Nevermind at 30

1991 the year that punk broke

I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now entertain us, a mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido, vay, vay, a denial, I’m worst at what I do best and for this gift I feel blessed. I found it hard, it was hard to find, oh well, whatever, Nevermind.

From inlay of 20th anniversary deluxe edition of Nevermind.

On 24 September 1991, Nirvana released their second album, Nevermind on Geffen Records and turned the rock world on its head.

Produced by Butch Vig and the first to feature new drummer Dave Grohl who had replaced Chad Channing, this album was a more polished, radio-friendly sound to their debut album, Bleach.

Prior to the album coming out I had never heard of Nirvana, in fact I was totally unaware of the US underground scene as towards the late 1980s and early 1990s I was listening to a variety of heavy metal like Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Guns N’Roses, Queensryche and even the funk metal crossover appeal with the likes of Living Colour and Faith No More.

By the summer of 1991, the biggest albums I was listening were the Black album by Metallica and Use Your Illusion 1 and 2 by Guns N’ Roses.  Incredible to think that nearly a week later Nevermind was soon to be released.

At the end of September the album shot straight into the UK chart at no.36 but would probably have sold more at the time if Geffen had pressed enough copies in the UK, only 6,000 at the time of release. Priority seemed to have been more towards Guns N’Roses double album by them.

I came across Nevermind reading about it in the metal press.  I was a bit sceptical at the time but somehow, I was intrigued by this band Nirvana.  I hadn’t even heard Smells Like Teen Spirit.  I really was in a bubble but on sheer impulse alone, I bought the album, and I was blown away with it.

The impact the album had on me was incredible from the start when it begins with the Pixies inspired Smells Like Teen Spirit to the end with the spin chilling Something In the Way, suddenly when you leave the CD running on a bit longer than normal that you get the fright of your life when from out of nowhere the chaotic feedback of Endless, Nameless starts howling through the speakers.

In a short space of time the overblown hype of the Guns N’Roses double album would soon gather dust in my collection while I embraced the new sound that was coming from the alternative rock world.

When Kurt Cobain talked about the influences of the record from the likes of Pixies, REM and The Melvins I started to take notice.  When I told one of my colleagues in work that I was getting into Nirvana he recommended two Pixies albums to me, Doolittle and Bossanova.

Both albums I took to straight away and I could see where Cobain was coming from when he cited the band as an influence especially with the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic.

The album really does celebrate everything about music – mainstream pop, punk inspired hard rock and even acoustic numbers like Polly and Something in the Way.

In the winter of 1991, the band were due to play Belfast for the first time at Conor Hall which is part of the Art College. Ticket was on £6.50. But promotional duties got in the way of that gig and they were scheduled to perform on the Jonathan Ross show instead which meant the Belfast show got cancelled.

The final European dates of 1991 were cancelled in December as the band were exhausted with touring and promotion of Nevermind. Thankfully, they did come to Belfast and it was worth the wait when they came in the summer of 1992 playing at the much larger King’s Hall.

One only wonders if the gig at Conor Hall had never been cancelled it would have been some gig.

By 1992 the album had become an unexpected critical and commercial success reaching number one in the Billboard charts and knocking off Michael Jackson from the top spot.

Legacy of the album

The full effect of the album began to change my taste in music.  While still liking metal I didn’t quite abandon it overnight and go the other direction.  I was suddenly finding new bands to get into – Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, Jane’s Addiction, Sonic Youth, Belly, Pavement, Helmet to name but a few.

Pearl Jam were often accused of jumping on the grunge bandwagon.  In fact, Ten was released a month before Nevermind.  You could say I got into Nirvana first and then Pearl Jam followed.  For me this wasn’t a Rolling Stones vs Beatles moment.  I could appreciate both bands for what they were.

The shift in music also changed how I viewed music at home.  For so long, U2 were my favourite Irish band but after Nevermind came out I would discover bands like Therapy? whose influence owed more to the US underground scene and also Ash who were at the same concert I was at when Nirvana came to Belfast in the summer of 1992.

