“Another Pyrrhic Victory” Compilation (1989)

Sub Pop certainly signed more bands and survived the demise of grunge to emerge a pretty powerful label, but for my money Seattle’s C/Z Records put out the best cops from the grunge era, period. Their first ever release, way back in 1986, was called Deep Six and included the likes of Green River, The Melvins, and Soundgarden, they got Nirvana for their 1989 Teriyaki Asthma 7″ comp, and put out regular releases by bands like Skin Yard, Coffin Break, and 7 Year Bitch. That, my friends, is quality.

I recently came across a vinyl copy of their 1989 Seattle comp Another Pyrrhic Victory, and as soon as I saw that Malfunkshun was included there was no question that I was buying it. The front cover says it all – “The Only Compilation Of Dead Seattle God Bands.” And these are the bands that died two years before Nevermind came out, put grunge on the map, and pissed off one of my friends for kicking off flannel and hiking boots as a fashion trend among the girls at his midwest high school. Trust me, he’s still mad about it to this day. But he can’t blame the bands on Another Pyrrhic Victory, because they were all long gone by time grunge took over music.

Some call me Georgie-boy,
Some call me Landru…
— “My Only Fan” by Malfunkshun

So opens the first track on Another Pyrrhic Victory, the trashy “My Only Fan” by Malfunkshun, led by bassist and vocalist Landru, aka Andy Wood the future frontman of a little sleaze band called Mother Love Bone. You can hear a bit of that future in “My Only Fan,” though Wood’s vocals advanced by leaps and bounds by time Mother Love Bone’s first EP came out in 1989. Green River follows that fancy guitar, high pitched rocker the way that only they could, by slowing it down, way down, with plodding weight and Mark Arm’s moaned vocals on “Bazaar,” a song I’ve never heard before. In fact I’m almost positive I’ve never heard any song on this comp before.

Things get really interesting for me with the next two bands on side A, 64 Spiders and My Eye, neither of which I’d heard of before. 64 Spiders keeps it slow and heavy for the first minute or so of “Bulemic Saturday” before the song kicks into high gear… and then slows it down again, all part of an up-and-down pattern. Their second song, “They Ain’t,” immediately follows the first, a raspy, angry, driving number that reminds me a bit of early Tad (which is ironic, because Tad is a member of one of the bands on this comp… but it’s not 64 Spiders!). My Eye closes out the side with another slower track, and the lead singer sounds like he’s channeling his inner tormented Alice Cooper. This one kicks into gear for a bit as well and is a decent rocker.

H-Hour (featuring one Mr. Tad Doyle on drums) opens up side B with the most interesting song on the comp, the 10+ minute “Medley,” which sounds like a more rock version of The Cure. And I mean that in the best way possible, because I think it’s killer. Musically the band is tight as a drum, keeping a steady driving pace for vocalist Johnny Clint, whose voice is what drives this to the top of my list. They contribute a track to another C/Z comp called Secretions, and I may have to try to track it down just to hear more H-Hour.

Next up is Landru’s second appearance with Malfunkshun’s “Shotgun Wedding,” a much less sleazy song than their first track, but still a bit of dirty little rocker. My Eye then steps forward with another decent number before we get to the pièce de ridiculousness, Green River’s irreverent version of the Christmas song “Away In a Manger,” which is preposterously awesome. Words can’t do it justice. They don’t change the lyrics or anything – it’s all in the presentation and attitude and impertinence. My favorite part is the one that sounds like an old-timey country song…. which is immediately followed by some Jimi Hendrix style guitar work. If you’re easily offended by the idea of someone mocking this religious Christmas song, I’d suggest you skip this one.

Another Pyrrhic Victory might be the best early grunge comp out there, every bit as strong as Deep Six, so if you find it, buy it.

“Deep Six” Compilation (1986)

So early this week Holly says to me, “I want to go down to the knitting show in Tacoma on Saturday. We should make a day of it.” This is normally where, as a husband, alarm klaxons go off in my head like a red alert on the bridge of the Enterprise. But my wife is savvy, so she followed that with, “We can go to Hi-Voltage afterwards, and then the Red Hot for lunch.” All of a sudden those alarm bells are replaced in my head with the chorus of Queen’s “We are the Champions” as my mind conjures up images of aisles of vinyl and my stomach begins to prepare itself for a bacon hot dog. Looking forward to going to Tacoma was pretty much what got me through the rest of what was an incredibly hectic work week.

So we make the hour long drive to T-town, and the knitting show is everything you would imagine it would be… but even more packed. Fortunately Holly generally knows what she’s looking for and we were out of there in maybe 30 minutes, which was, I knew, considerably less time than she’d spend waiting for me while I perused the Indie/Punk/Metal section at Hi-Voltage Records. Hi-Voltage is, without a doubt, one of my favorite record stores – their selection of hard rock/grunge/punk/metal used vinyl is as good as anyones, but we just don’t make it down there very often because it’s a decent drive, so I was going to make sure to take advantage of the opportunity. I’d budgeted myself a respectable amount (that I went over by $7… the state’s gotta get their cut in sales taxes) and figured to come away with a healthy stack of records. I had just started at the first New Arrivals bin when I saw it, about 10 records deep into my browsing experience.

