Green River – “Rehab Doll” (1988)

I’ve written about Green River a number of times, touching on their EPs Come On Down (1985) and Dry As A Bone (1987) as well as the 2016 RSD collection 1984 Demos, so I’ll make an effort not to re-hash all that stuff.  Let it suffice to say there is an argument to be made that Green River was the Patient Zero of grunge.  They were well known within the Seattle music community and their breakup led to the formation of some seminal bands, most notably Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, and Pearl Jam.  That’s some pretty good lineage right there.

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Rehab Doll was the band’s first and only full-length, nine songs of dirty, grimy rock ‘n’ roll.  The guitar work has a surprising amount of 1980s hard rock and NWOBHM to it, though things stay a bit slower and weightier than the more popular metal of the period.  You can almost feel what would become Mother Love Bone bubbling under in the music.  Add to that Mark Arm’s somewhat unorthodox, half-spoken-half-sung vocal whine and you get something unusual, something that didn’t fit neatly into a genre box circa 1988 (though it would very soon).

It’s interesting that Green River included “Swallow My Pride”, arguably their best known song and one featuring Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon on backing vocals, on Rehab Doll.  The song first appeared on Come On Down three years earlier, so it certainly wasn’t new.  I’m not sure if this is a different version, and frankly I’m too lazy to check.  It may simply be a matter of putting their best foot forward on this, their first Sub Pop release.  My version is actually the one put out in Europe by Glitterhouse, which is notable because it includes an additional track that doesn’t appear on any of the Sub Pop versions, a cover of David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch”.

“Singles” – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Deluxe Edition (1992 / 2017)

easystreetcornellUnless you’ve been living under a rock or the terms of your probation don’t allow you to access the internet, you know that Chris Cornell passed away a few days ago.  Chris was an icon in the Seattle music scene, first with OG grunge rockers Soundgarden and later with Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and his solo projects.  He was a supremely talented man and music fans in Seattle probably feel his loss just a bit more deeply than do people everywhere else.  He was one of ours, born and raised.  I’m certainly old enough to have experienced the loss of other musicians who were part of my formative years, including more than a few local talents.  Cobain, Staley, Wood… But Cornell.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.  He had survived the reckless years.  He’d won Grammy’s.  He did a James Bond theme song for Christ’s sake.  And he was back with Soundgarden and touring.  And then he was gone, choosing to exit the stage permanently.

Holly and I were playing Louder Than Love the evening he died, possibly right around the actual time his death occurred.  And we were already planning on heading out to the record store on Saturday to buy the new deluxe edition of the Singles soundtrack that was coming out that Friday.  So Chris was, even if a bit indirectly, in my thoughts this week, and perhaps that’s what I’ve been feeling so reflective about his passing.  Many of the others weren’t terribly surprising.  Heroin has taken its pound of flesh from the Seattle scene, and many of the previous casualties had struggled with the dragon for years.  But Chris had made it through.  But the scars were still there, and ultimately the pain was so overwhelming that in his mind there was only one resolution.

A piece of my remembered teenage innocence died with him.

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We watched Singles on Thursday night for the first time in a long time and it helped a little, putting a smile on my face and giving us a quick glimpse at a young Chris Cornell looking on as Bridget Fonda’s new stereo blows out all of her car windows.  And we went out to pick up the soundtrack on Saturday morning like we planned even though we knew the entire city was sold out of it on vinyl (♠), so we settled for the CD.

The first disc is the original soundtrack, 13 tracks that could almost be a Seattle best-of album in their own right had only Nirvana contributed a song (I can’t really explain how Paul Westerberg and Smashing Pumpkins ended up on it… though I have to begrudgingly admit that Westerberg’s “Waiting For Somebody” is, to me, the song that best captures the overall feel of the movie).  It’s an eclectic mix of tunes, though.  It opens with the menacing bass line of Alice In Chains’ “Would?,” a dark way to start the soundtrack of what is in effect a rom-com.  Pearl Jam gets us a bit more into the vibe of the movie with “Breath,” and then it’s Cornell’s turn.  I can remember originally buying this CD back in 1992 and being blown away by “Seasons,” a very un-Soundgarden-like song that was the perfect vehicle to showcase Chris’ voice, exposing a side of his musical talent that I’d never heard before.  I still think it’s the most beautiful song not he album, though “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns” gives it a run for its money.

