Nirvana is a great rock band that began in the United States. Drummer Dave Grohl joined Nirvana (featuring Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic) in 1990. He stayed with the band until their 1994 end, longer than any previous Nirvana drummers.
From the time of the addition of Grohl, Nirvana got their real start from their hit single “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” As Nirvana became popular, so did their style of alternative rock: grunge.
In 1994, Nirvana released MTV Unplugged in New York. This album is a recording of Nirvana’s live acoustic performance for the MTV show. On this album, there are a total of fourteen songs, six of which are covers from other artists.
The cover songs are:
“Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam”
“The Man Who Sold the World”
“Lake of Fire”
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night”
This is a great album, consisting only of live recordings from MTV Unplugged. Kurt Cobain is an outstanding grunge singer and writer. I love how I am able to connect with the majority of his lyrics. No matter what I am feeling, I can always find a Nirvana song that suits my mood.
Overall, I rate this album 5 stars. I love all of Nirvana, but I prefer the MTV Unplugged versions of most Nirvana songs that are on this album. You can tell it is a live recording, but it still has amazing quality; you can only hear the audience before and after the songs, unlike those live recordings where the audience can annoy you throughout the song. I highly recommend you purchase this album, it’s well worth it!
Nirvana — MTV Unplugged In New York: Track-by-track review
1. “About A Girl” [live]
“About a Girl” is the first song on MTV Unplugged in New York. This song is pretty cool and has a nice sound, though is not my favorite to listen to. I occasionally will put this song on my playlist but not too often.
However, despite the fact that I don’t listen to it very often, it is still a great song and many people may find it enjoyable. This particular song has a rhythm similar to light rock. The version played on MTV Unplugged in New York has softer guitar and vocal than the Bleach version from 1989. It is also much more mellow sounding than the studio recorded version.
This song has a variety of vocals, guitar and drums in it. It goes at a moderate pace — not too fast or too slow, but just right. My favorite thing about this song is that it is somewhat relaxing. However, I would not compare it to “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” or “Something In the Way.” “About a Girl” is more upbeat and less depressing:
I need an easy friend, I do
With an ear to lend, I do
Think you fit this shoe, I do
What you have a clue
I’ll take advantage while
You hang me out to dry
But I can’t see you every night free
From this song I get an upbeat mood and feeling, sort of like Nevermind’s “Lithium.” This song seems like it was written with the intention of having a happy tone; it’s one of the better songs for sure. And the MTV Unplugged in New York version, in my opinion, sounds much better and more inviting than the original version. That recording sounds more like hard rock (which seems to be the case with most Nirvana songs) than this one.
Although there is no great story behind this one, I am able to connect with, and give my interpretation of, this song. When I play it, listen to the chords, and hear what Kurt is saying, it reminds me of something: what it is like when you just feel like you need an easier woman. I interpret “easy friend” as an easy girlfriend — my best bet would be a girlfriend who refuses to put up with you. (Not to mention the song title is “About a Girl.”)
When I hear this song, a certain girl in particular comes to mind, whom I am dating the time of writing this (I do not mean that in a bad way). I hear this song and think back to how I felt when we first started dating. I was really happy. I see a lot of clues in the lyrics. “An ear to lend” is someone who will listen to you. This song is written in second person, so from my point of view, it is written for a specific person.
Am I saying this is the definite meaning? No, that would be arrogant and defeat the purpose of writing this. I am just giving my opinion and experience as to what I interpret it as.
Chad Channing, Nirvana’s former drummer, says Kurt Cobain did not have a title for the song at first. When he asked Kurt what it was about, Cobain told him, “It’s About a Girl.” Many people think it was about Tracy Marandar, Cobain’s girlfriend at the time. When someone asked Kurt Cobain why he never wrote a song for her, he simply replied, “‘About a Girl.'”
The song may be about the relationship problems they had — Cobain refused to get a job or help clean their apartment.
2. “Come As You Are” [live]
In 2005, a sign was put up in Aberdeen, Washington. It read “Welcome to Aberdeen — Come As You Are.” This sign was a tribute to Kurt Cobain.
“Come as You Are” is a song I have listened to since I was very little. It has a great rhythm. In this song, there is a nice balance between the instruments in the band. It goes at a very moderate pace and has somewhat of a sad mood to it. The guitar sounds awesome. Here is an excerpt from the lyrics:
Come as you are
As you were
As I want you to be
As a friend
As a friend
As a known enemy
Take your time
Choice is yours don’t be late
Take a rest
As a friend
As an old enemy
Kurt Cobain has commonly been known to add hidden messages in his lyrics. He said that “Come as You Are” is “an old-fashioned love song coming down in three-part harmony.”
