And so while “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the catalyst, the door-kicker-opener, I eventually got sick of it after years and years and years of ubiquity. Not so with the follow-up single, “Come As You Are.”
Spooky, dark and forboding, “Come As You Are” was actually Geffen’s expected breakout single from “Nevermind,” not “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” though I’m not sure why they thought that, as “Come as You Are” has always come across as a mood piece than a hit single. And in fact it’s the mysterious aspect of “Come As You Are,” the nagging feeling that it’s still hiding something underneath all of those layers of murk, that keeps it compelling.
Come as you are, as you were
As I want you to be
As a friend, as a friend
As an known enemy
With Cobain playing a low-down riff — famously cribbed from Killing Joke’s almost-a-Certain-Song “Eighties” — that anchors the entire song, echoed at first by both Kris Novoselic and Dave Grohl, “Come As You Are” is another example of Nirvana’s mastery of the quiet/loud/quiet formula, building and building to the pre-chorus. Unless it’s the chorus.
Take your time, hurry up
The choice is yours, don’t be late
Take a rest as a friend
As an old
And now, let’s give it up for Dave Grohl yet again. The drum roll hook is one of the least-used things in rock, mostly because because drums aren’t a naturally melodic instrument, but his cascading snare rolls that frame Kurt’s singing of “memoriiiiia” are totally and utterly brilliant, both as an anchor and a flourish, also setting up his almost stop-time kick-off of the crunching guitars chorus. Unless it’s the bridge.
And I swear that I don’t have a gun
No I don’t have a gun
No I don’t have a gun
Like the rest of “Come as You Are,” the chorus (unless it was the bridge) is equal parts abrasive and catchy, a briar patch full of honey, as signified by Grohl’s rough harmonies on “donnnnnn’t have a gun.”
In the wake of Cobain’s suicide by shotgun, more than one person pointed out the irony of those lyrics, but that didn’t really bother me, because by then “Come As You Are” had already pretty much became my favorite song on the album, sealed by the guitar solo that followed the melody line, which sounded like a wave roiling over the ocean and set up the final minute of the song, which was all counterpoint of “memori . . . a” and his insistence that he didn’t have a gun.
While “Come As You Are” was a pretty big hit worldwide, it still wasn’t as big of a hit as “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and in fact, in terms of the Top 40, it only made it to number 32, though it was instantly huge on the radio, and remains one of the handful of Nirvana songs that still receive significant radio airplay to this day.
“Come As You Are” Official Video
“Come As You Are” live at Reading, 1992
“Come As You Are” MTV Unplugged, 1993
“Come As You Are” live in Seattle, 1993
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