Personalities | Nirvana | Nineties | Rock

One of the most influential acts of the 1990s, Nirvana formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987 when Kurt Kobain (1967–94, guitar, vocals), Krist Novoselic (born 16 May 1965, bass) and Chad Channing cemented the line-up of Nirvana.

Signed by Seattle’s growing Sub Pop label their first single was a cover version of The Shocking Blue’s ‘Love Bug’ with the renamed Kurt Cobain penning ‘Big Cheese’ on the B-side. The initial pressing was limited to 1,000 copies.

Over the next year, Nirvana appeared on various compilations and briefly became a four-piece when Jason Everman (guitar) was drafted in for live work. Everman’s $600 paid for the recording of Nirvana’s first Sub Pop album Bleach (1989). Although pictured on the cover he did not play on the record. Released in June 1989, the bedrock of the Nirvana sound was evident, the melodic beauty of ‘About A Girl’ contrasting with the loud, aggressive punk metal of ‘Swap Meet’ and ‘Paper Cuts’. With hand-to-mouth American and European touring, Nirvana began to receive critical acclaim with Cobain keen to stress the influence of The Pixies on the Nirvana sound. A second UK tour planned for the spring of 1990 was cancelled when Channing departed.

Nirvana’s second Sub Pop single – ‘Sliver’/‘Dive’ – was followed by the recruitment of experienced drummer David Grohl (born 14 January 1969) who had toured and recorded with hardcore act Scream. Courted and signed by Geffen, Nirvana set about recording a second album with producer Butch Vig. Geffen were taken by surprise when initial pressing of 50,000 copies of Nevermind sold out in two days upon release in October 1991. By now, generational anthem ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ had been released and became Nirvana’s first Top 10 single in America and the UK. The follow up ‘Come As You Are’ cemented Nirvana as the most celebrated new band in the world and the multi-platinum Nevermind became one of the most important and influential albums of the decade.

In Utero

For Cobain, success was a double-edged sword as, like Bob Dylan before him, he was now perceived as the spokesman of a generation – and the entire Seattle-inspired ‘grunge’ movement. Touring Nevermind around the world Cobain tired of ‘Teen Spirit’, improvising new lyrics and appeared on UK TV’s Top of The Pops delivering the vocal as if sung by former Smiths lead singer Morrissey. Reacting against the commercial sheen of Nevermind, sessions for the next album were recorded mostly live in two weeks with producer Steve Albini, formerly of the thunderous Big Black.

Despite record company objection to the raw sound and pressure that led to the remixing of two tracks, ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ and ‘Dumb’, by R.E.M. producer Scott Litt, In Utero was released as the band intended and topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1993. Away from music, Cobain married Hole singer Courtney Love in February 1992 who gave birth to their daughter Frances Bean...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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