There were some intriguing selections on Singles and I respect director Cameron Crowe for staying with Seattle even when he goes back in time, using Jimi Hendrix’s “May This Be Love” in the scene when Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick play records together in Scott’s apartment and also getting Ann and Nancy Wilson (Crowe’s wife at the time) involved performing as The Lovemongers with their near-perfect interpretation of Led Zeppelin’s “Battle of Evermore”.  There was a real effort here to make this as Seattle-centric an experience as possible.

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Left to Right:  Chris Cornell (RIP), Jeff Ament, Matt Dillon, Layne Staley (RIP), Cameron Crowe

I’d actually forgotten that Mudhoney contributed a song to Singles.  Well, technically two songs, I suppose, but only one that made it onto the soundtrack.  They were given a budget of $20,000 to record “Overblown,” but as the story goes they hit up a local studio and paid producer Conrad Uno $164 for a day’s work, banged out their song, and walked out at the end of the day $19,836 the better for it (♥), which is a pretty punk move.  The movie’s fictional band Citizen Dick, fronted by Matt Damon, also performed a song called “Touch Me I’m Dick,” a modified version of the underground Mudhoney hit “Touch Me I’m Sick”.  Somehow this didn’t end up not he soundtrack (♣), but was eventually released as a 7″ single on Record Store Day back in 2015 and also makes an appearance on this deluxe edition, opening the bonus CD.

The original soundtrack was every bit as good as I remembered, but what I was truly excited about was the bonus disc full of extras – live tracks, demos, acoustic versions, you name it, a decent amount of it never-before released.  Cornell is all over this thing, contributing seven of its 18 tracks, one with Soundgarden and the rest as a solo artist, including an early pre-Superunknown version of “Spoonman” and the Beatles-esque “Flutter Girl”.  But the three live tracks, “Would?” and “It Ain’t Like That” by Alice In Chains and Soundgarden doing “Birth Ritual” (complete with the intro, “Cue musicians, go!”), are the highlights to me, well-recorded and capturing both bands in their more formative and energetic years.

And then there’s Paul Westerberg again, and dammit, I want to resent him for bing a non-Seattle musician on this soundtrack, but his songs are just so damn good I can’t do it.  The bonus disc gives us four Westerberg tracks – beautiful acoustic renditions of both of his soundtrack contributions “Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody,” as well as a pair of previously unreleased tunes in “Blue Heart” and “Lost In Emily’s Woods.”

The two biggest “surprises” on the bonus disc were tracks by Truly and Blood Circus.  If I’m being completely honest, I’d never heard of Truly before even though two of its three members came from Soundgarden and Screaming Trees.  I may have to track down some of their stuff if I can.  As for Blood Circus, I’d forgotten how grimy they were.  “Six Foot Under” is heavy, hitting you like a grunge version of a country song.

While I’m still a vinyl junkie, I have no regrets about buying Singles on CD as it was the bonus material that interested me the most.  It’s too bad they didn’t do the whole thing on vinyl, like a four record special edition box set – now that I probably would have bought.  But regardless, I’m very happy with the both the quality and price (got mine on sale for $15) and highly recommend it to any fans of the old school Seattle sound.

(♠)  The vinyl guy at Easy Street told me they’d ordered 200 copies and only got 20.  They’ll certainly have more, but given that all the bonus material is on CD, even with the vinyl release, I figured I’d just save myself $20 or so and buy the disc.

(♥)  Mudhoney:  The Sound and Fury From Seattle by Keith Cameron (2013), p. 157-58.

(♣)  It probably had something to do with the literal use of the word dick, along with the euphemism “little Elvis” and the repeated phrase “I won’t cum”.  Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center would have had field day with that song.

Mother Love Bone – “On Earth As It Is: The Complete Works” Box Set (2016)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Seattle is a city awash in heroin given the toll the drug has taken on the city’s music scene over the years, though by all accounts the problem was never significantly worse here than anywhere else.  Kurt Cobain’s death was officially attributed to a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but everyone agrees that heroin certainly played a part in the Nirvana frontman’s death.  Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley struggled with the drug for years before it finally took his life, as it also did indirectly the life of one of his former bandmate Mike Starr (methadone) and his Mad Season partner John Baker Saunders.  The women weren’t immune either, with Hole’s Kristen Pfaff and 7 Year Bitch’s Stefanie Sargent both dying from heroin related incidents.  A number of others were lucky to escape with their lives after close run-ins with the drug, including Mark Arm (Mudhoney), Courtney Love (Hole), and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees).  Heroin took more than its pound of flesh from the Seattle music community.

