It’s hard to imagine now but when Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind was released on September 24, 1991, Geffen Records did not expect it would get much attention.
In fact the record label only pressed 46,000 copies of the LP expecting the weird little punky band from the Pacific Northwest would sell 100,000 records at best.
To everyone’s shock and surprise, within a month of it’s release Nevermind was selling 300,000 copies per week and it stayed that way for months. As heard on episode #49 of History of the 90s, Nevermind was certified Gold and Platinum by November 1991, just two months after its release,
Smells Like Teen Spirit
The first single from the album was 90s anthem Smells Like Teen Spirit which Kurt Cobain famously said was a rip off of the Pixies loud-quiet dynamic.
Nirvana recorded Nevermind on a $65,000 budget at Sound City Studio in California and actually spent minimal time in the studio usually only taking two or three tries at the instrumentals of each track and if they weren’t good enough they moved on to another song.
As for the lyrical content, some of it came together at the last minute and according to Dave Grohl Cobain’s motto was music comes first and lyrics come second.
Speaking about Cobain’s lyrics producer Butch Vig has said “Even though you couldn’t quite tell what he was singing about, you knew it was as intense as hell.”
Cobain himself told Musician magazine the lyrics were often about bad personal experiences like breaking up with his girlfriend and feelings of loneliness and sadness, something he called a death void.
As we would find out later the instant fame and popularity from the release of Nevermind came with a price for Nirvana’s front man. Cobain said in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1993 “It was so fast and explosive. I didn’t know how to deal with it. If there was a Rock Star 101 course, I would have liked to take it. It might have helped me.”
For more stories from the 1990s, make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.