My War, by Black Flag
So what if this album came out in 1984? So what if Black Flag has always been considered a punk band? Grunge was springing to life in 1984. And punk is one of the major, if not the major, influence on grunge. This album in particular, with its mix of fast and slow songs, was an early precursor to what would eventually become grunge. Side A of the album has six tunes more similar to early Black Flag stuff, punk at maximum speed frenzy. But Side B only has three songs, all long compared to Side A, and they’re loaded with heavy, slow bass lines right out of Black Sabbath, another band to influence grunge. So, it’s technically not grunge. But you still need this album if you love grunge.
Gluey Porch Treatments, by The Melvins
Okay, now we’re talking a band a little closer to the roots of grunge. Metal, punk, whatever you want to call them, The Melvins were a big influence on the likes of Kurt Cobain. In fact, Cobain even played guitar and drums on a couple of this band’s songs and was friends with several members of the band. This 1987 albums was the first from The Melvins. It’s been re-released two or three times on cassette and CD, coupled with The Melvins’ Six Songs EP. Sturdy stuff. You can definitely see the influence on Nirvana and other grunge bands.
Mudhoney, by Mudhoney
Now we’re definitely in grunge territory with this 1989 album. It’s pure grunge. Heavy, distorted guitars. Screaming. Cursing. This was Mudhoney’s first full-length studio album. The geniuses at Sub Pop were responsible.
Bleach, by Nirvana
What? No “Smells Like Teen Spirit?” That’s right. This was Nirvana’s debut album, from Sup Pop in 1989 (gosh, that seems like a long time ago), and it rocks with the best of them way before “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Nevermindhit the radio waves. There’s pure slow power here, and noshing like crazy. Kurt’s voice is at its most rough, as is the guitar playing. This is the closest Nirvana ever was to true punk, and it shines. I really can’t say enough good about this album. You have to give it a listen. Favorites? Man, it’s hard to pick. Maybe “Blew” and “Negative Creep.”
Louder Than Love, by Soundgarden
1989 must have been a prime year for early grunge, because that’s when this album was released. Some might find this album a strange listing since to many ears it seems almost more true to heavy metal, maybe even glam metal. Not so. Pay attention to the lyrics. Soundgarden is lampooningheavy and glam metal here, all the while still dealing with some dark stuff. An excellent album from an excellent band. Wish they were still around. One great thing about this album is you get to hear Soundgarden before they hit big, and before their sound became all cleaned up (not that the band still didn’t sound good, just different).
Mother Love Bone, by Mother Love Bone
This album actually comes a couple of years after the death of the band’s lead singer, Andrew Wood, in 1992. It’s a compilation album from earlier works by Mother Love Bone, practically a tribute album to Wood. I suggest this album over other, earlier works from the band because it brings so much together. You’ll find nearly all the band’s earlier stuff in these tracks. Mother Love Bone has been considered a grunge band, though they were a bit different than what the mainstream music listener has come to thing of as grunge. Sure, this band had some heavy stuff, but they also had fun songs and some downright love songs. The two songs put together, “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns,” is a standout, and one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded.
Siamese Dream, by Smashing Pumpkins
This is one of the few bands that’s been labeled grunge even though they didn’t come out of the Seattle sound. Smashing Pumpkins is from Chicago. And this, their second album was released in 1993. Sure, this album came out a little after grunge had hit big, and it wasn’t the huge concept double-album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadnessthe band would put out in 1995, but it’s not only a good album, it’s a great album showing the variety of styles and lyrics available from Billy Corgan and group. It’s got some real heavy tunes, and some softer pop sounds. A little for everybody.
Singles movie soundtrack
The movie might have been fairly forgettable, but this soundtrack from 1992 isn’t. You’ve got song from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, even Jimi Hendrix. And more. Plenty more. Seriously, a grunge fan couldn’t ask for a better mix of bands and songs than can be found on this one album. Many of the songs are difficult to find anywhere else.
Frogstomp, by Silverchair
This is the only post grunge album to make this list, I promise. And despite the poppy, radio-friendly tune “Tomorrow” being a track here and the fact the band members were only 15 and 16 years old when this album was released in 1995, this album still rocks with the best of them. Sure, it’s not as deep as anything Kurt Cobain ever wrote, but there’s still some quality lyric writing here. And the sounds come right out of Black Sabbath and later Nirvana. Don’t be a dweeb and think you’re too good for this album. Give it a try. Truly, it thumps.
The White Stripes, by The White Stripes
Ooooo, it’s a fairly modern band. They couldn’t possibly be grunge! Get over yourself. The early Seattle scene was about diversification in music, not just about heavy metal and punk. Sure, The White Stripes isn’t a grunge band, and they’re not really one of the radio-friendly post-grunge bands, but Jack and Meg White have a lot in common with grunge. The White Stripes’ big influences are blues, punk, country and to a much lesser extent, heavy metal. I think that combination qualifies them to be perfect for grunge fans, especially this album from 1999. The White Stripes was a garage band early on, and it shows through in this album with all the rough edges to Jack’s guitar and the steaming quality of the slide on a few songs here. My favorite song here? “The Big Three Killed My Baby.” But the cover of Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” comes darn close.