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Tuesday, September 24, 1991

Nirvana's Nevermind was released: September 24, 1991

Originally posted 9/24/12; updated 9/25/13.

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Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.) Smells Like Teen Spirit (9/10/91 #6 HT, #7 AR, #1 MR, #7 UK) / In Bloom (12/12/92 #5 AR, #28 UK) / Come As You Are (1/18/92 #32 HT, #3 AR, #3 MR, #9 UK) / Breed / Lithium (2/8/92 #64 HT, #16 AR, #25 MR, #11 UK) / Polly / Territorial Pissings / Drain You / Lounge Act / Stay Away / On a Plain (1/18/92 #25 AR) / Something in the Way

Sales (in millions): 11.0 US, 1.81 UK, 30.0 world

Peak: 1 2 US, 7 UK


Review: Nevermind was stuffed into enough stockings over Christmas of ‘91 to boot the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, from his roost at the top of the Billboard album chart. The album went on to sell over 10 million copies domestically – a feat accomplished by less than 100 albums in the history of music. Nirvana were “scrappy garageland warriors setting their sights on a land of giants.” IR After their “undistinguished 1989 debut, Bleach, [which] relied on warmed-over Seventies metal riffs,” IR Nirvana made the leap to Geffen because frontman Kurt Cobain “wanted the group to be popular, and could see them maybe selling as many records as Sonic Youth.” AD

“The production team of Butch Vig and Andy Wallace ‘tidied’ up the sound of the early Nirvana” AD while still emphasizing the “guitar-heavy blend of bubblegum punk” SK the band crafted on Bleach. “Nirvana…created precisely the sort of record…Sub Pop [strove] for with bands like Mudhoney and Tad since its inception in 1986.” SK

Nirvana displayed a knack for “evocative wordplay” STE and “crisp pop melodicism.” BL The songs “exemplify the band’s skill at inscribing subtlety onto dense, noisy rock” IR that was “positively glistening with echo and fuzz-box distortion.” STE “This is hard rock as the term was understood before metal moved in – the kind of loud, slovenly, tuneful music you think no one will ever [make] again until the next time it happens, whereupon you wonder why there isn’t loads more.” RC

What lifts Nevermind to the status of one of the greatest albums ever made is how it defined a new genre. “Nirvana planted the alternative flag on the Iwo Jima of American consciousness when Nevermind erupted onto the music scene.” CS “Few albums have occupied the cultural consciousness like this one.” DW It “served as the antidote to the musical holocaust of the ‘80s.” CS “This is now an omni-present all-time classic” AD “and just may be compared in the same breath to albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” CT

If the sound of grunge feels overly “familiar now, it’s only because thousands of rock records that followed it were trying very hard to cop its style.” DW The album served as a “foundation for most of the rock…of the ‘90s…loud, distorted guitars; raging, sometime screaming vocals; and lyrics that range from the pessimistic, to the positive, and to the apathetic.” JC “Like a meteor crashing into earth, Nevermind left a lasting impact on music and won’t soon be forgotten.” CS

Smells Like Teen Spirit

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Tuesday, September 17, 1991

Guns N' Roses release the Use Your Illusion albums: September 17, 1991

Originally posted September 17, 2012.

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Following up a monster debut is no easy task. Guns N’ Roses exploded in 1988 with Appetite for Destruction, making them the biggest rock band in the world. After the 1989 GN’R Lies interim package which slapped four new songs together with GNR’s Live Like a Suicide EP from 1986, they released not one, but two albums. They were packaged separately, but with the names Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, they were generally treated as a double album.

The general consensus has been that the pair of albums was a bloated, over-the-top follow-up. This is “a shining example of a suddenly successful band getting it all wrong and letting its ambitions run wild.” E1 A nice argument has been made that a single-disc album not only would have reigned the band in, challenged AC/DC’s Back in Black as the biggest and best hard rock album ever, and, most importantly that it might have kept the group from splitting apart. DF

However, it didn’t happen that way and from a chart and sales standpoint, the general public didn’t appear too disappointed. The two albums have sold a combined 14 million in the United States and 35 million worldwide. Nine of the albums’ songs charted on the album rock charts from 1990 to 1994.

