Nirvana's Bleach

The meaning behind the songs of Nirvana's album Bleach.

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I have decided to just write a little about the lyrics and music of Nirvana's first album Bleach.

01. Blew

Before recording the song, Nirvana bassist Krist Nevosolic forgot what note he was tuned down to. (It turned out he was tuned to drop D) but as he though he was in standard tuning, he tuned again so the bass part to the song was recorded in drop C#, giving the bass intro a deep, slow burning and slightly repetitive feel, perfectly outlining the album to follow.

As for the lyrics of Blew, Cobain himself said the song had no meaning, it was just a load of cool things to sing. The song was also released on an EP. A possible early name for the song is Coccyx.

02. Floyd The Barber

This song tells the tale of a young man who goes to the barber for a shave but ends up being sexually assaulted (Floyd breathes hard, I hear a zip) cut up with razors and scissors and dying in Aunt Bea's muff This was one of the first well-known Nirvana songs as early set lists would almost always feature the track.

The track gets it's title from a character in the 1960's Andy Griffith's Show.

03. About A Girl

This song was written after an argument Cobain had with then girlfriend, Tracy Marander who threatened to kick Kurt out unless he found work. He claimed to listen to "Meet The Beatles" for three hours before writing the song.

The song was named by then drummer, Chad Channing, when after Kurt first played the song to Krist and Chad, they asked:

- What's it called? - I have no idea. - replied Kurt. - Well, what's it about? - Chad asked. - It's about a girl. - was Kurt's reply, and therefore giving birth to the song's title.

This song is probably most famous for being the set opener at Nirvana's famous MTV Unplugged in New York show. Interestingly, it is also the only Bleach song to feature on the 2002 relase "Nirvana".

04. School

As the song features just three lines (Won't you believe it's just my luck/No recess/You're in high school again) it is hard to make any meaning from the song, although I feel it is about more than just school.

05. Love Buzz

The only cover on Bleach, this simple pop song was originally written by European band Shocking Blue. Cobain later described the song as the wussiest recording [they] ever made.

However the song was the band's first release, on a single with Big Cheese as a B-Side. The single had a press release of 1000 hand numbered copies. I've always felt this was an unusual decision for a first release.

06. Paper Cuts

This song was originally recorded on a demo tape recorded in 1988, along with (in order) If You Must, Downer, Floyd The Barber, (then Paper Cuts) Spank Thru, Beeswax, Pen Cap Chew. As far as I know, the version of this song on Bleach is the same as that of the one recorded on the demo tape, but I could be wrong.

The lyrics are twisted, yet fictional, as is often the case with the album's lyrics. Among the feedback, howling and pick scrapes Cobain tells the story of a child who is kept locked in a room, and has food pushed under the door at feeding time.

07. Negative Creep

A masterpiece of snotiness and self loathing this track sees Cobain scream I'm a negative creep and I'm stoned with a chorus of daddy's little girl ain't a girl no more perhaps a reference to Kurt's sister Kim, or even Kurt himself.

This song was perhaps more popular than first thought, with Muse front man Matt Bellamy listing the songs lead riff as one of his favourites of all time, and Velvet Revolver would later cover the song and release as a B-Side on their hit single "Sliver".

08. Scoff

More textbook Bleach lyrics, perhaps the snotiness in this song exaggerated more than ever (In your eyes, I'm not worth it) and a manic chorus of Gimme Back My Alcohol, a reference to Cobain's early involvement with drink and drugs.

09. Swap Meet

This song was originally to be called "Trailer Trash" so I think the title is quite self explanatory. This is a white trash love song (She loves him more than he will ever know, he loves her more than he will ever show) But I don't think Kurt is imagining the scenario - the theme just too similar to Don Cobain and Jenny Westby's (Cobain's father and girlfriend's) situation. When Kurt's parent's divorced Kurt (then aged 9) went to live with his father in a trailer park, and I think this song reflects the bitterness Kurt still felt about his parent's divorce in adulthood. He would still write about the divorce in his last ever album In Utero (the first song, Serve The Servants, has a bridge of 'That legendary divorce is such a bore'). This isn't surprising as Cobain always listed his parents' divorce as the single most traumatic experience of his life. In one interview he even said I had a great childhood but then added, until I was nine.

10. Mr Moustache

Another autobiographical song this time an attack on his father and his father's matcho man traditions. Kurt draw a comic strip to accompany the song that shows a moustached character (that resembles Don to some extent) saying to his pregnant wife I want this baby to be a typical red neck, 100% faggot, nigger, homosexual hating American before the baby's foot bursts through his mother's stomach and kick's the father in the face.

