In September 1991, DGC Records released Nirvana’s Nevermind, one of the most influential and revered albums of the past two decades. But much of what the general public thinks they know about the record is wrong — or at least slightly skewed. Here’s the real scoop, from Kurt Cobain biographer Charles R. Cross.
MYTH NO. 1: NEVERMIND WAS KURT COBAIN’S FIRST CHOICE FOR AN ALBUM TITLE.
Kurt Cobain was a notorious planner, and his journals are filled with track listings for albums he never made. His first idea for a title for Nevermind was Sheep. He went so far as drawing an ad in his journal with typically cryptic, Cobain-esque copy: “Sheep: Because you want to not, because everyone else is,” it read, with the tagline of “Abort Christ.” Krist Novoselic offered up his explanation for the title: “We were thinking about calling it Sheep because we were so cynical.” But that plan was abandoned by late 1990.
MYTH No. 2: NEVERMIND WAS RECORDED IN 1991.
Nirvana essentially made Nevermind twice. The session that began in April 1991 with producer Butch Vig at Sound City studios in Van Nuys, CA, was remarkably similar to a session the band had in April 1990 with Vig at Smart Studios in Madison, WI. They recorded eight songs with the producer in 1990 in Madison, and five of those ended up on Nevermind, though most were new recordings and takes. The major difference between the Madison sessions and the recordings made in Van Nuys was Dave Grohl. So while most of the album was recorded in ’91, the genesis of Nevermind began a year earlier. (Bonus trivia: On several songs, Grohl played Vig’s Yamaha snare – the same one used on the Smashing Pumpkin’s Gish.)
MYTH No. 3: DAVE GROHL IS THE ONLY DRUMMER ON THE ALBUM.
Vig was a drummer himself, and the crisp drum sound he captured from Grohl for the album – think the start of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or the chorus in “Drain You” — was a key ingredient to the record’s sound. Vig used a “tunnel” to record all of Grohl’s work at Sound City, except for “Something in the Way,” where he struggled to make him play quietly. But Grohl isn’t the only drummer on the album: Nirvana’s Bleach-era drummer Chad Channing is featured on “Polly.” This was the one track that emerged from the original Smart sessions unscathed. Channing isn’t credited on the original release of Nevermind — and he didn’t earn royalties from it, either.
MYTH No. 4: “SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT” WAS WRITTEN ABOUT A DEODORANT.
Everyone knows that Cobain wrote “Smells Like Teen Spirit” about a deodorant. Well, sort of. Kurt’s friend, Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, did indeed write, “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit” on Kurt’s bedroom wall as a kind of taunt, and that was where the song title came from. But it wasn’t until after the album was released that Kurt discovered there was such a thing as a Teen Spirit deodorant. Kurt wrote the song about a line of graffiti, not an antiperspirant. (Bonus trivia: Sales of Teen Spirit deodorant skyrocketed after the record came out.)