Smells like a classic album: Nirvana’s “Nevermind” changed the sound game 30 years ago


Exceeding the hype in the music industry is rare. Weeks before Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was released on September 24, 1991, the buzz was everywhere. “Do you know the Nirvana album? Courtney Love asked me right before the release of “Nevermind”. Love springs from the album and Cobain, calling him holy and salt of the earth. The love continued to nausea over “Nevermind”.

“You must hear the album,” Nitzer Ebb frontman Douglas McCarthy told me about a month before “Nevermind” saw the light of day. “It just catches your eye.” McCarthy, then a member of the DGC label, was on site. I remember jumping into the CD, and from the first urgent notes of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I was captivated. I sat down and watched the speakers, just like I did when I experienced Sonic Youth’s “Daydream Nation” in 1988.

After a number of rounds of “Nevermind” and catching the trio at a small club in Philadelphia, my projection was 200,000 copies and the potential to pack 3,000 theaters. I had no idea the zeitgeist had arrived, and the hair metal bubble was about to be bitten by three young punks. All of a sudden, spandex and Cinderella and Warrant albums were in the bargain baskets, and flannel hit mainstream stores.

It was the only time I experienced a tangible musical and cultural change. A new wave of music swept across the landscape like a tsunami. It all came together for Nirvana at the same time. Cobain wrote the best songs of their short career, the band finally found their drummer, Dave Grohl, and producer Butch Vig catapulted the band off lo-fi land with Pavement and Guided by Voices adding some sparkle. to production.

Vig, the Garbage drummer who produced Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth and Green Day, had no idea the album would sell millions of copies and become a sound game changer, influencing a myriad of games. ‘recording artists. “I never would have guessed it would be such a success,” said Vig. “I was contacted by Jonathan (Poneman) from Sub Pop. He sent me a copy of Nirvana’s (first) “Bleach” and I was not impressed.

“The record was one-dimensional except ‘About a Girl,’ which looks like a Lennon-McCartney composition. Nirvana came to my studio for Sub Pop, and we recorded eight tracks. Kurt has clearly raised the bar as a songwriter. He wrote more melodically with more interesting song structures. Then he said to me one day, ‘Hey, Butch, I have the best drummer in the world. Wait until you hear Dave Grohl hit the drums. Everything came together. I thought we would make this great indie rock record, and maybe it will sell 500,000 copies. I had no idea that this trendy moment was about to happen and change my life.

Cobain’s life was changed by the Melvins. Sludge rockers had a huge impact on Cobain, and he became a close friend of Melvins singer-guitarist Buzz Osborne, who believed “Nevermind” would sell a few hundred thousand. “But I never thought it would have done as well as it did,” Osborne said. “I’m bad at that kind of stuff, but it’s their best record. The songs are there.

“But I never know what will sell. Watch Green Day’s “Dookie”. When I first heard it, I thought, “Who’s going to buy this ringing garbage?” It’s crap that sounds like a bad version of Descendents and Dickies. No one would be fooled by this shit, I thought, but I was wrong. But “Nevermind” is really that good. “

Cobain loved classic rock. Word has always been that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a Pixies scam, but the riff owes more to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” and Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” than to anything the Pixies have. designed. Cobain also listened to quite a few Smithereens while writing and recording “Nevermind”. However, the late singer-songwriter Pat DiNizio of Smithereen was disgusted by Nirvana’s success.

“I don’t want to give them more press than they already have or make people think we have to talk about them to validate our existence,” DiNizio told me in 1993 after Cobain appeared on the show. Rolling Stone cover with a “Corporate Rock Still Sucks T-shirt.” But it’s corporate rock.

“The great irony is that despite his wishes he became the embodiment of corporate rock, just like Eddie Vedder and this guy (late singer Scott Weiland) from Stone Temple Pilots who embodied the worst aspects of rock for me. from the 70s. I have to endure this again after experiencing it the first time.

DiNizio expressed his contempt through the song “Sick of Seattle”. “I feel so tired / And grungy and scared / Tired of the flannel / And my hair is growing / Tired of going nowhere / And I’m sick of Seattle.”

It wasn’t just DiNizio who thumbed his nose at Nirvana. During a show in the fall of 1991 in Philadelphia, Bob Mold stopped in the middle of the show and delivered an angry rant slamming the success of Nirvana. Mold said he was bitter when he wondered why his former band, Husker Du, had never enjoyed the kind of commercial success that Nirvana has achieved.

