Archive | October, 2018

Certain Songs #1348: Nirvana – “On a Plain”

Album: Nevermind
Year: 1991

While the back half of Nevermind didn’t have any commercially released singles, it still had a plethora of amazing songs, the amazingest being the penultimate track, “On a Plain,” which on a lesser album would have been the lead single, instead of stuck all in the back near the end.

And of course, as part of the juggernaut that Nevermind ended up becoming, “On a Plain” was released to radio stations as a promotional single, and getting a pretty decent amount of airplay in the process, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s right up there with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” or “Come as You Are” in terms of their greatest songs.

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Certain Songs #1347: Nirvana – “Drain You”

Album: Nevermind
Year: 1991

I got lucky: even though I didn’t buy Nevermind, until mid-December, 1991 I was early enough to not get a version with the “bonus” hidden track “Endless Nameless.”

On the balance, I always kinda hated the hidden tracks on CDs, often squirreled away several minutes after the album proper ended, meaning that if you wanted to listen to a CD over and over again, or had a multi-disc changer, there would be several minutes of silence between songs. And so while I appreciated the willingness to experiment with the format — Dramarama’s Hi-Fi Sci-Fi used the magic of the digital format to seamlessly spread a single song over several tracks — the reality is that the vast majority of these songs sucked.

Which makes sense: if they were good, they’d be part of the album proper, instead of an auditory irritant stuck on the end. And so, going back to Nevermind, it turned out to be an album that I would often put on repeat when I stumbled back to my Tower District apartment to try and get a few hours of sleep between the bars and work, and the silence followed by “Endless Nameless” crashing would have no doubt fucked with what little sleep I did get in 1992.

One baby to another says, “I’m lucky to have met you”
I don’t care what you think unless it is about me
It is now my duty to completely drain you
I travel through a tube and end up in your infection

“Drain You” just starts, Kurt Cobain singing the opening line over a single guitar, Kris Novoselic and Dave Grohl crashing in before the second line over a riff that feels like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in reverse. Meanwhile Kurt is singing his version of a love song, commenting on intimacy while Grohl just pummels the living fuck out of his snare drum.

Chew your meat for you
Pass it back and forth
In a passionate kiss
From my mouth to yours
I like you

“Drain You” is one of the more playful songs on Nevermind, with a second verse that is full of puns, love and bodily functions.

With eyes so dilated, I’ve become your pupil
You taught me everything without a poison apple
The water is so yellow, I’m a healthy student
Indebted and so grateful, vacuum out the fluids

After the second chorus, Grohl drops everything but his kick drum, and accompanied by Novoselic and various whooshing and beeping sound effects, Cobain creates tornadoes with his guitar until with a scream, they all crash together on the riff. It was striking even for an album where the the closest thing to a conventional guitar solo was playing the melody line of the song, and was one of the things that set “Drain You” off from the rest of the songs.

“Drain You”

“Drain You” live in Seattle, 1991

“Drain You” live at Reading, 1992

“Drain You” live in France, 1994

The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

Certain Songs #1347: Nirvana – “Drain You”

Album: Nevermind
Year: 1991

I got lucky: even though I didn’t buy Nevermind, until mid-December, 1991 I was early enough to not get a version with the “bonus” hidden track “Endless Nameless.”

On the balance, I always kinda hated the hidden tracks on CDs, often squirreled away several minutes after the album proper ended, meaning that if you wanted to listen to a CD over and over again, or had a multi-disc changer, there would be several minutes of silence between songs. And so while I appreciated the willingness to experiment with the format — Dramarama’s Hi-Fi Sci-Fi used the magic of the digital format to seamlessly spread a single song over several tracks — the reality is that the vast majority of these songs sucked.

(more…)

Certain Songs #1346: Nirvana – “Breed”

Album: Nevermind
Year: 1991

It’s hard to explain just how thoroughly Nevermind took over the world — or at least my little slice of it — in 1992, but let me give a few examples.

I remember calling a friend and his answering machine message went “Nobody can come to the phone right now because we’re all too busy listening to our Nevermind CDs.”

