15 essential Kurt Cobain rarities
Today marks the release of Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings, a series of tracks culled from previously unreleased tapes made by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. The audio contained within those tapes—kept by Courtney Love and curated by director Brett Morgen—made up the backbone of the deeply compelling documentary Montage of Heck, which aired on HBO earlier this year. As an album, it’s actually not very good—the sound quality is raw, and most of the ideas are incomplete—but as a piece of ephemera about an iconic figure, it’s a jaw-dropping classic. (You can read about it here.)
Since Cobain’s death in 1994, only a handful of previously unreleased bits of Cobain’s music have trickled out, and as The Home Recordings proves, there’s nothing in the way of buried treasure. But there are still lots of Cobain songs and Nirvana rarities lurking beneath the surface of the group’s official albums. Even when Cobain was alive, Nirvana was an oft-bootlegged group, with live tracks, demo recordings, and alternate takes floating around a pre-Internet trading culture.
But in 2015, even the most obscure Cobain recordings exist on YouTube. If Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings whets your appetite for more deep cuts, here are 20 essential rare recordings.
“Oh, the Guilt”
From 1992, a noisy and infectious bridge between Nevermind and In Utero.
“Pen Cap Chew”
A thudding monster built around a Sabbath-esque riff that makes Nirvana sound more like Soundgarden.
“I Hate Myself and Want to Die”
Cobain wanted to use this title for the album that became In Utero. Ironically, it’s one of the more jubilant three minutes in the Nirvana canon.
The first composition that truly sounds like Nirvana, from a 1985 Cobain demo with his band Fecal Matter.
A wordy punk sprint initially left off Bleach.
The only song ever credited to Cobain and Courtney Love, originally demoed as part of Nevermind but later recorded as a Hole b-side with an entirely new lyric sheet.
“Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flowing Through the Strip”
A moody, meandering noise track left off In Utero, though it did make it onto the track listing of the international editions.
A sticky melody that could have easily stood next to the Nevermind singles.
“Clean Up Before She Comes”
A simple solo demo that nevertheless features a brilliantly hypnotic vocal, with Cobain harmonizing with himself.
“Do Re Mi”
Alternately titled “Dough, Ray and Me,” it’s probably the last thing ever recorded by Cobain—a pretty acoustic folk ditty captured on tape only a few weeks before his death.
A screamer scrapped from the In Utero sessions.
“If You Must”
A shape-shifter that shows off both extremes of Cobain’s vocal range: the low-light croon and the hellish wail.
The live version that showed up in 1991 features a face-melting guitar solo where the studio version’s “My favorite inside source” section is.
Though raw and plodding, this early Fecal Matter demo still shows off the power of Kurt’s guitar (and his dark humor).
“My Best Friend’s Girl”
A faithful, sweet Cars cover that kicked off what ended up being Nirvana’s final concert.