Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Twenty years ago this month, Nirvana released its Teen Spirit-anchored major-label debut, Nevermind. Expectations were modest; only 45,000 copies were pressed. To date, 30 million have sold worldwide.

"Nobody saw it coming," says Dave Grohl, 42, who founded Foo Fighters after drumming in Nirvana. "Not the label, the band, the management. Some of our friends said, 'You're going to be huge.' We said, 'Like Sonic Youth? Awesome! Woo!'"

With a sonic vibe and video look that few expected to go mainstream, Nevermind ushered in a grungy era that saw rock's creative envelope pushed to new extremes. "You can hear where we come from, American hard-core music," says bassist Krist Novoselic, 46. "On Nevermind, we were promoting bands we liked."

When Nevermind exploded into earshot in the autumn of 1991, it was startling: a grenade detonating in your car radio. It sounded like the end of something (the 1980s? hair metal?), or maybe the beginning of something ("alternative rock"? "Generation X"?). Today, the album has become so encrusted with myth, that it's hard to wrap your ears around it, to really hear it. In 2005, the Library of Congress added Nevermind to its roll call of the world's most significant recordings.

Wikipedia says:

Nevermind is the second studio album by the US rock band Nirvana, released on September 24, 1991. Produced by Butch Vig, Nevermind was the group's first release on DGC Records. Frontman Kurt Cobain sought to make music outside the restrictive confines of the Seattle grunge scene, drawing influence from groups such as the Pixies and their use of song volume dynamics.

Despite low commercial expectations by the band and its record label, Nevermind became a surprise success in late 1991, largely due to the popularity of its first single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit". By January 1992, it had replaced Michael Jackson's album Dangerous at number one on the Billboard charts. The Recording Industry Association of America has certified the album Diamond (over 10 million copies shipped), and the album has sold over 30 million copies worldwide.  Nevermind was responsible for bringing alternative rock to a large mainstream audience, and critics subsequently regard it as one of the best rock albums of all time.

As the band revealed, the recording of the album was similarly scrappy with a strong work ethic throughout; with Kurt Cobain, they rehearsed the album uninterrupted for three months and then decamped to the shabby Sound City studios in Van Nuys, California, for 16 days. They recorded live in the same room and only one studio altercation occurred when Cobain became so frustrated during the recording of "Lithium," he launched into the deranged jam that became Nevermind's secret track ("Endless, Nameless") and then smashed his guitar. "Kurt could be really mellow and sweet, and then he would flip and be really intense. That's what a lot of Nevermind and Nirvana's music is: Kurt's intensity captured," Novoselic explained.

The Nevermind sessions were rigidly focused and the downtime was inversely giddy: each night, the band hit the beach, frequented one liquor store with a sinister clown on its sign and goofed off constantly in the studio complex. "There's a popular misconception that the band traveled with this black cloud over our heads all the time, and it was so not that way," Grohl said.

Recalled Vig of one mixing session, "We were enamored with the fact that Ozzy Osbourne was in the studio next to us. We would stand outside the studio and listen to him while he sang –"

Grohl finished: "So one time, we got trashed at our hotel and wrote OZZY on our fingers. I was playing pool with Kurt when Ozzy walked in, gave us this dirty look and walked out, and we realized we all had OZZY on our fingers. It was so fucking embarrassing."

This Saturday evening I had to hang out with Nirvana, playing their live performance at the Cabaret Metro in Chicago, IL on October 12, 1991, two and a half weeks after the album was released.  As always the recording is excellent, Kurt's performance phenomonal.  We can only wonder what music he would be producing today.  But his star burned brightly for the short time he produced some really great music.

Download it here:

Hand prints on cave walls
Longing for some permanance
Gods that disappoint

Rules to be followed
Feeling like we must obey
Wearing the handcuffs

Love that has no bounds
Friendship that lasts forever
Buried underground

Public Image Limited started off the evening, with a rousing performance at the Provinssrock Festival in Finland on June 6, 1992.  More songs from their last album released in 1992, That What Is Not.  Sounds like an incomplete recording of the show, but still well worth a listen.  It certainly put me in a good mood for what followed.

Download it here:

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