As the frontman of Green River, Mark Arm sang on the first record that Sub Pop marketed with the word “grunge.” When the band’s Dry as a Bone EP came out in 1987, the label described it as “ultra-loose grunge that destroyed the morals of a generation.” At the time, it was a throwaway term that described the quality of the music more than a genre signifier. “In the early Eighties, it was just more of an adjective, like, ‘That’s just really grungy,’ like, ‘gnarly,'” Arm says. “It meant a raw, fucked-up thing.”
Within a couple of years, though, Arm was fronting Mudhoney and was part of what the media was describing as a grunge movement — bands from the Seattle area that played a hybrid of punk and metal without the generic rock-star overindulgence. “When I was in Green River, it hadn’t yet become ‘The Big G,’ like, ‘These are these bands,’ and I’m pretty sure the guys in Pearl Jam were wondering why their music is called grunge,” he says. “‘Cause it’s not raspy like how we all used the term in the Eighties.” As for himself, Mudhoney being tagged grunge didn’t bother him — “but in my mind it was weird to be lumped in with Candlebox.”
Since Rolling Stone ranked the 50 Greatest Grunge Albums earlier this week, and Arm performed on five of them — three with Green River, including the Deep Six comp, and two with Mudhoney — we asked him to pick his favorite grunge albums. He said that instead he’d rather make a list of “grungy” albums, going by the original definition of the word that he grew up with. Below are his picks in chronological order.
The Sonics, Boom (1966)
There’s grungy stuff that happened before the Sonics, but I picked Boom because it’s got two songs that kind of pointed the way of the future. One is “He’s Waitin’,” which has a proto-metal riff — and the person who’s “waiting” is Satan. And then “Cinderella,” to me, is just a punk song.
The Sonics were from Washington and there was a push at one point to make “Louie Louie” the state song. [Sonics guitarist] Larry [Parypa] was in a covers band called Charlie and the Tunas, which rushed out a version of “Louie Louie” and the Sonics’ version is on Boom. That version of “Louie Louie” is the darkest. Motörhead did a version and Black Flag did a version, but the Sonics’ version beats them all.
I would have discovered this album around 1980. There used to be a magazine called Trouser Press. If my memory is correct, Mick Farren wrote about the first two records, which had been re-released. It cracked me up that I learned about a band in my backyard from a British guy.
The Stooges, Fun House (1970)
I love all the Stooges’ records, but Fun House is definitely the rawest. They recorded the vocals going live through a PA, so it adds that extra grit to the vocals. I liked “Dirt” because it’s got that slow burn. It’s got one of the coolest rhythm parts — bass and drums — of all time. It’s simple but kind of innovative, and it’s all really “feel.” Then, on top of it, Ron [Asheton’s] guitar and Iggy [Pop’s] vocals kind of play off each other. It’s pretty remarkable. But then there’s also the chugging of “Down on the Street,” which is almost metal, and then “Loose” and “T.V. Eye” are more punk rock. Side two turns into what the fusion of jazz and rock should have been.
Randy Holden, Population II (1970)
Randy Holden had probably been in bands since the early Sixties before this. He was in the Other Half, which did that song “Mr. Pharmacist,” and he played on one side of the third Blue Cheer record. So on Population II, I think he wanted to make his own statement and re-recorded one of the songs he did with Blue Cheer, “Fruit & Icebergs.” It has just one of the most awesome, howling, sustained guitar solos, and it’s a pretty crude recording. I think the band is just him and the drummer. It’s all about guitar.
Population II was a record I had read about in the early Eighties and never, ever saw. When we were on tour in the early Nineties, I saw it in a record store in Vienna and I was like, “Holy shit, this is the record I’ve been looking for.” Things were a little harder to come by in those days.
Hawkwind, Doremi Fasol Latido (1972)
It’s hard to pick a Hawkwind record, but this might be my go-to ’cause it’s just a little more crudely recorded and all the songs are great. It’s very psychedelic. It sounds like it’s being played inside of a jet engine or something. “Brainstorm” is a classic and I like “The Time We Left This World Today,” “The Watcher” and “Space Is Deep.” Just the concept of space being deep is pretty fucking awesome.
I never saw Hawkind live, but I did see Nik Turner’s Hawkwind, which had more original or older members of Hawkwind than Hawkwind did at the time.
