Sub Pop and Seattle music are inseparable. When anyone around the world mentions the "Seattle sound," they are surely referencing bands that Sub Pop first cut to wax. And as a humble Seattle record store, we've got to say thank you for all the great music; just look at all the Sub Pop titles on our all-time best-seller list. This past week Sub Pop celebrated their thirtieth birthday with a series of free shows around town, and we're gonna celebrate in our own record-nerdy way, by counting down the ten most valuable Sub Pop records of all-time!
We dug into the auction archives (we're going off eBay numbers) to see what the deep-pocketed grunge aficionados around the globe were willing to shell out for a little slab of Seattle authenticity. There are plenty of rare editions of records you can still find at any old record shop if you want, but many of these are specific collectors' editions. Sub Pop is of course renowned for their short runs of colored vinyl first-pressings, in fact they kind of invented it. Their early singles were perhaps the ones that truly lit that fire of colored-vinyl fever for the modern day collector. We'll have to figure out how many copies of Bleach on black equal the value of just one of those rare Iceberg shaded copies!
Okay let's get to the coveting:
Ugly Casanova Sharpen Your Teeth $300
Almost everything else in this list is from the heyday of grunge, so we looked to see what the most valuable 21st century (non singles-club) Sub Pop record was, and this was it. Sealed, this Isaac Brock project sold for a slick $300 shortly before the record was finally reissued.
The Head & The Heart Let's Be Still (Sonic Boom Edition) $228
We just have to insert ourselves into the narrative a bit here. We were lucky enough to get to sell 100 baby blue copies of this one, the second LP from The Head & The Heart. Needless to say it's become highly desired. Hope you were lucky enough to stop by the day it was released, they sold out fast!
10. Mark Lanegan The Winding Sheet $555
This album was the brooding solo debut from the Screaming Trees front man. And this particular copy was a test-pressing! We'll see a few more of those on this list. Test-pressings, for the none obsessive collectors reading, are early pressings of a record sent to the label to make sure everything is sounding good before running off thousands. Usually only a handful are made, often going mostly to good friends and insiders!
9. Dwarves Blood Guts & Pussy $575
What marketing genius it was to make a limited number of a first pressing on colored vinyl. It definitely contributed to the collector hype around what Sub Pop was doing in the early years. Around town you can still buy this masterpiece of sleaze punk on drab black vinyl for a little more than fifteen. But this is a pristine marbled pink copy, a few bucks more.
8. -tie- Smashing Pumpkins Tristessa & The White Stripes Party Of Special Things To Do $600
Here are a couple bands I bet y'all don't associate with Sub Pop. It's fun to think about how when Sub Pop released the Tristessa single in 1990 The Smashing Pumpkins were just a promising midwestern grunge band with a cool demo. Nowadays a grey vinyl first-pressing can fetch hundreds! And as for that White Stripes single, it's from the turn-of-the-century reboot of the Sub Pop singles club, a mail order club where you get a single a month by a bunch of random bands, another little bit of that marketing acumen! Also another case of "before they were famous" here too, just a goofy and hip Detroit garage duo.
7. Mudhoney Butterfly Stroke $677
Another test-press and another singles club reboot record. Hardly a classic of the Mudhoney canon, but this is a special test-press. It also included alternate art concepts unique to this record alone, and the collector's dream is to score one of these one-of-a-kind pieces. Talk about brag worthy!
6. Mudhoney Touch Me I'm Sick $1026
Now this is a stone cold classic! So this, being one of grunge's greatest hits, was oddly released without a proper cover! Most early pressings are just a sort of turd colored brown, an easy to overlook grail for the record hunter. But THIS copy was a vibrant bright red, and exquisitely rare. A few other variants will get the collectors to pull out their wallets, but this one tops the charts.
5. Sub Pop 200 $1111
This compilation was practically genre defining. It's got Soundgarden, Mudhoney, The Screaming Trees, Nirvana, and so much more. But it's also usually not quite this valuable, you can generally score a copy in the low three figures. What's special about this one? Well, it has an authentic Kurt Cobain signature! Sometimes hard to authenticate, this seller had some great stories of meeting Kurt at the record shop he was working at back in the day and getting that signature. Document everything young collectors! Also signed by Tad.
4. Nirvana / The Fluid Molly's Lips / Candy $1525
The first headliner appearance of the mighty Nirvana on our countdown, but not the last! Still another test-pressing, and this one is from the original run of the Sub Pop Singles Club, and initially released just as Nirvana was blowing up. The turquoise copies of this one are valuable in their own right, but the rareness of a test-pressing sets this one off! If we're being honest, Nirvana's cover of 'Molly's Lips' is probably the only reason we've heard of The Vaselines. Oh, The Fluid from Denver is on the B-side, they're pretty good.
3. Nirvana Bleach $3000
What's funny about this one, Nirvana's full-length debut, is that it's not even a first-pressing! This is the legendary 'iceberg' colored edition. The shady insider scoop on this is that, supposedly, this edition was from a repress from the earliest 90s that was pulled from circulation because the label was afraid they'd be passed off as the white vinyl first pressing. Now they are ironically more valuable! Maybe a couple hundred of these exist. Still in print, you can get a boring black vinyl copy of Bleach for about $16, making this collectible edition worth about 187 copies of the version in stores now.
2. Nirvana Sliver $3200
Another test-pressing, and another record you can still buy new. It's $5 if you just wanna spin the single today, but if you want the little piece of history that is this nearly unmarked white-label test-press it's gonna cost a little bit more. Is this the mix they chose? Or is it some unheard cut? Us less deep-pocketed collectors will never know. There is another valuable edition of this title with a very similar story as the iceberg Bleach above. The never commercially released white-vinyl edition of Sliver can fetch about half the amount of this test-pressing.
1. Nirvana Love Buzz $4350
And the most valuable record ever released by Sub Pop is of course the debut single by Nirvana, covering Dutch rockers The Shocking Blue. Hand numbered and limited to a thousand copies, full-art commercial editions of this single would still top this chart, but THIS particular copy is a test-pressing. It may well be amongst the very first pieces of wax with the music of Nirvana cut into it. And who could have guessed when it was released in 1988 what arc this band would take through history. Apocryphally this copy was handed to a Seattle music writer by one of the owners of Sub Pop sometime before the record's release, not a bad job perk. Thirty years later this one still rules, give it a listen: