10 things you never knew about Nevermind by Nirvana

24 September 2021, 19:28

Nirvana in October 1990: Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic
Nirvana in October 1990: Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic. Picture: Hanne Jordan/Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo
Radio X

By Radio X

It's been 30 years since Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl released their generation-defining album Nevermind. But how much do you know about this classic record? Radio X has some surprises...

Nirvana's second album Nevermind was released in America on Tuesday 24 September 1991 (in Britain, it snuck into stores 24 hours earlier on the Monday). The band's first release for the mighty Geffen label, it marked a change in the way that alternative rock was marketed and accepted by the mainstream.

There have been so many recollections, anecdotes and myths about the album. Who was the baby on the front cover? What does "Smells like teen spirit" actually mean? Radio X looks into the lesser-known Nirvana legends...

  1. A lot of the songs on Nevermind were written about Kurt's former girlfriend Tobi Vail

    Vail, who was in the Riot Grrl band Bikini Kill, famously inspired the graffiti "Kurt smells like teen spirit" due to the deodorant she used. She had been seeing Kurt Cobain for about six months, before calling time on the relationship in November 1990. Kurt was devastated and a lot of his pain found its way into the songs on Nevermind.

    Tobi Vail performs with Bikini Kill for Rock for Choice concert at the Hollywood Palladium on 30 April, 1993
    Tobi Vail performs with Bikini Kill for Rock for Choice concert at the Hollywood Palladium on 30 April, 1993. Picture: GettyLindsay Brice/Getty Images

    The b-side to Smells Like Teen Spirit, Aneurysm's refrain of "Love you so much, it makes me sick" was aimed at Tobi, while Drain You was a description of their relationship. As Cobain told Musician magazine in January 1992, the lyrics were "feeling that death void that the person in the song is feeling: very lonely, sick."

    According to Nirvana biographer Charles Cross, Nevermind could have had a "Girl" side and a "Boy" side; the "Boy" side would have been Kurt's stories about characters and his inner life, the "Girl" side would be the songs about Tobi.

  2. A line in Lounge Act refers to Kurt's tattoo

    One of Kurt's acts meant to impress girlfriend Tobi Vail was to get a tattoo of the K Records logo on his arm, a label that came out of Olympia, Washington and included Bikini Kill, Chicks On Speed, Beat Happening, Modest Mouse and Shonen Knife on their roster.

    The K Records logo, which Kurt Cobain had tattooed on his forearm
    The K Records logo, which Kurt Cobain had tattooed on his forearm. Picture: Press

    A line in Lounge Act refers to the tattoo: "I'll arrest myself, I'll wear a shield / I'll go out of my way to make you a deal."

  3. The original title of Breed was apparently "Imodium"

    Yes, one of the Nevermind tracks was a tribute to the diarrhoea medicine, used regularly by Tad Doyle, frontman with fellow Sub Pop artists TAD.

    TAD, featuring frontman Tad Doyle, in London, April 1991. The band toured the UK with Nirvana in 1989.
    TAD, featuring frontman Tad Doyle, in London, April 1991. The band toured the UK with Nirvana in 1989. Picture: GettyMartyn Goodacre/Getty Images
  4. Nirvana recorded in the same studio as cult killer Charles Manson

    Some of Nevermind was recorded at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California. The complex was opened in 1969 and shortly afterwards was where Charles Manson taped some of his demo songs - mere months before Manson was at the centre of the "Family" crime spree that saw actress Sharon Tate and others horribly murdered.

    Cult leader Chalres Manson arrives at court on a murder charge in June 1970. The year before, he'd been laying down tracks at Sound City Studios.
    Cult leader Chalres Manson arrives at court on a murder charge in June 1970. The year before, he'd been laying down tracks at Sound City Studios. Picture: GettyMichael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    Sound City was also visited by Guns N'Roses, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer and Queens Of The Stone Age. Dave Grohl was so impressed by one of the recording desks used at Sound City, he bought the thing and installed it in his own studio.

    Tool tecording at Sound City Studios in December 1991, a few months after NIrvana completed Nevermind there. The studio was renowned for being able to capture the perfect drum sound.
    Tool tecording at Sound City Studios in December 1991, a few months after NIrvana completed Nevermind there. The studio was renowned for being able to capture the perfect drum sound. Picture: Lindsay Brice/Getty Images
  5. The title of the album could have been "Sheep"

    The original name of the LP was a wry reference to music fans who followed fashion rather than their own instinct. One of Cobain's journals features a mock record ad that reads "Sheep: Because you want to not, because everyone else is". Nirvana biographer Charles Cross adds that Krist Novoselic's explanation was: “We were thinking about calling it Sheep because we were so cynical.”

