I recently read Keith Cameron's excellent biography of Mudhoney (The Sound & The Fury From Seattle) which also detailed a lot of Sub Pop's early history. If you're not familiar with the name, Sub Pop is a record label that was founded in 1986 by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman in Seattle, Washington. The label achieved fame in the late 1980s for signing Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney, becoming synonymous with the rise of Grunge and champions of the Seattle music scene.
The late eighties & early nineties were a very exciting time for me and became a turning point in my musical tastes. I was firmly into Heavy Metal at the time but Mudhoney & Nirvana helped bridge the gap from Metal and open my mind to many new bands and genres. Sub-pop felt different to other labels, they survived on a shoestring, even after having some major success, and the sub-pop singles club became something of an institution, a great way to find new bands in the days before the Internet. The singles below are the tunes I think best represent the early style of Sub Pop.
1. “Touch Me I’m Sick” Mudhoney – Mudhoney's debut single and the perfect encapsulation of everything the band were about. A real grungy blast with a fabulously dirty guitar sound that's become one of my favourite tunes.
2. “Love Buzz” Nirvana – Hot on Mudhoney's heals came Nirvana’s first single. A cover of a song from Dutch rock band Shocking Blue's second album. Nope, I'd never heard of them either. Kurt Cobain wrote some decent songs in his time but his record collection was pretty impressive too and he indirectly introduced me to a lot of great bands.
3. “Shove” L7 – This single came a little later than the rest of the entries (1990) but it's a song with real attitude and remains my favourite L7 track.
4. “Hunted Down” Soundgarden – I was never a big fan of Soundgarden but this tune manages to squeeze all the good things about them into two minutes forty two seconds.
5. “Ritual Device” Tad – Tad didn't go on to the same level of success as many of their contemporaries but they played a significant part in the success of the label featuring on the three band touring line-up (alongside Nirvana & Mudhoney) that did a lot to spread the word about Sub Pop outside of Seattle.