Nirvana singlehandedly changed music. Not only did they kill off 80′s hair-metal, they opened the flood gates to a punk influenced style of alternative music that critics were quick to brand as “Grunge”. This was all done by three flannel shirt-wearing, corporate-hating, punk-loving gentlemen from Seattle. Much to his consternation, Kurt Cobain, a blond haired Fender Jag-Stang wielding high school dropout lead this revolution. Alongside were friend & bassist, Krist Novoselic, and drummer, Chad Channing (soon replaced by Dave Grohl). Together they altered music more than any band in the last twenty years. If you were too young to have experienced this 90′s rock revolution first hand, you may never get it. I for one was in the prime of my youth soaking it all in.
- Nevermind - Choosing an album that sold well over 10 million copies as my favorite may be a real kick in the you-know-what to my street cred. Oh well. Nevermind is easily Nirvana’s best. Soon after its September 24th, 1991 release the album unexpectedly exploded behind its first single ”Smells Like Teen Spirit”. By the time January 1992 came around, Nevermind was at #1 on the Billboard charts knocking off Michael Jackson’s, Dangerous. That’s how hard this album hit. 1992 saw the release of singles “Come as You Are”, “Lithium” and “In Bloom” and for two hundred and fifty-two consecutive weeks Nevermind stayed on the Billboard 200.
Still on Sub Pop Records after the release of their debut Bleach, Kurt Cobain began writing songs for the follow up tentatively titled “Sheep”. The band recruited producer Butch Vig for this effort and in the middle of recording Cobain’s voice blew out. Instead of finishing the sessions, the band used the recordings as a demo to shop to major labels and Geffen Records ended up the winner. In May of 1991 the band got Vig back on board and re-recorded the songs that would make Nevermind. Butch Vig’s production is gorgeous with Cobain’s guitar incredibly warm while still retaining its heaviness and the drums are front and center. Not everyone liked the production though including Cobain who went as far as saying “the polished sound was an embarrasement”. Nevermind is considered one of the best rock albums ever and I wholeheartedly agree. I must also give thanks as this album and Dave Grohl’s drumming inspired me to pick up the drumsticks.
- In Utero - In Utero was Nirvana’s amazing follow up to Nevermind. Although Cobain often denied it, it was apparent many of the songs and the imagery of the album were based on his personal life and new found fame. The band’s intent was to create a less polished sound than Nevermind and to do this they hired producer Steve Albini whose reputation of recording live and using a studio’s natural acoustics preceded him. It only took six wintery days to record In Utero in a Cannon Falls, MN studio in February of 1993. During the sessions Nirvana stayed on a strict self-imposed schedule keeping all outside interference at bay including executives of their own record label. Albini recorded the music live with vocals and solos added later and the final product was what Nirvana wanted. The record company on the other hand requested changes deeming the the album unlistenable. Nirvana agreed to remix “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” with producer Scott Litt in Seattle and the vocals were also raised slightly across the entire album. In Utero was released September 14th, 1993 debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 and since its release it has sold over 5 million copies worldwide. “Scentless Apprentice” and “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” are my favorites. Unfortunately In Utero ended up being Nirvana’s finale and a sad fact is we’ll never know where they could have gone.
- Bleach – Bleach was released on Seattle’s Sub Pop Records on June 15th, 1989. The album title came from a San Francisco AIDS prevention poster advising junkies to bleach their needles that said, “Bleach your works”. The album was recorded in Reciprocal Recording Studios in Seattle for a mere $606 and the fee was paid by friend Jason Everman who received credit in the liners as a guitarist without playing a lick on the recording. The album featured Dale Crover on drums on songs “Floyd the Barber”, “Papercuts” and “Downer” and the rest of the drumming on Bleach was done by Chad Channing. Bleach is the noisiest and most punk influenced record by the band with Cobain’s lyrics nonsensical at times. Four years after its release in 1993 Kurt Cobain told Spin magazine, “I didn’t give a flying fuck what the lyrics were about” claiming that 80% of the lyrics were written just before recording. There’s even an ode (albeit perverted) to the Andy Griffith Show with the song “Floyd the Barber”. “About a Girl” and “Big Cheese” are great songs as is unforgetable bass grooving “Love Buzz”. Bleach didn’t sell many copies until Nevermind exploded on the scene and Geffen Records rereleased it with the additional track “Downer” that didn’t make the Sub Pop record. It’s a fun album and a great sign of things to come.
- Incesticide - Although Incesticide is a compilation of demos, outtakes and radio broadcast recordings and not an actual album, I’ll throw it in here as every major fan of Nirvana will undoubtedly have this in their collection. Incesticide was released December 15th, 1992 on Geffen Records with very little advertising but still debuted at #51 on the Billboard 200. The material that made up this compilation was recorded from 1988 - 1991 and much of it was widely circulated among fan circles as b-sides and singles before their release on Incesticide. Kurt Cobain had full control over all of the album’s art for the first time while painting the cover himself and giving credit in the liner notes as “Kurdt Kobain”. Incesticide can be split in two halfs with the first half being the strongest, but overall there is something for everyone here. The cover of Devo’s “Turnaround” is fantastic as are the Vaseline’s songs “Molly’s Lips” and “Son of a Gun”. The final track titled “Aneurysm” is one of the finest tracks Nirvana ever recorded.