With Nevermind, Nirvana vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain started a global movement and showed the music industry the true power behind alternative rock. Now that Nevermind is celebrating its 30th birthday, here are 30 things you might not have known about the record that make it sound as fresh today as it was back in the ‘90s.
1. Nirvana Wanted Vig
DGC Records suggested numerous producers for Nevermind, including Scott Litt of R.E.M., David Briggs, and Don Dixon. Nirvana eventually landed on producer Butch Vig, as they felt most comfortable with him.
2. Nirvana Lived Next To Europe
When Nirvana moved out to Van Nuys to record at Sound City Studios, they were living in the Oakwood Apartments complex alongside Swedish metal band Europe. According to Vig, "they were not big Europe fans" and often made fun of them.
3. Replacement Drummer
While Dave Grohl became synonymous with the grunge movement, he wasn't the original drummer for the sessions. What you’re hearing on Nevermind is at least partially a redo of the previous sessions, which had previous drummer Chad Channing behind the skins.
4. "Endless Nameless" Was All Frustration
"Endless, Nameless" was recorded after several failed attempts at recording the single "Lithium", and features a very frustrated Cobain. Towards the end of the track, you can actually hear him smash his guitar. The track was also left off the first 50,000 pressings of Nevermind, which was rectified in future pressings after the band complained.
5. "Polly" Was Written Years Before
"Polly" was written in the late 80's and was originally recorded for the Blew EP by Steve Fisk, but never given an official release. The song was re-recorded by Vig for Nevermind in its well-known acoustic version you hear today.
6. What's Teen Spirit?
When originally coming up with the song, Cobain actually misunderstood one of his friends, who wrote "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on his wall. He thought she was talking about anarchy, but she was actually talking about the women's deodorant Teen Spirit.
7. Release Day Was A Big Day
8. The Beatles Influence
Cobain was a huge fan of The Beatles, and would often play "Julia" in between breaks in the sessions. Vig recalled convincing Cobain to double track his vocals for Nevermind, something he wasn't used to, by telling him that's what John Lennon would do.
9. Nirvana In The Way
"Something In The Way" was intended to be recorded as a heavier full band tune, but Nirvana couldn't quite get the hang of the song. Cobain showed Vig how the song should go on acoustic guitar, and Vig liked that rendition so much that it was used as the basis for the final track.
10. Tuning Difficulty
The guitar that Cobain used to record "Something In The Way" was out of tune, which made the jobs of both bassist Krist Novoselic and cellist Kirk Canning much more difficult. Grohl also had difficulties playing along with the song due its incredibly quiet nature.
11. Imperfectly Perfect
Cobain was by no means perfect when it came time to record the final vocal parts, which of course added an undeniable characteristic to his performance. During the recording of "Polly", you can hear Cobain start to sing too early and can be heard cutting himself off before coming in at the right time.
12. The Cobain/Grohl Duets
If you listen closely, you can hear Grohl singing backing vocals on quite a few Nevermind tracks like "Drain You" and "In Bloom". Grohl even sang lead vocals on the B-side "Marigold", and would also go on to sing more backing vocals on In Utero. So if you wanted to hear a Foo Fighters and Nirvana duet, just listen a little closer next time.
13. Axl Rose Was A Fan… Until He Wasn't
The last person you’d expect to be a Nirvana fan was Axl Rose, considering their feud that blew up at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. But Axl was a huge fan of Nevermind upon its release, and even wore a Nirvana hat in Guns N' Roses' "Don't Cry" music video (and in a few photos over the years).
14. Music First, Lyrics Second
Grohl famously said that Cobain once told him that "music comes first and lyrics come second." Cobain would typically finish lyrics to Nevermind songs right before recording, giving them a very "stream of consciousness"-type feel.
15. The Metal Heritage
Cobain chose producer Andy Wallace to mix Nevermind due to his role as co-producer of Slayer's 1990 album Seasons in the Abyss, and due to the band's unhappiness with Vig's mixes. Nirvana would later criticize the production of Nevermind as too commercial.