3. “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” [live]
“Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” is a cover of the Vaselines by Nirvana. There are also two other versions of the song on the box set.
This is my favorite version of the song out of all of them. It’s another mellow song from Nirvana. It doesn’t really have a happy or a sad mood, it is more of just a neutral/mellowed out mood.
There is a variety of guitar throughout this song. You can clearly pick out the different sounds. Kurt Cobain’s singing is a little bit different this time. He doesn’t use the raspy voice that he does most of the time. In this song, he sings very clearly.
“Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” really is a pretty good song, but then again so are all Nirvana songs.
Jesus don’t want me for a sunbeam
Cause sunbeams are never made like me
Don’t expect me to cry
For all the reasons you had to die
Don’t ever ask your love of me
Dont expect me to cry
Dont expect me to lie
Dont expect me to die for thee
When I heard this song, I thought about my parents and how I feel they view me. It seems as if they just pretend to love me. “Dont expect me to cry” fits the situation, because that is what it seems like their objective is. “Don’t expect me to lie” fits it because my parents always think I’m lying about everything for no reason.
“Don’t expect me to die for thee” makes sense as well. My parents treat me bad and disrespect me, but they expect me to take a bullet for them. More literally, they expect me to respect them. I see “Jesus don’t want me for a sunbeam” as a symbol. Once again, I am not saying that this is a 100% definite meaning. This is just my interpretation from the song. You may have gotten something different.
4. “The Man Who Sold The World” [live]
“The Man Who Sold The World” is a cover of a song that David Bowie released in November 1970. Nirvana introduced the new generation of the song when they did the song on MTV Unplugged in New York. This song had a lot of younger people in the mid 90s believing that David Bowie was singing a Nirvana song, not Nirvana singing a David Bowie song!
Nirvana first introduced their version of the song during MTV Unplugged and now, as you can see, it is part of the album. David Bowie’s version is similar enough to notice the resemblance between the two. Personally, I like them both equally.
There are some people who claim the Nirvana Greatest Hits version of “The Man Who Sold The World” is better, but I’ve listened to both and they sound identical to me.
This is a pretty decent song, though it is no favorite of mine. The singing goes with the rhythm and it has a nice flow to it, but I am not too crazy about the overall sound. I guess this song just didn’t click with me. It may, however, be different for you so don’t take my word for it!
“The Man Who Sold The World” goes at a somewhat fast but steady pace. It has a mellow mood to it and a mediocre tune. Despite all of this, I still like the song, especially the lyrics:
We passed upon the stair
We spoke of was and when
Although I wasn’t then
He said I was his friend
Which came as some surprise
I spoke into his eyes,
“I thought you died alone
A long long time ago”
Wow, David Bowie sure is a great writer! There is one thing I don’t like, though. This is one of those songs where I haven’t been able to connect it to past experiences. After listening to this song over and over again, I have yet to find any connection.
Although I’m not able to relate to the song, I am able to draw a realistic conclusion to the song’s meaning. I came up with my own interpretation to the song’s meaning, but I found out later that my interpretation was anything but original: this song reminds me of a man who no longer recognizes himself and is lonely.
5. “Pennyroyal Tea” [live]
“Pennyroyal Tea” is the ninth song on In Utero, Nirvana’s 1993 album. It was written by Cobain in 1990. This song is one of his deepest songs. People are constantly arguing over the meaning of it.
In my opinion, there is no song quite like it. The MTV Unplugged version is quite different from the other version. Personally, I like the MTV Unplugged version better. There is mostly acoustic guitar in the background with Kurt Cobain singing. It goes at a steady, moderate pace.
I really like the lyrics of this song. I can relate to them and they remind me of myself somewhat. “Pennyroyal Tea” is one of the best songs on this album by far. A single was supposed to be released, but was cancelled probably due to the track “I Hate Myself And Want To Die.”
There are many different meanings and interpretations of this song. I believe that Cobain is singing about his heroin addiction. Anyone who is or has been involved in drugs understands where he could be talking about them. “Pennyroyal tea” could be a symbol for heroin, and drinking pennyroyal tea could be a symbol for using heroin.
“I’m on warm milk and laxatives” may have been referring to addicts taking laxatives to fight the constipation resulting from heroin use. “Sit and drink pennyroyal tea” says to me that he is ridding himself of all his problems. Some believe in a more literal meaning. They believe that the song is about literally sitting and drinking pennyroyal tea.
6. “Dumb” [live]
Kurt Cobain wrote the song “Dumb” in 1990. It was first played on September 25, 1990, and first played in concert on November 25, 1990 at the Off Ramp in Seattle, Washington.
