Top 10 Alice in Chains Songs

Rainy day feelings from Layne Staley's soul

It’s been 20 years since grunge demigods Alice in Chains released their final studio album with original singer Layne Staley. His 2002 death due to a toxic mix of drugs reshuffled the Seattle band, inviting vocalist/guitarist William DuVall to replace him. The constant has been Jerry Cantrell’s churning, head-banging riffs, longtime bassist Mike Inez’s crocodilian lines and drummer Sean Kinney’s Richter-Scale pounding. Here are the top 10 Alice in Chains songs.

Staind almost certainly nabbed their big number, “It’s Been Awhile,” from this Dirt track. Cantrell goes medieval on his instrument, giving this dirge an Arthurian bent. The song is about Cantrell’s frustration over trying to maintain a healthy relationship while going full speed ahead with his rock career, according to the liners of the Music Bank box set.

Staley sounds like a man possessed on this Dirt deep take. Cantrell’s guitar and Inez’s bass chase him through a labyrinth of depravation as he cries, “What in God’s name have you done?” He follows with “Stick your arm for some real fun,” commenting on the duality of danger and delight that came with his heroin use. This is also the song from whence Sully Erna’s hard rock group came.

Cantrell breaks free of the chains of grunge and gets swampy on his lead for this 1996 single. His syrupy bends would feature heavily on his 1998 solo album, Boggy Depot. In the meantime, “Heaven Beside You” continues Alice in Chains’ use of mired imagery and false hope. It’s about the same unfaithfulness he exhibited in “Down in a Hole.” Kinney’s drums snap as though they are Cantrell’s conscience smacking him upside the head for his infidelity.

“Hope, a new beginning/Time, time to start living,” the band uncharacteristically proclaims in this 2009 temblor. Perhaps it’s the fresh energy that DuVall provides (though Cantrell does lead vocals here) on Black Gives Way to Blue, Alice in Chains’ first album without Staley. If AIC’s works are heavenly bodies, their past material would be lesser planets. “All Secrets Known,” with its loudness pushing the threshold, is the mighty Jupiter, looming over all.

Would it shock you to learn that this follow-up radio single to “Heaven Beside You” was about a breakup? Cantrell milks his doomed relationship again here, but over lamenting acoustic guitars. The song’s intro bugle plays the traditional taps, a solemn goodbye to the romance that once kept the musician going. Its live-recording feeling adds to the loneliness.

Kinney showcases his versatility on this Jar of Flies number. His rolls are jazzy, his deep percussion mournful. The dejected yet relaxed timbre of “No Excuses” is a precedent to latter-day grunge hits like Silverchair’s “Abuse Me.” “No Excuses,” which addresses the occasional uneasiness between Cantrell and Staley, is one of Alice in Chains’ most massive singles. It was their only track to infiltrate Billboard’s top 50 airplay charts and their first number one Mainstream Rock track.

This might be the grungiest grunge song ever penned— it’s an ode to Andrew Wood, the fallen front man of Mother Love Bone, scene pioneers that spawned Pearl Jam. The windy tribute appears in Cameron Crowe’s love letter to Seattle, 1992’s , in which AIC make a cameo. It’s a cautionary ghost story about the tolls of heroin abuse, which ravaged the community throughout the 1990s.

Cantrell’s lowly acoustic sounds ready to crumble in this ballad. Kinney delicately brushes his snare as Inez takes his bass for a trudge. “I fight this battle all alone,” Staley croons, a reflection of his melancholy life. No amount of narcotics, fame or women could stave his demons. “Nutshell” summarizes Generation X’s restlessness in four harrowing minutes.

Alice take a trip into Wonderland on this Sap track. Tambourines, sitar-like notes and languid vocals lead listeners down the rabbit hole of longing. It tackles divorce and broken households in the lyrics, coming straight from Cantrell’s childhood. Ann Wilson of Heart mewls alongside him and Staley in the choruses.

Nothing beats the Boss riffing on this Facelift megalith. You can perfect your Cantrell impression thanks to the pedal company’s feature on his “Man in the Box” gear. Even if you’re not an ax man, you can appreciate Staley’s passionate screams to “Je-ye-ye-ye-sus Chri-ist.” This is a soul that’s about to break apart. Sadly, our top pick of Alice in Chains songs is an oracle into the tragic lives of Staley and former bassist Mike Starr, who succumbed to an overdose of prescription pills in 2011.

Listen to our list on Spotify

You can listen to our Top 10 Alice in Chains songs on our curated Spotify playlist.