Today (September 24th) marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Nirvana‘s Nevermind. The band’s second full-length album was its first for a major label, Geffen Records, and within months of its release it became perhaps the most important rock album of its era.
It propelled alternative music into the mainstream, created a cultural anthem in the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” ushered in a new wave of rock bands, and helped to anoint the band’s reluctant frontman, Kurt Cobain, as the spokesperson for an entire generation until his suicide in 1994.
Almost four months after its release, Nevermind hit Number One on the Billboard 200 albums chart, turning the “grunge” genre into a phenomenon. Just 46,000 copies of Nevermind were shipped to record stores when it came out. The record debuted at Number 144 and hit Number One on January 11th, 1992.
Nevermind was eventually certified Diamond in the U.S. for sales of more than 10 million copies. It has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Nirvana and Nevermind were crucial in bringing mainstream attention to both the Seattle music scene and alternative music in general.
This past June, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” surpassed two billion plays on Spotify, as posted by Chart Data. The track marks the first of the group’s songs to pass the milestone number.
Drummer Dave Grohl looked back at “Smells Like Teen Spirit, telling NME, “I remember writing ‘Teen Spirit’ in our rehearsal space, and I liked the riff that Kurt came up with because it’s percussive. Those muted, stabbing strums in between the chords really leant to the pattern of the drum riff. . . We were listening to a lot of Pixies at the time. . . We were just having fun, really.”
He went on to say, “(We were writing) new song after new song every day. Of course, no-one had any psychic foresight to imagine that (‘Teen Spirit’) would go on to do what it did. We just f***in’ rocked it in a little rehearsal space that was like a barn. I think everyone was more focused on songs like ‘In Bloom’ or ‘Lithium’ or ‘Breed’; nobody really paid too much attention to ‘Teen Spirit’ while we were recording it. We just thought it was another cool song for the record.”
Nevermind producer Butch Vig recalled going to a Nirvana gig just before the album came out and knowing that something was happening: “They played a show in Chicago at the Metro and we got to the gig and there was a massive line around the block and there was this insane buzz in the air. And they walked onstage and the crowd was screaming — it was like Beatlemania, I was kind of freaking out. There were people like crying and just freaking out in the audience, and that was the first time I realized that the record was gonna take on a life of its own.”
Bassist Krist Novoselic told us a while back why he thought the band took off so explosively: “Well, it was a phenomenon. I think a lot of it was timing as what was going on in the music business. And a lot of the Sunset Strip hair bands were past their prime and people were ready for something new. Nirvana always tried to be sincere.”
Nirvana’s brief-but brilliant career has been analyzed and marked as a turning point in modern rock, Dave Grohl told us a while back that the bottom line was that Nirvana simply loved to rock out: “There was a lot of that crazy, heavy element in Nirvana. Y’know, the one thing that Nirvana was against was just the bull****.”
Although designers at the time of Nirvana’s success tried to copy Cobain’s dress style, Nirvana biographer Charles R. Cross told us that idea of Cobain being a fashion icon was absurd: “Kurt picked his clothes by sheer accident. They were really about his poverty. He had ripped-up jeans, he wore flannel shirts. . . the most insane aspect of his legacy is that, y’know, even while Kurt was alive, fashion designers started selling fancy flannel shirts. So it’s really ironic that this style he created by accident has had such a lasting impact.”
Starting on November 12th, the 30th anniversary of Nirvana‘s Nevermind will be cooperated with several multi-format reissues. A total of 94 audio and video tracks — 70 previously unreleased — will be made available across configurations ranging from Super Deluxe Editions to standard digital/CD and single disc vinyl with bonus 7-inch. In all formats, Nevermind is newly remastered from the original half-inch stereo analog tapes to high-resolution 192kHz 24-bit.
Among the previously unreleased material exclusive to various versions of the Nevermind 30th Anniversary Editions are four complete live shows that document Nirvana’s “historic ascension on the concert stage,” including: Live In Amsterdam, Netherlands (recorded and filmed on November 25th, 1991 at the famed club Paradiso); Live In Del Mar, California (recorded on December 28th, 1991 at the Pat O’Brien Pavilion at the Del Mar Fairgrounds); Live In Melbourne, Australia for triple j (recorded February 1st, 1992 at The Palace in St. Kilda); and Live In Tokyo, Japan (recorded at the Nakano Sunplaza on February 19th, 1992).
All four newly remastered live shows are included in the Nevermind Super Deluxe Editions, which will be available in both vinyl (8 LPs — 180-gram black vinyl – all in premium tip-on jackets — plus the new 7-inch – A-side: “Endless, Nameless” / B-side: “Even In His Youth” and “Aneurysm”) and CD+Blu-ray (5 CDs plus Blu-ray — Live in Amsterdam, Netherlands complete concert video newly remastered audio & video in HD).
EIGHT MYTHS ABOUT NEVERMIND – via Spin magazine
1. Nevermind was Kurt Cobain’s first choice for the album’s title: Not true. His first idea for the title was Sheep. The band finally decided on Nevermind in late 1990.
2. Nevermind was recorded in 1991: Most of the album was made in 1991, beginning in April. But the band’s first album sessions took place in April 1990 at Butch Vig’s studio in Madison, Wisconsin. Five of the eight songs recorded there ended up on Nevermind, although they were re-recorded when Dave Grohl joined the band.
3. Dave Grohl is the only drummer on Nevermind: When the band recorded in Madison in 1990, Chad Channing was still the drummer. His performance on the song “Polly” made it to the final album, although he isn’t credited.
4. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was written about a deodorant: Cobain’s friend, Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, did indeed write “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on Cobain’s bedroom wall, which is where the song title came from. But Cobain didn’t know there was an actual Teen Spirit deodorant until after the album came out.
5. Nirvana made a cassette demo of “Teen Spirit” to prove they had a hit: There is a rehearsal tape of “Teen Spirit” that was recorded on a boombox, but the band had no idea it had a potential smash on its hands. The band recorded that and many other songs on the boombox so that they wouldn’t forget how to play them.
6. Nevermind was written about drugs: There are references to drugs throughout the album, but that’s not what the entire disc was about. Plus Cobain’s full-scale drug addiction didn’t start until after the album was recorded. Most of the record was written about his friends, neighbors, or girlfriends.
7. The cover shot of the naked baby chasing the dollar bill in the pool was Cobain’s idea: Cobain wanted something more graphic for the cover — a shot of a baby’s head emerging from its mother’s vagina in a pool. Not surprisingly, that idea ended up not being used.
8. Cobain became instantly rich thanks to Nevermind: Most of the album’s sales came in 1992, and with record companies notoriously slow in paying royalties, Cobain made just under $30,000 in 1991, most of it from touring. In fact, after he returned home from recording the album, he found himself evicted from his apartment.