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"Man in the Box" is a song by the American rock band Alice in Chains. It was released as a single in January 1991 after being featured on the group's debut studio album Facelift (1990). The song was included on the compilation albums Nothing Safe: Best of the Box (1999), Music Bank (1999), Greatest Hits (2001), and The Essential Alice in Chains (2006).

"Man in the Box"
Man in the Box by Alice in Chains US commercial cassette.jpg
US commercial cassette single
Single by Alice in Chains
from the album Facelift
ReleasedJanuary 1991 (1991-01)[1]
RecordedDecember 1989 – April 1990
Composer(s)Jerry Cantrell
Lyricist(s)Layne Staley
Producer(s)Dave Jerden
Alice in Chains singles chronology
"We Die Young"
"Man in the Box"
"Bleed the Freak"
Audio sample
Music video
"Man in the Box" on YouTube

Origin and recordingEdit

In the liner notes of 1999's Music Bank box set collection, guitarist Jerry Cantrell said of the song; "That whole beat and grind of that is when we started to find ourselves; it helped Alice become what it was."[8]

The song makes use of a talk box to create the guitar effect. The original Facelift track listing credited only vocalist Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell with writing the song.[9] All post-Facelift compilations credited the entire band. It is unclear as to why the songwriter credits were changed.


"Man in the Box" is widely recognized for its distinctive "wordless opening melody, where Layne Staley's peculiar, tensed-throat vocals are matched in unison with an effects-laden guitar" followed by "portentous lines like: 'Feed my eyes, can you sew them shut?', 'Jesus Christ, deny your maker' and 'He who tries, will be wasted' with Cantrell's drier, less-urgent voice." along with harmonies provided by both Staley and Cantrell in the lines 'Won't you come and save me'.[10]


In interview with Rolling Stone in 1992, Layne Staley explained the song:

I started writing about censorship. Around the same time, we went out for dinner with some Columbia Records people who were vegetarians. They told me how veal was made from calves raised in these small boxes, and that image stuck in my head. So I went home and wrote about government censorship and eating meat as seen through the eyes of a doomed calf.[11]

Jerry Cantrell said of the song:

It's basically about how government and media control the public's perception of events in the world or whatever, and they build you into a box by feeding it to you in your home. And it's about breaking out of that box and looking outside of that box that has been built for you.[12]

In a recorded interview with MuchMusic in 1991, Staley stated that the lyrics are loosely based on media censorship, and "I was really really stoned when I wrote it, so it meant something different then", he said laughing.[13]

Release and receptionEdit

"Man in the Box" was released as a single in 1991. "Man in the Box" is widely considered to be one of the band's signature songs, reaching number 18 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart at the time of its release.

The song was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 1992.[14]

The song was number 19 on VH1's VH1 40 Greatest Metal Songs and its solo was rated the 77th greatest guitar solo by Guitar World. It was number 50 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s in 2007.

Steve Huey of AllMusic called the song "an often overlooked but important building block in grunge's ascent to dominance" and "a meeting of metal theatrics and introspective hopelessness."[10]

In popular cultureEdit

Music videoEdit

The MTV music video for the track was released in 1991 and was directed by Paul Rachman, who later directed the first version of the "Sea of Sorrow" music video for the band and the 2006 feature documentary American Hardcore. The music video was nominated for Best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Video at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.[23] The video is available on the home video releases Live Facelift and Music Bank: The Videos. The video shows the band performing in what is supposedly a barn, where throughout the video, a mysterious man wearing a black hooded cloak is shown roaming around the barn. Then, after the unknown hooded figure is shown, he is shown again looking around inside a stable where many animals live where he suddenly discovers and shines his flashlight on a man (Layne Staley) that he finds sitting in the corner of the barnhouse. At the end of the video, the hooded man finally pulls his hood down off of his head, only to reveal that his eyelids were sewn together with stitches the whole time. This part of the video depicts on the line of the song, "Feed my eyes, now you've sewn them shut". The music video was shot on 16mm film and transferred to tape using a FDL 60 telecine. At the time this was the only device that could sync sound to picture at film rates as low as 6FPS. This is how the surreal motion was obtained. The sepia look was done by Claudius Neal using a daVinci color corrector.

