Saturday, 1 December 2012
Nirvana: The Geffen Years
Nevermind (GED 24425)
Nirvana still seemed to have some sort of contract with Sub Pop, and so “Nevermind” appeared with both Geffen and Sub Pop labels on the rear cover. As well as being issued on LP and Cassette, the CD editions included a hidden track, “Endless Nameless”, which could only be played by fast-forwarding the CD after the official final track, “Something In The Way”, had finished. Of course, it was a bit of tuneless nonsense, which was why it was hidden in the first place.
Four singles were lifted from the LP for promo purposes - more than the entire number of singles the band issued during their time on Sub Pop. The first of these, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, was edited for radio purposes, with thirty seconds of Cobain’s middle eight guitar solo being chopped out, to reduce the running time to 4:30. Some formats of the single played this mix, others played the album version. “Come As You Are”, “Lithium”, and a re-recorded track from the Sub Pop days, “In Bloom”, were issued as singles in 1992.
Although the singles lifted from the album were issued on a number of formats, it was the CD editions that were usually of most interest, as they often featured extra tracks in comparison to what was on the other formats. “Teen Spirit” was issued as a 4-track CD, with “Drain You” from “Nevermind” as a b-side (thus providing fans with a quick preview of the LP), and two other proper b-sides in the form of “Aneurysm” and “Even In His Youth”. Despite not being included on the LP, the former has become a very well known tune in the Nirvana cannon, as the band played it live endless times over the years. In America, “Teen Spirit” was issued in a different sleeve to it’s UK counterpart.
“Come As You Are” came backed with “Endless Nameless”, for those people who didn’t own “Nevermind” on CD, and two previously unissued live recordings of “School” and “Drain You”. “Lithium” came backed with three rarities, a live version of “Been A Son”, a new studio b-side “Curmudgeon”, and a cover of “D-7” taped during the band’s 1990 “Nirvana Play The Cover Versions” Peel Session, where the band, with no real new product to plug, just played four covers for John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 show instead. The other three songs from this session would appear later that year on the odds and sods set, “Incesticide”.
“In Bloom” was issued as the tail end of 1992, at around about the same time that Tupelo were reissuing “Sliver” in the UK. The CD edition of “In Bloom” was issued with only three tracks, the two bonus tracks being previously unissued live takes of “Sliver” and “Polly”.
As well as being issued as CD singles, all four singles from “Nevermind” were also issued in the UK as 12” Picture Discs, housed in die cut sleeves. Depending on whatever the record label decided, the “rare” B-sides from the CD editions did or did not appear on these releases. “Aneurysm” made the “Teen Spirit” picture disc, but “Even In His Youth” didn’t. On “Come As You Are”, the live version of “School” appeared on the flip with “Endless Nameless”. However, of some interest, is the fact that the German 12” Picture Disc opted for an alternate track listing, and instead of playing “School”, played the other live b-side from this single, “Drain You”. German copies are easily noticeable by the fact that they were housed in a clear see-through wallet, rather than a die cut sleeve, and thus have the band name and song title printed on the front (these were printed on the sleeve of the UK edition instead).
“Lithium” was missing the “D-7” cover. If you fancy owning this track on vinyl, it is possible to do so, as it was included - along with “Even in His Youth” and the rest of that Peel Session - on an Australian EP called “Hormoaning” in early 1992. Vinyl copies of the EP are quite rare, although there has been a UK/US joint reissue as part of the 2011 Record Store Day event. The easiest version of “Hormoaning” to find is the Japanese CD, issued in what has been described as a “low budget Nevermind” sleeve, and pressed in huge numbers. It was eventually deleted when the band were made aware of it’s existence - they had not authorised the release of the EP outside of Australia - but so many copies had already been pressed, the fact that it was “withdrawn” does not mean that there are not still tens of thousands of them in existence. As for the “In Bloom” picture disc, it played all three tracks from the CD edition.
