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Nirvana released Nevermind on September 24, 1991 with 46,251 copies of the album shipped to American record stores and 35,000 copies were shipped in the UK, where Nirvana‘s previous album, Bleach, had been successful.
Nirvana‘s first album, Bleach, was a heavy affair, influenced by both Chris Novoselic (whose real name is Krist Novoselic, which he also used on some releases) and Kurt Cobain‘s love of The Melvins. Along with many of The Melvins records, Sub Pop released Bleach. It went on to become moderately successful on college radio and in the UK.
After Bleach, as Nirvana worked on the demos in Butch Vig‘s studio in Wisconsin, the songs Nirvana were coming up with for their next album were more melodic. Kurt Cobain said, “The early songs were really angry … But as time goes on the songs are getting poppier and poppier as I get happier and happier.” This did not sit well with Chad Channing, Nirvana‘s drummer from Bleach, who became disillusioned with the sound and his exclusion from the songwriting process. After the demos Chad Channing was fired.
Nirvana hired Mudhoney drummer Dan Peters, to record and release the song “Sliver” on Sub Pop, a sign of the sound to come. However this did not last long and Nirvana were left looking for another drummer.
Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins had introduced Nirvana to Dave Grohl, who was looking for a new band following the break-up of his band Scream, a hardcore punk band. A few days after arriving in Seattle, Chris Novoselic and Kurt Cobain auditioned Dave Grohl, with Chris Novoselic later stating, “We knew in two minutes that he was the right drummer.”
The recruitment of Dave Grohl, along with the release of Sliver, was a pivotal moment for Nirvana. Sliver did not fit with the typical Sub Pop sound and on learning that Sub Pop’s financial worries meant they were looking to be taken over by a major label anyway, Kurt Cobain took Nirvana to Geffen Records on Kim Gordon’s recommendation.
Geffen Records hoped that Nevermind would sell around 250,000 copies. The best estimate was that if the band, the management, and the label all worked really hard, the record could possibly be certified gold by September of 1992.
As Nirvana set out for their European tour at the start of November 1991, Nevermind entered the Billboard Top 40 for the first time at number 35. By January 11, 1992 Nevermind became Nirvana‘s first number one album, replacing Michael Jackson’s Dangerous at the top of the Billboard charts. Nevermind eventually spent two hundred and fifty-two weeks on the Billboard 200. Geffen president Ed Rosenblatt told the New York Times, “We didn’t do anything. It was just one of those ‘Get out of the way and duck’ records.”
When you now listen Nirvana‘s Nevermind it is hard to understand the fuss. The problem is not Nevermind‘s greatness, it is simply that everybody who has picked up a guitar since then has been influenced by them at best and ripped them off at worst.
You need to go back to the time Nevermind was released. The 1980s rock scene had descended into farce, with bands seemingly more interested in their hair than even sex, drugs or rock and roll. Even those that cared about their music had found their own decadence in 45 minute long guitar solos, which seemed to punctuate every live show I saw back then.
Kurt Cobain although reportedly originally happy with Andy Wallace’s mixes, later disparagingly described it as “a Motley Crue record”. It is true that there is a sheen that you do not hear on a Pixies or Smithereens record, but Nevermind was as far removed from what was on the rock scene at the time as their 1970s punk predecessors were to the hippy and prog-rock artists of their time. No polished guitar solos and big-hair, just stripped back songs played with passion or “Bay City Rollers getting molested by Black Flag” as Kurt Cobain described it.
Whatever it was, the music world was never going to be the same.
All songs were written by Kurt Cobain, except where noted.
- “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Kurt Cobain , Chris Novoselic, Dave Grohl) – 5:01
- “In Bloom” – 4:14
- “Come as You Are” – 3:39
- “Breed” – 3:03
- “Lithium” – 4:17
- “Polly” – 2:57
- “Territorial Pissings” – 2:22
- “Drain You” – 3:43
- “Lounge Act” – 2:36
- “Stay Away” – 3:32
- “On a Plain” – 3:16
- “Something in the Way” – 3:55
* “Endless, Nameless” (6:44) is a hidden track on some copies of the record.
- Kurt Cobain (appears on the credits for the “Monkey Photo” as Kurdt Kobain) – vocals, guitar, photography
- Krist Novoselic (credited as Chris Novoselic) – bass guitar, vocals
- Dave Grohl – drums, vocals
- Nirvana – co-producers, engineers
- Butch Vig – co-producer, engineer
- Kirk Canning – cello on “Something in the Way”
- Chad Channing – cymbals on “Polly” (uncredited; song recorded when he was still in the band)
- Jeff Sheehan – assistant engineer
- Andy Wallace – mixing
- Howie Weinberg – mastering
- Michael Lavine – photography
- Robert Fisher – artwork, art direction, design, cover design
- Craig Doubet – assistant engineer, mixing
- Kirk Weddle – cover photo
- Spencer Elden – infant in cover photo
- Heavier Than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain
- Nirvana: Nevermind (Classic Rock Albums)
- Q Magazine
- Classic Rock