Layne Staley tattooed on his back the Jesus character depicted in the video with his eyes sewn shut.[24][25]

Live performancesEdit

At Alice in Chains' last concert with Staley on July 3, 1996, they closed with "Man in the Box". Live performances of "Man in the Box" can be found on the "Heaven Beside You" and "Get Born Again" singles and the live album Live. A performance of the song is also included on the home video release Live Facelift and is a staple of the band's live show due to the song's popularity.

Cover versionsEdit

Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine covered "Man in the Box" in a lounge style on their 2005 album Aperitif for Destruction. Platinum-selling recording artist David Cook covered the song during his 2009 Declaration Tour. Angie Aparo recorded a cover version for his album Weapons of Mass Construction. Apologetix parodied the song as "Man on the Cross" on their 2013 album Hot Potato Soup. Metal artist Chris Senter released a parody titled "Cat in the Box" in March 2015, featuring a music video by animator Joey Siler.[26] Les Claypool's bluegrass project Duo de Twang covered the song on their debut album Four Foot Shack.


Chart positionsEdit

Facelift versionEdit

Chart (1991) Peak
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[27] 18

Live versionEdit

Chart (2000) Peak
US Mainstream Rock (Billboard)[27] 39


  1. ^ "Alice In Chains Timeline". Archived from the original on October 7, 1999. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
  2. ^ "10 Best Grunge Bands of All Time". LoudWire. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
  3. ^ 10 Grunge Albums You Need to Own
    Revolver Magazine
    Retrieved 22 February 2016
  4. ^ Ramirez, AJ (August 3, 2011). "The 10 Best Alternative Metal Singles of the 1990s". PopMatters. Retrieved 21 June 2015.
  5. ^ "34th Grammy Awards - 1992". Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  6. ^ The 10 best Alice in Chains songs
    Axs. Retrieved 2016-08-10
  7. ^ The Ultimate Nineties Alt-Rock Playlist
    The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-02-22
  8. ^ Liner notes, Music Bank box set. 1999.
  9. ^ Liner notes, Facelift. 1990.
  10. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Man in the Box". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-02-27.
  11. ^ Jeffrey Ressner (November 28, 1992). "Alice in Chains: Through the Looking Glass". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 18, 2017.
  12. ^ "Jerry Cantrell Explaining Alice In Chains' "Man In The Box"". Retrieved April 2, 2018.
  13. ^ "Layne Staley and Sean Kinney on dark songs and the meaning of "Man In The Box"". Retrieved April 2, 2018.
  14. ^ "34th Grammy Awards - 1992". Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  15. ^ "Lassie (1994)". SoundtrackInfo. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  16. ^ "Man In The Box em "Lassie" (1994)". Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  17. ^ "Man In The Box no filme "Mar Em Fúria" (2000)". Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  18. ^ a b c d e "Alice in Chains - Soundtrack". IMDb. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  19. ^ "Funny People Soundtrack". Whatsong. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  20. ^ "Beavis & Butt head Ice Ice Baby Vanilla Ice Man in the Box Alice in Chains". Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  21. ^ "Cold Case - S2 · E13 · Time to Crime". Tune Find. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  22. ^ "Supernatural 12x6 : Alice In Chains - Man In The Box (Scene)". Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  23. ^ "1991 MTV Video Music awards". Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  24. ^ Baltin, Steve. "Q&A With Jerry Cantrell". Inked Magazine. Archived from the original on October 10, 2009. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  25. ^ "Layne Staley's Tattoo Was Inspired By "Man In The Box" Lyric & Video". Feel Numb. December 8, 2010. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  26. ^ Kitties In Chains “Cat In The Box” Is Childish, Immature And I Love It
  27. ^ a b "Alice in Chains Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard.

External linksEdit