Smells Like Teen Spirit/Drain You/Aneurysm (12” Picture Disc, Geffen DGCTP 5)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Edit)/Drain You/Even In His Youth/Aneurysm (CD, Geffen DGCTD 5)
Come As You Are/Endless Nameless/School (Live) (12” Picture Disc, Geffen DGCTP 7)
Come As You Are/Endless Nameless/School (Live)/Drain You (Live) (CD, Geffen DGCTD 7)
Lithium/Been A Son (Live)/Curmudgeon (12” Picture Disc, Geffen DGCTP 9)
Lithium/Been A Son (Live)/Curmudgeon/D-7 (BBC Radio 1 Version) (CD, Geffen DGCTD 9)
In Bloom/Sliver (Live)/Polly (Live) (12” Picture Disc GFSTP 34)
In Bloom/Sliver (Live)/Polly (Live) (CD, Geffen GFSTD 34)
Incesticide (GED 24504)
As to what was included, well, the album seemed to be a bit scant on info. Perhaps this was done to further enhance the bootleg feel. So it makes sense to explain it here.
The album opened, in reverse order, with both sides of the “Sliver” 7”, although the mix of “Sliver” was the Tueplo single mix, and not the Sub Pop one, so the “phone outro” part at the end was missing. “Stain” was lifted from the “Blew” EP, whilst three songs taped for a BBC Radio 1 Mark Goodier session made the album, namely “Been A Son”, “Aneurysm” and “Polly”, played in it’s “fast” version (it was originally played by the band in this way on stage before a slowed down version was taped for “Nevermind”), and was thus dubbed “New Wave Polly”.
As touched on earlier, the other three songs from the 1990 Peel Session were on the LP, whilst “Downer” was an outtake, but had been given a second lease of life earlier that year when it was tagged onto the end of Geffen’s CD repressing of “Bleach”. “Beeswax” had been included on a 1991 compilation LP called “Kill Rock Stars”, whilst “Mexican Seafood” had been on the “Teriyaki Asthma Volume 1” 7” Various Artists EP back in 1989. The remaining three songs were all previously unreleased.
There were no singles taken from the album, although Tupelo’s “Sliver” reissue seemed to surface just before the album’s release. The band were asked by Geffen to produce a music video for “Sliver” to send to MTV and Co, to help plug the album, and thus Dave Grohl had to pretend to play the drums on a song he had had no involvement in at all.
Oh The Guilt (TG 83)
“Oh The Guilt” had been knocking about in the band’s live shows for some time, and this studio mix was recorded in Spring 1992. The single was released in February 1993, and was being issued on Touch And Go as this was the label that Nirvana’s partners on the single, The Jesus Lizard, were signed to. Nirvana were technically on the B-side, and as such, “Oh The Guilt” was track 2 on the CD edition. As the A-side act, the Lizard filmed a video for their song - which, after the single had charted in the top 20, led to the likes of “The Chart Show” having to show a clip of their video, despite the fact that it was obvious that it was the Nirvana connection that explained how the single had done so well.
The single was done as a limited edition - just not THAT limited. I got my blue vinyl 7” copy in a Woolworths in Woolwich! The hype surrounding the single - limited edition, new Nirvana material, blue vinyl - saw the now expanded fan base rush to buy the single in it’s first week in case it sold out, and it entered at number 12, although other unofficial charts gave it a top 10 placing. A handful of unsold copies then sold out during the second week of it’s release, but so few were left in the shops by this time, that the second week sales were too minimal to stop the single dropping straight out of the top 40 after that first week.
Australian copies exist - pressed as a 7” Picture Disc, I remember seeing a stack of these in a Virgin Megastore in London, but they were priced at a fiver each. Deciding against buying a single I theoretically already owned on the basis that £5 was a bit steep for a 45, I regret it now, as copies change hands for no less than £100 each! I wished I’d bought the lot, kept one, and flogged the rest.
There was absolutely no plan to include “Oh The Guilt” on the band’s next album, and for many years, the song became one of the leading obscurities in the band’s back catalogue. It got a second lease of life in 2004, when it appeared on the band’s rarities boxset “With The Lights Out”, albeit in slightly remixed form.