People have differing feelings on drug addiction, but at the end of the day there’s a definite sadness about the life that ends due to it, a sense of what could or should have been, feelings of a life wasted in the pursuit of something that ultimately provided nothing but pain and sorrow.  And I certainly feel that way when I think about Seattle’s musical heroin casualties – a sadness not just for the loss of human lives (as if that isn’t enough), but a loss of the great art that these talented people could have brought to the world.

While all of the above losses bum me out, probably the one that hurts the most is the death of Mother Love Bone’s Andy Wood at the age of 24, right when his band was on the cusp of making it in a huge way.  From the ashes of Mother Love Bone came some other pretty great bands like Pearl Jam and Temple of the Dog, but I’m not sure that anyone else ever quite captured Wood’s charisma and electricity.  While their music wasn’t prototypically grunge by any means, it was passionate rock with a little glam thrown in for good measure, and the fact that they left behind just one EP and one LP feels like a tantalizing hint of what would have been to come.

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Some of Wood’s former bandmates just re-released the Mother Love Bone’s complete works in a box set format, and I asked a friend of mine who is a member of Pearl Jam’s Ten Club to order a copy for me.  I just picked it up from him, and man is it a fantastic package – vinyl pressings of both Shine and Apple, as well as a 24 page booklet, an envelope full of photos, gig poster reproductions, and even a full-sized band poster, all housed in a beautiful and textured slipcase.  I was excited enough about this release that I even broke one of my personal “rules”, which is not buying something on vinyl when I already have the music on CD/mp3.  But On Earth As It Is: The Complete Works was something I just had to have.

Right from Shine‘s (1989) opening track “Thru Fade Away” I knew this was money well spent.

She’s my sunshine, my moonshine,
She’s ma hot, ma hotma Ghandi,
She’s my lady, from Euphrates,
Sure ‘nuf give that woman to me.

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It’s Wood at his rock ‘n’ roll sleaziest, belting out some absurd lyrics and making them sound AMAZING.  He follows that up with a Ricky Ricardo impersonation (Lucy…) to open the next track, “Mindshaker Meltdown”, and doesn’t hesitate to drop a “motherfucker” in there too, back when that just wasn’t done, no, not at all, at least not outside of hip hop.  “Half Ass Monkey Boy” is both ridiculous and irresistible, but the true magic is the closing track – “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns,” a song that is probably one of Mother Love Bone’s best known outside of Seattle due to its inclusion on the Singles soundtrack.  It’s a gorgeous, meandering ballad of a hard luck pair, the seeker and the striper.

This is my kind of love,
It’s the kind that moves on,
It’s unkind and leaves me alone…

It’s a song that’s actually unrepresentative of the band’s sound (with the notable exception perhaps of parts of “Bone China” and “Man of Golden Words”), but is so near perfect that it doesn’t even matter.  I could listen to it on repeat over and over again.  Interestingly the second part of the song, “Crown of Thorns,” also appears on their 1990 LP Apple, but without the powerful “Chloe Dancer” intro, which is really too bad.

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Apple (1990) is perhaps a little less raw and a little more polished than it’s predecessor, a well-produced and clean-sounding rock album through and through.  And while I’m not going to do a song-by-song breakdown of Apple, I will say this – the five song A side of the original is one of the best rock album sides of all time.  Interestingly the re-release is presented as a double album and includes two additional tracks – “Gentle Groove”, the B side of the “Stardog Champion” 7″, and “Mr. Danny Boy”.  So while the original A side material is presented in order (the first four songs on side A, and the fifth opening side B), the original side B is a bit scrambled with the new additions.

There are some brilliant tracks on Apple.  It opens strong with “This Is Shangrila” and “Stardog Champion”, slows it down a bit with “Bone China,” then gets all trippy with “Stargazer.”  The whole album is like a best-of compilation in it’s own right without a single dud on it.  Just feel those beats on “Heartshine” and Andy Wood’s sneer on “Captain Hi Top”.  It’s one of the best top-to-bottom rock albums ever, hands down.

Let’s be clear – the vinyl version of On Earth As It Is: The Complete Works is very much fetish item.  Sure you get some amazing packaging, excellent quality vinyl, and all kinds of photos, but if you just want the music you can get all the same songs on the 1992 comp Mother Love Bone, which you can probably find used for like five bucks.  Or you could buy the CD version of One Earth As It Is and get all the songs plus demos, B sides, alternate versions, and some videos.  But if you just absolutely, positively have to have it on vinyl (like me), this is the most affordable way to go about getting it, since OG pressings of Shine and Apple are pretty damn pricey.  The recording quality is outstanding, and all the extras and packaging are of the highest quality, so if you find yourself coveting this, bite the bullet and get yourself a copy; it’ll only sting a little, I swear.

