25 Years Ago: Soundgarden Reissue ‘Badmotorfinger’ With the EP ‘SOMMS’
At the start of the summer of 1992, grunge had fully exploded, with Lollapalooza ’92 further stoking the genre’s fire by putting both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam on its main stage. But while the latter’s debut Ten was sitting pretty in the upper reaches of the Top 10, Chris Cornell and company’s third LP, Badmotorfinger, had fallen into the bottom half of the Top 200, even though it had been released just 10 weeks prior to their festival-mate’s album.
To coincide with the Lollapalooza announcement, and in a concentrated attempt to push the record to platinum status, Soundgarden’s label re-released Badmotorfinger as a “special limited edition” package containing a free, five-song EP with a palindrome for its title in Satanoscillatemymetallicsonatas – or SOMMS – on June 23, 1992. Containing three covers, a rarity and one live cut, the set had a finite run of just 100,000 copies.
SOMMS opens with an interesting interpretation on Black Sabbath’s doom metal template “Into the Void” dubbed “Into the Void (Sealth).” Sealth, also known as “Chief Seattle,” was a Native American for whom the Washington seaport city is named. Soundgarden took a block of a speech attributed to the chief and replaced the original lyrics with it, using the meter of the song as a guide for its presentation. The result is a musically crushing “Into the Void” with lyrics decrying the white man and his need to buy land from Native Americans without understanding the sanctity of said ground on which he walks and the air he breathes.
The problem is that Chief Seattle never spoke the words Soundgarden used. The authenticity of the speech itself, said to be from the 1850’s and directed toward Washington Governor Isaac Stevens, was long cast in doubt, as it was officially undocumented. Complicating the matter even further is that the portion that Soundgarden used and credited to Sealth was actually an amalgamation of text written by a Texas professor in the '60s and a scriptwriter in the early '70s, one of four versions of the dialogue that has surfaced over the years and broken down by the state librarian for Washington State Library in 1993.
Less shrouded in disorienting complexities is a cover of “Girl U Want” by Devo, a band who coincidentally would play Lollapalooza the same years as Soundgarden in 1996 and 2010. There’s also a fairly straight take on the Rolling Stones “Stray Cat Blues.”
The short burst of “She’s a Politician” had previously been made available as one side of a split flexi-disc with the Chicago punk outfit Rights of the Accused for the December 1991 issue of the magazine Reflex. The EP closes out with a slightly extended live version of the Badmotorfinger track “Slaves & Bulldozers.”
Still, some who had already purchased Badmotorfinger when it first came out weren’t happy that the only option to hear the new material was to double-dip since it wouldn’t be sold separately.
“I suppose the purist may be insulted that they have to buy the disc all over again to get the EP,” Jill Glass, then A&M Records executive director of marketing told Billboard. “But the objective is to broaden Soundgarden’s audience, and hopefully not doing that at the expense of the hardcore fans.”
Glass added that the main goal of the SOMMS EP inclusion was, “a way to reinvent the project at retail.” It worked, with 90,000 copies of Badmotorfinger sold in over a three-week period, triple the number sold in the three weeks prior, and leading it to jump from No. 112 to No. 78.
Right around the time of its repackaged release, Badmotorfinger was gaining further traction on the charts as a by-product of MTV recently adding to its Buzz Bin the video for “Hunger Strike” by Temple of the Dog, the Seattle supergroup featuring Cornell on vocals and Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron on drums along with members of Pearl Jam. The soundtrack to the Seattle-centric film Singles which highlighted both a Soundgarden and Cornell song – would also boost the profile of the record when it came out a week after the two-disc Badmotorfinger, which quickly sold out in stores and became a near instant collector’s item.
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