Oh The Guilt +1 (Blue Vinyl 7”, Touch And Go TG 83)
Oh The Guilt +1 (CD, Touch And Go TG 83 CD)
In Utero (GED 24536)
Once again, the US edition of the Vinyl version came on coloured vinyl, a sort of see-through white/green hybrid, whilst in the UK, the CD edition, like “Nevermind”, went for the hidden track thing again, with “Gallons Of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through The Strip” being tagged on at the end. When this track was later included on “With The Lights Out”, it was listed as a “B-side”, on the basis it had appeared in the US on a 12” single.
As regards the singles, the band wanted - in the UK at least - to avoid any special formats, and wanted it to be that whichever format the fans bought, they would not be cheated out of any bonus material. And so, “Heart Shaped Box” appeared as the first single, backed with a new song, the Grohl sung “Marigold”. The 12” and CD editions added a track from “In Utero”, “Milk It”, as a bonus track to give the buyer some value for money. This “no special formats” rule didn’t seem to apply elsewhere, as in Germany, the 7” editions of the single were pressed on red vinyl.
The next single, a double A release of “All Apologies” and “Rape Me” appeared as a 3-track Maxi on all formats, with bonus track “MV” appearing on every edition. 12” copies included a free art print, which slightly bent the “no special formats” rule.
Of course, you all know what happened next. “Pennyroyal Tea” was being planned as the next 45. It was to be issued in a “new” mix, a more radio-friendly sounding version done by Scott Litt, who had remixed most of “In Utero” for special copies of the LP to be sold in US stores like Wal-Mart, who had refused to stock the “harder” sounding original version of the album. The single mix of “Pennyroyal Tea” was to be taken from this version of “In Utero”, and so whilst not unreleased in the USA, it was due to make it’s debut appearance in the UK where no such “remixed” version of the album existed. The single was due to be issued at the same time that Nirvana were to tour the UK, but Cobain took his own life in April 1994, and the single was cancelled. Nirvana split up on the spot - there was no official announcement, Grohl and Novoselic just assumed that everybody knew that with no Kurt, there was no Nirvana.
Now, over the years, I have lost track of which countries pressed up a “Pennyroyal Tea” before it was withdrawn, and which countries did or didn’t issue a promo. But from what I can gather, this is what survived.
In the UK, a one track CD was issued as a promo, housed in a slim line jewel case, but with no picture sleeve. A 7” single was planned, which was due to feature the band’s cover of Leadbelly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” from the then recent MTV Unplugged show on the B-side, but apparently, got no further than the sleeve pressing stage. Test pressings may also exist, but according to “Record Collector”, no more than ten were made before the release was pulled, and Geffen ordered them all to be destroyed.
In Germany, a CD Single was planned, and a number of copies were finished. These added an extra track, “I Hate Myself And Want To Die”, originally tossed away by the band on the compilation LP “The Beavis And Butthead Experience”. The mix on the single was missing the Beavis And Butthead skit that preceded the song, but apart from this, the two versions were identical. You will also note that, had the single release gone ahead, then it seems as though the “no special formats” rule was being bent once again.
Suffice to say, any official “Pennyroyal Tea” releases that surface are worth a small fortune, but it is also worth noting that the rather literal artwork that was created (a cup of tea on the cover) had not been OK’d by the band, so any CD Singles that surface, may not have looked this way had the release gone ahead as planned, as the band may not have actually agreed on using the artwork. This doesn’t dent their value any more, but it’s worth acknowledging that any of these “finished” copies may have actually ended up being withdrawn anyway. Check out www.sliver.it for more info about the original and fake releases that exist.
Another “In Utero” rarity surrounds the LP itself. In 2003, a UK Vinyl reissue was being planned, but an alternate mix of the album, done by Steve Albini, was somehow used instead. Copies were withdrawn, but a small number escaped and do exist in the collectors world. The main difference seems to be the matrix references scratched into the vinyl’s run out groove (A33 9124 536 S1 320 on side 1, the same but ending S2 320 on side 2). Check out www.nirvananorge.com for more info about this and other odds and ends.