11. Sifting

A slow grinding, dark number full of crude chord progressions and solos, and typically snotty lyrics (Wet your bed, wouldn't it be fun?) this song, although appearing bland on the outside, I feel, is the hidden gem of the album.

12. Big Cheese

The B-Side to their first release, the Love Buzz single, this lively number is an attack on executive company owners and to a certain extent, Sub Pop owners Bruce Pavvit and Jonathan Poneman. Complete with creepy vocal harmonies this is quite a dark, eerie track.

13. Downer

An early Cobain attempt at a political, rebellion song, Kurt later admitted [he] didn't know what [he] was talking about

It sounds as if the band want to hurry through the song as Cobain mutters Hand out lobotomies to save little families, surrealistic fantasy flamboyant over a two note bass line. A quite surprising but strong album finisher, and the shortest track on the album, clocking in at just over a minute and a half.

Other Bleach Era Recordings

Just some more little notes on other songs recorded at the time that didn't make it to the album, and where to find them.

  • If You Must

    The first song Nirvana recorded in a studio, the hypnotic bass line later gives way to the overdriven power chords of Kurt's guitar.

    Where To Find It: With The Lights Out Disc One or Outcesticide Vol. One.

  • Pen Cap Chew

    One of the earliest Nirvana songs this starts out soft and develops into a loud, overdriven chorus with Cobain screaming You get, you get, you get, you get to me

    Where To Find It: With The Lights Out Disc One or Outcesticide Vol. One.

  • Blandest

    This was originally going to be the B-Side of Love Buzz but Cobain was embarrassed with some of the vocals so it was scrapped to make way for Big Cheese.

    Where To Find It: With The Lights Out Disc One or Outcesticide Vol. One.

  • Big Long Now: This track didn't make Bleach as some thought it was too much of a rip off of the Melvin's, one of Cobain biggest influences at the time. It was released in 1992 on Incesticide.

