The story of SST Records
September 18, 2010 10:26 AM   Subscribe

The story of SST Records
posted by Joe Beese (34 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks. I look forward to reading this. On a quick skim, though, "The pick of the litter as far as I'm concerned is their Slip It In LP of 1984" raises some alarm bells. Isn't that the one with "Rat's Eyes"? Shudder.
posted by Beardman at 10:34 AM on September 18, 2010

I've read the first link before and it's a good one. The second link is a HUGE resource! Thanks for that one. It'll be fun to go through and fill some memory gaps (and stuff and never got around to ordering).

I wonder if anyone has any of those old SST sheet/catalog things they used to send out? I could swear upside-down that one of the later ones, maybe 1988 or 89 listed a Dr. Know (Bad Brains not the lame Mystic Records band) solo album.
posted by bionic.junkie at 10:37 AM on September 18, 2010

Man, Perfect Sound Forever is a treasure trove of awesome – easily the best music site on the web.

That "SST Records" link is pretty fantastic, too. Thanks, Joe.
posted by koeselitz at 10:42 AM on September 18, 2010

Needs more Saccharine Trust Worldbroken...for my money one of the best SST releases evers.

But yeah--awesome.
posted by Camofrog at 10:58 AM on September 18, 2010

bionic.junkie - you're probably thinking of LA punk band Dr Know, eponymous to the Bad Brains guitar wizard
posted by jtron at 10:59 AM on September 18, 2010

I've read that Perfect Sound Forever piece before but it's good to be reacquainted with it. Even better it to get another copy of that Hüskers gig from Aug 1985, from the second link; bought a copy at a record fair in Dundee back in the early '90s, but it disappeared in a house move at some point. It's been one of those things that I forever mean to track down but never actually get down to hunting for. Cheers, Joe!
posted by Len at 11:04 AM on September 18, 2010

bionic.junkie--there were a couple of awful HR solo releases, also, which you might have (god help us) confused with Dr. Know, and as jtron said, there was a band of the same name.

I order from SST in the mid 80s from the catalog, down from South Texas. I believe I ordered Bad Brains "I against I" on cassette, and got the HR solo cassette instead, since they were out.


But I had also ordered Dinosuar Jr's "You're living all over me" and that made up for it in droves.
posted by gcbv at 11:07 AM on September 18, 2010

I have a total love/hate relationship with SST. They put out some of my favorite albums in the 80's. I thank SST for introducing me to Minutemen, Black Flag, Meat Puppets, Hüsker Dü, Leaving Trains, Trotsky Icepick, and Angst.
But after those first few years the SST logo went from being a flag that this was a record I had to own being a warning to put the record down and walk away. Sadly when I think SST now the first thing that comes to mind are the crappy albums of meandering dicking around by bands like Painted Willie, SWA, Tar Babies, October Faction, Gone, and, worse of all, Tom Troccoli's Dog.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:08 AM on September 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Despite my comment above, both of those links are pretty damn impressive. Looking through that Blasting Concept site I'm getting lots of record shopping flashbacks. From that site this comment from 4/6/10 stood out: "An unopened copy of Flags' Nervous Breakdown went on ebay for 4 grand lately, the seller was Chuck Dukowski."
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:20 AM on September 18, 2010

I have a total love/hate relationship with SST. They put out some of my favorite albums in the 80's. I thank SST for introducing me to Minutemen, Black Flag, Meat Puppets, Hüsker Dü, Leaving Trains, Trotsky Icepick, and Angst.
But after those first few years the SST logo went from being a flag that this was a record I had to own being a warning to put the record down and walk away.

This. The early stuff was amazing, purely wonderful music. Later, not so much.
posted by Forktine at 11:34 AM on September 18, 2010

I love sst. I grew up with the descendents. Will definitely give this a read!
posted by TheBones at 11:53 AM on September 18, 2010

jtron -- Thanks, but I'm sure I wasn't confusing it with the band Dr. Know (I even mention it's not them in my post). I learned the hard way about Dr. Know the band by picking up a 7" of theirs thinking it was a Bad Brains guitarist release. It was just awful.

It may have been something that was in the works between Bad Brains break-ups and got scrapped when they reformed. I know when Quickness came out, it was essentially a Dr. Know album, as HR said in interviews that he didn't participate in the writing of the songs, including amazingly, the lyrics. Since it came out around the same time, maybe some of the songs that were intentioned for the solo went to Quickness. Or maybe I have a really faulty memory and I'm just making things up.