Heart Shaped Box/Milk It/Marigold (CD, Geffen GFSTD 54)
All Apologies/Rape Me/MV (CD, Geffen GFSTD 66)
MTV Unplugged In New York (GED 24727)
The show took place just after the release of “In Utero”, and has gone down in legend as not just one of Nirvana’s finest moments, but as the finest Unplugged show done by anybody. Whilst most acts who appeared on the show just attempted to do acoustic versions of the hits, resulting in some messy results (I still have nightmares whenever I hear REM having a crack at “Love Is All Around”), the band knew doing a stripped down “Teen Spirit” was never going to work, and so decided to base the setlist around the songs from the back catalogue that they knew could benefit from the Unplugged treatment. The hits, mostly, were to be excluded. The band also decided to do a number of covers, nothing new there, but this time on the basis that they could get something out of these songs that they might not have got from trying to do “Lithum” or such like.
MTV had a heart attack when they heard what was going on. They were also distraught when the band announced they were going to have some special guests, but instead of Pearl Jam or Soundgarden turning up, it was a not-exactly-endorsed-by-MTV act instead, The Meat Puppets. But Nirvana knew exactly what they were doing, and the set worked perfectly. It was only a misjudged missive by Kurt, before “About A Girl” - “this is from our first record…most people don’t own it”, only for it to be accompanied by huge cheers during the opening bars, that jarred somewhat.
With Nirvana now MTV darlings by the end of 1993, the show was broadcast on a regular basis, and thus got heavily bootlegged in video form. So when it came to putting the LP together, it made sense to try and offer material that had not made the original broadcast, and as such, a number of “previously unavailable” songs were included to try and help sell the product. Of course, it worked, and “Unplugged” was a chart topper worldwide. Once again, some countries issued copies on white vinyl, whilst the Cassette edition came with an information sticker on the front so big, it more or less obscured the whole cover image!
The audio edition has since been made defunct, as “Unplugged” has since been released on DVD. You get two versions of the show - the original, “songs in the wrong order” edited TV version, complete with on screen captions, and the full length concert, which includes - of course - everything previously included on the audio edition. There were no singles released from the LP in the UK - indeed, there have been no commercial Nirvana singles in the UK since “In Utero”, reissues excepting - although “About A Girl” did appear as a single in selected overseas territories.
Singles (GED 24901)
What you got were repressings of the German versions of the singles. In most instances, the artwork differed little from the UK ones, although the singles were housed in slim line jewel cases (the UK “Nevermind” singles were issued as digipacks). As these were re-pressings, the original catalogue numbers from the original German releases were thus present and correct, which were of a different format to the UK ones.
B-side wise, well, Geffen decided to go off in a slightly different path with these singles when first released when compared to the UK versions. In some instances, this did not matter, in others it did. “Teen Spirit” appeared as a three track CD, with the “Edit” mix appearing as the A-side, and although only two of the three UK B-sides appeared, thankfully they were the two non album rarities “Even In His Youth” and “Aneurysm”. “Come As You Are” included all four tracks as per the UK edition, whilst “In Bloom”, “Heart Shaped Box” and “All Apologies” also appeared with the same bonus tracks as the UK originals. The only let down was “Lithium”, issued as a three track single and thus missing “D7”.
Aside from this, and ignoring the possible ‘cash in’ question marks, it’s a nice item. I love the front cover image, although bonus marks are lost for not sourcing the original artwork for these releases, instead the original covers seem to have been photographed, meaning the inlays for each of the singles have a bit of a “fuzzyness” to them, especially where the text for the song titles appear. A recent Record Store Day event has seen the release of the similarly titled “Nevermind Singles”, which opts for 10” reissues of the four singles from said LP.
From the Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah (GED 25105)
“From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah” was, to all intents and purposes, the delayed first half of “Verse Chorus Verse”, a live history of Nirvana told via a variety of previously unissued (officially) live recordings. Although it had taken Grohl and Novoselic several years to finally get around to working on this project, in many instances, it turned out that the shows that were used as the source material seemed familiar - several tracks were from a gig in Amsterdam in November 1991, recorded by VPRO-TV, and were thus in good quality, but had been subject to the bootleggers. Ditto the inclusion of a song from the band’s 1992 Reading Festival show. Gigs at the Paramount Theatre, Seattle and Del Mar Fairgrounds had been delved into previously for b-sides. The running order was based, vaguely, around the standard Nirvana setlist, with “Blew” appearing at the end, as it had often been the standard gig closer.
