Sugar Copper Blue

Needle Hits E by Sugar: Great B-Sides

I spent many happy hours in my late teens and twenties trawling used bins for CD bargains. I gained a lot of great music this way, and it became even easier as people converted their music collections to mp3. It was never difficult to find Sugar’s albums – while the albums from Bob Mould’s Hüsker Dü years in the 1980s were rare finds, Rykodisc must have over anticipated demand for his edgy power pop with Sugar, and they were easy to nab for $3.

While they were great value, I never connected with Sugar the way I connected with Hüsker Dü or with Bob Mould’s 1989 solo album Workbook. Hüsker Dü had the benefit of two contrasting writers and vocalists to keep things interesting, while Workbook explored new territory for Mould, dour folk rock inspired by Richard Thompson.

Comparably, Sugar were stuck in one gear, angsty overdriven power pop, and as a result their albums were often less than the sum of their parts. My favourite of their records is easily their 1993 EP Beaster, where Mould’s at his most aggressive, giving the songs an engrossing edge. Mould was joined in Sugar by drummer Malcolm Travis and bassist David Barbe. Barbe opened his own studio in 1997, after Sugar’s dissolution, and has served as a producer for southern rock band Drive-By Truckers.

‘Needle Hits E’ is a b-side from the sessions for Copper Blue – it’s a terrific song, but it’s not missed from Copper Blue – it would have been too much of a good thing. It’s quintessentially Sugar, brimming with power and tune. I didn’t realise what the title referred to initially – the word needle can have different connotations in pop lyrics, including drug use and spinning vinyl. But in this case it’s a reference to the fuel gauge in a car – it’s a warning from Mould to a friend who’s running on empty.

Been selling it short
I’m seeing sunlight for the very first time
And I’m changing my ways
Hanging out on the roof in the rain

The tragic comedy
I hit the station as the needle hits E
The needle hits E
Fill it up and take another twenty

You’re living in desperation
Half the time you don’t even know
I’m hanging out your frustration
On the laundry line

Hang you out to dry
You drag it around
You got a bone in front of your face
And you’re dragging me down

I feel for you when I feel out of place
It doesn’t bother me
I hit the station as the needle hits E
The needle hits E
You’re running out ’cause you’re running on me

Somebody should tell your mother
All the things you’re carting around
Stop kicking the wall, my brother
Have you lost your mind?
All you do is watch the tank run dry

Been living it large
Fill it up and gimme the wheel
And I cherish the day
When you say the things that you feel

Your storm is over now
I hit the station as the needle hits E E E
The needle hits E
Empty empty empty empty empty


  1. I agree with you on the Husker Du/ Mould solo vs Sugar. I haven’t done any thinking on it but I’d have a hard time I think coming up with an album I liked more than Workbook the year it came out- 1988 if I recall correctly? Easily the album I played most that year. Loved Husker Du-

  2. Nice point about a stellar b-side being too much of a good thing – I feel that way with the cure’s “a pink dream.” among my favourites, but it wasn’t needed on Wild Mood Swings for similar reasons

      • I think I have most of the 90s singles, they all have good non-album b-sides. The Mint Car single is my favourite of the lot (with b-sides ‘waiting’ and ‘a pink dream’)

  3. Man do I like that sound. I might have told you that i seen Bob on an episode of Austin City Limits a few years ago. Fantastic. And yes ‘Patch The Sky’ is good. catchgroove is a big Mould guy and has lots of good pieces on him. Good choice on this one.

  4. Great pick. I first heard this one as part of the Copper Blue deluxe a few years back.
    As for Sugar vs. Hüsker Du vs. Mould solo, I gravitate towards Sugar. Copper Blue and (especially) Beaster were huge for me; a pal introduced me to them and really turned me on to Mould’s stuff.

    • I can’t remember what my first Mould album was, but it might well have been Husker Du’s Warehouse Songs and Stories. Even though it’s certainly not Hart’s best stuff, I like having him there to balance Mould.

      • I think that was my first Hüsker Dü hit. I’d certainly agree that it was good having Hart’s contributions there too.
        The importance of Beaster to me is really the sole reason Sugar is my favourite Mould stuff. Copper Blue too. I’ve never cared for File Under Easy Listening, though.

        • Warehouse has a bunch of songs that pretty much set the course for Sugar – less punky, more mainstream alternative guitar rock.
          File Under Easy Listening has a couple of songs I really like – Panama City Hotel has an acoustic jangle that makes it stand out, and Explode and Make Up is a great closer.

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