Do you remember back when grunge was cool how every song on the radio had electric guitar and distortion and lots of minor chords, and if your band didn't sound like Nirvana or Pearl Jam then nobody cared if you had "it" because, as ever, Top 40 doesn't recognize "it" until the pioneers have already moved on? Jerry Cantrell remembers, and the late Layne Staley remembered. It was 1993, and their band--Alice in Chains--decided to try something different. They wrote an Alice in Chains song with major chords.
Hey, I ain't never coming home.
Hey, I'll just wander my own road.
Hey, I can't meet you here tomorrow...
Say goodbye, don't follow.
Misery, so hollow.
Alice in Chains decided to leave grunge behind for an album. Picking up from where Metallica left off, they recorded Jar of Flies. For "Don't Follow", they decided to keep the things that made them unique. The harmonies that every top 40 rock or nu-metal band is using today were theirs, first: Jerry Cantrell singing the major fourth above Layne Staley (in this song, the lead is Jerry's). Instead of distorted guitars, they went with acoustic guitars, possibly inspired by the MTV Unplugged phenomenon which was making Nirvana and other artists tons of money. Two years later, they recorded an unplugged disc. I'm still not sure why this song isn't on it.
Hey you, you're livin' life full throttle.
Hey you, pass me down that bottle, yeah.
Hey you, you can't shake me round now.
I get so lost and don't know how, yeah,
and it hurts to care. I'm going down.
Oh, and here's why it's not just another unplugged whine about lost love. There's a harmonica. But that doesn't make it another unplugged whine about lost love with a harmonica. This is a departure from grunge, and a tip of the hat to every hair metal band that recorded one slow song so they would get their records played at junior high dances: Nelson and Mr. Big come to mind. Of course, Alice in Chains know more about making music and songwriting than anyone who was recording a one-off slow song back then. It sounds like a love song, but it's a break up song. Here--here's the bridge where it takes over from being slow and quiet to being not as slow, not as quiet, and less plaintive. The guitars ring like they do at the end of Guns N Roses' Patience while the harmonica ad libs and Layne sings:
Forgot my woman, lost my friends,
things I've done, and where I've been.
I sleep in sweat, the mirror's cold:
see my face, it's growin' old.
Scared to death, no reason why,
do whatever to get me by.
Think about the things I said,
read the page: it's cold and dead.
Take me home!
The more you listen to it, the more it sounds like an homage to Patience, perhaps the epilogue to that same story. Layne Staley's voice does the same sort of whine that Axl Rose's does, but with less scratchy funk, and more soul. Layne sings the high harmony during the verses but Jerry lets him loose at the bridge until the end. Like "I Stay Away" (from the same album), Don't Follow is great Alice in Chains made better with a guest instrument and a change of pace.
Take me home...
take me home!
take me home... yeah, yeah, take me home.
Say goodbye--don't follow.