I had one of the HR solo discs. It's obvious that his heart has been set as a reggae artist for some time. I think a lot of the tension in that band is from the different directions that they wanted to go, HR and his brother with the reggae and Dr. Know and Daryl more metal/hardcore. For me, the tension is best expressed on I Against I, where a positive compromise of their different visions ended in probably the best Bad Brains album made. Conversely, the worst compromise is the latest album. On that it seems they had some notes on what the songs structures and key changes were and then went to what I can only guess are separate studios to record. HR went to one studio and put down his vocals. The rest of the band went to another and laid down a grinding, metal-inspired, hardcore album. Then they came back, had Adam from the Beastie Boys merge it all together and presented the mess as the album now known as To Build A Nation.

Didn't mean to derail this thread into a Bad Brains commentary. Beardman -- I loved Slip It In for years. In fact, until recently, and despite the title track, it was my favorite Black Flag album by far. I listened to that thing for probably a years straight in my angsty teens. It was only a few years back that I went I reassessed the Black Flag catalog and found that I like In My Head (even with or maybe partly because of its dated production) and the instrumental Process Of Weeding Out.

There were some really cool releases on SST. My first Sonic Youth album -- EVOL -- came from SST mail order. I remember thinking the run-off lock-groove at the end of Expressway was the coolest thing. That album is in a tight struggle with Daydream Nation as the best Sonic Youth disc of all time. There were bands that I thought were a bit overrated at the time -- Minutemen, Husker Du -- that I should really go back and listen to with a much more open mind.
posted by bionic.junkie at 11:57 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

SST could do no wrong up until about 1987, when Greg started releasing a ridiculous amount of crap. See the No Age comp (where the LA band got their name) for a sampling of these lowlights - Paper Bag, Lawndale, Alter-Natives.

Last good record SST put out was Slovenly's Highway to Hanno's in 1992.

While we're talking SST, anyone who has worn out their copies of Rock and the Pop Narcotic and Enter Naomi should check out Joe Carducci's blog.
posted by porn in the woods at 12:29 PM on September 18, 2010

That No Age compilation had a scorching Glenn Phillips track though.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:35 PM on September 18, 2010

"Our Band Could Be Your Life" also does a great job of telling the story of SST by way of recounting the histories of Black Flag, Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur.

Great Post!
posted by photoslob at 2:23 PM on September 18, 2010

I just want to show some love for the band Dr. Know. I loved a ton of SST bands, had most Bad Brains records up to the early 90s and saw HR live, but I still have some love for the Oakland's (?) Dr. Know whose LP I found in a Munich underground record shop after hearing them on a Mystic sampler that, I believe, included DRI. Great post. Incidentally, a high school friend who never would have listened to any of this music ended up hanging out with HR on the regular for a bit! Funny world this.
posted by putzface_dickman at 2:26 PM on September 18, 2010

bionic.junkie, I was sure I had seen that Dr. Know solo album, too. In fact I had it in my hands when I worked at Wax Trax in Denver in '91. I almost bought it but put it aside. And now I can find nothing on it, anywhere. Strange...
posted by causticgnostic at 2:34 PM on September 18, 2010

posted by Liquidwolf at 3:01 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a fascinating story but damn if they dont make it hard to hard.
Thus I put the text in a generously flowed and spaced 3 column format in InDesign, fonted it up in Baskerville and made it a simple PDF here.

I dont wanna steal the dude's clicks or anything so you should still click the story link up there.
This is way easier to read tho.

Sorry I didnt include dropcaps or PQs. :P
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:40 PM on September 18, 2010

Thanks causticgnostic for confirming that. I wonder if it was a promo you had, since there doesn't seem to be any other info out there on it...

Check out the serious Sonic Youth hate on this post for EVOL on that heretoblast blog. Yikes!

And how about that Black Flag clone Blast! from Santa Cruz? Saw the Santa Cruz comp and I'm amazed there isn't more on the blog with them. I remember they had at a couple of releases on SST. I guess the lead singer is something of a nut. I remember going to an L7 show w/ Wool opening and he kept getting up on the stage during both sets. Every time he did, he'd pull pants down in front of the band and yell about how he was a eunuch.
posted by bionic.junkie at 3:43 PM on September 18, 2010

No mention of the Negativland lawsuit thing?
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 4:13 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, good ol' SST! One of my bands from the 80s had a release on SST.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:27 PM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

No mention of the Negativland lawsuit thing?

