Article: The Story Behind Black Hole Sun (Ultimate-Guitar)

Article: Ultimate-Guitar
Photo: Our photo of the Black Sun sculpture in Seattle 09/2017

Story behind the song

The band is named after a sculpture in Seattle called "Soundgarden," and longtime speculation was that this song got its title from another sculpture "Black Sun" by Isamu Noguchi, which is located in Volunteer Park.

If you want to learn more about the gear, amps, notable covers, live performances, special techniques, tuning, and recommended lessons, read the UG Complete Guide to 'Black Hole Sun' by Soundgarden.

"Black Sun" looks like a huge black doughnut and is aimed so you can see the Space Needle through its hole.

Meghan with the Black Sun sculpture

Meghan with the Black Sun sculpture

Lea with the Black Sun sculpture

Lea with the Black Sun sculpture

But Chris Cornell admitted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that the title came from something he heard on the news. He thought the anchorman said "black hole sun," but in reality, he said something else. Chris started thinking about the phrase and decided to build a song around it, as he believed it was a thought-provoking title. He wrote the lyrics first, then composed the music based on the images he came up with.

... lyrically it's probably the closest to me just playing with words for words' sake, of anything I've written. I guess it worked for a lot of people who heard it, but I have no idea how you'd begin to take that one literally.
What's interesting to me is the combination of a black hole and the sun. A black hole is a billion times larger than a sun, it's a void, a giant circle of nothing, and then you have the sun, the giver of all life. It was this combination of bright and dark, this sense of hope and underlying moodiness. ... I even liked the way the words looked written down. I liken it to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, where there's a happy veneer over something dark. It's not something I can do on purpose but occasionally it will happen by accident.

Album's producer Michael Beinhorn revealed details of recording:

Chris was/is a terrific musician. He was a drummer first, then started singing and gradually learned to play everything else out of necessity. His demos were pretty accurate representations of the songs, in fact, we wound up changing virtually none of his arrangements or parts. When I got the demo for "Black Hole Sun," I was pretty stunned - it was really well done. I think he had the original demo up on his website at one point - worth hearing, if only to get an idea of how well he writes, plays and records his own music. A true lesson in excellence.

Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil said of this song:

We'd had singles before. But that was easily our biggest hit. That was more singer-songwriterish. Chris went that direction of singer-songwriter guy, and the band was more accepting because of the success of singer-songwriting stuff as opposed to more guitar-oriented rock. It was more vocal accompaniment rock, some guitar. So we started utilizing a little bit more of that.

The song was #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for 7 weeks.

Music videos

Official music video

The official music video for "Black Hole Sun" was directed by Howard Greenhalgh, and shot in the surreal and apocalyptic manner. Video represents a suburban area and its residents which are consumed by a black hole, while the band performs the song in an open field.

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." Kim Thayil said that this video was one of a few their videos the band was fully satisfied with.

The video was released in June 1994. After several weeks of airplay on MTV, the original video was replaced by the version containing more complex visual effects, including a computer-generated black hole. It became a hit on MTV and received the award for Best Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards.

Live version

MTV's Live n Loud Performances


Chris Cornell

Chris mainly used 3 guitars on "Superunknown" - a double-cutaway Gretsch Silver Jet, a single-cutaway Gretsch Duo Jet and a Fender Jazzmaster.


Double-cutaway Gretsch Silver Jet


In the official video, he used Gretsch Gold Sparkle Jet


Kim Thayil


His main guitar is a black '90s reissue Guild S-100 that he's had since the early '90s. He prefers this model because of the distance between the tailpiece and bridge, as he plays and bends strings behind the bridge. The neck on the guitar is a little thicker than an SG, and everything is stock on the guitar. He uses GHS .009-.046 strings with low action.




Ben Shepherd


Ben is a famous user of Fender Precision Basses with Badass bridge.