Monday, October 22, 2018

Certain Songs #1349: Nirvana – “Something in the Way (BBC 1991)” | Medialoper

Album: Nevermind
Year: 1991

Nirvana was always going to be heavily bootlegged no matter what: there was just too much demand and too little supply. And naturally, the demand skyrocketed in the wake of Cobain’s suicide, and so we got MTV Unplugged and Live from the Muddy Banks of the Wishkiah, and eventually the With The Lights Out box set.

But, of course, there was a lot more stuff out there. Not so much studio recordings, but plenty of live shows, radio dates and other ephemera that got collected on bootlegs with titles as Outcesticide or A Season in Hell, as every single thing that Kurt Cobain had played on felt like it was interested to those of us who felt like he was a generational talent who took himself away too soon.

And I was one of those people, at first buying bootleg CDs at record swaps in the mid-1990s and later, as the millennia turned over, downloads from the woolier reaches of the internets. And so, it was from a bootleg that I first heard the version of “Something in the Way” that Nirvana recorded for the BBC Mark Goodier radio show in November of 1991.

On Nevermind, “Something in the Way” is a bit of a chill-out song, after all of the physical and emotional brutality, with Kurt’s acoustic guitar & vocals closely miked in a quiet room and the bass, drums and cello by Kirk Canning added later just to fill things out.

At the BBC however, there was no cello, so they took a different tack.

Underneath the bridge
The tarp has sprung a leak
And the animals I’ve trapped
Have all become my pets
And I’m living off of grass
And the drippings from the ceiling
But it’s okay to eat fish
‘Cause they don’t have any feelings

At first, “Something in the Way” starts off much like the studio recording, which makes sense, given that it had only been a few months since they’d recorded. Just a quiet interplay between Cobain’s guitar and Kris Novoselic’s bass, with Cobain — I swear — singing “pridge” instead of “bridge” like Keehar from Watership Down. It’s the chorus, where everything changes, as from out of nowhere, Grohl kicks in with a loud AF snare drum and the whole song explodes with the force of ten-ton hydrogen bomb.

Something in the way
Something in the way, yeah
Something in the way
Something in the way, yeah
Something in the way
Something in the way, yeah

As big as Grohl’s drums sound, they’re a total patch on what Cobain is doing on guitar — a massive wailing wall of feedback that is simultaneously angry and scary and a little bit mournful — which takes “Something in the Way” in a completely different direction. Not necessarily better, per se, but different. I don’t think it would have worked on Nevermind — and in fact they tried and failed to get a more full band take and failed — but as a one-off alternate version it just kills me.

This take of “Something in the Way” remained in the hands of bootleggers only for 20 years, not officially showing up on any album until the 20th anniversary version of Nevermind, where I hope that it blew other people’s minds the way it’s always blown mine.

“Something in the Way” at the BBC

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