When Soundgarden Released Their Debut, ‘Ultramega OK,’ on Halloween
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On Halloween 1988, Soundgarden issued its debut album, Ultramega OK. But the way they’ve talked about the disc over the years, you might think that they’d rather forget about it.
“We made a huge mistake with Ultramega OK, because we left our home surroundings and people we’d been involved with and used this producer that really did affect our album in a kind of negative way,” Chris Cornell told Kerrang!, explaining the band’s decision to team with producer Drew Canulette at the behest of their label at the time, the punk-centric SST Records.
Despite the fact that they recorded much of the disc in Seattle — sessions took place in both the Emerald City and Newberg, Ore. — there still was a disconnect from their hometown, which would soon be the epicenter of the ’90s grunge movement.
“Material-wise we went through the process that we always do, but the producer wasn’t used to the sound we wanted and didn’t know what was happening in Seattle,” Cornell told Kerrang! “I regret it, because in terms of material, it should have been one of the best records we ever did. It actually slowed down our momentum a little bit because it didn’t really sound like us.”
While the production may not have been up to snuff, the 11 tracks and two covers featured on Ultramega OK are hard and heavy enough to shine through, showcasing an early version of the band’s soon-to-be-trademark Black Sabbath-meets-Stooges grunge sound, with flourishes of psych, classic rock and harcore punk also in the murky mix. Cornell penned most of the music and lyrics, with his bandmates — guitarist Kim Thayil, then-bassist Hiro Yamamoto and drummer Matt Cameron, who currently plays with Pearl Jam as well — chipping in on a handful of songs.
“Flower” was the only single released, and its Mark Miremont-directed video (watch it below) saw heavy airplay on MTV’s weekly alternative rock showcase 120 Minutes. Highlights like “All Your Lies” and “Head Injury” remain fan favorites, while in-jokes “665” and “667” (each one step from the Devil’s number, 666) and album-ending “One Minute of Silence” (their half-cover of John Lennon‘s “Two Minutes of Silence,” both pretty much what their names imply) showcase the band’s oft-forgotten humorous side.
Despite the growing buzz surrounding the band, Ultramega OK failed to chart, but Soundgarden still supported the album with a successful U.S. tour in the spring of 1989, and they made their first trip overseas, heading to Europe for a summer. It also earned Soundgarden their first-ever Grammy nomination, for Best Metal Performance, in 1990. They soon inked a deal with major label A&M for 1989’s Louder Than Love — they were the first from the burgeoning Seattle scene to do so — which proved to be a major step forward, setting the table for the string of multi-platinum platters that came later and gave Soundgarden their turn — however brief — as one of the biggest bands in rock.
And whether they can listen to it now or not, it all pretty much started with Ultramega OK.
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