Number One with a Bullet
Late last year, Interscope Records at long last released Nirvana, a 14-song best-of that features not only tracks from Bleach, Nevermind, In Utero and Unplugged, but the long-lost "You Know You're Right." The song, recorded almost a decade ago by Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, had been tied up in litigation that pitted the surviving members of Nirvana against the Widow Cobain, Courtney Love, who has long diminished the roles of the bassist and drummer in order to further line her own pockets with her late husband's posthumous scratch. "Grohl? Novoselic? Never heard of 'em," Love said during her appearance last March at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, where she delivered a rambling six-hour treatise on the state of the music industry while chain-smoking Pall Malls and drinking from a flask of kerosene and lemonade. "Kurt was Nirvana, period. Anyone else who says they were in the band is lying," she insisted, as Los Angeles Times reporter Chuck Phillips cradled Love in his arms on the Austin Convention Center stage.
A few weeks ago, Love, Grohl and Novoselic settled their lawsuit, which paved the way for the release of "You Know You're Right," which made its way to the Internet and rock radio well before its intended release date. The song, which sounds like trademark Nirvana -- or, as Grohl said in Spin recently, "like everything else we ever did, like, ever" -- has also spawned a much-requested MTV video, culled from previously unseen concert and backstage footage, much surreptitiously filmed by Love, who secreted a tiny video camera in her then-ever-present "medicine kit."
But "You Know You're Right" remains but a single song amid hundreds of Nirvana recordings still kept in the Geffen Records vault and Love's garage apartment. Collectors have long hoarded the five-disc Outcesticide series, which contains studio sessions and live covers, as well as the six-disc Into the Black boxed set, which comes with a dazzling 24-page booklet. But there are recordings so rare they don't appear on any illicit compilation, and they likely will remain forever locked away in Courtney's heart-shaped box. Here are the rarest of the rare, along with whatever limited session information we could find using ultra-secret members-only Nirvana fan club discography site theneedleandthedamagedone.co.uk/boots/rare/whatever/ nevermind.html.
"Narcoleptic, Neurotic" (alt. title: "Little Pissant") and "Jesus Hello": These In Utero discards sound like so many other Nirvana songs: soft, loud, soft, loud, etc. They're most notable, however, for Cobain's use of chain saw and harmonium, the latter at the suggestion of producer Steve Albini, who once told Guitar Player magazine, "I was doing everything I could to make Nirvana as uncommercial as every other band I've worked with, except the Breeders, because I wanted to fuck Kim Deal."
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"Squeezin Teezin": Nirvana was fond of whipping out the oddball cover song on occasion, but this one proved most disquieting. The story apparently goes as follows: Sometime in 1991, influential BBC disc jockey John Peel asked the band to appear on his radio show. Nirvana agreed, but asked if it could perform a set of covers, to which Peel agreed. The set list featured several Nirvana standard favorites -- including the Who's "Baba O'Riley," the Doors' "The End" and Terry Jacks's "Seasons in the Sun" -- but also some bizarre choices, among them Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" and this little-known 1989 bit of hair metal written by Harry Cody -- otherwise known as the guitarist for the band Shotgun Messiah.
"Jeremy": A cover of the Pearl Jam hit, which was crawling up the charts when Nirvana recorded this in Belgium in November 1991, but complete only until the final chorus, when Cobain can be heard, off-microphone, complaining to Novoselic that he "won't sing this stupid fucking song, 'cuz it's making my stomach hurt." Novoselic can be heard, faintly in the distance, telling Cobain to stop, because "Eddie Vedder's a fag."
"Violet" / "Miss World" / "Plump" / "Asking for It" / "Jennifer's Body" / "Doll Parts" / "Credit in the Straight World" / "Softer, Softest" / "She Walks on Me" / "I Think That I Would Die" / "Gutless" / "Rock Star": Otherwise known as the songs that would make up Hole's second album, and first on a major label, Live Through This, released in April 1994. According to Internet gossip, this very tape is the reason Courtney Love settled her suit with Grohl and Novoselic: The Foo Fighters front man actually owns it in its entirety -- it was scheduled to be Nirvana's fourth studio album, after In Utero, and both he and Novoselic play on all the sessions -- and threatened to release it if Love didn't settle the suit. In fact, test pressings of the Foos' new One by One contained a "hidden track" that appears to be a one-minute-32-second-long montage of the Nirvana "Won't Live Through This" sessions, as they've come to be known. Rumor has it Grohl gave Love the master tapes, so they do not appear on next year's Nirvana boxed set, tentatively titled The Hole Story.