An original pressing of Deep Six.

At that point I knew I’d have a hard time staying within my overall budget, and I’d have to be a bit more selective because I wasn’t going to let that one get away from me. I did still take the time to go through every single record in every miscellaneous section from A to XYZ though and happily left with about 10 albums, many of which will undoubtedly appear on the blog in the next month or two. If you ever get the chance to hit up Hi-Voltage in Tacoma, do it – great people, amazing selection.

So what’s the deal with Deep Six? Well, two earlier compilations had already attempted to tackle the Seattle music scene in the early to mid 1980s, Seattle Syndrome, Volumes 1 & 2 which were released on vinyl in 1981 and 1983 respectively (and covered on this blog in posts on Dec. 9 & 12, 2012) and showcased a community that was evolving from new wave back into a sort of quasi punk. Volume 2 may have fired the very opening salvo of the grunge movement with the inclusion of one really odd band named after a math teacher – Mr. Epp (originally known as Mr. Epp and the Calculations, and a move similar to that of Lynard Skynard, another band that also took it’s name from a teacher). One of the members of Mr. Epp was Mark Arm, who later was part of two other seminal early grunge bands (and who is, much to his chagrin, often credited with first using the word “grunge” in relation to Seattle music… but I digress), Green River and Mudhoney. Deep Six was the next step in the recognition and, if you will, categorization of what later became known as “The Seattle Sound” and that word that so many Seattle musicians hate with a red-hot passion (not to be confused with The Red Hot, mentioned at the beginning of this post, which is a great tavern in Tacoma with an amazing hot dog menu), “grunge”.

C/Z Records was founded by Chris Hanzsek and Tina Casale, who moved to Seattle to open a recording studio after having hear the Seattle Syndrome albums while living in Boston. Released in 1986 and limited to an initial run of 2,000 copies, Deep Six‘s band roster is an impressive who’s who of early Seattle area grunge – Green River, The Melvins, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, and The U-Men, bands that if they didn’t become famous in their own rights were major influences on bands that did hit it big. Man, I know I had this thing in my hands at least a couple of times at the old Cellophane Square store in Bellevue, but I never picked it up – which may be a good thing, since that would have meant I’d sold it when I got out of vinyl ages ago, and I’d have been kicking myself as I bought this copy to replace it.

Here’s a quick look at the bands of Deep Six:

  • Green River: Maybe the earliest true grunge band, members later formed some other pretty damn famous groups. One was Mudhoney. You may have heard of the other one too. Pearl Jam.
  • The Melvins: In addition to being one of the most well known punk bands in western Washington in the 1980s, they were also a major influence on a kid from Aberdeen named Kurt Cobain.
  • Malfunkshun: Featured crazy glam frontman Andrew Wood, who later played with what I think was one the most talented Seattle bands, Mother Love Bone. Wood unfortunately was also one of Seattle’s early heroin casualties, dying of an overdose at 24 just before the release of the band’s first LP, Apple, in 1990. The band Temple of the Dog began as a project to record some tribute songs to Wood, including the hit “Say Hello 2 Heaven”, and two members of Mother Love Bone also went on to form Pearl Jam.
  • Skin Yard: These guys were really influential among their peers, though major success eluded them over the years. They did kick ass, though.
  • Soundgarden: What do I need to say, really? They’re Soundgarden!
  • The U-Men: The U-Men were OG Seattle punks who gained enough notoriety to support a number of major players over the years including the Butthole Surfers, Minutemen, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. They were major influences on the other bands on Deep Six and were brought into the project at the insistence of Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil. Supposedly they showed up at the studio, cut their track in one take, and were out the door in less than 10 minutes and on their way to Idaho for a gig that night. If that isn’t punk rock, I don’t know what is.

Some of the songs featured on Deep Six later made it onto other albums, thankfully for some like Soundgarden who’s Deep Six tracks sound like they were recorded on the bottom of the ocean (the version of “All Your Lies” does not even come close to matching the one that later appeared on Ultramega OK). There are a few though that I don’t think appear anywhere else, which is one more point in this comp’s favor… as if it needed one.

Deep Six is a time capsule of Seattle grunge. It’s as close as you can get to ground zero, not as important for the actual quality of the recording, but for what it represents. Some people like to point to Sub Pop 100 as the key event, but most of the bands on that record aren’t even from the greater Seattle area and it wasn’t until Sub Pop 200 in 1988 that Seattle’s most famous label put out a genre-defining comp.

Bottom line is that Deep Six is the original grunge comp. Know it. Hear it. Love it.