Soundgarden Producer Told Chris Cornell to Write Something "That Sounds Like the Beatles and Cream"

"I'm just waiting for this song to go way off the rails," storied producer Michael Beinhorn recalled of the "Black Hole Sun" demo

Photo: Josh Jensen

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Dec 20, 2023

It's always a fascinating thing to consider what it was about a band's signature song that made it such an enduring part of their legacy. For Soundgarden, that was "Black Hole Sun" — and storied producer Michael Beinhorn recently reflected on how he urged late legend Chris Cornell to get there creatively, telling him to "write a song that sounds like the Beatles and Cream."

Beinhorn, who has also produced for a few little acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Korn, Herbie Hancock and Soul Asylum, sat down with YouTube personality Rick Beato for a lengthy chat about his illustrious career, spanning four decades behind the boards. The industry vet remembered having never worked with Soundgarden before being invited to helm their fourth album, 1994's Superunknown — and, initially, he thought the band's first demos weren't up to snuff.

"I realized that we couldn't make a record out of this at all," Beinhorn told Beato [via Loudwire]. "I was like, 'You gotta be kidding me.' I had to have a conversation with them, and it wasn't a good one." The producer knew it wasn't a great first impression to make, "but I explained to them, 'Look, I really feel strongly that you need to write more songs [or] it's just not going to be the record that it could be… I realized that I was putting myself in a very dangerous position with them."

"They were just sending second-rate Soundgarden songs," he explained. "It wasn't up to par with what I felt we needed on this record. I was like, 'What are you writing the songs for?' And immediately, I got to the bottom of it. [Cornell] felt that he needed to make something familiar to Soundgarden fans. And I was like, 'Ultimately, this record is for you. This has to be your expression.'"

Beinhorn continued, "And somehow I made sense of it to him… I said, 'What do you like?' And he said, 'The Beatles and Cream.' I just said to him, 'Okay, write a song that sounds like the Beatles and Cream.'"

On this advice, the producer received four new songs from Cornell — one being the "Black Hole Sun" demo, which instantly grabbed his attention. "I was like, 'What the fuck is this?'" Beinhorn reflected, but admitted to still having his doubts: "I'm just waiting for this song to go way off the rails, because so far, what I'm hearing is one of the best songs I've ever heard in my life. This thing, it's going on and on [to] the verse, and I'm thinking, 'This is immaculate [but] he's gonna fuck the chorus so bad…'"

The producer remembered, "He hits the chorus — and it's beautiful. I'm getting these sensations in my body I've never felt before. I've listened to this song 15 times in a row, and I call [Cornell] up… and I'm like, 'You're a fucking genius! We're ready to make a record.'"

You can check out the full interview with Beinhorn below.

In other Cornell news, Pearl Jam's Mike McCready is working on a rock opera in his honour and his widow, Vicky Cornell, has reconciled with the band, with the final Soundgarden recordings set to be released at long last

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