10 things you probably didn't know about Nirvana's 'Nevermind'
The Seattle grunge band's second album turns 30 in 2021 and there's a lot about the iconic record that you probably didn't know.
1. It was originally called Sheep
Sheep was the original working title of the album, Kurt Cobain’s comment on conformity and a joke about the people who'd buy it. They soon grew tired of the idea and later changed it to the grammatically incorrect and apathetic title Nevermind instead.
2. The budget was 100x their debut
Nevermind was recorded for a budget of $65,000 at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California in May and June 1991. This was 100x more than debut Bleach which was recorded for $600 in 1989.
3. It knocked Michael Jackson off the number 1 spot
On 11 January 1992, the Washington band knocked Michael Jackson’s album Dangerous off the top of the Billboard 200 album chart. It would top the chart again on 1 February 1991.
The King of Pop had been toppled by the grunge scene. Who saw that coming?
4. Geffen Records didn’t expect it to do THAT well
When Geffen Records first released Nevermind in September 1991, it was with a pressing of fewer than 50,000 records. They only expected it to sell 200,000 copies, so imagine their surprise at the forthcoming success!
A month later, it debuted at 144 on the Billboard charts. By Christmas 1991 it was selling 400,000 copies a week.
It has sold approximately 30 million copies to date.
5. Rolling Stone have it as the sixth-best album of all time
In 2021, Rolling Stone placed the album as the sixth-best of all time on their acclaimed Top 500 albums of all-time list.
It’s currently sandwiched between Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (7) and The Beatles' Abbey Road (5). Not exactly the worst company to keep!
6. Dave Grohl wasn’t the only drummer on Nevermind
Original Nirvana drummer Chad Channing, who had drummed on debut Bleach, was thrown out of the band in 1990 after Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic became dissatisfied with his drumming.
Despite this, he would still appear on the song ‘Polly’, a track recorded in April 1990 and the only original Butch Vig recording to make it onto the final cut of the album.
After Channing left, they went through several drummers before a meeting was arranged with Dave Grohl from Washington D.C. hardcore band called Scream. The chemistry felt right from the off and the iconic lineup was now complete.
7. The album cover has brought plenty of controversy
The famous cover featured five-month-old Spencer Elden, showing a naked baby boy swimming towards a hooked dollar bill. At the time, his parents were given $200 for the photoshoot.
There was nervousness from the record company around the naked exposure, but the band insisted the penis be shown.
In 2021, Elden alleged the nude image constituted child pornography and that his parents hadn't signed a release authorising the use of his image.
He asked for $150,000 in damages from 15 defendants, including band members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, the managers of Kurt Cobain's estate, Cobain's former wife Courtney Love, and photographer Kirk Weddle. The dispute rumbles on.
8. It’s been registered into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry
In 2004, the Library of Congress (the research library which serves the United States Congress) added Nevermind to the National Recording Registry. They collect "culturally, historically or aesthetically important" sound recordings.
A guest post on their website by Director of the Library of Congress’s Radio Preservation Task Force Josh Sheppard described the album as ”one of the ten most influential and beloved rock ‘n’ roll albums of all time…. it’s a dark, funny, emotive, disturbing, powerful, unpredictable, and fun album.” High acclaim indeed!
9. John Lennon influenced Kurt
Fearing the band would lose their authenticity, Kurt Cobain constantly rejected calls from producer Butch Vig to double-track his vocals to make them more powerful. He felt this was akin to cheating and didn’t match up to the punk ethos of the band.
However, Vig had one trick up his sleeve. Knowing Cobain was a massive fan of The Beatles, he told him, "well, John Lennon double-tracked his vocals". It worked. Before long, the Nirvana frontman changed his mind and it would be a technique he would agree to use thereafter.
10. 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' was named after a deodorant
The Pixies inspired opener and Nevermind lead single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is undoubtedly Nirvana’s most famous song and was recently placed fifth in Rolling Stones Top 500 songs of all time. However, whilst it sounds like the perfect youth anthem, it was actually named after an antiperspirant!
On one evening in 1990, his friend Kathleen Hanna (from the band Bikini Kill), spray-painted "Kurt smells like teen spirit" on his hotel wall in Olympia, Washington, suggesting he smelled like his girlfriend.
The joke would go over Cobain’s head and he’d take it as a slogan about youthful rebellion. Little did he know that the phrase was actually an advertising slogan for a deodorant!