Related Videos

The History of Nirvana

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Formed in 1987 in Aberdeen, Washington, Nirvana was a band that brought grunge and alternative rock to the mainstream. Thanks to their album, "Nevermind" and the mega-hit, "Smells like Teen Spirit", the group found much success in a short amount of time. Their increasing dislike of fame and rebellious behavior led to the eventual demise of frontman, Kurt Cobain. However, their emotional sound and intense live shows left a musical legacy still influential to this day. In this video, takes a look at the history of Nirvana.

You must register to a corporate account to download this video. Please login


Nirvana's Original Line-Up

Alternative rock band Nirvana formed in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1987. The original line-up consisted of Kurt Cobain on vocals and guitar, along with Krist Novoselic on bass. In the early days, the pair went through a number of different drummers but initially they were unable to find the right fit.


In 1988, the Seattle independent record label, Sub Pop, released Nirvana’s first single, “Love Buzz.” Their debut album, Bleach, would follow the next year. Though the critically acclaimed record did not sell well at first, it did get much exposure on college radio.

A Permanent Drummer

Following the release of the Blew EP and several tour dates that included shows with Sonic Youth, Nirvana started recording their sophomore album. In the midst of the sessions, they found drummer Dave Grohl and in 1990 signed with major label, David Geffen Company, otherwise known as DGC Records.

The Success of "Nevermind"

Their second studio effort, 1991’s Nevermind, was an unexpected success. This was due to the ever-increasing popularity of the hit single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and its accompanying music video. The favorably reviewed Nevermind would eventually be credited with bringing grunge and alternative rock to the mainstream. It also spawned another hit with “Come as You Are.”

Uncomfortable Success and Health Problems

By 1992, Nirvana’s members were growing increasingly uncomfortable with their success. Rumors began to spread that Kurt Cobain, along with his wife, Courtney Love, were heavy heroin users, and this was affecting his health. Since progress on a follow-up album was slow, the outtake compilation, Incesticide, was released instead.

Memorable Live Performances

The trio did not support Nevermind with a full tour, though they did make several memorable performances. For instance, Nirvana headlined England’s Reading Festival with a gig that was deemed one of the best of their career. They also opened the MTV Video Music Awards with a performance that ended in the destruction of their instruments, which was something for which the band was becoming famous. They also trashed the stage after playing “Territorial Pissings” on the television show, “Saturday Night Live.”

Third Album

Their third album, In Utero, came out in 1993. Despite the fact that it contrasted sharply from the polished Nevermind, the record was highly praised and debuted on the Billboard 200’s top spot. Hints of In Utero’s more abrasive sound could be heard on the singles, “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies.”

"MTV Unplugged in New York"

Later that year, one of Cobain’s last televised performances was captured on the TV program, “MTV Unplugged.” Nirvana played an acoustic set of songs that would later be released as MTV Unplugged in New York. The Grammy-award winning album would be Nirvana’s first release after the death of Cobain and would, once again, be a number one record for the group.

Kurt Cobain's Death

The earlier months of 1994 were fraught with mounting psychological problems for Cobain and several suicide attempts that caused the cancellation of numerous tour dates. Following an escape from rehab, the singer was found dead on April 8th, 1994, of a shotgun blast. The death was ruled a suicide, though conspiracy theorists maintain otherwise.

Live Releases

A few weeks after MTV Unplugged in New York’s release, the video album, Live! Tonight! Sold Out! came out. Two years later, the live album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, debuted once again at number one on the Billboard charts.

Posthumous Releases

In 2002, the compilation, Nirvana, was released after a legal dispute between Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl and Courtney Love was finally settled. The album entered at number three on the Billboard album chart. It included the song, “You Know You’re Right,” which had never been available beforehand. Since then, other posthumous releases have seen the light of day, such as the 2004 box set, With the Lights Out, the 2005 compilation, Sliver: The Best of the Box and the 2010 greatest hits collection, Icon.

After Nirvana

The band’s two surviving members continued on with musical endeavors outside of Nirvana after Cobain’s death. Novoselic played in bands such as Sweet 75 and Eyes Adrift. And while Grohl has been involved in several music projects, he is most well-known for being the creative force behind the Grammy-winning band, Foo Fighters.

Musical Legacy

By incorporating vast influences in their music, Nirvana helped to expose their fans to artists they may never have listened to. In turn, Nirvana’s original and emotional sound, along with their intense live shows, gave a voice to a generation that wanted to be heard and subsequently changed the face of rock music.

Sign in to access this feature

Related Blogs