Kurt Cobain was famously critical of Nirvana songs that gained substantial commercial traction. “Kurt probably wanted to sell 20 million records and be the biggest band in the world, but I’m sure he didn’t want all the baggage that came along with it,” drummer Dave Grohl once said. “I’m sure he didn’t even realise what baggage came along with it. Nobody did.” It’s no secret that Cobain resented Nirvana’s 1991 breakthrough single ‘Smells Like Teen’ Spirit.” Although nobody knows why for sure, Cobain may have felt that it pulled the spotlight away from other songs, he personally felt more invested in.
Kurt often seemed bewildered by the success of ‘Teen Spirit‘, a song he didn’t feel any particular affinity with or believe to be innately superior to any other song on Nevermind. “Everyone has focused on that song so much,” Cobain told Rolling Stone. “The reason it gets a big reaction is people have seen it on MTV a million times. It’s been pounded into their brains. But I think there are so many other songs that I’ve written that are as good, if not better, than that song.”
So, what were those songs? Well, one track that Cobain frequently praised was ‘Drain You’. In that same Rolling Stone interview, he uses it as an example of a long that’s “definitely as good as ‘Teen Spirit’” if perhaps not as celebrated. “I love the lyrics, and I never get tired of playing it,” he continued. “Maybe if it was as big as ‘Teen Spirit’, I wouldn’t like it as much.”
Nirvana played ‘Drain You’ practically every night during their final tour. Originally titled ‘Formula’, it carries many of the same sonic features as ”Teen Spirit’; the only real difference is the looseness of the structure. Where ‘Teen Spirit’ follows the neat undulations of a classic pop hit, the sections that makeup ‘Drain You’ are knowingly indistinct. This structural scuzziness is perhaps most apparent during the bridge section, through which Nirvana remind us that they, like Sonic Youth, were children of the underground – subverters of pop, not its latest incarnation.
‘Drain You’ was initially recorded at the home of The Melvin’s Dale Crover just before the Nevermind sessions began. It was the last song they got down during the visit, with Kurt revealing it somewhat unwillingly, explaining that he was unsure about bringing it to the Nevermind session – largely because it didn’t yet have a drum part.
After a bit of work, they developed a drum arrangement and developed the instrumental bridge section. For this, they took a leaf out of Thurston Moore’s book and played their guitars with a selection of random objects, transforming the song into an exemplary slice of noise rock. With a solid structure in place, it was decided: Nirvana would record ‘Drain You’ when they arrived at Sound City Studios in May.