Singles – Capturing a Cultural Movement on Film

How Cameron Crowe's film about the grunge generation in Seattle captured one of the biggest cultural movements of the 90s. 

There have been music documentaries over the years that have helped us understand what was going on at a specific time. For example, Woodstock showed us what is what like to witness the performances while also highlighting a cultural movement.

When director Cameron Crowe was filming his second feature, Singles, the grunge movement had yet to officially take off. By the time the film was released, however, grunge was everywhere.

What Crowe didn’t know at the time was that his film and its soundtrack would become a perfect snapshot of a generation, their music, and the city they came from. In fact, the film sat on a shelf for a year before being released to capitalize on the grunge phenomenon.

Cameron Crowe has always been one of those directors who uses music in a special way for his movies. He started his career writing for Rolling Stone as a teenager. One of his later films, Almost Famous, was his autobiographical account of that time in his life.

Originally set in Phoenix, Arizona, Crowe chose Seattle because of its burgeoning music scene, the growing Gen X culture in the city, as well as the recent death of Settle icon, Andy Woods (Mother Love Bone).

Starring Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, Kyra Sedgwick, and Campbell Scott, Singles centers on the love lives of a group of people all connected through the apartment complex they live in.

While the film definitely captures the culture in Seattle at the time (and the wardrobe is a time capsule in itself), where the film really makes waves is the music and the bands involved.

Crowe used the music of the bands rising up the ranks in the city. The entire soundtrack, aside from the Smashing Pumpkins' Drown and Paul Westerberg’s two tracks, is all Seattle.

Crowe even gave a nod to the city’s rich musical history, including a track from Seattle native Jimi Hendrix. As the characters of the film went to clubs, there would be Alice in Chains on stage performing. In another club scene, it’s Soundgarden.

Matt Dillon’s character Cliff Poncier was himself the singer in a fictitious band, Citizen Dick, whose single Touch Me I’m Dick has taken on a life of its own over the years. It even got a 7-inch release on Record Store Day last year. 

Cliff’s bandmates were played by Pearl Jam in the film for a fun little moment. Further along, Chris Cornell pops up in the film for another funny moment. With the dedication of the bands taking the film to another level, Singles featured the legitimacy it needed to truly be a Seattle grunge movie.

Cliff’s one speech in the film really captures the feeling of the bands coming out of Seattle and their need to create important music like their heroes of the 70s. After all, grunge was built off of bands tired of the 80s hair metal and synth pop that dominated the airwaves for years.

I first saw Singles when I was 15 and I saw it because I heard the soundtrack and wanted to see a movie set in the world of the music I’d fallen in love with over the last year.

At the time, I never realized I was watching anything more than a romantic comedy with a soundtrack of my favorite bands. Years later, I came to realize that Cameron Crowe caught something special and gave us a perfect look at the city and the music that came from it.

You get a sense of Crowe’s love for the Seattle grunge scene, and I’m sure to be among the generation at the time watching these bands grow and change music forever was something special.

The soundtrack has amazing tracks and just received a 25th anniversary deluxe edition that includes the original soundtrack and a ton of extras which include some never before heard tracks by Chris Cornell including an early version of Spoonman.

From the opening track of Alice in Chains’ Would to Chris Cornell’s masterpiece, Seasons, the soundtrack really captures the Seattle music scene. 

The two Pearl Jam tracks on the album, Breath and State of Love and Trust, are two of the best and most beloved songs they’ve ever recorded, and they were never featured on anything other than the Singles soundtrack.

Crowe also included the Mother Love Bone classic that inspired him to set the movie in Seattle, Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns. The film itself spawned more Gen X films within the next few years like Reality Bites and Empire Records, but none compared or captured the feeling Singles did.

Cameron Crowe truly captured the Seattle scene of the early 90s as it was happening. Pearl Jam just became a band when filming began and the world had yet to hear Nevermind. By the time the soundtrack came out three months prior to the film’s release, the Seattle music scene was everywhere.

Photo Credit: Warner Brothers/Epic Records

Singles is a must-see film for anyone who is a fan of the grunge era and the soundtrack is a must own. Check out the new deluxe edition for all the great treats that have been locked away for 25 years.

I believe Singles—the film and the soundtrack—will continue to grow with time as people look back on one of the most important moments in music history and the city that started it all. For more by the bands and the people that were there reflecting back, check out this great video.

For more Seattle greatness, relive Nirvana's Nevermind over 25 years later. When Chris Cornell who was a big part of the Singles soundtrack, passed away, he left a giant void for music fans all over the world. Let’s celebrate his career and life.