There is another version on In Utero. The Unplugged in New York version of this song features acoustic guitar with little background, as well as Kurt Cobain on vocals. The song plays at a rather steady and moderately slow pace.
Cobain says that “Dumb” was inspired by the envy he feels for dumb and easily amused people. He says that it seems as if they are able to move through life without ever feeling sad or depressed. “They have a shitty job, they may be totally lonely… and yet, for some reason, they’re happy,” said Cobain.
Kurt later also gave another meaning. “Actually, the song was about a concussion,” he said. “It was just one of those 4-track demo things late at night.” Many believe, however, that this was a smart-aleck remark to Jim DeRogatis’s idea of “Dumb” being about a drug addiction.
7. “Polly” [live]
“Polly” goes back to 1988. With a nice sound and a great tune, the guitar somewhat resembles the song “Lithium”. This is one of Nirvana’s more mellow songs and is pretty catchy.
Kurt Cobain’s unique singing voice goes great with the song. Originally, it was named “Hitchhiker,” and later was named “Cracker.” Sometime in 1989, the name was changed again to “Polly.”
According to the Nirvana biography Come As You Are, “Polly” is based on the true story of a female rape victim from Washington. The girl, age 14, was abducted when returning home from a rock show. She was raped and tortured with a blowtorch by her abductor. The victim was able to escape by flirting with the abductor.
Cobain later stated “Last year, a girl was raped by two wastes of sperm and eggs while they sang the lyrics to our song ‘Polly.’ I have a hard time carrying on knowing there are plankton like that in our audience.”
In the song, he narrates from the rapist’s point of view.
8. “On A Plain” [live]
“On A Plain” was written by Kurt Cobain in 1990. The acoustic version recorded for MTV Unplugged in New York is a moderately fast paced song and has decent guitar and vocals. There are versions other than the Unplugged in New York version. The lyrics go well with the song’s beat and give it a nice flow.
Cobain says that “On A Plain” was about “classic alienation.” However, he also said that he offered a different explanation for his songs every time he was asked, because he didn’t know their meanings for himself:
“For the most part, I write songs from pieces of poetry thrown together. When I write poetry it’s not usually thematic at all. I have plenty of notebooks, and when it comes time to write the lyrics, I just steal them from my poems.”
“On A Plain” might be a good example of this.
9. “Something In The Way” [live]
“Something In The Way” is another one of my favorite Nirvana songs. It is the final song on their second album Nevermind. It has a very soft and mellow sound to it. Kurt Cobain does not use his normal raspy grunge-sounding voice that he does in most Nirvana songs.
There is a live electric version of “Something In The Way” on Nirvana’s 1994 home video, Live! Tonight! Sold Out! recorded in 1992. There is also another version recorded during the BBC Radio show in London. This is an electric version and is the only unreleased song from the session.
Many people believe that “Something In The Way” was written about a period of time when Kurt Cobain was young and homeless and slept under the Young Street Bridge in Aberdeen, Washington at night. Kurt Cobain’s old friends said that it was not the Wishkah Bridge, as believed by most people. The book Love & Death: The Murder of Kurt Cobain stated that it was not the Wishkah Bridge that Cobain slept under.
10. “Plateau” [live]
“Plateau” was written by the Meat Puppets and covered by Nirvana on this album. It has a sound similar to another Meat Puppets cover here, “Lake of Fire.” It has somewhat of a southern drawl to it.
There is a moderately fast pace that goes with “Plateau.” The lyrics are really cool sounding. This song is only featured on the Unplugged in New York album.
11. “Oh, Me” [live]
“Oh, Me” was originally written by the Meat Puppets and covered by Nirvana. I really like the mellow mood of this song. It has a similar song to the other Meat Puppet cover songs, “Lake of Fire” and “Plateau.” The acoustic guitar goes with the song’s theme very well.
12. “Lake Of Fire” [live]
“Lake Of Fire” is a very interesting song and I love it. It’s a cover song from the Meat Puppets, and came from their 1983 album Meat Puppets II. I have listened to both songs and they sound quite a bit different to me. I actually like the Nirvana version better even though the Meat Puppets made it.
This is an especially good song when Nirvana plays it. Kurt Cobain’s voice goes perfect with the theme of the song. The song has guitar, obviously, and bass (there doesn’t appear to be very much work with the drums). The song goes at a pretty slow pace and has an awesome sound. The mood is neutral, with a hint of anger in it. It sounds a little bit like an older, acoustic song, and is unlike other songs played by Nirvana.
