorn detailed the process of recording Soundgarden’s 1994 album Superunknown. And he shares his reaction to first hearing Black Hole Sun during that time, “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.”
The surreal and apocalyptic music video for “Black Hole Sun” was directed by 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. By early 2018, it has gotten over 115 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.
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