“Tensions between Slash, Izzy Stradlin, and Axl Rose are evident from the start. The two guitarists, particularly Stradlin, are trying to keep the group closer to its hard rock roots, but Rose has pretensions of being Queen and Elton John, which is particularly odd for a notoriously homophobic Midwestern boy.” E1 “Conceivably, the two aspirations could have been divided between the two records, but instead they are just thrown into the blender.” E1

“Stradlin has a stronger presence on IE1 which makes it the “harder-rocking record.” E1Use Your Illusion II is more serious and ambitious than I, but it’s also considerably more pretentious.” E2 “It can be a chore to find the highlights…amid the overblown production and endless amounts of filler,” E1 but “grandiose epics” E2 such as November Rain and Civil War make for “ambitious set pieces” E1 and there are some songs with “a nervy energy.” E2

Awards for Use Your Illusion I and II:

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Tuesday, September 10, 1991

Nirvana charted with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”: September 10, 1991

Originally posted 7/12/2014.

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Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Writer(s): Kurt Cobain/Nirvana (see lyrics here)

Released: --, First charted: 9/10/1991

Peak: 6 US, 5 CB, 7 AR, 11 MR, 7 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 8.0 world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): 165.66

Review: The song that sparked the grunge movement of the ‘90s owes its inspiration to perspiration. Kathleen Hanna of punk band Bikini Kill scrawled the phrase “Kurt smells like Teen Spirit,” a reference to a deodorant, on Nirvana singer/songwriter Kurt Cobain’s bedroom wall. However, he interpreted it as her suggestion “that he could incite teenage rebellion” LW and crafted an anti-commercial message in what became an ironically monstrous commercial success.

As producer Bruce Vig said, Cobain “had the dichotomy of punk rage and alientation…but also this vulnerable pop sensibility.” RS500 Upon arriving at parties, Cobain used to utter the song’s chorus (“Here we are now/ Entertain us”) to break the ice. RS500 Much as the public and critics had embraced punk fifteen years earlier, they now took to this new form of music which would revolutionize the industry.

The sound wasn’t completely new; the classic sounds of garage rock and arena rock were built on the same four-chord sequence. Cobain himself compared the guitar part to “Louie, Louie” RSP and shared “more than a hint of the chord changes” of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” TB Cobain said he was inspred by the loud/soft dynamic of the Pixies. CR

As artist’s masterpieces often do, “Teen Spirit” haunted Cobain; he felt obligated, but tortured, to play the song at every show. As he said, “there are many other songs that I have written that are as good, if not better.” RS500 However, his demons weren’t restricted to a distaste for his career-making hit; he committed suicide on 4/8/1994.

Resources and Related Links:

  • Nirvana’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
  • CR Creswell, Toby. (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Page 503.
  • LW Lewens, Alan. (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 170.
  • RS500 “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
  • RSP Rolling Stone (September 8, 1988; Issue 534). “The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years." New York, NY; Straight Arrow Publishing Company. Page 64.
  • TB Thunder Bay Press. (2006). Singles: Six Decades of Hot Hits & Classic Cuts. Outline Press Ltd.: San Diego, CA. Page 246.


Saturday, September 7, 1991

Red Hot Chili Peppers release Blood Sugar Sex Magik: September 7, 1991

Originally posted September 7, 2012.

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The Red Hot Chili Peppers formed in 1983 and released four albums before the end of the decade. They found an audience primarily in the alternative rock world. The ‘90s saw them reach a new level with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which All Music Guide’s Steve Huey calls their “best album.” SH It was a decidedly commercial effort, opening up the band to their widest audience. While the Peppers still maintained their trademark sound on “the infectiously funky singles Give It Away and Suck My Kiss,” SH Magik also marked their “first consistent embrace of lilting acoustic balladry.” SH

Among the latter was Under the Bridge, a #2 pop hit in which lead singer Anthony Kiedis laid bare his problems with drug addiction. While balladry wasn’t Kiedis’ strong suit, “these are some of the album’s finest moments, varying and expanding the group’s musical and emotional range.” SH They “give the album depth and provide contrast to the raw energy of Mellowship Slinky in B Major, Funky Monks, and ‘Give It Away.’” MG

It wasn’t just that the Peppers mixed funk and balladry by allowing Kiedis to temper “his testosterone with a more sensitive side.” SH With Rick Rubin as their producer, the group found “just the right blend of punk, funk, and hip-hop.” MG Magik demonstrated “continuity and cohesion both within and across the 17 cuts.” MG “Rubin masterfully fuses John Frusciante’s raunchy guitar with the irresistible grooves” MG so that the “guitar is less overpoweringly noisy, leaving room for differing textures and clearer lines.” SH “The band overall is more focused and less indulgent, even if some of the grooves drag on too long.” SH


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