Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bleach by Nirvana Released 25 Years Ago Today

Wow, time flies.

Bleach was released 25 years ago today in 1989. Nirvana's debut record (produced by Sub Pop trusted confidant Jack Endino) represents their original gritty and emotional raw sound (metal blended with punk) before it got cleaned up for mass consumption. Bleach is heavily accented by tight and powerful drumming. Majority of the drum tracks were by Chad Channing, but Melvins' Dale Crover sat in on three cuts from an earlier demo session. Dave Grohl would not join Nirvana until just before they drove down to LA's Studio City to record Nevermind.

Bleach is anchored by a catchy tune -- About A Girl -- which gave us the first glimpse into Cobain's pop sensibility. Some of my all-time favorite Nirvana tunes appeared on Bleach including Floyd the Barber and Negative Creep.

Nirvana recorded a demo tape that they intended to shop around. Jack Endino was the engineer on the demo's recording session and he held onto a copy, which he rushed over to Bruce & Jon, the head honchos at Sub Pop. They liked what they heard and commissioned a 7-inch single for Nirvana. Sometime in 1988, Nirvana initially released their first single -- a cover by Shocking Buzz titled Love Buzz (and Big Cheese was the B-side) -- which did okay enough that Bruce & Jon from Sub Pop decided they would bankroll an entire album. The band rushed to finish the album during the holidays in late 1988. Nirvana banged out Bleach in less than a week at (now defunct) Reciprocal Studios in Seattle. Endino insists it took approximately 30 total hours to record and mix Bleach.

The cover art on Bleach is one of those haunting, yet iconic images of the early days of the so-called grunge era, but in reality it was designed as cheap as possible because the parties involved thought that a financially-struggling Sub Pop was going to stiff them. Cobain selected the hair-aided action photo but asked they use the negative exposure. Lisa Orth designed the album cover rather quickly for only $300 and kept it low frills because she didn't trust Sub Pop. At that point, everyone knew Sub Pop was troubled by deep debts and they owned multiple printers outstanding invoices. The logo was designed for $15 by Orth's friend at The Stranger. Another quickie job. The not-so-warm font was called ONYX, which ended up becoming a powerful image.

Yep, only $315 for the album cover (that's about $600 in 2014 dollars). Of course, no one knew the band was going to... blow up.

Bleach was a local success for Sub Pop (they manufactured 50,000 vinyl pressings and another 50,000 cassettes), but the band and album were unknown to mostly everyone else outside the Pacific Northwest. That is... until Nirvana's nuclear annihilation of culturally-starved post-Reagan America with their second album Nevermind. By late 1991, millions of newly-birthed, rabid fans went scouring around for older material and finally came upon the rugged, twisted and sonically demented Bleach.

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