Modeled on the famous “fruit-of-the-month-club” concept, the Sub Pop Singles Club was a subscription-based series offering subscribers a different 7″ record in their mailbox each month. The bands featured were not necessarily Sub Pop bands, but generally reflected the best of the grunge and indie scenes of the early nineties (Fugazi, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Tad, Rapeman, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion etc.).
I remember seeing an advertisement for the club in a Sub Pop newsletter that I had requested by mail and thinking how weird the concept was; wondering why anyone would pay money to get a random record by a random band every month. It sounded like punishment.
I must admit that in junior and senior high I was much more Wax Trax! than Sub Pop. Nonetheless, I was drawn to anything and everything underground and independent, and with Nirvana gaining exposure at that time, Sub Pop captured my imagination.
It’s only been in recent years that I have come to appreciate the concept, at the same time I was contemplating the greatness of the sleeve design.
To be honest, the Singles Club artwork was nothing revolutionary, but it did fit the concept in its simple, utilitarian aesthetic, and—nearly as importantly—it offered consistency.
Here’s the formula:
1. Black horizontal bar running across the top, band name set in either Futura Extra Bold Caps or Helvetica Bold Condensed Caps, stacked track listing set in Futura Condensed followed by the iconic Sub Pop logo.
2. Large photograph underneath. Typically an image of the band, many times a live shot by unofficial Sub Pop house photographer Charles Peterson.
That’s it. It was functional, it was bold, it was direct. But more importantly, it served a purpose: it delivered consistency. A single, recognizable look that was delivered month after month over the course of a number of years. You could get the latest installment and immediately know that it was part of the Singles Club. Basically, it was an example of branding in the simplest of forms.
But even within those strict parameters there was ample room for variation in the system, like an occasional split single featuring two bands, a double 7″, or a non-Sub Pop band. And then there was the sporadic 2- or full-color cover, occasional illustrations and the severely random colored vinyl.
And yet the aesthetic endures. Whether out of nostalgia or effective design (or perhaps both) the look has struck a chord. The club has been revived twice since the initial launch and even now many one-off singles by the label repurpose the classic Singles Club look.