What's Your Heavy: 25 Little-Known Seattle Records You Should Listen To

Just about anyone can recommend Nevermind or Ten to your music collection. Here, Stephen Tow, music historian and author of The Strangest Tribe looks beyond the Billboard 200 charts and MTV playlists at some great records from some of the forgotten bands of the '80s and '90s northwest music scene.

Originally published in Stephen Tow's book The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge. Republished with permission.

Some of the most interesting music in the Pacific Northwest was made by bands that were, by and large, unknown to wider audiences. This list, by the author of the essential read on the northwest rock music scene, The Strangest Tribe, looks at some of these bands. Unfortunately, many of these records are out of print, so go scourge the bargain bin of your nearest record store!

Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage is an exploration of the music scene centered around Seattle in the 80s and 90s. This project looks at all aspects of the rock scene, not just the part that became known as the "grunge explosion." Learn more about Northwest Passage

25 Little-Known Seattle Records You Should Listen To

Blackouts, History in Reverse

The Blackouts

History in Reverse (K, 2004)

Wonderful retrospective from a truly great Seattle band.

U-Men, Solid Action

The U-Men

Solid Action (Chuckie-Boy, 1999)

The entire magic that was the U-Men is difficult to capture on record. That being said, one listen and you'll at least have an inkling about the band's wonderfully managed mayhem. Brace for the opening tracks "Gila" and "Shoot 'em Down," and hear for yourself the unabashed creativity and insanity that was the U-Men. Ed. note: this is now available on the U-Men re-issue box set on Sub Pop Records.

Mr Epp, Ridiculing the Apocalypse

Mr. Epp and the Calculations

Ridiculing the Apocalypse (Super Electro Sound Recordings, 1966)

What's better than a Mr. Epp compulation? The record opends with DJ Stephen Rabow's famous "world's worst rock-and-roll band" commentary.

Young Fresh Fellows, Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest

The Young Fresh Fellows

Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest/Topsy Turvy(Popllama, 1988)

As Conrad Uno commented, "What's Not to like?"

Jim Basnight

We Rocked & Rolled: 25 Years of Jim Basnight & the Moberlys (Disclosed, 2008)

Basnight's catchy, melodic songwriting ability is well captured on this retrospective. Standouts include "Rest Up," "Sexteen," "Live in the Sun," and "Blow Your Life Away."

Fastbacks, The Question is No


The Question is No (1992)

It's hard to pick just one Fastbacks record. The Question is No is a wonderful early Fastbacks sampler, spanning recordings from 1981 through 1992.

Walkabouts, Cataract/Rag & Bone

The Walkabouts

Cataract/Rag & Bone (Glitterhouse, 1989)

Just a fabulous, well-recorded folk meets punk meets... from the Walkabouts.

Squirrels, Scrapin' for Hits

The Squirrels

Scrapin' for Hits (Popllama, 1996)

TWhile it's tempting to include The Not-So-Bright Side of the Moon, this "greatest hits" sampler provides a nice introduction to this singular band.

Green River

Come on Down (Homestead, 1985)

This record, issued prior to Deep Six, perhaps represents grunge's opening document.

Posies, Failure

The Posies

Failure (Popllama, 1989)

Failure, like the Green Pajamas' Summer of Lust, represents a wonderful effort that can come only from young musicians unfettered by the vagaries of the world.

Screaming Trees

Anthology: SST Years 1985-1989 (SST, 1991)

The Trees' SST efforts come well represented on this compilation from the band's first EP and the three SST LPs that followed it.

Red Dress

The Collection (Popllama, 1994)

This is not a rock record in any shape or form, but the two-disk collection contains a studio and live recording of Conrad Uno's favorite band. He describes them as "Captain Beefheart meets James Brown."

Upchuck, Gone But Not Forgiven


Gone But Not Forgiven (dadastic!, 2009)

A well-recorded collection of Bowie-esque glam rock from a Seattle legend

Skin Yard, Hallowed Ground

Skin Yard

Hallowed Ground (Toxic Shock, 1988)

Take dissonant chords, distorted hooks, a powerful drummer, and a singer who could sing like Ozzy Osborne, and you get Hallowed Ground.

Jack Endino, Angle of Attack

Jack Endino

Angle of Attack (Bobok, 1992)

While Endino's 2005 Permanent Fatal Error delves into more of a Skin Yard prog-meets-punk aesthetic, Angle of Attack is far more experimental and thus more exciting.

Coffin Break, Rupture

Coffin Break

Rupture/Psychosis (C/Z, 1990)

These two record showcase Coffin Break as their irreverent selves.

Gas Huffer, Janitors of Tomorrow

Gas Huffer

Janitors of Tomorrow (eMpTy, 1991)

For those who think Seattle was all about Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, put this record on and prepare for the requisite huh?

Mudhoney, Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge


Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (Sub Pop, 1991)

The Trees' SST efforts come well represented on this compilation from the band's first EP and the three SST LPs that followed it.

Love Battery, Dayglo

Love Battery

Dayglo (Sub Pop, 1992)

It's hard to pick just one Love Battery record, since most of them are excellent, but I have a soft spot for this one, recorded at Conrad Uno's Egg Studios.

Truly, Fast Stories


Fast Stories... from Kid Coma (Capital, 1995)

This record came out well after this book's narrative, but I had to include it because it's that good.

Seattle Syndrome


Seattle Syndrome, Volume 1 (Engram, 1981)

The first Seattle Syndrome provides a nice cross-section of Seattle's variety at the dawn of the '80s.



Lowlife (Ironwood, 1986)

Lowlife never got the street cachet Deep Six received, but overall, it's a much better record.



Secretions (C/Z, 1988)

Just preceding Sub Pop 200, Secretions became overshadowed by it, but may be the superior comp, with selections from Skin Yard, Couch of Sound, Capping Day, Vexed, Crypt Kicker 5, Pure Joy, Coffin Break, and H-Hour (with TAD's Tad Doyle on drums).

Sub Pop 200


Sub Pop 200 (Sub Pop, 1988)

In many ways, Sub Pop 200 is the comp all others are measured by. While the label then narrowly defined itself in terms of the Mudhoney/TAD/Nirvana grunge axis, this record goes beyond all that to provide a valid document of late-'80s Seattle.


Bite Back/Live at the Crocodile Cafe (Popllama, 1996)

The record features selections from some of the Northwest's most amazing artists, including Gas Huffer, the presidents of the United States of America, the Young Gresh Fellows, the Minus 5, Love Battery, the Walkabouts, Flop, Girl Trouble, Mudhoney, TAD, the Fastbacks, Mad Season, and Built to Spill. Get this record if at all possible.