The soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-based rom-com Singles was grunge’s unified peak. Nirvana might have turned down the chance to participate but everyone else was present and in the form of their lives – Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden (plus a solo corker from Chris Cornell) and Screaming Trees all came up with jaw-dropping cuts for inclusion, but the compilation’s standout song is its opener, Alice In Chains’ snaking classic Would?. Speaking to Classic Rock’s Niall Doherty in 2021, Alice In Chains guitarist, co-vocalist and songwriter Jerry Cantrell revisited the song’s origins.
“We were hanging out with Cameron Crowe and I knew he was working on a movie and I knew Chris Cornell was working on some stuff for it and the Pearl Jam guys were working on some stuff and he was like, ‘I want you to write a song for this movie, man’,” Cantrell said. “I was thinking about [Mother Love Bone frontman] Andy Wood, it was not long after Andy passed, and that was the genesis of the idea for the song.”
Cantrell remembers making a demo of the song and handing it to Crowe for feedback. “He was like, ‘this is fucking killer, it’s awesome!’, so I showed it to the guys and they were down with it.” From there, it was twisted and remoulded in rehearsals. “It’s what always happens when you bring an idea into the band, it gets tweaked and ends up being better than it was,” Cantrell recounted. “That fuckin’ opening bass riff is just fucking sexy as hell and it's real ethereal.”
Vocally, Would? is an imposing back and forth between Cantrell’s eerie low-register delivery and late frontman Layne Staley’s anguished croon and the guitarist says that it was Staley’s idea that Cantrell should get involved in singing more. “Layne and I are really known for the two-voice thing in this band and I was always the back-up guy and happily so because we had Layne Staley,” Cantrell said. “But when we did the Sap EP, he was like, ‘you should sing a couple of these man, you write all this stuff and It's not that I don't like singing, I do love singing these, but some of these are really personal to you and I think that you should fuckin' sing, you're good enough to do it’. So on Sap, I started doing that more, I took a few leads, and Would? is an extension of that where the song starts out with me leading and then I pass off to Layne, back to me, back to Layne to finish. It was a development, it was a step forward in the development of our writing style and also our use of two voices, one voice plus one voice equals three.”
Crowe also directed the accompanying video for Would?, which was released as a single in June 1992, and the band deemed the song too important to be a standalone, sticking it on that year’s Dirt album too. “We ended up putting it on Dirt, even though it wasn't recorded in the Dirt sessions, because it was such a strong song,” said Cantrell. “It sounds just a little bit different, if you listen to the rest of Dirt, those 11 songs have a little bit of a different sound than Would?. It’s still one of our core tunes. It’s still so fun to play.”