Ultramega OK is the debut studio album by American rock band Soundgarden. It was released on October 31, 1988 in the United States and in January 1989 in the United Kingdom through SST Records. Following the release of the EPs Screaming Life (1987), and Fopp (1988), both for the Sub Pop record label, Soundgarden signed with the independent record label SST and went to work on its first full-length studio album. The resulting album contained elements of heavy metal, psychedelic rock and hardcore punk.
The album was recorded in spring 1988 in Seattle, Washington, and Newberg, Oregon, with producer Drew Canulette. Frontman Chris Cornell said that during the recording sessions the band wasn't on the same page with Canulette. He said, "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."
He later said that "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. The producer was suggested by SST because they could get a good deal. 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."
Veteran Seattle producer Jack Endino, who also produced Soundgarden's first EP, Screaming Life, was in the process of re-mixing the album, and actually completed a rough mix of "Flower". But, due to the band wanting to move on and the financial costs involved with repressing and redistributing the record, it was put on hold. The project has since been resumed by Jack Endino and Kim Thayil.
Ultramega OK has elements of 1960s psychedelic rock, 1970s hard rock and heavy metal, and 1980s hardcore punk. Drummer Matt Cameron said that the band tried to refine its sound while still trying to keep an edge. Steve Huey of AllMusic said that the album is the "best expression of Soundgarden's early, Stooges/MC5-meets-Zeppelin/Sabbath sound", and added that it is "a dark, murky, buzzing record that simultaneously subverts and pays tribute to heavy metal".
Guitarist Kim Thayil recalls "Flower" as being the first time he blew across his guitar strings. This can be heard during the song's introduction, when they are played in rhythm with the drums. "Circle of Power" was one of the few Soundgarden songs to be written without any input from Cornell, as it was written by Thayil and bassist Hiro Yamamoto. It is also the only Soundgarden song on which Yamamoto performs lead vocals.
"Smokestack Lightning" is a Howlin' Wolf cover. On the original version of the album, "Smokestack Lightning" segued into a distorted excerpt from the Sonic Youth song, "Death Valley '69". Soundgarden included it as a tribute/parody of Sonic Youth's similar sampling of The Stooges song "Not Right" on their "Bad Moon Rising" album. This excerpt was removed from the 2017 reissue of "Ultramega OK".
Cornell said that "Flower" is "about a girl...who becomes a woman and basically invests everything in vanity and then burns out quick." Thayil stated that "Nazi Driver" is about "cutting up Nazis and making stew out of them". Cornell observed that the lyrics and vocals for "Incessant Mace" are "very European Gothic".
Three songs on the album were recorded as jokes or parodies by the band. The songs "665" and "667" are parodies of the idea of Satanic content in rock music, the idea being that if 666 is such a powerful number, then the surrounding numbers must be equally as powerful. The album's closing track, "One Minute of Silence", is a "cover" of John Lennon's "Two Minutes of Silence" from the 1969 album, Unfinished Music No.2: Life with the Lions, excluding Yoko Ono's part. Cornell said that the band "appreciated the Lennon arrangement so much". No instruments are played, although the band (presumably) can be faintly heard in the background. Cornell stated, "We were trying real hard to shut up, but Kim couldn't possibly shut up for a whole minute."
Cornell said, "On [Ultramega OK] the production wasn't what we were after at all, and that sort of hurt us critically." Allmusic staff writer Steve Huey gave the album four out of five stars, saying, "It may not be quite as complex or consistent as some of Soundgarden's later albums, but Ultramega OK is easily the best document of grunge's early, pre-Nirvana days." Ann Powers of Blender said, "Not every moment is brilliant, but it sure is loud."
The album's cover art, photographed by Lance Mercer, features a black and white picture of the band. According to Cornell, the album's title was a joke conceived by Thayil. Cornell explained that the title Ultramega OK means "absolutely, unbelievably not bad," and suggested that the British version was going to be called Ultramega UK. Cornell explained the title further, stating, "With Ultramega OK we really liked the songs on that record but we were disappointed in the production. We were sort of making fun of the finished product. It was Ultramega Alright. Ultramega could have been better but not bad."
Ultramega OK was re-issued on LP in 2012. "One Minute of Silence" was not included.
The 2017 expanded reissue of Ultramega OK was released on 10 March 2017 on Sub Pop in four formats, namely, black and colored double LP, CD, cassette tape, and digital download. The album was fully remixed and remastered from the original tapes by Jack Endino. Also included were six early versions of tracks originally recorded by Endino and Chris Hanzsek at Reciprocal Recording studio in 1987, referred to by the band as "Ultramega EP".
All lyrics written by Chris Cornell, except where noted.
|2.||"All Your Lies"||Thayil, Hiro Yamamoto||3:51|
|4.||"Beyond the Wheel"||Cornell||4:20|
|6.||"Mood for Trouble"||Cornell||4:21|
|7.||"Circle of Power"||Yamamoto||Thayil||2:05|
|8.||"He Didn't"||Matt Cameron||2:47|
|9.||"Smokestack Lightning"||Howlin' Wolf||Howlin' Wolf||5:07|
|13.||"One Minute of Silence"||John Lennon||1:02|
|2017 expanded reissue|
|1.||"Flower" (remixed & remastered)||3:26|
|2.||"All Your Lies" (remixed & remastered)||3:49|
|3.||"665" (remixed & remastered)||1:38|
|4.||"Beyond the Wheel" (remixed & remastered)||4:22|
|5.||"667" (remixed & remastered)||0:56|
|6.||"Mood for Trouble" (remixed & remastered)||4:20|
|7.||"Circle of Power" (remixed & remastered)||2:04|
|8.||"He Didn’t" (remixed & remastered)||2:47|
|9.||"Smokestack Lightning" (remixed & remastered)||4:36|
|10.||"Nazi Driver" (remixed & remastered)||3:52|
|11.||"Head Injury" (remixed & remastered)||2:20|
|12.||"Incessant Mace" (remixed & remastered)||6:21|
|13.||"One Minute of Silence" (remixed & remastered)||1:02|
|14.||"Head Injury" (Early Version)||2:59|
|15.||"Beyond the Wheel" (Early Version)||4:55|
|16.||"Incessant Mace" (Early Version)||6:22|
|17.||"He Didn’t" (Early Version)||2:54|
|18.||"All Your Lies" (Early Version)||3:45|
|19.||"Incessant Mace V2" (Early Version)||7:49|
On cassette only, there is a 20th track titled "13 Minutes of Silence Remix," similar to the joke track "One Minute of Silence" from the original release.
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