Sub Pop Turns 20, Sends Zach Braff An FTD Bouquet

Jan 29th, 2008 // 24 Comments

B0000035F0.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_V45176654__.jpgVenerable Seattle label Sub Pop is two decades old this year, and the Seattle Times has run down its storied history of weathering various industry calamities (from alt-rock’s slow death to the record biz’s slow death) while also managing the deft feat of continuing to expand its aesthetic remit by signing less-than-commercial acts like noize boys Wolf Eyes and sludge punks Pissed Jeans, a luxury in a troubled era that’s perhaps made possible by the label’s ten best-selling albums of all time. While the following list will probably not come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with the label’s last decade or so, it will probably make a few more labels wish they had signed Sam Beam or gotten a very public shout-out from a Scrubs cast member.

1. Nirvana, “Bleach” (1989), 1.6 million

2. Postal Service, “Give Up” (2003), 902,885

3. The Shins, “Oh Inverted World” (2001), 547,274

4. The Shins, “Wincing The Night Away” (2007), 500,813

5. The Shins, “Chutes Too Narrow” (2003), 462,574

6. Hot Hot Heat, “Make Up The Breakdown” (2002), 282,141

7. Sunny Day Real Estate, “Diary” (1994), 226,388

8. Iron & Wine, “Our Endless Numbered Days” (2004), 220,157

9. Iron & Wine, “The Creek Drank The Cradle” (2002), 133,752

10. Iron & Wine, “The Shepherd’s Dog” (2007), 133,490

I don’t think any of us really expected Earth 2 to place in the Top 10, but Jesus H. that’s a lot of wuss rock and beardy folk. Apparently the Shins will not only change your life but your tax bracket. And Sunny Day sneaking in at No. 7 probably makes Mssrs. Pavitt and Poneman wish they had invested in a bit more proto-emo.

Sub Pop’s Got Some Kind Of Record [Seattle Times]

  1. mackro

    But thanks to the “wussy cash flow”, releases by A-Frames, Kinski, Pigeonhed/Steve Fisk, Jennifer Gentle, Michael Yonkers, Radio Birdman, and many others got decent distribution.

  2. Al Shipley

    What does it say about all the big survivor indie labels that still, after all the hype about their new bands this decade, for most of them their biggest seller was an early album by a band that went big with the majors in the 90s? I hope for Sub Pop’s sake that Geffen or the Cobain estate never pulls Bleach from their catalog, Lookout! still seems to be reeling from what Green Day did.

  3. JohnDoe

    What I’d like to see is how much money has been made on licensing the Postal Service music. That’s where I bet everyone involved made a killing.

  4. The Illiterate

    Sub-Pop still gets a cut of everything Nirvana released on Geffen, not just Bleach. That’s probably enough to keep Earth in print for all eternity.

  5. Chris Molanphy

    @JohnDoe: Word.

    And speaking of Postal Service, that sales total should still be eye-popping for anyone keeping score. It’s been widely reported for a couple of years now that Give Up was Sub Pop’s second-best seller in history and a gold album, but 903K? That thing’s almost platinum. (And I remain an unabashed lover of the record, so don’t read this as hateration.)

  6. Cam/ron

    Funny, I thought that Tad’s “8-Way Santa” sold platinum based on its cover art alone. I’m still on the lookout for old-school Sub Pop Singles Club records (Fugazi anyone?).

  7. BeGee

    When are they going to reissue Sadgasm’s back catalogue?

  8. loudersoft

    @Cam/ron: That would have been true, except the original cover art “victims” sued and won a judgment against Tad and/or Sub Pop forcing them to pay up and also change the cover.

    They really need to get up off of those “secret” 10 copies of the 1st pressing of Love Buzz/Big Cheese by Nirvana. WE KNOW THEY ARE IN THE VAULT OKAY?

  9. rogerniner

    Sub-Pop is just like a damn fine espresso. Sludge (Earth) on the bottom, lite and frothy (The Shins)on top.

  10. mackro

    There is a Tad DVD coming out next month. (there’s a showing somewhere of it in Seattle then.)

    Perhaps God’s Balls and rarities will finally get full CD reissues.

  11. Lucas Jensen

    @dennisobell: We have a gold record for Give Up on our wall here because we did radio promo for it. Only label that ever sent us one for our work on a gold-selling record. Thanks, Sub Pop! It’s pretty rad, I gotta admit, to have one in the office. I wonder if it’ll play. We’ve had many discussions about that.

  12. sharky

    David Cross is almost enough to make up for the atrocity that is “Hot Hot Heat”.

    Almost.

  13. Chris Molanphy

    @Lucas Jensen: It won’t play — can’t remember where I read this (I think in a Rolling Stone or Blender Q&A feature), but the framed gold and platinum records passed out by the RIAA are usually bad pressings or cutouts of some random record, with the appropriate label appended and the appropriate metallic color spray-painted.

  14. mike a

    I would really like to know what Sub Pop’s 10 worst sellers were. I guess Swallow at the bottom of that list.

  15. baconfat

    Makes me kind of sad to see that The Woods didn’t make the top 10.

  16. Maura Johnston

    @mike a: That Plexi album has to be down there, given the number of used-bin copies that I still see of it.

  17. Maura Johnston

    @sharky: That first Hot Hot Heat EP is terrific. The rest, not so much.

  18. Cam/ron

    @baconfat: It just shows you that critics’ darlings and cult favorites don’t equal bestsellers.

  19. Anonymous

    Isn’t there a Sliders episode where Steven J. Bernstein tops this list??

  20. pchcowboy

    Recall that Sub Pop also tried to catch a rocket ride on the Scandinavian express by licensing albums from heavyweights Gluecifer and the Hellacopters. Grasping at trend straws or simple Supersuckers withdrawal?

  21. Michaelangelo Matos

    @mike a: I’m guessing the Thornetta Davis album is right down there.

  22. Anonymous

    Thanks for the reminder about “Earth 2.” What a beautiful and hypnotic record. I need to find my copy and put it onto my iPod for that long, tedious drive to work.

  23. MrStarhead

    The Times article says Mark Arm works in the Sub Pop warehouse. That depresses me.

  24. Anonymous

    @Matos: No doubt. Probably followed by The Hardship Post’s album.
    I, uh…kinda like that one.

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