Collecting early Sub Pop vinyl, and particularly in the town where it all happened, is a tricky business. It’s all overpriced and yet rarely does it remains remain on the shelf for long. I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that both of these fact are the case given these very singles helped to introduce enhanced marketing and collectibility into record-buying. Via that vertical black bar at the top of each record and a little help from MTV, Sub Pop became an internationally known and desired brand, a cultural icon.
Issuing a limited number specially colored vinyl editions of every record from the very beginning (though apparently letting the record press decide the actual colors in most cases) was at the same time feeding and feeding off of the label’s own cultural capital, creating this sub-market of collectable items that’s persisted to this day. Now the Seattle label calls these first print colored vinyl presses the “Loser Edition.” In the early years of Sub Pop a successful record, might have multiple colors in both it’s first and second pressings, often many more colors in the second pressing. Mudhoney’s debut LP Superfuzz Bigmuff has 6 different colors in it’s original printings for instance, and their seminal grunge single “Touch Me I’m Sick” before that arrived in something like 16 different colors in it’s first two printings (not counting international editions).
Released in 1989 Nirvana’s “BLEACH” (catalog number SP34) is of course one of the canonical grunge records, and was originally issued on white vinyl in it’s first print of 1000 copies and black vinyl in it’s second print of 2000 copies. This breakthrough record in it’s third printing just among the American editions of the record has 11 different color schemes. Obviously one of the most popular and collectable records from that time period, certain pressings can go into hundreds or even thousands of dollars, more than the first or second edition. So browsing through a shop in Portland imagine my surprise at coming across a green vinyl edition of “BLEACH” for just $20. Not the American edition of the record, but UK printing issued by Tupelo Records. Not ever expecting to see this in a random shop, I had to buy it. A quick smartphone check showed that there was indeed a 2nd green pressing of the record from Tupelo.
Yahtzee! Or so I thought. It looked pretty legit, with some wear on the sleeve that made it look old, though at such a low price I have to admit I was immediately suspicious. Why had this been priced so low? What did that record store clerk who priced this know that I didn’t?
sliver.it is the authority on Nirvana’s worldwide discography of official releases, unofficial releases, comps, bootlegs and everything in between. They even have a project going to document the 1200 or so owners and story’s of each numbered and unnumbered “Love Buzz” 7-inches. Given the collectibility of some of these items, everything in between also includes forgeries and counterfeit editions of the records. In my particular case this truly exhaustive site had identified a green counterfeit edition (among many fakes produced worldwide) apparently from 2006.
Initial inspection of the record provided no red flags for me. It didn’t look poorly made and was on heavyweight vinyl. Digging into the details though I found it wasn’t what I was expecting. The green of the vinyl wasn’t “army green” or “olive green” as stated in documentation, but more of a clear green. Reading that many early Sub Pop vinyl colors aren’t necessarily consistent from the beginning to end provided enough doubt for me not to dismiss the inconsistency outright. Instead of ‘TUPLP6′ on the spine and back, the code was ‘TUP LP6′ with the space in the middle. The spacing of certain elements on the back cover weren’t right, too far apart from each other. The unique etching on the inner border of the vinyl wasn’t correct either. Close, but not exactly right. A listen to the record brought it all home as the inclusion of “Love Buzz,” which wasn’t apart of the original vinyl track list came in before “Big Cheese.”
Was this record sold for some exorbitant price to some unsuspecting Nirvana fan originally? Online resources point to sales of supposedly legit copies in the past few years at anywhere between $100 and $500. Even the low end would be not a bad hall. And did the original owner realized what they’d purchased like I just had?
Fake as it may be, I’m hardly disappointed. I certainly couldn’t afford a $500 lesson like that, but I’ve got to admit $20 to learn this lesson is probably a steal. And now more than just a record that I like in my collection (no matter how dubious its origins, or maybe because they are dubious) it’s still a record that carries a loaded history of it’s own, a piece of history now ensnared with my own personal story. And for that, I will never want to sell it.