Deep Album Cuts Vol. 119: Nirvana

Friday is the 25th anniversary of the release of In Utero, so I thought it'd be a good time to do this one, especially since I've already covered the other really big Seattle bands.

Nirvana deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. On A Plain
2. Radio Friendly Unit Shifter
3. Breed
4. School
5. Very Ape
6. Been A Son
7. Drain You
8. Big Cheese
9. Dumb (live)
10. Polly (live)
11. Serve The Servants
12. Negative Creep
13. Scentless Apprentice
14. Territorial Pissings
15. Downer
16. Floyd The Barber
17. Hairspray Queen
18. Paper Cuts
19. Milk It
20. Endless, Nameless
21. Turnaround
22. Oh Me (live)
23. Lounge Act
24. Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle

Tracks 4, 8, 12, 16 and 18 from Bleach (1989)
Tracks 1, 3, 7, 14, 20 and 23 from Nevermind (1991)
Tracks 6, 15, 17 and 21 from Incesticide (1992)
Tracks 2, 5, 11, 13, 19 and 24 from In Utero (1993)
Tracks 9, 10 and 22 from MTV Unplugged In New York (1994)

I feel like so many people have the same anecdote about hearing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time and how it changed everything. But I didn't really care about popular music until around early 1992 when I turned 10, so I remember hearing "Come As You Are" first and kind of looking at Nirvana as an already ubiquitous band when I started paying attention, not these new rebels storming the gates. In any event, my passions ran more toward Guns N' Roses at that moment, and then Pearl Jam, and I kinda came around to Nirvana gradually. "In Bloom" was the first one I really really loved, I had just started playing drums and adored those big bombastic fills and would practice them banging my drumsticks on pillows.

So somehow I never picked up Nevermind during the period that I was obsessed with Ten and beginning to build up my CD collection in earnest. But I very clearly remember hearing a radio DJ announce that they were about to play the new Nirvana single, turning down the lights in my room and carefully listening to "Heart Shaped Box" for the first time, and buying In Utero the week it was released. When Kurt Cobain overdosed in Rome, I remember announcing to friends in one of my 6th grade classes that if he died I was going to build some kind of shrine to him. But then he survived, and then died a month later, and I think I kind of forgot about the shrine thing.

But at that point, when Nirvana suddenly ended, I only had In Utero, and then I bought Incesticide, and then Nevermind. So I kind of got this funny backwards education in the band, listening to the sludgier weirder records before I got the big era-defining pop breakthrough. And even though I now regard Nevermind as their best album, In Utero was definitely more important to me personally in terms of being something that primed me for noisier music. At the time I still was more into Pearl Jam, but Nirvana was the one that was actually my gateway to bands like the Meat Puppets and Sonic Youth (to this day probably my favorite band of all time). After reading about Kurt's adventures searching for Raincoats albums in the Incesticide liner notes, I had all these romantic notions about how cool it was to go back and find old '80s SST albums that influenced my favorite bands instead of just buying current major label records.

The fact that Nirvana had such a brief career and such a small, celebrated catalog has led to me taking them for granted a little bit. Once they had turned me onto other bands, it kind of became, like, why listen to Nirvana again when there's always another Sonic Youth record for me to discover? But as the years go on and Nirvana gets further boiled down to the symbolic power of a t-shirt, a tragic story, and 6 songs you still hear on the radio, I have a greater appreciation for their body of work. I usually don't do a deep cuts playlist for an artist with less than 4 albums, but between 3 very different albums, an iconic live record with lots of stuff that wasn't on the studio albums, and platinum-selling rarities compilation, it definitely feels like enough.

I feel like I've heard every song from Nevermind on the radio at some point, with "Breed" the most of the non-singles. I think at some point "On A Plain" has usurped "Drain You" as my favorite Nevermind deep cut, but they're both way up there. And "Endless, Nameless" remains one of the all-time great hidden tracks, something loved or hated by Nevermind listeners depending on how much they were ready for what the band's other records sounded like. Since I bought the album in 1994, I got one of the late pressings with out the hidden track and envied people whose version had it.

I always liked "Very Ape" but I think it's just in the last few years become one of my very favorite Nirvana songs. My wife was playing The Prodigy's "Voodoo People" around the house a while back and I realized I'd never listened to the song closely before to notice that it sampled "Very Ape," that kinda blew my mind. There are parts of In Utero that I'm kind of sick of but it was fun to pick out the songs I still love and revisit them in this context.

Even with my love of In Utero and Incesticide, I really just never got to deeply into Bleach. "School" and "Negative Creep" are the only top shelf Nirvana songs on that record for me. But mostly I just love the sound of the Dave Grohl lineup so everything else pales in comparison, although Chad Channing has his moments. I thought it'd be cool to put 4 of their songs with Dale Crover on drums (out of 7 total on Bleach and Incesticide) in a row on tracks 15-18, kind of an alternative universe where Nirvana sounds a little more like the Melvins -- the same way Dan Peters on "Sliver" gives a glimpse of Nirvana if they'd sounded a little more like Mudhoney.

Unplugged is the one record I'm really really sick of and think has kind of developed an outsized role in the band's legacy. But those Meat Puppets covers still mean a lot to me. But my favorite Nirvana cover is the one of Devo's "Turn Around" ("Turnaround" as it appears on Nirvana's record), which is such a great song and kind of an unexpected choice at the time, wasn't even on a Devo album, it was just a b-side. That really helped awaken me to how much more interesting and diverse Cobain's taste was than the stuff he's primarily associated with.
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