16. Vocal Recording Tricks
Cobain wasn’t a fan of doing more than one vocal take, so Vig had to get creative in the studio. When he started recording vocal tracks, Vig would often keep the tape rolling during Cobain’s warm ups in case one of them was better than the final.
17. The $20 Guitar
For the acoustic parts on Nevermind, Cobain used a Harmony Stella 12-string with only five strings. Cobain would later note that the guitar cost him $20 at a pawn shop, that he never changed the strings, and that the tuners were held in place with duct tape.
18. The "Kurdt Kobain" Collage
On the back cover of Nevermind, opposite the iconic photo of Spencer Elden, is a photograph of a rubber monkey backed by photos of raw beef, images from Dante's Inferno, and medical photographs. Cobain credited himself as "Kurdt Kobain" for the collage and accompanying photographs inside the booklet.
19. Forgotten Songs
We probably missed out on other amazing Nirvana tracks because the band didn't record their practices for a while. Grohl said Nirvana usually had amazing jam sessions and came up with great ideas, and then forgot the ideas when it came time to actually develop them.
20. Bad Résumé, Great Video
The band hired Samuel Bayer to direct the music video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" specifically because his test reel wasn't great. Nirvana wanted to get a more "punk" final product, and figured Bayer would be the man to do it.
21. The Fear Factory Connection
Next time you watch the video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit", take a closer look in the background and you'll find a cameo from ex-Fear Factory vocalist Burton C. Bell. At the time of the video filming, Fear Factory was only two years old and hadn't even released their debut album.
22. Constantly Smashing Guitars
Some major expenses from the recording sessions involved getting Cobain new guitars to play. Since part of their stage act was to destroy their equipment, half of the days in the studio were normally spent searching around town to find a left-handed guitar that Cobain could work with.
23. No Metronome Required
According to Vig, "Lithium" is the only song on the record that's actually played to a click track. Vig stated the reason no click was needed elsewhere on the album was because Grohl "is rock-solid on drums and played so intensely that he really forced Kurt and Krist to play tight with him."
24. "Lithium" Deals With Religion
"Lithium" wasn't quite about lithium's use as a bipolar disorder drug. Instead, Cobain had said the song was about a man turning to religion after the death of his girlfriend, as well as being about living with a friend and his born-again Christian parents.
25. Folk Goes Punk?
The opening of "Territorial Pissings" is Novoselic quoting the lyrics from the 1967 folk song "Get Together" by The Youngbloods. Whether Novoselic correctly quotes the melody from the track is arguable, though The Youngbloods' songwriter Chester William Powers, Jr. does have a writing credit on the track.
26. In Utero Before In Utero
A handful of songs from In Utero were written in 1990 and could very well have made Nevermind. "Dumb", "Pennyroyal Tea", "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter", and "All Apologies" were all written at this time, with "Dumb" even appearing alongside two Nevermind tracks recorded during a BBC session with John Peel.
27. A Massive Influence
Nevermind is the moment where Nirvana really started to transcend genres. Even though the album fell under the grunge and alternative banner at the time, it has been cited as an influence by everyone from Linkin Park's Chester Bennington to pop producer juggernaut Jack Antanoff.
28. Cobain, Possible Boston Fan?
Cobain swore up and down that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was written in the style of Pixies, but there's another common classic rock band he might have had in mind. The opening chords and chorus riff has been accused of being similar to Boston's 1976 hit "More than a Feeling." When asked in 1994 if he ripped the song off, Cobain said the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" main riff "was such a cliched riff. It was so close to a Boston riff or 'Louie Louie.'"
29. Songs For Kids
When constructing the songs, Cobain always used to make the analogy of trying to write songs for kids. He figured that more people could relate to what he was saying if he kept everything as simple as possible.
30. Smells Like Endless Covers
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" has had a long shelf life with quite a few cover songs. Though it has been covered by fellow rock bands like Young Widows, it has also been covered by everyone from Tori Amos to The Muppets alongside Jack Black.