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TheStreet Open House

Grammys Preview: Nirvana's 'Nevermind' and the Death of Guy Rock

That's a decided lack of "rock" in that mix and a whole lot of catalog releases from the days when people actually bought CDs. In fact, people who bought albums last year bought 10.2% fewer new releases than they did in 2011, while spending 2.5% more on old albums and 3.3% more on dusty "deep catalog" artifacts that require some digging in the crates. Though overall album sales once again declined 4.4% last year, digital album sales jumped 14.1%, digital track sales edged up 5.1% and vinyl album sales soared 17.7%.

So where does Nirvana fit into all of this? Well, the familiar narrative says they did the world a big, huge favor by ridding it of hair bands and arena rock and making it safe for garage bands again. That's not quite how it played out. The grunge and post-grunge era music world was filled with as much belabored growling, on-stage preening and aggro nonsense as ever, as evidenced by the lineup, fires and ensuing rioting and rapes that engulfed the ill-fated Woodstock '99.

What Kurt Cobain and, later, Dave Grohl taught and most folks didn't hear until Napster gave away much of the music and Woodstock '99 made it very clear was that "rock" and, more importantly, pop music can't be an exclusionary club filled with angry boys. Cobain pointed to classic rock bombast such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Aerosmith as influences, but he also loved Freddy Mercury's voice and some of the more nuanced touches of Queen. He got into the rougher portions of punk and followed Black Flag, Bad Brains and the Sex Pistols, but Melvins frontman Buzz Osborne also turned him on to Joe Strummer and The Clash. Perhaps most importantly, his tendencies toward big buzzing guitar and guttural noise were tempered by the melody and writing of David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Daniel Johnston and other indie and art-rock acts.

Cobain wasn't going to write a dance or electropop record in the days before his death, but he also didn't seem into sewing new patches on heshers' jean jackets and having piles of testosterone fling themselves at him from the mosh pit for the rest of his life. He was earnest in a way current acts just are and tend to take for granted. His song Sliver, which never made it to a full Nirvana album and was instead released on the compilation album Incesticide back in 1992, was basically just a story about about a trip to his grandparents' when he was a kid that was set to an extremely danceable bassline. Were it released today, it would be iTunes gold. Son Of A Gun off the same album was not only a cover by Scottish guy/girl duo The Vaselines, but may be the bounciest song of the grunge era.

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