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The Meaning Behind Nirvana’s “Blew,” Kurt Cobain’s First Great Song

The Meaning Behind Nirvana's "Blew," Kurt Cobain's First Great Song

Nirvana may have appeared to be an overnight sensation to much of the world when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released. But to their underground contemporaries, they were already one of the great up-and-coming bands with one strong album under their belts. “Blew” was the first truly great Kurt Cobain-penned song added to a record.

How did “Blew” become a standout track from the “Bleach” album?

Nirvana’s trio, consisting of Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Chad Channing, were, naturally, excited to record their debut album, “Bleach.” Cobain soon developed considerable ambition for his career as a rock n’ roll musician. But it’d been only recently that he’d failed an audition to join his developed Melvins, and he was a little removed from playing Creedence Clearwater Revival tracks in Nirvana’s rehearsal space. For now, world-conquering was not on the agenda.

“Bleach” followed the modest success of their first single, a cover of Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz.” Sub Pop, the record label that had released most of the original grunge albums offered to finance the recording of a full-length Nirvana record with Jack Endino producing it.

In my article in which I ranked Nirvana’s albums, I called “Bleach”, a collage of stoner-rock and punk musical ideas that give a glimpse into Cobain’s brilliance.

“Blew” is tuned to Drop C, giving it a particular sludgy heavy-metal sound. Another version, featured on the “Blew EP,” has the band playing in the slightly less menacing Drop D tuning. In fact, with the term “grunge” not yet coined, most new fans would resort to calling Nirvana “metal” or “alternative rock.” Comparisons to bands like Soundgarden or, perhaps, Jane’s Addiction would also be part of the course.

Fans of the band who first fell in love with the polished, melodic punk of “Nevermind” will find many of those ingredients in “Blew.” They’ll be harder-pressed to locate them on most of the other tracks on “Bleach.” A notable exception is “In Bloom,” later revived for their big label introduction, as well as “About a Girl.”

“Blew” track is, most likely, strategically placed as the record’s opening track. Along with “About a Girl,” these are the most instantly harmonious songs off of the entire collection.

Did “Blew” become a hit? Not exactly. In fact, in 1989, commercial success seemed a far-fetched dream for Nirvana and most of the other Seattle rock groups.

However, noticing positive audience feedback during live concerts, Sub Pop released the “Blew EP” in 1988. It included three other tracks: “Love Buzz,” Stain”, and, most notably, “Been a Son.”

The EP was a minor hit in the United Kingdom. Legendary DJ John Peel had played songs from “Bleach” on his radio program. This helped the EP reach number 15 on the indie charts over in the UK.

The meaning behind the lyrics to “Blew”

Like most of Kurt Cobain’s lyrics, their meaning is shrouded in mystery. This hasn’t stopped fans, however, from analyzing the songwriter’s words and using details of his biography to piece together a story.

According to some, the lyrics to “Blew” describe Cobain’s feelings about the city of Aberdeen, where he grew up, and a desire to attack his schoolmates. While he has not referenced this song directly, the singer did describe his disdain for old Aberdeen acquaintances.

Others suggest that the song is about not living up to one’s full potential. Like fellow 90s rockstars, Oasis, Nirvana’s early compositions dealt with the desire to move on from the small town in which they’d lived their childhood.

Official Nirvana biographer, Michael Azzarad, might be closest to the truth. In the book “Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana,” Azzarad says that the song deals with the theme of entrapment and control.

However, it’s worth noting that many reports claim that Cobain penned many of the lyrics on Nirvana’s debut album one night before the recordings. The singer often talked about adding lyrics as the final ingredient to a tune.

The lyrics were surreal and threatening:

Now if you wouldn’t mind, I would like it blew
And if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to lose
And if you wouldn’t care, I would like to leave
And if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to breathe

Is there another reason for your stain?
Could you believe who we knew stress or strain?
Here is another word that rhymes with shame

And if you wouldn’t mind, I would like it blew
And if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to lose
And if you wouldn’t care, I would like to leave
And if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to breathe

Is there another reason for your stain?
Could you believe who we knew stress or strain?
Here is another word that rhymes with shame, yeah


Is there another reason for your stain?
Could you believe who we knew stress or strain?
Here is another word that rhymes with shame, ah


You could do anything, you could do anything
You could do anything, you could do anything

You could do anything, you could do anything
You could do anything, you could do anything

Cobain’s Songwriting

“Blew” flawlessly encapsulates their early grunge sound. Musically, it showcases their signature heavy, distorted guitar riffs, driving basslines, and pounding drums. Furthermore, it contains an opening melodic bassline that sets a great scene-setting vibe throughout this track.

Song structure-wise, the tune is relatively straightforward. It follows a traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. Verse one features Nirvana’s characteristic quiet/loud dynamic, where subdued vocals build to an almost screaming intensity during the chorus.

“Blew” stands out with its use of guitar feedback during its bridge section, when Kurt Cobain creates a wall of distortion to add chaos and dissonance. It was something typical of grunge sound, which Nirvana was looking to master for their Sub Pop debut

Critical and Commercial Reaction to “Blew”

Nirvana would go on to release “Nevermind” and commercially eclipse all of their Seattle alternative-rock counterparts. However, this monumental success would also help bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains or Screaming Trees achieve greater fame.

Before this, though, Nirvana had already become the favourite new band of the Seattle crowd and underground rockers.

Cobain’s future wife, Courtney Love, indicated “Blew” when she was first impressed with the Nirvana singer’s songwriting ability.

Similarly, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, who played in the hardcore-punk band Scream, says that The Beales-like melodic quality of “About a Girl” made him notice Cobain’s talent.

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth compared Cobain’s early writing to that of The Beatles. Mark Arm of Mudhoney, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis also spoke highly of Nirvana’s debut.

Chris Cornell referred to “Bleach” as his favourite grunge album. The Audioslave and Soundgarden singer talked about hearing demo recordings off the track that excited him about Nirvana’s potential.

Bands as diverse as Ash, The Ergs! or Miyavi have covered “Blew.”

The Legacy of “Blew” and the “Bleach” Album

While not nearly as famous as any of the hits from Nirvana’s final two studio albums, “Blew” is regarded as one of the band’s finest by dedicated fans.

Nirvana nearly always played “Blew” in concert. In fact, apart from “About a Girl ” and “School”, it was the only song from their debut album that received this kind of treatment.

The band’s bassist, Krist Noveselic, revealed he has a real soft spot for the tune. Novoselic called this his favourite Nirvana song from the “Bleach” era.

Even Rolling Stone magazine gave it a 22 ranking out of 102 in a poll about Nirvana’s best songs.

About author

Eduard Banulescu is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications, including FootballCoin, Play2Earn, BeIN Crypto, Business2Community, NapoliSerieA, Extra Time Talk, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He has written a book about Nirvana, hosts a music podcasts, and writes weekly content about some of the best, new and old, alternative musicians. Eduard also runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website www.alt77.com. Mr. Banulescu is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.
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