The cultural impact

Nirvana’s breakthrough sparked a media frenzy eager to bring the band to the masses.

Their infamous world live debut on Channel 4’s The Word performing Smells Like Teen Spirit on 11 August a few weeks prior to the debut at the Reading Festival, had Kurt Cobain opening declaring to everyone “I want everyone in this room to know that Courtney Love, the lead singer of the sensational pop group Hole, is the best f**k in the world”.

By the autumn of 1991 the band were invited to perform on BBC’s Top of the Pops. I was never a fan of the format because you knew that the acts on it were lip syncing and not performing live.

When Nirvana were asking to lip sync to Smells Like Teen Spirit they refused but what we got instead was the band barely pretend to play their instruments while Kurt changed the opening lines of the song to: “Load up on drugs, kill your friends” while singing in a very deep Morrissey-like voice.

It was very funny and not something the Top of the Pops audience would be used to.

On the Tonight With Jonathan Ross they were supposed to play Lithium but instead broke out into a very loud and raucous version of Territorial Pissings, finishing by thrashing the stage and leaving only the sound of feedback in their wake. Ross was probably stunned at what he had just witnessed and probably wouldn’t have known the difference that they played a totally different song to what was expected!

In 1992 Dave Markey directed 1991: The Year Punk Broke featuring Nirvana’s label mates Sonic Youth on their European tour of that year.  The film also features Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, Gumball and The Ramones.   In many ways it kind of gives credit that Nirvana were the trailblazers for the new alternative scene coming from the States.

Also released in 1992 was the romantic comedy Singles written and directed by Cameron Crowe.  While the film focuses on a group of young Gen X’ers in Seattle at the height of the grunge phenomenon it is very noticeable that Nirvana are not even name checked nor appear in the movie.  Instead, it focuses on the likes of Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.  For me this wasn’t a bad thing.  I didn’t think much of the movie but the soundtrack was excellent.

By 1993, grunge and alterative rock had really taken a foothold.  Even the BBC documentary No Nirvana which showcased the best of the US alternative scene was maybe a bit late catching on as by the time I had seen the programme most of the bands on it I was already listening to.

The pun in the title No Nirvana was very telling but you could tell by watching that that were more fantastic bands out that that deserved some success and recognition.

Thirty years later and this album still is my favourite of all time. It was a case of right time and place when it was released. It changed how I listened to music and introduced me to other bands that I would probably never have dreamed of listening to.

You can watch the really excellent documentary, When Nirvana Came to Britain, which aired on BBC recently.

#AtoZBest90sAlbum Week 4

Final batch of albums from the 1990s is picked for week 4 which covers 22 to 27 April.

Was tempted to include two Pearl Jam’s albums beginning with V. Vitalogy sadly lost out to Vs. Wouldn’t have counted as you can only post one album a day!

Even though I picked this my wildcard option, it was pointed out to me on Twitter that I should claim it as X because that is the Roman numeral for ten. Good point.

It was a great challenge looking back at the 1990s which is my favourite decade. The albums featured over the four weeks are just a shapshot of my favourites.

Big thank you to both @sotachetan and @Pia_Lemonade for putting this challenge. It was great craic and I really enjoyed it. Onto the next challenge which is #AlbumCoverObjects. This should be fun.

#AtoZBest90sAlbum Week 3

Third batch of albums from the 1990s is picked for week 3 which covers 15 to 21 April.

#AtoZBest90sAlbum Week 2

Second batch of albums from the 1990s is picked for week 2 which covers 8 to 14 April.

Day L The Breeders

#AtoZBest90sAlbum Week 1

Following up from the really successful #AtoZBest80sAlbums Twitter music challenge by @Pia_Lemonade and @sotachetan, we are back with what is my favourite decade music wise. Lots of albums have lost out but these have been my daily picks throughout the month of April.

Lots of albums have lost out but these have been my daily picks throughout the month of April.

Week 1 covers 1 to 7 April.

My top 10 NI albums

What’s the greatest album of all time by a northern Irish act?