There was also a point when the Wild Blue started doing their DJ dance music nights, and in the middle of all of the techno, electronica and flat-out funk, the DJ would put on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the place would go crazy.

I also remember traveling to northern Scotland in late June with a girl that I was seeing at the time — she’d been lucky enough to see Nirvana at their New Year’s Eve show in San Francisco — and there was a teenage kid riding a bike wearing the same smiley-face Nirvana shirt that I’d gone out and purchased at some point. “Flower Sniffin, Kitty Pettin, Baby Kissin, Corporate Rock Whores.” When we broke up a couple of months later, I’d left that shirt in her apartment, and never asked for it back.

None of which has anything to do specifically with today’s song, “Breed,” which eschews the quietLOUDquiet format of the singles for a pure blast of punk rock energy. “Breed” also encapsulates the thing that detractors of Nevermind always pointed to as Exhibit A: the artificiality of the whole thing. With producer Bruce Vig bringing in Slayer producer Andy Wallace to do the final mixes, Nevermind was definitely and defiantly polished to shine brighter than most punk records: it was closer to Give ‘Em Enough Rope or Warehouse: Songs and Stories than it was to The Clash or New Day Rising.

Me, I love all four of the aforementioned records to within an inch of my life, and what I heard on Nevermind was as immediate, powerful and catchy as anything I’d ever heard in my life. And no amount of polish was ever going to remove the beautiful grit spackled all over Kurt Cobain’s vocal cords.

I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care
I don’t care, I don’t care, care if it’s old
I don’t mind, I don’t mind, I don’t mind
I don’t mind, mind, don’t have a mind
Get away, get away, get away
Get away, away, away from your home
I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I’m afraid
I’m afraid, afraid, ghooooooooooosssst!

That first verse — Cobain’s penchant for playful repetition never more out front — comes after an opening where a spate of feedback becomes a circular guitar riff, joined by a long drum roll from Grohl and spizzled out bass from Novoselic, which is so overdriven you initially wonder if there’s an problem with your speakers.

One of the things about “Breed” is that it showed just how in synch Nirvana was, especially Kris Novoselic and Dave Grohl. Grohl’s main drumbeat is locked in with Novelselic’s bass at a molecular level, impossible to pry apart on any circumstances — but also Kurt Cobain, who abandons the riff he started in order to shred on top of his vocals during the verses, and then joins in on the fun during the choruses.

Even if you have, even if you need
I don’t mean to stare, we don’t have to breed
We could plant a house, we could build a tree
I don’t even care, we could have all three
She said, she said
She said, she said
She said, she said
She said, she said

One of the cool things about “Breed” is that Kurt’s guitar is in one speaker and Kris’s bass is in the other, which I’m going to take as a homage to the first Ramones album, a production choice that is only broken by some panning during the guitar break, which is mostly Kurt flogging his guitar into making tornado noises.

In the end, with “she said” echoing off the walls the floors and the ceiling, “Breed” comes crashing to an end with Kurt almost disgustedly exclaiming “duh!”

Nevermind is too famous and too great to claim that any song on it is a deep cut, but on a regular album, “Breed” might have been a single instead of the least famous song on the first side, though Kurt might have had to write a second verse in order for that to happen.

“Breed”

“Breed” live in Seattle, 1991

“Breed” live at Reading, 1992

“Breed” live in Seattle, 1993

The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.

Check it out!

Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)

Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon
Go to my Patreon page

Certain Songs #1346: Nirvana – “Breed”

Album: Nevermind
Year: 1991

It’s hard to explain just how thoroughly Nevermind took over the world — or at least my little slice of it — in 1992, but let me give a few examples.

I remember calling a friend and his answering machine message went “Nobody can come to the phone right now because we’re all too busy listening to our Nevermind CDs.”

There was also a point when the Wild Blue started doing their DJ dance music nights, and in the middle of all of the techno, electronica and flat-out funk, the DJ would put on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the place would go crazy.

(more…)