“Lake Of Fire” steps out of the box of playable music guidelines and does a great job! The lyrics of this song can not be described with any word other than “kickass.” Also unlike the other Nirvana songs, the meaning of this song seems pretty straightforward. The lyrics and the guitar sound superb!
Where do bad folks go when they die?
They don’t go to heaven where the angels fly
Go to a lake of fire and fry
see them again ’til the fourth of July
Like I said above, the meaning of this song appears to be pretty straightforward; unless there is a secret meaning in it, then the “lake of fire” is obviously hell. The song says that bad people don’t go up to heaven. They go to the Lake of Fire and they fry.
There are two parts of this song that can be interpreted in many different ways. The “people cry and people moan” stanza resembles the rapture to me. I am not very religious, so I could very well be wrong. I see the part about the lady and the rabid dog as the narrator telling a story. The lady got bit by a rabid dog and was killed. When he says she “threw a late howl at the yellow moon,” it implies that she went to hell.
This seems possible to me, what about you?
13. “All Apologies” [live]
“All Apologies” was written in 1990. Previously, it went by several different titles, including “LaLaLa.” The earliest known studio version of the song was created in 1991. The In Utero version was recorded in February of 1993.
“All Apologies” was released alongside “Rape Me” as the second In Utero single. On the Unplugged in New York version, Lori Goldston plays cello. An acoustic demo is also on the Nirvana box set With the Lights Out, released in 2004.
As with most Nirvana songs, there is no specific meaning, but a mood and atmosphere to the song. Most of the track presents an uplifting mood. Cobain did dedicate “All Apologies” to his wife Courtney Love and daughter Frances Bean during Nirvana’s appearance at the Reading Festival.
14. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” [live]
This is probably my all-time favorite Nirvana song. The entire song is pretty much all guitar and vocals. It has a very calm and slightly depressing mood.
Playing at a very slow pace, Kurt Cobain puts all of of his feelings into this song. However, he did not write the lyrics from scratch. “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” is also known as “Black Girl,” a traditional American folk song that goes back to the 1870’s.
Kurt Cobain took the classic song and made it his own. While the song’s author is not known, it has been recorded by many artists. Nirvana created an acoustic version of the song and introduced it to a new audience.
The lyrics originally were:
Black girl, black girl, don’t lie to me.
Where did you stay last night?
I stayed in the pines where the sun never shine
And shivered when the cold wind blows.
Kurt Cobain’s version was
My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night?
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through.
I enjoy the lyrics of the song the most, but still love the guitar at the same time. As I stated in the overview, one of my favorite parts about Nirvana is that I can personally connect to most of their songs in one way or another. I connect personally with “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and interpret it in my own way.
It was the night of my birthday in the middle of November and me and five friends went camping overnight to celebrate. We decided we were going to go on an adventure. Our version of camping is a lot different than what you would picture. We do not use a tent, flashlight, sleeping bags, bug spray, or any of the typical camping gear.
Sometimes we have a fire, but most of us were under 18, out past curfew, and didn’t want to be seen. We were at a “safe spot” we had just found which wasn’t very private, so we went without the fire. Basically, we celebrated my birthday by freezing out in the cold (which I enjoy).
After doing several different things, I went back to our “safe spot” and laid down. One of my friends was laying a few yards away. I started singing “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” to myself. As I was singing, I completely related to every word I sang. I was as if the song was narrating my current situation. It was amazing.
My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me.
Tell me, where did you sleep last night?
This line described how I told my mother that I was staying at that friend’s house so I could go camping. I sang “in the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine, I would shiver the whole night through” as I looked up into the pine trees above us and noticed how the sun was not shining. Also, I was shivering because it was so cold.
“I’m going where the cold wind blows.” That line reminded me of how I told my friends I was going back to our “safe spot” and it was really cold when I laid down.
Am I saying this is the for-sure, definite meaning of the song? Of course not. I don’t know what Kurt Cobain was thinking of when he wrote this song. This is simply my interpretation from a personal experience. Personally, I sometimes think that my interpretation is too literal. In my opinion, a song’s meaning is whatever the listener makes of it. I don’t think that we should be limited to the artist’s intentions. Even if the artist openly states the song’s meaning, people can still have their interpretations. I love hearing people’s interpretations of songs.
MTV Unplugged In New York by Nirvana
“About A Girl” [live]
“Come As You Are” [live]
“Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” [live]
“The Man Who Sold The World” [live]
“Pennyroyal Tea” [live]
“On A Plain” [live]
“Something In The Way” [live]
“Oh, Me” [live]
“Lake Of Fire” [live]
“All Apologies” [live]
“Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” [live]