I am a product of the grunge era. So much so, that there wasn’t a need to explore beyond what was happening in the Pacific Northwest in the late 80s and early 90s. Once you liked a band, it was only a matter of time before others from Seattle followed. Sure, some sounded alike, but they were all friends, played shows together, lived together, or shared band members. I can only imagine what it would’ve been like being 14 years old and living in Seattle in 1989. These bands all changed my life from across the United States. We were fortunate because of how thoroughly the era was documented in writing and photography. At the center of it all were Sub Pop Records founders Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt. Their collective genius in releasing compilations from mostly local artists created the mega-scene that we’d all come to know.
Following the success of Sub Pop 100, bands that landed on December 1988’s Sub Pop 200 were given the golden ticket to local stardom. These compilations created a frenzy and a scene was born. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Mudhoney, who 2 months earlier released SuperFuzz BigMuff. I’m here to review 1990’s SuperFuzz BigMuff Plus Early Singles, which is the full-length that includes that tracks from 1988’s SuperFuzz BigMuff.
Track 1: Touch Me I’m Sick
The album opens with the unmistakable scratching of fingers along the fretboard of Steve Turner’s Fender Mustang. Two violent attacks on a ½ step tuned down A chord, and the rest of the band joins in on “Touch Me I’m Sick”. While not my favorite Mudhoney song, it is the song that most personifies them. The dueling guitars played through, well, a Univox Superfuzz and an Electro Harmonix Big Muff is equal parts sloppy and brilliant. A complete abandonment of anything that can be regarded as technical or structured. The song will eventually be de-throned by “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the anthem for the genre but not without enjoying its time in the sun. Sonic Youth will try its hand at covering it with Kim Gordon giving it her reckless best. Citizen Dick will also give it a try in the movie “Singles”, of course taking on the title “Touch Me I’m Dick”.
Track 2: Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More
After the high energy “Touch Me I’m Sick” comes the trudging dirge “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More”. This song would fit in just fine on a Melvins record. The song has always been linked to Nirvana’s “Negative Creep” by the lyrics Daddy’s little girl ain’t a girl no more. The song’s signatures are one of Arm’s most blood curdling screams, as well as an unrepeatable guitar transition out of the solo, no doubt one of Jack Endino’s studio touches.
Track 3: Hate The Police
It’s impossible to talk about this song without referencing it’s place in the live set. After 60 minutes of torturing his voice, the band spends a few minutes off stage doing Mudhoney things before coming out for an encore. It is usually the first time all show where Mark doesn’t have a guitar. It will be double fists around the mic and neck veins the likes of which we haven’t seen this side of Iggy Pop. The song is a cover of a little old band from Texas…THE DICKS. Don’t listen to the original. This is punk mastery.
Track 4: Burn It Clean
I never much identified with this song. I enjoy the song but it’s too, well…clean. It’s precise, formulaic and, gulp….tight. However, the lyrics are phenomenal and completely Mudhoney…nonsensical, quotable and just plain funny.
Track 5: You Got It (Keep It Out of My Face)
This song embodies the teamwork of Arm and Turner. Arm plays the entire song at the top of the neck with only power chords, and Turner never gets off the 12th fret on the high strings. This track and “Here Comes Sickness” personify how rhythm and lead guitar should work together. If you’re in a band with another guitarist, listen to this song, and learn to play both parts.
Track 6: Halloween
I always thought this was kind of a throwaway song, another cover, this time of Sonic Youth. The story goes, Bruce Pavitt sent a copy of the original Superfuzz Bigmuff to Sonic Youth who proposed a split single with Mudhoney. Sonic Youth would get the tall task of “Touch Me I’m Sick” while Mudhoney took the low road with “Halloween”. SY would include the track on a reproduction of Daydream Nation in 2007. My only version was a tape-hissy live version from 1988 but it was enough for me to appreciate the undertaking. Halloween pays homage to The Stooges’ “I wanna be your dog” toward the end as it progresses into the unmistakable chord progression.
Track 7: No One Has
Click. Flip over the tape. Side B. Fitting because what is to come has a different feel all together. These songs are intelligent and well written. Far less frantic but every bit as rocking. This song has always been one of my favorites. It is just so good at establishing a level and then changing it abruptly and having it work. Blitzing you with bass then attacking with treble. The lyrics are identifiable. For its location on the record and it’s structure, it’s a perfect song.
Everyone likes this song. At times it borders on pop but is able to quickly extinguish the notion and make you feel bad for even allowing yourself to think of it as a pop song. It goes from catchy to brutal better than any song that is not trying to do so. I thought it was written to provide a breather for the live act but Arm proceeds to expel that possibility by trying to destroy his larynx.
Track 9: In N’ Out Of Grace
We wanna be free. We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. We wanna be free to ride (got damn) our machines without being hassled by the man (pause) AND WE WANNA GET LOADED (YEEAHH!!!). A sound byte from the movie “The Wild Angels,” from a eulogy given for Peter Fonda’s character. During passing time in the hallways of North Haven High School, this could be heard on any given day. When people saw us, they’d yell, “we wanna be free!” They just heard us say it constantly so they just started yelling it back to us. Needless to say, this song has a special spot in my heart as well as in the set list. After Dan Peters performs a 90 second drum solo, it’s Mark’s turn to address the audience to impart knowledge on anything and everything. Each night a different spouting of ridiculousness, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes barely coherent, as Mudhoney often were loaded on Vitamin R (Reiner Beer) themselves. It’s no wonder this was our high school garage band’s go-to cover as it embodied everything we loved about Mudhoney.
Track 10: Need
The Fresh Mud Choir. Backing vocals are usually lost amidst the chaos, but when they are audible it’s best to pay attention, as they usually offer some good comedy. Visualizing the studio sessions with Turner and Lukin singing “sooooo much neeeeeeeeed” for the chorus becomes funny, given the deliverers. The “Godfathers of Grunge” follow the grunge rock formula to a T, clean intro-distorted version of that intro-chorus-bridge-versus-chorus-solo-chorus. The guitar solo is a stock Steve Turner signature launched out of a Mark Arm yeah, yeah…hit it! “Need” is also the first song I ever learned on guitar in it’s entirety.
Track 11: Chain That Door
This is the “Burn It Clean” of Side B. Put it on another Mudhoney record and it would be gold but on this pantheon of rock, it’s just okay. And yes, I’m fully aware this could become my favorite song on the album any time now as each one of these songs has been my favorite at a given time.
Track 12: Mudride
This is a decadent usage of tone and shows how Arm and Turner were in complete control. Amplifier feedback is an integral part of the usage of space. With that, the song has a different life each time it’s played. As for the album cut, it’s perfect. Production comes to life on headphones.
Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles is perfect in it’s imperfection. It is unquestioned by anyone who calls themselves a fan as the finest in the entire catalog. I can wholeheartedly say that without it, I’d be someone else.
by Jeff Beale
Did you enjoy this CLASSIC Album Review? Would you like to submit your own? You can! Click here.