    Where To Find It: Incesticde

  • 117 comments sorted by best / new / date

      radio_schizo
      Nice article there....Bleach is definatley Nirvana's most underated album. Theres some amazing songs on it.
      totally warped
      Ifukn0wnU: I like this article, and ma)(payne go *** yourself you piece of shit. You can suck my cock and lick my nutsack. Ill get you a spoon so you can eat my ass you little bitch boy. Overall good article man. Interesting. hey if ma)(payne wont do it, can i? joke. liked the article tho.
      M3talJ3ff
      how longs he been dead and were still argueing about him... ? well it shows the impact he had on everyone in the short time he was with us
      altronataku
      Oh and kurt is a great guitarist, he just perferred not to play into the solos and kill like Slash at the time
      kurt was below medocre level. not only did he not want to play like a pro, he couldnt. im a nirvana fan but that is the truth. and black mumba, calm down dude. christ theres too much nirvana fans that are just crazy psycho kurt worshippers.
      pistols
      Being a bit fussy about this, didn't kut listen to meet the beatles for four hours?
      levelwisedallas
      It's spelled moron, not moran, fans like you make Nirvana look bad, that's why they hate Nirvana, the Nirvana fans who can't spell moron piss them off. That and their musical taste sucks, in my not so humble opinion. Cheers.
      Black_Mumba
      By the way, why do you read the articles if you don't even like Nirvana? YOUR THE MORAN'S AND BENDERS not us. Go back to Britney and Christina ya pusses
      Black_Mumba
      NIRVANA FUCKIN ROCK!!!.. NIRVANA FOREVER!!!.. KURT COBAIN IS A GOD!!!! IF IT WASN'T FOR HIM, DAVE GROHL WOULD HAVE NEVER STARTED FOO FIGHTERS!!!! I WOULDN'T HAVE MY BAND AND NEITHER WOULD A HELL OF A LOT OF OTHER IRISH AND AMERICAN BANDS!!!! KURT COBAIN WAS AND STILL IS A CLASS GUITARIST AND SONG WRITER AND GAVE LOTS OF OTHER WRITERS LIKE MY FRIEND N I CLASS IDEA'S FOR SONGS THAT ARE FECKIN CLASS. DO NOT DIS KURT COBAIN, KRIST NOVOSELIC, DAVE GROHL OR NIRVANA OR EVERY SINGLE NIRVANA FAN WILL PERSONALLY HUNT YOU DOWN AND YOU KNOW THE REST
      levelwisedallas
      Evil Noodle: Cobain isn't as bad as all the "amazing guitarists on UG" (If there is any) Make him out to be...On his live performances and practices, he added alot of licks to his songs that never got recorded on the album...Nirvana were good, not as good as people make thme out to be...But they had talent and originality [POSTED: 08 February 2005 - 10:24]|
      Cobain was an average guitarist, not bad, not good, he played with generic skill, but he wrote very cool guitar parts.
      levelwisedallas
      rockinlewis: i like the article, very informative...although i bet you get a bunch of flamers that are like "oh im sick of all this nirvana shit" well i'm sick of all you nirvana hater bitches...just leave it, ok? [POSTED: 07 February 2005 - 12:24]|
      You're cool.
      levelwisedallas
      Shockened: but anyways articles like these kind of ruin it for poeple who like nirvana. umm..how? if knowing stuff about bands you like ruins it then why visit websites or read books or anything that fans do? strange. also i seem to remember kurt critisicing pearl jam ie. stone gossard and mike mccready for having solos that were too prominent(but wasn't he into led zep??). anti-guitar hero, me thinks. so he should be in r'n'r hall of fame for being the extraordinary songwriter and influence that he was but he was an average guitarist. all in all an informative and interesting article. [POSTED: 08 February 2005 - 15:38]|
      Mmm, Mike McCready is God.
      nirvana1987
      Vilg Oayg put what i meant to say into context. I was caught up in defending Nirvana's dignity and forgot the point in the article. Bleach is what kicked off Nirvana's career. Nevermind is what made it. Oh and kurt is a great guitarist, he just perferred not to play into the solos and kill like Slash at the time. Think about it, at the time Nirvana released Bleach, rock was leading more and more away from the fancy solos, and coming back to more riff orientated guitar playing.
      EatsP1es
      Black_Mumba: "...KURT COBAIN IS A GOD!!!!" Fool "IF IT WASN'T FOR HIM, DAVE GROHL WOULD HAVE NEVER STARTED FOO FIGHTERS!!!! Bull "I WOULDN'T HAVE MY BAND AND NEITHER WOULD A HELL OF A LOT OF OTHER IRISH AND AMERICAN BANDS!!!!" thats a bad thing? "DO NOT DIS KURT COBAIN, KRIST NOVOSELIC, DAVE GROHL OR NIRVANA OR EVERY SINGLE NIRVANA FAN WILL PERSONALLY HUNT YOU DOWN AND YOU KNOW THE REST" Get counselling retard.... I got nothing against Nirvana (I dont particularly like them but I dont hate them) but people like you make me want to hate them...
      galapagos666
      there's a book called "Teen Spirit" by Chuck Crisafulli. The stories behind every Nirvana Song.
      Vilg Oayg
      Axl_Duff_Izzy: oh and anyone that really cares about Nirvana after the age of 14 is a bender, a complete ***ing moron bender. oh and Nirvana were shit