(♠)  The original vinyl release of Apple had five songs on side A and six on side B.  This re-release actually presents as a double album with two additional tracks – “Gentle Groove” (originally the B side to the “Stardog Champion” 7″) and “Mr. Danny Boy”.  

Mother Love Bone – “Hold Your Head Up / Holy Roller” RSD 7″

I woke up in a bit of a funk this morning.  It was raining hard, and while I was looking forward to hitting up a couple of shops for Record Store Day Black Friday, I did not expect to get a copy of what I really wanted, the Mother Love Bone 7″ featuring a cover of Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up.”  Maybe if I lived anywhere other than Seattle, this would have seemed attainable.  But here… I figured probably not.

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I’ve written about Mother Love Bone before as a side note in various other posts, so I won’t go into the whole backstory.  I don’t have a good perspective on the popularity of the band outside of Seattle, which only managed one EP and one LP before lead singer Andy Wood’s heroin overdose… and if memory serves, he actually died right before the LP came out.  Personally I think they would have been huge, and I love their music.  Of course, some of the members of MLB ended up finding success in bands like, you know, Pearl Jam.  So I somehow suspect that MLB fans fall into two groups – Pearl Jam fans who experience them as part of the overall Pearl Jam thing, and the relatively small number of people who’d heard of them when they were new… and I think a large percentage of the later were in Seattle.

I checked Facebook in the AM and saw there were already lines at the shops, but still figured it was worth a shot.  So we got some coffee, tried not to hydroplane the car into the  freeway jersey barriers, and made it to Easy Street in West Seattle.  Where I found an entire wall of the single, still in stock.  Score!  In fact I even picked up a second copy as a Christmas present for a friend.  Hell, they even still had copies at the next shop we stopped at, Silver Platters.  Maybe I over-estimated the popularity of this item here in Seattle.  Regardless, I’m stoked to have my copy.

I’m not sure how “limited” this is, and frankly I don’t care.  Hearing some fresh material with Andy Wood’s voice is awesome, and he definitely takes the Argent cover and makes it his own, with his trademark Andy Wood flourishes and emotion.  The B side is a previously unreleased version of the MLB song “Holy Roller,” though at least to my ears the first time through it sounds a lot like the album version.

This probably doesn’t appeal to anyone who isn’t a Pearl Jam fan or an old school Seattle music fan… but if you’re in one of those two camps, like I am, then it’s a great chance to hear Andy Wood’s voice again.  We lost him too soon.  He would have been one of the greats.

“Deep Six” Compilation

So early this week Holly says to me, “I want to go down to the knitting show in Tacoma on Saturday.  We should make a day of it.”  This is normally where, as a husband, alarm klaxons go off in my head like a red alert on the bridge of the Enterprise.  But my wife is savvy, so she followed that with, “We can go to Hi-Voltage afterwards, and then the Red Hot for lunch.”  All of a sudden those alarm bells are replaced in my head with the chorus of Queen’s “We are the Champions” as my mind conjures up images of aisles of vinyl and my stomach begins to prepare itself for a bacon hot dog.  Looking forward to going to Tacoma was pretty much what got me through the rest of what was an incredibly hectic work week.

So we make the hour long drive to T-town, and the knitting show is everything you would imagine it would be… but even more packed.  Fortunately Holly generally knows what she’s looking for and we were out of there in maybe 30 minutes, which was, I knew, considerably less time than she’d spend waiting for me while I perused the Indie/Punk/Metal section at Hi-Voltage Records.  Hi-Voltage is, without a doubt, one of my favorite record stores – their selection of hard rock/grunge/punk/metal used vinyl is as good as anyones, but we just don’t make it down there very often because it’s a decent drive, so I was going to make sure to take advantage of the opportunity.  I’d budgeted myself a respectable amount (that I went over by $7… the state’s gotta get their cut in sales taxes) and figured to come away with a healthy stack of records.  I had just started at the first New Arrivals bin when I saw it, about 10 records deep into my browsing experience.

An original pressing of Deep Six.

