cover image Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records

Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records

Jim Ruland. Hachette, $30 (432p) ISBN 978-0-306-92548-1

Ruland (My Damage, with Keith Morris) offers an illuminating if baggy look at SST Records, which signed some of the most successful alternative bands of the 1980s yet struggled to stay afloat. Greg Ginn, a ham radio enthusiast from Southern California, began SST in 1966 at age 12 as an electronics business before using it to release the 1979 debut EP of his band Black Flag. Chapters on other well-known SST bands, such as Hüsker Dü and the Minutemen, intrigue, particularly where Ruland shows how the former’s ambition inspired the latter. However, accounts of groups that never took off, such as hardcore-thrash hybrid the Stains, are sunk with a bit too much minutiae. Other top-selling bands on the roster—notably Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth—left for major labels and eventually reclaimed rights to their SST recordings after years of missed royalty payments. The trailblazing Seattle grunge band Soundgarden’s relationship with SST was brief, but it stands out here thanks to a dynamic interview with guitarist Kim Thayil, who fondly recounts the label’s “open-mindedness and... progressive embrace of the indie ethos.” Unfortunately, though he notes many bands’ reasons for leaving (including being forced by the label to tour endlessly), Ruland never fully elucidates how the label imploded so spectacularly. While a bumpy ride, the insights still make this worth the effort. Agent: Peter McGuigan, Ultra Literary. (Apr.)