20 years ago this week, Nirvana’s Nevermind was released. The album changed me so much, and awakened me to music and emotion in such a way that I had to write something here on my blog.
Before Nevermind came out, I basically just listened to what my father listened to, which was a mix of oldies and some 80s pop. I didn’t have any bands of my own. I didn’t know exactly what music was or could be. As I got into junior high, some friends introduced me to alternative rock and, very quickly thereafter, Nirvana. The song that stole my heart first was “Come As You Are” (hear it on YouTube). The song just opened my eyes to what a song could do.
I began to listen to the album from front to back every day upon returning home from school. With my headphones on, hands pressing them further into my ears to make the sound louder, I would have increased the volume still but the CD player was at maximum. I memorized every note of that album. All I had was drumsticks, so I played the drum parts on my bed until I learned them as well as I could. My mom probably felt bad, because she surprised me with an acoustic guitar a few months later. From there I learned the guitar to the album, and as I learned guitar and Nevermind along with it, I moved on to piano.
So the point is: All my musical endeavors over the years, from high school band to my originals band in college to my cover band now and everything in between — it’s all owed to Nirvana. Without them, I never would have embraced music.
7 Things About Nevermind You Probably Didn’t Know
(or I Find Interesting Enough to Share):
1. Kurt Cobain had no idea what Teen Spirit deodorant was. The words “Smells Like Teen Spirit” were first written on a wall (graffiti?) by a woman Kurt Cobain knew — the full phrase being “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The woman was actually making fun of Kurt, saying that he literally smelled like Teen Spirit deodorant, which was used by his then-girlfriend. Cobain, unaware the graffiti phrase was something of an insult, thought the words to be something of an inspired phrase regarding the energy youth culture. Thus, when Cobain wrote a song around the themes of teenage rebellion, he named the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” because he misinterpreted the graffiti.
2. In my opinion, the best song on Nevermind is one you’ve probably never heard. There were four singles off Nevermind, but my favorite song is track 9 — titled “Lounge Act” (hear it on YouTube). It’s a great song with a chorus that’s catchy as hell. And then, just because it sounds awesome, Cobain screams the last verse and refrain an octave up from what he was singing before. It goes from smooth and catchy to powerful wails. And as a bonus: If you notice, the song contains the album’s only F-bomb (it’s real quick) — a little-known fact that can net you some easy money in a bet.
3. The band expected “Lithium” and “In Bloom” to be the album’s big hits. “In Bloom” was actually written well before the album was recorded. They even filmed a music video for it with their old drummer, Chad Channing, who wrote the original drum parts. “Lithium” was, in their opinion, the closest thing they had to a “hit” going into recording sessions. Two of the last songs written before recording — “Teen Spirit” and “Come as You Are” — were actually the album’s breakout hits.
4. Kurt fully knew what he was doing when he composed the melody of “Teen Spirit.” In a later interview, he admitted that when he sat down to write the tune, he was “trying to write the ultimate pop song.” Let’s imagine for a minute, how many people in the past 50 years have sat down to do this very thing: “write the ultimate pop song.” Well, unlike the other 10 million who tried, that guy from Seattle actually did it. Pretty amazing.
5. The song “Territorial Pissings” uses only three chords, over and over again. It’s true. A5 – F5 – D5. Done and done.
6. The reason that “Teen Spirit” sounds so amazing on the album is because Cobain double-tracked the vocals. In most popular songs you hear today, the vocals are multi-tracked. What that means is the singer lays down the exact same vocal part twice, and the parts are laid on top of one another, so that it sounds like one voice, but actually has the power of two. Cobain was opposed to the idea because it was too mainstream and not a “punk” thing to do. Album producer Butch Vig explains the process in a video here and actually lets you listen to the chorus as he lays the two vocal tracks on top of one another. Astounding to hear!
7. There are not one but TWO versions of the “Teen Spirit” video. When the band needed a director for the “Teen Spirit” video, they reviewed footage shot by some up-and-coming music video directors. The band ended up picking Sam Bayer to film the video because his test reel was the worst of the bunch. (This decision was a “punk” thing to do.) Bayer filmed their music video and put together a cut of the video. You can see it here. The video was then re-edited with Kurt’s input, resulting in the new, final video that aired on MTV countless times.
What albums changed your life?