      OK you've missed the point a bit. If you don't like Nirvana don't read the article anyway! The main reason for Nirvana's fame was Nevermind which was the main album of the grunge era and at the forefront of one of the most original rock styles for a few years. Oh and if people under 14 like Nirvana thats their lookout my friend, not yours. People who say Nirvana were shit may even be right in reference to Kurt + Krist's guitar and bass skills but Nevermind was a revolutionary album and you can telll from that there is nothing wrong with their song-writing skill and Dave Grohl is a very compotant drummer. When there is an article about G 'N' R (who also rule by the way) you can defend them from mindless people who say they were shit. Deal?
      Axl_Duff_Izzy
      oh and anyone that really cares about Nirvana after the age of 14 is a bender, a complete ***ing moron bender. oh and Nirvana were shit
      Bulletbass man
      sliver was from the bleach era, beans was too, and another song but Kurt didn't like it how it was recorded and he recorded ti again later.
      stone-deaf-bass
      hey nirvava1987 um.... wouldn't a C# be outta tune with a D? srry just curious... o yeah kurt needs to be remembered for song writing cus his guitar playing wasn't great. and *** all of you i'm 15 and nirvana kicks ass
      mrbassman
      wow some interesting psyche lol who cares what age fans of anyone are i love zeppelin, beatles, sabbath, purple, clash etc etc and i'm only 14 i like nirvana aswell
      ELEVEN
      what even makes a band over rated? would anyone who said nirvana was over rated please reply with how they are? with examples. becuase seriously its not like the bought their success... they earned everything they did and they didn't care if everyone liked them or if everyone hated them.. so how are they over rated? its either u like them or u don't
      nirvana1987
      first the article was interesting. 2nd what gets me is the kids that werent even 4 yrs old that pose and act like kurt. Another thing, how can some one like any other kind of band (especially green day) and have appsolutely no respect for nirvana? Finally, for everyone that says kurt isnt a great song writer, listen to Nirvana Unplugged. Not only did this Grunge band (highly electric guitar group) take all there songs and perform them acoustically, but they rewrote them so that the songs sounded different than the album versions. No other band that appeared on MTV's Unplugged did that. Yes, i know im only 18 but im still old enough to remember Nirvana.
      Devil Tiger
      Okay, stop ***ing posting "1st" in every column guys, no one gives a rats ass if you're the first commenter.
      guylikesnirvana
      good. Maybe I might buy it. oh and also about a girls is about herpies and you can find blandest on sliver the best of the box
      shredder_666
      futurerockstar : Black_Mumba wrote: NIRVANA FUCKIN ROCK!!!.. NIRVANA FOREVER!!!.. KURT COBAIN IS A GOD!!!! IF IT WASN'T FOR HIM, DAVE GROHL WOULD HAVE NEVER STARTED FOO FIGHTERS!!!! I WOULDN'T HAVE MY BAND AND NEITHER WOULD A HELL OF A LOT OF OTHER IRISH AND AMERICAN BANDS!!!! KURT COBAIN WAS AND STILL IS A CLASS GUITARIST AND SONG WRITER AND GAVE LOTS OF OTHER WRITERS LIKE MY FRIEND N I CLASS IDEA'S FOR SONGS THAT ARE FECKIN CLASS. DO NOT DIS KURT COBAIN, KRIST NOVOSELIC, DAVE GROHL OR NIRVANA OR EVERY SINGLE NIRVANA FAN WILL PERSONALLY HUNT YOU DOWN AND YOU KNOW THE REST i agree POSTED: 04/14/2006 - 129 pm / quote | you guys are all ****ing stupid. Bleach was terrible record. It was REALLY poorly recorded and the lyrics (like ive said before) were just whatever came to mind when Cobain shot up heroin. cobain was no god. COBAIN WAS AND IS AN INSULT TO GUITAR PLAYERS EVERYWHERE. He blows and couldnt play guitar for his life. HOw dare anyone compare him to clapton or hendrix. He was a piece of shit with virtually NO TALENT. Dave grohl was an okay drummer and i like him. Chris was just stoned all the time. but you stupid nirvana worshippers have no ****ing clue what real music is because you are as stupid as Kurt ****ing cobain nuff sed~
      _futurerockstar
      sappy_8290 wrote: i knew all this stuff before, but hey, sum ppl mite not, and therefore they mite find it pretty intrestin. nirvana and kurt made me pick up a guitar in the 1st place, i got in2 them when i was bout 12 (im 15 now)...and about 6 months later i'd got all the albums... sum ppl readin this mite think its wierd that im in2 grunge bands such as nirvana, alice in chains, soundgarden,mudhoney and the melvins, but also in2 pantera, system, ac/dc, rage, green day, etc etc as theyre all pretty damn different bands compared 2 each other, but im in2 all sorts...as u mitev guessed PUNKROCKDUDE2, i agree wiv ya (as most sane nirvana fans probably wud)..12 yr olds wearin the hoodies, tryin2 b "proper grungers" take the piss.. prime example, m8 of my sisters was wearin the smiley face hoodie, i asked wot his favourite song/s were, he replied "i dunno, i just liked the picture on the back" he "thinks" he's heard smells like teen spirit... (WUDNTA U KNOW IF UD HEARD SLTS????!!!???)i cudnt help but laff in the kids face. f***in pathetic tho, and puts ppl off checkin out nirvana and other bands... i hav 3 nirvana hoodies (call me obsessed... :p )full of holes as i obv.wear em 2 much heh. hey, im dun borin y'all with my crap... 2all u guys readin this who h8 nirvana/kurt cobain/grunge in general.... WOT THE F*** R YA ALL DOIN READIN OUR POSTS??? point made. ***.. i'd rather be hated for who i am than loved 4 who i am not.
