Nevermind: The Videos

I’m guessing you’ve heard this by now, but Nirvana’s seminal album, Nevermind, turns 20 years old today. Produced by Butch Vig, Nevermind was the group’s first release on DGC Records, which was hoping for sales of around 250,000 pieces. That would have been a total success for a relatively unknown band, but as we all know, it didn’t go like that. Propelled by the popularity of their first single and video, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the little trio from Seattle’s Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous off the top of the Billboard charts in January 1992. As of today it has sold more than 30 million copies and is considered one of the most important records in rock history, ushering alternative music into the mainstream – for better or for worse. While there are endless discussions to be had about what Nevermind meant / means, one thing that cannot be argued is that this album provided us with some fantastic videos in what was to become the golden era for MTV. Here they are.

[BoxTitle]Smells Like Teen Spirit[/BoxTitle] [MusicVideos][/MusicVideos]

The lead single for Nevermind, Cobain said it was an attempt to write a Pixies track, a band he greatly admired. The song’s title came about after a night of partying with Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of girl-punk band Bikini Kill and a friend of Cobain. Hanna spray painted the words “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on his wall before leaving his house that night and Cobain, having spent the evening talking about punk rock, revolution and anarchy, mistakenly thought she was referencing that. It turns out what she meant was that he actually smelled like his girlfriend’s deodorant. He only learned what Teen Spirit was after the single had already been released (and the Tori Amos cover that soon followed). The video was the first effort of director Samuel Bayer who said he thought he was hired by the band because his promo reel was so terrible they thought it was “punk”. As it turns out, Bayer wasn’t punk at all, and Cobain as extremely unhappy with the entire video shoot. The pep rally’s anarchistic ending and demolition of the set were a result of true discontent as the extras, who had spent the long day sitting in the bleachers as the song played over and over, were finally allowed to rush the floor and mosh, encouraged by Cobain who understood their frustration. Cobain was also unhappy with Bayer’s edit of the video, personally overseeing the version that made it to MTV, adding the one close up of his face at the end.

[BoxTitle]Come As You Are[/BoxTitle] [MusicVideos][/MusicVideos]

The second clip for Nevermind, “Come As You Are” almost never made it to the radio waves. The song shares undeniable similarites with the 1984 track “Eighties” by English post-punk band Killing Joke. Cobain was wary of this and wanted to release “In Bloom” as the next single. Ultimately, “Come As You Are” won out as the stronger and more commercial track. Killing Joke did in fact complain, but it is unclear whether or not they ever actually filed a copyright infringement lawsuit or if it was dropped after Cobain’s death. The video was directed by Kevin Kereslake, who also directed the clips for “Lithium”, “In Bloom.” After the debacle with Samuel Bayer, Cobain chose the more impressionistic Kevin Kerslake who favored elastic story lines for videos, if any at all. In fact, there is little holding the video for “Come As You Are” together, other than obvious references to the Nevermind album cover. As the current 90s revival continues this style of video has returned to favor.

[BoxTitle]Lithium[/BoxTitle] [MusicVideos][/MusicVideos]

This third single was released in July 1992. “Lithium” was originally recorded in April 1990 at the Smart Studio Sessions in Madison, Wisconsin, intended for what was to be Nirvana’s second album with record label SubPop. The entire session was a disaster with with original drummer Chad Channing fighting with Cobain, and Cobain ultimatley blowing out his voice, shutting down the whole thing. The songs from those sessions were shopped around as a demo, ultimately attracting DGC. The recording sessions for “Lithium” while in the studio for Nevermind were hardly any easier than the first: constant fighting between the band members, including new drummer Dave Grhol; Cobain wanted the song sped up while Vig insisted it stay at a slower pace, demanding retakes every time Cobain started to accelerate the tempo. At one point the band was so fed up with working on “Lithium” that they switched over to an instrumental piece they had been playing around with. It had no name, but Vig continued recording. “Endless, Nameless” was ultimately inserted as a hidden track at the end of the completed album. Cobain had originally wanted the “Lithium” video to be an animated story about a girl who finds eggs that hatch, but when they discovered the desired animation would take months to complete, they went in another direction. Kevin Kerslake decided to make a collage from several concerts that had taken place earlier in the year and included footage from the film 1991: The Year Punk Broke.

[BoxTitle]In Bloom[/BoxTitle] [MusicVideos][/MusicVideos]

Debuting in November 1992, “In Bloom” was the fourth and final single from Nevermind. Originally recorded in the same Smart Studio Sessions as “Lithium”, it was one of the first tracks re-recorded and finalized with Butch Vig for Nevermind, who thought it would be better for the band to work with material they were already familiar with instead of starting with something new. The first video for the track was made in 1990 for a Sub Pop VHS compilation, and used the audio from the Smart Studio Session. It featured the band walking around New York City and bassist Kirst Novoselic shaving his head. That version is still available on the box set With The Lights Out. Video number two came with release of the single in 1992. Originally, Cobain wanted it to tell the story of a girl who was born into the KKK, one day realizing how evil they are, but again, the project was too ambitious. Instead the band decided on doing a parody of musical performances from bands on the variety shows of the 50s and 60s. With glasses, suits and slicked back hair, Nirvana’s sound and the older era’s look was an obvious and amusing clash. Kevin Kerslake again directed and brought in The People’s Court host Doug Llewelyn to introduce the band to a room full of screaming teenagers, a la The Beatles first performance on Ed Sullivan. There were three versions of the Kerslake video: the original, with the band in suits; a second, made at Cobain’s request, with the band wearing dresses; and a third which combined the first two, resulting in suits and dresses. The third edit is the one that made it to MTV, debuting on 120 Minutes. The original was never aired.

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