Tonight (September 23rd) on the world famous Classic Album At Midnight on Radio Nova we’re playing Nirvana’s Nevermind.
The album is presented in full with no commercials or interruptions.
Back in the news due to a bizarre lawsuit involving its album cover, and celebrating its 30th anniversary, it’s a good time to revisit Nirvana’s grunge classic.
Formed in the late 1980s by singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic, Nirvana released their debut album Bleach in 1989 on the indie label Sub Pop. After going through multiple drummers, they settled on Dave Grohl after the release of Bleach and the iconic trio was complete and ready to introduce Seattle’s grunge scene to the wider world.
They did this with 1991’s Nevermind.
Working with producer Butch Vig, Nirvana moved away from the sludgey sound of their debut album to more accessible songs with recognisable choruses, hooks and head-banging melodies. With Sub Pop suffering financial problems, Nirvana ditched them for the Geffen imprint DGC.
Nevermind was recorded in the summer of 1991 at California’s Sound City Studios.
Vig found Cobain temperamental to work with at times, an early hint at the tragedy to later come.
“He’d be great for an hour, and then he’d sit in a corner and say nothing for an hour,” the producer said of the troubled frontman.
Unhappy with Vig’s mixes, Slayer producer Andy Wallace was brought in to oversee the final mix. Though the band were happy with the finished product, Cobain later claimed he was “embarrassed” by Wallace’s production, which he claimed was “closer to a Mötley Crüe record than it is a punk rock record.”
Musically, the band aimed for simplicity and a more melodic approach than had been common in the grunge movement up to that point. Cobain combined poppy hooks with power chords and heavy guitar riffs. His aim for the album was to sound like “The Knack and the Bay City Rollers getting molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath.” A common feature in many songs is a quiet verse followed by a sudden loud, angry chorus.
Cobain’s ambiguous lyrics have prompted much debate regarding their meaning, and his vocal style makes it difficult to decipher just what he’s singing about. “Music comes first and lyrics come second,” Cobain is said to have told Grohl. It’s become widely accepted that many of the lyrics are inspired by Cobain’s troubled relationship with Bikini Kill drummer Tobi Vail.
In its original release Nevermind contains 12 tracks and one hidden track – Smells Like Teen Spirit; In Bloom; Come As You Are; Breed; Lithium; Polly; Territorial Pissings; Drain You; Lounge Act; Stay Away; On a Plain; Something in the Way; and hidden track Endless, Nameless.
Nevermind was released on September 24, 1991, debuting on America’s Billboard chart at number 144. Thanks to the popularity of single Smells Like Teen Spirit, which received heavy rotation on MTV, the album began a climb up the charts. On January 11th, 1992, it knocked Michael Jackson off the top of the Billboard chart. It also reached number one in Ireland but could only manage number seven in the UK where grunge was struggling to compete with the boom in dance music fuelled by the rave scene.
Critics initially ignored Nevermind but were compelled to cover it as it surged up the charts. “You’ll be humming all the songs for the rest of your life,” was how Spin magazine’s critic summed up the album. Nevermind stands at number 6 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Smells Like Teen Spirit was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2017.
Nevermind brought grunge to the mainstream, with seemingly every band in Seattle landing a record contract in its wake. While several subsequent grunge albums would become classics in their own right, Nevermind is the album that most defines the era. Slip on your flannel shirt and take a trip back to the early ’90s at midnight tonight on Radio Nova.