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"Spoonman" is a song by the American alternative rock band Soundgarden. Written by frontman Chris Cornell, "Spoonman" was released on February 15, 1994 as the first single from the band's fourth studio album, Superunknown (1994). "Spoonman" is often credited as one of the songs that launched Soundgarden's career into the mainstream. The song peaked at number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. A remixed version of the song by Steve Fisk appears on the "Black Hole Sun" and "My Wave" singles. The song was included on Soundgarden's 1997 greatest hits album, A-Sides.

Origin and recording

"Spoonman" was originally written for the soundtrack to the 1992 film, Singles. At this time, Soundgarden, along with fellow grunge band Pearl Jam, was working on the soundtrack for the film. Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament had been put in charge of creating the name for a fictional band that would appear in the film. Before finally choosing The Hope Of Summer for its name, Ament had compiled a list of potential names which included the name "Spoonman". The name was inspired by Artis the Spoonman, a street performer from Santa Cruzmarker, Californiamarker and later Seattlemarker, Washingtonmarker, who plays music with a set of spoons. Soundgarden vocalist and songwriter Chris Cornell eventually used the names on the list to create songs for the film. "Spoonman" was among these, and an acoustic version was created from it. This early version of the song can be heard in the background during a scene of the film.

Rather than just leave the song on the film's soundtrack, Soundgarden began working on an electric version of "Spoonman". The song's inspiration, Artis the Spoonman, played a prominent role in the song itself. The final version of the song featured Artis the Spoonman playing his spoons as part of the song's instrumental. Drummer Matt Cameron also plays pots and pans on the song. Bassist Ben Shepherd performs backing vocals on the song.


"Spoonman" was performed in drop D tuning. The main riff used in the verse has 14 beats, which is unusual because most songs are written in 4/4 or 3/4 time. Guitarist Kim Thayil has said that Soundgarden usually did not consider the time signature of a song until after the band had written it, and said that the use of odd meters was "a total accident."


Cornell on "Spoonman":
It's more about the paradox of who [Artis] is and what people perceive him as.
He's a street musician, but when he's playing on the street, he is given a value and judged completely wrong by someone else.
They think he's a street person, or he's doing this because he can't hold down a regular job.
They put him a few pegs down on the social ladder because of how they perceive someone who dresses differently.
The lyrics express the sentiment that I much more easily identify with someone like Artis than I would watch him play.

Release and reception

The band would play "Spoonman" while on its 1993 tour with Neil Young. With hype building around the band's upcoming album Superunknown, Soundgarden released the single a month before the album's release. The song was released as a single in 1994 with a previously unreleased B-side titled "Exit Stonehenge". On the choice of "Spoonman" as the album's first single, Shepherd called it a "great first choice," adding that "it just jumps out at you instantly." Shepherd said, "You know how you listen to a record and there is one song that literally seems to leap out of the speakers—well, "Spoonman" did that to me." Shortly after the single's release, the song became widely popular, reaching high positions on rock charts. The song peaked at number three on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and number nine on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. At the 1995 Grammy Awards, "Spoonman" received the award for Best Metal Performance.

Outside the United States, the single was released commercially in Australia, Canadamarker, Germanymarker, and the United Kingdommarker. In Canadamarker, the song reached number 12 on the Canadian Singles Chart. "Spoonman" reached the UK Top 20 and would peak at number 23 on the Australian Singles Chart. "Spoonman" reached the top 30 in Australia and Irelandmarker and was a top ten success in New Zealandmarker.

"Spoonman" appears in the 2001 video game, ATV Offroad Fury, for the PlayStation 2. The song is also featured in the 2008 video games, Battle of the Bands, Rock Band 2, and Rock Revolution.

Music video

The music video for "Spoonman" was directed by Jeffrey Plansker (under the alias John Smithey). The video also features Artis prominently, making him the focus of the video instead of the band. The band members are shown only in black-and-white still photographs. The video was released in February 1994.

Cornell on the music video:
I think we were fairly smart with "Spoonman" in that you really don't see us that much in the video.
You see various pictures of us, but it's not quite the same as having us in your living room all the time.
We're trying to maintain some degree of mystique about Soundgarden, I guess.
I remember back when I was a kid, long before MTV, and the only way to see my favorite bands was to go to their concerts.
It was an incredible experience.
MTV has helped a lot of bands, but they've also helped rob a lot of groups of that special mystique.
It's tough when you can see a great rock band on TV one second, then hit the clicker and be watching a soap opera or a sit com the next.
That's what rock and roll has become for some people.

Track listing

All songs written by Chris Cornell, except where noted:
CD (Europe) and 12" Vinyl (Europe)
  1. "Spoonman" – 4:06
  2. "Fresh Tendrils" (Matt Cameron, Cornell) – 4:16
  3. "Cold Bitch" – 5:01
  4. "Exit Stonehenge" (Cameron, Cornell, Ben Shepherd, Kim Thayil) – 1:19

Cassette (UK) and 7" Vinyl (UK)
  1. "Spoonman" – 4:06
  2. "Fresh Tendrils" (Cameron, Cornell) – 4:16

Promotional CD (US)
  1. "Spoonman" (edit) – 3:50
  2. "Spoonman" – 4:06

CD (Germany)
  1. "Spoonman" (edit) – 3:51
  2. "Cold Bitch" – 5:11
  3. "Exit Stonehenge" (Cameron, Cornell, Shepherd, Thayil) – 1:19

Promotional 12" Vinyl (UK)
  1. "Spoonman" – 4:06

CD (Australia and Canada)
  1. "Spoonman" – 4:06
  2. "Cold Bitch" – 5:01

Chart positions

Chart (1994) Position
US Mainstream Rock Tracks 3
US Modern Rock Tracks 9
New Zealand Singles Chart 10
Canadian Singles Chart 12
UK Singles Chart 20
Australian Singles Chart 23
Irish Singles Chart 23
Dutch Singles Chart 37
Swedish Singles Chart 37


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