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.

Shadow – “Shadow” b/w “Tonight the Lights Go Out” 10″ (2013)

shadowshadowShadow was a Seattle-area band in the early 1980s.  There’s really no reason you should have ever heard of them unless you’re a mega Pearl Jam fan, and in that case you might recognize them as a band that featured a 17-year-old Mike McCready on rhythm guitar.  Well, back in 2013 Mike decided to release a pair of the band’s songs as a 10″ on his HockeyTalkter Records label, and as soon as I saw it at the label’s table at the recent KEXP record show I knew immediately what it was and snatched up a copy.  It shows “Sold Out” on the label’s website, so not sure where they dug these up.

I’ve got to say, this is some pretty solid sleaze metal.  There’s a familiar ring to it, though I’m having a hard time placing it, definitely one of those second tier but still decent metal bands who were lurking in every corner in the early 1980s. (♠)  Sure, the cover will open the band up to ridicule to the modern-day fan, but kids, it was the 1980s.  This was the look.  Go check out pictures of your parents from that decade and tell me how they looked.  If you dressed like that to school you could have been both super cool and voted “Most Likely To Get Your Ass Kicked” at the same time.  That’s the way it was if you wanted to be metal.

You can check out the B side track HERE and give it a listen for yourself.

(♠)  Like Accept.  And not “Balls to the Wall,” but some of the their more metal stuff.

“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.

Mad Season – “River of Deceit / I Don’t Know Anything (live)”

I wasn’t planning on going to look for Record Store Day releases today.  It’s “Black Friday”, and I didn’t feel like being out there on the roads with a bunch of half-crazed Walmart bargain hunters who have been on the go since sometime last night.  That crowd is bad enough when working on a full night sleep.  Plus there was only one thing I really wanted, the Mad Season “River of Deceit / I Don’t Know Anything (live)” limited edition 10″ single.  My local record shop wasn’t carrying it, so that meant going to Seattle… and this being the home of Mad Season, I figured my chances were about zero of getting a copy without standing in line in the cold and rain for two hours.  I even contemplated buying a copy someone had on eBay the night before the release for $29.99, but figured there would be more chances to pick it up online cheaper after the event.

But Holly was persistent, and with the promise of lattes from Uptown Espresso regardless of our level of Record Store Day success, it seemed worth a shot.  So we got in the car and drove to Easy Street Records in West Seattle, getting there at 7:15 AM, just after they opened.  Lo and behold, the group crowded around the Record Store Day section was small, and I was able to pick up a copy of the Mad Season 10″ (#1,767/2,000 on red vinyl, and only $6.99!), along with a mono 180 gram re-release of Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain”.  I also picked up a collectible used record I’m super excited about that will appear in a future blog.  Stay tuned.

So… Mad Season.  For those of you not familiar, this band formed in Seattle in 1994 and was a bit of a super group, featuring Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Barrett Martin from the Screaming Trees, and bassist John Saunders.  They released their only album, Above, in 1995, and I personally was blown away by it.  It’s heavy and dark, and the songs perfectly fit Staley’s vocal style.  I played the hell out of the CD for a year or so, before shelving it for over a decade.  When I came back to it, it sounded just as amazing as it had before, if not more so.  Unfortunately Staley’s heroin addiction limited the band to just a handful of live shows, and he couldn’t get it together enough to work on another album.  Saunders died of a heroin overdose in 1999 (ironically he met McCready in rehab prior to the formation of Mad Season), and when Staley too succumbed to addiction in 2002 this dashed any hopes of a future album.  However, in 2012 there was a reunion concert, and allegedly there is a new album coming in 2013 with Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees doing some of the vocals.

I was excited about this 10″ because of the live version of “I Don’t Know Anything” (the A Side “River of Deceit” is the album version).  This is only the second live track I’ve come across, the other being, ironically, a version of “River of Deceit” appearing on the 1996 compilation, Bite Back – Live at the Crocodile Cafe.  The difference between the two is that  this vinyl track was recorded live in studio for radio in January 1995 prior to the release of Above, while the other was actually live from a show the band played at Seattle’s infamous Crocodile Cafe.  This radio version of “I Don’t Know Anything” was supposedly part of Pearl Jam’s Self-Pollution pirate radio broadcast, which Mad Season contributed along with “Lifeless Dead,” which will hopefully see the light of day on another record someday.  The track is of good quality, though it doesn’t sound like Staley’s voice was at it’s best.  There are some moments when you can really hear that classic Staley power and delivery, but overall it doesn’t capture his essence as well as the song on Bite Back does.  And that’s too bad, really, because few singers could plumb the depths of emotional despair the way Staley could.

There is also a VHS of Mad Season Live at the Moore, and this will supposedly come out on DVD in 2013 around the same time as the new Mad Season album.  Any chance to get some more live Mad Season songs is one I look forward to.  And I’m sure I’ll pick up the new album as well, but much like the post-Staley Alice in Chains album, replacing Staley will likely prove a daunting if not impossible task.

I’m disappointed that I never got a chance to see Alice in Chains or Mad Season live. The opportunities were certainly there, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  Staley was yet another Seattle heroin casualty, and we lost an amazing musician way too soon.  You can hear his pain in some of the Mad Season songs, most notably (in my opinion) “Wake Up”, just as you can in many of the Alice in Chains classics.  It’s a shame that no one was able to reach deep enough to help him with that pain before it was too late.