Verse Chourus Verse: The Recording History Of NIRVANA
Goldmine #432, February 14, 1997
PAGE: 4 | back
"Love Buzz"/"Big Cheese" was finally released in November, launching the "Sub Pop Singles Club." The club had been conceived as a way to bring in a steady cash flow; for a one year subscription ($35 at the time), members would receive a limited edition single through the mail. The singles were ostensibly only available through the club, but early singles in the series, including Nirvana's, were available through mail order, for a mere $3.50 (including postage). "Love Buzz" was packaged in a handnumbered, fold-over sleeve (the number written in red), in a run of 1000. Record Collector also claims that a few jukebox singles were manufactured, in plain sleeves. The sleeve was the first to use an alternate spelling of Cobain's name, crediting him as "Kurdt Kobain." Cobain used this spelling of his name up to the release of Nevermind, and occasionally after-such as on November 26, 1993, when he signed a guitar after a show in Jacksonville, Florida, in this way.
As the release was near the holiday season, Cobain gave copies of his first single to members of his immediate family that Christmas.
"I was really excited for him and proud of him," Mari Earl says. "As I was putting it back into the jacket, I laughed as I read 'Why don't you trade those guitars for shovels?' etched in the vinyl on the 'Love Buzz' side." Though both songs would later be available on the Bleach CD, the original single is now one of the group's most valuable releases. After Nirvana's break-through in 1992, the single's value jumped to $100; since Cobain's death, it has continued to increase, with at least one dealer offering it at the rather excessive price of $1000. As a result, counterfeit copies have been made in the U.S. and U.K.; the U.K. counterfeits are easier to spot, as the sleeves are not numbered.
In December '88, the re-recorded version of "Spank Thru" appeared on the box set Sub Pop 200. The set, issued in a run of 5000, was made up of three 12-inch EPs, and a booklet, and was packaged in a plain black box; other groups on the set included Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and the late poet Jesse Bernstein. The set later appeared on a single CD; in 1989, a "condensed" version of the set, entitled Sub Pop Rock City, was released in Europe on Glitterhouse.
The photo of Nirvana that appeared in the Sub Pop 200 booklet came from Charles Peterson's first "formal"-as opposed to live-session with the group. Peterson thinks the session took place in the late spring or early summer of '88, and was as casual as Wheeler's first session of the group. They decided to take the ferry over to Bainbridge Island, where Channing lived, and, Peterson remembers, "We drove all over the countryside with Shocking Blue playing on the cassette. It was really fun. The setting kind of fit more who they were at the time, 'cause they really weren't much of an urban band at all. They were hicks from the sticks."
Peterson's subsequent sessions with Nirvana proved to be equally informal. "I'd be like, 'Well what would you guys like to do?' 'I don't know.' 'Okay, well, it's a sunny day, let's just go down to the waterfront.' When I photograph a band posed, and Nirvana particularly, I just wanted to make it as comfortable and natural as possible. English rock photographers always try and do something really clever with the band. And I was just always more interested in composition and lighting, no matter what they're doing."
December '88 also marked the beginning of the recording sessions for the band's first album, Bleach. There were a total of seven sessions; December 24 (five hours), December 29 (five hours), December 30 (five hours), December 31 (four and a half hours), January 14, 1989 (five hours), and January 24, 1989 (five and a half hours). Songs recorded included "Blew," "About A Girl," "School," "Negative Creep," "Scoff," "Swap Meet," "Mr. Moustache," and "Sifting," all of which appeared on Bleach. The song "Big Long Now" was also recorded during these sessions, but was ultimately cut from album's line-up; "At the last minute Kurt decided that there was already enough slow, heavy stuff on Bleach, and he didn't want that song to go out," Endino explains.Endino also says that at least one session, probably December 24, was used for a bit of experimentation. "The band came in and said, 'We're going to tune our instruments way down, really low and we're going to try recording all these songs this way,"' he remembers. "I think Kurt was having trouble singing and wanted to make it a little easier for himself. Well, of course they were way out of tune, and didn't sound too good. So they ended up hating it, and then came back another day and re-recorded all of it! I think the only one we kept in that tuning was 'Blew.' And all the rest of it was erased!" Or almost all; early versions of at least "Sifting," "Blew," and "Mr. Moustache" recorded at the time have turned up on bootlegs. But the general practice, says Endino, "If it wasn't good, we just erased over it and did a better version."