The length of the album was, for a vinyl record, a bit awkward. Too long to squeeze onto a single slab of vinyl, but not long enough to try and spread across two, the decision was taken to include a vinyl only track on side 4 of the album, a five minute sound collage of snippets of songs from various shows. Suffice to say, this “song” (it has no official title) is still only available on the original vinyl pressings. Most people probably own this record on CD, although it is worth pointing out that - due to it’s rectangular shape - the Cassette version features a differently designed cover to both the LP and CD versions.
Nirvana (493 523-2)
Coming in a simple black sleeve with the Nirvana logo placed in the centre, whatever the merits or lack of this release might have, you can at least argue that design wise, it looked impressive. Certainly better than if it had been called “The Best Of” or “Greatest Hits”. It was, for the most part, a selective trawl through the band’s back catalogue with a few rarities thrown in.
The big selling point was the inclusion of a previously unissued song, “You Know You’re Right”, used to start the album off. Although the set ran in more or less chronological order, this outtake dated from January 1994. The other rarities on the album were the original EP mix of “Been A Son”, which for US buyers, was making it’s official release in the band’s homeland, whilst the ‘Scott Litt’ mix of “Pennyroyal Tea” was also included, the first time this mix had been made officially available in the UK.
“Nirvana” is, thanks to that opening rarity, an essential purchase, but it still feels a bit patchy. Trying to put together a 16 track best-of, from a band who never released more than 16 singles, feels a bit odd. Had the release been longer, and thus opened up the opportunity to include B-sides and more rarities, it could have been turned into a more complete collection, along the lines of “Singles Going Steady” or New Order’s “Substance”.
It was, believe it or not, not the final Nirvana “hits” collection. Geffen have since issued another one called “Icon”, which is nothing more than an even shorter version of this one. It was part of a series of releases by various Universal Music acts, all of which shared this title, although the sleeve designs were unique to each act. The Nirvana one opted, like “Nirvana”, to have a big band logo covering much of the sleeve, so it again looks quite impressive, but quite who this was being aimed at, is beyond me.
With The Lights Out (0602 4986 48384)
“With The Lights Out” goes for the latter approach. A three CD plus 1-DVD release, its’ primary objective was to include rarities from the earliest, pre-”Bleach” years of the band, through to the end in 1994. The DVD would do the same, but in “visual” form.
Of course, the appearance of “new” material is always going to be of interest to the collectors, which accounts for most of the box, but what previously released rarities made the set? Well, disc 2 offers an early version of “Stay Away”, known as “Pay To Play”, which appeared on the “DGC Rarities Volume 1” compilation, and their cover of “Here She Comes Now”, issued on a split 7” as mentioned in my previous Nirvana article. Also on this disc are the b-sides “Aneurysm” and “Curmudgeon”, plus that Peel Session version of “D7”. We have already mentioned the inclusion of “Of The Guilt”, whilst also on disc 2 is “Return Of The Rat”, previously issued on another comp called “Eight Songs For Greg Sage And The Wipers”.
Disc 3 includes another b-side in the form of “Marigold”, plus the aforementioned “I Hate Myself And Want To Die”, again missing it’s “Beavis and Butthead” intro, and “Gallons Of Rubbing Alcohol…”. The aforementioned “Verse Chorus Verse” is also here, but as it was one of two Nirvana songs to be recorded (but not both released) with that title, it appears here under it’s alternate title, “Sappy”.
The DVD, by opting to go down the rarities route, is as you would expect, fascinating, but it leads to a strange situation. None of the band’s promos for their singles are included, with the exception of “In Bloom” - but this is the original version for the Sub Pop single that never was. And given that this very clip had been released before on a Sub Pop Various Artists VHS, whilst the Geffen version is only available as part of the “Nevermind” box set, well… it’s all a bit strange that the real rarities in the band’s video cannon are the clips for the hit singles!