No kidding - quite an omission. SST released a lot of fantastic stuff, but the Negativland business is questionable at least. Some have said the record company threw the band under the bus.
posted by exogenous at 4:56 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Man this really brings some great memories for me! He probably won't mind if I mention him, but I was friends with Jovi Butts (Bitchen San Diego Bassist) for many years and he was like an SST mascot/entourage. He got me into so many shows I can barely even remember them all. Once I saw Sonic Youth at a Halloween party and they played facing away from the livingroom/party into a wall. Awesome. I saw HR crush about 30 people when he backflipped and collapsed a stage at an old VFW. Once I even fucked with Greg Ginn about his voice...I thought he was kidding around...he wasn't and I still feel bad about that.

The sad thing about the bands of SST is that none of them really made the big bucks that I believe they deserve for their contributions to music. (What? Soundgarden?) This may not be the best analogy, but much of the SST catalog is used the same way today, or over the years, as early Blues was used by Zeppelin and others during the British invasion. (It's a universe of awesome hooks and phrases.)

Thanks for the post, and it's funny I was just checking in to MeFi before having a guitar session.

flapjax, I'm gonna check that out and I hope you don't mind me mentioning that you're Punk Rock Royalty here. Can you post one of your Tiny Tour vids w/ you jamming w/ Mike Watt? I looked but only found the one with some "Hans" guy. Screw Hans, I think there's one where you can be seen and heard clearly.
posted by snsranch at 6:03 PM on September 18, 2010

sns, thanks for your interest, but alas, i don't possess any vids from the tour with Watt. There are a few more up on YouTube, though, that people have posted, besides the one with Han Bennink. I'll track 'em down and send you some links via MeMail. The ones I've seen have pretty atrocious audio quality, though: totally distorted!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:32 PM on September 18, 2010

I was a big SST kid in high school out in the sticks, so this has been nice trip back and led me to find all the Angst albums: horrible name, great band. I also like Flag's In My Head more than the punk albums nowadays.

flapjax, nice that they put out an album for you. belated congrats (for some reason, I always wanted to have an album released by SST--even if Ginn would keep whatever money from it--or possibly something like TeenBeat out of DC)!
posted by sleepy pete at 6:36 PM on September 18, 2010

That's cool flapjax. I just thought an SST post would be a good context for that. I'm sure I saw one a couple of years ago that, while the audio wasn't great, really showed you working the drums like a bad mofo.

sleepy pete, yea, it's a shame about Greg Ginn, and it's probably lame, but I kinda have to stick up for him a little bit. All along he should have had a real financial adviser. He and many others would be swimming in dollars now. But he really is an artist, a kooky one at that, his brother is Raymond Pettibon, so apparently a little crazy runs in the family. I guess the point is, get an agent!
posted by snsranch at 7:15 PM on September 18, 2010

Oh, no worries, sns. I know that about the guy. Yeah, someone should have told them about money management.
posted by sleepy pete at 7:31 PM on September 18, 2010

So am I the only one who kind of liked Gone?
posted by scody at 8:18 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I liked Gone (from what I can remember). But I think the only thing I didn't like on SST was Tom Troccoli's Dog.
posted by sleepy pete at 8:21 PM on September 18, 2010

My soundtrack of junior high was all the great stuff coming out of SST and Dischord. ...I vaguely remember when music used to be about something and it had purpose. It was exciting and sloppy (at least to a teenager who wanted to break away from suburban mediocrity), and I'm happy to have been able to experience a lot of it as it was happening. Discovering musical ghosts is exciting in its own right, but it sometime loses some of its sting over time.
posted by Mael Oui at 10:09 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

So am I the only one who kind of liked Gone?

Ha! Scody, I learned to slap bass listening to Gone (don't forget Gone II but not too Gone!) On retrospect, sort of hard to listen to. By the way, check out Our Band Could Be Your Life youtube channel.
posted by pepcorn at 2:57 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just saved this thread for a proper read later. Everyone who knows me knows I love SST.

Also, the OP's second link: I discovered that blog a couple of years ago and I've been keeping it a secret ever since, afraid that 'The Man' might try and take it down. Dude only posts deleted recordings and otherwise-unavailable vinyl rips; it's a fantastic resource.
posted by macdara at 8:20 AM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a fairly interesting interview with Tom Troccoli, in which he covers some of the history of SST and related bands.
posted by asconfusedasnigel at 8:11 PM on September 20, 2010

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