Discharge, Why (1981)
Discharge did a couple of singles before Why? but then they did this 12-inch EP, and it’s so insanely raw sounding. It starts with this guitar chord on “Visions of War,” and all of a sudden there’s this loud, booming noise. I was like, “What the fuck is that?” And then you realize it’s the bass once it starts playing a riff. Like, “Holy shit.” I just like the whole vibe of it. I like the title track, and then they have titles like “Mania for Conquest” and “Maimed and Slaughtered.” It’s like a bulldozer coming at you.
When I first heard it, I was used to the Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks and Black Flag stuff. Then when I heard Discharge, I was like, “Holy shit, I don’t even know where to put this.” It was just so raw and noisy, which is saying something. All the songs are under two minutes and are about nuclear war. Later, when they did Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing, it was almost like musique concrète — it was all one song with just little breaks.
Bobby Soxx, “Scavenger of Death” / “(Learn to) Hate in the 80’s” (1981)
I guess Bobby Soxx’s main band was Stickmen With Rayguns. He had a couple of other bands, but for some reason, there was just one single he put out as Bobby Soxx. “(Learn to) Hate in the 80’s” was pretty straight-up, really nasty punk. And then “Scavenger of Death” was just this heavy, grinding, minor-key dirge with the nastiest vocals. It was pretty awesome.
I know this is supposed to be a list of albums, but I think “Scavenger of Death” has got the slow thing to it, and it starts off with a cowbell drumbeat. When I revisited this album, I learned that he died a few years ago and that he wasn’t necessarily a really good dude.
Hellhammer, Apocalyptic Raids (1984)
I remember when this came out, it was a 12-inch with four songs. When you see that, you automatically think it’s a 45 [r.p.m.], right? But it turned out it was a 33 and it sounds great on both speeds.
My favorite song on this, the one that I think points to grunge, is “Triumph of Death.” It’s this really long, grinding, slow song, and it just starts off with them trying to get different notes out of feedback. To me, it sounds like a ship negotiating giant swells, and they’re trying to stay in place. It’s awesome. It’s also a funny record. And the cover has this goat animal with a crazy penis. It came out a little bit before the PMRC.
Tales of Terror, Tales of Terror (1984)
Seeing them live and then getting their record was pretty influential. They were pretty loose, and the record sounds to me like they were just hammered as they were recording it. But it all holds together. The songs sound like they’re in danger of careening in all different directions and not quite making it to the end of the song. But at the same time, it sounds like it actually isn’t a problem because they’re really good musicians; they’re just fucked up.
The record opens with “Hound Dog,” but I usually skip that one. Their own songs are better than “Hound Dog.” “Deathryder” is a killer one, and “Romance” is a great song. “Jim,” “Chamber of Horrors,” “Possession” — they’re all great songs.
When they came to town, no one knew who they were. They were just this touring punk band. I went down to see them, they came on and it was just like, “Holy fucking shit. What is that?” The singer was doing backflips. By the end of the show, everyone was just wrapped up in cords. And it didn’t seem like a contrived thing. It was chaos, but it was controlled. They were just insane.
The third time they came to town, these skateboard thugs threw this party for them, and they were just clearly getting shitfaced the whole time. I remember watching the drummer stagger his way across the stage and get behind the drums. Within the first or second song, the singer was, like, face down on the stage and was passed out for the rest of the show. It was like, “Well, it’s not quite as awesome as their first show, but it sure is something.”
Cosmic Psychos, Down on the Farm (1985)
This is their first EP. It’s got five songs on it, and three of them are over six minutes long. Grunge isn’t really known for brevity. It’s another case of a band with super distorted bass that just holds everything down. The guitarist who played on the first two records is amazing and had this really great wah-wah style. After this record, this songs became mostly short, and they edited themselves down. Before I met these guys, I just thought they were scary, weird people making this crazy-ass music. And they’re pussycats really.
Fuzz, Fuzz (2013)
Fuzz is my only recent thing on here. The second one is sort of a double album. It’s really long, so I just went with the first one, because I think it’s a little more to-the-point. It seems like this band has internalized a lot of the things I’ve been talking about. They’re definitely familiar with Blue Cheer, so they are probably familiar with Randy Holden, Hawkwind and things like that. The guitar sounds super great.
I got into them because Larry Hardy, who runs In the Red Records [which put this out] sent me a copy and said, “I think you’d like this.” And he was right. And then we did this short West Coast tour with them, and they were awesome. Watching them totally gets you psyched to play.