This question was posed by David O’Reilly also known as Rigsy from BBC NI’s Across the Line.  He’s doing a poll for the Daily Mirror and Belfast Live and it will be interesting to see who makes the list.

Using the hashtag #NIALBUMS you can nominate up to three albums for inclusion and they don’t need to be in order.

My three were Therapy?Troublegum, Ash1977 and Stiff Little FingersInflammable Material.

Both Therapy? and Ash had a big impact on me in the early 1990s and I was too young to appreciate Stiff Little Fingers at the time as I got older I started to listen to them a bit more.

But why stop at three? You could be all day trying to do a top 10, so I thought I’d give it a go with my very own top 10 NI albums.  Obviously the three above are going to be there so who will make it for the other seven?

My all-time NI top 10

  1. Therapy? – Troublegum (1994)
  2. Ash – 1977 (1996)
  3. Stiff Little Fingers – Inflammable Material (1979)
  4. The Undertones – The Undertones (1979)
  5. Jetplane Landing – Zero for Conduct (2002)
  6. And So I Watch You From Afar – And So I Watch You From Afar (2009)
  7. Fighting with Wire – Man vs. Monster (2008)
  8. La Faro – La Faro (2010)
  9. The Wood Burning Savages – Stability (2018)
  10. Scheer – Infliction (1996)

That concludes my top 10. A few bands missed out like Joyrider whose excellent Be Special album from 1996 was great.

15 albums that define 1997…for me

BBC 6Music have just selected their 15 albums that they felt defined 1997. I have five of them so looking at my collection I decided to do my own take on this with the 15 albums that were my favourites that year.

This was my top 15 from 1997.

  1. Radiohead – Ok Computer

The album recently topped the poll in the #7albums90s on Twitter last week and deservedly so.  After The Bends, this my favourite Radiohead album.  I still get goosebumps listening to it.  When I bought this album back in 1997, I got to see the band live for the first time when they played Dublin.

The first taster of the album came on the Warchild album Help, which Radiohead donated their song Lucky to.  I loved the song and was so looking forward to the album.  Paranoid Android which was the lead single and it set the standard for the rest of the album.  This album is all killer and no filler.  There is not one dud on it. Still to this day it is considered a masterpiece and who would disagree?

Listen here:

2. Foo Fighters – The Colour and The Shape

The second Foo Fighters album was the first as a full band.  Dave Grohl played all the instruments on the debut album.  This time he was joined by Pat Smear and Nate Mendel (who are still part of the band today).  William Goldsmith was on drums but left after the recordings and was replaced by Taylor Hawkins.

The album produced some great singles – Monkey Wrench, My Hero and Everlong which are all still part and parcel of a Foo Fighters gig today. 

Listen here:

3. Faith No More – Album of the Year

This was the last ever Faith No More album before they went off on an eleven-year hiatus from 1998 to 2009.  The album title showed the bands humour.  They had been away for a while after King for a Day..Fool for a Lifetime from 1995 so they thought it would be a funny title for a record.

The album produced three singles – Ashes to Ashes, Last Cup of Sorrow and Stripsearch

Listen here:

4. Blur – Blur

Up until then I was into Oasis more than Blur.  While Blur won the battle of the singles – Roll with It vs Country House which they got to no.1 with, it was the album battle that Oasis came out on top with (What’s The Story) Morning GloryBlur’s The Great Escape didn’t do much for me at the time but suddenly something changed.

The self-titled fifth Blur album saw the band go for a much rawer approach as they embraced the lo-fi of Pavement.  The release of Song 2 won the band acclaim in the States with its quirky, poppy re-imaging of grunge and for me that was the song that opened the way to me appreciating the band a bit better. Still one of my favourite Blur albums to this day.

Listen here:

5. Veruca Salt – Eight Arms To Hold You

Number One Blind was the first single I bought by the band.  Never got around to getting American Thighs but eventually got a copy of it on vinyl.  The second album was produced by Bob Rock and it was a great album.

 Volcano Girls was a big hit from this album, and it was also the opening theme song for the teen comedy Jawbreaker.   This album would be the last of the original line up until they got back together for Ghost Notes in 2015.

