Outside the big four.
We all know and love Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden but there was so much more to Grunge and a lot of it was happening outside Seattle.
Let me just address “Grunge” right out of the box.
I personally think of grunge as a time, movement, attitude, a generational feeling, more than a sound.
It is very true that Soundgarden sound nothing like the Melvins and Alice in Chains have a very different vibe than Nirvana and yet they are all lumped into Grunge.
This is why to me it is so much more than the music.
Yes, that is 1991 Wardy 😉
As mainstream radio and MTV were singing the praises of “The Big Four” out of Seattle, tiny music halls, dive bars and festivals around the globe were introducing us to local bands making the same sounds.
Globally, stages were shaken by a fuzzy drop D as teens moshed in pits of sweet, blood and beer building memories that are still talked about today and a music scene that is still current.
Today, I want to talk about some of the unsung heroes of the early ‘90s Grunge scene.
THE GITS – FRENCHING THE BULLY (1992)
- Frenching the Bully is the “debut” studio album by “Seattle” punk rock band The Gits. It was originally released as a 12-track album on C/Z Records in November 1992.
Why inverted commas for debut and Seattle?
Well, The Gits actually formed un the moniker Snivelling Little Rat Faced Gits while the members, singer Mia Zapata, guitarist Joe Spleen, bassist Matt Dresdner and drummer Steve Moriarty, while attending Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1986.
During this time they released an EP titled Private Lubs.
After relocating to Seattle, Washington in 1989, the band set up in an abandoned house in the Capitol Hill district where they rehearsed and lived. Dropping them squarely amid the riot grrl insurgency, along with friends L7, and later, Bikini Kill.
A review in the River Cities’ Reader read, “A stunning document of the talent of singer Mia Zapata. She sings with such conviction, ferocity, and expressiveness that the lyrics become irrelevant. The band becomes irrelevant.”.
Today, female singers are often expected to be seductive, coquettish, demure, or introspective; Zapata was none of these. Though her snarls and sarcastic phrasings it’s impossible not to hear something political, something almost revolutionary, in Zapata’s projection of raw female anger.
The Gits dissolved in 1993 after the brutal murder of Zapata.
Please check out the entire album and posthumously released catalogue but I can highly recommend my fav tracks, Second Skin, Cut My Skin It Makes Me Human and Here’s to Your F*@k
7 YEAR BITCH – VIVA ZAPATA (1994)
- This was the second (of three) offering from who were arguably Seattles loudest Punk, Riot Grrrl band ever. Taking their name from British band Slade’s song by the same name they burst onto the scene in 1990 opening for The Gits, consisting of vocalist Selene Vigil, guitarist Stefanie Sargent, bassist Elizabeth Davis and drummer Valerie Agnew.
This album was written in memoriam following the passing longtime friend and Gits lead singer Mia Zapata. In July 1993, sadly, Mia was found murdered and brutalized on her way home from a gig in Seattle, because of this and the passing of bassist Stefanie Sargent in 1992, pain, anger and an assault of militant punk infiltrate every riff on this album. During the anti-rape anthem M.I.A where vocalist Selene Vigil roars, “Who would be so shocked/ By the brutal murder of a killer?”
BABES IN TOYLAND – FONTANELLE (1992)
- Sticking with second albums and thundering Riot Grrrls we have Babes in Toyland exploding out of Minneapolis.
Fontanelle was the exact opposite of the debut release Spanking Machine. Setting the tempo with opening track Bruise Violet, written about a female frontwoman from another band ……, where the unstoppable force that is vocalist, Kat Bjelland, screams “You f***ing bitch, I hope your insides rot”.
Throughout the record, with tracks like Blood, Pearl, Real Eyes and Handsome and Gretel, the Babes (Kat, Maureen – Bass and Lori – Drums and Vox) tackle misogyny, rape and abandonment with ineffable brute force.
JANITOR JOE – BIG METAL BIRDS (1993)
- While Seattle is hailed as the nucleus of Grunge, Minneapolis was doing its fair share, supplying us the afore mentions Babes in Toyland, Soul Asylum and of course Janitor Joe.
Formed in 1992 by bassist and vocalist Kristen Pfaff along with guitarist/vocalist Joachim Breuer with Matt Entsminger on drums, this was the trios only release with this line up and it was a thunderous, head-splitting, sludgy debut. Through all the distortion, tracks like Goal Oriented do manage to put a spring, if ever so lightly, in the step of the grinding grunge.
Short, sharp, loud is a great description of tracks like Voucher (2m2sec), Head (2m4sec) and the smashing Slur (2m28sec).
Rating as one of the gnarliest albums of the era, it certainly should be on your must have list.
SCREAMING TREES – SWEET OBLIVION (1992)
- Screaming Trees are known as one of the pioneers of grunge forming in 1984, while never “making it big” internationally, they are certainly one of the most successful Seattle bands to remain somewhat underground. Sweet oblivion was their sixth release, selling more than 400,000 copies was their most successful in terms of sales. This was the bands penultimate release, followed by Dust before their breakup in 2000.
Sadly we lost vocalist and songwriter Mark Lanegan in February 2022, one of the most emotional vocalists ever, using his whiskey driven, raw and uniquely husky baritone sound to distinguish the Trees from contemporaries.
Tracks like Dollar Bill, Nearly Lost You and Troubled Times make this album a necessity for any collection.
BLIND MELON – BLIND MELON (1992)
- To the initiated, Blind Melon probably seem like a choice way out of left field, but like every other band on this list there is much more to them than the façade.
This self-titled debut album brought us the chart topping No Rain, which unfortunately has relegated Blind Melon to “one hit wonder” status in many lists but there was so much more, something deeper to Blind Melon than poppy chart toppers.
Hidden behind the ‘bee girl’ were tracks like the amazing Change, dedicated to Kurt Cobain and the mellow and introspective I wonder. Bound together with Holyman and Dear Ol’ Dad which criticize religion.
Combining inspired lyrics with Shannon Hoons scratchy, high pitched vocal and an alternative, ‘70s rock feel, Blind Melon by Blind Melon is worthy of this list and your attention.
SKIN YARD – 1000 SMILING KNUCKLES (1991)
- No article or list of this type will ever be completely comprehensive and individual views will always differ, but I think we can all agree that such a list must include the confounding, perplexing and extraordinary, Mr. Jack Endino.
While never gaining the popularity of their contemporaries, Skin Yard absolutely left their mark on the annuls of Grunge. Formed by Jack and Daniel House in 1985 they were soon joined by Ben McMillan and Matt Cameron, opening their first show for the U-Men.
Skin Yard contributed two tracks to the groundbreaking 1986 release from CZ Records, Deep Six. This compilation also featured songs from Soundgarden, Melvins, Malfunction, Green River and The U-Men.
1000 Smiling Knuckles was the fourth studio release and arguably their best work and saw Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season, Walking Papers) on drums bringing a heavier, more metal sound than previous Skin Yard albums although still well and truly a dirty, sludgy grunge offering it certainly deserves some time in the sun.
- Honorable mentions seem like the go to thing these days.
Is it a shield from the hate? A way of shortening a list, making it more manageable? Maybe it is just the culmination of those “Oh, shit! I forgot about them”?
Either way, this is my honorable mention list in no particular order and no specific albums so check out the bands below and find your sound from their extensive catalogues. Some of which are still growing today.
- Mother Love Bone
- The U-Men
- Love Battery
- Beasts of Bourbon
- Local H
- Cosmic Psychos
- Dinosaur Jr.
Again, this list will never be definitive, but I hope you have enjoyed reading and maybe found a brand-new old band.
Rock on! Wardy
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