Music is always entwined with the society surrounding it. You can’t have punk without the temporary delipidated New York dystopia that spawned it, you can’t picture Bruce Springsteen’s Cadillac ballads without the long open roads afore him, and you can’t hear reggae without being figuratively whisked off to the beach. In America’s northwest, as the gaudy lustre of the 1980s began to erode, a new genre was set to explode.
The old hair-rock was being sequestered from Seattle music clubs like the OK Hotel and Re-Bar, and in its place flannel shirts and guttural vocals were clambering into life. While the label of ‘grunge’ came from elsewhere and was disavowed by many among the scene, gone was the gloss of glam and its place was a grit worthy of the token.
Seattle was the epicentre for the grunge explosion that would soon change the world of music. Not only are Pearl Jam one of the most celebrated outfits from the scene, but with their 1991 debut LP, Ten, they helped to set out the tenets of the genre for others to follow. Fronting the band was Eddie Vedder who became the rasping archetype of a grunge frontman.
The success of Pearl Jam would soon be followed by fellow Seattle natives Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden to name but three — and neither reside at Vedder’s champion of the Seattle division. Instead, the sandpaper voiced singer claims that the greatest band to come from the epicentre of the global movement was none other than the lesser-known Mudhoney.
Speaking to Howard Stern, Vedder rubbished the claims that the Seattle sound scene was segregated by fierce rivalries and claims Mudhoney were not only a great band but a friendly glue central to the movement. He declared: “One of my favourite Seattle bands was Mudhoney, and there was a little bit of fraction, with one side of Seattle music here, and ours didn’t fit as well into that… which was fine,” he said, adding: “But also Mudhoney, I was grateful to have those guys as friends.”
Mudhoney formed in 1988 and were soon signed to the iconic Sub Pop label that helped to shine a spotlight on the movement. While that spotlight would wander onto bigger acts and leave Mudhoney somewhat in the dark, they still managed to garner enough underground attention to release ten studio albums and inspire countless others. For instance, Kurt Cobain championed their debut effort Superfuzz Bigmuff as one of his favourite records ever. Although not as anthemic as some of their counterparts, the messy aesthetic formed a cornerstone of all that followed.
As the liner notes to the reissue of Superfuzz Bigmuff, penned by Jay Hinman, read: “My feeling—and I know I’m not alone in this one—is that for all the play and worldwide attention several Seattle-area bands got during the 1988–92 period, at the end of the day (and even at the time), there was Mudhoney—and then there was everybody else. To me, you, and everyone else paying close attention to underground rock music during those years, Mudhoney still sound like the undisputed kingpins of roaring, surging, fuzzed-out, punk music.”
Thus, as Vedder argues, Mudhoney were not only unrecognised heroes who helped to pull the scene together, they also kicked it into gear in the first place. Mudhoney are still signed to Sub Pop and in 2021 their sophomore received a 30th-anniversary edition that fans of the scene snapped up in a hurry. Long may their legacy live on.