On January 30, 1994, Nirvana entered the studio for the last time. The sole song the trio taped that day would become the most controversial recording of their career.
On Valentine’s Day, 1995, Hole taped an Unplugged session for MTV at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. The band’s set-list on the night drew largely from the group’s superb second studio album Live Through This, incorporating three of its four singles – Miss World, Softer, Softest and Doll Parts – and also included a clutch of covers, among them Duran Duran’s Hungry Like The Wolf, Donovan’s Season Of The Witch and The Crystals’ He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss), which Courtney Love introduced on the night as “a really sick song”, and later mockingly described as a “nice feminist anthem.”
Against the express wishes of her bandmates, Love also found space in Hole’s set for two songs written by her late husband, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who had died by suicide the previous spring.
The first of these, Old Age, Nirvana demoed in 1991, before Cobain gifted the song to Love, who recorded it for Hole’s 1993 EP Beautiful Son. The second song, listed as You’ve Got No Right on Hole’s Unplugged album, was actually titled You Know You’re Right, and is significant for being the last song Nirvana ever recorded, Kurt Cobain’s swan song. It would become the centre-piece of a bitter, nasty war of words and a fiercely-contested legal battle between Love and her late husband’s former bandmates Kris Novoselic and Dave Grohl before it finally made its way into the public domain. Grohl would later describe it as “beautiful and disturbing.”
“Oh God, it’s hard to listen to,” he admitted in 2017. “It was not a pleasant time for the band. Kurt was unwell… He was in a place we may not have recognised.”
Located 10 minutes away from Dave Grohl’s former home in Seattle, from the outside, with its red brick walls, arched doorways and slanted red slate roofs, Robert Lang Studios resembles an enchanted castle. Making a three-day booking for Nirvana at the facility for January 28-30, 1994, the group’s management hoped that the trio could recapture some of the magic they’d bottled during their highly-focussed In Utero sessions with Steve Albini at Pachyderm Studios in Minnesota 11 months earlier. But the vibe in the Nirvana camp was very different as the new year dawned.
“1994 was a bad year right out of the gate,’ Dave Grohl told this writer in 2009. “Things had changed a lot. Kurt had struggled through a lot of stuff and we were trying to come to terms with being this enormous band, I guess.”
The year started with Kurt Cobain on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. In an emotional interview, he addressed the nature of fame, marriage and fatherhood, spoke of his ongoing battle with addiction and discussed the future of his band with disarming honesty. He acknowledged that his drug use had caused schisms in the Nirvana camp and openly shared his belief that the trio were “stuck in a rut”, creatively.
That Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic barely batted an eyelid when Cobain failed to show up to the studio on January 28 or 29 tells its own story: Nirvana’s rhythm section kept themselves busy by working on some Dave Grohl originals, including a clutch of songs which would eventually appear on the first two Foo Fighters records.
On the afternoon of January 30 Cobain finally dropped by, minus his guitar, and the trio began to knock into shape a song they’d played just once before, with alternate lyrics, on October 23, sandwiched between Smells Like Teen Spirit and All Apologies, as the penultimate song of their regular In Utero set, at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago.
The group tracked one satisfactory take of the song before breaking for dinner, and discussed returning to the studio after their scheduled European arena tour to complete the recording. Ultimately, they would not have the opportunity to do so.
That the surviving members of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain’s widow had divergent views in regards to You Know You’re Right became apparent in 2001 after Courtney Love filed a suit against Grohl, Novoselic and the group’s record label, the Universal Music Group, in an attempt to wrestle control of Nirvana’s master tapes.
Although both parties were agreed that the song should be released, exactly how You Know You’re Right should appear was a source of contention. While Grohl and Novoselic believed it would be best showcased as part of a Nirvana box set, Love argued that the track should take pride of place on a more commercially enticing single-disc ‘greatest hits’ compilation. “All parties believe,” Love’s lawsuit stated, “that the recording, which has never before been released, has the potential to be a significant hit.”