Happy 30th Birthday, Grunge

Happy 30th Birthday, Grunge

mudhoney grunge
Mudhoney, 2016 (Photo by Roberto Panucci/Corbis via Getty Images)

30 years ago this month Seattle started shaking to a new beat, and the world quickly caught on. Mudhoney’s debut single “Touch Me I’m Sick” – also the first single on a newish indie label, Sub Pop Records  - snuck out in August 1988, but very quickly sent shock waves around the world, opening doors and paving the way for Mudhoney’s peers and friends in Nirvana, Pearl Jam and others.

Let's look at this seismic moment in music and what lead up to it.

Mudhoney’s debut single “Touch Me I’m Sick”, released in August 1988, was a revelation and a revolution. A gnarley, Stooges-inspired classic, the record opened the broader alternative scene up to a range of garage rock, Detroit rock, and hardcore punk influences that had been knocking around on disparate underground scenes, and presented them in a combined package that was young and rebellious. A new kind of punk perhaps. Seattle’s Mudhoney threw out the rule books of all the scenes they drew from, and added a whole punch of other stuff – stuff previously not considered acceptable on the alternative scenes of the day, like early heavy metal and Neil Young – into the mix.

Mudhoney’s Mark Arm told Thrasher Magazine in 2001 that Mudhoney’s influences when they first started were “Blue Cheer, Wipers, Stooges, 13th Floor Elevators, Scientists, Feedtime, Neil Young, Captain Beefheart, Hawkwind, Alice Cooper, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, '60s comps like Pebbles and Nuggets etc., '70s punk like the Ramones and the Damned, early-'80s hardcore like Black Flag, Adolescents, Really Red and Void, and mid-'80s post-hardcore brain-frying bands like the Butthole Surfers, Meat Puppets, and Poison 13.”

Australian fans would soon respond to the fact that Mudhoney loved some recent local bands – the Celibate Rifles and the Saints were Mudhoney faves too, in addition to the Scientists and Feedtime. More importantly, in the eyes at least of the influential UK pop press - on the lookout, as usual, for a new sensation to sell papers with - Mudhoney’s long hair and flannel was a wild new look in this most coiffed of all decades, and their sound was different too. Significantly, the band also opened a door to reveal a readymade scene in the grim and previously untapped wilds of Seattle, Washington.

The 10 Most Important Grunge Bands - Part 1

It was that British press that made Mudhoney, just as it made Sub Pop Records immediately thereafter. They jumped on Mudhoney, making the band’s first UK tour a sensation, and ensuring the overwhelming success of their first 12” release, the classic Superfuzz Big Muff mini-LP. Before they’d even released a full-length album, Mudhoney were the hottest independent band in the world, and their label Sub Pop, which also arrived seemingly fully formed from the same parts unknown, became the hottest label.

Of course, neither Mudhoney or Sub Pop actually appeared out of nowhere. They just seemed to, because Seattle wasn’t on any music map. But Sub Pop had its roots in an influential local fanzine and a groundbreaking local compilation, and Mudhoney had its roots in a number of bands, including the punk Mr. Epp and the Calculations, and the hard rocking Green River.

Green River were the true signpost moment on the Seattle scene before it exploded. Featuring singer Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner, both of whom would go onto form Mudhoney, and Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, who would both go onto Mother Love Bone and then Pearl Jam, Green River combined punk attitude with hard rock riffs. On their first single, they covered CBGB punks the Dead Boys (Guns ‘N Roses would do the same a decade later), but they clearly also loved the likes of Aerosmith. With this they crossed a line; punks weren’t meant to like metal or hard rock. They released their first mini-LP on hip indie label Homestread Records, which saw them gain the patronage of indie kingpins Sonic Youth. Their next release, another 12” EP/mini-LP called Dry As A Bone, was the first single-artist release on Sub Pop, who promoted it with the catchphrase "ultra-loose GRUNGE that destroyed the morals of a generation".

The 10 Most Important Grunge Bands - Part 2

Soundgarden were around at the time and making inroads on the American scene thanks to the patronage of Black Flag’s SST label. But they were too metal for the English press, who didn’t really get the whole SST thing anyway. Green River will similarly ignored in England. But when Mudhoney came along, with a sound that was more clearly punk influenced, the English press saw the next big indie band flash before their eyes. Nirvana’s debut single  “Love Buzz“ followed Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Big Muff by a matter of months, and the rest really is history.

For Mudhoney, Nirvana’s rise meant a deal with Reprise/Warner in the mid-90s, but, true to how these things often pan out, the original grunge instigators never really hitched a ride of the gravy train that turned up in Seattle. But they stuck to their guns, stayed truly grungy in a way that most so-called grunge bands weren’t (no offense to Pearl Jam, but their big arena-filling rock sounds were a long way from the true meaning of that word), and remain, to this day, a much-loved and thrilling band. 

ILYOS remembers the early days of Grunge with some of the best tracks from Mudhoney and Green River, and reveals the first track from Mudhoney’s new album Digital Garbage, which is out – on Sub Pop – at the end of September. So get that flannelette shirt out of the cupboard, empty a beer over your head, turn this up loud, and enjoy.

A belated video for that classic first single.

Stunning footage from 1988 of the classic track from Superfuzz Big Muff.

Looking at the ruins of “grunge”, with Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic appearing in the video.

Killer Dead Boys cover by Green River – grunge before it had a name!

3 songs from Green River’s stunning reformation for Sub Pop’s 20th Anniversary celebrations in 2008. 

Mudhoney's killer new single!

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