Scratch Acid – “Scratch Acid” (1984)

In his journals Kurt Cobain wrote down his list of Top 50 albums. At #8 was Scratch Acid’s 1984 self-titled debut. In talking about his early musical influences the Nirvana frontman once said:

At that time hardcore was totally dead. Speed metal was the next big thing and I hated that shit. The reason I like Scratch Acid so much was because they had structure to their songs, real simple pop structure that you could follow real easily, and it was almost like an Aerosmith song, but it was really fucked up. And that’s what I was doing and that’s what I wanted to do.

The Texans show some influences from their home state on tracks like “Monsters”, which comes off like a deranged punk rock country song, but you can’t easily pin them down stylistically. Yes, it’s punk in attitude. But as Cobain mentioned, these songs aren’t just ridiculous noise fests; they’re songs. “Owners Lament” carries a weight, but then overlays it with goth-like vocals and a catchiness that would have been a perfect fit for college radio at the time. And hell, the bass work on “Mess” is straight-up 1970s hard rock. You can feel how a record like Scratch Acid influenced what was to become grunge just a few years later.

I lucked into this thing down at Vancouver, WA’s 1709 Records, sitting on the wall right next to another gem, Green River’s Rehab Doll, an amazing 1-2 find. It probably won’t be cheap if you’re fortunate enough to find a copy in the wild, so if you just want the music I’d recommend picking up the band’s 1991 comp The Greatest Gift, which includes all eight songs from this record as well as all of the band’s other recorded output.

“God’s Favorite Dog” Compilation (1986)

I know a lot of people don’t like comps, and I get why – a good album is an integrated experience, and when you strip songs out of their intended environment they don’t have the same meaning or sense of being a part of a larger work (<- pretentiousness alert!!!). That being said, I like me a good comp since it’s a great way to get exposure to a lot of different bands in one sitting. Not all comps are created equal, to be sure, but when done well they’re solid.

Touch & Go Records’ God’s Favorite Dog is a slightly different take for a comp – instead of featuring songs by all different bands, or blocks of songs by the same band, you get six bands each contributing one song to each side. I know of most of the bands, though I have limited experience with them. The roster is comprised of Butthole Surfers, Killdozer, Scratch Acid, Hose, Happy Flowers, and Big Black. To make the recording even a little more interesting, it includes three covers – Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” as performed by Scratch Acid, along with Neil Young’s “Down by the River” and Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times” recorded by Hose.

I initially was tentative about this album. The reason is that the Butthole Surfers were one of the first bands that truly made me uncomfortable with their music back in the day (hell, maybe even still today). Skinny Puppy was undoubtedly the first, but I can remember in high school staying over at my friend John’s house and listening to his older brother crank Locust Abortion Technicians and being more than a little freaked out by it. This was not Def Leppard’s Hysteria… hell, it wasn’t even Master of Puppets – it was something totally beyond metal and industrial and noise. Something bizarre. Something I couldn’t figure out if I liked or thought should be sealed in a lead-lined container and buried deep in a mountain until it cooled off. Later I discovered Ghostigital, and I really think my experience with the Butthole Surfers allowed me to appreciate how awesome they are (though it still took a while), so I guess I owe them for that.

Side A (referred to as “God’s Side” on the album) can best be described as “sludge”, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I actually had to double check the record while “Sweet Home Alabama” was playing to make sure that I wasn’t supposed to be playing this on 45 rpm… but I wasn’t. It was just slllooooooowwwww. It’s music filtered through molasses, but without the sweetness. I think someone may have actually been killed in the studio on the Big Black track. This is a recording where the snap, crackle, and pop of the vinyl actually seems to actually be an integral part of the music.

The order of bands is reversed on the flip side (a.k.a. “Dog’s Side”), with Big Black opening and Butthole Surfers wrapping things up. It also has the best song title on the comp, “All I Got Were Clothes for Christmas” (“No Toys!” is the best lyric) by Happy Flowers. The Zep cover is solid, and may be my favorite track on the album (I know… I know…. it’s a cover!). The lo-fi sound and feedback fits perfectly with the song. Dog’s Side is my favorite side of the album overall – I just think the songs are better in general, and “How Many More Times” is solid.

If you like your music muddy and a bit weird, God’s Favorite Dog is for you. I dig it, but it probably won’t make the regular rotation.