The Early Years

March 12, 2008

The term grunge was first used to describe music in 1981 by Mark Arm to describe his band Mr. Epp and the Calculations. Arm would also go on to be in several influential bands, including Green River and Mudhoney.

So it was out of the environment of rainy Seattle that grunge was born. And reborn, as it happens. In fact, grunge is one musical genre that is so inbred that it’s hard to distinguish who came up with what and when. Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard alone was involved in nine different bands between 1982 and 1994. The genre changed about as much as the bands and their line-ups did. As a result, the music scene was very much like a big dysfunctional family, one that could be described as the Partridge Family on downers. Still, it was a family that put together some great music.

As a genre, grunge is a mix of punk and metal, with a definite mix of early 60s rock in there too. It’s no secret that many bands were influenced by artists like Neil Young, and were big fans of Rust Never Sleeps. The lyric “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” is one embrace and/or questioned by several grunge musicians.

It makes sense to start talking about grunge by talking about Green River. Green River was a band that included several people that would go on to be very popular during the grunge explosion of the early 90s. These were, primarily, Jeff Ament, Mark Arm and Stone Gossard. Ament and Gossard would go on to play in Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam (among others) and Arm would later front the band Mudhoney. Green River’s sound came from a mix of dark rock with a punk feel. With some influence from metal bands, early Green River releases like 1985’s Come On Down represent this very well. And for much of the grunge scene at that point, this was the standard. Early Soundgarden sounded much more like Led Zeppelin than it did Superunknown.

The first big break for grunge artists was the Deep Six compilation. The compilation featured Green River, Soundgarden, The Melvins, Malfunkshun (featuring Andrew Wood, who would later front the band Mother Love Bone), Skinyard and The U-Men. It was released in March of 1986 and became the “grunge” album of the time. And while the compilation probably doesn’t sound like the grunge we think of, but it was definitely the basis (The Melvins, for example, sound more like just punk rock than grunge).

Another significant album was the first Nirvana album Bleach, which received very little attention outside of the Seattle area.

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