Nirvana's 'Nevermind,' 20 years later

Left to right: Former members of the band

Left to right: Former members of the band Nirvana, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, pose with Jon Stewart and Butch Vig. The Nirvana's landmark 1991 album titled "Nevermind," whose member includes late Kurt Cobain was produced by Butch Vig. (Credit: Brantley Gutierrez/)

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Dave Grohl just smiled and shook his head.

"No," Nirvana's drummer said, at the SiriusXM Town Hall Saturday night. They had no idea that "Nevermind" (Geffen) would become such a big deal. They never even dreamed that they could be the biggest rock band in the world. They couldn't imagine that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" would become the anthem of a generation.

That all of that happened (and more) in the 20 years since the release of "Nevermind" isn't just a testament to the power of those songs and the late Kurt Cobain's lyrics, but also to the power those outside the mainstream can wield if they stand together.

Nirvana bassist Kris Novoselic said, looking back, the success of "Nevermind" marked a paradigm shift in the music industry, where fans forced the music establishment to embrace a new act instead of the other way around. "We were the first," Novoselic said.

"Nevermind" entered a world very similar to today's. America was in the middle of a recession caused by a banking crisis that led to high unemployment and a lot of disenchanted young people.

"Here we are now, entertain us" from "Smells Like Teen Spirit" became a rallying cry for the unemployed and underemployed, wondering how all the economic promise of the Reagan '80s had somehow evaporated before they got their turn. That mainstream anger and angst dovetailed with the rage and disappointment in Nirvana's songs and in what became known as the grunge movement, with its moshpits and body surfing.

What made "Nevermind" different from its grunge counterparts, though, was that it wrapped that rage in catchy melodies. Jon Stewart, who moderated the town hall meeting at Sirius headquarters in Manhattan, described the album as, "It was like The Beatles swallowed Black Flag."

"By today's standards, it's a very simple record," Grohl said. "That's why it sounded so huge."

That simplicity struck a chord. Not only did "Nevermind" eject Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" from No. 1 on Jan. 11, 1992, but it overturned the music industry as a whole. Radio stations suddenly switched to "alternative rock" formats to play Nirvana and other previously marginalized acts, including R.E.M., the Replacements and Sonic Youth. Record companies went on a signing binge to find "the next Nirvana" and to give these new radio stations something to play, sweeping up all sorts of Pacific Northwest bands, including Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.

"Nevermind" went on to sell more than 30 million copies around the world, including 10 million in America, and its legacy can still be seen in alternative rock radio stations and the ongoing rise of independent rock acts.

"We were promoting the revolution," Novoselic said.

 

REMEMBERING 'NEVERMIND'

 

--Geffen is releasing a remastered version of the album Tuesday in several formats -- including as a four-CD boxed set, which includes demos, alternate mixes and a DVD of the band's 1991 homecoming concert at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, and in a two-CD version and four-LP version. (Vevo will make the concert available on-demand beginning at noon today on vevo.com.)

--SiriusXM launched Nevermind Radio (Ch. 34), a channel dedicated to the album that runs on the networks until Wednesday. Its Nirvana Town Hall on "Nevermind" will be rebroadcast at noon Tuesday.

--Spin.com has a free tribute album to "Nevermind," featuring Surfer Blood, Jessica Lea Mayfield and more offering new versions of its tracks at spin.com/nevermind.

--VH1 Classic airs its "Classic Albums" episode on "Nevermind" at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

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