Commentary: The roots of grunge run deep

The Melvins were friends and mentors to Kurt Cobain, and their sonic influence on Nirvana's first album is unmistakable.

Story highlights

  • Grunge's roots can be traced back to the 1980s, if not further
  • "Deep Six" is recognized as the first record to document this burgeoning regional sound
  • Green River is often cited as the first grunge band
During the days leading up to the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana's landmark album "Nevermind" on Saturday and the grunge album's deluxe reissue the following Tuesday, you're going to hear a lot about how "Nevermind" changed everything:
How the band's single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," was a phenomenal, seemingly overnight success that ushered so-called alternative rock into the mainstream.
How "Nevermind" killed hair metal and unseated Michael Jackson -- the old guard -- from the top of the Billboard album chart.
How the success of "Nevermind" ignited a major-label feeding frenzy to find "the next Nirvana," resulting in the signing of previously way-too-weird-for-a-major-label bands such as underground heroes The Jesus Lizard and Japanese noise-rockers the Boredoms.
How most of these groups were unceremoniously dropped when they didn't sell boatloads of records, while groups perceived by many to be Nirvana and/or Pearl Jam ripoffs (i.e.: Stone Temple Pilots, Candlebox, Bush) achieved multiplatinum success.
How Kurt Cobain gave voice to a disaffected, flannel-clad Generation X. And how Cobain was a musical genius, gone from this Earth too soon.
And all of these things are true, aside from the hair-metal myth (glam-metal was already a genre in decline by that point).
You'll also be hearing a lot of use of the word "grunge," a label used -- typically to the labeled party's chagrin -- to describe purveyors of the raw fusion of heavy metal and punk rock that emerged from the Pacific Northwest. But what you won't hear quite so much are the specifics of that emergence. In some quarters, it seems 1991, which also saw the release of Pearl Jam's multiplatinum debut album "Ten" and Soundgarden's "Badmotorfinger," is being treated as year 0 of grunge, because that's when the music exploded into the mainstream consciousness.
In fact, grunge's roots can be traced back to the 1980s, if not further.
"Deep Six," the 1986 compilation on Seattle label C/Z Records, is recognized as the first record to document this burgeoning regional sound. It featured a half-dozen local bands: Soundgarden, Green River, the Melvins, Malfunkshun, the U-Men and Skin Yard.