"I Don't Wanna Be Your Yoko, Oh No": Taken from the band's soundcheck before its last American performance on January 8, 1994, at the Seattle Center Coliseum, this song was given to Cobain as a birthday present from Love. That would explain why it's so awful -- although it would later appear on Hole's third album as "Malibu," with slightly altered lyrics. Grohl and Novoselic refused to perform it in front of an audience, record it or even say its title out loud. (In the legal papers, it is referred to only as "I.D.W.B.Y.Y.O.N." (Human Nature).
"Dolly": This song, an ode to Cobain's obsession with Dolly Parton, would remain virtually the same, though Nirvana changed the title to "Polly" after Parton threatened legal action when their mutual publisher ran the first line by her: "Dolly wants a cracker / Think I should get off her first."
"Rape Me" / "Too Shy": Recorded at the Palaghiaccio in Rome on February 2, 1994 -- the night Cobain tried to kill himself with pills and champagne -- this odd coupling featuring the Kajagoogoo hit likely stemmed from Cobain's feelings that "in ten years when NIRVANA becomes as memorable as Kajagoogoo that same very small percent will come to see us at reunion gigs sponsored by Depends diapers," as he wrote in his diaries in 1992.
Aberdeen!: Little is known about Cobain's planned musical tribute to his hometown, which was scheduled to be the debut release on his self-distributed label, Dental Records. It was, according to excerpts from Journals, to be a collaboration with Jad Fair, which would allow Cobain to extricate himself from his DGC contract -- in other words, "his Metal Machine Music," Fair once told Punk Planet, during a rare interview about what Fair called Cobain's "career suicide move." A handful of demos from Aberdeen! survive, among them "Surrey with Syringe on Top," "Pore Kurt Is Daid," "People Will Say We're in Rehab," "The Dealer and the Cowman Ballet" and, oddly, "If I Were a Rich Man." All are of sketchy quality -- indeed, "Pore Kurt Is Daid" consists solely of Cobain repeating the title for 34 minutes -- but "Surrey" hints at astonishing maturity for Cobain, with its 125-piece string orchestra, the use of tablas and theremin, and a guest vocal appearance by Anne Sofie Von Otter.
"Pine Tree Janitorial Service": This is a fake ad jingle, recorded on a home-studio four-track, for a company Cobain wanted to start with Novoselic. "We purposely limit our number of commercial offices in order to personally clean while taking our time," he sings, to which Novoselic responds, "We will suck up all manner of filth, muck, grease and grime." It would later resurface during the Nevermind sessions as "Shoot Up While You Work," with drastically reworked lyrics -- "suck up," for instance, becomes "shoot up."
"Losing Nirvana": Originally intended for inclusion on Nirvana's first single for Sub Pop in 1988, this song was Cobain's passive-aggressive attempt to inform drummer Dave Foster that he had been replaced by Chad Channing. Cobain and Novoselic decided to write Foster a letter instead -- which appears in Journals, the forthcoming collection of Cobain's diary entries, drawings and grocery lists -- though Cobain ended up using many of the lyrics to "Losing Nirvana" in his kiss-off to Foster: "We feel really shitty that we don't have the guts to tell you in person / But we didn't know how mad you would get."
"Get Free": Think this Vines song sounds like something Kurt Cobain might have written? Well, there's a good reason: He did, in 1991. But at the end of this recording, made by a fan during an in-store appearance in October of that year, Cobain can be heard apologizing for the tune, which he judged "an abomination" and vowed never to play again. "I'm too young for self-parody," he told the crowd, before launching into yet another unreleased gem, "Highly Evolved," which he said "wasn't."
"This Bullet Tastes Like Lead" (alt. title: "Now I Can See the Back of My Head"): Recorded at the RAI Italian TV studios in February 1994, this prophetic number is a rare Cobain acoustic performance, much like 1990's "Opinion" from a Seattle radio broadcast. Like such well-known tracks as "I Hate Myself and Want to Die" and "Bleed," its title would come to bear special significance among the Cobain faithful, though its lyrics, a mishmash of nursery rhymes and Vaselines song titles, hardly hint at the torment the singer-songwriter must have been suffering in the months shortly before he chewed on the wrong end of a shotgun.
"My Stomach Hurts": This song, from the planned double album Cobain's Disease, is a 15-minute symphonic experiment in Neu!-like prog, and its lyrics, like so many other Nirvana songs, hint at the agony Kurt was constantly enduring -- the "burning, nauseaus [sic] pain in my upper abdominal cavity," as he wrote in his Journals. Among the lyrics: "My stomach hurts / My head hurts / My arm hurts / My leg hurts / My back hurts / My front hurts / My hurt hurts."
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