The Nirvana song that was “the hardest to record” on ‘Nevermind’

Coming out of the 1980s, rock and roll desperately needed a shakeup. With the influx of hair metal bands becoming more disingenuous by the day, Nirvana set in motion the next significant movement in rock history, letting go of the makeup and spandex for the flannel and ironic charm of grunge music. Though Nevermind has been etched in stone as the album that changed everything, it wouldn’t be easy getting there.

Looking to follow up their debut album Bleach, Nirvana originally wanted to work in Madison, Wisconsin, with producer Butch Vig. While cutting the tracks, though, Kurt Cobain blew his voice out, leading to the band returning home before they could get any of the recordings finalised.

Once they switched drummers from Chad Channing to Dave Grohl, the band settled into Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, to assemble the final tracks. Though songs like ‘In Bloom’ and ‘Come As You Are’ were completed relatively quickly, Butch Vig remembered the most mellow cut taking the longest.

After tearing through the soon-to-be hits, Cobain was dissatisfied with how ‘Something in the Way’ was coming together. As Vig recalls in Classic Albums: “[‘Way’] was the hardest song to record on Nevermind. It wasn’t working, and Kurt came into the control room. Out of frustration, he sat on the couch and said ‘it has to sound like this’. He picked up his guitar, and he was barely singing. It was coming out almost a whisper”.

Instead of bringing in the band behind him, Vig elected to record what Cobain was playing on the couch, turning off all the electronics in the room and capturing Cobain’s raw performance. While the song’s core lay in Cobain’s tortured voice, Vig said it wouldn’t be easy getting the rest of the group involved.

Compared to the usual slow songs, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl had to build around Cobain. As Vig explained, “When we went back, it was hard for Krist and Dave to play along. Since there was no click track, they had to follow the performance because the tempo was all over the place, and I think I tortured them on it”.

Since the guitar Cobain used wasn’t entirely in tune, Novoselic’s biggest challenge was trying to get his bass close to the guitarist’s pitch, which got even more complicated when they added in a cello. With the track being so quiet, though, Grohl had his work cut out for him when it came time to play the drums.

Having already worked with a click track on the song ‘Lithium’, Vig remembered having to break up the takes to get the best performance out of Grohl, continuing, “Sometimes we’d punch bar by bar. And now and again, Kurt would come into the control room and say ‘Quieter!’, and I think it’s in Dave’s nature to hit hard. But he played very mellow and understated”.

In keeping it plodding, Nirvana had created a cry for help that resonated with millions of kids struggling to find their place in the world. It would never be easy to get out of adolescence, but when listening to ‘Something in the Way’, Nirvana fans at least knew they weren’t alone when feeling lost in the world.

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