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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Looking back at Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ 32 years later

Carlos Andres Restrepo Vefara/Flickr

Nirvana has repeatedly been labeled a grunge band ever since it released its debut album, “Bleach,” on Sub Pop Records in 1989. While this may be true, the groundbreaking group is so much more than a genre.

Kurt Cobain, Krist Novaselic and Dave Grohl proved this with their breakthrough album “Nevermind,” released in September 1991.

The introductory track, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” is a wild one to say the least. Cobain’s aggressive guitar tone pulls you in immediately and leaves you wanting more. This is far and away the band’s most popular song, pulling in an astounding 1.7 billion YouTube views. In 1993, the song was nominated for two Grammys­­ ­— Best Rock Song and Best Hard Rock Performance.

The song served as a 90’s teenage anthem and MTV constantly included the music video in its rotation. The popularity of this song also inspired many to follow Cobain’s fashion, as he famously wore flannel shirts and even women’s dresses on stage. The lyrics are confusing, which allowed teens who thought the world was confusing to relate to what Cobain sang.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was even referenced in Jay-Z’s 2013 hit song “Holy Grail.” The rapper sings, “Kurt Cobain, I did it to myself, uh … And we’re stupid, and contagious.”

The band continued this aggressive tone into its second song, “In Bloom.” This song focused on bandwagon Nirvana fans, as Cobain sings about fans liking the way their songs sound, but they “know not what it means.”

The track “Come As You Are” offers a change of pace, introducing a more pop-oriented guitar tone. Cobain’s lyrics seem to contradict themselves throughout the album, but especially in this song, where he sings “take your time, hurry up.” The nonsensical lyrics have stood the test of time with fans, as the song is certified double platinum and has over a billion Spotify streams.

Nirvana bassist Novaselic spoke about Cobain’s unpredictability in an interview with Rick Beato in February.

“He would say one thing, and then he would change his mind on it,” Novaselic said.

Songs like “Breed” and “Territorial Pissings” prove that having just a three-piece band doesn’t mean Nirvana can’t play as loud as typical bands. Cobain’s guitar chops and harsh vocals help appeal to punk rock veterans and new-wave grunge fans.

Cobain experiments again with odd lyrics in the track “Lithium,” singing, “I’m so excited, I can’t wait to meet you there, and I don’t care.” Fans believe that the song was named after the drug commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, which Cobain suffered from. “Lithium” also defied norms of the time for its substitution of a typical chorus with Cobain wailing “Yeah” over the instruments.

In what’s often cited as an example of Cobain’s support of feminism and equality movements, “Polly” is based on the real life abduction and torture of a 14-year-old girl in 1987. Cobain sings from the point of view of the attacker, bringing in a unique perspective, singing, “Maybe she would like some food, She asks me to untie her.” The band made an effort to play the song live and publicize the story.

“Stay Away” also proves the band’s support for activism, as Cobain concludes the song with a long-winded “God is gay.” This was also something Cobain used to frequently spray paint around his hometown of Aberdeen, Washington.

“Drain You,” often cited as Cobain’s favorite Nirvana song, stands the test of time with an extremely catchy guitar riff. Grohl’s backing vocals also propel this song to a new level of replay value.

“He wrote these really simple songs,” Grohl said in an interview with Howard Stern. “His objective was to make the song as catchy and memorable and simple as possible.”

With such a historic album, it’s only right to see Nirvana still getting recognition in a new age, whether it be through music, fashion or pop culture.

“Something In The Way” is one of those songs. The song was recently featured in the film “The Batman,” and has regained some popularity because of it. The band brought in cellist Kirk Canning to give the song its dark undertone.

Cobain sings about his struggles in life and even references his time “underneath the bridge” when he claimed he was homeless as a teenager. He recorded his vocals while laying down on his sofa and producer Butch Vig needed to turn his volume all the way up to  hear his soft-spoken voice.

Vig said this track was the hardest song to record on the album “by far.”

Though it came out nearly thirty years ago, “Nevermind” helped propel Nirvana into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

“It’s all so bittersweet,” Novaselic said in an interview with Jimmy Fallon. “Our friend Kurt has been gone for 20 years. It’s a good way to remember him. He should be here.”


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