Stone Temple Pilots were never popular with critics, but they had no trouble winning over audiences, launching a series of hit singles onto rock radio during the 1990s. Led by charismatic lead singer Scott Weiland, this Southern California quartet melded hard rock, punk, pop, glam and classic rock onto albums that reflected the group's evolving influences. If you want to pick STP’s best songs, you could just go with the established smashes, but that would overlook some of the band’s strongest material. With that in mind, here are my choices for the group’s Top 10 tunes, some of which may surprise you.
On their second album, Purple, Stone Temple Pilots stretched out stylistically to encompass several classic-rock traditions. Indicative of that old-school feel, “Interstate Love Song” starts off with a bluesy guitar opening before unveiling Scott Weiland’s sexy, soulful vocal that’s reminiscent of the Doors’ Jim Morrison.
An underrated love song from STP, “Still Remains” contains some of Weiland’s most impassioned and heartfelt lyrics. The song is built around the conceit that when you really love someone, it’s impossible to know where you end and they begin, and likewise the song has a melancholy fluidity to its reverb-heavy guitars and Beatles-esque melody.
By the time of the release of 2001’s Shangri-La Dee Da, STP had lost a lot of their commercial mojo, but “Days of the Week” proved they could still produce dynamically catchy pop-rock. Over some deceptively bubblegum guitar hooks, Weiland sings about a relationship whose stability is in a constant state of flux — depending on the day of the week, things could be happiness and sunshine or misery and storm clouds.
Never a radio hit, “Army Ants” begins with a trippy guitar intro, which knocks the listener off balance for the thundering riffs and drums that soon follow. This is one of STP’s most combustive, propulsive tracks, as Weiland delivers a rousing tirade about the dangers of following the herd.
Stone Temple Pilots may not be the world’s best copyeditors — unless, of course, they meant to misspell “Vaseline” — but there’s nothing out of place musically on Purple’s lead single. Of all the celebrated contemporary rock guitarists, Dean DeLeo probably doesn’t get his due, but a track like “Vasoline” wouldn’t have nearly the same hypnotic power without his combination of feedback, riffs and solos goosing the song along.
Tiny Music, Stone Temple Pilots’ third album, was a perversely bizarre record, catching the band in a transitional period when they were dabbling in glam rock, roadhouse blues and the satirical “Art School Girl.” But the album’s most successful experiment was the pseudo-cocktail pop of “And So I Know,” where Weiland croons at his most lovely and the rest of the band get wonderfully mellow. The whole thing might be a joke, but it’s a deeply groovy little tune.
During the mid-‘90s, one of the most overused song structures was the quiet-verse/loud-chorus technique that was popularized by Nirvana. “Big Empty” certainly followed the formula, but as with many of STP’s best songs, the trick was transcending the formula by heightening the emotional intensity. Consequently, the chorus of “Big Empty” is an absolute beast, the sort of sing-along triumph that no matter how many times you hear it always sounds great.
This hard-charging number from Stone Temple Pilots’ debut was controversial at the time because the first-person lyrics about a sexual predator lacked any critical distance, making it uncertain whether Weiland was actually advocating his narrator’s sick fantasies. Nowadays, “Sex Type Thing” stands as one of the band’s most stirring rockers precisely because its central character’s unbridled id perfectly complements the track’s headlong fury.
Near the end of their first decade, Stone Temple Pilots had evolved from grunge to pop-rock mavens, and their finest hour in that mode was the ballad “Sour Girl.” Indelible vocal melodies, a lively rhythm section, Weiland’s superbly tear-stained lyrics about a lover he let get away — everything in “Sour Girl” comes together to create one of alt-rock’s most memorably despondent tracks ever.
The first song most people heard from Stone Temple Pilots remains their best. Core’s lead single “Plush” was openly mocked in its day because Weiland’s pained growl reminded people of Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder’s similar moan. But as Stone Temple Pilots relentlessly pursued their muse across different styles, the stature of the undeniably riveting “Plush” just continued to grow. No one understands the lyrics — or even why it’s called “Plush” — but as an example of STP’s skill at crafting radio-ready rock, the song has no peer.