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To Die Unsung Would Really Bring You Down

By Jez | Music | July 30, 2009 |

By Jez | Music | July 30, 2009 |

Here are some of my favorite record labels. This is when record labels meant something to me. For the most part, in the 90s, record labels had a “sound” they were going for. Here are some of my favorite.

subpop.jpgSub Pop Records - These guys have been puddin’ it on wax since 1988 or so. No single independent label is more prominent in the 90s than Sub Pop. Sure, you had a Chapel Hill contingent out there with Pavement leading the effort, but you can’t argue that Sub Pop launched the biggest band of the 90s (Nirvana) which then also began the grunge movement. Say what you want about grunge; I think that genre helped push “alternative” music into its own radio format. Even though I think Perry Ferrell/Jane’s Addiction/Lollapalooza festival should be truly credited for 80% of the work, it was Nirvana and the video with those damn anarchy cheerleaders that did the job. Thank Krist Novacelic for drunkenly banging on Jonathan Ponneman’s door early one morning asking for a recording contract, otherwise, Nirvana might have just been another great band on Sub Pop 98% of the world never heard of.

While its easy to point at Nirvana and say they were the best band the label had, they were really only on the label for Bleach and a couple of singles. I still think I liked The Fluid or TAD more than Nirvana.

When I think of Sub Pop, I think of the great Singles of the Month Club, where you would pay them $60 and they would send you 2 singles every 2 months, plus bonus singles. Most of these were on colored vinyl, and many were from bands that were known in indie circles, but not huge. Fugazi even had a Sub Pop single (the 3-songs single, which was later added to the Repeater CD).

Green River, who would later evolve into Mudhoney and Mother Love Bone, the latter who would eventually become Pearl Jam, had two releases on Sub Pop.

The other thing Sub Pop did was release 6-song EPs by their bands, and then sometimes couple that release with a full-length CD. They did this for both The Fluid and TAD. But then, they also made 6-song EPs for L7, Cat Butt and Blood Circus. The one by L7 was good, the other two, not so much.

While the Afghan Whigs’ best album was Gentleman, released on a major, they also got their start on Sub Pop, releasing Up In It and Congregation, as well as an EP of covers.

This is all fine and good for those of us who enjoy waxing nostalgic about “true grunge”, but checking out Sub Pop’s site, they still have a very active roster of artists that are putting out stuff today, such as Fleet Foxes, Iron and Wine, The Postal Service, The Shins, Wolf Parade and Red Red Meat. However, I choose to stick with my old faves in the video section:

The Fluid, with “Black Glove”:

Tad, in all of his huge glory:

Sub Pop 200 - a compilation of a lot of their earlier bands.
Afghan Whigs Up In It
Everything by TAD
Sliver single by Nirvana

4258883.jpgSympathy for the Record Industry - This label started putting out singles in the 80s. Apparently, it’s in some sort of flux, as Long Gone John, the label’s proprietor, moves out of California to the great Northwest.

The great thing about Sympathy is/was that there were no artists really “signed” to the label, unless you count Clawhammer. Sure, he released a lot of singles by some of the same artists (The Lazy Cowgirls, New Bomb Turks… hell, he even had a couple of early Hole releases), but you couldn’t really say that any of them were “on” Sympathy. It was more likely that you would refer to a band’s single as being on Sympathy to identify it.

The Ettes, “Beggars”

The White Stripes De Stijl, White Blood Cells CD and the “Hello Operator”/”Jolene” 7-inch record were released on Sympathy. Pretty impressive for such a small operation.

Amphetamine_reptile-300x219.jpgAmphetamine Reptile Records - Out of Minneapolis came one of the noisiest labels that ever existed. In 1992, I thought for certain that metal was going to make a comeback, and that some band from AmRep was going to be the band to lead the rest. Unfortunately, Helmet’s Meantime didn’t have the success of Nevermind, even though you can still hear “Unsung” to this day on the radio.

I can’t really say that any of the AmRep bands are still or ever were my favorites. The God Bullies were probably my favorite, because of their live show. They had basic rock riffs and rhythms, but really fucked up lyrics. Mike Hard, their singer, was a fantastic sight to see. Dressed in a three-piece suit, wide-eyed and smiling like a crazy man at the audience, I remember him singing to a severed baby doll’s head.

All of the music was very heavy, and a couple of friends of mine have even mentioned it being “cold”. I could see that. Sub Pop actually released a double-single for two month’s worth of their Single of the Month Club called “Smells Like Smoked Sausage”, which featured several AmRep bands, as well as Melvins, who ended up signing with AmRep after being dropped by Atlantic in 1994.

AmRep still sells their catalog online, although they are no longer a functioning label.

The insanity of Mike Hard and the God Bullies…

Nice shorts, Page…

Surgery “Little Debbie” single
Cows Cunning Stunts LP/CD
God Bullies Mama Womb Womb LP/CD
Lubricated Goat Plays the Devil’s Music and Psychedelicatessan

Jez is not the one from Kajagoogoo, but you can move a little closer. He lives near the south shore of Lake Michigan and enjoys good beer alongside good music. You can check him out over at Fresh Beer Every Friday.

TK Burton is an Editorial Consultant. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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