    A mock up parody of what Nevermind could have looked like if the original title "Sheep" hadn&squot;t fallen out of favour with the band
    A mock up parody of what Nevermind could have looked like if the original title "Sheep" hadn't fallen out of favour with the band. Picture: Press
  6. The opening of Territorial P*ssings is Krist Novoselic singing an old hippy song

    "Come on, people now smile on your brother, everybody get together..."

    Originally recorded by folk act The Kingston Trio in 1964, The Youngbloods' 1966 cover of Get Together was a hit in the US and gained even more fame when it was used in a radio ad for a religious organisation. It's since become known as the "hippie national anthem", which makes its appearance on one of Nirvana's most raucous songs all the more ironic.

  7. Smells Like Teen Spirit had several alternate lyrics

    In his book Heavier Than Heaven, Charles Cross claims that Smells Like Teen Spirit had its live debut on 17 April 1991 at the OK Hotel in Seattle. The song went through a number of different drafts, which included the original line: "Here we are now, we're so famous / We're so stupid, and from Vegas."

    Other unused lyrics included the prescient "The finest day I had was when tomorrow never came" and "Who will be the king and queen of the outcast teens?" - which apparently refers to Kurt and Tobi.

  8. The original album cover idea was too expensive

    Kurt Cobain and Dave Grohl had watched a TV documentary about underwater births and suggested to the Geffen label art director Robert Fisher that they create an image of a newborn baby swimming after a dollar bill.

    When Fisher investigated the idea, he found some stock photos of a genuine underwater birth, but not only was the imagery too "graphic" for Geffen's taste, the company that owned the photos wanted $7,500 a year for the label to use them on the cover.

    As Nevermind was considered a budget release, this was way too much, so it turned out to be cheaper to stage their own swimming baby photo shoot. And the rest is history...

    Who is the baby on the cover of Nevermind by Nirvana?

    The original vinyl edition of Nirvana's Nevermind
    The original vinyl edition of Nirvana's Nevermind. Picture: CBW/Alamy Stock Photo
  9. The day Nevermind was released Nirvana played Boston

    The Nevermind release party took place on Friday 13 September at Seattle's Re-Bar (an event that the band were actually kicked out of due to their unruly behaviour). However, on the day that the album was actually available in US record stores, Nirvana played Boston's Axis club, opening with their version of The Vaselines' Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam and throwing in a cover of The Rolling Stones' (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction for good measure.

    The set also includes plenty of Nevermind material - including Teen Spirit, Drain You and Come As You Are, but also Pennyroyal Tea, which would later appear on the band's third and final album In Utero in 1993.

    Nevermind heads down under; poster for Nirvana's January 1992 Austraian tour dates
    Nevermind heads down under; poster for Nirvana's January 1992 Austraian tour dates. Picture: Incubus/Alamy Stock Photo
  10. The original CD issue of Nevermind doesn't include the hidden track Endless Nameless

    One of the most famous of all album "hidden tracks", Endless Nameless started life as an aborted attempt to record the song Lithium. After Kurt went into a meltdown and smashed his guitar, the resulting racket was scheduled to appear at the very end of the CD edition of Nevermind - kicking in after ten minutes of silence following the "final" track Something In The Way.

    However, due to a record company cock-up, Endless Nameless was left off the first pressing of Nevermind on CD, leading Kurt to call mastering engineer Howie Weinberg and demand: "Where the hell is the extra song?"

    What the song Lithium says about religion and mental health

    Kurt Cobain performing live with Nirvana at the Roxy in LA, 15 August 1991
    Kurt Cobain performing live with Nirvana at the Roxy in LA, 15 August 1991. Picture: Kevin Estrada/Shutterstock
  11. The monkey on the back of the album cover is called Chim Chim

    Chim Chim was a cartoon monkey from the Japanese cartoon Speed Racer and a character that became Kurt Cobain's personal mascot - he gave Courtney Love a sticker featuring the simian when they first met, which she put on her guitar case.

    A plastic Chim Chim toy appears on the back cover of Nevermind in front of a Cobain collage of raw meat, looking very much like the sleeve art to Pixies' classic album Doolittle. There's also meant to be a photo of the band KISS in there too, but we still can't see it.

    The back cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album
    The back cover of Nirvana's Nevermind album. Picture: Press