I know what you’re thinking. “Eric, please give us more of your thoughts on music dating back to the late ’80s and early ’90s. We need yet more of your wisdom here.”
Okay, okay, I hear you!
I’ve spent a few weeks slowly making my way through Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Grunge Albums. I won’t go deep level nerd out and re-rank fest as I’ve done with things like Nirvana’s 102 songs recently, but just wanted to note that it’s fun to look back and see the diversity of sounds and styles that roughly make up what would come to be known as to the “grunge” music style. Shout out here to Mad Season, featuring “Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and bassist John Baker Saunders,” for showing off the jazzy side(!) of grunge, and quite well at that.
It seems like by today’s standards, grunge is a little bit of a catch all term, a way to describe a culture of a quarter century ago that comprised music of course, but also a certain now dated Gen X-y slacker/ironic attitude and even “grunge fashion.”
Browsing through and listening to songs from many of the albums on the list, I was particularly struck by some things I hadn’t heard in a long time, such as Seattle’s The Gits and 7 Year Bitch. Both sound incredible.
Even though I live in Seattle these days, the “Seattle scene” was a mysterious and exotic thing to me, growing up on the east coast. Ironically, it was not until I was living in England with my good friend Nirav after graduating from college that I “discovered” a bunch of bands, ranging from the aforementioned to Tad, The U-Men, Green River, and a particular favorite, Fastbacks (who I finally got to catch live last year, right in my neighborhood of West Seattle).
The reason? A documentary that documented the exploitation of the Seattle scene, called Hype!. One of us had picked up an alternative music magazine (Kerrang!) sometime in the rainy early winter of 1996, and noticed that there was a contest to attend the premiere of the documentary. As a gas, we decided to enter the contest (note: this was pre-Internet access in our world, and pubs close weirdly early in the UK), and as fate would have it, we won. What’s hilarious to me now is that we had a notion that this would be a star-studded red carpet event in London, with perhaps the likes of Dave Grohl or Courtney Love in attendance. Instead, it was a bunch of scruffy folks like us, along with some people who worked for the magazine.
Anyway, the point being that the soundtrack to Hype! was a gateway drug to what was a relatively new world to me at the time. As much as we talk about the backlash against technology and the Internet these days, it’s important sometimes to take a step back to recognize that we’re all forever a few clicks away from an ocean filled with endless hidden treasures in its depths.
Finally: I may or may not have compiled a Spotify playlist (called The Grunge Years, a name I stole from a compilation album I owned back in the day) comprising 1,158 songs while going through this list.
This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.