14 Essential Nirvana B-Sides, Demos And Rarities

The self-titled Nirvana greatest hits collection first released in 2002 has now been reissued on vinyl. But as true fans will tell you, there’s so much more of the grunge greats to enjoy than their 14 best-known tracks. Here’s 14 gems from beyond their three albums…

‘Stain’ – 1989

‘Stain’ is the visceral closer to the ‘Bleach’ era bootleg ‘Play The Fucking Guitar, Man!’, recorded at a show in Austria in November 1989 – but this is the studio version featured on the ‘Blew’ EP and rarities compilation ‘Incesticide’. Cobain does a sweet solo mid-track, between bouts of self-loathing bellowing.


‘D-7 – Live At The BBC’ – 1990

This brilliant – and faithful – Wipers cover moves from a menacing trudge into a furious frenzy halfway through as Kurt yells “Straight as an arrow/Defect defect/Not straight not straight/Reject reject“. This version was recorded 11 years after the original at their second Peel Session, in October 1990, and was released several times: on 1992’s ‘Hormoaning’ EP and ‘Lithium’ single, as well as on compilation album ‘With The Lights Out’ and ‘Nevermind”s deluxe edition.


‘Beans’ – 1988

Ok, so it’s difficult to describe the madness of 1988’s ‘Beans’, a 90-second taste of Kurt’s zany humour. His voice is pitch-shifted way beyond Smurf territory, set to the most basic of acoustic guitar lines and recorded on a 4-track. Part of a four-song demo of ‘weird, quirky songs’, it was intended to be released on ‘Bleach’ but the band’s label boss stopped them – presumably because it sounds utterly bonkers – meaning it only surfaced on 2004’s ‘With The Lights Out’.


‘Dive’ – 1990

Courtney Love’s favourite Nirvana song first appeared on 1990’s ‘Sliver’ single and has been picked out time and again, both for the deluxe releases of ‘Nevermind’ and ‘Bleach’, and for compilations ‘Incesticide’ and ‘With The Lights Out’. There are three versions – one live at Portland’s Pine Street Theater, one at Evergreen State Studios, and this one, from Smart Studios in Madison, WI.


‘Old Age’ – 1991

“Bleak” doesn’t even begin to cover this ‘Nevermind’ outtake, which dwells on the slow, undignified decay awaiting us all. Perhaps it’s a good thing that it was gifted to Courtney Love for her band Hole. Their version uses the same melody and title, but other than the chorus its lyrics are completely different.


‘Son Of A Gun – Live At The BBC’ – 1990

How do you show you like a band? Cover them. Twice, maybe. That’s what Nirvana did for The Vaselines at their John Peel session in 1990, covering this and ‘Molly’s Lips’. That said, they weren’t afraid to take out the fresh sweetness of the original and turn it into something new. This grunged-up version is great – it sounds like it’s been soaked in gasoline.


‘Big Cheese’ – 1988

With a huge riff that turns the Jaws theme upside-down, this one announces danger, but not of the shark kind. It’s a huge middle finger to their label boss, Jonathan Poneman, who made the band record a cover of ‘Love Buzz’ by Shocking Blue for their first single. Now, in the music world, is there a ballsier way of sticking it to The Man than insulting your label on the B-side to your first single? We think not.


‘Curmudgeon’ – 1992

This is everything ‘Lithium’ isn’t, which is why it made such a good B-side for it. It’s discordant and ugly, with Cobain screaming “I’m a lecher, I’m a planter… I’m not Santa, I met God”. Handle with care.


‘Moist Vagina’ – 1993

Because ‘In Utero’ already had one controversial title in ‘Rape Me’, this was left as the B-side to the double A-side ‘All Apologies/Rape Me’. Supposedly it was originally entitled ‘Moist Vagina, and Then She Blew Him Like He’s Never Been Blown, Brains Stuck All Over the Wall’, although if you listen – not even carefully – you’ll notice that it’s just about weed.


‘Sappy’ – 1993

Hidden on the AIDS-benefit compilation ‘No Alternative’ and listed in press releases under the wrong title (‘Verse Chorus Verse’), this became one of the reasons everyone bought it. From the title it appears to sit at the crossroads between ‘sad’ and ‘happy’, but it’s actually much darker than that, with Cobain declaring, “if you cut yourself, you will think you’re happy”.


‘Opinion’ – 1990

Do we believe that Kurt wrote this while driving to the radio session at KAOS-FM in Olympia, Washington, where he recorded it? “I wanted it to be as spontaneous as possible”, he said of the track, and it definitely feels that way. But the grainy recording of his voice cracking doesn’t hide the potential of this song – which is why it’s weird that he appears to have binned it straight after this was recorded.


‘Beeswax’ – 1988

Don’t come here looking for answers – this is where uncompromising and brutal instrumentation meet an impenetrable series of images. The lyrics reference father issues, anal sex, being spayed and Phyllis Diller, and end on an absurdist note: “You can’t live/We got my dingaling spayed/When are you going to learn”.


‘I Hate Myself And Want To Die’ – 1993

With the knowledge that this was dropped from ‘In Utero’ because there were too many noise tracks in a row, you shouldn’t be surprised that it’s, well, noisy. Cobain insisted it was darkly humorous and was meant to be taken as a joke. But “What’s that sound in the someday?” makes it oddly philosophical, too. It was included on ‘The Beavis & Butthead Experience’ and became the B-side to ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ in 1994, but the single was withdrawn by the label after Cobain’s death.


‘Marigold’ – 1993

Dave Grohl wrote and sang this. There are several versions, including one by the Foo Fighters, but the most delicate – the demo – opens with a jokey whisper of “bastard” before an uncharacteristically lush arrangement unfolds. That doesn’t happen often, and the effect is pretty arresting.