At that point I knew I’d have a hard time staying within my overall budget, and I’d have to be a bit more selective because I wasn’t going to let that one get away from me.  I did still take the time to go through every single record in every miscellaneous section from A to XYZ though and happily left with about 10 albums, many of which will undoubtedly appear on the blog in the next month or two.  If you ever get the chance to hit up Hi-Voltage in Tacoma, do it – great people, amazing selection.

So what’s the deal with Deep Six?  Well, two earlier compilations had already attempted to tackle the Seattle music scene in the early to mid 1980s, Seattle Syndrome, Volumes 1 & 2 which were released on vinyl in 1981 and 1983 respectively (and covered on this blog in posts on Dec. 9 & 12, 2012) and showcased a community that was evolving from new wave back into a sort of quasi punk.  Volume 2 may have fired the very opening salvo of the grunge movement with the inclusion of one really odd band named after a math teacher – Mr. Epp (originally known as Mr. Epp and the Calculations, and a move similar to that of Lynard Skynard, another band that also took it’s name from a teacher).  One of the members of Mr. Epp was Mark Arm, who later was part of two other seminal early grunge bands (and who is, much to his chagrin, often credited with first using the word “grunge” in relation to Seattle music… but I digress), Green River and Mudhoney.  Deep Six was the next step in the recognition and, if you will, categorization of what later became known as “The Seattle Sound” and that word that so many Seattle musicians hate with a red-hot passion (not to be confused with The Red Hot, mentioned at the beginning of this post, which is a great tavern in Tacoma with an amazing hot dog menu), “grunge”.

C/Z Records was founded by Chris Hanzsek and Tina Casale, who moved to Seattle to open a recording studio after having hear the Seattle Syndrome albums while living in Boston.  Released in 1986 and limited to an initial run of 2,000 copies, Deep Six‘s band roster is an impressive who’s who of early Seattle area grunge – Green River, The Melvins, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, and The U-Men, bands that if they didn’t become famous in their own rights were major influences on bands that did hit it big.  Man, I know I had this thing in my hands at least a couple of times at the old Cellophane Square store in Bellevue, but I never picked it up – which may be a good thing, since that would have meant I’d sold it when I got out of vinyl ages ago, and I’d have been kicking myself as I bought this copy to replace it.

Here’s a quick look at the bands of Deep Six:

  • Green River:  Maybe the earliest true grunge band, members later formed some other pretty damn famous groups.  One was Mudhoney.  You may have heard of the other one too.  Pearl Jam.
  • The Melvins:  In addition to being one of the most well known punk bands in western Washington in the 1980s, they were also a major influence on a kid from Aberdeen named Kurt Cobain.
  • Malfunkshun:  Featured crazy glam frontman Andrew Wood, who later played with what I think was one the most talented Seattle bands, Mother Love Bone.  Wood unfortunately was also one of Seattle’s early heroin casualties, dying of an overdose at 24 just before the release of the band’s first LP, Apple, in 1990.  The band Temple of the Dog began as a project to record some tribute songs to Wood, including the hit “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, and two members of Mother Love Bone also went on to form Pearl Jam.
  • Skin Yard:  These guys were really influential among their peers, though major success eluded them over the years.  They did kick ass, though.
  • Soundgarden:  What do I need to say, really?  They’re Soundgarden!
  • The U-Men:  The U-Men were OG Seattle punks who gained enough notoriety to support a number of major players over the years including the Butthole Surfers, Minutemen, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.  They were major influences on the other bands on Deep Six and were brought into the project at the insistence of Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil.  Supposedly they showed up at the studio, cut their track in one take, and were out the door in less than 10 minutes and on their way to Idaho for a gig that night.  If that isn’t punk rock, I don’t know what is.

Some of the songs featured on Deep Six later made it onto other albums, thankfully for some like Soundgarden who’s Deep Six tracks sound like they were recorded on the bottom of the ocean (the version of “All Your Lies” does not even come close to matching the one that later appeared on Ultramega OK).  There are a few though that I don’t think appear anywhere else, which is one more point in this comp’s favor… as if it needed one.

Deep Six is a time capsule of Seattle grunge.  It’s as close as you can get to ground zero, not as important for the actual quality of the recording, but for what it represents.  Some people like to point to Sub Pop 100 as the key event, but most of the bands on that record aren’t even from the greater Seattle area and it wasn’t until Sub Pop 200 in 1988 that Seattle’s most famous label put out a genre-defining comp.

Bottom line is that Deep Six is the original grunge comp.  Know it.  Hear it.  Love it.