Disc 1, meanwhile, includes amongst it’s odds and sods, a number of songs taped by the band for a KAOS FM Radio Session in the States in 1987. The whole session has since been made available on a semi-legitimate CD called “Classic Airwaves”, unavailable in the USA due to ’copyright issues’. As mentioned on my Springsteen blog, recent years have seen a rise in these official bootlegs on various independent labels, and as far as Nirvana go, this is one of at least two such releases now on sale in the UK.
Sliver: The Best Of The Box (6024 988 67181)
Whilst you can argue till the cows come home about how morally acceptable it is to make people pay the price of an album just to own an EP’s worth of new songs, at least the three songs are of interest. An alternate version of one of the big hits, “Come As You Are”, another version of “Sappy”/”Verse Chorus Verse” - the first time this song had therefore appeared on a normal priced Nirvana album - plus an early version of “Spank Thru”, taped way back in 1985 when the band were known as “Fecal Matter”, thereby pre-dating everything on “With The Lights On”. Indeed, the demo tape it came from was the first set of recordings made by the band in any form, although pedantic types will argue that Nirvana were actually formed after Fecal Matter had split up, as Novoselic is absent from this recording.
Although the amount of material issued on “With The Lights Out” and “Sliver” is merely the tip of the iceberg as far as unreleased studio/live material goes, the fact that these releases were produced suggested that they were seen to be the final word on the band. “Wishkah” did the job with Nirvana on stage, this was as far as the label would go in making available “unreleased material”. And for a short while, no more Nirvana material surfaced. But record companies are never ones to stop looking to make a fast buck, and by 2009, they had found their next source for a release from the vaults.
Live At Reading (06025 272 037-3)
“Live At Reading” was taped at what was being rumoured, at the time, to be the band’s final gig, because Cobain was believed to have been at death‘s door. This explains why Kurt was wheeled onstage in a wheelchair, and then “collapsed” when he tried to stand up. The show was taped at the Reading Festival on 30th August 1992, just over a year after the band had played the same festival, where they appeared just after lunchtime on the Saturday afternoon, as relative unknowns, playing a few bits from “the new LP“, and lots of old grunge stuff. One “Nevermind” later, and they were headlining the Sunday night.
The gig had been taped and videoed, and thus audio and video bootlegs had been doing the rounds for years. The release of this album allowed the whole gig to be released officially in full, with both a CD and DVD edition being released. Time constraints on the CD meant that the performance of “Love Buzz” had to be excluded, whilst a lot of the amusing between songs banter had to be cut in order to squeeze the remaining 24 songs onto a single disc. Even then, the closing number, “Territorial Pissings”, had to be heavily edited to fit on, as the original version - as found on the DVD edition - featured the band doing a 10 minute long instrumental finale. Copies of the DVD included a CD as a free bonus, which made the standard CD edition of the record somewhat superfluous.
Although nobody knew it at the time, the show was not Nirvana’s final gig, but it was the final show they would ever play in the UK. In that respects, it seems like it should really stand up as the final word on Nirvana as a live act, but that has not stopped the live DVD from the “Nevermind” box set (“Live At the Paramount”) being issued in it’s own right last year. You do wonder just how many other gigs might get released in full, as I understand several other Nirvana shows, although released in parts on “Live Tonight” and “Wishkah”, are sitting gathering dust in the vaults.
Maybe it’s just me, but it does seem as though the music scene in the UK is hitting “1980s” style problems at the moment, with a lot of decent bands either struggling to make it onto radio, or simply splitting up. Even pure pop is struggling, this year's mostly god-awful “T4 On The Beach” event showing just how badly we missed the likes of Girls Aloud.
And when you listen to Nirvana, you realise just how far BACKWARDS we seem to have gone. The band’s marriage of Abba melodies, and Black Sabbath riffs, when it worked, worked brilliantly. So, when I hear somebody banging on about the genius of Professor Green, or how cutting edge Example is supposed to be, I feel like crying. And don't get me started on Plan B. “Nevermind” is now twenty one years old, yet still sounds like it was made yesterday, and still sounds so far ahead of most “alternative” acts, it’s baffling. And the fact that we seem to be unable to find the “new Nirvana” (Idlewild and Nine Black Alps at least gave it a go), is heartbreaking really. Perhaps bands this good just don’t come along that often. What a shame.
Rest in peace Kurt.