Nirvana’s second studio album Nevermind entered the chart at No. 144 on release by DCG Records on September 24, 1991. Nevermind peaked at No. 1 in January 1992 and has sold over 30m copies worldwide.
The now-iconic front cover shot of the baby swimming with a US dollar bill on a fishhook just out of reach came after Kurt Cobain and drummer Dave Grohl saw a TV documentary on water babies.
Punk is musical freedom. It’s saying, doing, and playing what you want.
In Webster’s terms, ‘nirvana’ means freedom from pain, suffering, and the external world, and that’s pretty close to my definition of Punk Rock.
Produced by Butch Vig, the album Nevermind was the center of Cobain’s career. Kurt tried to escape from the impact of Nevermind, tried hard to play it down, deny its greatness, and even disparage it. Nevermind was such an unlikely hit. Both Cobain and the members of the band never conceived that it could be such a success.
The band began sessions for Seattle’s Sub Pop label with Vig in April 1990. Butch Vig was a veteran of the underground punk scene. He worked with Killdozer, Smashing Pumpkins, and Tad under boutique labels. Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman introduced Nirvana to Vig.
Nothing in Nirvana’s history that suggested superstardom, yet Poneman thought the band would be bigger than The Beatles.
Before the band began the sessions with Butch Vig in April 1990 for what they planned as the band’s second full album for Seattle’s Sub Pop label. Vig felt the tensions between Kurt and Krist, and Chad Channing during sessions at Smart Studios in Wisconsin. Krist told Vig he wanted the band to sound heavy. Kurt told him: ‘We want to sound slower and heavier than Black Sabbath. Turn off the treble.’
Of the seven songs they recorded, five ended up on Nevermind. The version of ‘Polly’ they cut went on after a remix, and others changed. ‘Imodium’ became ‘Breed’, ‘Stay Away’ was now ‘Pay To Play’ and tracks ‘In Bloom’ and ‘Lithium’ revised.
By late May 1990, Nirvana had got the attention of most of the major labels. They parted with Chad Channing. Krist asked Butch Vig to produce their album for a major label.
By September drummer Dave Grohl joined the band.
Nirvana signed to Geffen on April 30, 1991, with Krist Novoselic taking lead representing Nirvana’s interests.
‘We weren’t even paying attention,’ he told David Fricke. ‘I’d be the one who’d talk to the attorney: ‘How’s the deal going?’ Then one day we signed all the papers – and ordered sandwiches. We ate sandwiches and signed papers, and that was it. We didn’t know what we were getting into. We got all this money for an advance, and we spent it all on studios, videos and taxes. But I remember we were adamant about creative control. We got that.’
‘It was unbelievable,’ Grohl says. ‘We went from selling amp heads and Love Buzz singles for food to having millions of dollars. I remember the first time we got a 1,000 dollar check. We were so excited. I went out and bought a BB gun and a Nintendo, the things that I always wanted as a kid.’
Krist remembers ‘In Bloom’ starting out ‘sounding like a Bad Brains song’, but then becoming more and more refined by Kurt’s persistence. On the day that Kurt turned up with the opening riff to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit‘, he made the band play it for an hour and a half.
‘I was trying to write the ultimate pop song,’ Kurt confessed.
‘I was basically trying to rip off The Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard The Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet, and then a loud riff. When I came up with the guitar part, Krist looked at me and said: ‘That is so ridiculous.’