“Amelodic” was how John Oates of Hall & Oates dismissed Nirvana-designed music in a conversation in 2012. Ironically, Nirvana and Hall & Oates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the same ceremony in 2014. Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips called “Nevermind” the most overrated album in rock history.

However, the album changed the course of music history. Bands like Poison’s Career have been put on hiatus. Still, Poison frontman Bret Michaels had no problem with Nirvana.

“How could I hate Nirvana?” Michaels told me in 2019. “I loved ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. I’ve always been grateful for everything and have such a positive attitude. I’ve had ups and downs in my life. , but I always bet on myself.

KISS was marked by grunge, but singer-bassist Gene Simmons has never had anything but respect for Nirvana.

“It was a great group,” Simmons said. “It starts with their chord structures and melodies. Some of these melodies are very Beatle-esque. Nirvana changed the culture. The bands that came from Seattle, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and especially Nirvana, were amazing.

Speaking of Alice in Chains, singer-guitarist Jerry Cantrell knew “Nevermind” would be huge. “It’s a perfect record,” said Cantrell. “There are a handful of them in rock history. If you’re lucky, you’ll get one, and it was theirs. He (Cobain) threw a hit with that one. This album is linked to so many people.

“Nevermind” has also had an impact on the hip-hop community. “I remember the first time I heard ‘Nevermind’ I was blown away,” recalls Cypress Hill MC Sen Dog. “I remember hearing it, and I knew it was the new wave of music. Nirvana was doing something different, just like we were doing something different.

The most beautiful return on “Nevermind”, the life of Cobain and his genius is of the singer-guitarist of the Teenage Fanclub Norman Blake. The Fanclub topped Spin’s Best Albums list in 1991 with their charming “Bandwagonesque”. “Nevermind” was third behind REM’s “Out of Time”. Blake and his comrades, since they were often on the same tour, were part of the Bills with Nirvana and became close to Cobain.

“’Nevermind’ still stands,” said Blake. “It’s a great album. When I think back to Kurt, I remember how much he loved punk rock, Motown and Daniel Johnston. Fame did not suit him. We have known Nirvana during the ‘Bleach’ period. I remember when it all exploded. All this adulation. Fans absolutely loved what they experienced with ‘Nevermind’ and the shows on this tour.

The conversation with Blake revolved around what would have happened if Cobain had not committed suicide in April 1994. The same thing happened during a conversation with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth. There was no Cobain band more respected than Sonic Youth, a critical darling who sold enough albums to be a mainstay of DGC and a reason Nirvana signed to the label.

“’Nevermind’ is a great album,” said Moore. “There is no doubt about it.” Moore knew immediately that Cobain was special. “Kurt’s sense of melody was so clever and effective. Kurt always called what he did the B word (the Beatles). It must be experimental, but melodic. It is rare to find a group capable of informing and of making melodic experimental music.

“Sonic Youth played with this concept, but not as much as Nirvana. Nirvana was unique. Oasis thought they were as cool as Nirvana, but they weren’t. Oasis wrote some great songs. They released a great album, but they had no legs. Kurt did it even though he was no ordinary. He wasn’t talking about the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Pearl Jam. He loved Daniel Johnston.

Part of what makes the eclectic “Nevermind”, the brilliance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the dark angular sounds of “Come As You Are”, the soaring “Breed”, the intense “Territorial Pissings” and the pretty ballad “Something in the Way” is that Cobain came from a real and honest place as a writer.

“Completely,” Moore said. “He was a very intelligent child, always very open and curious. He understood the magic of subversive art in a conservative forum. The emotion in his voice was not something you can fake. He had been there since his childhood. If Nirvana had another singer, we wouldn’t be talking about them today.

The incomprehensible success changed Cobain even though his wife didn’t see him that way. “What’s cool is that he doesn’t take that teenage revolution beep seriously or he would turn into Bono,” Love said after Nirvana broke up. Becoming one of the most reluctant spokespersons in a generation has not helped. The same can be said for Cobain’s horrible habit.

“I didn’t like the people around him and all the drugs he was taking,” Osborne said. “You take drugs out of the equation, and that’s a different story. If you take the drugs off maybe you don’t tell me about ‘Nevermind’, maybe you talk to Kurt about the album today.

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