Listen here:

6. Green Day – Nimrod

Two years previously the band released Insomniac which did not perform well commercially as their breakthrough major label debut Dookie

Nimrod is an album that has a little bit of everything – hardcore punk, pop punk, surf rock and ska.  I would say this is my favourite Green Day album.  Highlight from the album for me is Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).  It is just a great song towards the end of the album.

Listen here:

7. The Prodigy – The Fat of the Land

I was never a fan of rap or indeed dance music.  During the 1990s that changed with the cross-over appeal of metal and rap which I really liked.  Now it was the turn of dance music.  I never liked The Prodigy previously as I really couldn’t get into rave culture. 

The singles from the album, Firestarter and Breathe both hit no.1 in 1996 saw the band successfully bring dance, rock, and hip hop into this hybrid and it works.  When I first saw them live, I wasn’t sure what to expect and was suspicious when I saw lots of people in the crowd with dayglo sticks. 

Thinking this will probably be a rave and I won’t like it; I left the King’s Hall in Belfast afterwards totally converted and have enjoyed going to see them live since then. This record doesn’t disappoint and the L7 cover at the end, Fuel My Fire is just amazing.

Listen here:

8. Feeder – Polythene

Feeder’s debut album came out around the time that Britpop was the main scene.   Instead of being part of that scene, they were lumped into the not often mention Britrock.  The band were influenced by grunge which lead to comparisons with other bands.

They ended up being compared with the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, Pixies and Talk Talk.  Breakthrough single High came from this album.   A really satisfying debut album and I have been a fan since.

Listen here:

9. Primal Scream – Vanishing Point

Every Primal Scream album is so different and Vanishing Point draws influence from a lot of genres dub, ambient, dance music and krautrock.  Mani from the Stone Roses features on bass on this record.  Bobby Gillespie describes the album as a road-movie record.  It does have this feel of being a cool soundtrack for an underground film.

Four great singles were released from this album – Kowalski, Star, Burning Wheel and If They Move, Kill ‘Em. 

Listen here:

10. Teenage Fanclub – Songs from Northern Britain

After Grand Prix, this album is one of my favourites from Teenage Fanclub.  Musically it is very influenced by The Byrds with songs like I Don’t Want Control of You and Ain’t That Enough.

The band described the album title as “a joking reference to Britpop, and everybody who thought they were part of that scene”. Norman Blake expanded on the title in 2016, commenting, “We just thought it sounded funny. No one calls Scotland “Northern Britain,” although technically it is.” They may not have been part of the Britpop scene but a great band.

Listen here:

11. Sleater-Kinney– Dig Me Out

I was late getting into Sleater-Kinney.  Didn’t discover the band until 2000’s All Hands on the Bad One which I loved.  Having managed to get their entire back catalogue, Dig Me Out which was their third album is good and rockier than the first couple of albums.

Listen here:

12. Super Furry Animals – Radiator

Super Furry Animals embarked on the NME Brats Tour and completed work on a speedy follow-up to Fuzzy Logic. Two singles Hermann ♥’s Pauline in May and The International Language of Screaming in July, hitting No. 26 and No. 24 respectively.

The band shared the same label with Oasis.  Creation released it just four days after the long-awaited new effort from OasisBe Here Now. Probably a case of band timing but it still did well. Two further singles, Play It Cool (released September 1997) and Demons (November 1997) both hit No. 27 in the charts.  The band established themselves as favourites in the music press, a cut above many of their Britpop peers. I got to see the band play both Fuzzy Logic and Radiator in the entirety which was a great show.

Listen here:

13. James – Whiplash

I got into James when they released Laid in 1993 which is a great album.  Whiplash was an album that the band attempted to mix their older sound with newer elements.  Two of my favourite James songs are on this album – Tomorrow and She’s a Star.

Listen here:

14. Pavement – Brighten the Corners

I got into Pavement in 1994 when they released the single Cut Your Hair.  One of the most influential American underground bands from the 1990s they remained signed to an independent label rather than signing with a major like most of their peers did.

