Nirvana: “About a Girl”
Before Nevermind made Nirvana international superstars in 1991, there was Bleach, Nirvana’s debut album, in 1989. A rougher, much more small-scale album, it didn’t have the consistency of songs and Butch Vig production that helped Nevermind become what it was, but it was by no means lacking in great moments. I’m sure there are some Nirvana fans who prefer this version of Nirvana to what came later, in fact, exactly because it was rougher and more raw, and because there is no question that at that point in their career Nirvana was doing nothing at all like selling out. I should add that I don’t think Nirvana ever “sold out” by what I typically think of as its definition, as they never tried to be popular by becoming anything they weren’t; I’m certain, though, without even scouting around on the Web for what is certain to be out there, that there are those early fans who think that by becoming as huge as they did, the band sold out, no matter that it was through no “fault” of their own and that it was simply because they put out a fantastic record that helped to change the rock scene of their time.
All that aside, Bleach is interesting to listen to not only for its great moments, but also because one can listen for all the elements that would come together on Nevermind to make the band truly great. It’s also not really the same band that was to later become so big: while Kurt (listed as “Kurdt” on this album) Cobain and Chris Novoselic were there, Dave Grohl was not. On drums at this point was Chad Channing (and Dale Crover of the Melvins on three songs), and Jason Everman is listed on guitar as well (however, he didn’t appear on the album at all and was merely listed as thanks for having paid the fee for the recording session). Grohl was brought in for the Nevermind sessions.
And all that aside, the best moment on Bleach, and the one that really made it apparent that Cobain was capable of great songwriting, was “About a Girl.” Although it may now be even better known from its inclusion on the Unplugged in New York album and MTV special, the original version here is my favorite. It’s just a bit faster than the unplugged version, a little rougher around the edges, but is otherwise nearly identical — a clean, uncluttered song, with a great, almost Beatlesque melody. It seems equally influenced by Cheap Trick with its darker, minor key catchiness, like something off of Cheap Trick’s debut album — maybe a sped-up “Mandocello.” It’s a complete composition, not merely a song built around a good riff (although it certainly has one); there’s a great bridge (“I’ll take advantage while/You hang me out to dry”) between the verse and chorus, with excellent, emotive singing from Cobain. In terms of songwriting, it stands up to anything else they did later on, and remains a classic moment in the formative years of what was becoming known as “indie rock.”
For the sake of being complete about it, here’s the November 1993 Unplugged clip of the song…an excellent version of the song as well: