Soundgarden’s “Ty Cobb” Lyrics Meaning
As some readers would already know, Ty Cobb (1886-1967) was actually a legendary Major League Baseball player. Even as of the writing of this post in 2021 some people still consider Cobb, who retired from the sport nearly a century ago, to have been the greatest professional baseball player ever.
But whether fairly or not this historical figure, even after his death, has developed the reputation of being, simply put, an aggressive A-hole. That also so happens to be the type of character which Chris Cornell is portraying in this song. So that connection is how this track came to be named after the late, great Ty Cobb, based on a suggestion by Cornell’s bandmate Ben Shepherd, as Chris himself did not know of him.
So originally, before Shepherd advised they change the name, this song was actually entitled “Hot Rod Death Toll”. That phrase, unlike “Ty Cobb”, actually appears in the lyrics.
So basically what we’re getting at here is this song was not conceived as being about Ty Cobb. Rather he was the jacka-s of the day, so to speak – even having a negatively-biased movie starring Tommy Lee Jones made about him – when this song came out in 1994. So that reputation, on top of him being famous, would be why he received the titular reference.
Inspiration behind lyrics of “Ty Cobb”
But in reality, who Chris Cornell actually wrote this song is about a number of people he had met and disliked. He also went on to further describe, in his own words, the character at hand as being “some sort of hardcore, pissed-off idiot”.
And yes, that type of persona definitely comes through in the lyrics. In fact if the listener doesn’t take time, he or she may believe that Chris is in fact talking about himself. For there is virtually no variation in the lyrics, as in implying that this song is about someone else outside of the narrator, with the exception of maybe the original titular phrase. But that would depend on how respective listeners may interpret an expression like “hot rod death toll”.
“Hot Rod Death Toll”
Well a hot rod is a fast and should we say dangerous car. Those types of attributes would in fact explain the character of the vocalist, and perhaps the term, as used, serves as a reference to him. In other words, he or his lifestyle is the “hot rod”. And as far as the “death toll”, the way the entire phrase is used in the chorus makes it seem as if it alludes to the number of people he has dissed along the way.
So it’s like if the vocalist disrespects you in some kind of way, then you too become a part of his “death toll”.
And there isn’t any reason not to believe that the narrator hasn’t already offended a slew of people. Indeed without us going into too much detail, let’s just say he drops quite a “f–k you all(s)” throughout the song to really drive that point home. This is a “hard-headed” someone who knows he has serious interpersonal issues and apparently relishes that nature.
As a matter of fact overall, this song doesn’t serve as a narration per se. Instead it can be better described as a warning. For the subject is so brash that he has no problem with telling us beforehand just how much of an offensive jacka-s he can be.
Chris portrays an unconventional character akin to the iconic Ty Cobb in that he has no problems when it comes to stepping people’s toes.
Facts about “Ty Cobb”
The writers of this song were Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell (1964-2017) and Ben Shepherd. The former authored the lyrics and the latter the music.
This track’s official release date was on 21 May 1996. That was when A&M Records featured it as the fifth song on the playlist of Soundgarden’s album “Down on the Upside”. And about a year later, the label also issued it as the fifth single from that project.
“Ty Cobb” itself failed to hit. However, its B-side, a song called “Rhinosaur”, outperformed it, in that it broke the top 20 of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.
For the record, there are at least 21 occurrences of the word “f–k” in this song.
Soundgarden was a band from Seattle that was extant from 1984 to 2019, though they took over a decade off in-between around the turn of the century. At the time this song was released, its membership consisted of frontman Cornell and the following:
- bassist Ben Shepherd
- guitarist Kim Thayil
- drummer Matt Cameron
On 18 May 2017 Chris Cornell, who had issues with substance abuse and depression, opted to take his own life. And the group went on to disband shortly thereafter.
As far as their signature song goes, Soundgarden’s all-around best received track was 1994’s “Black Hole Sun“. And Superunkown, the album which that song was derived from, was also their most-successful full-length. It reached the pinnacle of the Billboard 200.