Certain Songs #1340: Nirvana – “Love Buzz”

Album: Bleach
Year: 1988

It’s probably a bit ironic that given that Kurt Cobain was stuck with the “voice of a generation” tag that Nirvana started their recording career with a cover.

That said, it does fit in with one of my many many Nirvana theories, all of which you’ll be subjected to in the next couple of weeks: that they were one of the greatest cover bands ever, up there with The Rolling Stones or The Who in their ability to take just about any song and make it their own.

And so it goes with their take on the Dutch band Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz,” which wasn’t even the song that anybody remembered Shocking Blue for in 1988, if they remembered Shocking Blue at all. That song was “Venus,” a remarkably tough slice of psychedelic pop that went #1 around the world back in 1969 and was an AM radio staple in the early 1970s.

But, of course, no self-respecting punk rocker was going to cover “Venus,” and so Nirvana went with “Love Buzz,” which in its original incarnation was a slow, trippy burn, full of sitars and featuring a drum-fueled rave up in the middle. It’s actually so good that I’m going to check out their whole At Home album.

But the only part that Nirvana really kept was the bassline — the first thing you hear on any Nirvana record is Kris Novoselic — upping the tempo because of course you up the tempo and Kurt Cobain alternating lighting fast licks with a more conventional hook that echos Novoselic’s bass.

Then his voice comes in, and at first you think he’s making fun of these old psychedelic rockers dumb-ass lyrics, especially the way he sings “queen of my heart.”

Would you believe me when I tell you
You’re the queen of my heart
Please don’t deceive me when I hurt you
Just ain’t the way it seems

And hell, maybe he is, but he also can’t help himself, and the deeper he gets into the chorus, the more serious he sounds.

Can you feel my love buzz?
Can you feel my love buzz?
Can you feel my love buzz?
Can you feel my love buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

By the end of the chorus he’s screaming, the first of his great screams as his guitars rise up and take over for awhile. In the middle, instead of a rave-up, there’s more of a noise freak-out, with chants of “wah-wah” like maybe they wanted to use a wah-wah peddle but didn’t have one, reminiscent of The Who chanting “cellos cellos cellos cellos” on “A Quick One While He’s Away.”

Like most of Nirvana’s great pre-Grohl songs, “Love Buzz” gets by on the tension between Cobain’s need to be pretty and his need to be abrasive. And sure, while it was someone else’s melody, it has totally become Nirvana’s song.

“Love Buzz”

“Love Buzz” performed live in Seattle, 1991

“Love Buzz” by Shocking Blue

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