      you rock. i wont eat anything green.
      _futurerockstar
      Black_Mumba wrote: NIRVANA FUCKIN ROCK!!!.. NIRVANA FOREVER!!!.. KURT COBAIN IS A GOD!!!! IF IT WASN'T FOR HIM, DAVE GROHL WOULD HAVE NEVER STARTED FOO FIGHTERS!!!! I WOULDN'T HAVE MY BAND AND NEITHER WOULD A HELL OF A LOT OF OTHER IRISH AND AMERICAN BANDS!!!! KURT COBAIN WAS AND STILL IS A CLASS GUITARIST AND SONG WRITER AND GAVE LOTS OF OTHER WRITERS LIKE MY FRIEND N I CLASS IDEA'S FOR SONGS THAT ARE FECKIN CLASS. DO NOT DIS KURT COBAIN, KRIST NOVOSELIC, DAVE GROHL OR NIRVANA OR EVERY SINGLE NIRVANA FAN WILL PERSONALLY HUNT YOU DOWN AND YOU KNOW THE REST
      i agree
      thedeadguevaras
      now on people with an egenda against nirvana why dont you make a chat room where you can bitch about nirvana all you want. it goes to show how much of a life you have that you open an article on a band which you hate. say hi to your internet girlfrend for me.
      badanima
      Green River was the first official grunge band. (don't bother arguing, I don't feel like it) Some of the band members then became Mudhoney. (one of my favorite bands) Kurt never thought he'd impact music as much as he did. To all the people that hated him, he hated being famous more than you hate him being famous. I like Nirvana but in my opinion they're nothing more than the Melvins or Mudhoney with lyrics that people can relate to. Anyone here ever heard Hooch by the Melvins? You try relating to those lyrics. The thing that made them famous is that they bridged the two worlds of grunge and popular music.
      [Kill Techno]
      hey about this "Love Buzz The only cover on Bleach, this simple pop song was originally written by European band Shocking Blue." that european band.. They were Dutch just like me had to say that
      the1
      Yeah, Nirvana got me into guitar. Their stuff was simple but cool. Hey, if it aint broken, dont fix it. Kurt had more talent than any of u Nirvana haters, but they r worshipped im not complaining though, they rock!
      digital_pimp390
      Nirvana are really good no doubt,if if wasent for smells like teen spirit i would not have picked up a guitar in the frist place .
      sappy_8290
      wot r all u guys favourite nirvana albums neways? just2 make convo.... personally, i wud say in utero or bleach...but mtv unplugged.... f*** man, that send shivers down the spine.. love it.
      big D1013
      whoever said Nirvana is the most overrated band can go to hell, it's all these little gay Emo rockers that make him look bad
      sappy_8290
      i knew all this stuff before, but hey, sum ppl mite not, and therefore they mite find it pretty intrestin. nirvana and kurt made me pick up a guitar in the 1st place, i got in2 them when i was bout 12 (im 15 now)...and about 6 months later i'd got all the albums... sum ppl readin this mite think its wierd that im in2 grunge bands such as nirvana, alice in chains, soundgarden,mudhoney and the melvins, but also in2 pantera, system, ac/dc, rage, green day, etc etc as theyre all pretty damn different bands compared 2 each other, but im in2 all sorts...as u mitev guessed PUNKROCKDUDE2, i agree wiv ya (as most sane nirvana fans probably wud)..12 yr olds wearin the hoodies, tryin2 b "proper grungers" take the piss.. prime example, m8 of my sisters was wearin the smiley face hoodie, i asked wot his favourite song/s were, he replied "i dunno, i just liked the picture on the back" he "thinks" he's heard smells like teen spirit... (WUDNTA U KNOW IF UD HEARD SLTS????!!!???)i cudnt help but laff in the kids face. f***in pathetic tho, and puts ppl off checkin out nirvana and other bands... i hav 3 nirvana hoodies (call me obsessed... :p )full of holes as i obv.wear em 2 much heh. hey, im dun borin y'all with my crap... 2all u guys readin this who h8 nirvana/kurt cobain/grunge in general.... WOT THE F*** R YA ALL DOIN READIN OUR POSTS??? point made. ***.. i'd rather be hated for who i am than loved 4 who i am not.
      blistabass
      Umm how are alice in chains the true founders of grunge? I would say the founders were Skin Yard, Soundgarden, Green River and the Melvins.
      mobydick
      "Velvet Revolver would later cover the song and release as a B-Side on their hit single "Sliver" - Isn't it "Slither"?...