Much of the Seattle scene’s first wave is forgotten, footnotes in the stories of grunge’s titans. It’s a shame, as grunge’s prototypes were uglier sounding, more unpredictable and more irreverent than what came next.

Soundgarden and the Melvins survived that first wave, and went on to have completely divergent careers. The former became slicker, and courted mainstream success. The latter took a more independent path, and stuck to their roots.

A similar divergence tore Green River – arguably the first ever proper grunge band - apart. While members Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Bruce Fairweather wanted major label success, frontman Mark Arm did not. Gossard, Ament and Fairweather formed Mother Love Bone, the first Seattle band set for major success. After the untimely death of its frontman, Andy Wood, they went on to form Pearl Jam. Arm formed Mudhoney with original Green River guitarist Steve Turner, and stuck with the irreverence and a punkier sound.

In that regard, Green River is the perfect embodiment of the Seattle scene, which couldn’t decide whether it wanted to embrace its fame or run screaming from it.

The band formed in 1984, out of the ashes of an endless stream of punk bands. Arm, guitarist Turner and drummer Alex Shumway asked bassist Jeff Ament if he wanted to start a new band. They took their name from the Green River killer, who was active in the area at the time. Stone Gossard joined the band at a later date so that Arm could concentrate on singing.

Green River made an impression at local shows. As they honed their sound, more hard rock and metal influences creeped in, much to the chagrin of Turner, who was getting into 60s garage rock sounds. By the time the band’s first EP, ‘Come On Down’, was released on Homestead Records, Turner had quit, and Bruce Fairweather had taken his place. The hard rock influences started coming to the fore a little more.

As an aside, the various versions of the band’s song ‘Swallow My Pride’ document the band’s evolution, and the evolution of the grunge sound in general. On the original version on ‘Come On Down’, Turner plays with an almost clean, jangly style while Gossard plays heavily distorted. At the end of the song, Turner plays a wah-wah wig out that’s seemingly out of place with the rest of the band. By the time the band recorded it for their only full-length, ‘Rehab Doll’, the song is more bombastic, the opening riff has become tighter, and brings to mind hard rock bands such as Aerosmith.

After a short, sparsely attended US Tour, the band recorded two songs for the first big showcase of the Seattle scene: ‘Deep Six’. They recorded two songs, ‘10000 Things’ and ‘Your Own Best Friend’, appearing alongside Soundgarden, the Melvins, Skin Yard, the U-Men, and Malfunkshun.

In 1986, the band started work on one of the two releases that the band would be remembered for, ‘Dry as a Bone’, with Jack Endino in his Reciprocal studios. The EP is the band at their most cohesive – the punk and hard rock elements blend seamlessly, delivered with enough raw energy to prevent the band drifting into cheesier hard rock territory. Elements of the sound bring bluesy punk bands such as the Gun Club to mind, particularly ‘Unwind’, which has a great sinister boogie feel to it. ‘This Town’ and ‘Ozzie’ are similarly frenetic, dark rockers that epitomise the early grunge sound. They slow the pace on ‘PCC’ and ‘Baby Takes’ – the former is the better song, but the latter hints at the more commercial hard rock direction some members of the band would take. ‘Baby Takes’ embraces a sense of drama that punks wouldn’t have been seen dead utilising a few years previously.

The band went with Sub Pop to release the record, which then delayed its release until the following year. By that time, the rot had started to set in. The band was gearing up to record its first (and only) full length, ‘Rehab Doll’, and Gossard and Ament wanted to pursue mainstream success, and tried to get Arm to take singing lessons (according to him). Arm, by contrast, wanted to stay independent, and more true to the DIY punk spirit that the band came from.

That tension can be heard on ‘Rehab Doll’. The production is noticeably slicker than the band’s previous releases, the sound creeping closer to the stadium rock sound that Gossard and Ament would refine in their subsequent bands. The punkiness is still there, but it’s been pushed to the back of the stage.

There are still great moments on the record – the version of ‘Swallow My Pride’ has real bite, and ‘Together We’ll Never’ is a great distillation of the early grunge sound. ‘Porkfist’ is early Aerosmith through a punk filter. ‘Take a Dive’ is more sleazy blues punk of the Gun Club school. But elsewhere, such as on ‘Smilin’ and Dyin’’, things sound a little disjointed.

The band split before the album came out – Gossard and Ament were already playing with Andrew Wood, previously of Malfunkshun, in what would become Mother Love Bone. Not long after the band split, Arm rejoined Turner, and the pair formed Mudhoney with ex-Melvins bassist Matt Lukin and Dan Peters of Bundle of Hiss. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Green River have sporadically reformed over the years for anniversary shows. 'Dry as a Bone' and 'Rehab Doll' were packaged up on a single CD in 1990 to cash in on the success of its former members. That was the only commercially available release for years, but the two records have now been re-released with a stack of bonus tracks. The ‘Rehab Doll’ one in particular, with the Reciprocal versions of the album tracks, capture the band at its raw best – the version of the album that wasn’t to be.











Related Links:

https://www.facebook.com/Green-River-112625725440363/
https://www.subpop.com/artists/green_river


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