From the opening salvo of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to the final crushing notes of "Endless, Nameless" (if that secret track was on your CD), Nevermind remains as potent, exhilarating, and unshakably catchy as the day it arrived two decades ago. Next week, a massive deluxe reissue will celebrate its legacy. Still, there are chapters in the album's history that most people don't know about. Even if you've played your Nevermind cassette into the ground or heard "Come As You Are" a hundred times on the radio, here are a handful of things that might surprise you about Nirvana's masterpiece:
• Nevermind has secret lyrics and no one knows what they mean.
In the poem that Cobain assembled for the liner notes, amid snippets of Nevermind song lyrics, there are two lines that don't appear anywhere on the album: "At the end of the rainbow and your rope" and "The second coming came in last and out of the closet." These two sentences have puzzled Nirvana fans for 20 years. Are they lines from songs intended for the album but didn't make the cut? Early lyrics from Nevermind songs that were later rewritten? Or was Cobain just messing with everybody?
Sadly, unless Dave Grohl or Krist Novoselic step up with an explanation, this question will probably go unanswered. Everything that was recorded during the Nevermind era has been released or bootlegged, so it's unlikely these lyrics were taken from two songs that remain unreleased. They're probably early lyrics that were replaced when the album was officially recorded at Smart Studios. The "Boombox Demos" on the new Nevermind reissue reveal that songs like "On a Plain" and "Lounge Act" had different words than their finished products, so those two mysterious lines were likely victims of Cobain's lyrical indecision. Or, maybe not. This secret has gone unsolved for 20 years, so don't expect the truth anytime soon.
• Dave Grohl isn't the only drummer on Nevermind.
Like their Seattle counterparts Pearl Jam, Nirvana's early years featured a revolving door of drummers: Aaron Burckhard, Melvins' Dale Crover, Mudhoney's Dan Peters, Dave Foster, and Chad Channing all enjoyed stints with Cobain's crew before Grohl took over for good in late 1990. Channing was the drummer for the majority of Nirvana's Bleach, and he was with the band when Cobain and Novoselic went to producer Butch Vig's Wisconsin studio to record demos for Nevermind in April 1990.
When Grohl's hardcore band Scream broke up, he replaced Channing, who was having creative differences with Cobain. The band reentered Smart Studios and re-recorded all the Nevermind songs... except "Polly." That pre-Grohl April 1990 demo recording made the final track list, and while there are no drums on that track, it's an uncredited Channing who hits the cymbal each time before the chorus. Channing might be the Pete Best of Nirvana, but even hitting a cymbal on "Polly" is an awesome claim to fame.
• There's a photo of Kiss hidden in the Nevermind artwork.
Squint your eyes and look deep into that photo of a "monkey in hell" on the back of the Nevermind jewel case. See anything unusual, like four grown men dressed in clown makeup? Cobain himself took that picture of a plastic monkey surrounded by a collage of Dante's Inferno paintings (using his heavily disguised pseudonym "Kurdt Kobain"). But here's what you probably can't see: Cobain once revealed in Nevermind It's an Interview, "If you look real close, there's a picture of Kiss in the back, standing on a slab of beef."
It's nearly impossible to see it, but blur your eyes enough and stare above the monkey's head like it's 3D Art. It may be The Amp's imagination, but what looks like a reddened version of Kiss' Destroyer cover slightly emerges. In the age of vinyl records, this would've been more apparent, but the shrunken artwork on cassettes and CDs kept this little surprise hidden.
• Nevermind was once called Sheep and "Breed" was named after diarrhea medication.
Just as Nevermind's lyrics underwent significant revisions, so did the album's name and song titles. "Polly" was briefly called "Hitchhiker" and "Cracker" before Cobain settled on the girl's name. When "Breed" was first demoed in April 1990, it bore the name "Immodium," the medication Cobain often relied on to ease his stomach problems (he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease; he also spelled Imodium with three m's for some reason). "Stay Away" was originally recorded as "Pay to Play," and that line was even sung in the chorus (this version is on the reissue). But having just signed a major label deal with DGC, that song became hypocritical (and rubbed execs the wrong way) and "Stay Away" was born.
As for Nevermind, that almost wasn't even the title. Cobain originally envisioned the LP being called Sheep, which was in line with his thoughts on conformity. "Because you want to not; because everyone else is," Cobain wrote of "Sheep" in his journal. However, the band instead decided on a phrase that was more apropos of Generation X and its slacker masses: Nevermind. That wasn't even a word before Nirvana came along -- "never mind," two words, is grammatically correct -- but that's all changed now.
• The baby on the cover wasn't really fishing for a dollar.
What, you thought some mother let her infant son be submerged in a pool with a $1 bill on a hook? Someone in the DGC art department added the single on a fishing line to Kirk Weddle's now-famous photograph. As for the controversial decision to include the baby's penis on the cover, Cobain would only allow it to be censored on one condition: A sticker was placed on the cover that read "If you're offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile." Thankfully, the art was left unedited, and Nevermind went on to become one of the most iconic album covers ever.
Celebrate 20 years of Nevermind with some of its incredible music videos:
- Kurt Cobain