The album contained two of the band’s best-known singles Stereo and Shady Lane.  

Listen here:

15. Helmet – Aftertaste

This fourth album by Helmet was to be the last with its original members John Stanier (drums) and Henry Bogdan (bass).  After that Page Hamilton would carry the band forward.

Aftertaste goes back to Helmet’s earlier sound compared to the experimental jazz of Betty.  It is a decent album but doesn’t quite have the same impact as Meantime and Betty did, both being my favourite Helmet albums.

Listen here:

My favourite albums from 1995

Been reading today that BBC Radio 6 Music were doing an article on the best records from 1995.

Had a look at the list and quite a few of my favourites were there.  There were some albums that didn’t quite make the cut that would be in my top 10.  Looking back on 1995 it was a pretty good year in music.

New trends were emerging and it looks like this was the golden era of the beginning of Britpop while grunge’s popularity was on the wane.   In the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, one could argue that grunge was on the way out.  Alice in Chains would release their third album and Layne Staley’s  last with the group before his untimely death in 2002.   Soundgarden were still on the road that summer headlining Reading and I got to see them in Dublin.

But like everything else you try to find other bands to get into rather than just sticking with what you like.  So whilst still enjoying early 90s rock music I was finding new bands to listen too and 1995 was no exception.

This is my best of 1995 list below:

  1. Radiohead – The Bends
  2. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
  3. Mad Season – Above
  4. Oasis  – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory
  5. Garbage – Garbage
  6. Teenage Fanclub – Grand Prix
  7. Sleeper – Smart
  8. Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters
  9. Echobelly – On
  10. Elastica – Elastica

Think I am quite happy with that lot.  Notable mention must go to the War Child album, Help which is a fantastic album.Oasis v Blur

There has also been a lot of interest in the big music story from that summer this very day between Oasis and Blur.

I must admit I did side on the Oasis camp but that would change after album no.3 then I switched to Blur.  I don’t know what it was with those two bands.  I just didn’t appreciate Blur until much later and then went off Oasis.

Blur won the no.1 spot and I really hated Country House when it first came out.  I remember buying Roll With It on CD single thinking it was the better song.




25 albums for 1994

1994 was a great year for music.  So many good albums were released that year.

With the reissue of Oasis’s debut album, Definitely Maybe just out and I wrote about their Belfast live debut in a most recent blog, I was reading online think it may have been 6Music who were going back in time to that year. This got me wondering what would be in your all time list for 1994.

Hard to believe it is 25 years and for a lot of these albums that I am going to list here there are quite a few favourites that I still listen to now.

So what makes a great list?  Well, to make it hard I could have went for a top ten but it felt unfair that quite a few albums not going to make the cut.  Who gets in?  Who gets left out?

I felt maybe the best way would be to cap it at 25.  25 albums released 25 years ago in 1994.  Perfect thus creating the title of this “25 albums for 1994”.

Looking back on this list it is quite a blend of the last years of grunge, the beginnings of Britpop and anything else that you might want it to be.

So without further ado here is my top 25 albums for 1994.

  1. Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York
  2. Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible
  3. Pearl Jam – Vitalogy
  4. Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies
  5. Soundgarden – Superunknown
  6. Jeff Buckley – Grace
  7. Oasis – Definitely Maybe
  8. REM – Monster
  9. Therapy? – Troublegum
  10. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
  11. Sugar – File Under: Easy Listening
  12. Weezer – Weezer (aka The Blue Album)
  13. Helmet – Betty
  14. Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
  15. Beck – Mellow Gold
  16. Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot
  17. Beastie Boys – III Communciation
  18. Suede – Dog Man Star
  19. Green Day – Dookie
  20. Primal Scream – Give Out But Don’t Give Up
  21. Echobelly – Everyone’s Got One
  22. Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary
  23. Senser – Stacked Up
  24. Live – Throwing Copper
  25. Bush – Sixteen Stone

Hope you enjoyed reading.  Maybe some of your favourites are amongst here.  Feel free to add to the above you might have liked around that time too.