Collectors often have those one or two items that they would just absolutely love to own but don’t have for whatever reason. Sometimes the reason is price – it’s either way more expensive than you can afford, or sometimes you can afford it but you can’t justify spending that kind of money on an object, an object that more often than not has no practical purpose. Other times it’s purely an issue of scarcity – the thing is just so rare or hard to find that you simply can’t acquire one. I’ve been involved in a number of collectible-type hobbies over the years, and in all of them I’ve heard the same term used to describe these items – “holy grails”, or just “grails” for short.
Now, your grail and my grail are almost certainly different. Even if we’re into the same stuff there’s a good chance that our biggest “wants” are different. Sure, there are those high-demand, ultra-rare items that seem to be on everyone’s lists. But for many their grail is an obscurity, perhaps something to which they have a personal connection. The internet has, to a great extent, removed a lot of the barriers to acquiring your grail. Sure, there are one-of-a-kind items out there that will always be almost impossible to find; but chances are if something is just plain “rare”, someone, somewhere on the internet will have one for sale, or at least it will appear for sale (or auction) every now and then. Which means that more often than not it comes down to price. (♠)
I don’t have an actual “Want List” of records I’m looking for. I do have a “grail” (♣), but it’s not something that I’m pining away for with a hole in my soul as I desperately seek it. Maybe when I was younger I felt the pull of things like that stronger, but as I’ve gotten older I recognize that stuff is just stuff, and while it’s fun to have, it’s not all that important. That being said, one of my “want” items over the years, dating back to before I sold off al my vinyl back in the 90s, was Sub Pop 100, the comp that in many ways started it all out here in Seattle. Yes, Bruce Pavitt had been putting out comp tapes for a few years as part of his Subterranean Pop zine, but I think this was the first thing the label put out on vinyl, the opening salvo of a soon-to-be indie label juggernaut. I feel like my buddy John’s older brother Dave had it, and it was one of the records in his collection I coveted. By time I started buying Sub Pop stuff over at Cellophane Square the 1986 comp was already out of print and moderately expensive as a used item – I feel like it was around $50, which was a lot for me in those high school days. Ultimately I’ve had my hands on a dozen or so copies over the years, but each has either been too expensive, too trashed, or a combination of both. (♥) At least that was true until last week when my favorite local shop, Easy Street Records, had their 29th anniversary sale, offering 29% off all used vinyl. We made the rare mid-week drive to West Seattle the night of the sale, and there was an excellent copy of Sub Pop 100 (with insert) on the wall. The price wasn’t cheap, but at 29% off it suddenly because reasonable, and I pulled the trigger.
It would be natural to assume that Sup Pop 100 is a Seattle comp, or at the very least one that focuses on the Northwest. However, that’s not the case; in fact only four of the 13 artists are from the region, and only one (the U-Men) is actually from Seattle. Not only are the contributors from all over the U.S. map, but there are three from outside the country as well – Vancouver’s Skinny Puppy, Mexico’s Lupe Diaz, and Shonen Knife from Japan. So it’s more a celebration of indie music than it is local music. According to Pavitt the record sold 5,000 copies (♦) and it’s never been reprinted, so it has a certain level of scarcity though it’s hardly rare.
Big Black’s Steve Albini offers up a crazed spoken word intro, and from there it’s off to the races with a very punk side A. The live version of “Nothin’ to Prove” by Portland’s Wipers sounds killer, as does Naked Raygun’s surf-infused instrumental “Bananacuda”. This side of the record is definitely a preview of sorts of the kind of music that Sub Pop would soon become known for releasing – punk attitude and often raw. It’s the B side, however, where the real magic happens. Skinny Puppy’s “Church in Hell” still sounds dark and intimidating over 30 years later, and Steve Fisk’s “Go At Full Throttle” will make you wonder if perhaps you are just listening to a song or are in fact losing your grip on reality. Boy Dirt Car’s “Impact Test” is industrial in the truest sense of the word, a collection of machine noises interspersed with some occasional electronic feedback. The two most “song-like” tracks are Savage Republic’s “Real Men”, a song driven by guitar feedback and tribal drumming, and Shonen Knife’s “One Day of the Factory”, done in their typical pop-punk style. It closes out with an untitled track that samples Barry White and ends in a locked track of him moaning. Because why wouldn’t it?
Sub Pop 100 definitely lived up to expectations, collecting an intriguing group of relatively unknown and indie bands of varying styles. So if you can find a copy for 29% off, I say go for it!
(♠) Or, more precisely, the intersection of price and condition.
(♣) Þeyr’s Þagað Í Hel, in case you want to get me something for Christmas.
(♥) Plus of course it carries a premium out here in Seattle, home of Sub Pop. Of course, as I noted before the internet has been available to me as a resource… but ultimately I didn’t want it bad enough, and I was a bit concerned about condition.
(♦) Per the book Sub Pop USA: The Subterranean Pop Music Anthology, 1980-1988 (p. 331).