10. Green River: Rehab Doll/Dry as a Bone (1987)
Green River was the indie-rock equivalent of the Yardbirds, a band consisting of future alternative-rock gods who would gain greater fame with their later endeavors. Green River was named after the song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, a band whose working-man aesthetic was a consistent source of inspiration to the ’80s underground, and the Rehab Doll/Dry as a Bone comp shows both sides of the band’s later projects. Mudhoney is represented by the bluesy, garage-rock songs like “Ozzie” and “This Town” as well as Mark Arm’s charmingly nasal vocals. But it’s the massive-scale, country-punk sound of Gossard and Ament’s work that really steals the show here. While Pearl Jam’s breed of light, digestible grunge has not aged well, the grandiosity of “P.C.C.,” “Unwind” and especially “Swallow My Pride” (later covered by Soundgarden) still resonates, hinting at how these two became heroes for a generation.
9. Wolf Parade: Apologies to Queen Mary (2005)
This album has like a primer course on all things Sub Pop (and for that matter, all things indie rock). It has an epic hard-rock feel, deeply personal lyrics, sweet melodies, and vague forays into electronica — all in one compact mix. With Isaac Brock at the helm and roots both in the Arcade Fire’s Montreal and Sub Pop’s Pacific Northwest, just about every side of the indie-rock spectrum can be found here. This is one of those albums that got way too much hype before it hit the scene, but unlike in most cases, Apologies to Queen Mary backed it up.
8. Beat Happening: You Turn Me On (1992)
Calvin Johnson and company were already household names in the Pacific Northwest by the time of their final album and first with Sub Pop. Kurt Cobain’s K Records tattoo had also helped give Beat Happening a modest mainstream following that the band never really wanted. But Beat Happening made sure to move on with one of their most fully formed musical releases, one that gets played by fledging lo-fi and twee acts like “Smoke on the Water” gets played by metal beginners. With seemingly endless hits in the tank like “Tiger Trap,” “Teenage Caveman” and closer “Bury the Hammer,” Beat Happening could have gone on forever if they so chose. They instead decided to leave on a high note.
7. Reverend Horton Heat: Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em (1992)
Oft forgotten in discussions of Sub Pop lore is how the label ingeniously designed the breakthrough of psychobilly. When Reverend Horton Heat showed up at Pavitt and Poneman’s doors, they were a band with ideas out the earholes but without a clue in the world how to apply them. Once the label broke them in, they were ready for the Show, signing a foolish but well-earned deal with Interscope two albums later. In the meantime, the Rev crafted the best psychobilly album the planet has ever seen, especially coming from a band that sounded like it was from Mars. The Cramps may have built the genre from scratch, but Horton Heat took it to its natural extreme, with speed guitars more fit for a hoedown than an arena, all part of a nightmare ride through Americana. It’s only fitting they wrote the least fun Guitar Hero track ever.
6. Sleater-Kinney: The Woods (2005)
The swan song for the greatest riot grrl act was also their only Sub Pop release. The Woods’ messy noise, hard rockin’, rough-around-the-edges appeal was a new phenomenon for the band, and completely on another pedestal from its peers. The Woods proved for a new decade that smart, aggressive rock don’t come strictly from testes. A year later, the band would go on the dreaded “extended hiatus,” which would have been bad enough on its own. But with an album that marked such a new direction for an already iconic band, this was one of the more painful hiatus announcements in rock history.