Nirvana’s Nevermind at 30: Looking Back At the Classic Album That Shaped a Generation

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This past Friday, Nirvana’s groundbreaking sophomore album, Nevermind, turned thirty. To celebrate its captivating influence and immortal charm, let’s take a look back at how this 90’s magnum opus changed the world of rock and roll as we know it.

Sabrina Kwarta, Contributor

This past Friday, Nirvana’s groundbreaking sophomore album, Nevermind, turned thirty. Opening with the four power chords that would define a generation, this album paved the way for mainstream grunge — bands like Soungarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains would soon follow. 

To celebrate its captivating influence and immortal charm, let’s take a look back at how this 90’s magnum opus changed the world of rock and roll as we know it.

Nirvana formed in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987. The original lineup included Kurt Cobain on guitar and vocals, Krist Novoselic on bass, and drummer Chad Channing. In January of 1988, they recorded a 10-song demo with legendary grunge producer Jack Endino. Later, Jonathan Poneman, one of the executives at Sub Pop (their label at the time) heard the tape and offered to put out a single they heartily accepted. 

In June of the next year, Bleach, their first album with Sub Pop, was released, setting the band off on a month-long U.S tour. In September of 1990, Channing was eventually dropped and replaced with drummer Dave Grohl.

The band recorded Nevermind between May and June of 1991. With a steady budget of $65,000, they recorded at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, just outside of Los Angeles. Mixed and produced by Butch Vig and Andy Wallace, they made sure the brilliant material of Nevermind didn’t get lost in the same cheap production Bleach did. 

Producer Butch Vig told Rolling Stone, “The week before I flew to L.A. [to produce Nevermind], Kurt sent a cassette, which was done on a boombox,” said Vig. “It was really terrible sounding. You could barely make out anything. But I could hear the start to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ and I knew it was amazing.” Speaking of the legendary opening track, he told NPR, “I knew it had to be the leadoff on the record. That it was making a statement. Even though we’re not really sure exactly what Kurt is singing about, there’s something in there that you understand.” The mosh-pitting, angst-ridden audience of the era seemed to agree. 

‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was everywhere — blasting on the radio, looping endlessly on MTV. Your parents were probably rocking out to this jangly earworm on a cassette tape while wearing baggy jeans and drinking stale coffee. It was the song that defined the 90’s.

Ironically, while being one of the most popular albums of all time, Nevermind made a relatively small splash when it was first released, debuting at No. 144 on the Billboard 200 and selling 6,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen Music

It was also greatly divided among rock critics. Rolling Stone writer Ira Robbins stated that Nevermind “had Nirvana at the crossroads – a scrappy garageland warriors setting their sights on a land of giants.” The magazine even went so far as to give the album a meager three-star rating, the critical equivalent to pigeonholing a record to eternal mediocrity.  

But Rolling Stone eventually came around. In 1992, they published a revised four-star review. Then, in 2004, Nevermind‘s standing shot up even further by earning a five-star ranking in that year’s album guide. Since then, it has sold over 30 million copies and counting, and is the 12th selling rock album in the U.S, as reported by Nielsen Music. It also famously kicked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous out of the #1 album spot in 1992, and stayed there for 2 weeks. 

Vig told the Daily Beast how he felt about the success of Nevermind: “It was a zeitgeist moment, you know? It turned people’s heads. Those records don’t come along very often.” As of 2021, Nevermind sits at #6 on Rolling Stones’ list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Nevermind’s eternal legacy and charisma stands as a tribute and an inspiration to all — myself included — that will cement Nirvana as an everlasting influence for years to come.