Though the bulk of the album was rooted in the grunge vein, there was a nod to the band's budding pop sensibility already exhibited on "Love Buzz" and "Spank Thru" with "About A Girl," which opened with the gentle strumming of a guitar instead of a thudding drumbeat or howling scream. "I think Kurt felt nervous about putting 'about A Girl' on there," Endino says. "But he was very insistent on it. He said, 'I've got a song that's totally different from the others, Jack, you've gotta just humor me here, 'cause we're gonna do this real pop tune.' I was like,'Great, fine, whatever.' l think the question was raised at some point, gee, I wonder if Sub Pop's going to like this, and we decided, 'Who cared?' It's your album; put it on. And Sub Pop said nothing. In fact, I think they liked it a lot. Jonathan is a total pop head. And Bruce actually didn't like Bleach that much anyway, because I think he thought it was a little too heavy metal."
Though Bleach provided Nirvana with a powerful base from which to grow, Endino admits he'd have liked to have worked with the group when they had more time and money to spend. "It's nice doing a record quickly; but then, it's nice to not be in a hurry," he says. "To be able to step back and go, 'Wait a minute. Let's get a different drum sound on this song. Why don't we play with a different guitar amplifier?' That's the sort of thing you can't do when you've got a day to do an album. You just have to set up the mikes and go. Which is why Bleach pretty much has the same guitar sound from beginning to end. 'Cause we had one guitar amp, one day to record it. We recorded on 8-track, but we didn't even use all of them-we used six or seven, usually You basically just roll tape. And that's what fun about indie rock, but that's also what limits it sometimes."
After the recording of Bleach, Jason Everman joined the band as a second guitarist in time for a short West Coast tour. Everman was another friend of Dylan Carlson's, had previously played in high school bands with Channing, and had also lived in Aberdeen as a child. Though he didn't play on the record, Everman paid the recording bill ($606.17), and was credited with playing guitar; he was also pictured on the album cover shot and on the limited edition poster included with some copies of the album.
Everman ended up only playing on one session with the band that spring at Evergreen State College, when Nirvana recorded "Do You Love Me" for a Kiss covers compilation Seattle indie label C/Z was planning to put out (the session also yielded an early version of "Dive"). The idea for the album had originated with Australian-based indie label Waterfront Records, who distributed C/Z's records in Australia (C/Z returned the favor by distributing Waterfront's records in the U.S.). "We struck a deal where I would help to get a number of bands and make the product more of an international thing," says Daniel House, C/Z's owner. "And in turn, if Sub Pop wasn't interested in licensing the record domestically, he was going to give it to me. And Sub Pop passed; they thought it was too gimmicky and weren't interested. And I was totally interested." The album was released the following year.
Bleach was finally released on June 15. Sub Pop's one-page catalogue boasted "Hypnotic and righteous heaviness from these Olympia pop stars [though actually Cobain was the only member living in Olympia]. They're young, they own their own van, and they're going to make us rich!" The first 1000 copies appeared on white vinyl, the next 2000 came with a poster. In the U.K., the album was released on the Tupelo label in August, with the first 300 on white vinyl, the next 2000 on green; there have subsequent reissues on different colors. In Australia, the album was released on Waterfront, with the first 500 on blue vinyl; the words "Nirvana" and "Bleach" on the cover were in blue and yellow. Subsequent issues were again in different colors.
Choosing a cover shot for the album was somewhat problematic. A session was done with Alice Wheeler, but the results were unsatisfactory. "Nirvana came over to my house in the afternoon," she says, "and we went up the street and took some pictures and they weren't that great. It was kind of funny because Jason was like Mr. Glamboy compared to Kurt; Kurt looks pretty washed in most of those pictures, I don't like them very much. And the band didn't like them. And I don't want someone to have pictures they don't like of themselves for their record. Bruce loved 'em. But of course he liked the idea of the scary hick from Aberdeen. And I think that kind of hurt Kurt's feelings.
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